Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Faith, conflict and excommunication from the East valley Tribune

Faith, conflict and excommunication

Lawn Griffiths, Tribune Columnist

Mormons have called themselves "a peculiar people," a group set apart and forged by the adversity of the church's history and grounded by its distinct teachings.

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.

Reader comments (63)

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Equality

Thanks for continuing to tell this important story. Mormons are often misunderstood and many misconceptions abound regarding the church to which a major presidential candidate has pledged a death oath of loyalty.

From the article:
"'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.'
This comment from one of the faithful members, in an attempt to discredit Lamborn, actually supports his argument.

It is true that most members of the church think the purpose of polygamy was to take care of widows and orphans that resulted from the "persecutions" against the Saints and the hardships faced on the trek west and during the settling of the Utah Territory. What is generally NOT known (or talked about or EVER mentioned in church-produced materials) is that polygamy had NOTHING to do with taking care of widows and orphans or deal with a surplus of women out west. What Lamborn was never taught, and what most Mormons are to this day unaware of, is that polygamy was started by Joseph Smith (not Brigham Young) and that Smith had at least 34 wives; that he married 11 women who were already married to other men (sometimes faithful Latter-day Saints); that he married a number of teenage girls, some as young as 14. One of his 14-year-old brides he secured by promising her father that if he sacrificed his "lamb" by giving her to the Prophet, the whole family's salvation would be secured. Joseph Smith hid his polygamous relationships from his first wife Emma, and he publicly denied that he was a polygamist right up until his death. These facts are not disputed by church leaders and LDS apologists, and the information is available to those who look for it. But the average Mormon doesn't know about this or a host of other things about Mormon history and doctrine, and there is no place in the church for people like Lamborn to ask questions, to discuss these matters openly without fear of recriminations, as happened to Lamborn.

Thanks to the East Valley tribune for shedding some light on the darker underbelly of Mormonism and showing the side of the faith that the PR machine out of Salt Lake City doesn not want people to see or discuss. Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Lyndon Lamborn

In addition to what Equity so aptly pointed out, it was the SECRECY that was part and parcel to Joseph Smiths polygamy that struck me. The other huge red flag was his approach to these women. He told these women that an angel of God appeared to him with a sword and threatened to slay him if he did not propose marriage to these women. The church teaches that in the mouths of two or three witnesses all truth is established, in this case we have at least four.

My thanks to Lawn Griffiths for his responsible reporting. Lawn and his editors were reluctant to report the controversial issues surrounding polygamy/polyandry in the early church, which is completely understandable. However, the facts are out there, and they are stubborn things - they just don't go away.

Once again the POLYANDRY, the SECRECY, and ANGEL WITH THE SWORD approach to woo the women are the REAL issues that led me to investigate the whole history. These aspects of polygamy should be presented to the general membership of the church, because they are well established FACTS. Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Hellmut

When our leaders behave unreasonably by excommunicating people for exploring history with members of their family then it is little wonder that our religion's reputation suffers.

However well intentioned, President Molina's pettiness damaged Mormonism worldwide. He makes us look like a bunch of irrational zealots afraid of reality.

That is unfortunate because there are so many wonderful Mormons. Had President Molina shown only a modicum of respect for Lyndon Lamborn's conscience and liberty much damage could have been avoided.

President Molina may not realize that his behavior will actually have serious consequences for Mormons around the world. It's pretty hard to assert one's freedom of religion when our own Church punishes people for discussing a book with their brothers. The claims of Mormons in Germany, France, Russia, and many other countries to tolerance will now appear to be hypocritical.

For the sake of my friends and family members, some of whom have paid dearly for joining a small American religion, I hope that American Mormon leaders would afford dissenters more respect and tolerance. Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Lincoln

Thanks for the follow up article Lawn. It brings out many areas of Mormonism that are not usually discussed in public.

Mormonism is very much misunderstood among Mormons ourselves. For example, quoting Jean White in your article, speaking about polygamy she said "When the government said it was outlawed, it was discontinued." This is just not true. Polygamy was outlawed by the government far before 1890, when it was semi-officially discontinued by the Church. But most believing Mormons do not understand that. And therein lies the issue. Many members are simply unaware that the Church has taken measured, calculated steps to hide uncomfortable facts from the view of the general membership. If I could make one point to all people reading these articles, who are from other faiths and belief systems, it would be this: The Mormon Church has suceeded at muddling its official history so much that the majority of good active Mormons have no idea about the foundations of their own religion. Many scholars who are critical of Mormons mistakenly assume that we are all operating from the same set of facts and information. We are not. Some of us, such as Equality, Lyndon Lamborn and others have been so dedicated to Mormonism, that we took it at its word, and studied it with all of our hearts. The principle taught to all of us from our youth, in the Church, was to avoid "anti-mormon" literature at all costs. The teaching was that
Satan influences those who produce such material, and it is just a pack of lies about Joseph Smith and other founding members of the Church. Many of us have taken these leaders at their word and only read information purchased at Deseret Book, the official church bookstore. For years we felt that we knew everything about Mormonism and that all the critics were just duped by Satan. From my interactions with other disaffected members out there, I have discovered that pretty much all of us were in the same boat. Conscientiously following church leadership, keeping our "shoulders to the wheel" (an old pioneer reference referring to work) and pushing forward "building the Kingdom." But when certain issues in Mormonism just didn't make common sense, it made you wonder.

Usually when I wondered about polygamy, or an odd book of Mormon teaching (killing to serve God - i.e. Laban), I would simply push those doubts to the back of my mind. I believe that most Mormons do just that. We are taught that Satan creates doubt, and that we should have faith in the Church and in the leadership.

At a certain point any member realizes that anti-mormon literature really could pose no danger to truth. And since we were taught that the Church has always been truthful and divine, I reasoned that no lies or distortions from history could ever ruin my testimony of the Church. I also knew that many former church leaders have encouraged intellectual development. My patriarchial blessing encourages me to develop my intellect and grow in knowledge. At one point in 2005 while Warren Jeffs was being hunted by the feds, I clearly saw the parallel to Joseph Smith, and I decided to examine my beliefs about polygamy. In my research, I discovered other issues in 19th century Mormonism. I was shocked to learn that critics of my Church claimed that the Book of Abraham was a complete fabrication. I was determined to get to the bottom of the issue, and figure out where they had gone wrong so that in the future I would be able to discuss these issues intelligently with my friends and neighbors and be a good missionary. Mormons are always encouraged to seek missionary experiences, and I was simply preparing myself to be able to answer the questions of those at work, just like Lyndon Lamborn. My co-workers had made light of Joseph Smith, told me the Book of Abraham has issues, and ridiculed the discontinuance of polygamy as abandoning sacred beliefs for the US government. I was determined to get to the bottom of these issues so that I could explain to my co-workers how wrong they were, and help them see the light, and hopefully help them into the Church one day.

What I did not know is that I was operating with only a partial set of the facts. My subset of facts was so small, I learned, that many of their criticisms actually had merit. What a shock that was to my system?! The books I have read about Mormon history paint a far different picture than I was taught growing up. I discovered a concerted effort to hide many facts of Mormon history in my youth. I was raised in Utah, the heartland of Mormonism. I met many of the church's general authorities as I was growing up. I was raised going to church every single Sunday, wearing my white shirt, passing the sacrament, being ordained to all levels of the priesthood, serving a full time mission for two years, marrying in the temple, being an instructor in the Church for most of my married life, but not knowing the history of my own church from an accurate perspective. I know this sounds shocking, but after taking all those years of Seminary and serving a mission, you would assume that I knew about my own church, right? I was given one side only, the Church's version, which eliminates or de-emphasizes many of the facts and historical issues in Mormonism. I did not know this. Most Mormons don't. We can't even begin to comprehend it.

I was not taught about the seerstones Joseph used for years to dig for treasure. I was not taught about him using the seerstone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. I was not taught that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy during his lifetime, and that many of his wives were teenagers or other living men's wives. I was not taught about the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham being the breathing permit of Horus, a dead Egyptian, and not an account of Abraham. I was not taught that many parts of the temple ceremony were copied from the freemasonry ceremony that Joseph Smith had just learned.

I could make a list of a hundred things I was not taught as a youth, even though I was a seminary graduate, college graduate, returned missionary, and had served in leadership callings in the Church. I discovered another world of Mormonism than the one I had grown up and cherished. I discovered reality. I discovered that Mormonism is not a perfect little religion as I had been taught all those years. This was a difficult discovery to make. It is not the discovery I wanted to make. It was extremely painful to discover that my parents had unknowingly misled me about some of the basic assumptions I made about existence.

I applaud you Lyndon Lamborn. You are a brave and courageous man to teach the truth you have learned about the Church. Many other leaders have followed your path. In older days, the three witnesses, and nine of the original twelve apostles in Kirtland. Today, Wendell Hall, former Argentine mission president, Jerrell Chesney former Oklahoma temple president, Ken Clark former Institute director, Steve Sims former Portugal mission president, have decided to depart Mormonism after learning of the truth of its origins.

For those of you out there that are highly critical about Mormon beliefs, try to remember, the majority of Mormons do not even have the slightest idea of the issues within our own Church. We are not given the full story, while we were trusting that others were telling us the truth. I hope that people can take it easy on those Mormons who practice the religion without knowing all the sordid details of its history. Many of the good people of the Church would leave if they had an inkling as to the deception they have received. Many have no idea what the actual facts are. Many are just doing the best they can in life. I think all of us are certainly doing that. People like James come here and try their best to obscure the historical facts, but the preponderance of evidence weighs against people like James, and their puny efforts to fight against truth.

To those of you who will criticize this post, and paint me as a heretic or critic I would just say to you. Have you examined the actual history of our Church? I'm not talking about the Deseret Book version, or the Sunday School correlated version. I am talking about the books of actual historians such as Bushman, Compton, Quinn, Roberts, Arrington, and others who were members of the Church and actually openly discuss actual church history. Have you read any of the Journal of Discourses (Conference talks for 30 years in Utah) or the History of the Church by Roberts? Before dismissing Lamborn, many would be well served to study things out themselves. Then they wouldn't be so quick to judge him. The Lord has promised "treasures of knowledge and wisdom" to those who seek. True scholarship does not occur without a free open exchange of ideas. Current Mormonism encourages conformity and obedience to men, instead of obedience to God.

Thanks for this forum to express my ideas. As an active member of the church I see the good and bad within my religion. I am very disgusted and embarrassed by many of the things I have learned about my Church. I am embarrassed by the withwashed history. I am embarrassed by the deceptions and inaccuracies. But I do feel it is an organization that has many good people who try to follow Christian principles. Many disillusioned members such as myself simply try to follow the New Testament teachings of Jesus, without proclaiming the one trueness of Mormonism. With the internet, many more members will go through what Lyndon Lamborn has gone through, hopefully with more understanding leaders than he had.

I need to get back to listening to conference now. Oh, Boyd K. Packer just said that the ordinary members of the Church are what is meant by the weak things of the world. Ouch. Oh, and Mary N. Cook just told us that if the parents examples are bad, then it is the children's responsibility to break the cycle. Sheesh. Ouch. Nothing like family unity.

Time to go explain the truth to my children.

Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

SkepticToo

For more accurate information, go to MormonThink.com Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Tu Tio Verde

And what are life-long members who have discovered troubling inconsistencies to do? As a fifth-generation Arizona Mormon I was discouraged from reading about the church from outside sources. Now that looked into those forbidden non-faith-promoting histories where can I go?

For the last few years I have lived with my doubts and kept them to myself. My wife shared some questions with her bishop and he actually said that there is nowhere for us to go with our questions. Even writing to the general leadership with questions is discouraged.

Now with this story about Lyndon Lamborn it's clear that we can't even talk amongst ourselves without risking a church court.

This feels like I'm living under a gag order. The church that I was taught was the source of all truth is the one organization that forbids me to discuss the truths I've found.

The result is that I am feeling increased pressure to leave. I can't stand the feeling of unrighteous gag order on my thoughts and speech and am not willing to risk the implied slander and gossip that comes with a secret church court and public excommunication.

I don't think I'm the only who feels this pressure more strongly than even thanks to Pres. Molina's actions and I doubt I'll be the only one that leaves the church because of it. Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

GG

I can't tell you how much I appreciate this article in the Tribune. Thanks to Lawn for having the courage to write the article about Lyndon Lamborn. Lyndon is not alone in his feelings toward the LDS church.

I am a "non-believing" Mormon that attends every week. I faithfully complete church callings. I have served as RS President along with many other leadership positions. I just can't believe that this is the only true church anymore. But because of family ties, I keep my feelings and beliefs to myself. It is just not possible to ask questions about some of the more controversial subjects about mormon history in Sunday School. Believe me, this is not an easy lifestyle and somethng that I wouldn't wish on anyone. There is a large community of us out there that the general mormon population is not aware of.

I am just like Lyndon in that I found out things about the church that I was born into just a few years ago. It is a misconception that we life long mormons should know about church history and all of the warts. I have had women in the church come up to me and ask if I knew that Joseph Smith had more than one wife. What is odd is that when they talk about it, they whisper. Why should we have to feel like that?

My thanks to Lyndon for speaking out for people like me Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

dan boyle

in earlier times, the catholic church tried to silence galileo when he found out the earth was not the center of the universe, as the church taught. He was placed under house arrest for heresy. mmmmmmm, don't the church's actions look silly now? I guess galileo was right all along.

The mormon church is making the same kind of error today, trying to ruin a good man's name (lyndon's) in order to protect itself from the truth. Since the church's claims do not stand up to scrutiny, the church's only defense is to attack the messenger. This tactic failed the catholic church centuries ago, and will fail the mormon church today. I wonder if the mormon church will learn from history or be doomed to repeat it...
So far, they seemed determined to repeat the same failed strategy. Congratulations to Lyndon, history looks favorably on those who stand up for truth. And it laughs at those institutions whose primary goal is self-preservation at all costs. What "danger" did Lyndon pose to the church? Only the truth, that's all. Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Hellmut

Tio, you are not alone. There are thousands of Mormons who feel like you. Since we did not feel free to speak, there was the illusion that we were on our own but we are not.

Once people start to speak their mind, you will find that with respect to some of your problems most Mormons agree with you. We saw that when the LDS leadership finally dropped the priesthood ban in the late 1970s. Suddenly most Mormons admitted that they were relieved that they no longer needed to support a racist policy. Before that many of us felt very lonely.

Anyways, today you can find like minded Mormons on the Internet even if you cannot discuss these important matters in your local congregation.

You might enjoy the Mormon Stories podcast, which attempts to bridge gaps between Mormons at different levels of believe.

If you click my name, you will get to a blog, which attempts to list as many Mormon websites as we can identify.

The first half of the blog roll contains more orthodox, the second half post-Mormon blogs.

You might also enjoy the New Order Mormon message board, which is very sensitive to people such as yourself. Another good community that will allow you to speak openly about your Mormon experience is the post-Mormon message board. Personally, I like Further Light and Knowledge and Main Street Plaza, although they are a little more strident and rigorous.

There are so many different places for Mormons to come together these days, no one needs to remain lonely or silent any longer. I wish you lots of luck, Tio, and hope to see you on one of the fora soon! Suggest removal of this comment
October 6, 2007

Mayan Elephant

thanks Lawn.

that was very thoughtful and brave of you to submit this column.

please accept a small criticism in your opening paragraph where you state - "But detractors pore through the church's considerable writings and cannot reconcile their findings with "accepted" or orthodox Christian tenets and practices."

while there are some detractors that pore through the writings you reference, the issue as it relates to lamborn and others like him is where good, faithful and lifelong members of the church pore through the writings.

lamborn was not a detractor when he began his search, and i dont suspect GG began her search as a detractor.

in my case, the age of my children was a major motivator for me to find more answers about the church. the reasons people look into the history are very diverse.

also, it is true that detractors and active mormons look into the church's writings. research shows very quickly that those writings are often deceiving in their omissions and simplicity. most often, the gory details, including those that have been discussed here at the east valley tribune, are those found in the works of individual authors that are not sanctioned by the church. an example is rough stone rolling by richard bushman. while he is a mormon, his book is an independent publication and includes details that are not typically available in church writings and publications.

thanks again lawn. i think you are doing a great service to present a personal image of what it means to be mormon, whether one participates fully or not. also, you will help many families and individuals by dispelling the "anti-mormon" label that is used by so many mormons to describe non-correlated details of the history of their church, even if the details are true. Suggest removal of this comment

1 comment:

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