Faith, conflict and excommunication
Lawn Griffiths, Tribune Columnist
Known for wholesome family life, close-knit support of each other, a model welfare system and detailed order in all they do, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have a natural desire to be accepted and to belong. The church works hard for legitimacy as a bona fide Christian faith. But detractors pore through the church's considerable writings and cannot reconcile their findings with "accepted" or orthodox Christian tenets and practices.
Church leaders say they don't need others to give them a Christian seal of approval.
The made-in-America church can't seem to fully shake its polygamist past, and it raises eyebrows about secret temple rites and afterlife attainment of "exaltation" and "godhood" through full obedience on earth.
"The Excommunication of Lyndon Lamborn" could be the title of a movie coming soon to a theater near you.
The critics of Tribune articles about the Mesa man going public with his ouster from the church for apostasy have dismissed them as a gimmick to sell newspapers — and dismissed Lamborn as one isolated, disgruntled member out of 13 million Mormons. From the moment I first read Lamborn's e-mails and then sat down and interviewed him, I recognized him as a highly educated, articulate and sincere man who had put his 49 years of life into trying to live the Mormon way. His church assignments across 30 years are unimpeachable, as a missionary, Boy Scout leader, teacher and more. The engineer and father of three doesn't come across as strident or a publicity seeker, nor someone vindictive. He says he wanted to leave the church quietly through the stroke of authorities' pens.
Unlike so many people who come to me dissatisfied with their own church, Lamborn, a fourth-generation Mormon, arrived equipped with a large body of written work, references for his investigation, and a solid narrative of his quest to find truth. He believes that claims of the church are refuted by evidence.
Lamborn's stake president wrote him Sept. 2 that he intended to have bishops in the wards (eight in all) announce his excommunication for apostasy on Sept. 23. Lamborn believed that rare step was planned because, during a disciplinary council on Aug. 19 with 15 church leaders, "I was pretty much in your face with the brethren. ... I wouldn't consent to any rules." He was informed that even with excommunication, he could attend regular meetings and services, but could not "give a talk" and "offer a public prayer." Lamborn said it made no sense that he couldn't pray for his friends inside a chapel. He even suggested they could get a court injunction to "prevent me from coming because you have no authority over me."
Those announcements to priesthood and Relief Society groups in wards were never made. I spoke with stake President R. James Molina two days before the scheduled announcement and told him that Lamborn had contacted the Tribune and was furious over the plan to make his excommunication public. That Sunday, Lamborn said he asked Molina about the change of plan. Molina told him he had been undecided all along about having the announcement read and that, with the Tribune article Sept. 23, any announcement was unnecessary because word would surely get around.
Molina chose not to tell the Tribune why he canceled, or delayed, the announcement.
So many of the more than 1,400 online comments made on two articles I wrote about Lamborn revolved around whether Mormons are able to freely investigate the church's history and teachings and how much pressure there is to be loyal or unquestioning. Some wrote of being disciplined, of being warned against sharing concerns and doubts about the church with others, and of being excommunicated themselves. But a great many defended the church. An example is "James," who said the Book of Mormon is "the plainest and purest message of the gospel of Jesus Christ ever written." Unlike the Old and New Testaments, "there is something sweeter about the Book of Mormon," he said. "As I have read it over the last 40 years, my life has been filled with joy because of it."
Other said that true faith can remove all doubt. Other said Lamborn fell victim to the influence of heretical materials.
Lamborn said he believes that the church went into "damage control" when he first shared his doubts with his bishop and stake president. He revealed he had discussed those same concerns about church teachings with his five brothers, all of whom had gone on two-year church missions and were active in their wards. "The following week, all the bishops of my brothers had received a phone call, and each of my brothers got a visit from the 'men in black' over the next 30 days," he said. "They were each questioned about their beliefs."
Many Mormons say that Lamborn could not have been easily sheltered about the church's polygamist history as he had claimed.
"Polygamy is not hidden. ... Polygamy is discussed openly in the church, and it is in all of our history books," wrote Jean White of Maricopa. "Many members can trace their heritage to polygamist homes." She said during the early years of the church, a time of persecution, "there were many parentless children and widows who had lost children and mates. We were a hunted people at times."
"We are not ashamed of our history," White said. "When the government said it was outlawed, it was discontinued."
Most of Lamborn's friendships are with church members, relationships he wants to keep. "They know me and trust me and are tolerant of the fact that I may not believe the way they do and vice versa," he said. He talks about "recovery from Mormonism" but says he has no immediate plans to embrace any other religion.
"I am sure the correct path will present itself to me in time," he said.