In September 1993, when the disfellowshipment and excommunications of six Mormon scholars, feminists and intellectuals took place, we were in Mexico. David had a semester sabbatical to do research, and we had accompanied him. I had known that my friend, Lavina Fielding Anderson, was in trouble for several months before I left and that my sister, Margaret Merrill Toscano, and her husband, Paul, had also been undergoing interviews with their bishop and stake president about their writing and speaking. When we were leaving, I learned that another friend, Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, president of the Mormon Women's Forum, had just been summoned to a court. It was several weeks before we were able to make contact with our family and friends again; then I learned that Lynne had been disfellowshiped and that Paul and Lavina had been excommunicated.
I felt heartbroken and sick. I loved Lynne, Lavina, and Paul. I knew them to be good people, deeply committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and faithful members of his Church. What did it mean that they had been cast out of it? I had some sense of what it meant for them, but what did it mean for the Church and for me? Lynne had been disfellowshiped for the forthright feminist statements she had made as president of the Mormon Women's Forum. I was her vice president. Paul had been excommunicated for his speech, delivered in the August 1993 Sunstone symposium, "All Is Not Well in Zion."1 I loved that speech and agreed with everything in it. Lavina had published an article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought which documented cases of ecclesiastical abuse of intellectuals in the Church; she had been excommunicated when she refused to comply with her stake president's demand that she "repudiate" it and promise to stop collecting more stories of spiritual abuse. I was working with her in collecting these stories and I was not planning on stopping either.
During that same month, I later learned, three more had been excommunicated: Maxine Hanks, Michael Quinn, and Avraham Gileadi. Again I was stunned. Maxine Hanks was also a friend and I knew her to be a good person and ardent feminist. I loved her book Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992) and felt that the Church would benefit if every member would read it. It included an excerpt from a speech I had given on God the Mother. I knew and had read much of the work of Michael Quinn and Avraham Gileadi. I felt they were both scholars of integrity and intelligence with a strong commitment to the Church. I had learned a lot from them and appreciated their contributions to Church history and scriptural studies. What did it mean that the Church was calling such people apostates, saying that they were dangerous and expendable?
One night in Mexico City in late September, I dreamed that I received my own invitation to a church court.2 It was a beautiful invitation on exquisite white paper, embossed with white roses. The handwriting was elegant, the language formal and polite. But inside was a crudely drawn mimeographed map showing the homes where all those who would attend my court lived: the stake president, his counselors, and the twelve men who were members of the high council. One of them was a Brother Cannon, then on our stake high council; in my dream, his home was represented by a sketch of a cannon. Over the next year I came to understand the symbolism this invitation had for me. Those who asked me to come and be judged by them were polite and correct on the surface; but underneath, where they lived, they were as crude and violent as a military weapon.
Just over one year later my bishop, Robert Hammond, handed me a long white envelope. I knew it was the summons I had been expecting. The language was polite, but I still felt that I was being kicked in the stomach when I read it:
Since November 1992 I had had lengthy, repeated conversations with my stake president and bishops (three during this period) about my beliefs, and I had known for some time that this moment was inevitable, yet this knowledge had often seemed strange, bizarre, and unthinkable. I had known that this moment was inevitable when I recognized that my Church leaders would act in authoritarian, abusive ways because their understanding of Church government was authoritarian; I had hoped it might be avoided when I saw them as caring human beings trying their best to listen to the voice of the Spirit. I believe that it was a conflict for them as well as for me; unfortunately, their view of the Church and the power they possessed to enforce compliance had prevailed.
Many people have refused to acknowledge that my leaders had any choice about disciplining me or that any other view of Church governance is possible. A number of people had openly counseled me to do whatever was necessary to preserve my membership, to be "realistic," to be "pragmatic." One friend said to me, "It has always been your choice no matter what a bishop or stake president does." She meant that I could have avoided a court. She was right. I could have avoided it if I had valued my Church membership above everything else and acted pragmatically to protect it. But I put my relationship to Jesus Christ first; I have a vision of his Church as built on his gospel, characterized by freedom and grace. I had acted according to that vision and had defended myself according to that vision and now I was facing a Church court and wondering if I could keep my membership without violating my integrity.
A few weeks before the summons, Bishop Hammond had said to me that he wished we could settle this without everyone else looking on. He felt that, if it were only he and I, we could work something out. Who were all the people looking on? The General Authorities? The stake president and his counselors? My friends, the dissidents? Ward members? All the people who had read about it in the newspaper or seen me on TV or heard me on the radio? Not only did each of us have to struggle to define our own meaning in this situation, but we also had to deal with the meanings that all these other people found in it.
Bishop Hammond was very distressed because I had chosen to make my controversy with the Church public. Like me, he is a rather shy, introverted person, uncomfortable with public attention. But my decision to talk publicly about my troubles had not been made lightly. One of the problems I see in the Church is its discouragement of open, honest discussion. There is no forum where disagreements, dissent, negative responses, doubts, questions, and criticism are welcomed or encouraged; but without them, agreement, consent, positive responses, beliefs, answers, and creative insight become meaningless. I believe that engaging in open discussion is a vital part of our truth seeking and that telling the truth about our feelings and experiences is the foundation for building loving relationships. It seems to me that the Church should help us as we search for truth and learn to love others by encouraging open, honest discussion. Instead it increasingly equates disagreement and criticism with disloyalty and reduces all acceptable feeling to sentimentality. It was because of my belief in the importance of free speech that I chose to make my story public.
The other issue involved in my case which I felt needed to be made public was the abuse of ecclesiastical power. In my work as a trustee and as a member of the case reports committee of the Mormon Alliance, an organization which identifies and documents cases of spiritual abuse in the Church, I had come to realize that ecclesiastical abuse is a widespread problem in the Church. I had also come to believe that this problem must be addressed in order to be solved. I believed that my leaders were abusing their power when they threatened to punish me if I didn't follow their counsel.
My decision to tell my story and talk about the issues involved in it required me to give a lot of time, energy, and thought to talking to people. I tried to make myself available to whoever wanted to talk to me. Because I believe the process of dialogue calls us to open ourselves to change, this meant that I also had to listen to people who desperately wanted to change my mind. I had to listen to them thoughtfully and question my own interpretations, assumptions, motives, and actions again and again.
As I tried to understand the meaning my actions and situation had for other people and to help them understand the way I saw them, I realized that each of us creates our own meanings—not from nothing, of course, but from our experiences, our ways of thinking, our emotional needs, and other complex processes. Just as I told my leaders again and again that I would choose according to my own best judgment and what I believed the spirit of God inspired me to do, I told my friends that I had to act according to my own understanding. I tried to be open to exploring different ways of looking at the issues, but finally I had to rely on my own understanding.
Similarly, I do not expect others to see the issues the same way I do or make the same kinds of choices I did. We must each find our own way. During one interview, one of the bishop's counselors said to me, "Do you want everyone to think the way you do?" My answer is, "No, I want everyone to develop her own way of thinking and be willing to share it with me, as I am willing to share mine with her."
Although this is my personal story, I believe that the issues I struggled with are important to every member of the Church. Indeed, as I have studied religious communities and pondered their nature, purpose, and problems, I have learned that these issues are foundational to religious community itself. My purpose in sharing my story is to engage others in these issues and persuade them to envision and work for a more loving, open, and tolerant Church community.
In telling my story, I have not been able to avoid describing the words and actions of other people. In some cases, I also describe what I believe to be their attitudes and motivations, but I do not judge them. I have no desire to hurt, belittle, or denigrate these people in any way; nor do I mean to imply any kind of negative judgment of the words and actions I describe. I have a sincere regard for all the people who are involved in my story. I must remind my readers that what I offer is my own interpretation, which is limited by my memory and understanding. Although I have tried to be fair, I undoubtedly have prejudices, failings, and sins which prevent me from seeing certain things more clearly.
I am recounting these events from my memory, notes of conversations, and letters. I also draw on the memories and documents of others involved. I have reconstructed the details of conversations from notes made shortly after they occurred, usually within twelve hours. I use dialogue extensively; the reader should understand that statements in quotation marks represent my memory of what the speaker said, sometimes corroborated by the memory of other people who were present. Although the words may not be exactly those used, I believe that they accurately reflect the meaning of the words which were actually spoken. I am very aware that this account reflects my own understanding and that others involved have different viewpoints.
In May 1992 I was trying to decide whether to submit a proposal for a paper to the Sunstone Symposium that would be held that August in Salt Lake City. I had presented my first paper in 1980 while we were living in Michigan; after we moved to Provo, I had presented a paper at the symposium each year since 1987 except for the summer that Paul was born. I had an idea that I wanted to explore, but my ninth child was due late in July, and I was not feeling very well. It just didn't seem like a practical time to take on an extensive writing project. The idea would still be good next year.
But when I tried to shelve the idea, I found myself troubled and unable to feel good about not participating. The decisive factor was rereading the anti-symposium statement issued the summer before by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve after the 1991 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. I wanted to make it clear that I supported the symposium. Participating in the symposium had always been a positive experience for me, and I felt that the vitality of Mormon thought depended upon such free and independent forums for the expression of varying viewpoints about Mormon theology and experience. My proposal was accepted, and I finished writing, "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" a few days before my baby was born. I presented it at the symposium two weeks later.
I knew that I was taking a risk by choosing to write about God the Mother. President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor to the largely nonfunctioning President Ezra Taft Benson, had given an address to the Regional Representatives in April 1991, warning them to beware of "small beginnings of apostasy." Prayers to Mother in Heaven were cited as an example. He repeated that portion of his speech to the women's general meeting in September 1991. I knew of several women who had been released from callings and chastised just for talking about the Heavenly Mother.
However, the theology of God the Mother was a topic I very much wanted to write about. My most fundamental belief is that Jesus Christ is God. I believe that his gospel mandates equality. He makes no distinction between male and female when he asks us to have faith in him, repent of our sins, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost. In the atonement he makes himself equal to every person. If female and male are equal, then God must also be female. I do not believe in a godhead that does not include God the Mother. I do not believe in a godhead where one of the gods is superior to the others and gives them commandments. To me the clearest and most important teaching of the Book of Mormon is that God himself will come down to earth, become a man, and redeem his people, that Jesus Christ is both the Father and the Son.3 From these ideas and a thorough analysis of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants on the names of God, I developed an interpretation of the Godhead which I presented in my paper, "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother." This interpretation posits that the Eternal God is both a Man and a Woman—the Eternal Father and the Eternal Mother. For the purposes of our experience in mortality, the Father becomes the Son, Jesus Christ, who redeems us from our sins and the Mother becomes the Holy Ghost, who is with us to comfort us, teach us the truth, and sanctify us. They both sacrifice to be with us, they both play a vital part in our salvation, and they are both equally God.
I presented my paper. Three months passed by. I decided that the newly revealed Strengthening Church Members Committee had overlooked it. Then Sunday morning, 8 November, David and I got a call asking us to meet with our stake president, Carl Bacon. My first thought was that the committee had done its work and that President Bacon wanted to talk about my speech. Then I recalled rumors that our bishop would soon be released. Perhaps David would be called to the bishopric, I conjectured. That was the last time I have thought or will probably ever think that either of us would be asked to serve in a position of any hierarchical prominence in the Church—or even in any position at all.
President Bacon had been called as our stake president shortly after we had moved to Provo. About sixty years old and a former mission president, he had worked as a fund raiser for BYU and then gone into real estate development. Recently he has formed his own company which organizes motivational sales training for other companies. Although I had heard him speak in stake conference, I had never spoken with him, even in a temple recommend interview (mine had always been with one of his counselors) until two months earlier when he had come to our home to set apart our son Nephi for his mission to Chile. After thanking us for coming and chatting with us for a few minutes, he said that he had been asked "by Salt Lake" to investigate me because of a talk I had recently given on praying to the Heavenly Mother. I told him that I had given a paper on God the Mother but had not advocated praying to her. I did not, however, tell him that I had given ideas that could be used to justify praying to her. We talked about the Sunstone Symposium. President Bacon had never heard of it. I described it and explained why I felt strongly about my participation.
President Bacon seemed quite surprised that the Church leaders had taken notice of me. He said that it was very difficult for him to get counsel from the General Authorities on the many serious problems we have in our stake, so it seemed strange to him that they would take the trouble to concern themselves with my speech. In this meeting President Bacon was very concerned that we might be offended by his calling us in. He had delayed calling us in for over a week, he confessed, but now he needed to be prepared to report on our meeting at the area priesthood meeting that would be held the next weekend. He didn't know exactly what he was supposed to find out from me or what he was supposed to ask me to do. He said he would find out and meet with us again. The man who was then our bishop, Robert Lowe, was present but didn't say a word.
A couple of weeks later, President Bacon saw David in the hall at church. He told him he needed to read my paper and asked him for a copy. When David told me of this request, I decided to ignore it. I knew that my interpretation of the Godhead would probably be considered more heretical than my speaking about praying to God the Mother, and I wanted to avoid raising this issue if possible.
We didn't hear from President Bacon again until December 27, seven weeks after our first meeting. It was a Sunday morning and we were getting our family ready for Church when his counselor called and asked if we could meet with President Bacon that morning and bring along a copy of my paper. I decided to do so, since refusing would certainly not help me convince President Bacon I was a faithful Church member, and the Church could make a transcript of my speech from the Sunstone tape if it hadn't already done so.
David asked President Bacon if Elder Jeppsen had contacted him again. Malcolm Jeppsen, a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, was then our area president. President Bacon looked surprised, then answered that Elder Jeppsen's secretary had called him to find out what he had done about me. He had not had a chance to talk to Elder Jeppsen about me at the area priesthood meeting as he had thought he would, he said; and since he hadn't read my paper, he hadn't been able to respond to Elder Jeppsen's concerns.
We talked about President Hinckley's talk on not praying to the Mother in Heaven. In this meeting, it became apparent to me that making distinctions and appreciating subtleties were not President Bacon's strong points. He believed that President Hinckley's talk was a commandment to the Church: Not only should Mormons not pray to the Mother in Heaven, they should not even talk about her. I pointed out that President Hinckley was clearly giving his own opinion since he discussed his reasoning and research.
President Bacon disagreed. Perhaps President Hinckley had been "soft" with the sisters, but he really wanted to stop this thing. He struck his palm with his fist for emphasis. President Bacon wondered if I would be willing to make some kind of promise about not publishing or speaking if I were asked. I pressed him for details about where this directive came from and exactly what he wanted me to do. I told him I would have to think and pray about any promises I might make. He told us that "two apostles" were concerned about this matter and that he would talk to us again when he knew more.
Our next meeting was on 27 January 1993. I had been worried that President Bacon would be troubled by the content of my article; but to my surprise, he did not discuss it at all. I wondered if he had even read it. He asked that I not speak publicly or publish anything on God the Mother. I asked him, "Who is this from?" and he answered, "Me and the Lord." I then asked him if this was a request "for ever" and he said that it wasn't. I told him that I didn't have any plans to speak or write about the Heavenly Mother at that time but that, if I decided to do so in the future, I would tell him. President Bacon said that this was acceptable to him. I asked him if this was "official Church policy" and he said in a very positive manner that he could assure me that it was.
David had come to all of these interviews at President Bacon's request and participated fully in all our discussions. In fact, he and President Bacon did most of the talking. David is very open, honest, and friendly, while I am more reserved and do not share my feelings very readily. President Bacon also tended to address his remarks to David, perhaps in accordance with his commitment to priesthood protocol. David spoke extensively about his need for academic freedom as a professor at BYU and the need for scholars and thoughtful people to ask questions and discuss troubling issues. At this time, he had much more trust in Church leaders than I did; he spoke about his love for them and his desire to sustain them in their callings. He also defended me and my commitment to the Church.
In these meetings, I came to see President Bacon as a dedicated organization man, very committed to the institutional Church but uninterested in theological issues. Not a deep thinker himself, he believes that such issues are best left to "the Brethren." Although I was relieved that I had been able to negotiate this crisis in good conscience, I realized that my freedom to speak and write without fear was being restricted. It was frightening to see how quickly the Church could put pressure on someone perceived to be openly unorthodox. I knew now that I could not trust my stake president to protect me from anyone in the Church hierarchy who wanted to punish or silence me.
In the summer of 1993 I learned that Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought was planning a women's issue. One of the editors, a friend, asked if I had anything they could use in it. I told her about my article on God the Mother, and she asked me to submit it. We were getting ready to go to Mexico for the fall and I was very busy, so I decided to submit it and postpone the difficult decision of whether to publish it until after I knew whether the editors were interested.
When we returned from Mexico in the middle of December, I found a letter from Dialogue accepting my article for the summer 1994 issue. Given the aftermath of the excommunications, I deliberated for some time about whether to allow publication. I also prayed about it. Although there were pragmatic reasons for not publishing it, I really wanted to. It contained my deepest beliefs about God and an interpretation of the Godhead which could lay a foundation for equality in the Church. I believed and still believe that such a foundation is desperately needed. I knew that many Mormon women and some men were deeply concerned about the topic. My paper was an attempt to put the concept of the Mother God in a Christian context and give it a scriptural foundation. I felt that Dialogue's audience understands the premises of scholarship and speculative theology and that readers would either find it unpersuasive or helpful. Since the article was based on the revelations in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and assumes that they are from God, I did not think it would challenge anyone's faith. Indeed, I hoped it would strengthen faith in the richness, complexity, and harmony of these scriptures. I felt good about my decision and was assured by the Spirit that God was pleased with my efforts to serve him.
Although I realized that President Bacon would probably expect me to confer with him before making such a decision, I did not consider myself under any obligation to do so. I thought I had made it clear to him that I intended to act on my own responsibility. I knew that he would tell me not to publish my article and that he would have no reasons to offer except that the General Authorities didn't want me to. I planned to let him know that it would be appearing before the summer issue was published, and I felt that doing so would fulfill my promise. Perhaps I acted in a cowardly way by not informing him when I made the decision, but I was trying to postpone the inevitable unpleasantness as long as possible.
In January of 1994, David and I needed to renew our temple recommends. We were told that Scott Runia, who had recently been called as our bishop to replace Robert Lowe, wanted to talk to both of us together first. While we were in Mexico, we had been invited to sign the Olive Branch, an advertisement that had appeared 28 November 1993 in the Salt Lake Tribune on behalf of Church members who were being disciplined and suffering spiritual abuse. The ad called for "greater love, respect, harmony and understanding between Church members and leaders."
We had gladly signed it, as we agreed with what it said and strongly desired love and reconciliation in the Church. Bishop Runia told us that some ward members had seen the ad and been quite disturbed by seeing our names on it. We asked him who they were so that we could talk to them and help them understand our point of view, but the bishop said that he didn't think he could tell us. We mentioned the scriptural injunction in Doctrine and Covenants 42:88 that the offended person should go directly to the person who commits the offense. Although he agreed with us that this was the right way to behave, rather than complaining to the bishop, he still refused to tell us their names. We tried to convince him that there is a place for scholarship and intellectuals in the Church, but he seemed to be uncomfortable with the term "intellectual." Bishop Runia knew that we were committed, faithful members of the Church who would serve in any way we were asked, so he couldn't understand why we would sign an ad with a lot of dissenters protesting Church actions.
We tried to help him understand our point of view. Finally he said that he would sign our recommends but that first we would all have to meet with President Bacon. He told us that, when people had come to him with the ad, he had gone to President Bacon to ask his advice and President Bacon had said something like, "Oh, them. We've had trouble with them before." He had told Bishop Runia that he would have to meet with us before Bishop Runia could sign our recommends.
A few days later, the four of us met. After a long discussion, they finally signed our recommends, but it was clear that President Bacon now thought of us as dissenters who had connections with "those apostates" who were giving the Church so much trouble in the press.
In April 1994, our ward, the Edgemont Twentieth Ward, and another ward were divided to create a third ward, Edgewood. Our family was assigned to this ward, but most of the people we knew and loved remained in Twentieth Ward. I felt very sad, wondering if I would have an opportunity to get to know the people in my new ward after my article came out. Would they even want to know me if I were disciplined? Although our new bishop, Robert Hammond, had been a member of our old ward, I did not know him very well. His wife, however, was a friend of mine, and I wondered how it would affect our friendship if he disciplined me. I had been serving in the nursery of the Twentieth Ward since we returned from Mexico; and a few weeks later, I was also called to serve in Edgewood's nursery. David had been released as Twentieth Ward's Cubmaster when we went to Mexico, and he was not given another calling after we returned. He now believes that this was because his signing of the Olive Branch had branded him as a dissenter, although at the time, he believed that they simply hadn't gotten around to finding him a job before the ward was divided. Apparently, my dissention was overlooked because of the difficulty of getting anyone to accept a calling in the nursery. David was also not given a position in our new ward.
On Sunday evening, 15 May, I received a telephone call from Scott Runia, now my former bishop. He told me that before the ward division President Bacon had asked him to talk to me about an article that I was planning on publishing. President Bacon had just contacted him for a report and he'd had to admit that he hadn't yet met with me. Bishop Runia was obviously embarrassed and told me several times he was sorry that he'd "dropped the ball." I told Bishop Runia that I owed President Bacon an explanation of what I'd done and that I would call him. Bishop Runia said, "No, let me report back to President Bacon and then I'll call you again." He called back a few minutes later to say that President Bacon wanted him to handle it. He then arranged for me to meet with him and my new bishop, Robert Hammond, in two days.
I realized that someone had probably given President Bacon the page in the spring Dialogue which listed articles in the summer issue. I immediately sent him a letter informing him of my decision to publish my paper on God the Mother and apologizing for not telling him sooner. Although I thought I was calm and prepared for whatever might happen, my body told me I was really quite agitated. I lost my appetite, had problems with digestion, and was frequently unable to sleep.
At the appointed time, I walked over to the meetinghouse and knocked on the door of Bishop Runia's office. No one answered, so I walked over to Bishop Hammond's office and knocked on his door. Again there was no answer. For fifteen minutes I walked between the two offices, waiting for someone to show up. Finally, I called David from the hall telephone and asked him to see if he could find one of the bishops. He called back a few minutes later and said that he'd located Bishop Runia at a neighbor's house. He'd told David that Bishop Hammond had been unable to meet that night; apparently there was a misunderstanding about which of them was going to call me. Bishop Runia apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and said that he'd call me when he got home. I went home and waited an hour for him to call. Finally I called him at his home. He apologized again and wanted to set up another appointment. I told him that this entire procedure was quite upsetting to me and asked him if we couldn't just talk right then on the phone. What had President Bacon asked him to do?
He said that President Bacon was very upset because someone had told him I was going to publish a paper I had promised not to publish. I told Bishop Runia that there must be a misunderstanding. I had never made such a promise. I told him what had happened: President Bacon had asked me not to speak or write on the topic of the article. I'd told him that I didn't have any plans to do so at the time and that I would let him know if I decided to. The Dialogue in which the article was to appear was scheduled for publication in June. I had written President Bacon informing him of my decision; he should have received my letter by now.
"I feel that I have kept my promise," I told Bishop Runia.
"Well," he said, "President Bacon told me that I had to stop you from publishing this article."
"It's already at press," I told him. "I couldn't stop it even if I wanted to."
Bishop Runia then said that he would tell President Bacon that I couldn't call it back. "I'll tell him that he shouldn't get upset with you because it was my fault for not telling you sooner," he added. Bishop Runia called me back later and said that President Bacon wanted to talk to me and David on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
That Sunday, 22 May, we met with President Bacon and both bishops. The meeting lasted an hour and a half. Although President Bacon had another appointment at 11:30, he completely forgot it and Bishop Runia missed the first half of his ward's sacrament meeting. The first thing that President Bacon told us was that he couldn't remember who had told him that my article was going to be published but that it wasn't anyone from Salt Lake. It was probably someone from the stake, he said. Obviously offended, President Bacon said that I had disobeyed him by publishing my article. There was some disagreement about what had happened in our previous meetings and exactly what I had agreed to. David and I both remembered that I had told him that I didn't have any plans to speak or publish about the Heavenly Mother at that time, that I had not promised never to publish my paper, but that I had agreed to inform him if I decided to speak or publish on that subject later. I told him that I felt I had kept my promise. He finally agreed that I had kept the letter of my promise, but he still believed that I had disobeyed him because I had gone against his wishes. "You knew I didn't want you to publish that article," he said.
David tried to get President Bacon to tell us where the directive to not publish the article came from. Finally President Bacon admitted that he had been told "by Salt Lake" that my paper was never to be published. When David tried to press him for more details, he got visibly angry. He said that it didn't matter whether it came from Salt Lake or him; he was my stake president and I should obey him. He spent a long time talking about what it meant to "sustain the Brethren." For him it means doing whatever they ask and believing whatever they say.
At one point I felt I had to interrupt him to tell him that my faith was in Jesus Christ, not the Brethren and that, since my primary connection to Jesus Christ was through the Holy Spirit, I would always try to follow what I felt the Spirit inspired me to do, even if it contradicted what a leader said. President Bacon said he was very troubled by this attitude—that this was the sort of thing apostates say to justify going against the Brethren.
Bishop Runia asked if I would withdraw my article, assuming I could, now that I knew the directive was from Salt Lake. I think he was trying to show that I wasn't being willfully disobedient. I appreciated his effort, but I said that I probably wouldn't. I explained my reasons for publishing the article and said that I honestly felt it might help some people and was unlikely to harm anyone.
Just before the meeting broke up, President Bacon asked Bishop Runia and Bishop Hammond to share their feelings about the discussion. Bishop Runia said that he felt I had been trying to do what I thought was right. It hadn't been clear that the directive was from Salt Lake and there had been a misunderstanding about what I had promised to do. Since he was to blame because it was now too late for me to stop publication, he thought that they should drop the whole thing. Bishop Hammond expressed his respect for our family. He said that he'd taught several of our children in classes and knew that we'd taught them the scriptures in our home. He said that he was not very knowledgeable about the scriptures but that he had a simple faith. I was thinking, "That's good. Faith is good," but then I realized that he was not talking about faith in Jesus Christ. "I have to rely on what my leaders tell me," he said.
President Bacon ended the meeting, still indignant and upset: I had disobeyed him, he asserted, and would "have to be punished." He and the two bishops would discuss what they would do.
This meeting strengthened my perception that President Bacon was acting under directions from the Church hierarchy. He openly admitted that he had been instructed "by Salt Lake" to forbid me to publish my article. I thought it was unlikely that he really couldn't remember who had called the publication of my article to his attention since he himself had brought the subject up. It seemed more likely that he didn't want to tell us who it was and was trying to forestall any questions. It also seemed improbable that it was actually someone in our stake. As far as I knew, Craig Hickman, one of President Bacon's counselors, was the only person in our stake (other than a few close friends) who knew of my promise to President Bacon. Although I didn't know if President Bacon had received or would receive any specific instructions from Church leaders about what to do about me, I had no doubt that he would do exactly as he was told. His anger at my "disobedience" and his complete assurance of his right to punish me also made me realize that President Bacon himself could be harsh.
I was grateful to Bishop Runia for defending me and having the courage to advise President Bacon to "drop the whole thing" when President Bacon obviously felt it was a very serious matter that he had to do something about. I do not know how Bishop Runia would have reacted to pressure from General Authorities, but I think he must have been relieved that he was no longer my bishop. I did not know Bishop Hammond well enough to have any strong feelings about how he might deal with me, but the little he had said in this meeting indicated that he wouldn't resist any directions from the Church hierarchy.
After this meeting, I realized the problems that could arise if I agreed to any limitations of any sort on my speaking or writing. Although I thought I had made it clear to President Bacon that I intended to follow my own judgment, he had interpreted my willingness to do what he asked as an acceptance of his right to control me. Although President Bacon admitted that I had done what I said I would, he thought that I had disobeyed him because I had done something I knew he didn't want me to do. I saw that making any kind of promise limiting my speaking or writing would limit my freedom in ways I did not intend or foresee. President Bacon (and other leaders) would claim the right to interpret my promise according to their own wishes. They might misunderstand what I intended or forget what I had actually said.
I take my promises very seriously, and it was painful for me to be put in a situation where it might appear to some people that I had followed through on my promise only after I had been caught breaking it. As a matter of fact, I had refrained from speaking about God the Mother publicly on several occasions when I would have liked to have included something about her in my speeches. Although many friends advised me not to tell President Bacon that my article was being published, I had always told them that I had to keep my promise. I also reflected that my promise to President Bacon was made under duress. I had not wanted to make the promise, I did not think it was a good thing for me to do, and I was under no moral or ecclesiastical obligation to do so, but I had made the promise because I was afraid that President Bacon might punish me if I didn't.
I resolved to make my position on this issue absolutely clear to my leaders: I did not recognize any kind of obligation to obey a leader's directives without thinking about it, praying about it, and receiving the confirmation of the Spirit that it was the right thing for me to do: I would listen to my leaders' counsel, but I would always try to do what my own best judgment directed me to do. Although I realized that President Bacon and, I later learned, Bishop Hammond believed that they had the right to give me commandments and punish me if I didn't obey them, whether or not I accepted them, I did not want to support this misconception of priesthood authority in any way. As it turned out, this was the very point to which all our future discussions returned, and I was grateful, as the exhausting ordeal wore on, for the early confirmation that I must be clear on this particular issue.
The Dialogue issue in which "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" was published came out in late June 1994. I was braced for another meeting immediately, but we heard nothing for several weeks. Then Bishop Hammond asked David if we could meet with him, but he didn't set a date. Again my anxiety symptoms returned as I waited to see what had been decided. Apparently President Bacon was going to let Bishop Hammond carry out whatever punishment had been decided on.
Bishop Hammond is a soft-spoken, slim man, thirty-nine years old at the time of our first interview. He is the manager of a local store, and he and his wife have four children. In the months that followed, I would come to know him as a conscientious and caring man but conventional and overly concerned with rules and appearances. Dedicated to fulfilling his calling as a bishop, he seems to feel very comfortable with the authoritarianism that prevails in the Church. During the months of our interviews, I frequently heard him praised by ward members during fast and testimony meeting for his loving, compassionate service. I sometimes felt that I had seen little of this part of his character. Upon reflection, however, I realized that his temperament is suited to quietly and compassionately serving the sick and the needy and that he truly enjoys this kind of service. But I was a real challenge to him. I called his worldview into question. I did not seem to need anything from him; but his duty, as he saw it, called him to judge and reform me. I am sure that he found it difficult and painful to do things which he knew caused me and my family deep sorrow, but his nature is more inclined to quietly bear his pain than question the rightness of his actions. Two qualities impressed me in our first interview: his sensitivity and his dedication to duty—his sensitivity to the pain he was causing me, and his dedication to the duty that impelled him to impose it.
Bishop Hammond finally called to set up an interview on a Sunday evening, 24 July, two weeks after telling David that he wanted to meet with us. Again he talked to David and asked if we could meet that night. David had a home teaching appointment but said that we could meet afterwards, about 9:00. David was late in returning from his appointment so I went to the interview by myself. Bishop Hammond told me he had received a copy of my article from President Bacon and had read it. He said, "I have to hold a disciplinary council on you." I asked him why he had waited so long to tell me this. It had been two months since President Bacon had told me I must be punished. This had put me under a lot of stress. He apologized and said that they had to wait until the article was published. President Bacon had thought that maybe I wouldn't publish it. I remember feeling faintly disoriented. Hadn't I made it clear that I couldn't and wouldn't recall the article? And how could President Bacon have interpreted anything I said to mean that I might change my mind?
I asked Bishop Hammond if he saw the content of the article as the problem or whether he felt that a court was necessary because I had gone against President Bacon's wishes in publishing it.
I told him that this was a bad time for me to have a court.
He said, "I know. I'll try to put it off as long as possible." Joel, our third child, was leaving on his mission to Chile on 31 August, and Nephi, our second child, was returning on 18 August. We had planned to hold a combined farewell-homecoming meeting for them on 28 August. I understood the bishop to mean that he would try to wait until after this event.
I then asked Bishop Hammond what ideas in the article bothered him. He said that there was a lot of false doctrine in it but that he couldn't discuss it until the disciplinary council. He also told me that when he had been made a bishop he had "taken an oath to defend the Church and keep its doctrines pure."
David arrived, and Bishop Hammond repeated that, after talking to President Bacon, he had "no choice but to hold a disciplinary council on Janice." David pled passionately with him not to do it. "You should consider resigning rather than doing this unrighteous thing," he urged.
Bishop Hammond repeated, "I have a responsibility to defend the Church."
"Against a mother of nine!" David exclaimed. He told Bishop Hammond that it would be in the press and he would receive a lot of pressure.
"That is your choice," Bishop Hammond replied.
"No, it isn't," David told him. "You don't understand. Janice is well known in the Mormon intellectual community, and there are already many people who know about the pressure that she is under. We don't have to tell anybody about it. They'll ask us, and we can't lie." David also told Bishop Hammond that holding a court might cause polarization in the ward. "Janice is known and respected by many people. They won't understand why you are doing this."
David then tried a new tack, suggesting that Bishop Hammond get President Bacon to hold the court instead, since he had been so involved in the case. "You are a new bishop. It isn't fair to you that you have to deal with this." David was sincerely concerned about Bishop Hammond and wanted to persuade him not to do what we both felt would be an egregious abuse of priesthood power.
Bishop Hammond looked down for a few moments, then he looked up at me and said softly, "I think it will go better for you if I do it myself."
I felt his concern for me, then my own responding love for him, followed by a rush of anger at the powers which I believed would compel him to punish me. From what he had said, it seemed that he was already following President Bacon's orders to discipline me. David was apparently thinking the same thing. He suggested that Bishop Hammond try to set up another meeting with the three of us and President Bacon to see if we could work out some way of avoiding a court. Finally Bishop Hammond agreed to do this.
I didn't tell Bishop Hammond, but another reason it was an inconvenient time for me to prepare for a court was because I was working hard on a paper for the Sunstone Symposium that was scheduled for 17-20 August in Salt Lake City. My paper, "Him Shall Ye Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ," challenged the popular Mormon belief that the Lord will not permit the prophet to lead the Church astray. I feel that this idea is a dangerous one which inhibits individual spiritual growth, hinders the serious exploration of many important issues, and enhances the already excessive authoritarianism of the Church. My paper argued that this belief has no scriptural or revelatory foundation and that, in fact, it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I structured my paper around these questions: What is prophecy? Who is a prophet? Which prophet are we commanded to hear? What is the relationship between the individual, Christ, and his Church? How is a true Church of Christ constituted and in what ways can it go astray? And, finally, what do the scriptures prophesy about the Church in the latter days?
On Wednesday, 17 August, I received a call from Vern Anderson of the Associated Press. He had read my paper "Him Shall Ye Hear" and wanted to do a story on it. He had learned that I was facing a court for my Dialogue article and wanted to include this information as part of his story. Would I give him an interview?
Because the September Six had received so much media coverage, I had suspected that my own story would receive some. I had decided that I would grant an interview to any reporter who asked for one, even though I knew my own natural introversion and reserve would make this difficult for me. I also knew that any publicity I received would almost certainly cause my leaders to regard me as a dissident and hurt my chances of being exonerated, but I also believed that, in the long run, stories about the Church punishing its members for scholarly explorations and divergent opinions would put pressure on the Church to be more tolerant. My belief in the importance of free speech in a Church which discourages it and my conviction that the problem of ecclesiastical abuse in the Church needs to be publicly addressed impelled me to reach the decision to grant interviews, but I was dreading the moment when I would actually have to talk to a reporter.
The reporter who had told Vern Anderson of my situation had contacted me several months earlier when she had learned that President Bacon was planning to discipline me for my Dialogue article. I had told her that I did not want to be interviewed until I had actually received a summons to a court. Because I wanted to give the process of dialogue every chance to succeed, I wanted to avoid publicity until the decision to hold a court was already made. However, I did not intend to let them punish me without any public accountability. Had the moment to talk to the press arrived? Was I ready for it?
Bishop Hammond had said that he would definitely hold a court, and I had little hope that another meeting with President Bacon would change either of their minds. I had written my paper because I strongly believe that the idea of prophetic infallibility is damaging the Church and its members. I wanted people to think critically about this idea, so I told myself that I should welcome a wider audience for my ideas. The time was right. I agreed to give Vern an interview and arranged to meet with him at the symposium that night.
That same afternoon I received a call from Bishop Hammond telling me that he'd finally arranged a meeting for us with President Bacon for the following Sunday morning. He apologized for the delay but President Bacon had undergone an angioplasty a few weeks earlier. Bishop Hammond added, "President Bacon said he'd meet with you, but he said to tell you that it wouldn't make any difference." He seemed apologetic.
He also wanted to confirm that we would be holding our missionary farewell-homecoming on August 28 for our two sons, Joel and Nephi. Our daughter, Miriam, who was then thirteen, had been asked to be the youth speaker. Bishop Hammond said that he thought it would be good to have "just the three children speak. It will give the missionaries plenty of time."
My heart sank. At our last meeting we had talked briefly about our plans for the farewell/homecoming. Traditionally missionary farewells and, to a lesser extent, homecomings are planned by the missionaries' families; and the missionaries and their parents always speak. When Bishop Hammond had told me that he must hold a court on me, I had tried to get him to delay it until after the farewell/homecoming. I didn't see how our family could present a program if I had just been excommunicated. At one point I had said, "I don't have to speak." Bishop Hammond had not responded to this statement nor had he said anything about restricting my church activity in any way. In thinking about it afterward, I did not see any reason why I shouldn't speak and I had been mentally preparing my talk. Had Bishop Hammond interpreted my desperate remark as a firm expression of my intentions? And why was he also excluding David?
"David and I are also planning to give short talks," I told him.
"I don't think you should."
"Why not?" I asked. "David hasn't done anything, and I shouldn't be punished before I'm found guilty."
I was not surprised when he said, "Let me talk to President Bacon about it." In our meetings, I had observed that he seemed to be acting under President Bacon's directions. Now it appeared again that he did not want to make a decision without consulting President Bacon. Whether he was seeking direction, permission, approval, or simply counsel, I do not know; but in the months that followed I would see Bishop Hammond delay many decisions concerning me until after he had consulted with President Bacon.
The next morning (Thursday, 18 August) David called Bishop Hammond for his answer. Neither of us, Bishop Hammond informed him, would be able to speak at our sons' farewell/homecoming. "I don't think it is appropriate for someone who is facing a disciplinary council to speak in sacrament meeting," he said.
"What about me?" David asked.
"I thought it would look strange if you spoke and Janice didn't," he replied.
David said that he wanted to speak anyway. Bishop Hammond said no.
David, himself the least suspicious of people, then abruptly asked a question that I had suggested to him. It had seemed strange to me that David hadn't yet been given a calling in the new ward. "Do you think you're under some kind of ban?" I had asked him. He thought it was very unlikely but, being a very direct person, decided to ask the bishop. "Why haven't I been given a calling since the ward was created?" he asked.
Perhaps taken a little off guard, Bishop Hammond admitted that, after our 22 May meeting, he had decided that David should not have a church position. David, who had served with zeal and devotion since our marriage as a home teacher, seventies group leader, ward mission leader, stake clerk, Cubmaster, and Scoutmaster was hurt and bewildered by this lack of trust. Did his years of faithful service mean nothing? Was he being punished and rejected?
This same Thursday morning Nephi returned from his mission. Three of the children and I were already in Salt Lake attending the symposium. David drove the other children up from Provo, and we all met at the airport to welcome Nephi home. Although I had been anticipating this moment from the time I had watched him board the plane to fly to Chile, I could never have imagined the joy that overwhelmed me when we finally caught sight of him.
Nephi's mission had been a good experience for him. From his letters, we had learned of his love for the people of Chile, his deepening love for and testimony of Jesus Christ, and his maturing understanding of the gospel. When we got home and he unloaded his suitcases to show us the souvenirs and presents he'd brought back from Chile, I discovered that he'd given away all his clothes. He had literally given away everything except the clothes on his back. I had to search the attic for something for him to wear as I knew we couldn't get to the store until the next week.
Although I had written Nephi in detail about my problems with the Church, I hadn't yet told him about the impending court. Even though I had prepared him for this possibility, it was a shock for him to return from his mission and find out that the Church he had labored to bring people into was preparing to cast his own mother out.
The next morning, Friday, 19 August, the Salt Lake Tribune ran Vern Anderson's article about me on its front page. "LDS Mom Catches Hell for Writing about a Mother in Heaven" was the headline. I thought it was well written and accurate; I appreciated Vern's sensitivity and thoroughness.4 That morning I delivered my paper, "Him Shall Ye Hear" at the symposium. Channel 4 taped it and religion reporter Paul Murphy conducted a short interview afterward. A clip ran on the evening news.
The Sunday that followed was probably one of the most exhausting of our lives. We didn't get home from the symposium until 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Our baby, John, woke up as we were getting into bed. He was very upset with me since I'd been gone for three days, and it took us two hours to get him back to sleep. Nephi was scheduled to report to the high council on his mission at 7:00 a.m. so we dragged ourselves out of bed and went with him. Walking back home, we found our cat dead in the road, just run over by a car. We were scheduled to have our "final" meeting with President Bacon at 9:00 a.m.
David and I had been increasingly worried that President Bacon and Bishop Hammond were thinking of us as a unit and were regarding David as part of the problem. David is a very open, honest, and warm person, much more talkative and outgoing than I am. He had taken a very active part in all our interviews and we are in substantive agreement on the issues we discussed, so it was natural that our leaders should view us in that way. Still, it was unfair of them to punish him for his opinions and attitudes. President Bacon had always told me that I could believe whatever I wanted to—that publishing and disobedience were my problems. David had published nothing and disobeyed no one, but they had forbidden him to speak at his own sons' farewell/homecoming and refused to let him serve in a calling. Since he teaches at BYU, any ecclesiastical judgment that he was unworthy of a temple recommend would automatically jeopardize his job. We were quite concerned about this possibility and decided that he should drop out of the interviews. However, he accompanied me to this meeting since he had been asked to come.
When we arrived, President Bacon, his two counselors, James McDonald and Craig Hickman, and Bishop Hammond were waiting for us. They asked if they could meet with us separately, and we agreed, feeling that it would help them separate us in their minds. I went in first, and we talked a little over two hours. President Bacon began by filling his counselors in on the background.
He reported many details inaccurately; and when I corrected him, he became impatient and said the differences were negligible—the important thing was that I had disobeyed him. I pointed out that my version of the details in dispute showed that I had not disobeyed him. "In any case," I argued, "I am not under any obligation to follow your counsel. Since there is no Church law against speaking publicly or publishing articles about God the Mother, it is unfair to punish me for disobeying something which is neither a law of the Church nor a commandment of God."
President Bacon told me that the Brethren are very clear about this. I tried to find out if he had received any new instructions from the Church hierarchy. He asked, "What difference does that make? I'm your leader and you should do what I say. I represent Jesus Christ to you," he told me.
I replied, "I am also a servant of Jesus Christ."
Somewhat indignantly, he asked, "Would it make any difference to you if I told you which two apostles it came from?"
I said, "No, it wouldn't. I made my decision on the basis of my own judgment and spiritual feelings. I always have listened to the counsel of leaders and others with an open mind and heart and I always will try to. I will always think carefully about what they say and pray sincerely for guidance. But when it comes to a final decision, I will do what I believe God wants me to do."
President Hickman said that, since we can be deceived about spiritual feelings, it is "safer to follow our leaders."
I responded, "I realize that I can be wrong in what I believe, but I can't go against my conscience simply because I might be wrong. I have to trust in Jesus. I have to trust that he will show me my sins if I am willing to repent. I don't believe that all is lost if I make a mistake because his grace is sufficient to save me. To have faith in Jesus Christ means to be willing to trust in our own spiritual feelings."
President Bacon told me I was rationalizing. He was impatient with my explanation. I had the feeling that he hadn't really followed it. He asked sharply what my motives were in publishing and speaking.
I told him, "I don't believe we can really know what our motives are. We should examine our motives and try to understand them, but we should also realize that some of them are beyond our conscious ability to grasp. Since it is very easy for us to think up good motives for what we want to do, we need to think about the act itself. Will it have good results? Will it help someone? I suppose that my reasons for writing and speaking are complex; I do want to do it, and I do receive personal benefits from it, but not without a cost to me and my family. However, the reason I feel an obligation to write and speak is because I have benefited greatly from the writing and speaking of others and I feel that I should try to return some of what I have received." Again, I had the feeling that my response was not what President Bacon wanted to hear.
President Bacon next brought up the Associated Press article that had appeared in the Tribune, something that all four of them were upset about. "This is bad news for the Church," President Bacon said pointing to the headline. "This makes the Church look bad."
"What makes the Church look bad," I responded, "is not that I published an article but that you are going to punish me for it. My paper was given to a small audience on a difficult topic, and it was published in a journal with a limited circulation. If you had not decided to punish me, this newspaper article would never have been written. It wouldn't have been news."
President Bacon retorted that it would never have been written if I'd obeyed him in the first place. Bishop Hammond said he was devastated by the headline "LDS Mom Catches Hell for Writing about a Mother in Heaven." I told him that neither the reporter nor I was responsible for the headline and that I had told the reporter that my bishop was trying to be fair and do his duty. He was also hurt because the article mentioned that David and I would not be allowed to speak at our sons' farewell/homecoming. I told him that not being able to speak hurt us very much.
This led them to their next grievance with me: the issue of confidentiality. They said that they regarded these meetings as "sacred" and felt that it was a violation of confidentiality for me to discuss them with anyone else. I pointed out that the rule of confidentiality in the priest-penitent relationship was to protect the penitent not the priest. I considered myself free to discuss these meetings and I intended to do so. "I give you permission to discuss them too," I added. I knew that they had already discussed them. President Bacon had discussed his meetings with me up the line with Elder Jeppsen and the unnamed apostles and down the line with Bishops Runia and Hammond.5
President Bacon said, "Oh no, we couldn't because we consider them sacred," and the other men nodded in agreement. They added that they could not be open and honest in these meetings if they thought that my reports of their comments would appear in the press. I saw that there was no point in inviting them again to make their own statements to the press. I simply said, "I will try to be truthful and fair in what I say, but you should understand that I will speak and write about it." It was the first time that the topic of my future conduct had come up in the conversation. Although I did not want to upset them again, I felt that I needed to be absolutely clear that I was not asking their permission about future papers and publications.
President Bacon said that there were certain groups of disgruntled, apostate Mormons who were using the press to embarrass the Church.6 He spoke for quite a while about these people and what he perceived as their agenda, strongly hinting that I was affiliated with them. I told him frankly that I was the vice-president of the Mormon Women's Forum and a trustee of the Mormon Alliance, "but neither of these organizations is apostate," I said. No one asked me anything further about my association with these groups.
At one point President Bacon said that I had caused them pain and anguish. "We have lost sleep over this," he told me. I couldn't think of an adequate response, so I said nothing.
Finally, they asked me to reconsider my decision, to pray about it, and repent. "If you say you're sorry and are willing to be counseled by us, it will go better with you," they told me. I told them that I would be willing to pray about it but that I had already prayed many times and I doubted if it would change the way I felt.
As I left the building, David came over to kiss me. I whispered, "Be careful. You can't help me, but you can hurt yourself."
As I walked home I thanked God for helping me get through the interview. I was so tired that I had been afraid that I wouldn't be able to respond coherently to their questions, but I felt that I had answered truthfully and presented my case well. I certainly did not think they were ready to vindicate me, and I still expected to receive a summons to my court at any time, but it was important to me to be able to speak the truth powerfully. At one point I had almost lost control of my emotions, but I had managed to say what I wanted without breaking down. President Bacon had been chastising me severely for being disobedient. "You are a disobedient member," he said. "You disobey your priesthood leaders."
I had responded, "I have been a member of this church all of my life. I challenge you to talk to any of my former bishops. I have never refused a calling. I have never refused an assignment. I have never failed to meet the requirements for a temple recommend. I have never failed to do my duty as a member. I am not disobedient."
I arrived home and plunged into the usual chaos of our household on a Sunday morning with the children getting ready for church and eating breakfast, exacerbated today because both David and I had been gone. The nursery leader called and asked me if I would be in charge of the nursery that day since she was unable to be there. I agreed. When David came home an hour and a half later, he seemed strangely cheerful. "Well, they want me to get you to repent and stop writing," he announced brightly. "I'm supposed to give you a blessing telling you to do what your priesthood leaders tell you."
I had been washing the breakfast dishes. I stopped, looked at him in horror, and said, "If you ever do that, we're through!" In saying this, I was not threatening to dissolve our marriage but blurting out my anger at those who use the name of God to control others. Such an action would violate the trust, respect, and equality which have always been the basis of our marriage. I started sobbing. Although I had shed some silent tears, this was the first time I had broken down in the long ordeal that had already lasted twenty months. "They're trying to destroy our marriage," I cried. "They're trying to make you into a bad patriarch like themselves. They would destroy our marriage to get me to submit to them." I did not believe that David would do what they asked, and he knew I didn't. He understood my response to mean, "I love you and I need you and I'm so glad you're not the kind of man who thinks priesthood gives him the right to control others."
He said that he had told them, "I try to listen to the Spirit when I give a blessing and say what the Spirit tells me to say." It should have been a shattering rebuke, but they didn't even seem to notice. He had also told them that he couldn't control me and wouldn't try. "She's an adult; she makes her own decisions," he had said. "We don't have that kind of a marriage." But they didn't want to accept his answers.
Implicit in the whole interview was the assumption that David either agreed with me and was encouraging me or that he was not using his priesthood properly to control me. There was also the implied threat to him and his employment. The interview had opened with a very threatening question: "We need to know what your feelings are. Do we need to take action against you?" The implication was clear: if he was on my side, they would also need to take action against him.
At one point they asked him to take what I have come to regard as their loyalty oath: "If two apostles asked you not to publish something, would you do what they asked?" He promptly and truthfully said that he wouldn't publish if he were asked not to, but he was glad that they had not asked him a more general form of the question.
We both realized later that David's odd cheerfulness was a result of the ecclesiastical browbeating and threats. He had protected himself by detaching himself from his feelings, which enabled him to get through the interview with his composure intact. Three days later, his anger surfaced and exploded in rage over minor household problems. We were all surprised, including him, until we were able to understand what had happened and work through his feelings.
Needless to say, it was a hectic week. Sunday, 28 August, was the day of Joel's missionary farewell and Nephi's homecoming. We planned to hold a small openhouse afterward for some of our friends and family. Two hours before the sacrament meeting, as we were working frantically to get everything ready, I got a call from Bishop Hammond. He wanted David and me to meet him in his office right then.
"Can't we wait until this evening?" I asked, shocked. "I'm really busy now."
"I need to talk to you right now," he insisted.
So David and I went over to his office. He seemed apologetic, frequently looking down as he spoke. After thanking us for coming he said, "I've been thinking about it, and I realize that this is a special day for your family. I've decided that you can bear your testimonies." He paused, then added hastily, "—about how you feel about your sons' missions."
David, surprised, started to speak hesitantly about how little time we had.
But I was feeling angry. It seemed extremely inconsiderate to change his mind at the last moment. It also, I realized, seemed very manipulative. Interrupting David but speaking quietly, I said, "To me, a testimony is about Jesus Christ. I had been thinking that I would speak about what Jesus has done for me; but since you told me I wouldn't be allowed to speak, I haven't prepared it."
David said, "Well, I'll be willing to bear my testimony, but my testimony is also about Jesus."
I said, "I will, too, but I will not sit on the stand and I will not have my name in the program as if I were a scheduled speaker." The reason I said this was because I did not feel capable of speaking spontaneously, from my heart, without losing my composure. There were so many things that I could not say and the pain of being rejected and mistrusted was so great that I did not feel I could speak honestly and coherently about my feelings within the bounds of what would be considered appropriate. If I had been given even one day to prepare, I could have given a talk. Having my name on the program and sitting on the stand would imply that I was prepared to speak and I wasn't, so I refused.
David said that it was probably too late for us to have our names in the program anyway.
"Oh, no," said Bishop Hammond. "It isn't. We can get your names in the program. And I want you to sit on the stand." He looked hopeful and it was hard for me to refuse him, but what he asked was impossible for me to do.
David and I looked at each other. We said that we would each give a short testimony if there was time but we would sit in the audience. We left feeling that Bishop Hammond really felt bad about marring our "special family day." Had he changed his mind at the last minute out of consideration for us? Or was he more concerned about how it would look to forbid the parents of two missionaries to speak at a meeting in their honor? Was the decision Bishop Hammond's or was he carrying out someone else's instructions? Was the decision to finally let us speak truly a last-minute reversal or had this been the plan all along? We speculated about these questions, but we do not know the answers.
At the meeting that afternoon David gave the opening prayer, Rebecca, our oldest child, gave the closing prayer, and the children's talks exactly filled the time allotted. The bishop didn't call on us. Miriam, quoting Dostoyevsky's parable of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov, and 2 Nephi 2 affirmed that "without freedom there is nothing, no happiness. But through freedom there can be happiness. . . . I believe that we can't have a fullness of joy on earth and freedom will cause pain. But I also believe this is better than not having freedom and that we will be saved, despite and through the pain and doubts that freedom brings, by the grace of God and receive a fullness of joy."
Joel described the paradox that those desiring to be truly righteous—to be "perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"—will inevitably discover: "There is always more that I could do if only I were a little stronger. But I cannot, I am too weak and sinful. The law is a harsh master; it demands more than I can give. There is no way I can be strong enough to live the commandments; I cannot live even enough of them to be saved." Furthermore, because we are enmeshed in groups, we are also responsible for the sins of humanity. And, as a final blow, "We cannot know the end result of our action; something I try to do right may end in disaster. Because of this, despite all efforts to do good, it is impossible to even know for sure if I am doing the right thing."
The thoughtful person, contemplating the impossibility of living even one commandment perfectly, must inevitably despair if it were not that "God's unconditional love ... brings us out of despair into a state of grace." To show the nature of God's unconditional love, he quoted some of our family's favorite scriptures about the atonement from the Book of Mormon. He also read the account of the conversion of Alma to show how God's love can bring us out of our despair and pride into a state of love and grace. He explained how the two great commandments to love God and love each other teach us how to live all the other commandments. Then he discussed Jesus' denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees for thinking that rule-keeping was the same as righteousness. Finally, he closed by reading the Beatitudes as a testament of grace.
Nephi eloquently described the effects of living in a fallen world that he had seen on his mission:
He spoke of the danger of idolatry and explained that "even many things that God has given us to help us believe in him can become idols if we believe in them more than in Christ." He told about one woman who refused to listen to his message about the Book of Mormon because she believed only in the Bible. "I gradually realized that she believed more in the Bible than she did in God. In a way, the Bible was her God because she would rather believe her interpretation of it than to listen to the voice of the Spirit and have to change."
He bore a powerful testimony that salvation comes from Jesus Christ, our loving Savior, who was willing to endure the suffering and sorrow of all mortality to redeem us. Quoting the scriptures that he had come to love so deeply, he explained how faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can alleviate our mortal despair and make us "new creatures. ... The Spirit quickens our understanding and gives life to all we do. We are given love and compassion and our lives are given meaning. Everything seems new and wonderful and significant. We feel a desire to help others feel the same joy and acceptance and a longing to serve God and follow his commandments. We feel like shouting for joy and weeping for joy and praising God forever."
The children had chosen their own topics and prepared their talks with only a few suggestions from me. Hearing them speak, seeing their understanding of the scriptures and their love of the Savior, filled me with happiness.
On the morning of Wednesday, 31 August, while Joel and I were finishing his packing so he could enter the Mission Training Center that afternoon, a friend called to say he had just heard about an Associated Press article reporting President Hinckley's talk at a conference of the Ashton, Driggs, and St. Anthony Idaho regions.
He reviewed the procedure of selecting new prophets as evidence that God's will is being done. "Our peace, safety and salvation lie in following the prophet," he declared. The theme of prophetic infallibility was also stressed in general conference a few weeks later. Numerous speakers asserted it as a fact but none of them offered any scriptural evidence or theological reasoning to support it; they simply quoted other General Authorities. Salt Lake Tribune coverage of the conference speculated that Elder Aldin Porter's talk, which gave the strongest statement of leader infallibility, seemed to be responding to my paper. The mention of my paper in these two news articles made a strong impression on President Bacon and Bishop Hammond, helping to convince them that I was an apostate acting in open and public opposition to the Church and its leaders.
On Thursday, 15 September, I again met with Bishop Hammond at his request. He wanted to know if I'd prayed and reconsidered my views as he and President Bacon had asked me to do. I said that I had but that my views had not changed. I added, "I don't think I have done anything that warrants Church discipline."
We spent quite a while talking about whether my articles hurt people's testimonies. I pointed out that I had written many essays and he had read only one of them.
"But in that article you showed a defiant attitude toward the leaders," he said.
"I don't even talk about the Church or the leaders in that article," I objected.
His voice became stern as he pronounced the judgment which, in his opinion, ought to end all argument. "Your papers damage people's testimonies because you teach something different than the Church."
But I had something further to say. I argued that the gospel of Jesus Christ and the scriptures allow a wide range of interpretations and that a diversity of beliefs actually exists within the Church. Bishop Hammond found my view too chaotic. He accepted the institutional view that doctrine should be dictated by authorities and, as part of the institution, he saw himself as a defender of the faith. "There's a line and I think you've crossed it," he said.
I didn't try to argue any more. I simply asked, "Have you definitely decided to hold a court?"
"Then please do it as quickly as possible," I asked, "because this waiting and uncertainty are very stressful for me."
He said that he had to check with President Bacon first but that he would try to hurry things along. He seemed glad to have my permission to go ahead.
Sunday, 18 September, was our stake conference. President Bacon gave a speech stressing the importance of following the Brethren and denouncing apostasy and intellectual pride. To anyone who knew of my situation it was obvious that much of what he said was directed at me. He said that the latter-day prophets would never lead the people of the Church astray. "There are those who do not believe this," he continued, "those who drift away from the truth. Sorrow will come to them sooner or later. They will know afflictions and it will hurt their little children. Their sin is the sin of intellectual pride."
He later told me that several people had thanked him for his talk because they had been confused about "the Allred affair and now they knew what to think about it." I told him that his remarks had hurt my feelings. "I have no problem with your talking about the issue," I explained, "but I feel it was unkind of you to attack my character and motives and say I am hurting my children." He seemed a little uneasy and said, "I'm not just talking about you. I'm speaking of all apostates." He did not apologize.
A week went by. On Sunday, 25 September, Bishop Hammond telephoned to say that nothing would be done until after general conference. Again there would be a delay without an explanation. Although I was certainly not eager to go through the ordeal of the court, I was emotionally prepared, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the uncertainty that had characterized my interactions with my Church leaders from the beginning. I had been under a steadily increasing burden of stress for the past four months and I was hoping to end the ordeal as soon as possible. I felt that I was reaching the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. I was not sleeping well, partly because our baby was still waking up at night and partly because of worry and stress. I also suffered from digestive problems before, during, and after one of these ecclesiastical encounters; sometimes I would go for two or three days in a row without being able to eat normally. With seven children in the house, the demands on me never stopped. I was also spending a lot of time talking to people about my situation—not only the press but also supportive friends and relatives. Many also disagreed with me and had extensive arguments designed to change my mind. Although I felt that these conversations were important, it took a lot of time and emotional energy. I was also preparing a written statement of defense for the court which required a lot of time and thought. As I talked, listened, wrote, thought, and prayed, the issues became clearer to me and I was able to feel peace about the decisions I had made. Many times I felt the spirit of God comforting me, enlightening me, and strengthening me. But I didn't know how long I would be physically able to sustain the effort. I had had surgery for a brain tumor nine years earlier after Jared was born that had left me almost blind in one eye. Now I was experiencing blurred vision in the other eye. I didn't know if it was a recurrence of the tumor—a real possibility—or a stress reaction.8
This was also a difficult time for David and our children. David shared my problems as much as he could and gave me both emotional and physical support. Our children are accustomed to lively, open discussions on a wide variety of topics; and we have always shared our doubts, questions, criticisms, and beliefs with them and encouraged them to share theirs with us. We discussed my situation openly and the children listened and joined in the conversation as they wanted to. I made a special effort to talk to each of the children to answer any questions and help them deal with any concerns they might have. My six-year old son said he did not want to go to church if I could not go, so I assured him that I would continue to go with him. Emotions were close to the surface, however; some members of the family became angry listening to general conference, which precipitated some flare-ups.
Bishop Hammond phoned me after general conference. He was upset by the media speculation that some of the conference speakers were responding to "Him Shall Ye Hear." Although I told him I had nothing to do with this, he still seemed to feel that it was my fault. He said that President Bacon had asked him to get a copy of my speech. Would I give him one? I thought about refusing, but I knew that they already had enough newspaper quotes to convict me of what in their minds was a damnable heresy: teaching that the prophet is not infallible. The paper itself might actually moderate their view, so I agreed to give them one. Bishop Hammond then told me that President Bacon would like to meet with me again. "He's still open about whether or not to hold a disciplinary council," he said. I thought this statement was a transparent ploy to arouse my hopes; it was very clear to me that they did not intend to drop the whole thing—which, I believe, would have been the right thing to do. Rather, they wanted me to make some kind of concession or promise. I had told them as clearly as I could, over and over, that I would follow my conscience and that I would not be controlled by them. Why wouldn't they believe me?
On Thursday, 6 October, I met again with President Bacon and Bishop Hammond and we talked for three hours. During this meeting President Bacon brought up the issue of teaching false doctrine for the first time. Bishop Hammond had always been concerned about this issue—although he had consistently refused to discuss the content of the paper in any detail or let me defend my views; but President Bacon had always seemed to believe that my sin was disobedience. In all our discussions, he had either stated or assumed that the paper was offensive, not because of what I had said or how I had said it but because it was on a topic that President Hinckley had forbidden. Now he was saying that the problem with my paper was that it contained false doctrine.
"I was always under the impression that the church leaders didn't want my article published because of its subject. You never once talked about false doctrine," I said.
"Why wouldn't we want you to publish it if it didn't contain false doctrine?" he asked.
"You didn't even have a copy of it when you first became concerned about it. You asked me not to publish on that topic," I reminded him.
"I had a copy from the beginning with parts underlined," President Bacon stated positively.
I was shocked. "But you didn't tell me that. You asked me for a copy of it." I distinctly remembered (and later confirmed from my notes) that he had asked for a copy of the article on two occasions because he "needed to read it" and had been quite upset that I hadn't quickly complied with his request. If Salt Lake had given him a transcript of my speech (with parts underlined) why had he asked me for a copy? Had it been to test my willingness to cooperate?
"I don't remember it like that," he said.
I was beginning to feel as if I were involved in some kind of surreal drama. I decided to pursue another line of defense. "Even if my article did contain false doctrine," I pointed out, "publishing it was not an act of apostasy because I never claimed that my interpretation was Church doctrine. According to the handbook, apostasy is not simply teaching false doctrine but teaching false doctrine as Church doctrine.9 I explicitly stated that my interpretation was not Church doctrine."
"You understand the spirit of this; you understand what we want. You're arguing technicalities. You're being legalistic." President Bacon apparently didn't understand that courts deal in technicalities and that the law is legalistic.
I decided to try to get him to discuss the content of what I had written. "How do you know that my article contains false doctrine?" I asked.
"Everyone agrees with me—the First Presidency and the apostles."
"How do you know?" I asked. "Did they tell you?"
He responded, "Because I received a copy of the article from Salt Lake with certain parts underlined. Those parts were the false doctrine."
It did not seem to be a very persuasive answer. I pointed out that he couldn't simply assume that. "Perhaps those were the parts that they particularly admired," I suggested.
His manner became stiff and very solemn. "I know it is false doctrine," he pronounced, "because of my position and priesthood." Like Bishop Hammond, President Bacon did not want to get involved in a discussion about the doctrine; he simply wanted to declare it false. He saw the issue so simply. He did not have to read, think, study, or ponder. Maybe he didn't even have to pray. His position alone made him infallible; and since I could never hold his position, I could never be in a position to disagree with him.
After about two hours of discussion in which I engaged them on every point, I finally grew discouraged, realizing the hopelessness of ever getting them to understand my viewpoint and accept it as one that could be held by a faithful Church member. For about twenty minutes, I said nothing. They both spoke, giving me advice, and getting steadily more animated. President Bacon even remarked with satisfaction, "At last I think we're getting somewhere! I'm finally starting to feel a humble attitude from you." The message could not have been clearer. I was acceptable as long as I was silent.
"Where do we go from here?" I asked.
"You tell us," President Bacon said.
"Well," I said, "you should say, `We have talked to Janice Allred. She believes in Jesus Christ, she accepts the scriptures as the word of God, she loves the Church and is committed to it, and she follows the commandments. We should just drop this whole procedure against her. She should be free to write and publish according to her own judgment.'"
They both stared at me, incredulity on their faces. President Bacon exclaimed, "I couldn't remain stake president one week if I didn't do something about this." He drew himself up and announced that he would decide whether to have a court or not. I wondered what Bishop Hammond's role was in this decision, but President Bacon was continuing, describing the scenario of the court aloud: "I will have to judge you," he told me. "I will have two counselors and twelve men to advise me, but the final decision will be mine." I had realized for some time that President Bacon was still very much involved in my case—the fact that Bishop Hammond had to check every detail and decision with him confirmed it—and I was beginning to suspect that he actually wanted to conduct the court himself, so this announcement did not surprise me.
Just before the meeting ended, President Bacon's countenance softened, and he said to me, "Can I be very frank with you?" His manner suggested that he had something to relate that was quite unexpected, something that he didn't understand. "I have this feeling in my heart, very strong, that I just want to defend you and protect you. I just want to defend Janice Allred to the Brethren."
I acknowledged his comment politely but later thought, "Poor President Bacon, can't you understand what the Spirit is telling you? You've been praying to know what to do about me and the Spirit is trying to tell you, but you're unwilling to let the Spirit work on your mind as well as your heart. The only way you can think of to protect me is by changing me."1Published in The Sanctity of Dissent (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994).
2The current terminology for a church court is "disciplinary council." Although I learned in the next year and a half that this new term accurately describes the current Church policy regarding courts, I will use "court" as an alternate term for "disciplinary council," both as a generic term and for felicity of expression as well as for a protest against a system which uses its courts as an instrument of compulsion rather than to provide the fair trial mandated by the scriptures.
3See 2 Ne. 6:9, 9:20-21, 11:7, 19:6; Mosiah 3:5-8, 7:27, 15:1-4, 16:15; Alma 11:38-40, 44, 42:15; Hela. 14:12, 16:18; 3 Ne. 1:14, 9:15, 12:48; Morm. 9:12; Eth. 3:14, 4:7.
4The article summarized the content of both "Toward a Theology of God the Mother" and "Him Shall Ye Hear," placed the speech in the context of the excommunications of the September Six the autumn before, and included the information that David and I would not be allowed to speak at our sons' farewell/homecoming. It quoted my reason for allowing "Toward a Theology" to be published: "`I just feel the freedom-of-belief and freedom-of-speech issue is so important in the Church today.'" Vern Anderson, Associated Press, "LDS Mom Catches Hell for Writing about a Mother in Heaven," Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Aug. 1994, A-1.
5Since I also know that those involved in the courts have commented about them to ward members in private conversations and since President Bacon used my situation as part of the content of a stake conference address, it is clear that "confidentiality" to them means "don't talk to the press." Don LeFevre, in responding to the question of (BYU) Daily Universe reporters about my situation, seemed to have the same definition. "`It is hard to give an objective, balanced report without having both sides, but you're at the mercy of Church policy,' said Don LeFevre, director of LDS Church public affairs. `But there are always two sides.' LeFevre said the Church's policy to not comment on disciplinary hearings is for the protection of those involved. `Local priesthood leaders are bound by policy to maintain the confidentiality of those cases, and the reason for that is to protect the individual,' LeFevre said. `If (those called in for disciplinary action) choose to go public, then the local priesthood leaders are still bound by policy not to comment,' LeFevre said." Gaylon Garbett and Susan Bagley, "Media Probes LDS Church Policies," (BYU) Universe, 1 Nov. 1944, 1, 11.
6DeAnn Evans, assistant professor of communications at the University of Utah and former managing editor of the Deseret News, felt that the media coverage, both locally and nationally, was prompted by three factors: (1) "the local prominence of the LDS Church," (2) "the conflict involved in cases like Allred's," and (3) "a nationwide push for increased coverage of religious issues," which are now being reported on aggressively after years of being "under-covered." Paul Richards, editor of the (Provo) Daily Herald, responded to criticisms from readers that "the Allred case was not news and that reporters were LDS dissidents working for an anti-LDS newspaper" in two ways: (1) a local case receiving national media attention must also be covered locally or "`we do a disservice to our readers,'" and (2) the "conflict between a person's right to speak out and that person's obedience to LDS Church leaders" is inherently interesting to the media. Gaylon Garbett and Susan Bagley, "Media Probes LDS Church Policies," (Provo) Daily Herald, 1 Nov. 1994, 1, 11.
7Associated Press, Rexburg, Idaho, "Prophet Won't Lead Us Astray, Counselor Says," Deseret News, 1-2 Sept. 1994, B-1, B-2; the same story ran in the (BYU) Universe, 31 August 1994, under the title, "Pres. Hinckley Affirms Prophet's Role."
8The blurring has persisted to the present (winter 1996-97) but test results do not show any further growth in the tumor.
9General Handbook of Instructions, March 1989, 10-3 and 10-4, under the heading "When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory" and under the subheading "Apostasy" states: "As used here, apostasy refers to members who (1) repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; (2) persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or (3) continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority. In such cases, excommunication may be necessary when repentance is not evident after counseling or encouragement. Total inactivity in the Church or attending or merely holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy.
"Church leaders must take disciplinary action against those who are in apostasy to protect the membership at large. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, but `if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people' (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36)."