Exit Statement of Francis Nelson Henderson
Francis Nelson Henderson was born into the church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He served a mission to So. California 1962 – 1964. Graduated BA Physics, BYU 1968. Married in the Temple. Nelson is a founding member of Comtel, 1978, a satellite communications company where his focus is firmware development. Remarried, Nelson and Family live near San Diego, California, USA.
I was raised in a Mormon family in Southern California. Through regular attendance we became indoctrinated in the history, doctrine and traditions of that church (the Latter Day Saints), as well as in the Book of Mormon. Despite this, it was not until several years later that I heard my first clear presentation of the gospel of Christ Jesus.
I have discovered in my adult church life that I grew up misunderstanding the nature of Mormonism. I realized in adulthood that instead of devotion, I was actually opposed to many core church values and their implications for me. The incongruence is so painful to me now, that for my own well being, I believe it is time that my membership status should reflect the true devotions of my heart and mind.
I want my reasons for resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints to be known. Hence, this Exit Statement seeks to record, summarize, describe, and illustrate the basis for my decision. Values presented here are held as truths to me, and the information provided is factual to the best of my knowledge.
For myself there was a bi-directional “social contract” of sorts between me and the church, not just a one-way commitment from me, given to the church. That contract, of my own making, requires a reciprocal commitment from the church to me; of complete honesty, the exercise of no other power than love, and the protection of individual freedom above the self-interest of the church.
While asking me to be honest, loyal, obedient, and to give time and tithing, church policy is that the only Mormon history told should be a so-called “faith promoting” history which conceals controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past and present. To me the existence of this policy is in itself, alone, a violation of my trust. The supremacy of my individual freedom of choice requires a church policy of complete honesty, regardless of the implications. My freedom of choice is never at any time consigned to the church. Hence, a policy of changing, retelling, or withholding information, is willful manipulation of my ongoing right to an informed choice.
Second, regarding freedom of speech and of conscience, this statement renounces the church’s practice of excommunicating teachers, historians, writers, intellectuals, and feminist whose public speaking or writing differs from the beliefs of church leaders. These excommunications are unjust in their mean treatment of church members, and these acts ignore other elements of church theology celebrating freedom, intelligence, knowledge and love as the greater values. I had expected the church to practice what it preaches.1 However, the church’s consistent behavior over the last 28 years confirms to me, beyond any doubt, that these practices, that I find so offensive, are truly representative of the church’s core values today. They are to me unchristlike and unbecoming of a church.
Furthermore, elevation of the lesser act of obedience, to the level of high principle, begs the question of: Obedience to what (to a church officer, or to one’s conscience)? By its ongoing claim that God will never permit the prophet to lead the church astray2, and the constant teaching to “Follow the Brethren,” and the prohibition against public criticism of its leadership3, the church is teaching submission to its power and authority above individual conscience.
Further buttressing the effort at control, church authorities claim divine inspiration. All church members it is said, if worthy, would receive personal revelation confirming the actions and policies of church leaders4. By implication, a difference of conscience in the member is a measure of spiritual weakness5. And, public expression of difference is grounds for expulsion.6 These claims and threats are acts of spiritual abuse7. To the extent that I adopt the code of public silence, and to the extent that I sacrifice my moral agency to church demands to “Follow the Brethren,” then to that extent is my integrity and personhood devalued and the church’s espoused purpose defeated. That purpose is development of individual authenticity, strengthening of the internal conscience, and expression of the power for good within each individual. Church influence, power, control, reputation, programs, and image are lesser priorities.
Further compounding the assault on individual character is the use of force, through the law of the church, to silence public expressions of individual conscience. The ongoing excommunications8 send a chilling message demanding conformity to the majority view. Perhaps, distracted by the particular issues, most church members are complicit in these acts by their public silence, seeming not to see the threatening implications to higher principles, freedom of choice and freedom of conscience.
Consistently, Mormonism seeks, both within and without, to eliminate public opposition through sanctions, excommunications, worthiness interviews, force of law, and in the past, violence9. Thus, in America, the church works in contradiction to an otherwise free society that tolerates pluralism and individual freedom insofar as the exercise of personal liberties does not violate the freedom and rights of others. However, while giving lip service to “free agency”, these constitutional liberties were trammeled by the early church Presidents, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the name of communal unity. Early church members like John Correll, and others who sought to advance republican values of liberty above authoritarianism and who publicly advocated those principles, were labeled as apostates, sometimes financially ruined or threatened with physical harm, and ostracized from the faith community10.
I believe the church mission experience is viewed as the behavioral prototype for the faithful church member. I was by objective measures a “successful” missionary. We were warned in the Salt Lake mission home that pressure would be part of our experience. It was. The most common motivational technique within the mission was to present mission programs as divinely inspired. I quietly dismissed many exaggerated claims to divine inspiration as the hype they obviously were. I say ‘quietly dismissed’ because the working missionary is unquestionably not at liberty to openly challenge or to critically examine, authentically, any part of the missionary program. I’ve learned, in this regard, that such training tends to set a life’s pattern that the church values highly. However, the problem with encouraging this behavior is that every act of silence unavoidably diminishes to some degree personal strength of character in the returned missionary.
I felt tremendous pressure to meet mission baptism goals and to achieve the 70-hour workweek standard. More than most, I did. Obedience and personal worthiness were always held forth as the deciding factor to achieving the “inspired” goals. I believe the motivational practice of connecting worthiness to achievement, destroyed the mental health of one missionary I knew. As an adult, I better understand the danger of those suggestions to my children.
The strongest lesson from my mission experience is a deep conviction that “pressure” is a form of force to which I am opposed within the normal adult life of the church. Synonyms and mechanisms for pressure are compulsion, force, fear, punishment, discipline, ostracism, domination, manipulation, and control. All these forces tempt corruption of the motive for my actions. The source of these forces should not be the church. However, to my profound dismay and anguish, I found the mission experience to be only a more concentrated introduction to the continued use of these forces by the church in my adult life.
I have tremendous admiration for the courage of those educators, historians, writers, intellectuals, and feminist whom the church seeks to silence through excommunication. I have been on the fringe of such discipline. I was released as Elders quorum teacher less than one hour after, and for the reason that, I presented both viewpoints (neutrally) on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), rather than the one-sided anti-ERA position of the church. The continuing use of excommunication to silence public debate and opposition to church policy sends to me a clear and personal message confirming the authoritarian nature of the church.
A politician once said, “We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.” In addition to the above, the following sections document the factual basis and interpretation from which my decision to resign is formed:
The Policy of Telling Church History Dishonestly
Apostle Boyd K. Packer demands that Mormon historians demonstrate and affirm that “the hand of the Lord [has been] in every hour and every moment of the church from its beginning till now.”11 This demand is preposterous to those who know Mormon history. Likewise, “Ezra Taft Benson reported with obvious irritation the fact that LDS Seminary and Institute teachers ask him, ‘When and where can we begin to tell them our real story?’ and Elder Benson observes, ‘Inferred in that question is the accusation that the Church has not been telling the truth.”12 The reality is that “Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew … but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials”.13
I believe that people and institutions ought to tell the truth. Deceit for whatever justification, whether to enhance obedience to their leadership, or to produce one kind of testimony, or to construct a “public relations” image supporting the flow of convert baptisms and tithing, ultimately and unavoidably produces a loss of trust. It reveals a clear intent to manipulate the faith of the membership rather than to fully trust the individual’s right to an informed choice.
Dishonesty in Practice
“Apart from purposeful misrepresentation, there is also the practice, both past and present of suppressing historical materials or, if not suppressing them, of discouraging their discovery .… Every scholar with whom I am acquainted agrees that there is yet official Church reticence when it comes to using certain records, diaries, and other materials in the church’s archives and in the First Presidency’s possession relating to polygamy.”14
“This ‘reticence’ has manifested itself most publicly in recent months by the commencement in January 1998 of a two-year curriculum drawn from Brigham Young’s writings used jointly by Relief Societies and priesthood quorums in which only Brigham Young’s first two (and therefore monogamous) marriages are mentioned, in which the lesson entitled 'Understanding the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage’ nowhere mentions polygamy, and in which his own references to ‘wives’ have been edited to ‘[wife]’. And this, I am saying, is a kind of deception, a skewing of the Mormon past …”15
“Fawn Brodie asked the pointed question, How was it that the 'overwhelming majority of Mormons’ could ‘so soon forget the savage persecution of their fathers and grandfathers’ and ‘ignore the famous marriage law which was so long a fundamental tenant of their theology …’ She answers her own question by attributing the current Mormon position to ‘a legacy of unconscious shame.’ Mormons, moreover, like ‘other middle-class Americans … longed for respectability.’ … Brodie continued, ‘Mormon historians are now not only anxious to forget the past, but actively suppress the activities of would-be researchers in Mormon archives. Thus, the magnificent immoderation with which Joseph Smith embraced polygamy has been forgotten’ along with his other ‘human qualities.’ What remains is a Joseph Smith who is ‘a kind of deity, a holy figure.’”16
Plural marriage did not stop easily after more than 45 years of practicing the ‘principle’ as essential to celestial exaltation. With a reward for his capture, polygamous church president, John Taylor, died in hiding on the Mormon underground. Under federal pressure the ‘manifesto’ of 1890 was issued. However, contrary to their promise and Official Declaration of the Church President17, the highest church leaders continued to authorize hundreds of post manifesto polygamous marriages for another 14 years.18 Apostle John W. Taylor, Apostle Brigham Young, Jr, Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, Apostle Abraham Owen Woodruff, Apostle Matthias F. Cowley, and others took plural wives after the manifesto. Yet, Brigham Young, Jr. wrote in Harpers “that the Woodruff Manifesto was binding on members of the church everywhere in the world, that the promises associated with it had been ‘scrupulously kept …”19
Joseph Smith’s Dishonesty When Starting Plural Marriage
I was taught incorrectly in Aaronic Priesthood by an educated man from North Carolina State College that Joseph Smith did not “practice” polygamy because of his wife’s objection. “I have identified thirty-three well-documented wives of Joseph Smith which some may regard as an overly conservative numbering … Historians Fawn Brodie, D. Michael Quinn, and George D. Smith list forty-eight, forty-six, and forty-three, respectively .…Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson’s 1887 list … twenty-seven wives based on interviews and affidavits …”20 “Towards the end of Smith’s life, knowledge of his secret marriages began to leak out. William Law, Smith’s second counselor in the church’s First Presidency and an ardent polygamy foe, filed suit against the church leader for living ‘in an open state of adultery’ with 19 year-old Maria Lawrence. In a speech a month before his death, Smith responded by flatly denying polygamy, which was illegal under federal law. ‘What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one,’ he said.”21
Smiths secrecy was also a deceit of his wife, Emma Hale Smith. As Nauvoo Relief Society president, “Emma Smith was a determined opponent of her husband’s secret extramonogamous unions, and she used the Relief Society to squelch rumors of polygamy. Evidently she had heard a report that Agnes [Coolbrith] had married Joseph [she did], so … she announced that a Clarissa Marvel ‘was accused of [telling] scandalous falsehoods on the character of Prest. Joseph Smith … So Sarah Cleveland, second counselor to Emma, moved that Elizabeth Durfee and Elizabeth Allred investigate … This action borders on the comic, since both Cleveland and Durfee were probably already plural wives of Smith.”22
Typically, Smith’s proposals to women would say that the Lord had commanded him to marry them, that the Lord had already given them to him, it was sacrilegious to doubt, and that his proposal must be kept completely secret. It was the woman’s duty to comply with the fact that she was already Joseph’s possession.23 In the example of Emily Partridge, “Joseph, thirty–seven, married this frightened, fatherless nineteen-year-old, whom he had not allowed to consult even her mother or her older sister .… Four days later Eliza [Partridge] was married to Joseph .… neither Emily or Eliza knew that the other had been married or that they now shared a common husband.”24 Two months later Joseph convinced Emma to allow him to take other wives, but she agreed only on condition that she could select them. He consented and to his surprise she picked Emily and Eliza. Accordingly, on May 11, 1943 the Partridge sisters were married to Joseph a second time, this time with Emma’s knowledge and consent.
I believe polygamy and women’s spiritual equality are not reconcilable. I consider to be a crime that Smith, Mayor of Nauvoo, Lt. General of the Nauvoo Legion, and church President, placed himself between young women, and their God. Her total obedience to him becomes her only hope of true salvation, which consist of her becoming a priestess and a queen to him, her God.
Surrounding the beginning and ending of polygamy was wide spread dishonesty by church leaders and members alike that set a tradition of “lying for God” that I believe endures today. Yet, however grand the principle in which the service of mistruth is placed, it becomes an example to others, including young people. “One of the sadder aspects of Mormon prevarication during the period of the anti-polygamy crusade and after was that children were told to lie to protect the Church and their parents. This pattern so alarmed Charles W. Penrose, a future counselor in the First Presidency, that in 1887 he told President John Taylor that he feared for Mormonism’s future. ‘The endless subterfuges and prevarication’s which our present conditions impose,’ he said, ‘threaten to make our rising generation a race of deceivers’”. 25 These children are our Mormon great grandparents. Present practice of placing the image of the church ahead of honesty seems to confirm the biblical proverb that the sins of the parents are visited upon the heads of the children for seven generations.
Telling the Mountain Meadows Tragedy Dishonestly
Outside of the Oklahoma City bombing, the greatest terrorist act of American against American was planned and directed by the highest Mormon Church officials of Southern Utah in 1857 in which fifty-five loyal Mormons, and Indians organized by them, slaughtered 120 men and women, the only ones spared being young children. “Mountain Meadows could only be understood by realizing that it was the culmination of an attitude that had sponsored many lessor events of violence. The horror of the massacre effectively stopped further practice of ‘blood atonement’.”26
While they admit his part in the affair, family members of John D. Lee resent that he bore alone the shame that should be shared by others, and that Mormon history named him as the only one responsible. John D. Lee was executed at the tragic site twenty years later in 1877. “Seven years after the execution of Lee … Charles W. Penrose wrote the account which came to be the accepted story of the church, his whole purpose being to clear the name of Brigham Young from any implications of guilt.”27 However, “While Brigham Young and [Apostle] George A. Smith, the church authorities chiefly responsible, did not specifically order the massacre, they did preach sermons and set up the social conditions which made it possible. … While he did not order the massacre, and would have prevented it if he could, Brigham Young was accessory after the fact, in that he knew what had happened, and how and why it happened. Evidence of this is abundant and unmistakable, and from the most impeccable Mormon sources. … Church leaders decided to sacrifice Lee only when they could see that it would be impossible to acquit him without assuming part of the responsibility themselves.”28
“Since that time a number of reputable Mormon scholars have begun research on the subject, only to be turned away from it … Two of these men have said that they discontinued because they were ‘counseled’ with such vigor to leave it alone that they felt sure that to continue would cost them not only their positions in church schools, but their membership in the church itself. As late as 1929 … another Utah writer introduced the subject of the massacre by paraphrasing the comment of B. H. Roberts that members of the church ‘have been slow to admit all the facts of the case and unwilling to fix the responsibility for the crime upon those individuals of their own faith who shared in the participation of the tragedy’ " …29
The story that I was taught in the 1950’s and then myself taught as a missionary in the 1960’s is presented in Essentials in Church History, by Joseph Fielding Smith. “In the 1945 edition, Smith devotes one chapter to the massacre, in which, without mentioning names, he can hardly find language strong enough or words vigorous enough to condemn the participants .… it was the crime of an individual, the crime of a fanatic of the worst stamp. Yet in the collections of the historian’s office of the Latter-day Saints church, records of which he is the custodian, there is ample evidence that this was definitely not the crime of a single individual, nor the responsibility of only one man. Even the most superficial research would show the utter ridiculousness of such a statement.”30
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992, continues the deception by omission, “pertinent information that could be embarrassing to the church is carefully omitted - as, for instance … local Southern Utah officials’ involvement in planning the Mountain Meadows Massacre … ”31
Church Temple Presidents and their superiors do not discuss publicly the former temple covenant to avenge the blood of the prophets that existed at the time of the massacre. Neither do they discuss publicly the church Law of Obedience, both of which I think help to explain how the local Stake President, High Council, and Bishop (some holding concurrent militia and church offices) could organize fifty-five otherwise law abiding church members to go against the Francher wagon train. Even the church history taught to me a hundred years afterward still reports the rumor of Missourians, murders, persecutors of the church32 as among the emigrants. However, the “crime of Obedience” at Mountain Meadows illustrates by extension to the extreme, the moral emptiness inherent in the church Law of Obedience that is still promised by devout Mormons.
I believe the lesson of Mountain Meadows most relevant today is to note that of fifty-five Mormons at the scene of the Massacre, only one reportedly had the strength of conscience to leave before the killing began33. To me, John D. Lee’s autobiographical account expresses a strong sense of conscience telling him that preparations for the killing were dishonorable and wrong.34 Yet, Lee could not act on that conscience. Like in today’s church, the excesses of Brigham Young and the power of the priesthood chain of command cannot be publicly questioned or challenged as a matter of conscience without threat of excommunication (or worse in those days35). Only obedience is tolerated.
Slaves obey. Only lives conditioned by obedience to external authority could have disciplined fifty-five Mormon men to carry out the tragedy at Mountain Meadows. “The real protection of members lies in their own sense of empowerment, in an individual sense of duty to God rather than to the institution, and in the primacy of individual conscience.”36 However, to the present ecclesiastical establishment, the above spiritual truth is a threatening transfer of power downward from church leadership to the membership. Instead, the Church continues to pour energy into the current and quite successful efforts of indoctrinating the young with threatening messages to “Follow the Brethren”. These calls to obedience and claims that “God will never permit him [the prophet] to lead us astray”37 are similar to those in Brigham Young’s time. Mountain Meadows is a horrific example of mistaken obedience to priesthood leaders. I believe sacred respect and deference to the individual conscience, above obedience to external authority, is the lesson still omitted from the official church history of Mountain Meadows.
Joseph Smith says of the Book of Abraham, “THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH. A translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. -- The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”38
Remarkably, Joseph Smith’s Papyrus were presented to the Church by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York, and announced on November 27, 1967. “The announcement mentioned … an 1856 certificate of sale signed by Emma Smith Bidamon, Joseph Smith’s widow.39 The papyrus are carefully studied and translated. There is no argument that the papyrus does not contain ‘The Book of Abraham.’ “Instead, Joseph Smith used the Book of Breathings and considered it the writings of Abraham. The fact is that the papyrus which he used as the source of the Book of Abraham manuscript characters has nothing to do with Abraham. It is an Egyptian record which gives directions for wrapping up the Book of Breathings with the mummy. The papyrus roll that Joseph Smith used for his Book of Abraham was written for a man named Hor, a priest of Amon-Ra, who died about A.D. 60 far from the time of Abraham.”40
Recovery of the papyrus sparked new studies of fac-simile No 1, No 2, and No 3 from the Book of Abraham. However, all the new activity over the facsimile was old news. The facsimile cuts from The Pearl of Great Price were presented to scholars in 1912 who wrote the same conclusion 60 years earlier:
“To sum up, then, these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ depict the most common objects in the mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith’s interpretation of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization. Not to repeat it too often, the point I wish to make is that Joseph Smith represents as portions of a unique revelation through Abraham things which were commonplaces and to be found by many thousands in the every-day life of the Egyptians. We orientalists could publish scores of these ‘fac-similes from the book of Abraham’ taken from other sources.
“For example, any visitor in a modern museum with an Egyptian collection can find for himself plenty of examples of the four jars with animal heads—the jars depicted under the couch in fac-simile number one. It should be noted further that the hieroglyphics in the two fac-similes from the ‘Book of Abraham’ (Nos. 2 and 3), though they belong to a very degenerate and debased age in Egyptian civilization, and have been much corrupted in copying, contain the usual explanatory inscriptions regularly found in such funerary documents.”41
JAMES H. BREASTED, Ph. D.,
Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago
“I return herewith, under separate cover, the ‘Pearl of Great Price.’ The ‘Book of Abraham,’ it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication. Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of well known scenes on funeral papyri, and cut 2 is a copy of one of the magical discs which in the late Egyptian period were placed under the heads of mummies. There were about forty of these latter known in museums and they are all very similar in character. Joseph Smith’s interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes’ study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture.”42
Dr Arthur C.
Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Department of Egyptian Art.
The recovery of the Joseph Smith papyrus is more momentous than may appear on the surface because for the first time there is a tangible link to the source documents of Mormon scripture. Evidence of Smith’s incompetence and dishonesty has the same implication whether he claims to be “translating” Abraham from papyrus or Nephi from gold plates.
Even though no golden plates are available for analysis of the Book of Mormon, a tremendous archeological record is present. Contrary to what I was led to believe, the archeological record does not support the Book of Mormon account:
No. 1 – The Plant-Life Test of the Book of Mormon. Wheat , barley, figs, and grapes are all mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but no evidence supports the existence of these plants in Mesoamerica. “The negative score on the plant-life test should not be treated too lightly. An abundance of evidence supporting the existence of these plants has been found in other parts of the world of antiquity.”43
No. 2 – The Animal-Life Test of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon mentions the ass, bull, calf, cattle, cow, goat, horse, ox, sheep, sow (swine), and elephant. “Evidence of the foregoing animals has not appeared in any form — ceramic representations, bones or skeletal remains, mural art, sculptured art, or any other form .… The zero score presents a problem that will not go away with ignoring of it .… That evidence of the ancient existence of these animals is not elusive is found in the fact that proof of their existence in the ancient old-world is abundant.”44
No. 3 – The Metallurgy Test of the Book of Mormon. “… numerous passages from the Book of Mormon refer to bellows, brass, breastplates, chains, copper, engravings, gold, hilts, iron, ore, plowshares, silver, steel, and swords … Again the score is zero [within Book of Mormon times]. In view of the magnitude of metallurgical skills and usage in the Book of Mormon … plenty of evidence should have turned up by now …”45
No. 4 – The Script Test of the Book of Mormon. “This is a crucial test, since a developed writing system is a hallmark of civilization .… New World inscriptions ought to be found in cuneiform (for the Jaredites) and Hebrew and Egyptian (for the Nephites) .… Scholars today see no linguistic relationship between any native American language or script and ‘ancient Egyptian, Sumerian/Akkadian, or Hebrew languages or writing systems’”46
The moral authority of the Book of Mormon can be examined to see if it is profound. Also, the book can be examined to see that errant beliefs from early American Christianity are not justified as virtues within it. The following three mistakes from early American Christian fundamentalism are perpetuated in the Book of Mormon.
First, attributing to God, behavior that makes Him vengeful or murderous. “... the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes .… Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword. (1 Nephi 4:11-18)”
Second, defining people as inherently evil and unworthy. “For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them, yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, … (Mosiah 16:3).”
Third, enthroning tribal intolerance while justifying racism. The ancestors of native Americans are described in the Book of Mormon as “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome” but so “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” so that they would become “loathsome” to the Nephites. “And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing …(2 Nephi 5: 21-23)”
In my view, all of the above raises the real possibility that Book of Mormon origins are from the 19th century. Furthermore, “Unless an individual has experienced an unusual and an extensive historical education, he little realizes that a speculative relationship of the American Indian to a Hebraic origin is a most time worn thesis which must have sprung from the imaginations of some of the theologically inclined soon after 1492.”47
Not only is this explanation of the American Indian Joseph Smith’s thesis in the Book of Mormon, but also Pastor Ethan Smith’s thesis (no relation). He first published View of the Hebrews four years before start of the Book of Mormon “translation”, in 1823 in Poultney, Vermont adjoining county (on the West) of Windsor county where the Smith family lived.48 LDS General Authority, B. H. Roberts writes, “… did Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin.”49
For example, from View of the Hebrews (p.150), is a description of Indian pontifical dress, “In resemblance of the Urim and Thummim, the American Archimagus wears a breast plate made of a white conch-shell, with two holes bored in the middle of it ... in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim50” … “Can there be any doubt, but that the things said in Ethan Smith’s book, on the matter of the ‘Urim and Thummim,’ ‘breast plates,’ and curious stones’ and attchments to breast plates’ – all published from eight to five years before the Book of Mormon was, are sufficient to suggest the Urim and Thummim as described by Joseph Smith?51” [See History of the Church, 5:537]
Interestingly, Scott C. Dunn draws a parallel between the use of the Urim and Thummin stones above, and “automatic writing” as the very method through which Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon. “ … significant… statements by Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Emma Smith, Joseph Knight, Sr., Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdrey, Isaac Hale, and others … report that Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon with his face buried in a hat looking at a seer stone or, possibly, the spectacle-like pair of transparent stones known as the ‘interpreters’ or Urim and Thummim. Emma Smith and Elizabeth Whitmer Cowdery report that the Prophet would perform this operation for hours on end. Most of these accounts, some of them by eyewitnesses, indicate that Joseph was reading words or sentences which he saw in the sacred instruments. This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone to dictate information is a well-known method of producing automatic writing …”52
Scott Dunn says, “In addition to clarifying the translation process, an automatic writing model of the Book of Mormon helps illuminate certain aspects of this volume which have never adequately been explained. Such, for example, is the case with the extensive use of the Bible in the Book of Mormon. In addition to the lengthy passages from Isaiah, the Book of Mormon is replete with allusions, expressions, and quotations from the King James translation of the Old and New Testaments. Since many of these quotations occur in settings hundreds of years before the biblical manuscripts were composed, it seems highly unlikely that these verbatim extractions were engraved on the Nephite plates …. Automatic writing, on the other hand, provides a very simple explanation of these circumstances. Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books which they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Joseph Smith’s scriptural productions borrow material from the Bible he was known to study, this is certainly consistent with other cases of automatic writing. This phenomenon of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of writing styles and literary patterns which are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
Because such feats of recall often occur in automatic writing, this phenomenon also helps us understand the inclusion in the Book of Mormon of so many concepts which seem to belong to nineteenth-century New England. A number of Mormon writers, for example, have pointed out that the Book of Mormon incorporates theological concepts and addresses religious debates common in Joseph Smith’s environment. In addition, the book capitalizes and expands on theories of the origin of the American Indian which were circulating in that part of the country in the 1820’s but which have been rejected by anthropologists and ethnologists today.”53
LDS General Authority, B. H. Roberts, poses similar questions. “Was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such common knowledge as was in the communities where he lived in his boyhood and young manhood; from the Bible, and more especially from the View of the Hebrews, by Ethan Smith? That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question.
The fact of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith .… ‘I presume our family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth – all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life; he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study … During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.’ (History of the Prophet, 1901 edition, Salt Lake City, Utah. Published under the sanction and direction of the late President Joseph F. Smith.)
It must be remembered that the above took place before the young prophet had received the plates of the Book of Mormon .… And yet it must be from that book that he would get his knowledge of the ancient inhabitants of America, unless he has caught suggestions from such common knowledge, or that which was taken for ‘knowledge,’ as existed in the community concerning ancient American civilization, and built by the imagination from this and possible contact with Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews his description of the ancient inhabitants of the land, their life, religion and customs. A year later he will be helped by the Josiah Priest’s book, The Wonders of Nature and Providence, published only twenty miles away, and it will have much to say about the Hebrew origin of the American Indian, and his advanced culture and civilization. Whence comes the young prophet’s ability to give these descriptions “with as much ease as if he had spent his whole life” with these ancient inhabitants of America? Not from the Book of Mormon, which is, as yet, a sealed book to him … These evening recitals could come from no other source than the vivid, constructive imagination of Joseph Smith, a remarkable power which attended him through all his life. It was as strong and varied as Shakespeare’s and no more to be accounted for than the English Bard’s.
Parley P. Pratt, one of Joseph Smith’s most gifted followers, himself a poet, and wonderful preacher … said: ‘He possessed a noble boldness, and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar … his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself – not polished – not studied – not smothered and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome if he could once get at their ears’ (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 47).” 54
“In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be argued, which, given the suggestions that are to be found in the ‘common knowledge’ of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith’sView of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is.” 55
“If … the view be taken that the Book of Mormon is merely of human origin; that a person of Joseph Smith’s limitations in experience and in education, who was … of the period that produced the book – if it be assumed that he is the author of it, then it could be said there is much internal evidence in the book itself to sustain such a view.
In the first place there is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency.”56 For example, there is the excessively rapid rural population growth in the new world57, the impracticalities of distance, travel, and time in the story of “Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem”58, “’Liahona’, the wonder compass … which worked by faith” 59, the transportation of the Jeradites, their flocks, fowls, honey bees, fish, seeds of every kind (Ether 2:1-3), water, “and also food for their flocks and herds”60 aboard their six small vessels with glowing stones for light. Adding to the difficulties of the Jeradite voyage is the duration. This company of human souls and these animals, flocks, seeds, provisions, and water were at sea for “three hundred and forty and four days” (Ether 6:11)! Only twenty-one days short of a whole year!
“Is it much to be wondered at if intelligent people to whom the Book of Mormon is presented for consideration, should ask: Do we have here a great historical document, or only a wonder tale, told by an undeveloped mind, living in a period and in an environment where the miraculous in ‘history’ is accepted without limitations and is supposed to account for all inconsistencies and lapses that challenge human credulity in the thought and in the easy philosophy that all things are possible with God?”61
The above extracts from B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, were unpublished for half a century. In our time, former B.Y.U. teacher of Hebrew, the Hebrew Bible, and Near Eastern Studies, Dr. David P. Wright, applied his training in the method of “Historical Criticism”, to study the historical aspects of the Book of Mormon – its date and authorship, the historical veracity of events described in it, and the existence of ideas and practices in the periods in which they are claimed to have existed. His published results say, “…The book also offers descriptions – negative descriptions – about the personality and character of supposed Native American ancestors62. A critical study of the Book of Mormon, as I have indicated, shows that Joseph Smith was its author [italic added], which carries with it the implication that these perspectives about Native Americans were his own speculations. We have the ethical responsibility of examining the validity of this critical perspective seriously and carefully lest we hold unfounded notions that create attitudes that [have been and] are injurious to Native Americans.63”
The fact of Smith’s dishonest claim to have translated the Book of Abraham from ancient documents tends to discredit his similar claim to have translated the Book of Mormon. More seriously, much internal evidence within the book itself points to a contemporary origin, rather than to a historic origin.
By its long-term policy of putting its image ahead of telling of the full and honest truth, the church seeks to present a picture of archeological support for the Book of Mormon. However, sustaining those images is increasingly difficult as early Mormon history is viewed more closely, and as the prospect of archeological verification is declining.
Joseph Smith’s claims deserve to be challenged introspectively and openly by church members and church employees (academics). The immediate results of this self-honesty could be deeply unsettling because once there is suspicion that a religion is myth, its power to control is gone. What remains instead is a sense of community, the need to belong, and the power of love that should not again be superceded by claims to the authority of “being right.”
Mormonism adopted many errant beliefs from early American Christianity into its scriptures and practices. Prejudice towards African Americans is one such influence that I believe resulted in the exclusion of African Americans from the Mormon priesthood. Consequently, African Americans could not participate in the government of the church and were denied access to the highest Temple ceremonies, like Temple marriage.
The priesthood restriction on African American Mormons (males) was completely removed in 1978. However, the Mormon Church reversed its policy without acknowledging that it had made a mistake. Before 1978, the explanation for excluding worthy African American males from the priesthood was the idea that God cursed them with a black skin.64 The reversal itself, however, is a de facto acknowledgement that the first policy was a mistake.
Apostle (later President) Joseph Fielding Smith taught that God consigns souls who were spiritually inadequate in the preexistence to be born into the black race. And, after the 1978 revelation, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie continued to write in the revised edition of the widely influential book, Mormon Doctrine: “the race and nation in which men are born in this world is a direct result of their pre-existent life.”65 Thus, even though the 1978 revelation changed church practice, none of the former underlying theories are disavowed or repudiated.
Likewise, as a missionary in Northern Arizona I did not tell the few Native American’s we encountered the facts about the Book of Mormon description of their ancestors as: “white, and exceeding fair and delightsome” but so “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” so that they would become “loathsome” to the Nephites. “And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing¼.”66 These racist beliefs are still firmly in place.
Why did these beliefs ever exist, and why is it so difficult to change them? The first explanation is that Joseph Smith entangled these teachings into the church’s scriptures. Second, church leaders are ever careful at holding on to the parental power rooted in their assertion that God will not allow the “prophet to lead the church astray.” Church members accept this claim with remarkable acquiescence.
Mormon leaders must have noticed the rising independence of some LDS women, because in 1970 the church presidency acted to tighten its grip over women by ending the quasi independence of the women’s Relief Society. All Relief Society funds were turned over to the male priesthood. LDS women no longer decided whether to join the Relief Society, but were automatically enrolled. The Relief Society was told to stop publishing its own magazine, and the church Correlation Committee took charge of women’s educational materials. Finally, Mormon men control appointment of presidents to the women’s organization at all levels and have the right to approve her choice of counselors67.
Like racism, I believe sexism is another form of prejudice inherited by Mormonism from early American Christianity. Unlike African American males, Mormon women remain excluded from the priesthood and consequently from an authoritative voice in governing their church. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong points to the source of Mormon prejudice by rejecting the traditional Bible-based view of women. He asserts: "For most of the two thousand years of history since the birth of our Lord, the Christian church has participated and supported the oppression of women. This oppression has been both overt and covert, conscious and unconscious. It has come primarily through the church's ability in the name of God to define a woman and to make that definition stick"68. He focuses particularly on the creation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the "ecclesiastical stereotype of the ideal woman against which all women came to be judged" and against which, inevitably, they came up short.69 Bishop Spong summarizes: "Mary is a male‑created female figure who embodies the kind of woman dominant males think is ideal – docile, obedient, powerless."70
This … Mary was imposed on believers through an "all-male hierarchy" that insisted, “These male definitions of women were divine, unchanging, and imposed by God .... Any attempts to challenge these assumptions or to suggest some other possibilities were immediately condemned as a sin against God, the Bible, or the divine nature of creation. Any attempt to open the ecclesiastical hierarchy to women was met by screams that God's will, expressed through an unbroken, all‑male sacred tradition, was being violated. The emotional response betrayed the irrationality of the fears as well as the weakness of the argument .... Those sexist attitudes can be challenged only by challenging the doctrine of God, the meaning of Christ, the definition of sin, the role of the Savior, and the structure of the church on which they are based.”71 He predicts “… the feminine side of God in some new incarnation will inevitably arise.”72
Similarly, Catholic Theologian and Priest, Father Tissa Balasuriya, further makes the case for women. He writes that women need more often to affirm than to efface themselves, especially among the “poor”.73 A woman's “sense of self-worth and a legitimate pride in oneself are good and necessary. Women's willingness to serve is often exploited by others, especially by men”.74 Thus, the traditional devotion of Catholic women, not unlike Mormon women, “has a domesticating impact” by not helping them “to acquire a greater sense of their dignity, responsibilities and rights in the Church and in society.”75
Fr Balasuriya challenges the creation story from the perspective of male prejudice rather than from Evolution, and the implication that Eve caused the Fall: “The interpretation of the Genesis story given by the Fathers of the Church, especially after Augustine, was that woman was the cause of the fall. She was the temptress, the accomplice of Satan and destroyer of the human race. The identification of Eve with evil became so common in Christian thought that the serpent acquired female features, as in Michelangelo's painting of the fall in the Sistine Chapel .... Male theologians and clergy have been responsible for perpetuating this denigration of women throughout the centuries …
This simplistic and damaging interpretation of the Genesis story calls into question the Genesis text ... and of male superiority and prejudice. The doctrine of original sin was developed in a manner that was anti-sexual, for human sexual relations brought into being a person who was a sinner, an enemy of God .... Since the female was considered more related to the body, and the male to the spirit and mind, this denigration of sexuality was closely linked with an anti-female attitude. This was particularly so among male clergy who dominated the Church's thinking, its ministry and administration ....
Usually, the challenge to such dogmas will come from those who are adversely affected by them, and not normally from those who stand to benefit, or do not lose from such teachings .... It is so profound in its impact, even today throughout the Christian world, that it must be revealed for what it is …”76
Although writing about Catholics, I think Fr. Balasuriya explains the Mormon situation by suggesting that church “authorities think they must preserve the simple religion of the faithful. The faithful, in turn, have a sentimental attachment to conventional modes of thinking and to the pious practices with which they were brought up, even when these observances domesticate them to accept many forms of alienation and oppression.”77 They internalize their “own subjection to the powerful, and this internalization acquires its own legitimation and sacredness.”78
“Women need to develop their own strategies for achieving an appropriate place and power in the church”, says Balasuriya, but “such changes do not occur merely because of prayer or theology. Women must develop and use their women-power.” He hypothesizes that “if for two weeks, women did not contribute to Church funds unless women's rights were accepted, there would be an immediate impact on the power-holders. Or if women contributed instead to funds which supported women's emancipation--Mary's pence instead of Peter's pence--they could have more effective power as women-Church. These are nonviolent methods that need to be developed. Woman-power, thus built up, needs to be linked across the world.”79
Such a movement sprouted when Sonya Johnson became president of “Mormons for ERA” (Equal Rights Amendment) in 1978. And today (1999), Janice Allred is President of the feminist organization, “The Mormon Women’s Forum.” However, the Mormon church has excommunicated both these insurgent leaders. Rightly or wrongly, I favored the ERA and I viewed the national public debate as a responsibility of citizenship properly outside control of the church. However, the church leadership had organized to defeat the amendment and had let its expectations be known to church member-citizens. As Elders Quorum instructor I determined that intervention by the church into this matter of State, justified open discussion of ERA pro’s and con’s in the Elders Quorum meeting I taught. I felt that the church’s act of political advocacy crossed the line separating church and state. Hence, the absence of public debate from opposing member-citizens seemed to usurp our rights of citizenship. However, I was released as Elder’s Quorum teacher immediately after the ERA class discussion. Likewise, Sonya Johnson was summoned before a church court and expelled even though her work was in the political arena, independent of any church office appointment.
I believe church members working to give Mormon women equal power are naive to underestimate the forces opposing them. The organizing leaders of any opposition will be dealt with forcefully as above. And, as is standard practice, those with the courage to raise their hand publicly to “vote” in opposition to the recommendations of the leadership are interviewed to determine the merits of their opposing vote. Hardly a secret ballot.
As with Emma Smith, when the prophet speaks, the consent of the governed no longer applies. The lingering theocratic influence first established by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo and Brigham Young in Utah is a heritage combining the power of Church and State. This heritage has values quite different from the pluralistic American democracy that tolerates peaceful dissent and freedom of speech. Indeed, because he was a religious leader, Joseph Smith commonly characterized any criticism of him, for any reason, by Mormons or non-Mormons as persecution80. When church members at Kirtland or Nauvoo, like Oliver Cowdery, objected to Smith’s absolute monarchy, they were condemned and branded apostates. Brigham Young was no less ruthless. Hence even today, public criticism of church leaders or church policy is forbidden on threat of excommunication.
How can this be? Like a democracy, true religious power is the opposite of top down authoritarian rule in that power is held at the bottom by the people and within the heart of the individual. God is part of who we are. God is in the midst of the people, more than half of whom are women. The nature of true religious power and human freedom is best described in the Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae, Pope Paul VI, 1965:
“In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor … is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience … The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consist before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society ... A since of the dignity of the human person demand[s] … that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty ... However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless he enjoys immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom.”81
Thus, I believe the above limitations upon the power of the church to coerce (none), are even more limited than the power of the State to maintain civil order. However, in stark contrast to the above principles of religious freedom, church leaders have let stand, on appeal, the excommunication of Janice Allred , the President of the independent Mormon Women’s Forum. Since women’s power is an important issue to the church, the treatment of women opponents like Sonya Johnson and Janice Allred are key indicators of the church’s ongoing inability to restrain its use of coercive power, or are an indication the church believes it need not restrain itself whenever it thinks it is right.
Church disregard for basic American liberties is a Mormon tradition illustrated long ago (in a former fight over women’s rights) when Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo city council ordered destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper. William Law, the editor and first councilor in the church presidency, spoke the truth (not slander) when he dared to publicly oppose Joseph Smith’s secret and unlawful introduction of polygamy into the Mormon community. The violent destruction of the printing press remains unrenounced.
State and National laws have the potential to act forcefully upon the lives of members and non-members alike through the police power of the State. Former state religions used the force of law to impose ecclesiastical will on the citizenship. Hence, the American governmental system purposely separates religion from state for this reason. Therefore, when the Mormon church previously combined church and state powers, and now is becoming increasingly politically active again, it poses those same threats to individual liberty. In so doing, the church is not entitled to immunity from criticism, opposition, or even opposing tactics that weaken its influence or bring pressure upon it. I think the fact of church involvement in the affairs of State is sufficient for censure. Likewise, church members, when following their individual moral conscience and exercising their rights of citizenship, can appropriately oppose the church as above. For example, church political activism on issues like polygamy, civil rights, and the rights of women can rightfully evoke either strong public support or public opposition and criticism of the church by church member-citizens.
The fact that moral issues exist in government is no justification at all for church involvement in the affairs of state because moral issues and values are ultimately present in practically all government law making. More seriously, the church abuses its ecclesiastical trust when it uses excommunication to retaliate against churchwomen who publicly oppose the church’s national agenda for American women. Likewise, the church’s threat to liberty is doubly emphasized when churchwomen like Janice Allred are excommunicated for the open development of ideas, and the organization of church women that could lead to reform within the church itself.
Most of the Mormon faithful have little voice in the decisions that govern their church. Our leaders have no accountability to the people and secrecy reins at most levels of church governance. Democratic and feminist reformers in the church cannot expect the only powers exercised towards them to be “gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned” because in the reverse direction, neither can “meekness” be characteristic of the reformer’s demand for change.
It's illegal to have sex with a porcupine in Florida, to have unnatural sex in Arizona, to make love with someone you're not married to in Utah and to live together (cohabit) in South Carolina. The maximum prison sentences for these heinous crimes vary from six months to 14 years. However, in most states, law reform has dropped regulation of consensual sex between adults, whether in response to the “sexual revolution” or to the realization that it’s a mistake to have laws regulating the private areas of people’s lives82.
The Stake presidency came into my Elders quorum meeting in 1975 asking priesthood members to vote for a California State proposition repealing legislative law reform that had decriminalized private consensual acts between adults. Never mind the principle of free agency, the Church was trying to use the force of California Law to impose its morality on the citizenship. The proposition failed.
“From whence comes the assumption that sex inside marriage is always holy? Marriage does not make sex holy, the quality of the relationship does .… Suppose the manifestations of a committed but unmarried relationship are love, joy, and peace, while bitterness, pain, and hurt are the products of a legal marriage. In what qualities does holiness reside?83”
The church applies its most guilt ridden and unloving controls on its young people, without giving the slightest indication that the positive and good forces fueling the changing moral values have been grasped or understood. Likewise, the church ignores the history of its own strict sexual codes that rise out of and justify the famous system of polygamous marriage.
I argue that Mormonism yields to no religion in its ability to couple sexuality with guilt. Sexual sin is compared by the church to murder rather than to love, passion, or to dishonesty. Even for married couples84, sex, says the church, is not designed for joy, for love, or for recreation. “… the prime purpose of sex desire is to beget children. Sex gratification must be had at that hazard.”85
Underlying the discussion of Sexism, Racism, Sexuality, and Homosexuality is the search for true prophetic leadership. Such leadership is revolutionary in character. It transcends the easy social norms of the day. Such leadership is “ahead of its time” in the struggle for social justice.
However, like “Mormonism and the Negro,” the present teaching of a divine prejudice against homosexuality illustrates again that the church is last, not first, to recognize and to correct past forms of injustice. “Being Gay and Mormon”86 illustrates through personal accounts, the pain and suffering caused by Mormon Church policies against Gay people.
I believe “the evidence points to the conclusion that homosexual persons do not choose their sexual orientation, cannot change it, and constitute a quite normal but minority expression of human sexuality. It is clear that heterosexual prejudice against homosexuals must take its place alongside witchcraft, slavery, and other ignorant beliefs and oppressive institutions that we have abandoned.”87
“There is and will always be hypocrisy in religion (as in most institutions), but it is a greater problem for religion to neglect it .… The nonsense associated with the “shunning” of divorced individuals, the ridicule and condemnation of the adolescent’s sexual drives as he or she emerges into pubescence, and the isolation of the homosexuals are but a few examples of Christian hypocrisy, based on fear, that hide behind scriptural passage and myth.”88
Mormon leaders, of course, apply the claim to divine guidance while continuing in their most unloving policies toward gay people individually and by force of law collectively89. Excerpts of Edwin B Firmage’s speech on the steps of the Utah state capital explain: “There will always be people ignorant enough, sick enough, or sufficiently mean-spirited … to call others subhuman, bestial. But … when this process of dehumanization becomes the policy of an institution – church or state – massive, dark evil results.
Social justice has been denied by the Utah legislature in naked attacks on our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and all our school children and young adults. Hate speech has been indulged in by the state legislators who thereby invite hate crimes.
And leaders who claim a monopoly of prophetic guidance have abandoned true prophetic leadership – sensitivity to the poor and the vulnerable .… Shame on our legislature for this outrage. Shame on our Governor … Shame on our senators who have applauded this act in direct violation of federal law … And perhaps most serious of all in this situation – shame on the Mormon leadership for fomenting this spirit of intolerance and hate. I say ‘worst of all’ because I believe this is the source, the cause of such irrational, illegal, and immoral action. In debasing the prophetic role from its honored position of speaking fearlessly for social justice, dominant religious leadership has at once violated the First Amendment and the first and second commandments: that we love God and one another.”90
Dr. David P. Wright states in a letter of self defense to ecclesiastical charges, “…scholarship is not some sort of sin, a ‘failing of the flesh,’ which an individual recognizes to be an error and which that individual considers to be a blemish to his or her personal integrity. Scholarship, rather, is a constructive activity and is one of the purest expressions of a person’s character. Scholarship involves a failing of the flesh, paradoxically, only when one is not forthright with his or her conclusions, when one holds back evidence, when one dissembles about his or her views in the face of social – or ecclesiastical – pressure. To express one’s views, especially when they fly in the face of tradition, in other words, is hardly a sin but rather a virtue. Because Church disciplinary proceedings treat scholarship as if it were sinful, and even employ along the way the polemical myth that sin is what is responsible for the scholar’s unorthodox views, the proceedings are an attack on the individual’s integrity.91”
College President, L. Jackson Newell, writes to Dr. Wright’s Stake President: “For Mormon scholars today, the more free and brave one is, the more likely he or she is to feel the iron blows of ecclesiastical discipline … I hope you will not punish David Wright for the very scholarly care and courage for which we ought to honor him. The test is not whether he is right but whether he is true to the evidence he uncovers and responsible in the words he writes.
I wouldn’t trade David Wright for all those religion teachers at BYU who look only for evidence that will fit their own particular assumptions about history, or match their superiors’ theology ...
While touting its commitment to families, the Church is brutally tearing many very good ones apart. David Wright, his wife and children have already paid a very heavy price for the Church’s intolerance of scholarship. We hear general conference sermons about ‘the importance of the one,’ then watch our leaders sacrifice individuals’ membership, and families, in the name of the many. I urge you to make a decision about David Wright that is worthy of the ideals spoken … by LDS leaders …”92
University of Utah professor Edwin Firmage, Jr. writes, “… The image that Church trials such as David’s present to the world and, indeed to many Church members, is of an institution determined at all costs to silence dissent, even when offered in a spirit of good will and fellowship. It is an image of a faceless corporation that uses its enormous administrative and social power to bully individuals into submission. It is an image of corporate officers abusing their authority to pursue private vendettas against their opponents and refusing to take responsibility for their actions. It is an image of misplaced obedience on the part of subordinate officers in following unjust and mean-spirited orders. Such trials discredit the institution they profess to defend and bring shame on its members.”93
Episcopal Bishop Spong also squarely faces issues of historical and intellectual honesty that will sound familiar to Mormons: “Long ago I decided that I could no longer sacrifice scholarship and truth to protect the weak and religiously insecure. I see another audience that the church seems to ignore. That audience is made up of brilliantly educated men and women who find in the church a God too small to be the God of life for them, a knowledge too restricted to be compelling or a superstition too obvious to be entertained with seriousness. My now‑grown daughters are part of that audience. I want them to find in the Christian church a gospel that takes seriously the world of their experience, that does not seek to bind their minds into pre-modern or ancient forms, that is not afraid to examine emerging truth from any source, whether from the world of science or the world of biblical scholarship. I want the church to proclaim a gospel that has contemporary power and to worship a God who does not need to be protected by hiding that God in some anti‑intellectual pose, for fear that new truth will obliterate faith and devotion due such a God.”94
Freedom of Speech
I admire the courage of David P. Wright, D. Michael Quinn, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Janice Allred and other recently excommunicated church members for refusing the attempt by the Church to restrict their freedom of speech. As a missionary under President McKay in 1962-64, I taught that “free agency” was a central truth of the church, guarded and protected by it. I was inspired by President McKay’s intervention when Sterling McMurrin was threatened by a Church court. Following President McKay’s day came a new emphasis on obedience. Combined with the idea of prophetic infallibility, that call to conformity seemed to automatically condemn some of my convictions without public objection. For example, as a young married man, I found myself opposed to the position, articulated most trenchantly by Apostle J. Reuben Clark, that marital sexual intercourse could occur only at the “hazard” of pregnancy.95 Also, I believed the Equal Rights Amendment was a simple, positive, clarifying statement that would benefit my daughters. When teaching Elders Quorum or Gospel Doctrine classes, I often felt the need to balance classroom discussions by advocating the inherent benefits of free agency above obedience.
For example, I taught that freedom, love, spontaneity, and genuine delight, without ulterior motive, are necessary to moral living. To obey is not enough. Slaves obey. Purity of motive is essential. Motive is corrupted by fear, hope of reward, or a burdensome sense of duty. Thus, the principle of ‘free agency’ takes precedence over obedience.
I came to believe the church is willfully domineering from the top. My friends and family insisted that I incorrectly perceived the intentions of church leaders. However, I asked if, in their opinion, the policy of the church is to excommunicate a member who disagrees vigorously and publicly with the church leadership? The first point of disagreement is that a church member must be free from threat of punishment, to knowingly speak and write publicly, a point of view disagreeing with the beliefs of church leaders. Otherwise, I am not a “free agent”.
Finally, all immediate members of my family agreed with my perception—that indeed, I may be excommunicated were I to publicly and vigorously advocate the above freedom of speech. At last, my percept is acknowledged. No more denial.
The threat is real and destructive as demonstrated by the excommunication of twelve LDS historians, feminists, and intellectuals. For me, these unrepudiated actions are inherently illegitimate. However, I learned that church history contains many examples from the time of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and now to our time, that establish authoritarian values as the Mormon tradition. I believe President McKay’s tolerance was an aberration.
On the dome of the Jefferson Memorial are inscribed the words, “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Yes, the church does use excommunication, or the threat of it, to intimidate and control members. However, difference of ideas in the ‘mind of man’ cannot be the basis of separation among God’s children.
On the Northwest wall of the Jefferson Memorial is another of Thomas Jefferson's beliefs: "Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens ... are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion ... No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."
Jefferson's words set a national standard of behavior. Churches should be inherent guardians of freedom because of freedom's essential function to individual growth. I believe attempts to dismiss the right of free speech are acts of' 'unrighteous dominion'. Public renunciation of these acts and restoration of membership to those who have suffered from them are needed in order to clearly remove the implied threat of excommunication from the minds of all church members.
In my experience the emphasis on obedience to the Prophet came after the passing of Church President David O. McKay. However, I’ve learned that obedience was also supremely important in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Clearly, obedience to church authority, before conscience, is deeply rooted in Mormon history and scripture. Despite a minimum number of verses to the contrary, these early leaders were ruthless, even brutal at times to enforce their will on the membership, in God’s name. For example, put yourself in Emma Smith’s place on the issue of Joseph’s polygamy, “And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph … For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice … And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord.”96 These are hardly words of “gentleness and meekness, and … love unfeigned”97 Neither are these brutal words to Emma “without hypocrisy, and without guile”98 because Joseph, both before and after the date of these threats, married other women without her knowledge.
It was Joseph Smith who organized the Danites, the Council of fifty, adopted the violent oaths of the temple, and nurtured the notorious Orin Porter Rockwell (strong arm for both Smith and Young). The physical danger to property and to the lives of dissenting church members, branded apostates, was real.99
Brigham Young continued the tradition forcefully in Utah. First notice of mission calls was sometimes learned by public announcement at conference. “Refusal to serve a mission in the 1860s was tantamount to apostasy. As Heber C. Kimball of the First Presidency had warned in 1856: ‘When a man is appointed to take a mission, unless he has a just and honorable reason for not going, if he does not go he will be severed from the Church’ (Journal History, 24 Feb. 1856).”100 Family assignment to distant settlements was Young’s prerogative. It was a tyrannical rule. The Journal of Discourses, confession of John D. Lee, confession of Bill Hickman, Orin Porter Rockwell Man of God Son of Thunder, and Justice Baskin’s Reminiscences of Early Utah are startling disclosures illustrating the sometimes ruthless nature of life in Utah under Young.
Authoritarian abuse was tamed by the struggle for Utah statehood, but the religious tradition is still forcefully present in church government. These values, however, are not only un-American, they rob the membership of its authenticity. “Have you ever noticed this? How little love there is among the Latter-day Saints? There is obedience, of course, and service. There is sacrifice and restraint. We are responsible, clean, conscientious, a little clannish, hard-working and healthy, righteous and reliable, often sentimental and sometimes naïve. Many non-Mormons say that we make good neighbors, but poor friends. Chiefly, we are known for being nice. Not for being loving.”101
If so, then why? Freedom is not only an end in itself, but a condition that serves the purpose of human development. Below, I rely on the words and the Intellect of Erich Fromm and Carl Jung for explanation, although many other political and religious writers (including Mormon excerpts) could be used to express these same beliefs.
Love, Union, Integrity
Mankind “is aware of his aloneness and separateness, of his powerlessness and ignorance, of the accidentalness of his birth and of his death. He could not face this state of being for a second if he could not find new ties with his fellow man … There is only one passion which satisfies man’s need to unite himself with the world and to acquire at the same time a sense of integrity and individuality, and this is love. Love is union with somebody, or something outside oneself under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self. It is an experience of sharing, of communion, which permits the full unfolding of one’s own inner activity .… Love is in the experience of human solidarity with our fellow creatures, it is in the erotic love of man and woman, in the love of the mother for her child, and also in the love for oneself as a human being; it is in the … experience of union. In the act of loving, I am one with All, and yet I am myself, a unique, separate, limited, mortal human being.”102
There are alternate ways “ in which this union can be sought and achieved. Man can attempt to become one with the world by submission to a person, to a group, to an institution, to God. In this way he transcends the separateness of his individual existence by becoming part of somebody or something bigger than himself and experiences his identity in connection with the power to which he has submitted. Another possibility of overcoming separateness lies in the opposite direction: man can try to unite himself with the world by having power over it, by making others a part of himself, and thus transcending his individual existence by domination .… Both persons involved have lost their integrity and freedom … The ultimate result of these passions is defeat.”103
“What is restricted is the free, spontaneous expression of the infant’s, the child’s, the adolescent’s, and eventually the adult’s will, their thirst for knowledge and truth, their wish for affection. The growing person is forced to give up most of his or her autonomous, genuine desires and interests, and his or her own will, and to adopt a will and desires and feelings that are not autonomous but superimposed by the social patterns of thought and feeling.”104 Church, and family “has to solve a difficult problem: How to break a person’s will without his being aware of it? Yet by a complicated process of indoctrination, rewards, punishments, and fitting ideology, it solves this task by and large so well that most people believe they are following their own will and are unaware that their will itself is conditioned and manipulated.”105
“ … but, in so far as society itself is composed of de-individualized persons … People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans. [Follow the Brethren] …
… the very Churches whose care is the salvation of the individual soul … they too do not appear to have heard anything of the elementary axiom of mass psychology, that the individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass, and for this reason they do not burden themselves overmuch with their real task of helping the individual … It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption. I can therefore see it only as a delusion when the Churches try – as they apparently do – to rope the individual into a social organization and reduce him to a condition of diminished responsibility, instead of raising him out of the torpid, mindless mass and making clear to him that he is the one important factor and that the salvation of the world consist in salvation of the individual soul.”106
Escape From Freedom
Eric Fromm suggests that many people are as eager to surrender their freedom as their fathers were to fight for it. He presents authoritarianism as a significant mechanism for the escape from individual freedom and responsibility. Authoritarianism, he says, is the tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something out-side of oneself in order to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking.
By becoming part of a bigger and more powerful whole which is felt as unshakably strong and eternal, one participates in its strength and glory. One surrenders one’s own self to a leader, church, nation, institution, or God, and renounces all strength and pride connected with self, one loses one’s integrity as an individual and surrenders freedom; but one gains a new security and a new pride in the participation in the power in which one submerges. One gains also security against the torture of doubt.
One is saved from making decisions, saved from the final responsibility for the fate of his self, and saved from the doubt of what the meaning of his life is or who he is. These questions are answered by the relationship to the power to which he has attached himself. The meaning of his life and the identity of his self are determined by the greater whole into which the self has submerged.
This authoritarian character is defined by his conformity and by his suppression of spontaneous feelings. Yet, at the same time he consciously conceives of himself as free and subject only to himself. However, he has consigned his freedom and his individual power to the leadership in submission to them. This submission is revealed by the absence of responsibility he feels for the actions of his leaders. One example of the Mormon authoritarian character’s escape from freedom (and associated responsibility) is the total absence of financial accountability required by the contributing membership of their church leadership.
Likewise, I believe the submission of devout Mormons to “worthiness interviews” deprives individuals of their sense of moral or ethical autonomy. It puts entirely too much power in the hands of church officers; “it undermines the individuals sense that they are primarily responsible for their own moral behavior; it encourages deceit and petty manipulation. No other church that I know of exercises this kind of control over its members. No other church that I know of makes such wanton use of disciplinary tools like ‘disfellowshipping’ and ‘excommunications.’107”
The faithful Mormon authoritarian character will say that his (or her) individual freedom and autonomy are fundamental religious precepts108, yet he is silent about or supportive of the forceful repression of the freedom of public expression within the Mormon faith community. Even among the Mormon Intelligentsia this culture of public silence is justified as “the Mormon way.”109 Because, to publicly question, or to publicly support the rights of others to public dissent and advocacy, is to refute his overarching devotion to the authority that he wants to control the church and to dominate his life. By his silence he sustains his escape from freedom through devotion to the authorities of the “only true church,” that are required to say what is “right” for all, and to whom he wants to reaffirm his symbiotic promise of obedience.
However, by this loyalty to authority the development of character is stunted. Normally, love is based on freedom and an equality of power. But, in the authoritarian system, the meaning of love, and self love are confounded by submission. An attitude of self-denial for the sake of communal unity, and the surrender of one’s own rights and power are perceived as examples of “great love,” duty, and devotion. However, just the opposite is true in that loyalty and obedience are placed ahead of self-trust. Because, love, self-love, and self-interest (rather than self-denial) are the essential affirmations of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom, and purpose.
Likewise, the teaching of sacrifice as an end in itself, is a perversion of true sacrifice if the individual self is in submission to the higher power of an authoritarian system. Rather, sacrifice has moral authority only when individuals act freely in the sense of spontaneity, acknowledging no higher authority or motive than from within themselves. 110
Indeed, one of the most obvious losses of individual self within Mormonism is the submission of “Endowed” temple goers to the church laws of obedience111 and sacrifice112.
Disobedience, Authenticity, and Courage
By an act of disobedience, Adam and Eve became free and independent according to Hebrew myth. Likewise, every individual must have the capacity to be disobedient—disobedient to authorities who try to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declare change to be nonsense.113 “… I do not mean to say that all disobedience is a virtue and all obedience a vice.” … However, “If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary); he acts out of anger, disappointment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.
However, in order to prevent a confusion of terms an important qualification must be made. Obedience to a person, institution or power … is submission; it implies the abdication of my autonomy and the acceptance of a foreign will or judgement in place of my own. Obedience to my own reason or conviction … is not an act of submission but one of affirmation. My conviction and my judgement, if authentically mine, are part of me. If I follow them rather than the judgement of others, I am being myself … 114
“Why is man so prone to obey and why is it so difficult for him to disobey? As long as I am obedient to the power of the State, the Church, or public opinion, I feel safe and protected. In fact it makes little difference what power it is that I am obedient to. It is always an institution, or men, who use force in one form or another and who fraudulently claim omniscience and omnipotence. My obedience makes me part of the power I worship, and hence I feel strong. I can make no error, since it decides for me; I cannot be alone, because it watches over me; I cannot commit a sin, because it does not let me do so, and even if I do sin, the punishment is only the way of returning to the almighty power.
In order to disobey, one must have the courage to be alone, to err and to sin. But courage is not enough. The capacity for courage depends on a person’s state of development. Only if a person has emerged from mother’s lap and father’s commands, only if he has emerged as a fully developed individual and thus has acquired the capacity to think and feel for himself, only then can he have the courage to say ‘no’ to power, to disobey.
A person can become free through acts of disobedience by learning to say no to power. But not only is the capacity for disobedience the condition for freedom; freedom is also the condition for disobedience. If I am afraid of freedom, I cannot dare to say ‘no’, I cannot have the courage to be disobedient. Indeed, freedom and capacity for disobedience are inseparable; hence any social, political, and religious system which proclaims freedom, yet stamps out disobedience, cannot speak the truth.”115
“The first recorded testimony concerning Joseph Smith’s supernatural abilities occurred during his 1826 pre-trial examination as a ‘glass looker.’ Josiah Stowell had heard of young Joseph’s ability to discover treasure and asked his help in finding a lost Spanish mine by peeping into a seer stone in a hat. At Joseph’s pre-trial examination, Stowell ‘declared he [Joseph] could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plain as the witness could see what was on the Justice’s table.’ The justice then ‘soberly looked at the witness and in a solemn, dignified voice, said, ‘Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under solemn oath you have taken, that you believe that the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?’ ‘Do I believe it?’ says Deacon Stowell, ‘do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.’”116
Most Mormon ‘testimonies’ are expected to contain a similar phrase, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joseph Smith” and the current president are “Prophets of God.” However, the essence of honesty is that you do not pretend to know something that you do not know.117 Faith is not a perfect knowledge, but a hope that by definition includes doubt. Rather than a statement of faith, the Mormon ‘testimony’ is a loyalty oath of group belonging that indicates a decision not to doubt and to submit to church authority.
To me it is sad to see Mormon parents shuttling their children up to the pulpit to repeat these oaths of allegiance when the child hardly knows the meaning of the words. Then, under enormous social pressure, to watch the internal struggle with personal integrity, as the adolescent or young adult is expected by family and congregation to eventually pronounce that he or she now “knows”.
The young missionary entering training with the courage and honestly to say he doesn’t really “know” is advised to bear testimony that he “knows,” anyway. In time, he’s assured, the virtue in the act of testimony bearing will produce the “knowing” he seeks. Once the posture of “knowing” is adopted as one’s own, then membership in the faith community depends partly upon the successful defense of that position.
Yet, from beginning to end, the oath of “knowing” lacks integrity. First, the very existence of a powerful external expectation for a person to say they “know” is compulsory in the most delicate areas of personal faith and choice. Second, the obvious conditioning of children, missionaries, and members to adopt an external conscience as their own is manipulative and akin to brainwashing. Third, in the name of this so called “knowing,” truth and scholarship are sacrificed.
In my youth, I wondered in Testimony meetings, why the Church was not more widely accepted in the face of the evidence presented. However, in adulthood the monthly Testimony meetings became a torturous affront to my intellectual honesty. I do not deny the existence of transcendent experiences. I believe these are common human experiences shared equally by believers in all religions. And, as I’ve seen so often in Mormon testimonies, I’m sure the universal tendency is to use the religious belief system to add meaning and interpretation to the experience. A belief in Testimony (belief in believing) encourages this practice. The most outrageous rationalizations and interpretations of life’s experiences are welcomed when they sustain belief, while honest contrary interpretations or counter evidence are rejected as heresies or doubts that could undermine Testimony.
Most of us believe in order to feel secure. However, to the extent that strength of Testimony is certainty of knowing, of “being right”, then the believer opens his mind to truth only on condition that it fits in with his preconceived beliefs and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions: it is a plunge into the unknown. It is the opposite of Testimony in that uncertainty is the virtue. Belief clings to the old rocks and absolutes, but faith lets go118.
I think God is not so vain as to care about belief in him. His (or her) concern is only for good. Rather, it is the leaders of the believers who throughout history teach the necessity of belief in God and belief in the leaders (as God’s representative) as necessary to membership and thus as essential to one’s future well being.
Of course, the Church professes not to have the Doctrine of Infallibility. However, we do have our own Mormon version of this doctrine in the widely held belief that the Lord will not permit the prophet to lead the Church astray.
Control is the “hidden agenda” 119 of church leaders who seek to declare one orthodox set of beliefs, and who declare one set of commandments by which all people are to live and be judged. Public discourse, church talks, class discussions, manuals and materials are to be of approved content and dominated by the orthodox notion of truth. Critical thinking is acceptable only when it supports the orthodox view, and we should share our experiences in searching for truth only if we have arrived at the orthodox conclusion.
“If orthodoxy is defined by authority, then compulsion of beliefs will arise. In every case where a church tries a member for heresy, the fundamental issue is always obedience to authority, not the truth of any particular doctrine. Although the authorities may attempt to persuade the heretic to believe the orthodox view, they never open themselves to his view. So the point of all trials for heresy is that members must submit to authority, if they want to remain in the church, because the authorities get to decide what is doctrine and what isn’t. Heretics must then decide whether to be excommunicated or to lie [to themselves]. Because belief cannot be compelled, people cannot just decide to believe what they really do not believe. So if they choose to submit to authority, they are compelled to lie about their beliefs. This analysis of what it means to define a church by a set of beliefs should make it clear that orthodoxy [authoritarianism] is an inherently divisive and oppressive principle.”120
Today Galileo is universally recognized as a father of modern science, and his trial the cause celebre of the conflict of obedience versus individual freedom.121 In his time Galileo realized at last that the authorities were not interested in truth, but only in their authority. Mormonism has similar affairs one of them “beginning in 1853 and continuing some twenty-four years” when “Brigham Young taught publicly that God … had come to earth as Adam to physically father his spiritual offspring. Apostle Orson Pratt did not share Young’s views, instead teaching the omniscience of God and worshipping the attributes of God, not his personhood.” Said Pratt, “I hope that you will grant me as an individual the privilege of believing my present views … I am willing to take President Young as a guide in most things but not in all .… I am not going to crawl to Brigham and act the Hypocrite.’ Young’s response, supported by Pratt’s colleagues [Apostles], was predictable: Pratt was teaching a ‘lie’ that was as ‘fals as Hell.’
The problem surfaced repeatedly over two decades, with Pratt speaking his mind, then eventually confessing, repenting, and capitulating. ‘If the Prophet of the living God, who is my standard, lays down a … principle of philosophy … or science … We must bow. … We must yield.’ Years later he restated to Young in a letter, ‘I have greatly sinned against you … and … God, in foolishly trying to justify myself in advocating ideas, opposed to these which have been introduced by the highest authorities of the Church. … I humbly ask you … to forgive me.’
Where their conflict began as a difference of opinion, Pratt had authority of the scriptures behind him, so Young shifted the debate to submission to authority and demanded that Pratt recognize his right as prophet of the church to declare doctrine. Time has been kind to Pratt … teaching Adam-God today could result in excommunication. … This struggle … touched on the question of honoring the office or its holder, the person or the virtues taught. … In our lifetime church leaders have continued to vacillate on this point, while being absolute in their opposing positions.”122 … “While Orson Pratt surrendered his individual integrity to Brigham Young, we understand that excommunication might have left him no life.”123 Never-the-less, to his detriment Orson Pratt’s trust in his inner conscience is weakened, development of his personal integrity is fouled, and his God given freedom of expression in his search for truth are ruthlessly usurped in the name of Young’s prophetic authority.
Yet, even in the face of numerous counter examples, church authorities continue their claim today that “The Lord will never Permit the Living Prophet to Lead the Church Astray”124 and at the same time threatening excommunication for public disagreement. Bishop Spong articulates the situation most clearly, “Ecclesiastical claims to possess infallibility in any formulated version of scripture and creed or in the articulations of any council, synod, or hierarchical figure are to me manifestations of idolatry. Such claims do not serve the truth. They serve only the power and control needs of the ecclesiastical institutions.”125
The only question before the church in regard to its dishonesty and its abuse of power “should be how abject the apology to its former members will be, and to all those whose pursuit of truth was hindered by their fear of ecclesiastical reprisal, and how honest the confession of the church will be regarding its own incompetence and ignorance of the above and similar issues”126. Such actions are not to be expected, however from a body in which truth is regularly prohibited in order to preserve its claims to prophetic infallibility.
Historian D. Michael Quinn was excommunicated for refusing to meet with his stake president, which the stake president and high council defined as “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”127 Church leaders should understand that their actions are rightfully damaging to the reputation and moral authority of the church. That disciplined members and all those who feel threatened by those actions have become an important and energetic minority. These purposeful individuals are active in publications such as Dialogue, Sunstone, and Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance.
Our views and beliefs vary, but we are united in opposition to the intolerant fundamentalism manifest in the church today. “We hope to leave the world a better place because of what we have done—to give more than we have taken. Our ‘priesthood lineage’ includes Galileo and other men and women who have championed independent thought. Many of the attributes and virtues of Jesus contribute to our ideals. There are those of us who wish to leave undefined the degree of our belief in the supernatural. We … enjoy pluralistic views and opinions, but we wish to diminish literal beliefs and to oppose narrow acts of discipline that threaten us and cause our friends pain.”128
It seems to me, the programs, welfare, and image of the church are considered “more important than the interests or needs of the people or of consequences to them.”129 I acknowledge there are quite normally conflicts of interest between any organization and the best interest of its individual members. Therefore, why not tell the members to be on guard, never to give away personal autonomy or to consign individual free agency to the church? Emphasize the necessity of these precautions because the tendency of the institution is to represent its own self-interest, first. High loyalty to the institution is naturally among the traits of men selected for church leadership. Further advise the individual member that no man or institution should ever stand between oneself and God. Such advice will weaken church control and empower the member. Belief in a personal and authoritative direct connection to the God within, can be seen ultimately to bypass church claims to power by way of baptism, priesthood, temple, and patriarchy.
My experience and belief is that the authoritarian nature of the church works inherently to defeat the inner development of the fully empowered individual. Reflection upon this assertion gives me pause, since I know good people in the church whose interpretation is different, I am sure. However, that the great majority of church members are publicly silent or give passive support to the recent church excommunications, is also telling. Freedom can be frightening; Authoritarianism can be tempting; I believe an Escape from Freedom130 accounts for submission to the church policy of silent dissent (public silence)131.
I remember the precise moment when I first admitted to myself that my beliefs about the far-reaching implications of freedom and individual responsibility were irreconcilable with the church policies and practices described herein. On leaving the bishops office that morning I knew the conflict came from my refusal to accept that times had changed, that I was actually the one who was naïvely clinging to a misunderstanding from my youth. The times of tolerance, respect for diversity, open-mindedness, and personal autonomy taught by men like President David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown132, and Marion D. Hanks were gone. The Presidencies of Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Spencer W. Kimball reestablished the authoritarian Mormon tradition133. I’d spent years teaching Gospel Doctrine and Elders Quorum classes earnestly redirecting the tone of the newly correlated134 lesson materials to emphasize instead the principle of free agency above the practice of obedience. However, those stressful years were, in hindsight, hopeless opposition to a top down retrenchment back to conservative Mormon fundamentalism that I had never known.
LDS church meetings are as painful to me as the dentist’s chair. I chose not to attend. The freedom that I have experienced is exhilarating. The process of building a personal ethical system from the ground up is a challenge. However, in some ways I have discovered that I will always be a Mormon. For example, I prefer to abstain from alcohol and tobacco.
“Belonging” to a church seems unnecessary. Yet, I find wisdom, new truth (to me), and vitality in a non-denominational church my family is attending. Interestingly, the pastor is a woman.
— Francis Nelson Henderson
1. Sterling M. McMurrin, “Recent Excommunications Damaged the LDS Church” Salt Lake Tribune, 19 July 1995, A-8
2. Prepared by the Church Educational System, Teachings of the Living Prophets, “Student Manual Religion 333”, 1982, Chapter 3 & 4, Section 3-7, 15, Section 4-6,21
3. George Q. Cannon, Published for the use of College Students in the Church Educational System, Living Prophets for a Living Church, 81
4. a.) Teachings of the Living Prophets, “The Living Prophet and Scripture”, Chapter 4, 17 – 22. b.)Nicolas Shumway, “Ambiguity and the Language of Authority,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 16, No.2 Summer 1983, 55.
5. Teachings of the Living Prophets, Section 4-6, 21
6. Ibid, 81
7. David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, Chapter 5 - Identifying the Abusive System, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, 1991, 63 - 71
8. Lavina Fielding Anderson and Janice Merrill Allred, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance: Volume 2, 1996, xiv, 118 - 120
9. a.) R.N. Baskin (Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah), Reminiscences of Early Utah, 1914 b.)Harold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God Son of Thunder, 1983
10. Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher, “Introduction: Mormonism and the Dynamics of Dissent”, Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History,1994, 9 -10
11. Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” presented on 22 August 1981 to Seminary, Institute, and Brigham Young University religion instructors, and published in Brigham Young University Studies, 21
12. Ezra Taft Benson, The Gospel Teacher and His Message (Salt Lake City: The Church Educational System, 1976), 11-12
13. D. Michael Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian”, 1982
14. B. Carmon Hardy, “Truth and Mistruth in Mormon History”, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 3 1997, 279
16. Ibid, 279 - 80
 Newell G. Bringhurst, contributor, Differing Visions, 1994, 290
17. Wilford Woodruff, Doctrine and Covenants, 1959 Edition, 256-7
18. B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant,1992, Appendix II
19. Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 208
20. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, 1997, 1
21. Vern Anderson, “Salt Lake Tribune”, Dec 13, 1997, Religion C-2; Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 476
22. Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 155
23. Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 407
24. Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 408,9
25. Hardy, “Truth”, 280
26. Samuel W. Taylor, Rocky Mountain Empire, 1978, 27
27. Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, New Edition 1962, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN: 0-8061-0549-6, 216 -7
28. Brooks, Mountain, 216, 19
29. Brooks, Mountain, 216
30. Brooks, Mountain, 217
31. Sterling M. McMurrin, “Toward Intellectual Anarchy”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 26 No 2, Summer 1993, 209 - 10
32. Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, Deseret Book Co for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 19th Edition, 1964, 513
33. Brooks, Mountain, 90
34. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; or the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop John D. Lee, 1877, 228-9, 233-5
35. J.H. Beadle, Brigham’s Destroying Angel: Life, Confession, and startling disclosures of the notorious Bill Hickman, the Danite Chief of Utah., 1904
36. Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The September Six”, Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience, 1994, 8
37. Harold B. Lee, “The place of the Living Prophet,” P 16; Living prophets for a living Church, Published for the use of college students in the church educational system, P 33
38. “The Book of Abraham,” The Pearl of Great Price, The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1959 Edition, 29
39. Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates, 1996, ISBN 0-9634732-1-2, 85-6
40. H. Michael Marquardt, “The Book of Abraham Papyrus Found”, 1975, 20
41. Rt. Rev. F.S. Spalding, DD, Joseph Smith Jr., As a Translator, 1912, 26-7
42. Ibid, 27
43. Larson, Gold Plates, 179
45. Ibid, 195
46. Ibid, 204, 210
47. Mervin B. Hogan, “A Parallel: A Matter of Chance versus Coincidence”, Included with a Photomechanical Reprint of View of the Hebrews, 1825 Edition, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City, 17
48. B.H. Roberts, Roberts’ Manuscript Revealed, “A Parallel”, Modern Microfilm, 1980, Salt Lake City, 407
49. Larsen, Gold Plates, 147
50. B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, University of Illinois Press, 1985, ISBN 0-252-01043-4, 207 - 208
51. Ibid, 208
52. Scott C. Dunn, “Spirit Writing”, Sunstone, June 1985, 24
53. Ibid, 25
54. Roberts, “A Book of Mormon Study”, 243 - 245
55. Ibid, 250
56. Ibid, 251
57. John C. Kunich, Multiply Exceedingly: Book or Mormon Population Sizes, Sunstone, Vol. 14-3, 27-44
58. Roberts, “A Book of Mormon Study”, 251
59. Ibid, 255
60. Ibid, 257
61. Ibid, 258
62. Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:24; Enos 1:20; Alma 3:5; 22:28; 43:20; 44:18
63. David P. Wright, “Historical Criticism: A necessary Element in the Search for Religious Truth,” Sunstone, September 1992, 35
64. Book of Moses 7:8; Book of Abraham 1:21,27; The Pearl of Great Price, 1959 Edition, 20, 31
65. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999, ISBN 0-06-066371-5, 10
66. Joseph Smith, 2 Nephi 5:21-23, Book of Mormon, 1959 Edition, 61
67. Ostling, Mormon America, 365 - 6
68. John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, ISBN 0-06-067513-6, p 1
69. Ibid, 1
70. Ibid, 221
71. Ibid, 222-3
72. Ibid, 224
73. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI (Oblates of Mary Immaculate), Mary and Human Liberation, Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997, ISBN 1-56338-225-3, 51
 Tissa Balasuriya, OMI (Oblates of Mary Immaculate), Mary and Human Liberation, Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997, ISBN 1-56338-225-3, 51
74. Ibid, 19
75. Ibid, 32
76. Ibid, 142, 145
77. Ibid, 49
78. Ibid, 49
79. Ibid, 103
80. John E. Hallwas and Roger D. Launius, Cultures in Conflict, Utah State University Press, 1995, 5
81. Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae, Proclaimed By His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, p 1-2.
82. Authors unknown, The Living Together Kit, ISBN 0-87337-360-X
83. John Shelby Spong, Living In Sin, 1988, 65-6
84. Editorial Page, On Limiting Families, Church News, May 24, 1975, 16
85. President Spencer W. Kimbal, “The Marriage Decision”, Ensign, Feb 1975, 4
86. 1. Editors Anderson and Allred, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 3, 1997, Part 2 2. Gary M. Watts, Mugged by Reality, Sunstone, November 1997, Vol. 20:4 Issue 108, 43 - 51
87. John Shelby Spong, Living in Sin, 1988, 79
88. Ibid, Forward, page 3
89. Mormons Send Cold Cash to Alaska for Anti-Gay Marriage Referendum [$500,000], Church & State, Vol.51, No 10, Nov 1998, 18
90. Edwin B. Firmage, “Seeing the Stranger as Enemy: Coming Out”, Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 30 No 4, Winter 1997, 28,9
91. David P. Wright, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance Volume 3, 1997, 308
92. L. Jackson Newell, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance Volume 3, 1997, 352 - 3
93. Edwin Firmage,Jr., Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance Volume 3, 1997, 355
94. Spong, Born,, xv
95. Spencer W. Kimball quoting J. Ruben Clark, “The Marriage Decision”, Ensign Feb 1975, 4
96. Joseph Smith, Section 132:52-54, Doctrine and Covenants, 1959 Edition, 244
97. D&C 121:41
98. D&C 121:42
99. Kenneth H. Winn, “‘Such Republicanism as This’: John Correll’s Rejection of Prophetic Rule,” Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, 1994, 60 - 69
100. Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate,” DIALOGUE, Vol. 19, No 2, Summer 1986, 90
101. “Salt Lake Tribune”, 28 Nov 1993, notice of support for those excommunicated.
102. Erich Fromm, On Disobedience: and Other Essays, 1981, 2
103. Ibid, 2
104. Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be, 1976, 165,6
105. Ibid, 166
106. C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, 1957, 67,8,9
107. John D. Wrathall, Sexual Terrorism, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Vol3 1997, June 1998, 181-2
108. J. Fredric Voros Jr., Freedom of Speech in the House Household of Faith, Sunstone, Oct 1991, Volume 15:4, 16 - 22
109. Orson Scott Card, Walking the Tightrope, Sunstone, April 1989, Volume 13:2, 41
110. Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom, 1941, 19,21,177,178,182, 266, 295
111. 1. “Obedience”, Family home evening Manual, Gospel Principles, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978, 213 – 219 2. “All That Thou Commandest Us We Will Do,” Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 1980 – 81, Choose You This Day, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, 1 3. “Obedience Is The First Law of Heaven”, Choose You This Day, 1979, 125 – 130 4. “First Law of Heaven”, In His Footsteps Today, For the Sunday Schools of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969, 49, 156 - 162 5. “What Does It Mean to Sustain the Lord’s Servants?”, A Personal Study Guide for the Melchizedek Priesthood 1975 – 1976, A Royal Priesthood, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975, 38 – 39.
112. 1. “Sacrafice”, Gospel Principles, 1978, 161 – 167 2. A Royal Priesthood, 1975, 77, 80 3. “The Law of Sacrifice”, Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 1979 – 1980, He That Receiveth My Servants Receiveth Me, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978, 86 - 91
113. Fromm, Disobedience, 17
114. Ibid, 18, 19
115. Ibid, 21
116. Robert B. Anderson, “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist”, Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 30 No 4, Winter 1997, 79
117. Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, 1951, 18
118. Ibid, 24-5
119. Janice Allred, Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion?, Sunstone, June 1991, Volume 15:2, 31
120. Ibid, 31
121. Robert B. Anderson, “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist”, Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 30 No 4, Winter 1997, 72
122. Ibid; 80,1
124. 1. Prepared by the Church Educational System, Teachings of the Living Prophets, “Student Manual Religion 333”, 1982, Chapter 3, Section 3-7, 15 2. “Will the President of the Church Ever Lead You Astray?”, 1974 – 1975 Study Guide for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Published by same 1974, 111.
125. John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, 1991,232
126. Spong, Born, 178
127. Anderson, “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist”, Dialogue, Volume 30 No 4, Winter 1997, 90
128. Ibid; 92
129. Harold T. Christensen, “Memoirs of a Marginal Man: Reflections of a Mormon Sociologist,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 20, No.3 Fall 1987, 120
130. Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom, 1941
131. What Does It Mean to Sustain and Follow the Brethren?; Living prophets for a living Church, P 78-81
132. President Hugh B. Brown, “An Eternal Quest: Freedom of the Mind,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 17, No.1 Spring 1984, 79
133. Richard J. Cummings, “Quintessential Mormonism: Literal-Mindedness as a Way of Life,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. XV, No.4 Winter 1982, 98
134. Peter Wiley, The Lee Revolution and the Rise of Correlation, Sunstone, 1995, Volume 10:1, 19 - 22
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