Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormon America: The Power and the Promise/Chapter 21

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 21: Dissenters and Exiles"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, a work by author: Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling

Response to claims made in Mormon American "Chapter 21: Dissenters and Exiles"

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Response to claim: 352 - "The church has often swatted down intellectuals individually"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "The church has often swatted down intellectuals individually"

Author's sources:
  1. Quote by Lavina Fielding Anderson

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There are plenty of "intellectuals" in the Church who are not "swatted down" by it.


Question: Who are the "September Six"?

The "September Six" were six individuals who were disciplined by the Church in September 1993

Six individuals were disciplined by the Church in September 1993. Supporters of those disciplined and critics of the Church have dubbed them "the September Six." The six individuals were:

  • Lavina Fielding Anderson (excommunicated)
  • Avraham Gileadi (excommunicated—now back in full fellowship)
  • Maxine Hanks (excommunicated—now back in full fellowship as of 2012)
  • D. Michael Quinn (excommunicated)
  • Paul Toscano (excommunicated)
  • Lynne Kanavel Whitesides (disfellowshipped)

Avraham Gileadi has never spoken publicly about the reasons for his excommunication, was never asked to retract any publications or statements, and has returned to full fellowship. Maxine Hanks returned to the Church as of 2012.

What are the criticisms related to the "September Six"?

  • It is sometimes claimed that the Church excommunicates or disfellowships scholars who publish historical information that is embarrassing to Church leaders.
  • It is often claimed, despite the fact that these disciplinary actions are carried out by local leaders, that they are in reality instigated by general authorities.
  • Some claim that the Church is silencing honest people for telling the truth.
  • The Church is claimed to take a "dim view" of intellectuals.
  • It is claimed that the LDS Church penalizes members for "merely criticizing officialdom or for publishing truthful—if uncomfortable—information," and "shroud their procedures with secrecy."
  • The LDS Church prosecutes "many more of its members" than other religious groups.


Question: Are the reasons for discipline ever made public?

Church leaders and officials rarely make the reasons or evidences presented at disciplinary councils public

Church leaders and officials rarely make the reasons or evidences presented at disciplinary councils public. Thus, former members are able to claim whatever they like about excommunication without contradiction from the Church.

D. Michael Quinn claims that his excommunication was the direct result of his historical research on the origins of Mormonism. He refused to attend his own disciplinary council, telling his stake president that it was "a process which was designed to punish me for being the messenger of unwanted historical evidence and to intimidate me from further work in Mormon history." [1]

Despite Quinn's belief that his Church discipline was all about his history, his stake president wrote back on 11 May 1993, saying "There are other matters that I need to talk with you about that are not related to your historical writings. These are very sensitive and highly confidential and this is why I have not mentioned them before in writing." [2]


Response to claim; 354 - The Church operates a clipping service called the "Strengthening Church Members Committee" to monitor individual members

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

The Church operates a clipping service called the "Strengthening Church Members Committee" to monitor individual members, which Lavina Fielding Anderson refers to as "an internal espionage system."

Author's sources:
  1. Lavina Fielding Anderson

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The Strengthening Church Members Committee does exist, but it is not "an internal espionage system."


Question: What is the Strengthening Church Members Committee?

The SCMC was originally created as a "clipping service"

The Strengthening Church Members Committee has been described as a "clipping service" which kept track of public statements by Church members who openly criticized the Church in the media. Some have accused the committee of hunting down and exposing historians and intellectuals in order to subject them to Church discipline.

Although a "clipping service" probably made sense back in 1985, in the internet-rich world of the present, it seems somewhat anachronistic. Anyone with Internet access can likely find any information more quickly than it could have been "clipped" from newspapers in 1985.

The following is from the Church News, August 22, 1992 off-site

First Presidency statement cites scriptural mandate for Church committee

Generally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not respond to criticism levied against its work. But in light of extensive publicity recently given to false accusations of so-called secret Church committees and files, the First Presidency has issued the following statement:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830 following the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York. This sacred event heralded the onset of the promised `restitution of all things.' Many instructions were subsequently given to the Prophet including Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants:" `And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them. . . .

" `And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries. . . .

" `And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.

" `And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;

" `And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published. . . . (Verses 1-5.)'

"Leaders and members of the Church strive to implement commandments of the Lord including this direction received in 1839. Because the Church has a non-professional clergy, its stake presidents and bishops have varied backgrounds and training. In order to assist their members who have questions, these local leaders often request information from General Authorities of the Church.

"The Strengthening Church Members Committee was appointed by the First Presidency to help fulfill this need and to comply with the cited section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This committee serves as a resource to priesthood leaders throughout the world who may desire assistance on a wide variety of topics. It is a General Authority committee, currently comprised of Elder James E. Faust and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They work through established priesthood channels, and neither impose nor direct Church disciplinary action.

"Members who have questions concerning Church doctrine, policies, or procedures have been counseled to discuss those concerns confidentially with their local leaders. These leaders are deeply aware of their obligation to counsel members wisely in the spirit of love, in order to strengthen their faith in the Lord and in His great latter-day work."

- The First Presidency


Response to claim: 354 - The LDS system of internal discipline "operates more like a small cult than a major denomination"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

The LDS system of internal discipline "operates more like a small cult than a major denomination."

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The statement that the Church is "like a small cult" is pejorative. See Quote manipulation


Question: Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a "cult"?

The word "cult" as it is applied to Mormonism is simply a label that implies "religion I don't like" or "religion that I disagree with"

An anti-Mormon protester at Temple Square during the April 2003 LDS General Conference.

Some claim that the Church is "a cult."

Simply put, "cult" is simply a label that implies "religion I don't like" or "religion that I disagree with." When the early Christians were unpopular, uncommon, and powerless, they were labeled a "cult." When they reached prominence and power, they began applying the label in turn to religions with whom they disagreed.

A book-length treatment of these issues has been written, and no cogent response to its arguments has been forthcoming. [3] "Cult" is not a useful term, since it merely expresses the speaker's prejudices, but tells us nothing useful about the religion being considered. It is likely impossible for sectarian critics of the Church to formulate a definition for "cult" that would include the present-day Church of Jesus Christ but not include the first century Christian Church. The usefulness of the label "cult," is therefore questionable—except as a short-hand for bigotry or prejudice.


An anti-Mormon protester at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This claim is a good example of anti-Mormon attempts to use loaded language and emotionally charged words to attack.

Webster's Dictionary defines cult as a “great devotion to a person, idea, or thing”

So, because the Jews revere Moses, Lutherans revere Martin Luther, Seventh-day Adventists are devoted to the teachings of Ellen G. White, and Christians reverence Jesus Christ, all these groups could be considered "cults" by this definition.

Alan Gomes, who teaches at BIOLA University’s Talbot school of Theology and applies the label to Mormons, among others, admits that “our English word cult comes from the Latin word cultus, which is a form of the verb colere, meaning ‘to worship or give reverence to a deity.” [4]

Yet, this is not simply what sectarian critics of the Church mean when they call it a "cult." Gomes writes that his "preferred definition" of cult is "a group that deviates doctrinally from a parent or host religion; that is, cults grow out of and deviate from a previously established religion." [5]

But, if Gomes wishes to adopt this definition, would he be content to call Christianity "a Jewish cult"? Christianity certainly grew out of Judaism, and it certainly deviates doctrinally from Judaism. Is Gomes content to label his own faith "a cult"? One suspects not.

The advantage of the term "cult," for critics, is that it has a negative connotation. When the public hears the term "cult," they do not simply think, "religious group devoted to some person or ideal." Nor, usually, do they think, "religion that has deviated from the beliefs of a parent religion." A "cult" implies a fanatical, probably dangerous, religious group—and it is this image which critics seek to exploit. Hence Gomes' desire, for example, to "unmask" cults (who must have something to hide) and the necessity of a chapter on "Keeping People Out of Cults."

If the "cult" is a Jewish cult (i.e. Christianity) then presumably Gomes would not want to keep them out. Thus, "cult" is clearly intended to communicate something additional.

Gomes also insists there are other criteria for being "a cult," such as "den[ying] (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith." [6] Gomes considers these to include "the Trinity," yet this creates problems for his definition, since the first century Christians clearly had no doctrine of creedal Trinitarianism as Gomes' present denomination does. By Gomes' definition, he would then be part of a Christian cult, since he's altered the doctrines of the "parent" religion, early Christianity.

Clearly, such linguistic games become rather pointless

It should not surprise us that the Church is so labeled—new religious groups, when considered 'strange' or 'heretical', and still in the minority, have often been labeled as "cults" to keep people away from them, or to justify poor treatment of them. Unsurprisingly, the early Christians had the same experience:

This new Jewish-Christian party in the eyes of the religious leaders of the time was, at the worst, simply regarded as guilty of minuth (cultism), namely, a variety of Jewish heresy, or rather, Jewish sectarianism...early passages in the Talmud still contain hostile references to the minim (cults), among whom were numbered the Jewish Christians... [7]

Pliny, an early Roman leader also said that Christians were a “superstition, a foreign cult,” and this characterization was re-iterated by two more Roman writers, Tacitus, and Suetonius. Tacitus explained the attacks on Christians as being due to their 'cult' status, and also because “of their hatred toward mankind”. Tacitus also said that they were “an enemy to mankind”, and a “deadly superstition”. Suetonius called the Christians a “mischievous superstition” or, in other words, a cult. [8]

Families sometimes worry when a family member shows an interest in the Church. They can be reassured that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts a high value on maintaining and strengthening family relationships. The Church will not baptize children or youth under the age of eighteen without their parents' permission.


Response to claim: 354 - The LDS Church penalizes members for "merely criticizing officialdom or for publishing truthful-if uncomfortable-information

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

The LDS Church penalizes members for "merely criticizing officialdom or for publishing truthful—if uncomfortable—information," and "shroud their procedures with secrecy."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Church does not discipline someone for "merely criticizing." The Church will discipline someone for actively attempting to bring others out of the Church, which could include publishing information critical of the Church.


Gospel Topics: "Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time"

Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time. Through this process and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a member can receive forgiveness of sins, regain peace of mind, and gain strength to avoid transgression. Church discipline is designed to help Heavenly Father's children in their efforts to be purified from sin through the Atonement, return to full fellowship in the Church, and receive the full blessings of the Church.[9]


Question: What is the purpose of Church discipline?

The purpose is to provide the individual with a chance to start over

The purpose of excommunication is not to simply purge people from the Church. The purpose is to provide the individual with a chance to start over. Elder Ballard states:

When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings.

I remember as a child occasionally coming unkempt to the dinner table. My mother wisely sent me to clean up and then return. My parents would have been pained if I had taken offense and had run off—and I would have been foolish to do so. In the same way, the servants of the Lord occasionally find that they must, in loving concern, send some of Heavenly Father’s children out the door so they can return clean once again. The Lord does not want us to “miss supper.” In fact, he has a great feast prepared for those who return clean and pure through the door. He is greatly saddened when anyone decides they prefer to be unclean and miss the meal, or when they find an excuse to take offense, or when they run away. He is pleased to extend the chance to start over.

I’ve known a few rebellious people who disregard the commandments and are influenced by the evil one or by other rebellious people to transgress God’s laws. I’ve seen their distress and pain. I’ve also seen their joy when, humbled and fully repentant, they have returned to the Church and have had all their blessings restored. [10]

Although excommunication does not always result in the individual returning to the Church, the hope that this will happen is indeed the desired outcome.


Question: Why might one be disciplined within the Church?

The purpose of Church discipline is to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent and to protect the Church

Elder M. Russell Ballard notes:

The purpose is threefold: [1] to save the soul of the transgressor, [2] to protect the innocent, and [3] to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name. [11]


Question: What Church disciplinary options are available?

1) Excommunication, 2) Disfellowshipment, 3) Formal probation and 4) Informal probation

Leaders of the Church have various options for discipline. Bishops or stake presidents impose Church discipline, and do so after discussing the matter with the member, hearing from other witnesses (if any), and after prayerful consideration.

From most to least severe, disciplinary options include:

  1. Excommunication - the person is no longer a member of the Church. They can participate in no ordinances, cannot speak or pray at meetings, cannot hold Church callings, may not attend the temple, may not wear LDS temple garments, and may not pay tithing. Excommunicated members may continue to attend worship services if they are not disruptive or dangerous.
  2. Disfellowshipment - the person remains a member of the Church, but cannot speak or pray at meetings, cannot hold Church callings, and may not attend the temple.
  3. Formal probation - the person remains a member of the Church, and is asked to comply with a set of conditions specified by the bishop. Formal probation can last no less than one year.
  4. Informal probation - the person remains a member of the Church, and is asked to comply with a set of conditions specified by the bishop. The length of informal probation is determined by the bishop, and can be less than one year.

The last two penalties may be imposed by a bishop privately upon a member. The first two penalties require a formal "Church disciplinary hearing," held by either the bishop and his two councilors, or by the stake presidency and stake high council.

The goal in every case of Church discipline is to have the member's altered status be temporary; the goal is to encourage them to reform and return to full activity and participation in the life of the Church.

Church discipline cannot impose any financial or legal penalties (see DC 134:10-12).


Question: What specific transgressions might result in Church discipline?

Moral sins and apostasy

Elder Ballard:

The First Presidency has instructed that disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest, or apostasy. A disciplinary council must also be held when a prominent Church leader commits a serious transgression, when the transgressor is a predator who may be a threat to other persons, when the person shows a pattern of repeated serious transgressions, when a serious transgression is widely known, and when the transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices and false representations or other terms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.
Disciplinary councils may also be convened to consider a member’s standing in the Church following serious transgression such as abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing. [12]

President Gordon B. Hinckley on Larry King Live:

Larry King: Are people ever thrown out of your church?
Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes.
Larry King: For?
Gordon B. Hinckley: Doing what they shouldn't do, preaching false doctrine, speaking out publicly. They can carry all the opinion they wish within their heads, so to speak, but if they begin to try to persuade others, then they may be called in to a disciplinary council. We don't excommunicate many, but we do some. [13]

Generally, most Church discipline falls into two broad categories:

  1. serious moral sins
  2. apostasy

Group #1: moral sins

Serious moral sins which could result in a Church disciplinary hearing include committing various felonies, such as: murder, rape, sexual abuse, theft, or fraud. Other acts considered to be serious sins by the Church include: adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, and submitting to, encouraging, or performing an abortion except in cases where competent medical authority has determined that the mother and/or fetus' life is in serious jeopardy by a continued pregnancy.

Other acts contrary to Church teachings that would not result in excommunication or disfellowshipment include failure to pay tithing, failure to attend meetings, failure to observe the Word of Wisdom, failure to attend the temple.

Group #2: apostasy

The Church understands apostasy to be the repeated public teaching of ideas contrary to the doctrines, principles, or ideals of the Church. Those who are "apostate" continue to teach or preach their ideas even after being cautioned by their Church leaders.

Apostasy is the act of trying to persuade or mislead others; it is not the fact that one disagrees with Church actions, policies, or leaders. As President George Q. Cannon explained:

We could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the Authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church. [14]


Question: What does not fall within the scope of Church discipline?

Civil or criminal cases, tithing, Word of Wisdom or church attendance

Elder Ballard:

Disciplinary councils are not called to try civil or criminal cases. The decision of a civil court may help determine whether a Church disciplinary council should be convened. However, a civil court’s decision does not dictate the decision of a disciplinary council.
Disciplinary councils are not held for such things as failure to pay tithing, to obey the Word of Wisdom, to attend church, or to receive home teachers. They are not held because of business failure or nonpayment of debts. They are not designed to settle disputes among members. Nor are they held for members who demand that their names be removed from Church records... ; that is now an administrative action. [15]

Paul, who had suffered much, observed in his epistle to the Hebrews: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." (Hebrews 12:11.) [16]


Response to claim: 354 - The LDS Church prosecutes "many more of its members" than other religious groups

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

The LDS Church prosecutes "many more of its members" than other religious groups.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is the author's conjecture, and is without supporting data.



Notes

  1. D. Michael Quinn, Letter to Paul A. Hanks, 7 February 1993; cited in Lavina Fielding Anderson, "DNA Mormon: D. Michael Quinn," in Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters, edited by John Sillito and Susan Staker (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2002), 329-364.
  2. Paul A. Hanks to D. Michael Quinn, 11 May 1993; cited in Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  3. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: FARMS (reprint edition), 1992), 1. ISBN 0934893357. off-site
  4. Alan W. Gomes, Unmasking the Cults (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), 7. (italics added)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 10.
  7. Herbert Danbys, "The Jew and Christianity," p. 8.
  8. Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale University Press; 2nd edition, 2003), 22, 49–50, 66. ISBN 0300098391.
  9. "Church Disciplinary Councils," Gospel Topics on LDS.org.
  10. M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign (September 1990), 12. off-site
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign (September 1990), 12. off-site
  12. M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign (September 1990), 12. off-site
  13. CNN Larry King Live, 8 September 1998
  14. George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974), 493.
  15. M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign (September 1990), 12. off-site
  16. Neal A. Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p.67