The announcement Tuesday of James Hamula’s excommunication from the LDS church while serving as a General Authority was particularly noteworthy because of how rarely it occurs.
While in early Mormon history excommunications among church leaders were much more common—and often in response to trivial offenses—that is no longer the case.
"By the time you got into the 20th century it became highly unusual for a church official of any prominence to be excommunicated," says Mormon historian Gregory Prince. "I can only think of two cases in the 20th century.”
The first case Prince referred to is former church apostle Richard Lyman who was excommunicated in 1943 as a result of adulterous relationship.
The second instance wasn’t until 1989 when a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, George Lee was removed for what the church called “unbecoming conduct.” It was later revealed that Lee had attempted to molest a minor, an offense he later admitted to before a 3rd district court judge.
Something as serious as child abuse is always met with church disciplinary action, regardless of status, but in other areas church leaders are generally held to a higher standard of conduct.
“If they have a high profile office they are subjected to a different set of rules than the laity," says Prince.
Any serious moral transgression from a General Authority results in a disciplinary council, which can then lead to excommunication. Which, Prince points outs, is a very painful experience for both the individual and their family.
In the case of James Hamula, Prince does not wish speculate about the reason. The only clarification from the LDS church is that Hamula’s removal was not the result of disillusionment or apostasy.