Speaker: Scholars Felt Sting Of Church’s Retribution

The Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 10, 2002

Lavina Fielding Anderson prayed for years about whether to go public with her concerns about the LDS Church’s ban on blacks in the all-male priesthood or its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

But each time, the heavens seemed to tell the Mormon writer, “This is not your cause.”

Finally, in 1992, Anderson got what she believes was the divine go-ahead to take up the cause of Mormon intellectuals whom she felt had been unjustly treated by their ecclesiastical leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She offered a chronology of skirmishes between the church and two groups — intellectuals and women — to a huge audience gathered at that year’s Sunstone Symposium, an annual conference of Mormon thinkers and writers. They gave her a standing ovation and she felt the speech had touched a community nerve.

On Friday, Anderson recounted what has happened in the decade since to several hundred people packed in a stuffy room for this year’s Sunstone Symposium at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

Her original intent was not to embarrass the church, she said, but to record in precise detail the tensions between some leaders and those who explored the church’s history and doctrine.

“We must not deny that such things exist nor that they are wrong,” she read from her 1992 Sunstone presentation. “Once we know what happened, then we can begin to understand it. With understanding comes forgiveness. And with forgiveness, then love can increase in our community.”

Official response to her speech, however, was anything but loving.

In September 1993, Anderson was excommunicated along with a half dozen or so other feminists, historians, biblical scholars and amateur theologians.

Since then, several more Sunstone presenters have been quietly cast out of the church, she said: Janice Allred “in time for Mother’s Day 1995” and Margaret Toscano “for Thanksgiving 2000.”

Former Sunstone magazine editor Elbert Peck twice was scheduled for excommunication but “spared by as-yet-undisclosed administrative processes,” Anderson said. “But not, I believe, because those administrators believed him anything but guilty.”

Anderson cited other developments:

* LDS Church official publications now dominated by articles by and about its general authorities, all men.

* “The ‘follow the prophet’ drumroll has increased to a deafening decibel level.”

* The “Proclamation on the Family” issued by the First Presidency in 1995 has “added a new piece of theology” — that “gender is eternal.”

* There are still no church lessons on inappropriate touching, or even “emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse, in the child, youth and women’s curricula. . . . There is still no help line for victims, only a hot line for ecclesiastical leaders.”

Perhaps the most “bitter harvest” of the past decade, Anderson said, is what has happened to the 32 children of those excommunicated, “youngsters who have seen the church at its cruelest.”

Twenty-five of them, or 78 percent, no longer affiliate with the church. Since 1993, only two of the young men growing up in those families have served missions, she said.

Anderson’s son, Christian Anderson, did go on his two-year mission. He is planning to marry in an LDS temple next month, all while his mother continues to attend church faithfully but without any privileges of participation. She will not be allowed to see her son’s wedding.

Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and a church member in good standing, had a different take on Anderson’s original chronology.

In his role as a respondent to the presentation, he said Anderson’s list was “lopsided.”

“It is largely a selective record of unhappy encounters between her friends and certain church leaders, general and local,” he said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday August 16, 2002.
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