Deseret News, Dec. 12, 2002
By Geoffrey Fattah
Shane Whelan raised many motorists’ eyebrows last summer when he rented several billboards along I-15 in Utah and Salt Lake counties proclaiming polygamy as a “sacred heritage” and advertising his book, “More Than One.” The couple had also bought KSL radio ads about the book.
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When the Deseret News interviewed them last July, Shane Whelan and his wife, Rhonda Whelan, said they could find no LDS publishing house that would carry their controversial book and ultimately took out a second mortgage to publish and promote the book themselves.
At the time, the couple said they were members in good standing with the church, even if they were urging main-stream LDS members to embrace polygamy as a proud part of their past.
Whelan’s book, one of dozens on polygamy, was among the first to be geared for a general LDS audience. Despite its controversial subject, Shane Whelan said he had the support of his bishop and wife about the endeavor.
But just after media attention concerning his ad campaign and book, Whelan said he was surprised when he was called by church officials to attend a disciplinary council last August and that he was charged with apostasy and conduct inappropriate of a member of the church. Although the apostasy stemmed directly from the book, he said, the conduct charge stemmed from an incident involving his 15-year-old step-daughter, who ran away from their Woods Cross home. Despite allegations made by family members that Whelan was verbally abusive to the girl, the matter was later dismissed out of 2nd District Juvenile Court, according to Whelan.
In a letter from Woods Cross Utah North Stake President Brent Cleverly on Aug. 28, the couple was instructed not to promote the book and “leave the subject matter of plural marriage alone.” The couple was also told to send a letter to their stake president “renouncing your involvement in the activity of promotion of this book including recognition of its negative impact.”
Shane Whelan said he was stunned. Church leaders gave him the chance to reconsider and keep his membership in the church, but Whelan said he refused, mainly because he felt that he was religiously inspired to write the book.
“They wanted me to take the billboards down,” including the Web site, he said, “and I refused.”
Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strictly voluntary, and although a disciplinary council may vote to revoke the membership of a follower as ultimate punishment, it in no way “involves the person’s civil rights as a citizen,” said LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills.
Whelan, a lifelong member of the church, said he never intended to write a book against the church and says his book was taken strictly from a “historical perspective” and does not advocate the practice of polygamy.
Whelan was excommunicated from the church last August and his wife was disfellowshipped soon after. In a letter to Cleverly dated Sept. 1, Rhonda Whelan apologized for any harm the book may have done to the church and renounced her involvement in the book and Zion Publishers.
Since last fall, Rhonda Whelan filed for divorce, which was finalized last week. Shane Whelan claims his ex-wife was encouraged to divorce him by her family members and church leaders.
Because LDS Church discipline is considered confidential, Bills said he could not comment on specifics.
“Matters of church discipline are handled on a confidential basis between members and their local leaders. Local church leaders determine what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate,” Bills said.
According to a letter written by Cleverly to Whelan on July 7, Cleverly calls his book “beyond informational” and encouraged Whelan to use his writing talent to “write concerning the life, mission and atonement of the Savior or the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
“It’s pretty much destroyed my life,” Whelan said, but he added that he fully intends to continue to promote his book. “I believe everybody has a right to free agency,” he said, although he is saddened to lose his church membership.
Whelan said he plans to have yet another billboard up on State Street in Salt Lake City within a few weeks.