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I dunno, Dave. What would you suggest that the church do about an endowed holder of the Melchizedek who has had sex with a woman not his wife and is not repentent?

I read the purported post Mr. Southerton was said to have left on RfM. If it's truly his own account, then by his own admission, the excommunication is just dotting the i's and crossing the t's. His Mormonism is purely nominal.

Amen, and amen.

Dave, do you ever think that people like you and me might some day be targets for review because of blog statements like this?

It's not clear to me this is a blunder. But certainly Southerton wants an excommunication over his (rather naive) criticisms of the Book of Mormon. So if not done carefully it certainly will play into his hands.

I always had the impression that any temple-endowed Melchizedek priesthood holder who admitted committing adultery would be up for formal discipline.

Isn't that a completely normal approach to this sort of thing?

Wow — I'm obviously swimming against the current on this one. First, why it is a blunder: it generates bad news for the Church while generating no particular gain. Those charged with looking after the welfare of the Church should not inflict harm on the Church for no reason — so why proceed with this?

Second, if they are going to go after Mormon authors, at least finish the job. By going after Murphy and Palmer, then folding when the stakes got higher, they are getting the worst of both ends, both bad PR and looking like cowards when the heat gets turned up. If you're going to ex your dissenting authors, at least have the guts to finish the job.

As for the response that Mormon authors should just be treated like anyone else, that is simply not the case. The Church makes them a special case by having the Strengthening the Members Committee staff monitor Mormon authors and, when directed, send communications to local leaders initiating (in a deniable way, of course) disciplinary action. So from the moment they start these are not standard cases. As long as they are making special rules for authors, the modifications should minimize harm to the Church, not amplify it.

As for the actual facts, if the guy reconciled with his wife and is back together with her, that sounds repentant to me. But that's not really a line of discussion I intend to pursue in the comments at this point in time. No doubt FARMS will soon publish a short book on Southerton's personal life and we can talk about it then.

" No doubt FARMS will soon publish a short book on Southerton's personal life and we can talk about it then."

No doubt.

Both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon clearly teach that adulterers are to be "cut off" if they are not repentant. Publishing a book that proclaims the Book of Mormon false, doesn't sound like repentance to me. I'm actually encouraged when the Church does what is right and lets the PR consequences follow. It is merely practicing what it preaches. That increases its credibility in my book.

So this Southerton went on a tour of Utah preaching against the Church, apparently touting his status as a member, and some find it objectionable if the Church bureaucracy should inform his stake president on another continent of this? Would it be similarly objectionable if Church auditors came in and told him one of his bishops was embezzling?

I can imagine the stake president being presented with Southerton's preaching against the Church and deciding he doesn't need to debate with someone whose adultery should have removed him from membership in the Church sometime ago. It seems like a legitimate choice of how to spend his time and effort, particularly given how it seems to deflate the showdown before the High Council that Southerton seems to have yearned for.

I guess I'm in the middle on this one. I do think he should be exed (after all, he wants it) but I think it's beneath the Church to root around his personal life to ex him for an embarrassing reason.

They want to be able to point at him and say, "See, all our critics are adulterers and sinners." Why isn't it enough that he doesn't believe and doesn't want to be part of the Church?

So, should local church leaders take a poll and do focus groups before they decide whether or not an individual has put his/her salvation at risk and that of others through their choices?

Interesting idea; we could blow the unitarians and congregationalists out of the water by simply being even more open to letting everyone but God tell us what to do with _his_ Church.

I might be speaking off the cuff here because I don't know much about the situation aside from what I've read here and what has been said on the LDS-Phil list. But I think I may agree with Dave on this one. This Southerland guy doesn't even sound like he cares whether he's a member or not. It's not like it's a punishment for him to be excommunicated, it's actually what he wants in order to market his book. Why not just leave the guy alone and let him fade into the background?

It’s too bad it’s gotten to this point. I’m embarrassed for us. This isn’t the first guy to get all bent out of shape about our church getting some past interpretations wrong and, for whatever reasons, not candidly clarifying the matter. Both this dissident and the church are not acting in good faith. But the organizational conspiracy of our side is far worse than this guy’s individual apostasy and publiocation thereof.

If the church were smart they would end this matter by issuing a press release that contrary to the statements of some perhaps well meaning individuals, the BofM contains the account of a small group of ancient Hebrews and their entry into the Americas, blah, blah, blah and in no way excludes multiple human entries into the Americas. And the church has no argument with DNA evidence indicating that living indigenous Americans and Polynesians are largely, if not entirely, descended from Asiatic ancestors, although the church would not be surprised if later evidence found a remnant of other ancestry, blah, blah, blah. The church could then follow-up with individual letters to the dissidents (“members” and Ex’d) on this issue, saying we hope the church’s public clarification ends the matter, apologizing for any misunderstanding, and inviting them back to full fellowship in the church.

For background on my present position, even as a youth in the 70’s I scoffed at the idea that the BofM precluded multiple entries into the Americas, that most Native Americans descended from BofM peoples, or the dark skin thing was accurate. My guess on the skin thing was Laman and Lemual assimilated into a dark skinned pre-Nephite tribe and their descendants were therefore dark. After all, almost all scripture is a one sided story, not a balanced accurate account.

As someone who is in deep contemplation about converting to LDS, stuff like this is very scary to me.

VtK, excommunication is a touchy and messy topic in any religious denomination. As you can see from the comments, there is a wide range of opinion on how it is used in the LDS Church. But HR problems are always managers' biggest challenges in any corporation, even a religious corporation. Clever weblog, by the way.

Here is the Church press release (from 11 November 2003) mentioned in the AP article.

I have yet to see any proof of "organizational conspiracy" on the Church's side. On the other hand, I've seen plenty of Signature's PR manipulations with these authors.

I totally agree that it makes the church look bad to excommunicate authors.

I think the problem is the church's obsession with recordkeeping. If the powers that be could let go of their obsession with numbers, and let membership be more fluid, the whole issue would go away.

Unfortunately, I think the idea of "cutting people off" was something that made sense to protect an insular community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It makes much less sense now...it even opens the church up to legal problems that other, less centralized churches don't have to deal with.

Ben and Steve EM, I'm not sure that I understand how ideas of conspiracy could be relevant here. The LDS church is a top-down hierarchy in authority structure. If leaders at the top of the hierarchy tell people below them what to do, there's no conspiracy. That's just how hierarchies work. If the church subsequently claims that the lower-level leaders took the decision on their own, that's not a conspiracy, either: it's just a lie. As far as I know, the evidence of top-level involvement is as follows.

1) We know that an organization with the rather Orwellian name "Strengthening the Members Committee" exists. From vol. 2 of Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy book: "Aug 8,1992 - Salt Lake Tribune reports that First Presidency's spokesman has acknowledged existence of special 'Strengthening the Members Committee' that keeps secret files on church members regarded as disloyal. Due to publicity on this matter, including New York Times, Presidency issues statement on 13 Aug. defending organization of this apostle-directed committee as consistent with God's commandment to Joseph Smith to gather documentation about non-Mormons who mob and persecute LDS Church. Presidency lists Apostles James E. Faust and Russell M. Nelson as leading the committee."

2) Grant Palmer's disciplinary action was preceded by a packet sent from the SMC. As far as I know, this information came from Palmer himself. Search for Palmer's name on this website to see the press release: http://www.signaturebooks.com/news.htm

3) I remember seeing some discussion of disciplined authors facing meetings with local leaders who had underlined, photocopied versions of their writings. I can't source this right now, but it may possibly imply intervention by the SMC.

That's the evidence, as far as I know. This suggests that decisions may not be totally decentralized. However, the final outcome does in fact seem to be decentralized.

Ben S:
Don't see a conspiracy? I'll lay it out: If church authorities digging up dirt to get a guy off their rolls they don’t want anymore because he publishes stuff against the church (rather than deal with his public apostasy head on) isn’t a conspiracy against the guy, I don’t know what is. This wouldn’t happen to Joe member.

It gets even stranger: Thanks to John Mansfield's link above we know the church has already issued the press release I had envisioned to end the matter. So if the church did the above board thing of notifying Mr. Southerton of the public clarification, inviting him back to church and asking him to cease preaching against a straw man that doesn't exist, and he continued to so preach, then it would make sense to ex him on those grounds. But no, what does the church do? They go and dig up some past dirt on the guy and proceed on those grounds, presumably because they don’t want to draw attention to the issue for reasons that I can’t fathom.

We really need a mechanism for old apostles to retire so the church can be run by younger people with clarity of mind. The present situation is a theater of the absurd.

I would like to thank Dave for focussing the spotlight on a problem which we would never tolerate in any religion but our own.

In disfellowshipping or excommunicating scholars (like Michael Quinn, Grant Palmer, and others) Church leaders create a theological paradox. Assuming that such actions are eternally binding implies that regardless of researchers’ choices, it becomes impossible for them to obtain the benefits of the Savior’s atonement.

Denying one’s insights is lying. Lying is a sin. And sinners are damned. If researchers choose to be truthful, then their priesthood leaders will deny them the sacrament and exclude them from the temple, both very serious punishments. From the point of view of LDS leaders, the researchers will be damned. Thus, according to Mormon theology, the researcher cannot enjoy salvation. Short of legitimizing dishonesty, claims of inspiration or divine authority cannot resolve this paradox. Whatever researchers do, they will be damned.

Notice that the Catholic Church has ceased to punish scientists. The Catholic leadership has learned its lesson. I cannot understand why the Mormon hierarchy has to reinvent the wheel four hundred and forty years after Galileo Galilei.

Referring to adultery that occurred many years ago is a convenient excuse. Rather than addressing the difficult questions and the racist implications of nonsensical theology, "the Church" instrumentalizes sexual morality to get rid of an inconvenient critic. Too many other researchers like Southerton have received the same treatment at the hands of the Mormon hierarchy without commiting adultery.

Those of you who are not aware of the evidence should spend some time at the home page of the Mormon Alliance, which has collected a series of carefully documented case studies.

If, as I have heard claimed in several fora, the local leadership actually did deny that he was being disciplined for apostacy and stated instead that the council was to investigate adultery, I find that a really shocking breach of confidentiality. My understanding is that the policy is supposed to be that church disciplinary councils are not to be publicized by the Church and that local leaders are certainly not supposed to discuss the sexual transgressions of members subject to disciplinary action with the press. From the claims I have seen, it is unclear to me whether or not the claims attributed to the Church come from actual statements by local leaders, or if they come from Southerton or other sources. Personally, I would find it very troubling if a local stake president were telling members of the press, etc. that so and so is being tried for adultery. As a substantive matter, I think that excommuncation for both adultery and apostacy can be appropriate, but I think it would be highly inappropriate for Church leaders to discuss the matter, particularly prior to a disciplinary council.

Clever weblog, by the way.

Thank you. I hope the humor wasn't too distasteful. I mean, I know it's very distasteful, I just hope not too distasteful.

VtK,
Sorry you have to see those of us who have too much time on our hands obsessing about this when we don't know so much about it.
What we have here is a church trying to decide what to do when a nominal member tries very consciously to do damage to the church. It's not very easy to decide. I would direct you to Mosiah 26, where Alma, the prophet at the time, struggles with taking into his hands the authority to excommunicate members. I know of no disciplinary court in the church but that there has been foremost a concern for the spiritual welfare of the one involved. I would suggest that the adultery charge is being acted on because it is the charge that it is easier to know what to do with. There is a clear course of action when a priesthood member commits adultery. The rest will take more time to sort out.
Steve EM and others,
There is a lot of presuming and assuming going on here. I think we need to remember that what we have are a lot of good people trying to act according to their best wisdom and the guidance of the spirit. Why are we so quick to see the sinister in the actions of the brethren and to give our sympathy to those who are consciously fighting against the purposes of the church?

Just because I haven't said it in a while.

I heart Dave.

Hellmut, I don't think anyone has ever been subject to LDS Church discipline merely for publishing objective research. If a researcher has come to the conclusion that fundamental claims of his church cannot be true, he should do the honorable thing and withdraw his membership. If not, surely he should give his faith the benefit of the doubt, rather than publicly criticize it on the flimsiest of grounds. That is what bothers me the most about the Southerton case.

One good thing though, is that technically it is not his "salvation" that is at stake, but rather his "exaltation." In most cases like this, I think excommunication is more a fait accompli rather than a real punishment, and I don't see any reason to quibble about grounds when someone clearly wishes to abuse the process to his own ends.

Nate, I think the media reports are based on what purports to be Southerton's own statement and on information posted or released by his publisher. I have seen nothing suggesting LDS sources have divulged any of the details now being circulated.

Steve H, I think it is true that local leaders are more comfortable dealing with and deciding cases of moral transgression that in determining whether published historical, scientific, or doctrinal commentary constitutes "false doctrine" or evidence of apostasy.

"No doubt FARMS will soon publish a short book on Southerton's personal life."

Charming, Dave.

Steve H, #23 --- On the contrary, arguing over minutiae is what blogs are for. And it's healthy to see dissent within an organization.

In news stories on the Web, it looks like Simon is the one telling the world that it's adultery. He's accusing the Church of taking the easy way out by pursuing the adultery charges - he doesn't appear to be charging that the Church has violated confidentiality in disclosing the nature of the charges. He's just ticked that they are not taking him head-on for apostasy. Sounds like he wants to be depicted as a martyr for truth instead of someone just caught cheating.

Based on what I know of the case and my experience in disciplinary cases, the action appears entirely appropriate. Admitted adultery demands action. Apostasy is more difficult to deal with. The Church should take action in this case regardless of how enemies will spin things. "Do what is right, let the consequence follow."

Simon has long been aware of clarifications such as those provided at LDS.org on the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon. I've pointed out such things myself in e-mail correspondence. More than just a simple misunderstanding is at play here.

Jeff Lindsay,
Given your inside knowledge of Southerton’s unrepented apostasy, it’s beyond me why you’re defending our church taking this embarrassing low road. Southerton didn't just get “caught cheating”. Church authorities conspired to dig up dirt on the guy, something they would never do w/ Joe less active member. I even know of cases with active members where the wife went to the bishop w/ a cheating allegation and the bishop said he's do nothing until hubby came in to confess. And in Southernton’s case it gets worse. He’s back w/ his wife, so using such dirt makes the church look petty and vindictive.

Do what is right, let the consequence follow? I only wish our church would take that high road.

What’s most ironic that if the church’s motivation in taking the low road was to avoid playing into Southerton’s hands, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

I don't think the church has anything to gain by pursuing church discipline in these cases. However, I'm not so quick to buy the story that the Stake President went out seeking dirt to justify a disciplinary council. Aside from innuendo, Southerton's statement doesn't really make any claim about how the stake president learned about the adultery. And Southerton may not actually know how the matter came to the SP's attention.

Southerton only says that his stake president asked church leaders in another state to meet with his friend. It seems plausible to me that, having heard rumors or allegations, a stake president might investigate the matter before considering a disciplinary council. But I would also question how Southerton knew that the questioning of his friend was instigated by his stake president. Is it possible that the investigation went the other way? That is, the friend's bishop heard of her affair and then asked Southerton's church leaders to see if there was any substance to the allegations.

Based on my reading of Southerton's statement, the claim of snooping around for dirt seems mostly based on innuendo and on inferences by Southerton about what he believes went on behind the scenes, and what he belives motivated those actions. Of course, his inferences may well be correct, but we only have his statement and his spin, so I'm still reluctant to jump on the stake-president-conspiricy bandwagon.

I'm stunned at the lack of trust in the local authorities expressed by many on this post. Do you know more than they do -- and have you been called to make this judgment? It was Southerton (not local leaders at all) who proudly trumpeted his adultery as the stated reason for being called before the counsel. Only he has publicized the event. He has been up front in stating that the local Church leaders in Australia were not egged on by "higher-ups" and that they refused to discuss his book or DNA issues at all (indeed, they threatened to shut it all down if he brought it up at all). I trust the local leaders to know more about what affects the local membership than any of us.

Southerton doesn't give a woof about Church membership and there is nothing to be gained by exing him at all. He has been self-exed for seven years. In my view, his behavior has been childish, opportunistic and contemptible. That said, I'm sure that life as a Church member in Brisbane is different than any of us experience. I don't see any benefit to going thru an academic exercise of exing someone who is inactive and disaffected -- unless like Southerton they are touting their status as a church member to gain unjustified credibility with the media. Of course, if that is the reason, then it isn't adultery that is the issue.

Further, it seems to me that anyone who has been called as a bishop has to know that adultery is something that will be taken seriously -- more seriously than for those who haven't been trusted with the responsibility of a judge in Zion. Having reviewed Southerton's statements to the press and his various posts on the net, he is playing it for all that it is worth in an attempt to publicize his rather naive book. In that context, it is worth exing him just so he can't say that he remains a member. He even stated clearly his reason for remaining a member to those on the ex-Mo boards: it was precisely to gain an opportunity to attempt to embarrass the Church and to publicize his arguments. What a great guy.

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