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“I have a hard time with historians, because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting.”
November 1, 2012 5:02 AM   Subscribe

The Case of the Mormon Historian: What happened when Michael Quinn challenged the history of the church he loved.
posted by andoatnp (92 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quinn is the most important american religious historian working today--and although he tends to have a couple of problems--the first is the most obvious that being an LDS historian gets him into serious trouble with funding. The second is that his history seems very tight and very local--and so for example, in his book on Same Sex Dyanmics and the early church, because it is largely archivial, unadventorous scholars and academics have not realised that it could be an important book to deal with issues of homosociality, the settlement of the west, sex work, and the like. For example, his discussion of the various kinds of homosociality would be v. useful in a discussion of Lincoln, for example. Third, his queerness tends to be deferntial and almost quiet. He also takes his religion seriously. Right now, in the academy it seems fashionable to have queerness loud and religion much less seriously. I was hoping that he would be successful when microhistory had a bit of a bump in the last few years, but it doesn't strike me as the case.

It is actually one of my life ambitions to study underneath him, but I dont quite know how to make that happen.

I also think that there might be problems of his history--for example, his use of the Salamander letter in Mormonism and the Magic World View, which can be explained by everyone and his fucking dog using the Salamander letter at that point; or that because of much what he writes about is closeted or secretive discourse, that the lacunae is as important as what is present, but because the lacaune is often fast movign, one has to be careful what one is looking for.

All of that said, he has a slightly better career than some of the Salt Lake City Six. esp. the Toscanos---whose book on LDS paradox everyone should read vis a vis Romney.

All of that said, I am genuinely suprised that he hasn't been hired by Yale or UC Berkely.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:34 AM on November 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


I also think that there might be problems of his history--for example, his use of the Salamander letter in Mormonism and the Magic World View, which can be explained by everyone and his fucking dog using the Salamander letter at that point

PinkMoose, can you clarify this? Are you saying that one of the problems in his writings is that he uses as an example something that is commonly known and understood?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:39 AM on November 1, 2012


The Salamander Letter for a few years was thot to be a genuine peice of LDS history, it was later found to be a fraud. Mormonism and the Magic World View integrated portions of the Salamander Letter, but it was used by other historians, and was pretty commonly thought to be genuine. So, the criticism of Quinn using the Salamander letter could be considered under fair historical practice. wiki here
posted by PinkMoose at 5:52 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know about the Salamander Letter, I was just confused by the wording in your first post.

And andoatnp, thanks for the post. This is a great article.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:55 AM on November 1, 2012


No, I can't read. Learning about the inner machinations of cultural and politic establishments like this, be it Mormonism or Scientology, makes me squick more than any Hallowe'en trick.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:46 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The was a fun subplot in Big Love where every so often the folks on the polygamist compound would "discover" (i.e. forge) a historical letter and the church would buy it and suppress it - now I'm wondering if that's based on some letter-forging incident.
posted by Artw at 6:50 AM on November 1, 2012


Learning about the inner machinations of cultural and politic establishments like this, be it Mormonism or Scientology, makes me squick more than any Hallowe'en trick.

The other day I went a-Googling in an effort to find out whether or not unmarried Mormon women are allowed into Mormon heaven (a friend had told me that they are not allowed in). The answers I found via actual Mormon sources, and the explanations offered, were squarely in the "holy moly this is some serious Scientology wackadoo" territory. I find it really odd that there has not been a deeper national discussion of Mormonism, and I wonder which outcome will prompt a more thorough examination of the church - a Romney win or loss. For the most part, I think secular/liberal America doesn't care too much about it, but there is a vociferous segment of the Evangelical community that will go hard after the church if Romney ends up losing. But who knows - we may very well be at the dawning of a new era of acceptance of the Mormon Church within evangelical circles.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:06 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last night I thought I'd check to see what Jack Chick had to say about Mormons to get the pulse of the crazy religious right and how they feel about Romney. Then there is also this new comic called The Enchanter which shows a sample describing Mormon murders. I thought this was over-dramatization as Chick is wont to do but after reading the article in the OP, I'm not so sure....
posted by JJ86 at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2012


Artw, yes. Mark Hofmann forged a number of putatively historical LDS documents, as well as signatures from various famous people, and sold them to the LDS church and to powerful people in the church hierarchy. When this scheme began to fragment, Hofmann began to place bombs to distract attention from himself; two people died and Hofmann himself was seriously injured by one of his explosives.
posted by catlet at 7:17 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's ironic because Romney revises history all the time
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:29 AM on November 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Cheers Catlet.

(I realize that learning aboutthe LDS via Big Love is roughly akin to learning about 1910s England via Downton Abbey.)
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mark Hofmann forged a number of putatively historical LDS documents

The inspiration for that Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode with Stephen Colbert, I guess. Another valuable source of historical education!
posted by stebulus at 7:30 AM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it really odd that there has not been a deeper national discussion of Mormonism

The unspoken social compact among the pseudo-Christians who run America requires that none ever starts pointing out the ridiculous parts of another's theology, rituals, or culture, lest they have to defend their own. So, no American politician will ever be asked if he believes in a operative sense the fantastic tales he claims to take on faith. The only surprise is that this compact extends to Mormonism's particularly risible and relatively recent fabulations; I guess now we have to wonder if Scientology is beyond the pale.
posted by nicwolff at 8:10 AM on November 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


Last night I thought I'd check to see what Jack Chick had to say about Mormons to get the pulse of the crazy religious right and how they feel about Romney.

That Chick tract makes it double-weird how evangelicals (who do hold Mormonism in strong contempt) are willing to hold their noses and elect an LDS leader President. I guess getting the black Muslim socialist out of office is more important.

Now...I'm pretty-much a "whatever works for you" kind of guy, when it comes to people's personal beliefs, religious or not. But, I really do have this uncomfortable knot in my gut about a Mormon President, and it's really confusing me. I think it has a lot to do with their highly insular and self-segregating approach to society, and their disturbing/disgusting practices in regards to non-LDS citizens.

I'm fairly ashamed that these reservations keep cropping up in me, but there's just something under the surface that concerns me (beyond the obvious policy aspects of a Romney Presidency)
posted by Thorzdad at 8:26 AM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


nicwolff, excellent answer to my question! This Edit Mode thing really works!
posted by sneebler at 8:39 AM on November 1, 2012


now I'm wondering if that's based on some letter-forging incident

For people who can't get enough of this forgery story, I can't recommend The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worral strongly enough. It's about a teeny library in Massachusetts that buys what they think is an authentic Emily Dickinson poem.... and they meet Mark Hoffman. Hoffman was, according to the publisher page "...a young Mormon boy who loathed what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his faith, and who devised secret ways to infiltrate and undermine the church." The book talks a lot about how LDS dealt with all these documents that kept showing up and how their desire to acquire what were basically long missing (or never existed) founding documents for their church made them make a bunch of squirrely decisions. Super spooky and interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 AM on November 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Quinn is great. I don't know that he's the most important american religious historian working today, but I admit that I'm probably not interested enough in that particular niche to be qualified to say who is. So maybe he is. I tend to enjoy Bushman's work a bit more, but I don't think Bushman's work would exist in the same very important context if Quinn hadn't paved the way, as it were.

That said, the Slate article is awfully over-dramatized in its portrayal of the church. But whatever. Press coverage of the LDS church has always been sensationalist, I guess.
posted by The World Famous at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2012


In hindsight, the “purge” of September 1993 looks like the last big push for a kind of control that LDS leaders will probably never have again. But it also betrayed tensions within the church that may never entirely go away...

Later that year, Quinn was recommended for a one-year appointment at Arizona State. His hiring was vetoed by the ASU administration, and many observers believe the administration caved to pressure from Ira Fulton, a Mormon donor who between 2003 and 2006 gave at least $155 million to the school. Fulton has called Quinn “a nothing person.”


Good article. I'm curious what Quinn thinks about the White Horse Prophecy and about a political candidate with deep familial and religious ties to the LDS, given his direct experiences with a faith that responds to questioning by intellectuals with such a fiercely Maoist, purgatorial impulse that has spread outside the church over to the man's personal life and his ability to make a living.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:26 AM on November 1, 2012


One of the challenges with having a meaningful and deep national discussion about Mormonism is the tendency (on both Mormon and non-Mormon sides) to want to fit the Mormon faith into a single theological system, when the reality is a fair bit messier than that. When you have quotes like this from Joseph Smith himself:

"I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter-day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammelled."

It effectively means that there is very little actual, official church doctrine. Or perhaps more accurately, there are in practice only a few core premises that folks can agree on and the rest is a theological crap-shoot. This type of nuance does not lend itself to engaging literature. I mean, have any you actually tried to read Quinn's "Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power"? That book is a friggin' TOME. It's very much a work of academia and as such he tries to capture a lot of nuance and detail in the history and the result is, like most history, not perfectly clear.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The other day I went a-Googling in an effort to find out whether or not unmarried Mormon women are allowed into Mormon heaven (a friend had told me that they are not allowed in).

Most everyone goes to Mormon heaven. Some just go to a better heaven than others.

The answers I found via actual Mormon sources, and the explanations offered, were squarely in the "holy moly this is some serious Scientology wackadoo" territory.

It's easy to think that at first, but if you ruminate on it a bit, any religion can be classified as wackadoo. Transubstantiation is, in essence, cannibalism, but millions of people believe in the Eucharist and it's generally not considered to be wackadoo (however, for Mormons the Sacrament is symbolic, not literal).
posted by elsietheeel at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The important thing about the Salamander Letter isn't that it was a fraud, it's that the church leadership reacted as if it was true, immediately, and paid a lot of money to keep it quiet. Discovering their religion might be founded on a hallucination or the fabrication of an infernal power had no effect on their policies or behavior. It wasn't a proposition outside the scope of their worldview. They reacted like a cheating husband to affordable blackmail.
posted by clarknova at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


The answers I found via actual Mormon sources, and the explanations offered,

As I mentioned above, this is trickier suss out than it would seem. "Actual Mormon sources" does not necessarily mean actual Mormon doctrine.

Now if you want to talk about what a significant majority of Mormon people tend to commonly believe, that's another thing entirely. If you want to talk about Utah Mormons vs. Latin America Mormons, for instance, you'll find that the beliefs differ widely and vastly on a lot of concepts, even Mormon heaven.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:43 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of that said, I am genuinely suprised that he hasn't been hired by Yale or UC Berkely.

Well . . . His hiring was vetoed by the ASU administration, and many observers believe the administration caved to pressure from Ira Fulton, a Mormon donor who between 2003 and 2006 gave at least $155 million to the school. Fulton has called Quinn “a nothing person.”

That's one reason, especially for any public institution. Whether and how "modern" religion is regarded as a subject of inquiry in "mainstream" history departments is another. Still one more: trends toward intersectional and transnational historical inquiry that Mormon history certainly can fit into, though perhaps not so obviously to others.
posted by liketitanic at 9:51 AM on November 1, 2012


Yeah, well, I don't know how official the sources were, just that they were on "Mormon" websites. I wanted to understand whether or not unmarried women could go to Mormon heaven, Googled it, and very shortly thereafter I was reading about the three levels of Mormon heaven and alien planets. I completely get that every religion believes kooky things; I suppose my larger point is that America (and American voters) have pretty much internalized standard Protestant doctrine, and that the concept of tiered heavens and planets and so forth does not fall within that belief. What I find interesting is that this has not been discussed, and what I'm not sure of is whether this is indicative of a growing tolerance or of a deliberate effort to ignore it until after the election.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:53 AM on November 1, 2012


That said, the Slate article is awfully over-dramatized in its portrayal of the church.

That's funny, I thought it was pretty well spot-on--and I was pretty involved in that community and those events at the time.

Unlike most article about Mormonism--especially most of those I've seen about Romney and his Mormonism recently, where it is pretty clear the author has absolutely no clue about Mormonism and fills the article with obvious misunderstandings--this is obviously written by someone who knows about both Mormonism, how the church works and operates, and also the community of historians and authors that Quinn is a part of.
posted by flug at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


“There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith-promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

You wonder how so many religions, based on obviously false stories, have lasted so long, and then you realize the world is full and always has been full of people who think like this, and that they really think they're doing the right thing and promoting a value system that will give people certainty in an uncertain world at the expense of truth.
posted by dortmunder at 10:10 AM on November 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Last night I thought I'd check to see what Jack Chick had to say about Mormons

"Actual Mormon sources" does not necessarily mean actual Mormon doctrine.

Yes, the Jack Chick thing is a great example of this. Yes, everything mentioned there was indeed said or published by some Mormon authority at one time or another.

It's a bit like those people who post here with comments along the lines of "I can't believe how Metafilter responds to situations like this--it's like you're schizo or something!" When, aaah, there is actually no "Metafilter". There are only many individual people posting who do indeed have widely differing opinions which do indeed change with time and circumstances.

So yes, if you take statement 1 by person A, combine it with statement 2 by person B 30 years later in different circumstances, combine it with statement 3 by person C 50 years later, and so on, you can get a pretty confusing and contradictory assemblage of ideas. All of which are made by 'authorities' of the Mormon church of one sort or another. And all of which relate somehow to what most believing Mormons do believe but still together don't really give a good idea at all of what they believe or why.

It's double funny in the Chick comic because he goes to great pains to present ideas A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J as completely insane. And then goes on to present his own idea K, as 'here is the sane religious belief'. But to those of us outside of both Mormonism and his particular brand of Christianity, K is just as insane as all the rest--or maybe more so.

With apologies to those of you who happen to be believers in K . . .

posted by flug at 10:22 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to bet money that every time someone publishes a book exposing the inner workings of Mormon history, the Catholic Church smirks quietly behind the knowledge that its own murky origins are safely hidden behind a long period of widespread European illiteracy.

Hard pressed to think of a single religion that isn't based on unsupported facts, sketchy evidence, or doesn't have schisms and disputed revisions to ideology. If the history of all religions were as well-documented as the ones that developed in the last few hundred years, who knows, maybe we'd be able to collectively shrug off our religious differences and be more forgiving of those with different beliefs. Heck if that happened we'd all be a lot better off. Who doesn't want to live in THAT world?
posted by caution live frogs at 10:25 AM on November 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's funny, I thought it was pretty well spot-on--and I was pretty involved in that community and those events at the time.

Unlike most article about Mormonism--especially most of those I've seen about Romney and his Mormonism recently, where it is pretty clear the author has absolutely no clue about Mormonism and fills the article with obvious misunderstandings--this is obviously written by someone who knows about both Mormonism, how the church works and operates, and also the community of historians and authors that Quinn is a part of.


I agree, flug. I think, however, that it is rarely, if ever, made clear in articles like this that what is being described is "the community of historians and authors that Quinn is a part of" and that there is a pretty important distinction between "that community" and the LDS church as a whole. I have, throughout my time in the church, been associated with and sort of tangentially involved in that particular community, and I think it's important to keep the perspective that that community is, all things considered, an extremely small subculture within global Mormonism compared to the worldwide church. There is no Mormon monoculture - even Utah Mormonism is a minority. I hope that makes sense. I don't have time to devote much brainpower or writing time on this topic today. What the September Six and others in that particular Mormon subculture have gone through is outrageous and troubling. But it's not all that useful to read about it without also understanding that it is something that happens at the confluence of two distinct but related subcultures: The subculture of what I call Official Mormon Dogmatism embodied by a handful of church leaders and the subculture of Self-proclaimed Mormon "Intellectualism" embodied by a small community of people who operate in a very narrow field of self-styled academia and who have a few members who have crossed over into actual academia.

Basically, I don't think it's fair for outsiders to form an opinion about or think they're learning about Mormonism as a world religion when all they read about is the clash between a small, vocal subculture within the church and a small, vocal subculture within the church's leadership. I also find it insulting, as an intellectual, educated person, to constantly be bombarded with the notion that the LDS church does not tolerate intellectuals, when the reality - which is certainly troubling - is that the term "intellectuals" in these articles is being used to describe an extraordinarily narrow set of intellectual pursuits, many of which involve writing "academic" articles about Heavenly Mother, Adam-God theory, and other topics that I don't think most people would consider to be "intellectual" on par with, say, biology, climate science, or philosophy. Which is not to say that people shouldn't think or write or talk about that stuff. But still.

Ultimately, the church seems to have an ongoing feud with a very specific, self-identified cultural group within the church. That's a huge problem, and I am strongly opposed to it. But most of the time, the way it's written about is that it's presented as "The LDS Church does not tolerate independent thought or intelligent discourse," which is just not true at all.

Of course, the grain of salt to take with all that is that I think the great unspoken secret of the Mormon church is that, as Doleful Creature said above, there actually is almost no real "Mormon Doctrine," aside from three or four key points. Each President of the church has disagreed with his predecessors and contemporaries on what most people consider key doctrinal points, and all that means is that none of those doctrinal points actually matter much. Unfortunately, some church leaders don't seem to be in on that secret.

And I suppose the disclaimer that should go on all my posts about Mormonism is that I, personally, think the church and all mankind would be a lot better off if we stripped away pretty much all religious belief other than 1) You're far better than the worst thing you've ever done, 2) Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and forgiveness, and 3) Our lives should be dedicated to serving one another, not to judging whether or not we are deserving of service.

Yeah, there are people and subcultures within Mormonism that act totally contrary to my disclaimer. But I take comfort in the fact that my own beliefs are probably a lot closer to those of, say, Blazecock Pileon than to those of Boyd K. Packer but I nevertheless am embraced by and live openly within the church.

Anyway, that's probably the least coherent thing I've ever typed on MetaFilter, so I hope you'll give me the benefit of the doubt if some part of it seems not to make sense or to be off-base.
posted by The World Famous at 10:31 AM on November 1, 2012 [20 favorites]


It's fascinating, and sad, that so many people use their time so unwisely. (Not MeFi people, but rather, those who spend 50 hours per week deciding who gets in to heaven and what rules to invent/modify/drop.) Couldn't we drop all the made up BS and just go about solving social problems instead?
posted by 4midori at 11:00 AM on November 1, 2012


Couldn't we drop all the made up BS and just go about solving social problems instead?

Apparently God doesn't want us to do that. Apparently he's pretty happy just randomly shooting hurricanes at gay-friendly municipalities and rewarding lying bastards who use his name to enrich themselves.

Seems pretty harmless, overall.
posted by Aquaman at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2012


probably the least coherent thing I've ever typed on MetaFilter

Coherent and cogent, TWF. Thanks for sharing.
posted by flug at 11:04 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to bet money that every time someone publishes a book exposing the inner workings of Mormon history, the Catholic Church smirks quietly behind the knowledge that its own murky origins are safely hidden behind a long period of widespread European illiteracy.

While we don't have the same number of documents for a 2,000 year old religion as a 200 year old religion there is plenty of scholarship on the early church. Elaine Pagels is very readable and the murk she writes about is far more vile than anything in this article. James Carroll's Constantine's Sword is pop-history but a good read.

See, take THAT Catholic Church!
posted by munchingzombie at 11:32 AM on November 1, 2012


One of the challenges with having a meaningful and deep national discussion about Mormonism is the tendency (on both Mormon and non-Mormon sides) to want to fit the Mormon faith into a single theological system, when the reality is a fair bit messier than that.

Is this the "Reddit isn't really Reddit and as such can't be critised" argument again?
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this the "Reddit isn't really Reddit and as such can't be critised" argument again

I certainly hope not. I've been a vocal critic of common Mormon practice in the past and I continue to oppose the way most Mormons handle the concept of proxy baptism. I've also always been opposed to the events that occurred around Prop. 8. Criticism should happen and it's a good thing. I just hope to be able to provide some nuance and deeper understanding to the conversation. I said it's a challenge with having a meaningful discussion. Doesn't mean it's impossible, just something to note before proceeding.

Being a curious person and voracious reader who also happens to be an active and faithful Mormon, I often find myself preoccupied with these subjects. The Mormon faith is still very much in its infancy, especially when compared with much older Catholic and Protestant groups. That much of Mormon belief and practice is a synthesis of these earlier groups does little to help solidify the narrative or the canon, such as it is.

Every time I wade into one of these discussions I think "yeah, I'm going to write up such an excellent and helpful summary of Mormonism in modern times" but then I end up quitting halfway through because it's just such a huge task. Suffice it to say that just as TWF and I (and others) have often claimed that there is no Mormon monoculture, it's equally daunting to try and sort out all the various "known" Mormon cultures. In a religion where belief is as often dictated by geography, social status and history as it is attempted to be decreed by policy, categorizing the varieties of Mormon experience would likely take up a lot of ink.

However, if one were interested in a Taxonomy of Mormon Thought one would likely want to start with two distinct classes under which to organize the myriad species:

Class 1: Those who accept the following dichotomy, as recently defined by Church President Gordon B. Hinckley:

"Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world."

Class 2: Those who don't accept the above dichotomy. Oddly enough (or perhaps not), there are likely far more categories and sub-categories under the Dichotomy Class than not. So it goes.

Some people want to believe the world is black and white, others believe in shades of gray. Personally I see the world in a full spectrum of colors and I like to think that my Mormon religion is also a part of that spectrum. For me, there is no dichotomy, no "us vs. them". What a bunch of malarkey (with apologies to Mr. Biden).

Many of the church leaders in Salt Lake City will say that there is only one "way". Many former members of the church use that alleged way as a guidepost for their own post-Mormon lives, creating yet another "way" to go. Still a third group pleads "is there no middle way, no middle ground?"

To all of them I say: IT'S JUST GROUND, PEOPLE. There's no high or low or middle. It's just the earth. Stand on it with your own two feet and stop looking for marching orders from somebody else. And even if we can fully accept the premise on which all Christian faith stands --that there is a God in heaven who loves us and wants us to be happy-- even if we can obtain personal confirmation of that idea, there is still a practical limit to human understanding. The representations we create to delineate the divine, well, that's all they are: representations. We really are still prisoners in Plato's cave; to suggest with such certainty that we know the forms simply because we've seen some shadows...well that's just silly now isn't it?
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think, however, that it is rarely, if ever, made clear in articles like this that what is being described is "the community of historians and authors that Quinn is a part of" and that there is a pretty important distinction between "that community" and the LDS church as a whole. I have, throughout my time in the church, been associated with and sort of tangentially involved in that particular community, and I think it's important to keep the perspective that that community is, all things considered, an extremely small subculture within global Mormonism compared to the worldwide church.

I'm not going to disagree with that entirely, but try to put it in perspective from the other direction.

It's true that this was a relatively small group or 'movement' if you will, and if you polled the 'average' Mormon from the church worldwide, most had probably never even heard of it.

Nevertheless this 'purge' directly affected a group far, far larger than the six who were actually excommunicated. It affected tens of thousands, at a minimum, who subscribed to or read some of the key publications, purchased and read books, attend seminars and conferences, and the like.

It was far from a few fringe nuts interested in esoteric doctrinal matters, but basically included anyone who was working, or publishing, or interested in the area of church history, doctrine, scriptures, or anything related from an academic or historical perspective.

Looking at a recent Sunstone Symposium program gives you the flavor--it's everything from studies of LDS scripture to history to feminism to studies of Mormonism in relation to other religious traditions to gay issues and a whole lot more.

Also, center of activity was not by any means remote--to the contrary, this happened right in the heart of the Mormon "homeland". You'll notice that pretty much all the September Six lived and/or worked right in Salt Lake or Provo. Many, like Quinn, had some connection with church institutions and/or BYU. And once the story broke it was covered extensively by the media and otherwise in Mormon America. Even those who didn't know anything about the 'intellectual subculture' to start with, soon did because it was all over the newspapers and TV, particularly in Utah.

I attended BYU and went on an LDS mission during the period leading up to the September Six and and topics brought into the limelight by this group--like Quinn's research into early Mormon history and questions about the historical truth of the Book of Mormon--were often topics of discussion in both places. Maybe not every day or every conversation, but often enough.

Though 'average' church membership was little aware of this 'intellectual' movement (are average people ever aware of any intellectual movement that doesn't directly concern them?), church leadership certainly was and pretty much all Mormon scholars certainly were. Certainly conservative LDS scholars spent plenty of time and effort trying to counter what they saw as falsehood and heresy (example).

So the whole thing wasn't exactly like a church-wide purge of millions--but it wasn't exactly inconsequential, either. Somewhere in between--and more consequential in its effects than you might imagine from the numbers alone.
posted by flug at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


church leadership certainly was and pretty much all Mormon scholars certainly were.

I agree with you, as well. But I would just make clear that "Mormon scholars" here refers to scholars of Mormonism, not scholars of all disciplines who happen to be members of the Mormon church. It's "Mormon scholars" in the sense of "Judaism scholars," not in the sense of "Jewish scholars."
posted by The World Famous at 12:30 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll never be able to understand how intelligent, questioning individuals fully aware of the fundamentally flawed nature of the leadership and the origins of a particular religion can still believe in it so fully. It doesn't take much scratching to see the barely hidden ropes and pulleys that make a religion go, yet here we have a historian, someone whose livelihood is examining those mechanisms, who still believes in the essential core of the Mormon teachings. Incredible.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this the "Reddit isn't really Reddit and as such can't be critised" argument again?

It's not that so much as that pretty much every article you see criticizing Romney because of his Mormonism--or, outside of this presidential campaign, criticizing the Mormon church in general--is just so eye-rollingly wrong to anyone who actually knows anything about Mormons and Mormonism.

If you're actually interested in some of the issues that Mormonism presents to its believers--like Michael Quinn--the article linked in the OP is far better than most.

The World Famous is quite correct that it doesn't capture the essence of Mormonism as a whole, but it certainly does capture a very real part of it.

If you're interested in how 'being Mormon' might affect how Romney thinks and works, re-read the article with special attention to the roles of the bishop, stake president, and other low-level, untrained, lay religious leaders, how they interact with the members of their wards or stakes, how they hold disciplinary councils, and so on. Those are roles Romney has filled. (However, keep in mind that being instructed by a higher-up in the church to 'do something about person X because he is a heretic' is very UNusual, even in the Mormon church--thus the fact that this situation was and is in the news. Excommunication and disfellowship is far more often about sex than doctrine--though I'm not sure if knowing that fact helps or hurts.)
posted by flug at 12:41 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


...how they hold disciplinary councils...

Brrrr!
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:50 PM on November 1, 2012


special attention to the roles of the bishop, stake president, and other low-level, untrained, lay religious leaders, how they interact with the members of their wards or stakes, how they hold disciplinary councils, and so on. Those are roles Romney has filled.

Also keep in mind that there are infinite variations in the way that individual bishops, etc. carry out and see their own responsibilities. For example, the description of those folks in this article bears no resemblance at all to my own experience in such roles. I don't know what Romney was like as a bishop, stake president, etc., but it would be a mistake to assume that he was like those described in the article.

(However, keep in mind that being instructed by a higher-up in the church to 'do something about person X because he is a heretic' is very UNusual, even in the Mormon church--thus the fact that this situation was and is in the news. Excommunication and disfellowship is far more often about sex than doctrine--though I'm not sure if knowing that fact helps or hurts.)

This! And, in my experience, church discipline for sex is extremely rare in light of how common "sexual transgressions" are. I've been in quite a few church disciplinary councils, and the only ones that resulted in any disfellowship or excommunication were for things that everyone here would agree the person should have been disciplined - with almost all of those also involving a referral to law enforcement because of the nature of the conduct. Some church leaders are more eager to hold disciplinary councils than others. Quinn and the others of the September Six really do appear to have been the victims of a perfect storm of ecclesiastical incompetence.
posted by The World Famous at 12:51 PM on November 1, 2012


...how they hold disciplinary councils...

Brrrr!


You can "brrr" all you want at the mention of such things, but when it comes to the attention of a Bishop that a member of the ward is a pedophile or a rapist, it would be irresponsible of that Bishop not to look into the accusation and take appropriate action. That's usually what disciplinary councils are for. Disciplinary councils for writing an article about a doctrinal subject are both rare and, in my experience, administratively unwarranted.
posted by The World Famous at 12:54 PM on November 1, 2012


[As per usual, at the point at which this becomes a "I don't understand how people can be this religion" interrogation of people form that religion, we are asking you to take it to email/MeMail. Please consider sticking to the loose optic of the thread if you want to continue to have threads about Mormon topics. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2012


I cannot answer that question for Quinn, but you might find some insight from the Mormon Stories podcast episodes where he has been interviewed and asked all about it. Those podcasts are so long that I'm not sure whether I - a Mormon who agrees with him in large part - could hang with such a long interview/discussion the whole time, so you might get bored even faster than I would. I've listened to those ones in my car, along with others fromm that podcast, and sometimes they're very good (sometimes they're ridiculous or just frustrating). Nevertheless, there it is. I can answer the question for myself, but I'm not going to do that here. I'd be happy to discuss via MeFiMail, though.
posted by The World Famous at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


That confusion stems from within the membership as well, since Mormon culture and Mormon doctrine often cross paths, and get in to dance-fights West Side Story style. For Catholics this is a little easier because at least they have a Catechism (and even that's not foolproof).

For example, I'm quite confident I could prove, using only the standard Mormon texts (KJV Bible, Book of Mormmon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) that actual, solid church doctrine is limited to a very simple set of bog-standard Christian ideals and that by and large all the other ideas and beliefs held dearly by most members of the church are not even close to being doctrine, and are in fact closer in definition to something like "folk beliefs" or "oral tradition".

I could lay that out very clearly and (IMHO) irrefutably using only the approved standard church texts. In fact I HAVE done that, and showed it to my own parents whose reaction was:

Mom&Dad: That's not true because that's not what we were taught growing up.

Me: Turns out you were taught some wonky things

Mom&Dad: How dare you suggest such a thing!

Me: *shrugs shoulders* ...but you can see right here in this verse...

Mom&Dad: Son, you're confused, delusional. We KNOW with every fiber of our being that these wonky things are true


LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT

To the extent that Quinn still believes in spite of his knowledge and experiences, well, I can only say that I sort of get where's he's coming from. Some things transcend knowledge, or experience. Sometimes what you feel and what you know are in opposition. Sometimes you pick a place that makes sense only to you, even though an outsider may never be able to understand. I suspect Quinn has such a deep and abiding personal connection to the faith that formed him in so many ways, and it still informs him in positive ways even now, even in spite of his exile. I have a close friend who also left the church after years of being a devout believer. And though he's rejected nearly all of the teachings I still catch him quoting things from time to time and he'd the first to tell you that his feelings about his former church are, for the most part, quite positive.

I once found myself at what I thought was a crossroads of belief and knowledge. I thought I had to make a choice but I've since come to terms with that. My faith is my own, as difficult to express as the love I bear for my wife and my children. There's goodness here, even amid all the crap and cruft. Some choose to leave it all, some choose to stay. The reasons don't always hold water.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:32 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, I'm quite confident I could prove, using only the standard Mormon texts (KJV Bible, Book of Mormmon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) that actual, solid church doctrine is limited to a very simple set of bog-standard Christian ideals and that by and large all the other ideas and beliefs held dearly by most members of the church are not even close to being doctrine, and are in fact closer in definition to something like "folk beliefs" or "oral tradition".

Indeed. In fact, I would argue (and the text backs me up so solidly that I don't think there's any room for reasonable dispute) that the actual doctrine is limited to the content of a single verse of canonized Mormon scripture, and that everything else is either mere administration or chaff.
posted by The World Famous at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some fantastic perspective and commentary on the linked article over at By Common Consent.
posted by The World Famous at 1:54 PM on November 1, 2012


Editor of Mormon-themed website quits church to avoid discipline
posted by homunculus at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2012


Wow. That headline is directly contradicted by the text of the article. WTF, Reuters?
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 PM on November 1, 2012


Doesn't make sense to me but I get the feeling that Mormons and non-Mormons are just using very basic terms in different ways.

Your comment is well taken. A good analogy to what you're saying is the difference between being Jewish and adhering to Judaism. My comment was in regard to the religious content. I fully understand the place of community and belonging in our psyches.

I have always assumed that the glue that held these communities together was the shared beliefs, but I guess the beliefs can be treated as myths just as easily as not, and it may be that the majority of adherents are in this "myth" class rather than the superstitious class. To the extent a religious offshoot has developed a unique culture separable from the beliefs that form the core of the religion itself, I can see the desire to belong not so much to the church as to the community formed around it. That that community can censor and persecute in such petty and vicious ways for not professing proper belief in the core myths and thinking people still want to belong, though, is where I again fall down in understanding.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2012


That's usually what disciplinary councils are for.

That's what the authorities are for...
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2012


adherents are in this "myth" class rather than the superstitious class

And some of us may even be in a separate class from this myth vs. superstition silliness.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2012


That's what the authorities are for...

Yes, that's correct, as I expressly noted above.
posted by The World Famous at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2012


Editor of Mormon-themed website quits church to avoid discipline

Wow. That headline is directly contradicted by the text of the article. WTF, Reuters?


Eh?

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - The Florida-based editor of a Mormon-themed website has left the church rather than face disciplinary action and possible excommunication over writings that he said prompted accusations of apostasy.
posted by Artw at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


His stated reason, as reported in the article, is that he no longer accepts the doctrine:

"I wish to assure you that I am not leaving the church because of some personal slight or insult or because I have 'sinned' or can't 'keep the commandments,'" Twede wrote in the letter, which is posted on his blog.

"I have simply come to the very sad realization that the church is not what it claims to be, that its doctrine is false and that the LDS church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is not where I wish to be."


So according to him it was not avoid the disciplinary council. It could be inferred that it was a possible secondary motive, but the primary motive as stated above seems clear.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


however, for Mormons the Sacrament is symbolic, not literal

If we're going to start getting theological, isn't this true for pretty much all non-Catholic Christians?
posted by asnider at 2:48 PM on November 1, 2012


special attention to the roles of the bishop, stake president, and other low-level, untrained, lay religious leaders, how they interact with the members of their wards or stakes, how they hold disciplinary councils, and so on. Those are roles Romney has filled.

Romney chastised woman for getting life-saving abortion
posted by homunculus at 3:11 PM on November 1, 2012


I don't know what Romney was like as a bishop, stake president, etc., but it would be a mistake to assume that he was like those described in the article.

In this video Romney discusses abortion, and Mormon beliefs to some extent, with a seemingly evangelical radio talk show host. It's pretty intense. Romney comes off as reasonable at times, but he does advocate overturning Roe v Wade and replacing it with something that allows states to create their own laws on abortion. He discusses the second coming at the end. It seems like he's trying to negotiate a position that will appease the "Religious Right," but his personal view is more in favor of a separation of church and state.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:33 PM on November 1, 2012


he's trying to negotiate a position that will appease

Yup, pretty much. Seems to be his M.O. in general. Regarding homunculus's second link (about Romney chastising a women for getting an abortion), according to the article he was in direct opposition to his own Stake President (his direct supervisor, ecclesiastically speaking) on that matter. So does that make him more or less typically Mormon? Then again, according to also-Mormon Senator Harry Reid (D-NV):

Reid said he agrees with a fellow Mormon who said recently that Romney has "sullied" their faith. "He’s coming to a state where there are a lot of members of the LDS Church," said Reid ahead of Romney's campaign stop in Nevada. "They understand that he is not the face of Mormonism."


Furthermore within the context of this FPP's main topic all of this Romney talk doesn't seem especially germane. Unless D. Michael Quinn also got an abortion while he was investigating the church history or something.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:44 PM on November 1, 2012


The World Famous--I think that you are being disinegneious about the problems these people are bringing up--though they do mention the Heavenly Mother or Adam-God, they are much more concerned with issues of historiography, access to power, the problems of lay versus paid clergy, the history of religion in america, vernacular cultures, what makes up religion, hierarchy, homosociality, discourse theory, problems of theophony, the intrusion of the state, gender, sexuality, wombats, and the emergence of a middle ground between congreaitonal and magesterial leadership models--which seems uniquely American---these are not tiny things, and the list is v. close to what theologians and religious historians are working out. The narrowness in which the critics of the Salt Lake Six have been censored is intensely problematic--FFS, one of them was a v. conserative, mainstream biblical exegete.

If we are going to continue having serious LDS scholarship, we need to reconcile this (and we are, the new Brigham Bio, the work of the Salt press, Rough Stone Rolling--all w/i the last 5 years), and all impossible w/o Quinn who has been abused by Salt Lake in ways that would make Galelio feel sympathetic.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:45 PM on November 1, 2012


Sorry, there is much else that could be discussed here--but the LDS position on Abortion, which ties together a realtionship to mainstream protestantism, their unique view of the "pre-existence", ideas of agency that emerge from methodism, and a refusal to command is a pretty good example of what we are talking about.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:49 PM on November 1, 2012


And some of us may even be in a separate class from this myth vs. superstition silliness.

My favorite band is one you've probably never heard of...
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:15 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what the authorities are for...

Yes, that's correct, as I expressly noted above.


No, you said the disciplinary council makes a decision to refer it to the authorities. It ain't up to your little disciplinary council to determine whether it's a crime or not. This play-acting at government is really screwed up.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:18 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The World Famous--I think that you are being disinegneious about the problems these people are bringing up

I didn't type out a long enough list, I guess. I was not being disingenuous. I suppose my point could have been made more thoroughly and clearly. My apologies.

If we are going to continue having serious LDS scholarship, we need to reconcile this (and we are, the new Brigham Bio, the work of the Salt press, Rough Stone Rolling--all w/i the last 5 years), and all impossible w/o Quinn who has been abused by Salt Lake in ways that would make Galelio feel sympathetic.

I'm going to put on my hyperbole cap and declare that that is easily the most hyperbolic hyperbole in the history of the universe. Galileo, indeed.

No, you said the disciplinary council makes a decision to refer it to the authorities. It ain't up to your little disciplinary council to determine whether it's a crime or not. This play-acting at government is really screwed up.

Sorry, I thought I had been more clear than that. There are circumstances in which an ecclesiastical leader has a responsibility - morally, ethically, and legally - to report things to law enforcement or other non-church authorities when they first come to his or her attention. Quite often, the first time such things come to their attention is when they are sitting in a disciplinary council with someone who discloses for the first time in that meeting the information that triggers that duty. Where a church leader is informed earlier than the disciplinary council of information triggering a duty to report, they should not hesitate to report. In those cases, the typical sequence of events is 1. Discovery of reportable facts; 2. Disclosure to authorities; 3. Further church action as may be necessary and appropriate. In my experience, Bishops are trained from the outset on their legal and other responsibilities in that regard.

It's not play-acting at government, in my experience, anyway. The disciplinary council does not determine whether or not something is a crime. I'm not sure where you got that impression, but I hope it wasn't from something I wrote. If, however, you are suggesting that the church has no ethical, moral, or other right to self-governance as an organization, I'm afraid that's where I have to disagree with you.
posted by The World Famous at 5:41 PM on November 1, 2012


That said, PinkMoose, I do agree with you that the great strides in LDS scholarship of the last 20 years would not have happened to the same degree without Quinn leading the way. It is outrageous that he was and has been so persecuted by the church. And yes, there's a ton to discuss with regard to LDS history, doctrinal developments and beliefs, etc.
posted by The World Famous at 5:50 PM on November 1, 2012


>>...how they hold disciplinary councils...

>Brrrr!


If you're really interested in how Mormon church enforces its institutional boundaries, far more so than the disciplinary councils, it's through another method that is also mentioned in the article--the temple recommend and temple recommend interview.

The interview is where they ask if you're a full tithepayer, if you really believe all the various church doctrines, if you fully support the church leaders, and the rest. You can get an idea of the questions asked here (that's a slightly outdated list of the questions but still gives the general thrust).

In theory the bishops, stake presidents, etc., who ask church members these questions are just supposed to ask the questions, exactly as written, and let the church members answer according to their own conscience. But there sure is a lot of wiggle room there for untrained, lay leaders to wiggle their way into your sex life, your finances, the particulars of your doctrinal beliefs, or whatever else they may have a particular interest in.

And as you can see from the article, the threat of 'taking away your temple recommend' is one that LDS members take very seriously. Partly that is because some of life's most meaningful and important (to Mormons) events happen there, for instance marriage, and people want to be able to be there when their close friends and family members are participating in these ceremonies.

Just for example, "lose" your temple recommend and you won't be able to go to your own child's wedding.

With leverage like that (not to mention the usual sermons, lessons, social pressure, etc etc etc) you don't really need disciplinary councils as much as you might think.
posted by flug at 7:38 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite often, the first time such things come to their attention is when they are sitting in a disciplinary council with someone who discloses for the first time in that meeting the information that triggers that duty.

But if the first time something reportable comes to light is in the disciplinary council, what led the council to be called in the first place? In this scenario, it has to be something that need not be reported to secular authorities. Which if your religious background doesn't include a judicial system, is weird (and before someone says it, I was raised Catholic--a disciplinary council is the opposite of confession).
posted by hoyland at 8:20 PM on November 1, 2012


...right to self-governance as an organization...

That phrase doesn't mean what you think it means.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:32 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you think I think it means?
posted by The World Famous at 8:07 AM on November 2, 2012


Or, what do you think he thinks it means?
posted by andoatnp at 8:08 AM on November 2, 2012


Eh. Forget it. If Mental Wimp has some point to make, it will be made in some way other than simply accusing me of using the wrong terminology. I'm cool with having a conversation. But an argument is pointless and ridiculous.
posted by The World Famous at 8:30 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


In this scenario, it has to be something that need not be reported to secular authorities. Which if your religious background doesn't include a judicial system, is weird

I don't quite get this. Is it specifically because it's a religious group? I mean, it's not weird for, say, an employer to have internal disciplinary processes for matters which are of no interest to outside authorities, nor for roommates to call a house meeting to declare grievances against one another which, again, are of no interest to outside authorities. Such things seem to me to be in the same genus (if not the same species).
posted by stebulus at 9:11 AM on November 2, 2012


Oh, and universities, of course, have quasijudicial processes for matters of academic misconduct, which again are of no interest to outside authorities.
posted by stebulus at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2012


What do you think I think it means?

Or, what do you think he thinks it means?


I guess my point is that when religious organizations mistake their self-governance for a substitute or filter for the actual governmental functions, it can lead to nasty messes like the Roman Catholic Church faces. Religions that in this modern era mistake their sphere of influence with that of government are most assuredly not helping those they intend to minister to, but rather are helping themselves.

Oh, and universities, of course, have quasijudicial processes for matters of academic misconduct, which again are of no interest to outside authorities.

Professors are employees. Religious affiliation is in no way similar to an employer/employee relationship, legally or morally. And I know of no university that attempts to discipline all the adherents of, say, chemistry.

I know the church would like to conflate the two, but that doesn't mean they should be.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:41 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Religious affiliation is in no way similar to an employer/employee relationship, legally or morally.

I agree. But neither is the student/school relationship, for example, and nevertheless students are routinely disciplined via quasijudicial process for misconduct in their role as students. So... if discipline is legitimate in the citizen/government relationship, the employee/employer, student/school, child/parent (I assume you'll agree to that), soldier/army ... why not in a churchmember/church relationship?

Religions that in this modern era mistake their sphere of influence with that of government

Ok, but aren't we talking about a religious organization having processes to respond to transgressions which are of no interest to outside authorities? That's the scenario from TWF's comment that hoyland was responding to, and that I intended to discuss.
posted by stebulus at 10:13 AM on November 2, 2012


Professors are employees. Religious affiliation is in no way similar to an employer/employee relationship, legally or morally. And I know of no university that attempts to discipline all the adherents of, say, chemistry.

Students are subject to these quasi-judicial proceedings, though. For me it's still a distinctly different scenario. Universities all have these quasi-judicial systems. Religions, though, not so much. Sure, the Catholic Church has a mechanism to excommunicate people, but that's totally different from a disciplinary hearing at the parish level. There's not much you could do that could get you dragged in for a telling off by the priest. (Anything a lay person could do to get excommunicated would probably involve the local priest doing something excommunicable, too, I think.)
posted by hoyland at 10:13 AM on November 2, 2012


I fully agree with you, Mental Wimp, as to everything but your last sentence, of which I'm skeptical because you seem to be assuming a lot and I'm not sure what evidence you're relying on. What I mean is that I don't know what evidence is leading you to believe that the LDS church would like to conflate its own self-governance for or filter for the actual governmental functions. That certainly did not happen in the Quinn case, as far as I'm aware. So I just don't know where you're coming from, factually-speaking.

But setting that aside, if you were to redesign the actual official policies of the Mormon church with regard to disciplinary councils, how would your design differ from the actual current policies, in terms of everything from when and how they are convened to the procedures in those councils, etc.? There hasn't been much discussion, if any, in this thread about what those actual current policies and procedures are, but you are talking as if you already know exactly what they are and you disagree with them, so I'll let you summarize what you think the policies actually are (ideally with citations) as you explain how you would revise them.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that disciplinary councils are, in my experience, extremely rare, and disciplinary councils for something like what Quinn and the September Six are accused of happen so rarely that when they do happen they make the news and people are still talking about them 20 years later. But that's just for context. I'm asking you about the actual policies and how you would change them.

As far as the employer/employee distinction, the example of students, etc., I would just point out that the LDS church has an entirely lay ministry at the local level, such that virtually everyone in a congregation has some official calling and responsibility within the Ward. For example, I was called to serve as an early-morning Seminary teacher several years ago, teaching a one-hour class every weekday morning at 6:00 a.m. to high school sophomores. I was not an employee, but it would not seem logical to me for the church to have no policy or procedure in place for dealing with, say, allegations that I was teaching my students to be Scientologists. And even in that unlikely scenario, the most likely outcome would not be a disciplinary council, but merely a short meeting to figure out what on earth is going on and then a release from the calling. People seem to be making the LDS church out to be something like the Spanish Inquisition (see, e.g., the Galileo comment above), but that's simply not the case in the real world.

Finally, I find it impossible to believe that the Catholic Church has no procedure or mechanism in place to deal with situations similar to what LDS disciplinary councils are for.
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on November 2, 2012


I'm puzzled by the claims that it is improper for a church to have a discipline system. The analogy to the catholic church is particularly puzzling, as it has a well established system of canon law (it is likely the oldest legal system in the western world).

Here are some examples of times when it would be appropriate for a church to discipline someone:

1. Church comes to believe that a member has molested a child. Reports the molester to the authorities. Simultaneously, the church also moves forward with its own system which results in measures that keep the molester from participating in church activities that would give him access to more children.

2. Church member steals money from the church. The church may or may not report the person, but regardless has a legitimate interest in sanctioning that person and banning him or her from certain roles and responsibilities.

3. Minister (lay or professional) suddenly becomes an atheist and begins preaching against the established doctrine of the church. The church uses its discipline process to remove that person from office.
posted by Area Man at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The analogy to the catholic church is particularly puzzling, as it has a well established system of canon law (it is likely the oldest legal system in the western world).

Since I was the one who made that analogy, I'll point out that the idea you could convene a disciplinary council in a parish is not a feature of canon law, which is my point. It's a diocesan thing (and Catholic bishops do not map to LDS bishops).

Finally, I find it impossible to believe that the Catholic Church has no procedure or mechanism in place to deal with situations similar to what LDS disciplinary councils are for.

As far as I know, it doesn't at the parish level. In a decade or so on the parish council, all my dad did was get a new church built. The idea of restoring someone to grace (or whatever you want to call it) is built into confession, which isn't a judicial process.

Area Man's first and second scenarios don't actually need a formal disciplinary process, nor does the scientologist Sunday school teacher. I don't think I'm crazy for thinking any number of churches would address those situations in an ad hoc manner, using whatever governing body or committee might exist at the level of the congregation (e.g. the parish council). Scenario 3 probably kicks up to the next level of the heirarchy, assuming one exists.
posted by hoyland at 11:05 AM on November 2, 2012


Area Man's first and second scenarios don't actually need a formal disciplinary process, nor does the scientologist Sunday school teacher. I don't think I'm crazy for thinking any number of churches would address those situations in an ad hoc manner, using whatever governing body or committee might exist at the level of the congregation (e.g. the parish council).

Yes, that's more or less the way it works in the LDS church, as well. Maybe the name "disciplinary council" is what's tripping people up.
posted by The World Famous at 11:34 AM on November 2, 2012


I don't think I'm crazy for thinking any number of churches would address those situations in an ad hoc manner

Neither do I.

I might have misunderstood your comment earlier. If you're just observing that LDS disciplinary councils sound more formal than what you've seen at the analogous levels in other religious organizations -- so, "Huh, that's kind of weird." -- then I misunderstood. I guess I conflated your comment with Mental Wimp's much stronger claim that such councils are a disturbing arrogation of governmentlike authority [hope that's not a misrepresentation of MW's point], and thought you were making a similar objection.
posted by stebulus at 11:34 AM on November 2, 2012


(In case I wasn't clear, LDS church "disciplinary councils" are, in fact, ad hoc proceedings that are quite rare.)
posted by The World Famous at 11:44 AM on November 2, 2012


[I hope I'm not cutting into the disciplinary council discussion, but I wanted to address a previous comment from Mental Wimp]

My favorite band is one you've probably never heard of...

Nah, it's more like "this is my favorite band for reasons which may not be so easy to categorize". I don't know, maybe this is just me, but as I continue to grow and gain new experiences I become less and less interested in the idea that there needs to be a line in the sand between knowledge and belief. Again, responding to the distinction made here:

beliefs can be treated as myths just as easily as not, and it may be that the majority of adherents are in this "myth" class rather than the superstitious class.

I don't think it's so cut and dried. Take, for example, the remaining convictions of Quinn. After all he's been through, after all he knows, why does he still believe? Surely, you think, he must realize what a sham it all is. And I bet that he does recognize the bullshit for what it is, how could he not? And yet he still believes.

And yet, I don't think he would classify that belief as simply appreciating a myth. Given his research into the "magic world view" of early Mormonism I also doubt he would adhere strictly to a superstitious class of thought either. So there must be some other framework, some other class, and I personally don't think it's so obscure or underground as your comment so pithily suggests...

Obviously I can't speak for Quinn but I can speak for myself. I don't adhere to the superstition, but I also don't classify my beliefs as myth either. I'm not so simple as that. Are you? Maybe you are, and if so congratulations for being able to determine the bright lines for yourself. It's not always that simple or easy for others. To borrow from Whitman, I contain multitudes. I suspect a lot of other Mormons (and Catholics, and Jews and Muslims, and everyone) are similar. Feel free to memail me if you want a really longwinded (and probably boring) exposition of my beliefs and why I think I've made those choices given the knowledge and experiences at my disposal.

In the end you do what works for you. As painful as his experiences have been it seems that something about it all still works for him. For myself, I tend to agree.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


But setting that aside, if you were to redesign the actual official policies of the Mormon church with regard to disciplinary councils, how would your design differ from the actual current policies, in terms of everything from when and how they are convened to the procedures in those councils, etc.?

A fair question, and one that gets to the heart of the matter. For starters, I wouldn't call them disciplinary councils, because I don't see the role of a church as a disciplinary body to be consistent with any of the letter or spirit of Christianity. Granted, a lot of the current churches tend to focus disproportionately on the identification and punishment of wrongdoers, but that flies in the face of just about every argument apologists cite for the value and benefit of having organized religions and it basically usurps the role of secular government.

I can't dictate what a church conceives itself to be, but my point is that some (e.g., LDS and RCC) desire a lot more power and control than is seemly in a free society. Any voluntary association for the purposes of promoting spirituality and a moral sense ought not to be engaged in active proscription through the various punitive measures open to it. It smacks of cultism.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:11 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, I just don't see the LDS church exerting control over its members in the sorts of ways or to the extent that most people seem to think happens.
posted by The World Famous at 2:49 PM on November 2, 2012


See, I just don't see the LDS church exerting control over its members in the sorts of ways or to the extent that most people seem to think happens.

That's good to know. What I've read in print and online gives a different perspective, including the subject of the FPP.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:29 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Events like the September Six are outrageous and newsworthy, but statistically speaking they are extremely rare. Anecdotally I am aware of other abuses of the disciplinary court that have occurred that would make your hair curl (though they didn't make any headlines). They are likely to continue to occur because, well, humans.

my point is that some (e.g., LDS and RCC) desire a lot more power and control than is seemly in a free society

Joseph Smith would agree with you:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion...No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood... -Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-41

The egregious actions of some Mormons have often dictated the cultural and theological narrative of all Mormons, at least as far as the press has been concerned. But just as Harry Reid said Mitt Romney is not the face of Mormonism, it's equally true that the President of the Church and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in Salt Lake City are not the face of Mormonism. As strange as that may seem, I bet even they would agree with that statement.

A lot of members opposed voting for proposition 8. Vocally. Publicly. A bunch of members marched in the SLC Pride parade. There are even active Mormon feminists, which you might remember from the FPP article were considered "enemies of the church" by LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer. The vast majority of them, as far I can tell, have not been disciplined at all for their "deviations".

Or maybe they will! Maybe the bishop of their local ward is a real doctrinal (ha!) taskmaster. Probably not though. He's performing his pastoral duties in his free time and is probably exhausted and just not that interested in ferreting out so-called deviants. Maybe it happens more than I realize but this little deviant isn't worried about his standing in the church.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:40 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anecdotally I am aware of other abuses of the disciplinary court that have occurred that would make your hair curl (though they didn't make any headlines). They are likely to continue to occur because, well, humans.

Aah, yes--now we are getting to a bit of an important point.

Because humans will be humans, so any 'disciplinary system' will acknowledge this by providing for independent review, appeal, provision of knowledgeable and sympathetic advocates for everyone who is subject to review by the system, transparent and open processes, and a whole host of other safeguards.

Because, as you say, "well, humans". The LDS disciplinary system is quite frankly a kindergarten level system that is entrusted with making very serious decisions about people's lives. It's somewhat amazing that there are not 100 or 1000 times more 'hair curling' examples that come out of it.
posted by flug at 9:56 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll let you summarize what you think the policies actually are (ideally with citations)

Now this is a bit unfair because anyone who has looked into this at all knows that the LDS leadership has gone to some considerable length to keep the details of the disciplinary council process out of the public eye, and even the eye of its own members. Even people who are called up to disciplinary councils don't really have a good sense of how they are supposed to work or what the procedures are.

The procedures are outlined in the Church Handbook of Instructions, but historically that has been available to leaders only and not to the general church population. Even in these internet days it is not that easy to track down a copy because the church has been pretty vigorous in demanding takedowns of the Handbook on copyright grounds.

Outside of the Handbook and media coverage (not always the most reliable source) there is little to no published material to cite. The church will not, as a rule, make any comment on disciplinary actions so no matter how 'hair curling' the episode you can fall back on the old 'you only have the victim's word for it!' defense every single time.

As to the Handbook, there are two parts to it, part 1 dealing more with the particular responsibilities of stake presidents and bishops, including the disciplinary councils, and part 2 dealing more with general administration and policy.

One positive sign is that the church has recently made part 2 openly available on its web site. For example, here are the church's policies on issues like abortion, homosexuality, birth control, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood.

Here is a link to a copy of part 1 of the Handbook. Chapter 6, starting on page 51, covers the disciplinary process.

To address one question raised in the discussion above, p. 56-57 of the Handbook lists these occasions when a disciplinary council may be necessary:

1. Serious transgression - including adultery, homosexual relations, sale of illegal drugs, robbery, theft, fraud, assault, attempted murder, etc
2. Abortion
3. Transsexual operation

It goes on to list these occasions when a disciplinary council is required:

1. Murder
2. Incest
3. Child abuse
4. Apostasy
5. Serious transgression while holding a prominent church position
6. Transgressor who is a predator
7. Patter of serious transgressions
8. Serious transgression that is widely known

Procedures of the councils are outlined starting on page 59.
posted by flug at 10:33 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's interesting to note that the occasions which require a disciplinary council are the kinds of things that would have a wider impact on the immediate church community. Well, #7 is a bit spongy* but the other ones seem appropriate for a "church court".

Note this quote from section 6 as well:

"Church discipline is ecclesiastical, not civil or criminal, it can affect only a member's standing in the Church."

So there is some intent paid to the idea that a church court should only have impact within the church itself, not outside.

Also note on page 59 that excommunication is stated only as "may be necessary" for serious violations such as adultery, or in cases where the "good name or moral influence of the Church" is impaired (like if a bishop had an affair or embezzled money), but this is ultimately up to the discretion of the council, as lead by the spirit (not by the book), and is only mandatory for murder and possibly (but not always?) incest.

That said, I personally find much to disagree with in Handbook 1 in general, which I suspect is one of the reasons it's not made available to the general membership. Some members (my dad, for example) would treat the policies in Handbook 1 as official doctrines of the church, functionally using it as a sort of Mormon Catechism. Members already make much of things like the Word of Wisdom, conflating the proscription against hot drinks to mean that you can't drink a Diet Coke...I can only imagine the kind of judgmental shenanigans that would ensue if this flawed little policy manual suddenly started being treated as a general text, to be read alongside the Book of Mormon and Bible.

Interestingly enough, if you look on page 163 of the handbook it expressly states
"the only interpretation of "hot drinks" in the Word or Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term "hot drinks" means tea and coffee."

And that's the most concrete thing that this handbook has to say about it? Pretty funny, considering there are twenty other verses and about 7 or 8 additional prescriptions/proscriptions that members have been arguing with/judging each other about for years. And the handbook has no guidance on this? It's almost like the handbook wasn't really designed for that kind of thing*.

*Seriously, from a theological standpoint this thing is a mess. I assume that's another reason why it's not made widely available.

In fact, peppered throughout the entire handbook are all kinds of little textual indiscretions: weasel words and vague appeals to authority in order to justify some arbitrary or narrow definition of a hot-button issue. For every hard-line "decree" there's usually an implication that the leader should still be following the spirit, only enacting these hidden policies when moved upon by his understanding of the faith and his spiritual feelings on the matter (except in the most extreme cases like murder). This probably also explains the wide deviations in how the policies end up getting enforced throughout the church's congregations all over the world. So on one hand you have someone like TWF saying he only was involved in disciplinary councils where the transgression was so heinous and community-affecting that they had no choice but to convene on the matter, while at the same time we get stories like Quinn's.

Having never been in a position where I needed to consult this manual I can't say much else about it from that perspective, though I do hope the church continues to revise its contents.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:13 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Christopher Hitchens in 2007: Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about his Mormon faith
posted by homunculus at 5:23 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


How Mitt Romney uses the church to avoid paying taxes.
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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