Who are Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell?
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell will soon be tried for the murder of Daybell’s first wife and two of Vallow’s children. The deaths are a senseless tragedy, and we cannot imagine a church leader or faithful church member who would not utterly condemn the murders. Our scripture teaches “gentleness…meekness, and…love unfeigned” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41), condemns murder (D&C 42:18-19), and encourages all to “proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16). Some who are unfamiliar with the church and its teachings may think the Daybell case shows we are violent extremists, or that we encourage others to be so, but nothing could be further from the truth.
No Basis in Church Doctrine or Teachings
Daybell and Vallow claimed their ideology and actions were based on church teachings, but they improperly used and twisted obscure, possibly inaccurate, historic statements instead of mainstream reliable sources. Church leaders have specifically counseled against relying on vague passages of scripture or quotes from long-ago church addresses. In 2012, Apostle Neil L. Andersen taught: “There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.”
Out of Context
Similarly, church leaders have counseled against emphasizing statements from church leaders in the distant past that contradict teachings by modern leadership. We honor and obey past leaders, but it’s problematic to take a single, obscure statement or idea out of its historical context and apply it to modern circumstances. If older teachings are still helpful, they’re often quoted by modern leaders.
Recent teaching is the standard members should pay attention to. As Ezra Taft Benson, church president from 1985 to 1994 taught: “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark…Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.” General Authority Allen D. Haynie reiterated in April 2023: “We do not use the words of past prophets to discount current prophets.”
A specific example is Daybell’s claim that he has experienced “multiple mortal probations” (a version of reincarnation). A very few statements from early church history can, if taken out of context, make a weak case that people are reborn into different identities. But literally no church leader after the late 19th century has even plausibly alluded to the concept, let alone taught it as truth. And literally every church leader has instead taught that every person follows the same course from pre-mortal life, to mortality on earth, to death and resurrection.
It is simply false to say “multiple mortal probations” is church doctrine, or taught by church leaders, or believed by the vast majority of church members. (For an in-depth debunking of the idea of “multiple mortal probations, see this article.) As Elder Andersen taught, we shouldn’t look in obscure sources for truth and understanding. And as President Benson taught, obscure statements from long ago never override more recent teachings.
Purpose of Membership Councils
Some may wonder how Daybell and Vallow were able to promote such fringe ideas while being members of the church in good standing. The answer is that restriction or withdrawal of church membership is not usually appropriate for cases of fringe beliefs. Membership councils are reserved for serious sins like murder and abuse. Apostasy is a basis for a membership council, but Daybell and Vallow’s beliefs were in a gray area. They publicly promoted fringe beliefs, but church policy is to only hold a membership council for apostasy if the member:
Repeatedly acts in clear and deliberate public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, or its leaders,
Persists in teaching as Church doctrine what is not Church doctrine after being corrected by the bishop or stake president, or
Shows a pattern of intentionally working to weaken the faith and activity of Church members.
Members of the church have freedom to study and interpret the gospel in eccentric ways. Daybell and Vallow’s teachings were not from a position of authority in the church. And they did not publicly advocate murder or other crimes so far as we know. At the local level where decisions about excommunication are made, Church leaders are volunteers who may not have time to review everything their members are writing and saying.
extreme misinterpretations of Church doctrine
The following essays place into context some of the claims of Vallow and Daybell, and show how they are extreme misinterpretations of Church doctrine. It is our hope that Church members, journalists, and other interested individuals can use these materials to understand that Church teachings, if actually followed by Vallow and Daybell, would have prevented these heinous crimes.