A molecular biologist at the CSIRO is facing excommunication from the Mormon Church after writing a book challenging its central teachings.
Dr Simon Southerton was raised a believer but in 1998 abandoned the church of which he was a bishop – the equivalent of a parish priest – when he could not reconcile his faith with scientific research.
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A year ago he published a rebuttal of the Book of Mormon teachings which claim native American and Polynesians were descendants of Israelite tribes who had migrated to the Americas centuries before Christ.
In Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, Dr Southerton challenged the church to declare the Mormon scriptural text an “inspired fictional story”.
“The DNA evidence we have today clearly shows that native Americans and Polynesians are both descended from Asian ancestors,” he told the Herald.
He said more than 7000 native Americans had been DNA tested, proving 99 per cent of their DNA came from Asia.
Last week Dr Southerton, who is from Canberra, was summoned to appear before a church disciplinary council on July 31. He has not been charged with heresy, but the lesser charge of adultery for which he could be disciplined or expelled.
“It’s very odd for the church to snoop on somebody who has not been in church for seven years and who hasn’t had visitors from the church during that time, and to call them to the disciplinary council,” Dr Southerton said.
“This leads me to suspect that the motivation is my widely known apostasy. If that is the case, why isn’t the church addressing the much more serious charge?”
The church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, claimed to have translated the “golden bible”, considered to be a companion text to the Bible, from the text inscribed on gold plates which were delivered by the angel Moroni and unearthed on a hillside in New York State.
The religion, which has its headquarters in Utah, claims more than 100,000 adherents in Australia.
A church spokeswoman, Jenny Harkness, referred questions on DNA to the church’s official website, which claims attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill-considered.
Nothing in the Book of Mormon precluded migration to the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin, the website says.
Ms Harkness said the church was a voluntary association and membership came by “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”.
Church disciplinary councils could require counselling, limit participation in church activities – such as praying in church meetings – or in extreme cases, loss of membership.
Resignation was an option, Dr Southerton said, but if the church did not “feel pressure from the outside world”, it would not see any reason to face the flaws in its teachings.