Part 65: CES Letter Other Concerns/Questions [Section G]
by Sarah Allen
For the past few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time on Jeremy trying to make “fetch” happen by straw-manning some arguments in order to drum up controversy over things that were never controversial to begin with. Elder Andersen telling us not to believe everything we read online is not exactly scandalous, you know? But this week is different, because the things we’ll be talking about do actually have some controversy swirling around them already.
While we’re still under the main topic heading of “ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM,” we’re starting a new sub-header: “GOING AFTER MEMBERS WHO PUBLISH OR SHARE THEIR QUESTIONS, CONCERNS, AND DOUBTS.” The first subject under this sub-heading is the infamous September Six. Jeremy begins by citing and quoting the same Wikipedia article I just linked to:
“The September Six were six members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated or disfellowshipped by the Church in September 1993, allegedly for publishing scholarly work on Mormonism or critiquing Church doctrine or leadership.”
The entry on Wikipedia now omits the words “on Mormonism,” though it didn’t at the time Jeremy wrote this entry. It’s not an important detail, but I wanted to point it out for accuracy’s sake.
This is the extent of the background he gives on these individuals, so I want to take some time to talk about each of them in turn and explain a little bit of what happened and why it happened. There isn’t a lot of information out there about some of them, but I’ll do my best.
- Michael Quinn, an author-historian, was excommunicated on September 26, 1993—the last of the September Six. Part of the reason for his disciplinary council (which he did not attend) was due to a chapter he wrote in a book that half of them contributed to, Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism, compiled and edited by Maxine Hanks, one of the Six. His chapter was titled “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.” The main reason, however, which came out later, is that Quinn is gay and was engaging in behavior that violates the Law of Chastity. In the years after his excommunication, he lived openly as a gay man.
Though he still identified as a Latter-day Saint, he did not return to the Church and instead, published several volumes that were highly critical of the Church, its history, and its leadership. The most notable of these was a series entitled The Mormon Hierarchy, which was split into three volumes: Origins of Power, Extensions of Power, and Wealth and Corporate Power. Other examples include one Jeremy has referenced before—Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, in which he accuses Joseph Smith of occult worship—and one incredibly controversial one, Same Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. This particular book has been described as a distorted and “bewildering array of same-gender behaviors, most of which have no homosexual component whatsoever, other than those present in Quinn’s sly innuendoes,” in which “the cumulative effect of his selective evidence and interpretations raises questions in [the reviewer’s] mind about the validity of his arguments and conclusions.”
These are common criticisms of Quinn’s work, that he twists his sources to imply things they don’t say and takes one example that he then extrapolates into being true of all. Regardless of where you land on the validity of his scholarship, however (and he does have a lot of fans out there), there is no denying that he was openly critical of the Church. He believed the Brethren were wrong about the morality of engaging in same-sex behavior and actively encouraged others to believe his words over theirs, which unfortunately falls under the definition of apostasy. He died in April, 2021, never having returned to the Church in this lifetime, but also never losing his testimony that the Book of Mormon was a true record and that this was the restored Church of Christ.
Lynn Whitesides was disfellowshipped on September 14, 1993, for writing controversial takes about female Priesthood ordination and our Mother in Heaven while working at Sunstone. She also contributed to Women and Authority, in which she is quoted as saying that she prays to Heavenly Mother.
Though she was never formally excommunicated, she has since left the Church in practice if not in name. She claimed in a recorded Sunstone presentation referencing the 10-year anniversary of the September Six that after her disciplinary council, she “exploded out of the Church and [her] marriage, and onto a very different path.” She admitted that she “was miserable” with her life in the Church and her family, and that she “left the Church in a rage and did not look back,” adding, “My life the way it had been prescribed was killing me.” In a 2014 article written for the Salt Lake Tribune giving an update on the lives of the Six, she is quoted as saying, “Being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It opened up a world of spirituality I didn’t even know was possible.” According to the Wikipedia article and her video presentation, she is now practicing Native American religious philosophies.
There isn’t nearly as much information about Whitesides online as some of the others, so this is pretty much all I know about her and her current beliefs.
Paul Toscano was excommunicated on September 19, 1993, and his wife Margaret was excommunicated in the year 2000, both for apostasy:
The reasons for his excommunication, as reportedly given by church leaders, were apostasy and false teaching. According to Toscano, the actual reason was insubordination in refusing to curb his sharp criticism of Church leaders’ preference for legalism, ecclesiastical tyranny, white-washed Mormon history, and hierarchical authoritarianism, which privilege the image of the corporate church above its commitment to its members, to the teachings and the revelations of founder Joseph Smith, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These views were given in an essay he wrote for a book called Dissent and the Failure of Leadership. Unfortunately, I can’t find a copy of this book available online to fully verify that, though you can read portions of it on Google Books. In 1992, he founded a group called Mormon Alliance, which was to “counter perceived spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse” in the Church and to help defend the Church against defamation. They did things like establish a Members’ Bill of Rights, set up critiques of General Conference, and started documenting instances where they believed Church leaders were abusing their authority.
He is also the author of a 1994 book titled The Sanctity of Dissent. The initial catalyst for his excommunication, as discussed in Chapter 9 of this book, is that he gave a presentation at Sunstone in August, 1993, called “All Is Not Well in Zion: False Teachings of the True Church.” In this chapter, based on his presentation, he states:
I believe that in Mormonism our chief idol is a false concept of God, a heresy which I call “patriolatry.” It is the idolatry of God the Father. From this single heresy springs an unnumbered host of mischiefs and abuses, including—to name the most egregious—a false concept of salvation; false ideas about priesthood and authority; misunderstandings about church structure and membership; poisonous teachings about gender and sexuality; misconceptions about ordinances; and a false picture of Zion.
In 2007, he wrote a sequel called The Sacrament of Doubt in which he doubts the existence of the Savior, among other things. There are hints from random blogs that he unsuccessfully tried to appeal the excommunication, but I can’t corroborate that.
Margaret, for her part, was publicly pushing for the Priesthood ordination of women. She also contributed a chapter to Women and Authority, and it was her writing that first got the Toscanos into trouble with Church leadership. They were initially looking into her writing on Heavenly Mother and the ordination of women before they started examining Paul’s activities as well.
Unfortunately, according to that Salt Lake Tribune article, all of their children have subsequently left the Church as well. As far as I can find, none of them have ever returned to fellowship.
Lavina Fielding Anderson was excommunicated on September 23, 1993. She’s another one who contributed to Women and Authority, a chapter called “The Grammar of Inequity.” She’s a former associate editor of the Ensign (she was let go from the position in 1981, not due to her excommunication), and was one of the original trustees at Mormon Alliance. Part of her work with them entailed publishing multiple volumes of a journal titled Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, which essentially detailed reports by those disciplined who felt that their local Church leaders abused their positions in disciplinary hearings and ward/branch/stake management. It’s basically akin to a collection of all of those newspaper articles you read by people who have been excommunicated and are upset about it.
She also wrote an article in Dialogue about this, which seems to have been the catalyst for her own disciplinary hearing. While she has spoken out numerous times about her excommunication, she has also faithfully attended weekly meetings this entire time. Her son once said of her that, “Her sincere belief in Jesus and determination to follow him no matter the adversity faced within or without the church should be commended, and this good and faithful servant should be rewarded. … She embodies, more than anyone else I know, the ideal of a ‘broken heart and contrite spirit,’ which has influenced me so strongly that I, the last time I checked, was one of only two of the 21 children of the September Six who is still an active member.”
However, taken from the preceding link, when she petitioned to be rebaptized in 2019, her request was denied by the First Presidency assumedly because, in her baptismal council:
She did, however, tell her leaders her concerns about church “exclusion” policies: barring worthy LGBTQ couples who are legally married from full participation; blocking “worthy and righteous women” from the male-only priesthood; and keeping Mother in Heaven “from her place in our understanding.”
Essentially, nothing had really changed, and she still didn’t acknowledge that she had crossed some lines. Matthew Bowman also suggested an additional reason in the linked article:
Secondly, the controversies surrounding Anderson “had a great deal to do with feminism in the church and with ecclesiastical dissent,” he said. … It is possible, Bowman posits, “there was fear that allowing for her rebaptism would send a signal on those issues that the First Presidency did not wish to send.”
I hope things do change for her someday; she seems to want to come back, and she’s remained all this time as active a participant in her ward that she’s able to be. It’s hard to humble ourselves and receive correction when we don’t feel like we’ve done anything wrong, and I honestly don’t know how long it would take me to course-correct in her position. Hopefully, though, she’s able to be rebaptized someday, the way she clearly wants to be.
Maxine Hanks was excommunicated on September 19, 1993. She was the editor who compiled and published Women and Authority. As you can probably guess, this book was problematic. During a Q&A session published at Dialogue, she confirmed that she and five of her contributing writers to that book were subjected to a disciplinary council, and four of them were among the September Six. There was a lot in there that pushed for the ordination of women (she said in the same interview that many of her friends later became part of the Ordain Women movement), a lot that disparaged plural marriage as harmful, and a lot of unauthorized teachings and worship of Heavenly Mother.
Hanks also spoke out at the Sunstone presentation, during which she said she felt like a scapegoat for all of the disapproval the feminist writing sector of the Church was drawing. She never thought her book was controversial, and was surprised it was seen that way by Church leadership. In addition to this presentation, she’s been a prolific writer and speaker over the years, and you can find many of her articles and interviews online. I found quite a lot with just a quick Google search.
She became a chaplain and a member of several interfaith committees, including one for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. In February of 2012, Maxine Hanks became the second member of the September Six to rejoin the Church. I’m not sure why her rebaptism was approved and Lavina Fielding Anderson’s was not when neither of them recanted their teachings, but I’m glad she was able to come back into full fellowship. Of her rebaptism, she said:
“After my excommunication, I undertook a personal spiritual path exploring other faiths and ministries, to find deeper answers about myself and women’s priesthood. I felt spiritually led back to the LDS Church as a necessary part of that journey to completion and wholeness. I found membership to be even more rewarding than I had expected.”
The final member of the September Six, Avraham Gileadi, is a really interesting case. He wasn’t involved in any publicly calling out of Church leaders, pushing the ordination of women, praying to Heavenly Mother, challenging the Church’s history or claims, pushing for LGBTQ relationships to be approved, any of it. He just published some scholarship on Isaiah that some took exception to. He often gets lumped in with the others, but his case was entirely separate and unique for several reasons. He never spoke publicly about it, he never went to the media and complained, he sometimes asked to have his name removed from discussions of the group, and he actually was quite frustrated at being connected to the others by the media and by the other members of the group. In fact, he accused them of calumny and making “spurious claims,” and asked them to stop including him in their rants against the Church.
His interpretations of Isaiah were different from our usual doctrine in some key areas, specifically whether the prophecies were Messianic or referred to a mortal “Davidic king” coming in the last days, and he gave lectures to that effect. However, when asked to stop speaking on things that went against established doctrine, he agreed:
“In my heart I’ve never felt like I’ve had an apostate spirit,” Gileadi said, adding that the excommunication never left him with a desire to rebel against the church.
“I will repent of whatever was wrong with me and forgive whoever wronged me,” he decided. “Excommunicated or not, everyone needs to repent – and forgive.”
He took all suggestions to heart and humbly worked to correct his own behavior, especially after they gave him some guidelines for writing and public speaking that he agreed to follow. That’s why, after a second stake council and with Elder Maxwell’s support, he was rebaptized in 1996. Apparently, the excommunication was then deleted from his Church records:
In my case — not a single charge was true or supported by evidence — and all mention of it was expunged from the church’s records. I’m fully active in the church and gospel and have continued to publish books….
In his response to the September Six Wikipedia page, he wrote a blog post about his experience where he called the excommunication “a mistake”. I don’t know if that’s true or not, since this is pretty much the only thing he’s ever said publicly about it. If so, though, it wouldn’t be the first time that local leaders made a mistake of this nature, since we’re all human and sometimes, we mess up.
So, that’s the September Six. At least five of the six were warranted, in my opinion, and I just don’t know enough about Gileadi’s case to comment on that more authoritatively. Even the New York Times, who is not often charitable toward the Church, agrees that many of these people were openly criticizing Church leaders and doctrines.
That’s what “apostasy” means in this church, publicly fighting against the teachings or leaders and trying to sway others to your side. Once you start engaging in apostasy, the Church leadership will sometimes rescind your membership, both for your protection and for the protection of the other Church members. A statement released by the Newsroom in June, 2014, says in part:
Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.
This is the guideline local leaders use to decide whether or not to convene a membership council (formerly a disciplinary council). When someone’s membership is rescinded, it works in two ways. First, it protects the other Church members from being exposed to apostate teachings and false doctrine, and second, it protects the individual in question. When your membership is withdrawn, it effectively cancels your covenants. That gives you the time and space you need in order to fully repent and come back without risking eternal consequences by continuing to violate those covenants. When you’re ready to come back, and you’ve shown that repentance and humility and followed the steps necessary to be rebaptized, approval is often given.
So, what else does Jeremy have to say about the September Six? By insinuating the very common refrain that President Boyd K. Packer orchestrated it:
A few months before the September Six, Elder Boyd K. Packer made the following comment regarding the three “enemies” of the Church:
“The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” — Boyd K. Packer, All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993
As Reddit user WooperSlim pointed out, Jeremy put quotes around “enemies,” as if that’s what President Packer said. He didn’t. He said “dangers,” and he was quite clearly talking about in sympathizing so much that we lose the right path, as I’ll demonstrate in a minute.
First, though, the reason I said this was a very common refrain is because it is. In numerous articles I’ve seen while researching this post, they quoted this exact sentence while talking about the September Six, as if President Packer ordered the excommunications or something. He didn’t do that, either.
You can read the entire talk here in full, but here’s the relevant portion:
Surely you have been anxiously watching the worldwide evaporation of values and standards from politics, government, society, entertainment, schools. Could you be serving in the Church without having turned to those pages in the revelations and to those statements of the prophets that speak of the last days? Could you, in working for the Church, not be conscious of or have ignored the warnings? Could you be blind to the drift that is taking place? Are you not conscious of the drift that is taking place in the Church? Could you believe other than it is critical that all of us work together and set aside personal interests and all face the same way?
It is so easy to be turned about without realizing that it has happened to us. There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right.
The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.
… Those who are hurting think they are not understood. They are looking for a champion, an advocate, someone with office and influence from whom they can receive comfort. They ask us to speak about their troubles in General Conference, to put something in the curriculum, or to provide a special program to support them in their problems or with their activism.
When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty-bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates—sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly, we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again: then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected.
… I have never heard [President Monson] over the pulpit, nor have I read anything in his writings—not one thing—that would give any license to any member to stray from the counsel of the prophets or to soften the commandments that the Lord has given. There is a way to give comfort that is needed.
If we are not very careful, we will think we are giving comfort to those few who are justified and actually we will be giving license to the many who are not. … There are many things that cannot be understood nor taught nor explained unless it is in terms of the plan of redemption. The three areas that I mentioned are among them. Unless they understand the basic plan—the premortal existence, the purposes of life, the fall, the atonement, the resurrection—unless they understand that, the unmarried, the abused, the handicapped, the abandoned, the addicted, the disappointed, those with gender disorientation, or the intellectuals will find no enduring comfort. They can’t think life is fair unless they know the plan of redemption. … Only when they have some knowledge of the plan of redemption will they understand the supposed inequities of life. Only then will they understand the commandments God has given us. If we do not teach the plan of redemption, whatever else we do by way of programs and activities and instructions will not be enough.
“God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption.” We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries. God grant that a testimony of the redemption and knowledge of the doctrine will be so fundamentally in our minds and in our hearts that we will move forward with His approval.
I don’t know if Jeremy read this entire talk or just the one, cherry-picked line, but I suspect the latter. His insinuation, that President Packer was attacking feminists, intellectuals, and those in the LGBTQ community, is just not true. He was saying that the danger is in sympathizing so strongly with them while attempting to give aid and comfort that we turn away from Gospel truths. When we reject the commandments and doctrines of Christ, and advocate weaking them or abandoning them, it can be catastrophic. And when we do those things because our loved ones are struggling and we want so desperately to help them, we run the risk of doing much more harm than good. He was saying that we have to find the balance, and we have to rely on the Atonement and the Plan of Salvation while we give comfort. We need to turn our faces toward the Church, not away from it. The Atonement and the Plan of Redemption are the only ways to give true comfort.
In that PBS special referenced last week, President Packer addresses this very statement. The time stamp is in part 2, at approximately 53 minutes and 50 seconds. I edited out some of the extraneous words, like “and, um,” but in this portion he says:
I suppose I…I think I remember saying those things! If it’s in print, I said it. But that’s part of the alerting. And it’s very simple—down some of those paths, you have a right to go there, but in the Church you don’t have the right to teach and take others there without having some discipline. And that’s simply because down the road, there’s unhappiness.
You can read the full transcript of his interview here, which is truly a fantastic interview that I thoroughly enjoyed (and thank you again to WooperSlim for the link).
I just don’t think, when taken in context, that the comment from President Packer was very controversial—especially since his explanation, given nearly two decades later, matched pretty closely with the content of his original talk. While I don’t know exactly what the All-Church Coordinating Council is, this talk wasn’t given to local Church leaders, and it wasn’t an order to root out undesirable elements in the ward. He was talking about keeping your focus on God even as you try to minister to those who are hurting.
Apostasy is always going to be something of a controversial topic, simply because people don’t like being told that they’re wrong. Especially when it’s something that’s near and dear to you, like a loved one who is struggling, or a book that you’ve poured a lot of time and energy into writing, or a topic you’ve spent thousands of hours researching, hearing that you’re going down the wrong path is not fun or easy to deal with. It hurts, and our natural reaction to something like that is to balk and get defensive. But when it comes to the Gospel, we have to be willing to humble ourselves and repent when we take things too far from the prophets’ counsel. If we don’t, if we arrogantly double down and refuse to bend and keep driving toward that cliff, eventually, we’re going to go over the edge.
When you think you know better than the prophets how to run this church, and you won’t listen to anyone trying to rein you in, the time will eventually come when your leaders need to withdraw your membership. At that point, they won’t have a choice because you’ve already withdrawn yourself. You’ve created your own church of which you’re the head.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.