Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

The Intellectual Activities Of Recent Years
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics





Vern Anderson, the AP reporter who closely followed the standoff during these years, noted that this was the highpoint of the Church's friction with the "tiny but vocal intellectual community." The private censure that followed the public rebuke underscored the "growing tension between an authoritarian hierarchy and an informal network of members pressing for unfettered historical and doctrinal inquiry." Symposium speakers were called in for interviews. Mormon leaders themselves declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman offered a dictionary definition of unacceptable dissent as "conflict, discord, strife, objection, protest, rebellion, contradiction, or to differ, disagree or oppose," and noted that members whose behavior fit these parameters subjected themselves to "the possibility of church discipline," formal or informal to "safeguard the purity, integrity and good name of the church." The editor of Sunstone apologized for any offense, saying that he believed that "open and honest examination" helped to strengthen the Church.

This movement to contain "alternate voices" turned publishing in the unofficial press (Sunstone, Dialogue, Exponent II), as well as speaking at public events that such groups sponsored, into renegade activities. Teachers at Brigham Young University and in the Church Education System were discouraged, though not forbidden, from participation, marginalizing these publications.

Instead, leaders encouraged daily study of the LDS scriptures, an effort that gained momentum after the Church published a revised and enhanced version of the canon. In 1979, a new edition of the Bible and a Bible dictionary were published, followed two years later by a "triple combination"- Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These standard works came with notes, maps, topical guides, and cross references, showing broad scholarly energy. President Spencer W. Kimball, who gave the original committee its charge, said the goal was to "assist in improving doctrinal scholarship throughout the Church." The renewed emphasis on scripture study, especially the Book of Mormon, led the Church away from speculative theology. The freewheeling General Conference addresses of earlier years, elaborating unique LDS doctrines, were gradually replaced with a basic Christian message downplaying denominational differences. Several LDS intellectuals, however, hungering for the old days, pressed forward in the speculative tradition. In 1990, Margaret Toscano, a graduate student in Hebrew at the University of Utah, and her husband, Paul Toscano, a Salt Lake City attorney, published Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology, in which they speculated on a feminist theology for Mormonism. Was there room for God the Female in the Mormon Godhead? In several well-publicized talks, Paul Toscano called for the worship of a female Deity. He said that Mormons already worshiped a holy woman. Riding the crest of the Mormon feminist movement, Toscano condemned the bland, correlated church he called "McMormonism" and urged feminist intellectuals not to be intimidated. Toscano's outspoken talks led to trouble. Mormons who published or spoke to large audiences were disciplined. In 1993, Toscano and five other well-known intellectuals were tried in separate, local Church courts. Most had published articles in Sunstone that were cited in the charges. Five, including Toscano, were excommunicated; the sixth was disfellowshipped; they became known as the "September Six." Church leaders denied charges of a purge, but the timing seemed remarkable. The fallout moved beyond the small sphere of concerned intellectuals and was widely reported in the national press. Far from possessing the vibrant intellectual tradition members recognized, the Church was portrayed as repressive and vindictive.

Excommunication is a heavy and painful punishment for Mormons. It is, according to non-Mormon scholar Melvyn Hammarberg, an "emotionally potent identity-defining and boundary-maintaining instrument." One bishop said that 90-95 percent of his rare disciplinary courts involved sexual sins in all their varieties, but cases of apostasy received the most attention and most involved women. About a dozen high profile cases of discipline and resignation from the Church took place in the early 1990s, and in 2002, another six "intellectuals," deemed guilty of writing or talking about positions considered injurious to doctrine, were cut off. Lavina Fielding Anderson, of the first group, titled the conflict "the orthodoxy wars." The Church held these councils, as Hammarberg quoted from the official handbook, to "preserve the doctrinal purity of the Church," defining apostates as those who "repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders" or "persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority." In practice, apostates are not punished for beliefs, but for publicly opposing the Church, by publishing or speaking out. After her excommunication for apostasy, Anderson wrote to the first presidency. "I still love the Church and wish to be part of it. I am still attending my meetings, reading the Scriptures, holding family prayers, and participating in daily family devotional. I do not feel angry or bitter. My hope is for reconciliation and a healing of this breach." She would be welcomed back if she recanted her former views and actions. Some Mormon intellectuals resent it when a few dissenters appear to represent the whole intellectual community. Susan Easton Black, then Brigham Young University's Associate Dean of General Education and Honors, organized a 1996 collection of essays from LDS intellectuals on reasons for their belief. In the preface, Noel Reynolds, president of FARMS, countered media reports representing Mormon dissidents as "the thinking Mormons who know the inside story." Said Reynolds, "The overwhelming majority of LDS academics and intellectuals are active, faithful Latter-day Saints who find these detractors to be driven by a secret hate for a goodness they cannot understand or enjoy on their own terms."