Dissident LDS intellectuals say excommunications will continue

AP, Dec. 11, 2002
PATTY HENETZ, Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Egyptologist Ed Ashment sympathizes with Washington anthropologist <A HREF="javascript:zoek('thomas murphy')" "javascript:void(0);" onmouseover="return overlib('Click for archived news items on this subject’, CAPTION, ‘Link Info…’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’);” onmouseout=”return nd();”>Thomas W. Murphy, who for now has escaped excommunication from the LDS Church.

But Ashment, a fellow member of the church, said he was disgusted with those who publicly protested the church action at a rally for Murphy on Salt Lake City’s Main Street plaza Sunday night.

“The church is a voluntary organization,” Ashment said. “If one speaks out in a way the organization feels is unacceptable, the church has every right to ask them to leave.”

A former coordinator of translation services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ashment isn’t just preaching.

He, too, is under ecclesiastical investigation and expects to be excommunicated for publishing articles that assert church founder Joseph Smith fabricated key LDS texts he said were translations of ancient scriptures.

If that happens, Ashment will join the ranks of other dissidents stripped of their LDS Church membership after the sudden, public 1993 purge of six LDS scholars who questioned church doctrine.

Since then, others excommunicated include:

* David Wright, a professor of Hebrew studies and the Bible at Brandeis University, excommunicated in April 1994 for articles asserting the Book of Mormon was a 19th-century creation of church founder Joseph Smith.

*Michael Barrett, assistant general counsel for the CIA, excommunicated in 1994 for disobedience after writing letters to editors of several newspapers correcting news stories about Mormonism.

*Brent Metcalfe, editor of the anthology “New Approaches to the Book of Mormon,” published by Signature Books in Salt Lake City, also in 1994. Metcalfe also edited “American Apocrypha,” which included the article in which Murphy used genetic research to challenge the Book of Mormon doctrine that American Indians are descendants of ancient Israelite families.

*Janice Allred, a housewife and mother of nine, excommunicated in May 1997 for submitting papers on her personal studies of theological topics at a symposium organized by Sunstone, a journal of LDS ideas and scholarship.

*Margaret Toscano, a classics professor at the University of Utah, excommunicated in 2000 for writing on feminist issues after being told not to. Her husband, Paul, was one of those excommunicated in 1993.

*Shane LeGrande Whelan, author of “More Than One: Plural Marriage, A Sacred Heritage, A Promise For Tomorrow,” excommunicated Aug. 11 for refusing to stop marketing his self-published book. His wife, Rhonda, who researched the book, was disfellowshipped two weeks later. She has since divorced him.

A disfellowshipped member retains church membership but loses certain privileges of membership, such as being able to go into the temple or serve a church calling.

Rhonda Whelan didn’t respond to a telephone request for an interview.

The “<A HREF="http://www.apologeticsindex.org/m07.html" "javascript:void(0);" onmouseover="return overlib('Click for research resources on this subject – particulary with regard to having your name removed from Mormon church records.’, CAPTION, ‘Link Info…’, HAUTO, VAUTO, SNAPX, ‘5’);” onmouseout=”return nd();”>Church Handbook of Instructions,” a guide for lay LDS clergy, says a disciplinary council must be held if there is evidence a member has committed murder, incest, child abuse or apostasy — that is, publicly opposed the church, its leaders or teachings.

Church spokesman Dale Bills said disciplinary decisions are made by local leaders. Disciplinary councils are considered a necessary step in repentance on the way back to full church membership.

Some have suggested that, under current church President Gordon B. Hinckley, the church has become more forgiving toward scholars who explore and sometimes challenge LDS doctrine. But historian Lavina Fielding Anderson, among those excommunicated in 1993 for her feminist studies of church teachings, says that’s untrue.

“What has been different is that excommunications have been pursued only when it looked as if there would be an acceptably low punishment-to-publicity ratio,” she said. “It’s hard for me not to see this as a pattern … part of a larger witchhunt against independent scholars.”

Sunstone magazine editor Dan Wotherspoon said church leaders have assumed that people they decided to excommunicate would go quietly. But now they are finding that some are likely to seek attention.

At first, Shane Whelan was quiet about his excommunication.

He and his wife were active in the church, serving as stake missionaries. They believed what they wrote was a respectful history of the doctrine and practice of polygamy as a fundamental tenet of the church, Whelan said.

“I had no idea we were running a risk because we weren’t promoting (polygamy),” Shane Whelan said. “I’m a mainstream Mormon — or was.”

The church in 1890 banned polygamy; those who practice it aren’t allowed in the church.

Murphy, a resident of Lynnwood, Wash., is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and chairman of the Edmonds College anthropology department. He was scheduled for a church disciplinary court hearing this past Sunday, and he expected to be excommunicated for apostasy.

The hearing was postponed indefinitely because of widespread publicity, said Matthew Latimer, Murphy’s stake president.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 12, 2002.
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