Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Denver Snuffer/Excommunication/Unrighteous dominion

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A FairMormon Analysis of Denver Snuffer's Online Claims: Denver Snuffer's Excommunication: Unrighteous dominion?

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Denver Snuffer claim:

"the entire First Presidency, the 12, the 70, and all other general authorities and auxiliaries, voted to sustain those who abused their authority in casting me out of the church."[1]

FairMormon Response

Snuffer claims that being corrected by a disciplinary council for teaching false doctrine is an example of "unrighteous dominion."

Joseph Smith did not agree.

Freedom to think and believe

Joseph Smith taught that everyone had freedom of religious belief and conscience. He insisted that no one should be forced and compelled in these matters:

We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one of exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts. . . .[2]:2:6-7

Snuffer would have us believe that being called for Church discipline threatens his freedom—he accuses the high council of exercising "dominion" over him by excommunicating him for apostasy.[3]

But, Joseph clearly did not believe that the right to believe what one wishes and to be free of compulsion in matters of conscience meant that one could be free from Church discipline for teaching false doctrine or from rebuke from Church leaders.

Examples from Church history

There are many examples in Church history of members being disciplined for preaching false doctrine. For example:

15 December 1832
"By due examination we found that he [Thomas Mills] taught contrary doctrine to the revelations & prophesied things contrary to scripture. We therefore received his license & silenced him & advised him, if he would still persist in his foolish doctrine to withdraw from the Church & save us the trouble of excommunicating him from the same, which he did."[4]:58-59
25 June 1833
We sanction the decision of the Bishop and his council, in relation to [the teaching of] this doctrine [that the devil, his angels, or the sons of perdition could be restored] being a bar to communion.[2]:1:366
21 August 1834
Lyman Wight was disciplined for teaching that "all disease in this Church is of the Devil and that medicine administered to the sick is of the Devil, for the sick in the Church ought to live by faith."[4]:96-97
24 April 1837
Lyman Wight was disciplined for teaching that "we the Church were under a telestial law, because God does not whip in a Celestial, or under a Celestial law; therefore he took us the Church out doors to whip us—as a parent takes his children out of doors to chastise them. And that the Book of Covinants and Doctrine was a telestial law and the Book of Commandments (a part of the Revelations which were printed in Jackson County,) were a Celestial law."[4]:111

Lyman Wight: fairly minor errors

The cases involving Wight are instructive. Wight was on occasion disciplined for fairly peripheral issues. If he is subject to discipline (with Joseph's approval—the Prophet was at the council) for teaching that illness comes from sin, it seems inconsistent for Snuffer to claim that he should not be disciplined for harshly criticizing Church leaders, teaching that the Church has lost necessary priesthood authority, that the apostles are only "administrative" ones who cannot bear testimony of Christ's resurrection, and priesthood authority is not needed to perform ordinances.

Snuffer's claims strike far more at the foundation of the Church and its doctrine than did some matters for which Joseph Smith sanctioned Church discipline. Joseph obviously did not regard discipline for apostates as a violation of the command to avoid unrighteous dominion.

Disciplining those who claim presidency in error

In another case, "Elder Jared Carter preached on the Sabbath in the Church, and some of the brethren found fault with his teachings."[2]:2:277

Like Snuffer, Carter was charged with teaching false doctrine. Also like Snuffer, Carter continued to insist that he was inspired while the presiding authorities were in error. Carter claimed, like Snuffer, to know this via revelation:

Elder Jared Carter proceeded to speak largely, and explain his designs in teaching as he did, saying he believed God directed him by His Spirit, and afterwards being rebuked by Presidents Cowdery, Rigdon and Phelps, he called upon the Lord, and received again a witness of the Spirit that he was right, and the Presidents were wrong.[2]:2:277

Here again, Joseph saw no impropriety in subjecting Carter to Church discipline.

Duties of Priesthood leaders

Joseph likewise taught that rebuking and correcting was part of the calling of priesthood leaders:

I frequently rebuke and admonish my brethren, and that because I love them, not because I wish to incur their displeasure, or mar their happiness. Such a course of conduct is not calculated to gain the good will of all, but rather the ill will of many; therefore, the situation in which I stand is an important one; so, you see, brethren, the higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station; but these rebukes and admonitions become necessary, from the perverseness of the brethren, for their temporal as well as spiritual welfare. They actually constitute a part of the duties of my station and calling.[2]:2:478

As Joseph said, such correction can bring "the ill will of many," as in Snuffer's case. Joseph does not regard correction or rebuke as prima facie evidence of inappropriate conduct. In fact, to not do so would be to forsake a priesthood leader's "duties."

Freedom of conscience does not entitle us to freedom from correction by Church leaders so long as we wish to remain members of the Church.

Joseph Smith told him that "in your letter," among other things:

you say many hard things against the brethren, especially against Father Joseph Smith, Brother Reynolds Cahoon, and Bishop Whitney, all of which we highly disapprove. It seems also that your son Eden is confederate with you, and needs to be reproved, together with yourself, in all humility before the Lord, or you must expect to be dealt with according to the laws of the Church. We say you are no more than a private member in the Church.[2]:1:370

In a separate letter, Joseph went on to

rebuke the Elders of that branch of the Church of Christ, for not magnifying their office, and letting the transgressor go unpunished. We, therefore, enjoin upon you, to be watchful on your part, and search out iniquity, and put it down wherever it may be found. You will see by this, brethren, that you have authority to sit in council on the Smiths; and if found guilty, to deal with them accordingly.[2]:1:371

Likewise, a bishops' court:

was called to investigate the case of Elder Ezekiel Rider, who had said many hard things against Bishop Whitney: that Brother Whitney was not fit for a Bishop; that he treated the brethren who came into the store with disrespect; that he was overbearing, and fain would walk on the necks of the brethren. Brother Story was also in a similar transgression. I rebuked them sharply, and told them that the Church must feel the wrath of God except they repent of their sins and cast away their murmurings and complainings one of another.[2]:1:371

Elder Rider said "hard things" about the Bishop Whitney and Joseph threatened Rider with discipline if he did not mend his ways. Snuffer has said far "harder" things about his stake president (accusing him of merely following orders from Salt Lake City to excommunicate him) as well as all present senior Church leaders, and most past ones as well.[5]

Why does Snuffer feel he is exempt from the instruction which prompted Joseph to "rebuke...sharply"? Joseph certainly does not see such an action as "unrighteous dominion."

Failure to attend councils

Snuffer refused to enter the stake disciplinary council because the stake president would not honor his wife's purported revelation from God that all the Snuffers' children should attend.

How would Joseph react to such behavior?

On the evening of the 2nd of January, a Bishop's court assembled in Kirtland to investigate the case of Wesley Hurlburt, against whom charges had been preferred by Harriet Howe and others to the effect "that Hurlburt had denied the faith, spoken reproachfully of the Church, did not believe Joseph was a true Prophet," etc. Hurlburt was in the place, but did not appear before the court, consequently was cut off (emphasis added).[2]:2:2

Joseph apparently regarded failure to attend a council to answer a charge of apostasy as sufficient grounds for discipline.

An Elder Green found himself subject to Church discipline for "for accusing President Joseph Smith, Jun., 'of rebuking Brother Aldridge wrongfully, and under the influence of an evil spirit.'" Green declined to attend, but a decision was taken in his absence: "President Rigdon arose and said, that it was the decision of the Presidency, that the Council proceed to examine the charge preferred, because Brother Green had been regularly summoned by himself."[2]:2:274

Joseph sustained the ability of disciplinary councils to decide cases in the absence of the accused if the accused refused to attend. In this case:

The decision...of the Presidency of the High Council is...that Brother Green be and is now, excluded from this Church, and shall be a member no more, until he comes in by the ordinance of baptism, as appointed by the Gospel, to be done in the Church.

Joseph went on to express a very dim view of those who, by refusing to attend, would not honor the authority of the high council:

When a serious offense is committed, and indignity offered to the High Council, then it is the privilege of the Presidency of the High Council to stamp it with indignation under foot, and cut off the offender....[2]:2:276

None of this is "unrighteous dominion." Joseph would not approve of Snuffer's actions, and his refusal to attend his own council would have—in Joseph's view—warranted excommunication.

What if a council is mistaken?

Joseph Smith also encountered the claim that the Twelve apostles had been wrong to excommunicate a member. If Snuffer's claim is true, then Joseph ought to have cautioned them about losing their authority because of an improper or "unrighteous" decision.

Joseph did not do this. In fact, he said:

An attempt was made in the foregoing council to criminate [i.e., incriminate, charge, accuse] the Twelve before the high council for cutting off Gladden Bishop at their Bradford Conference, but their attempt totally failed. I decided that the high council had nothing to do with the Twelve, or the decisions of the Twelve. But if the Twelve erred they were accountable only to the general council of the authorities of the whole Church, according to the revelations.[2]:2:285

Joseph does not say that the Twelve cannot err. However, such an error does not invalidate the authority of the Twelve, or give those of lesser authority (e.g., the high council in Joseph's example, or Denver Snuffer in the present case) the right to change the decision, or declare that the council is null and void, or constitute evidence that those involved have had an "Amen to their priesthood."

Instead, an erroneous judgment is to be appealed. In Snuffer's case, he has appealed to the First Presidency, and they have upheld the decision.

Thus, Joseph did not even see an error in excommunication as evidence that priesthood leaders had been stripped of their authority.

Snuffer is simply inventing this idea from whole cloth. It has no precedent in Joseph's teachings or Joseph's actions.


If Snuffer sincerely sustains Joseph as a prophet, then his excommunication has ample precedent.


  1. Denver Snuffer, "Preserving The Restoration," Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 7.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957).
  3. Snuffer to First Presidency, Letter (13 September 2013), reproduced in Denver Snuffer, "Preserving The Restoration," Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 42.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Lyndon W. Cook and Donald Q. Cannon, Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1983).
  5. Snuffer's stake president warned him, "you have mischaracterized doctrine, denigrated virtually every prophet since Joseph Smith, and placed the church in a negative light" [M. Truman Hunt to Denver Snuffer, “Notice of Disciplinary Council,” letter (21 August 2013), 1–2. Online at Denver Snuffer, “Don’t call me. (Yes, that means you too!),” from the desk of Denver Snuffer (blog), 23 August 2013,].