Mormonism and Church discipline/Scholars/Does the Church excommunicate historians

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Does the Church excommunicate scholars who publish historical information?

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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]


Statement by The Council of the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve on Church Discipline

January 1994:

Statement by The Council of the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
In light of extensive publicity given to six recent Church disciplinary councils in Utah, we believe it helpful to reaffirm the position of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We deeply regret the loss of Church membership on the part of anyone. The attendant consequences felt over time by the individuals and their families are very real.

In their leadership responsibilities, local Church officers may seek clarification and other guidance from General Authorities of the Church. General Authorities have an obligation to teach principles and policies and to provide information that may be helpful in counseling members for whom local leaders are responsible. In matters of Church discipline, the General Authorities do not direct the decisions of local disciplinary councils. Furthermore, the right of appeal is open to anyone who feels he or she has been unfairly treated by a disciplinary council.

It is difficult to explain Church disciplinary action to representatives of the media. Considerations of confidentiality restrain public comment by Church leaders in such private matters. We have the responsibility to preserve the doctrinal purity of the Church. We are united in this objective. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught an eternal principle when he explained: "That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy."[3]:156 Citations in this letter were within the text; FairMormon has moved them to endnotes to improve readability.</ref> In instructing His Twelve Disciples in the new world about those who would not repent, the Savior said, "But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people. . . ." (3 Nephi 18:31, see also Mosiah 26:36, and Alma 5:59.) The Prophet also remarked that "from apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions."[3]:67 This continues to be the case today.

The long standing policy of Church discipline is outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants: "We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members . . . according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; . . . They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship." (D&C 134:10.)

Faithful members of the Church can distinguish between mere differences of opinion and those activities formally defined as apostasy. Apostasy refers to Church members who " repeatedly act in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; or persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority."[4]

The general and local officers of the Church will continue to do their duty, and faithful Church members will understand.

As leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we reach out in love to all and constantly pray that the Lord, whose Church this is, will bless those who love and seek divine truth.

Signed:

The Council of the First Presidency and

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles [5]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

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. 3.0 3.1 Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976). off-site
  4. General Handbook of Instructions, 10-3.
  5. "News of the Church," Ensign (January 1994) 75.