The Mormon church in Australia has denied that an Australian author’s disciplinary hearing had anything to do with a book assessing the impact of DNA data for American Indians on the faith’s ancestral claims, and would not say if he had been excommunicated.
Simon Southerton, author of Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Book of Mormon, had said that he was excommunicated from his church of 30 years after a three-hour Mormon disciplinary council meeting in the national capital, Canberra, on Sunday.
But, in a statement issued earlier today, the national public affairs council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the disciplinary hearing had not focused on Southerton’s book or his doubts about the Mormon church.
“Mr Southerton has made various public comments about DNA and the Book of Mormon,” the statement issued by church spokeswoman Jenny Harkness said.
“This disciplinary council had nothing to do with this subject and was not raised by any of the church leaders sitting on the disciplinary council,” she said, adding that decisions relating to spiritual welfare were private matters between individual church members and their local church leaders.
“Mr Southerton has publicly stated that he considers himself a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” she said. “The disciplinary council allowed him to express his feelings and consider his membership.”
Southerton had said in an e-mail to the Associated Press that he was charged by church authorities with adultery, but finally excommunicated for “having an inappropriate relationship with a woman.”
Southerton doesn’t deny the relationship, which occurred two years ago, while he was separated from his wife.
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.
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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,” he said.
Southerton was not immediately available for further comment.
A former church bishop, Southerton voluntarily left the Mormon church seven years ago, after deciding he could no longer believe some of its teachings. His book outlines how existing DNA data for American Indians does not support the Mormon 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 600BC, according to church founder Joseph Smith’s 1830 Book of Mormon. Smith claimed to have translated the text from inscribed gold plates unearthed from an upstate New York hillside. His book is viewed by many members as a literal record of God’s dealings with early Americans.
Southerton plans to appeal the decision to the Mormon church’s Salt Lake City-based leaders, known as the First Presidency.
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 Mormon beliefs.
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