SALT LAKE CITY — The Australian author who wrote that DNA evidence fails to support the ancestral claims outlined in the Book of Mormon has been excommunicated by The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After a three-hour disciplinary council meeting on Sunday in Canberra, Australia, Simon Southerton, author of “Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Book of Mormon” was informed his relationship with his religion of 30 years would be officially severed, Southerton said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Southerton was charged by church authorities with adultery but finally excommunicated for “having an inappropriate relationship with a woman,” he said. Southerton doesn’t deny the relationship, which occurred two years ago, while he was separated from his wife. The Southertons have since reconciled, and Jane Southerton testified on behalf of her husband.
Southerton said he refused to discuss his personal life with church leaders on Sunday, instead asking them why he was not answering to charges of apostasy for having widely published on the Internet and in his book his doubts about the church and his beliefs about DNA science.
Church leaders responded, Southerton wrote, by saying they were not avoiding the “issue of apostasy and that the charge they were investigating was more important.”
“I am now convinced that they were intent on avoiding a council on the charge of apostasy,” Southerton said in his e-mail to the AP. “I was clearly instructed before the meeting that if I attempted to talk about ‘DNA’ and my apostasy that the council would be immediately shut down and that it would be completed in my absence.”
A former church bishop, Southerton voluntarily left the LDS Church seven years ago, after deciding he could no longer believe some of its teachings.
His book, published in 2004, outlines how existing DNA data for American Indians does not support the LDS beliefs that the continent’s earliest inhabitants were descendants of Israelite patriarch Lehi.
The church teaches that Lehi was an ancient seafarer who came to the New World about 600 B.C., according the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. Church founder Joseph Smith is said to have translated the text from inscribed gold plates unearthed from an upstate New York hillside. The book is viewed by many members as a literal record of God’s dealings with early Americans.
Australian church authorities have discussed the book at length with Southerton, who works as a plant geneticist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and believes church concerns about his writing are the underlying reason they sought his excommunication.
“I also told (church leaders) that it was extremely unusual for the church to pursue someone who hadn’t had anything to do with the church for the last seven years,” Southerton wrote.
Southerton plans to appeal the decision to the LDS Church First Presidency.
LDS Church officials do not comment on the decisions of local church leaders, church spokesman Scott Trotter said Thursday.
If Southerton appeals, the First Presidency would have several courses of action, Trotter said. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and his two counselors could agree with the decision, modify it or send it back to Australian church leaders for a rehearing.
That process “takes some time,” Trotter said.
Ultimately, if the decision stands, Southerton’s name will be removed from official church rolls in Salt Lake City.
Southerton’s excommunication makes him the seventh author from the Salt Lake City-based Signature Books, a publishing house for Western and Mormon studies, to be released from the church after publishing a work critical of LDS beliefs.
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Signature’s managing director, Ron Priddis, called the decision “unfortunate for Simon and his family.” He agrees with Southerton’s contention that a subtext to his excommunication is the author’s public use of science to challenge church beliefs.
“We just wish there was a more open, healthier climate for the discussion of matters of science and religion,” Priddis said.