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Top Mormon kicked out of church for first time in decades

A Mormon church leader has been removed from his post and booted out of the religion for the first time in nearly 30 years.

James Hamula was released from a mid-level leadership council based on disciplinary action by the religion's highest leaders, said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mr Hawkins did not say why Mr Hamula was ousted, but the Utah-based church said it was not for apostasy, which refers to teaching inaccurate doctrine or publicly defying guidance from church leaders.

The last leader to be excommunicated was the late George Lee, an American Indian, in 1989 after he called Mormon leaders racist.

The church said then that he was removed for "apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the church".

The last church leader removed before Mr Lee was Richard Lyman, who was excommunicated in 1943 for adultery, but baptised again 11 years later.

Mr Hamula became a member of a group called the General Authority Seventy in 2008. It is a group of nearly 90 leaders that sit below the church president, his two counsellors and two other levels of leaders.

They help run church operations by serving as a bridge between local lay leaders in Mormon congregations around the world and the top leaders working at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Mr Hamula's removal is surprising because he was well-regarded and was even considered by some outside Mormon scholars as a possible candidate to join the high-level Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when the church was filling three vacancies in 2015, said Matthew Bowman, a Mormon scholar and history professor at Henderson State University.

Mr Hamula was not chosen, but was still considered an up-and-comer destined for more important assignments, Prof Bowman said.

In recent years, Mr Hamula served in important roles as assistant executive director of church history and executive director of a department that reviews all documents published by the church.

"He had a promising future," Prof Bowman said.

His removal is likely to be talked about among some of the nearly 16 million worldwide members of the Mormon religion, but it may not cause a huge stir because it may be the first time many have heard of Mr Hamula, Prof Bowman said.

Mr Hamula was born in Long Beach, California, and is married with six children, according to his church biography. He was a lawyer until joining the leadership council in 2008.

That year, he gave a speech at a Mormon conference watched by millions about choosing good over evil.

"Satan is marshalling every resource at his disposal to entice you into transgression," he said.

"He knows that if he can draw you into transgression, he may prevent you from serving a full-time mission, marrying in the temple, and securing your future children in the faith, all of which weakens not only you but the church."

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