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With the two prior Signature authors brought up for church discipline not being exed — Murphy had no action taken and Palmer was disfellowshipped — I figured there was a new, less confrontational approach being taken for dissenting authors. That would be, IMHO, a positive development.

On the other hand, perhaps the "unsuccessful" actions against Murphy and Palmer taught a different lesson to some local leaders: first dig up some dirt on the individual, then proceed with a disciplinary action on those grounds. I hope this doesn't become the standard modus operandi.

Well, adultery is a pretty serious sin frankly.

Further it seems like Southerton's situation was quite different from the other two. He really was very antagonistic to the church.

BTW - I'd definitely disagree with "Southerton's claims are largely correct."

Well, there's adultery and then there's adultery. If a guy just steps out on the wife, that's one thing. But if a couple is separated and one or both initiate new relationships, that's something different, especially if the original couple later reconciles.

If he had divorced wife no. 1, married wife no. 2, then later divorced wife no. 2 and remarried wife no. 1, would there then have been no moral fault? So was the essence of the sin the failure to file the proper paperwork at city hall? I'm not saying there was no moral fault, I'm just saying describing it as simple adultery, making no distinctions, doesn't do justice to the facts. It suggests the real reason action was taken was because of his publishing rather than his relationships.

I did not hear any of his presentations during his US book tour nor have I yet read his book, so it's hard for me to evaluate whether he is "antagonistic," but the "anti" label is applied so liberally by LDS apologists that I just ignore it now unless there's clear evidence. In the emails I traded with him, he was pleasant and informative. Of course, so was I.

You've brought up bad publicity concerns in this matter a few times now. Do you really think that should be a consideration? The consequence of that would be some "too big to ex" standard that I assume you wouldn't favor.

The course Mr. Southerton's stake president followed seems highly rational. Faced with the possible apostasy and probable adultery of a former bishop, the more plain matter would be the one to address first.

John, it's a declared policy of the Church that one of the purposes of disciplinary councils is to "safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church." Bad PR hurts the good name of the Church, so bad PR should be a consideration when the action raises that possibility. That's not me making an argument, that's just LDS policy. The point I'm making is that had Southerton's SP taken bad PR into account (as policy suggests he should) he might have just left things alone. Of course, the policy is thinking of the member's actions hurting the good name of the Church; I doubt they considered that the actions of local leaders could hurt the good name of the Church, but they should, and the policy can certainly be read that way.

A different question (the one you're raising) is whether good or bad PR should be a factor in disciplinary councils. One can make arguments on both sides. Certainly PR concerns are front and center in most LDS management decisions. I don't know any other church that appoints a public affairs officer for every stake-level unit and aggressively courts positive media coverage (except maybe Scientology). But then, few other US denominations (no other?) have undergone the 19th-century experience of the LDS Church, which highlighted the legal and social consequences of not maintaining a positive public image. So I'm not faulting the Church for being concerned with good PR.

Why is it assumed that the sole reason for Southerton's excommunication was adultery? That's only what *he* said. Since the church doesn't publish the reasons for disciplinary councils, it's totally possible he was ex'ed for apostasy for his books/articles/speeches.

Digging for dirt in order to avoid the true reason for excommunication is an action unworthy of a true church.

The church should have the courage to explain and defend the real reason why they ex'ed Mr. Southerton - he presented a rational analysis which contradicts church myth and doctrine.

Paul - contradicts church myth is right. Church doctrine? It isn't a doctrine that all Native Americans are Lehites and that there were no other inhabitants. That's where Southerton is amazingly dishonest. He attacks a myth that no intellectual Mormon believes and intentionally downplays the views that have been around for 25 years.

There are lots of crazy Mormon myths and urband legends. It doesn't mean the church ought be judged by them.

Why do most people assume that Southerton is telling the truth about the stated charges in his church court?

Doesn't Southerton _know_ that church policy is to _not_ publish the reason that disciplinary action was taken? Doesn't he _know_ that the church won't respond to his public statements on the details of his court?

Fer cryin' out loud, he's promoting his book. What a way to get free publicity.

GreenEggz, Southerton didn't ask for this, it was the Church (either at the top or locally) that made it happen, so your suggestion seems far-fetched. He promoted his book like any other author, by making a promotional tour last year and giving interviews.

As for the accuracy of his accounts, he was one of only five or six people at the proceeding, so he is an excellent source. There is nothing odd or inconsistent about his summary of the proceedings. If he flagrantly misrepresented what happened, the Church would not hesitate to correct the record, whether directly or indirectly.

I came across this piece of news today:

[I]n a statement issued earlier today, the national public affairs council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the disciplinary hearing had not focused on Southerton's book or his doubts about the Mormon church.

"Mr Southerton has made various public comments about DNA and the Book of Mormon," the statement issued by church spokeswoman Jenny Harkness said.

"This disciplinary council had nothing to do with this subject and was not raised by any of the church leaders sitting on the disciplinary council," she said, adding that decisions relating to spiritual welfare were private matters between individual church members and their local church leaders.

"Mr Southerton has publicly stated that he considers himself a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," she said. "The disciplinary council allowed him to express his feelings and consider his membership."

Evolution of a Drama

Isn't it convenient in these types of cases that the church refuses to comment on the substance of the charges, thus leaving the public to guess and the subject hanging in the wind? I understand protecting the privacy of the individual, but if that individual wishes for his case to be discussed publicly, it doesn't seem fair for his to be the only voice confirming it. By convenient, I mean that as an organization, church disciplinary councils seem to be accountable to no one.

Nick:

"... but if that individual wishes for his case to be discussed publicly, it doesn't seem fair for his to be the only voice confirming it."

Explain that one to me. If Party A wants it discussed publicly, it's not fair of Party B to decline? I'm not following.

"... church disciplinary councils seem to be accountable to no one."

And who would you suggest they SHOULD be accountable to? The article already mentioned that Southerton was appealing; is there some other body to whom a disciplinary council should be accountable to? Like, the "court of public opinion" or something?

Think about it this way, T&L Nate. When the church refuses to comment on these things, it really leaves it up to folks like you and me to guess what happened. In most cases, that's fine--it's none of our business. But if an individual has had a highly publicized issue in their life, it might be in that individual's best interest for the public to know exactly for what he or she was tried and/or disciplined. Since the church typically refuses to comment, it's easy for us to not *quite* believe the individual, leaving him or her at a disadvantage in the court of public opinion--which may not matter to the church (sounds pretty naive to me), but certainly DOES matter to many individuals. This is a situation that could easily be manipulated, if so desired, by the side that chooses to keep quiet.

This brings us to accountability. I set out from the starting point that human beings are fallible. Therefore it is possible that people in a position to do so might abuse the privacy of a disciplinary trial/council to either their own benefit or the detriment of the individual being tried/punished. If you read the D&C, you might find this at least somewhat in line with Brother Joseph's thinking (give them a little authority ...). The individual is starkly exposed, with little or no recourse.

It has been mentioned before on this site that it would be positive if members at least knew what they were getting into with church discipline--ground rules, methods for determining guilt or innocence, potential punishments, etc. For example, in the rare case that a member may appeal to the First Presidency (Southerton's is the first I've ever heard of; in fact I did not believe this was a possibility), what exactly does the First Presidency review? Policies? Procedures? The case itself, with evidence and witnesses?

It just seems fair that members who subject themselves to church discipline should at least have the assurance that they will be treated fairly. The extensive secrecy of the process makes that assurance shaky, if not impossible.

Nick said: "It has been mentioned before on this site that it would be positive if members at least knew what they were getting into with church discipline--ground rules, methods for determining guilt or innocence, potential punishments, etc. For example, in the rare case that a member may appeal to the First Presidency (Southerton's is the first I've ever heard of; in fact I did not believe this was a possibility), what exactly does the First Presidency review? Policies? Procedures? The case itself, with evidence and witnesses?"

Nick, I've sat in on disciplinary proceedings before as the ward clerk. All of that is made very clear to the individual. I think you're assuming that because no one has explained it all to YOU, a third party, that those directly involved are kept ignorant. Such is not the case.

"It just seems fair that members who subject themselves to church discipline should at least have the assurance that they will be treated fairly. The extensive secrecy of the process makes that assurance shaky, if not impossible."

And again, how would public pronouncements make it any better? Currently, the individual can say whatever they want and the Church doesn't say boo; are you asserting that it would be MORE fair and advantageous to the Church to publically tell ITS side of the story, which may be both (A) less complimentary to the individual than the version they're telling at a press conference, and (B) has been undertaken with an understanding of discretion and confidentiality? Are you further implying that somehow disciplinary proceedings will be more open and honest if individuals are read their Miranda rights right after the opening prayer -- "Anything you say can be included in a press release upon conclusion of the proceedings?"

I just don't understand what you want the Church to do. If they're doing it wrong, how would your "fixes" make it any better?

T-Nathan, I'm just curious, were the instructions on ground rules, evidence, and possible punishments ever provided to the individuals (in your experience) in writing? The LDS leaaders, of course, have a lot of written material guiding them in how to conduct the proceedings (the probable source of the information they are providing to the individuals called before the proceeding). Plus the LDS leaders have probably conducted other disciplinary councils before, possibly many times, whereas the individual is likely encountering everything for the first time, and is (as far as I know) precluded from bringing in an advisor to give them advice during the proceeding.

Nick,
I've read the Doctrine and Covenants, and the General Handbook of Instructions (1983 version).

The church's policy of not commenting on the details seems to me the right thing to do. The church public affairs council probably wouldn't have responded publicly at all if Southerton hadn't first gone public about it.

I'm even surprised that the church's national public affairs council even commented at all.

But given Southerton's views as published in his book, the honorable thing would have been for him to request name removal before the release of the book. Like the other poster, Southerton attacks things that neither the Book of Mormon nor church leaders have stated. There are also big enough holes in his conclusions on the DNA evidence, that even a high school biology student, or a seminary student could drive a Mack truck through.

Southerton erected a straw-man, then used illogical conclusions based on narrow scope DNA evidence to attack the straw-man.

Moreover, there are plenty of possible migration and inter-marriage scenarios going back to the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel and up to the time of Columbus, that could have created today's current DNA makeup of Asians, Jews, and native-Americans.

The sum of the whole matter of the DNA "evidence" is BIG WHOOP. It doesn't _prove_ anything for or against the Book of Mormon, or the Lehite ancestry of pure-blooded American Indians. So the American Indians might not be "purely" descended of Lehi. Mrs. Lehi, or Mrs. Ishmael might have been Asian. So what? The Amer-Indians still can count as his children, even if they are partially descended from him.

Southerton can point to all his evidence, but it doesn't cover all the possible scenarios. The evidence just doesn't prove what he said it proves.

So Southerton got ex-ed. BIG WHOOP. That's between him and his stake president, and the higher-ups if he wants to appeal it.

...BIG WHOOP...
Yet here we all are, commenting and reading about for likely hours on end.

It appears on my limited reading on the subject of Native American ancestry that the scientific community has largely settled the matter with no mention of the religious implications for a few million folks. These non-religiously vested professionals have provided a scientific theory for what the scientific evidence displays and that, like all scientific theories, may change with further findings. Until then, I will rely on the non-vested individuals to interpret the findings.

[edited]

I have to agree with Nick about the need to make the discipline process more accountable. There are many surprises and unknowns about the whole discipline process for the accused and the end result, IMO, based on my expierence and a few anecdotal discussions I've had with others who've been through the process, is that the accused can very easily come to distrust those conducting the council and the the church itself. I don't think it is the intention (or purpose) of discipline to encourage distrust of leaders, but the untransparent and one-sided flow of things does have this effect.

Examples of "suprises" and Unknowns include:

1) Suprise: Your sin will be permanently recorded on church records (as mentioned on another post by me).

2) Unknown: Will people actually speak up for you at your disciplinary council (the whole dividing the lots to speak for the accused thing)? You never know the extent to which the members of the High Council will speak on your behalf (or against you) as you are not present during such discussions.

3) Surprise: Your confession is not confidential. Your Bishop or SP will discuss your sin with his superiors, his counselors, the EQP or HPGL (at least indicating that you can no longer home teach), and you may be discussed in PEC.

4) Unknown: The degree to which your defense of your own actions and behavior will make you look unrepentant.

5) Unknown: Whether your punishment is commensurate (fair) with the punishment of others in similar situations.

6) Surprise: That your membership records (processed by the ward clerk) will be updated to reflect your status and will be seen by the ward clerk and bishop if you move to a new ward.

7) Unknown: How does the whole appeal process work and what is the chance of actually getting those in SLC to look [at things] your way.

8) Unknown: Whether what you confess in the first place requires a disciplinary proceeding. (Especially if you don't have the handbook of instructions).

9) Unknown: That your "sentence" is consistant with what other people outside of your stake recieve for the same offense.

10) Unknown: Will you be abused during the proceedings? People asking inappropriate questions — going into too much detail about your sexual behavior, past sins, or unrelated issues? Will someone speak up for you when the questions go to far? Do you have to answer the inappropriate questions? Will you look bad if you dont? Do you have any "rights," so to speak?

All systems of discipline and enforcement have complexities and uncertainties that, for a first-timer (as probably most being disciplined are) make the process scary, uncertain, and suprising, and can result in a loss of trust by the accused in the system. That is why most systems develop an advocacy system that at least allows accused individuals to seek the advice and assistance of someone who is familiar with the system and who is obligated by law to act in the interest of the accused and serve as an advocate for the accused. In a way these advocates know how the system works just as well as the judges and prosecutors do and are thus able to help an accused overcome the unknowns and be aware of the surprises so that the accused can be emotionally and strategically prepared to go through the process. Even if the accused is guilty and deserves punishment, the fact that they have a true advocate during the process adds a lot of credibility to the whole outcome.

I think the church wants the person's bishop to play this role — but the bishop doesn't cut it, he's on the SP's [management team] and must do the bidding of the SP, and is himself also a judge. Thus, an accused is really left alone to go through the process.

Talk to someone who's been through discipline and the thing they will probably tell you is that they felt very much alone through the whole process. I don't think that this feeling of being alone is really a necessary component of the repentance process, and in many cases makes the repentance path very political rather than spiritual and ultimately gets in the way of repentance.

So I guess I'm saying maybe we need sort of need a stake "Public Defender" calling (safeguarded from the Stake President), perhaps some more guidlines published and taught to the general masses about what actually happens with your records when you get disciplined, and maybe some general guidlines about what sort of punishments will be inflicted for some sins. If these or other things could make the process more credible and trustable, I think you'd see more people "using" the system to help them repent, rather than fearing the system and avoiding it.

People should fear the consequences of their actions and sins more than the disciplinary process. I think, however, the way we have it now, it is reversed. [edited for length and typos]

GreenEggz (#18) said: The church's policy of not commenting on the details seems to me the right thing to do. The church public affairs council probably wouldn't have responded publicly at all if Southerton hadn't first gone public about it.

I'm even surprised that the church's national public affairs council even commented at all.

The number of instances where the church ignored the so-called official policy of not commenting leads me to believe that the church reserves the right to comment regarding any and all widely publicized disciplinary proceedings.

I am rather amazed by the way all of the comments on this subject have missed the main point - Simon broke his temple covenants. He served a mission, served as Bishop and was married in the temple to his wife. He has publicly admitted having an affair. He is obviously unrepentant as he has down-played the importance of breaking covenants — his statements that apostasy is far more important than adultery is evidence of this fact. He knew better and deliberately chose to break a commandment he covenanted to keep. His mission service and time as Bishop in Brisbane would make it difficult for him to argue ignorance. I would imagine this would be very damming in any disciplinary council. The whole purpose of a disciplinary council is to understand a person's level of repentance. I fully support the decision based on the evidence available publicly.

I tend to agree. I think when someone is a church leader or former church leader they need be held to a different standard than simply some inactive member with criticisms.

On the other hand Dave is right that perhaps in these cases PR ought to play a part. However, I suspect Dave would disagree when PR considerations go the opposite direction from ignoring the people (as I think was the case in the early 90's).

Wow, Bob, thanks for your highly articulate post. I want to support you on one count: it doesn't really help the process if the only way an individual can learn the ground rules of church discipline is by becoming subject to that discipline.

I still think that if church discipline has the eternal consequences we believe it does, the organization should feel a great responsibility to ensure that individuals are treated fairly. A line in a manual that says "individuals should be treated fairly" doesn't cut it. You need some degree of accountability as to what those policies and procedures are, and how they are applied.

Do we believe that church discipline has eternal consequences? It is not obvious to me that this is the case...

Only people who take themselves way too seriously would think church disciple has eternal consequences. In most cases, the people exed have already exed themselves and the court is just doing paperwork. Hence the reluctance to ex someone who's already on the path of repentance, and why Southerton's court, from what we've heard so far, was a theater of the absurd and dishonest in the extreme.

In cases were a mistake is made, there is no Mormon church in eternity from which to be exed from. The church is dissolved when Jesus returns.

There were so many high road ways to try Southerton, it is mind boggling why the church picked this sleazy route. I hope the [First Presidency] doesn’t continue the low road by ignoring Southerton’s assumed appeal, as lower church authorities have sometimes done in cases where former church employees have appealed firings (the embarrassingly dishonest game of “we said he can appeal, we didn’t say when we’d hear the appeal”).

Two easy high road examples of exing Southern come to mind:

“Brother Southerton, we have these public statements you’ve made that you no longer consider yourself LDS. Any problem if we just go ahead and make it official? No? Consider it done. You’ll have it in writing shortly.”

“Brother Southerton, you keep using DNA evidence to preach against the BofM when the BofM doesn’t preclude multiple human entries into the Americas. The church has already publicly stated it has no argument with your primary evidence. We are now officially asking you to stop this preaching against a nonexistent straw man. Will you do so? No? OK, we have no choice but to ex you from the church which you’ve already said you no longer consider yourself a member.”

That's a good point Nate. It would seem that LDS theology would entail that any mistake be corrected by God. Certainly Mormons believe any mistakes in say genealogical work and the associated temple work will be corrected. Indeed, I've heard many mention that they think the majority of temple work will need correction.

I think LDS believe excommunication has eternal consequences if one does not repent and be rebaptised. It may be even worse than not hearing the gospel at all.

"I think LDS believe excommunication has eternal consequences if one does not repent and be rebaptised. It may be even worse than not hearing the gospel at all."

I am LDS and this statement does not describe my beliefs. Furthermore, not only am I an orthodox member, but I am orthodoxy.

It might be better to say that one must repent and be baptized period. That not repenting and being baptized is bad, but no more so than any other soul.

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