Mormonism and Church discipline/Scholars/D. Michael Quinn

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Excommunication of D. Michael Quinn

Historian D. Michael Quinn has publicly discussed his excommunication, claiming that it was the direct result of his historical research on the origins of Mormonism.

Quinn claims that his excommunication was the direct result of his historical research on the origins of Mormonism. He refused to attend his own disciplinary council, telling his stake president that it was "a process which was designed to punish me for being the messenger of unwanted historical evidence and to intimidate me from further work in Mormon history."[1]

Despite Quinn's belief that his Church discipline was all about his history, his stake president wrote back on 11 May 1993, saying "There are other matters that I need to talk with you about that are not related to your historical writings. These are very sensitive and highly confidential and this is why I have not mentioned them before in writing."[2]

Lavina Fielding Anderson, another member of the "September Six," believes that the Stake President was alluding to issues related to Quinn's sexual orientation. Writes Anderson:

A week after his earlier letter, Hanks wrote another on 18 May alluding again to the "very sensitive and highly confidential" matters that were not related to Michael's historical writings. He scheduled an appointment two days later and "plead[ed] with you to come and let us resolve this." He added a ham-handed post-script: "Refusal to meet with me as a Priesthood leader is a very serious matter under these circumstances and could lead to further action, out of love and concern for your welfare." The allusion to Michael's sexual orientation, which Michael had not yet made public, was unmistakable.[3]

Lavina Anderson further writes:

Michael resigned from Signature [Book]'s board of editors in 1985 and simultaneously announced that he and Jan would be divorcing. I was deeply grieved. I wondered if Jan had found his absorption with Mormon history intolerable....He simply explained that it was a long-standing area of disagreement but one which they had handled so privately between themselves that the divorce had, in fact, caught the children completely off guard....
[After resigning from BYU] Michael called and wrote occasionally during his self-imposed exile in New Orleans and sent me some of the pieces he was writing. I particularly remember a vivid description of a Mardi Gras parade and a highly symbolic short story of two missionaries in Louisiana who were sexually attracted to each other and caught in a web of desire and violence, stalked by a religious psychopath....
When Michael moved back to Utah, there was a new peace about him. He came to dinner and talked with deep serenity about the work he had done in therapy to come to terms with the contradictions and silences in his family's past, in his personal past, and in the sense of acceptance he felt about his personal, ecclesiastical, and sexual paradoxes. He also said that he was through running and hiding.[4]

Anderson later observes that in New Orleans, "He was also trying to come to terms with his gay identity, including intensive work with a therapist. They were years spent in hiding, trying to heal from an emotional battering."[5]

Michael Quinn has claimed that he has been persecuted and excommunicated for being a "heretic."[6] "Heresy" has little role in LDS discourse—heresy is about belief, while apostasy is about actions. Church leaders have an obligation to take action if behavior that is considered unacceptable comes to their attention. Quinn was put on formal probation, and again encouraged to meet with church leaders.

Quinn was eventually asked to appear to answer the charges "of conduct unbecoming a member of the Church and apostasy." Quinn claims that inside sources told him that the high council could not agree on the apostasy charge, and he was finally excommunicated for failure to meet with his priesthood leaders.[7]

Following his excommunication, Quinn "came out" as a practicing homosexual.[8]:132-133 Quinn also wrote a book claiming that "the Mormon church once accepted and condoned same-sex relationships and that these relationships were practiced by church leaders."[9] Any doubt of Quinn's position about same sex-acts is erased when one reads his announcement that he does not agree with the Church partly "because I claim that the mutual love of two men or of two women is as valid as the mutual love of a man and a woman."[10]

Quinn has criticized current Church leaders for supposedly altering a previously tolerant stance toward homosexuality. In addition, Quinn has also repeatedly attacked the Church and its leaders publicly. For example:

  • he called BYU an "Auschwitz of the mind," and compared the Board of Trustees of BYU (which include the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve apostles) to Communist leaders under Stalin.[11]
  • he compared his Stake President's desire to meet with him and possibly impose Church discipline to Saul's decision to stone the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.[12]
  • Anderson praises Quinn's "ability to find peace despite those who have wronged him in sometimes mean-spirited and bullying ways."[13] She mentions Elder Boyd K. Packer particularly. This accusation ignores, however, Quinn's frequent manipulation of sources related to Elder Packer in his subsequent works.[14] (For more information, see Quinn on Boyd K. Packer.)

Because Quinn refused to attend his own disciplinary council, his claim that his excommunication was all because of his history work is conjecture — even favorable accounts, like those by Anderson, make it clear that there were more serious matters at stake.

Quinn's stake president's efforts are recorded with jaundiced eye by Anderson, who describes President Hank's efforts as "sounding plaintive and unjustly accused," "mildly phrased but...threatening," accompanied by "a ham-handed postscript." For Anderson, at best Hanks "was probably sincere,".

Quinn's letters, by contrast, are "temperate...even sympathetic," showing "a tone of genuine weariness," and he is filled with a "calm spirit of peace and comfort at the very center of his being. He crossed the last threshold of fear, the fear that he would not be able to bear what the church would do to him."[15]

Despite Anderson's one-sided telling, even her account shows a leader trying for months to speak privately with a wayward member who sees only a conspiracy to suppress historical truth. Thus, the historical record tells a somewhat different story—even when filtered through the lens of another member of the "September Six."


  1. D. Michael Quinn, Letter to Paul A. Hanks, 7 February 1993; cited in Lavina Fielding Anderson, "DNA Mormon: D. Michael Quinn," in Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters, edited by John Sillito and Susan Staker (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2002), 329-364.
  2. Paul A. Hanks to D. Michael Quinn, 11 May 1993; cited in Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  3. Paul A. Hanks to D. Michael Quinn, 18 May 1993; cited in Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  4. Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  5. Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  6. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), xiii ( Index of claims )
  7. Anderson, "DNA Mormon," italics from the charges were in Pres. Hanks' original letter.
  8. Klaus J. Hansen, "Quinnspeak (Review of Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 132–140. off-site
  9. Publishers Weekly 243/45 (4 November 1996): 47; cited in George L. Mitton and Rhett S. James, "A Response to D. Michael Quinn's Homosexual Distortion of Latter-day Saint History (Review of Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 141–263. off-site
  10. Quinn, quoted in Sunstone (Dec 2003): 27.
  11. "'BYU officials have said that Harvard should aspire to become the BYU of the East. That's like saying the Mayo Clinic should aspire to be Auschwitz. BYU is an Auschwitz of the mind.' When an administrator asked Michael whether he had been quoted accurately, Michael not only confirmed it but added, 'Academic freedom exists at BYU only for what is considered non-controversial by the university's Board of Trustees and administrators. By those definitions, academic freedom has always existed at Soviet universities (even during the Stalin era).'" - "Ex-BYU Professor Claims Beliefs Led to Dismissal," Salt Lake Tribune (30 July 1988): B-1; and Quinn, "On Being a Mormon Historian," 94; cited by Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  12. D. Michael Quinn, Letter to Paul A. Hanks, 19 May 1993; cited in Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  13. Anderson, "DNA Mormon."
  14. For examples see Duane Boyce, "A Betrayal of Trust (Review of: The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 9/2 (1997): 147–163. off-site A more detailed examination of Quinn's treatment of Elder Packer's remarks can be found here.
  15. Anderson, "DNA Mormon."