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VOLUME 2, 1996




Other Publications

Editorial Policies and Procedures

Information about the Mormon Alliance

Goals of the Mormon Alliance

Ecclesiastical and Spiritual Abuse: Definitions

Reporting Ecclesiastical and Spiritual Abuse

Part 1–Effects of Authoritarianism


Issues to Consider

Lavina Fielding Anderson


Anonymous Voices

Lavina Fielding Anderson, comp


"The Kind of Experience That Changes You Forever"

Devery S. Anderson


Shrinking to Fit

Phyllis Ford Rueckert


"One Day You Finally Knew"

Vivian D. Ellsworth

Part 2–Secondary Abuse


McConkie and Dad: Memories, Dreams, and a Rejection. A Personal Essay

David G. Pace


Context and Analysis: "You Have Heard True Doctrine Taught": Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s 1981-82 Addresses

Lavina Fielding Anderson

Part 3–Reviews of Relevant Books

Religion as Addiction

Thayne I. Andersen

Father Leo Booth, Breaking the Chains, Understanding Religious Addiction and Religious Abuse

A New Kind of Abuse

J. Frederic Voros, Jr.

David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse and Ronald M. Enroth, Churches That Abuse

Not about Blame

Warren S. Parkin

Marlene Winell, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion

Part 4–Documentary History

White Bird Flying: My Struggle for a More Loving, Tolerant, and Egalitarian Church

Janice Merrill Allred

Case Summary


"Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother," 1992-93

"Him Shall Ye Hear," 1994-95

First Court, 12-13 October 1994

Aftermath of the Probation

Additional Speeches, November 1994-February 1995

Prelude to the Second Court, March-May 1995

Summons, 7 May 1995

The Second Disciplinary Council, 9 May 1995

Unfinished Business

The Appeal Process, June-November 1995

Interviews with Church Leaders: November 1995 to January 1997

Being Excommunicated: What It Means

Excommunication and Judgment

Appendix A: Defense of Janice M. Allred, 12 October 1994

Appendix B: Appeal of Janice M. Allred, 7 June 1995


Lavina Fielding Anderson

In a recent review of Mary Lythgoe Bradford’s biography Lowell L. Bennion: Teacher, Counselor, Humanitarian, Ted L. Wilson made a remarkable evaluation: "Bennion [was] a strong and devoted Mormon who was not afraid of his own church if he felt it was not measuring up to this high standard."1 This statement struck me because I encounter many, many Latter-day Saints who, regardless of their degree of devoutness, are afraid of their own church. They fear the society and culture of which they are a part. They fear the judgement of leaders and members alike. They fear for their employment. They fear the punishment that may follow if their historical views or political opinions or doctrinal understandings are known. They fear for their own souls. Most heartbreakingly, some of them even fear their Savior.

Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 2, 1996 explores part of the dynamic of that fear: the authoritarianism within the Church and the abuses that can occur as a result. Most of the volume is devoted to Janice Merrill Allred’s "White Bird Flying: My Struggle for a More Loving, Tolerant, and Egalitarian Church," a documentary history of the ecclesiastical action that led to her excommunication in May 1995 and its aftermath. It is a complex story that continues to have new developments. The most recent experiences were added only five days before this book went to the typesetter.

Her account documents and raises questions of conscience, freedom of thought and expression, and questions of intentionality, motivation, authoritarianism, revelation, and truth. Perhaps its starkest conclusion is: "I see now that the greatest challenge for people enmeshed in authoritarian systems is not to find the courage to tell the truth when the system rewards deception and punishes truth-telling, although this is important, but rather to find the courage to seek the truth, to know it, and to love it." Her history is, in many ways, a record of ecclesiastical contempt for truth.

This documentary history is long and detailed. We do not apologize for its length; other documentary histories will be part of each volume that we print. This form is chosen because it permits the reproduction of relevant documents and their careful and detailed analysis along with close histories of the case. Although not all case reports can or should be treated at this length, it is important that this forum exist. The temptation to reduce issues to sound-bites and personalities to stereotypes makes it much more difficult to understand a problem, to deal with it in a way that does simply inflict more violence, and above all, to forgive. Such an effort is hard. Many are unwilling to believe that it is necessary. But ultimately, we believe, it is the only way to move to an unfrightened faith and an unconditional love.

Closely related to Janice’s accounts are the accounts in Part 1: "Effects of Authoritarianism." Although the situations they describe vary greatly, what they all have in common is an abrasive encounter with the exercise of authority identified as "unrighteous dominion" (D&C 121:39). In each case, the members reporting experienced that disorienting shift of realizing that an organization which had been a source of blessing and comfort also had a malign side. They describe their efforts to come to terms with this new realization and the changed relationship with the Church that resulted.

Part 2 contains the experience of David G. Pace, a son whose father, George Pace, received a summary, public chastisement from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then an apostle. David’s personal account is supplemented by a second article providing context and quotations from relevant documents. This section introduces the topic of secondary abuse—or the "innocent bystander" phenomenon. A highly visible though completely unaddressed aspect of ecclesiastical abuse is that usually one person is singled out for punishment, but the effects of that punishment spread through a wide circle of relatives, friends, professional associates, and strangers. Those whose love and loyalty to the abused person remain strong suffer in direct proportion to their love, and feel their religious and spiritual world change in unpredictable ways. Friends and family members, in an effort to deal with their own pain, frequently hasten to find "explanations" for the abuse that exonerate the abuser and blame the victim, increasing the pain he or she and his or her loved ones feel. Many associates and friends, unable either to explain it or come to terms with it, pretend that nothing has happened; sometimes their silence is accepting but frequently it inflicts new harm. And strangers can respond in a variety of ways: the abused person may become a cautionary lesson of how to stay out of "trouble" with the Church; the stranger may identify with all or part of that abused person’s public role and feel new fear for the security of his or her place within the Church; or the stranger may identify with the abuser, defend his actions, and see himself or herself acting in the same way given the same "provocation." Nearly always rumors and gossip about other alleged misbehavior continue to circulate for years, permanently damaging the abused person’s reputation in the Church and the broader community.

 Part 3 presents reviews of four books related to religious abuse. None of the books is by Mormons, underscoring the fact that ecclesiastical and spiritual abuse can occur in many kinds of religious organizations. The fact that Mormons did not invent these problems is a helpful perspective that all readers should keep in mind; but this fact should also intensify the search for correctives and useful responses. What is not useful is the attitude, "Well, at least we’re not as bad as the ______s." While it is true that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), there is no virtue in being part of this particular majority—especially since Mormon scriptures contain a uniquely clear and steady warning against ecclesiastical and spiritual abuse in Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-44.

Doctrine and Covenants 121, despite its frequent quotation in Church settings (and even more frequent quotation in alternate forums), has not yet, in my opinion, received the critical attention it deserves. (See also introduction to Part 1.) Too much leadership is exercised at about the level of "because I said so" and "it’s for your own good." Too many members passively communicate "just tell me what to do" and actively collude with the position "father knows best." All of these positions violate our free agency, corrupt our moral agency, and depart from the model of how our Heavenly Father deals with us in mortality.

The oft-quoted verse about "unrighteous dominion" is embedded in an insightful discussion that links rights with power, both of which have been much discussed in secular settings lately. Power, in this context, is "inseparably connected" to "the principles of righteousness" (v. 36). The wording is instructive: "The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and … the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness." In fact, when "any degree of unrighteousness" occurs, "the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (v. 37). This provision clearly does not withdraw office from an abusive priesthood holder, nor does it provide immediate temporal checks on continued abuse of the considerable prerogatives, privileges, and sanctions available to an individual who holds that office.

But this passage make it clear which courses of action a priesthood leader may not righteously use. He may not (1) "cover [his] sins," or attempt, through coercive use of his office, to conceal where he has erred in his own actions, (2) "gratify [his] pride" or his "vain ambition"—meaning that any action taken to make himself feel better or more important, to allow himself to be praised, or to encourage, even by silence, the veneration of others is unrighteous; or (3) "exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness" (v. 37).

The absolute exclusion of control, dominion, or compulsion seems to be qualified by the clause, "in any degree of unrighteousness." If a priesthood leader is acting righteously, then is he justified in controlling, dominating, or compelling? Obviously this is a complex question. The leader may easily justify his own motives, saying that he is acting in righteousness. In fact, v. 38 suggests the ease with which a leader may deceive himself: "ere he is aware, he is left unto himself" (emphasis mine). I suggest that one protection against such deceit is a rigorous and scrupulous searching of conscience on the part of each leader who feels that he can and should make demands on a member. A second protection is the feelings of the member: if he or she feels controlled, dominated, or compelled, then it may well be that the leader has violated the provisions of this scripture.

Yet it is also possible that the member is involved in sin and is unwilling to repent; he or she misperceives as coercion the leader’s legitimate call to a purer life. The member has an equal responsibility to rigorously and scrupulously search his or her conscience in the case of a conflict with a leader’s directive. Christ promises: "And if you come unto me I will show unto you your weakness. I give unto you weaknesses that you may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all … that humble themselves before me; for if you humble yourselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto you." (Ether 12:27; paraphrased from third person masculine to second person). If we are not willing to come voluntarily, we must anticipate with dread the time when, according to Apostle Paul, the Lord will come, "who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor. 4:5).

But let’s go one step further. It is by no means difficult to imagine a scenario in which the member, although recognizing the compulsion, colludes with the priesthood leader in agreeing that no compulsion has occurred. She may be confused, frightened, or tacitly bargaining for a privilege by her compliance. Does that mutual agreement absolve either from responsibility? Hardly. It simply means that the searching of conscience is not likely to be successful unless both parties sincerely invite the Holy Ghost as a revelatory partner in the process.

The revelation returns a second time to the topic of acceptable means of priesthood "power or influence" in vv. 41-42. This passage lists seven qualities that a priesthood leader may legitimately use in an interaction with a member: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. Two of these traits—persuasion and pure knowledge—may be interpreted as intellectual gifts: the ability to marshal evidence, present information, and construct a logical argument. They bracket and are outnumbered by traits of character: long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and kindness. These traits form an interlocking checks and balances system. A bishop who can argue a member into silence because he is an attorney, a CES instructor who can extract fifteen authoritative quotations from his Infobase disk, or an argumentative chain of reasoning that lead a member to reluctantly agree with the leader’s conclusion are not sufficient if the feeling of the interaction cannot also be described as loving, kindly, and gentle. The trait of long-suffering suggests that the investment in time is a serious commitment, and one that a leader needs to be willing to make.

All of these traits, furthermore, are modified by the clause "which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile" (v. 42). Guile and hypocrisy are traits that may not be apparent to the member, even a troubled or uneasy one. But they are loud accusers of a sensitive conscience. And although this passage is clearly directed toward priesthood leaders, I believe that it must also apply to members—that there is an authority of spirit within every believer in Jesus Christ that is inevitably enhanced by righteousness and cancelled by unrighteousness.

Verse 43 contains another much misunderstood concept: The priesthood holder is authorized to "reprov[e] betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost"—another problematic situation since in most human beings anger lies just under our skin and can be triggered by frustration, fatigue, exasperation, impatience, defensiveness about who’s right, and the competitive desire to be right or seem powerful. The temptation is strong to see instances of reproof as prompted by the Holy Ghost; and the psychological effect of bursting out wrathfully is, in fact, a short-lived catharsis that feels very gratifying, another experience that be easily be interpreted as the conformation of the Holy Ghost that this instance of reproof was, in fact, righteous.

However, the passage continues: "and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death" (vv. 43-44). This concept lays a powerfully controlling hand on interactions involving reproof, because it moves beyond motive or intention to effects. The checks and balances in this passage require the priesthood holder who has reproved to show love—not simply repeat a formula of love or claim to feel love. And the love cannot simply be love at the former level, whatever that may have been, but it must be an increase of love. This behavior must so clearly be loving and kindly that the member cannot sustain a belief that the priesthood holder is his enemy.

The fourth clause—"that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death"—raises the question: faithfulness to what? This point deserves detailed consideration, even though it may seem to take us somewhat afield from the discussion. Clearly it cannot be faithfulness to some abstract standard that is used to justify the reproof or punishment. Such thinking is a reversion to the "I did it for your own good" thinking that allows a punitive leader to blame the punishment on the victim’s supposed recalcitrance. "Faithfulness" could mean faithfulness to the gospel standard which both profess loyalty to; and this definition points back to the three prohibited motivations for using power and the seven qualities that a priesthood leader may legitimately use in an interaction with a member. Or it could also mean—and this is the reading I prefer—that the priesthood leader’s faithfulness to the relationship he has with the member is an eternal one, more powerful than the bonds of death, a relationship that was entered into by the covenant of baptism and the ordination of priesthood office, and that is capable of being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

Some evidence for the possibility of this faithful relationship being a relationship akin to a covenant appears in Doctrine and Covenants 88, which gives instructions about the meetings of the School of the Prophets in the Kirtland Temple in the winter of 1832-33:

Let [the teacher] offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant.

And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words:

Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever. Amen. (D&C 88:131-133)

This beautiful promise is followed by instructions for the student to respond in the same words with a reciprocal commitment, the promise that, if performed "by prayer and thanksgiving, as the Spirit shall give utterance in all your doings" then the setting "may become a sanctuary, a tabernacle of the Holy Spirit to your edification," and authorization to exclude the person "that is found unworthy of this salutation" (D&C 88:134-137). In the reciprocal context of Section 121, abuse of priesthood authority would certainly constitute a violation of this vow.

I strongly feel that this seldom-cited and rarely discussed pledge of faithfulness is the foundation of the unspoken covenant of community among believers. Although the scriptures situationally describe the responsibilities of a priesthood leader, set the vow of friendship in the Kirtland Temple in a male teacher-student relationship, and again describe the initiative as flowing from the hierarchically superior person, I believe that these same considerations and relationships should prevail in every relationship within the Church, irrespective of gender and whether they contain an element of hierarchy or not: between spouses and in each family, among members working together on a service project, between missionary or visiting teaching companions, within the family circle that opens to receive a home teaching team, in every classroom, whether the students are younger or older than the teacher, on every high council and in each Relief Society stake board, and certainly between those in which the degrees of authority are the most pronounced: between children and teachers, between General Authorities and members, between missionaries and converts, between bishops and teenagers being interviewed.

What is the relevance of this discussion to Section 121? It seems to me that abuse of priesthood authority in an ecclesiastical section is a crime against the religious community that the leader cannot escape by citing the recognized authority of his office or the purity of his intentions. The message for me in the last part of this D&C 121 passage is that the confirmatory power is clearly in the hands of the reproved member. Does he feel that he has been shown love? Is it an increase of love? Does he know that the priesthood holder’s faithfulness—faithfulness to their mutual relationship—is stronger than the cords of death? If the answer is no, then the priesthood leader has simply failed. He is not free to wash his hands of the member, to say, "I do too love you," or to order, "Come see me when you’re convinced that I punished you for your own good." The burden of showing love and increasing faithfulness rests unavoidably on the leader, and the validation that the leader has done his duty rests, not in the hands of his peers or his superiors, but in the hands of the member who has been reproved.

Yet it is in this area of leader responsibility, in my opinion, where the weakness inherent in ecclesiastically punitive situations is most clearly revealed. It is easy, when a member genuinely feels that she has done something wrong and views a disciplinary council as a helpful step toward repentance, for love to be expressed and felt in that setting. It is easy during the period of change that follows to see the ecclesiastical leader as a partner and ally in that quest. The situation is automatically different in a case of unrighteous dominion because the member disagrees with the leader that she is in error. The disciplinary council is a means of coercion—an escalation beyond "persuasion, long-suffering… " And the aftermath is frequently characterized by shamed and frightened avoidance on the part of the ecclesiastical leader who has inflicted such violence on the member and by exhaustion and resentment on the part of the unjustly punished member. There are important reasons—not the least of them the soul-damage that a "because I said so" leader inflicts on himself—to ponder long and carefully about whether a disciplinary action forced on an unwilling member may not automatically fall within the definition of "unrighteous dominion." The argument that the ecclesiastical leader is responsible for protecting the Church’s "reputation" against the behavior of noncriminal members is a separate issue.

I talk with people every day who have been hurt by the Church. Sometimes the wounds go to the bone and have never ceased to bleed, not in twenty years or more. These wounds are only deepened by further encounters with new priesthood leaders who, all too often, feel that it is their responsibility to uphold the authority of the ecclesiastical office itself, to chastise the member for continuing to feel pain, and to refuse the balm that would come from the simple acknowledgement that an injustice may have been done. If a bishop can act for the Church in defending a fellow bishop, why cannot he act for the Church (or, especially, for the Savior) in apologizing for the misdeed of one of the Church’s representatives? Why does it seem so impossible for a bishop to say: "I’m sorry that happened to you. I don’t know why he did that. I think he was wrong. I understand why you feel the way you do. What can I do to help?"

These questions merit serious consideration and earnest prayer. We hope to explore them in greater depth in future publications.


Our plans for those publications include the continued quarterly appearance of By Common Consent, the newsletter of the Alliance, for which letters, articles, and guest editorials are invited. Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Vol. 3, 1997, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 1997, thereby bringing the Alliance’s publishing performance into compliance with its publishing schedule. We regret that Volume 2, like Volume 1, does not appear within the calendar year for which it is designated. We realize that this tardiness creates confusion among subscribers and appreciate the extraordinary degree of patience that they have afforded us.

Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 3, 1997, because a considerable amount of material had to be held from Volume 2, is almost ready. Experiences featured in that issue will include, among others, a set of thoughtful essays exploring the context of Mormon group life and faith, the experiences of missionaries who attempted to serve under abusive mission presidents, the experiences of gay and lesbian members as they sought to find a place within the Church they loved, the experiences of some who came to the point where they felt that resigning from the Church was a necessary step, and the documentary history of the excommunication of David P. Wright, a biblical scholar who applied his professional tools to Mormon scriptures.

This volume will also, space permitting, continue my chronology documenting the increasingly tense and unhappy relationship between the institutional Church and its intellectuals and feminists published in "The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology," in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 7-64 and "Landmarks for LDS Women: A Contemporary Chronology." Mormon Women’s Forum Newsletter 3, nos 3-4 (December 1992; mailed spring 1993): 1-20. Although these chronologies focused on intellectuals and feminists, the updated chronology will include more information about gays and lesbians, a third population targeted as enemies of the Church by Elder Boyd K. Packer in his "Address to the All-Church Coordinating Council," 18 May 1993.


The publications of the Mormon Alliance are a forum for a voice whose survival seems increasingly endangered in the Church today: that of the loving critic. This voice occupies a middle ground between uncritical lovers and unloving critics. We believe that all three have their proper place and role.

The case reports in this volume are not hostile in tone or exposés in nature. Because the Church has excommunicated a number of the Mormon Alliance’s trustees and those who have shared their stories and because more have withdrawn from participation, feeling unwelcome and psychologically unsafe in Mormon meetings, the Case Reports is thus a voice from the margins, from people who are already over the line drawn by Church officials or who are being pressed in that direction. We feel that anger is a natural and appropriate response to injustice and betrayal but that the Case Reports model appropriate and responsible ways to move beyond anger. Unfortunately, since the abusive situation often still exists, the best resolution—mutual reconciliation and forgiveness—is often not an option.

As an editor, I have been impressed with the deep spirituality of those who have come forward to share their experiences. In most instances, these people, in struggling with rejection and marginalization, have created a stronger relationship to Jesus Christ that has enabled them to deal with their anger and hurt maturely. Sharing their experiences has been a second-mile journey of hope and healing for them as they offer insights from their own lives in a spirit of generosity and compassion to those who may be suffering in the same way.

No precedent exists for such voices to be heard—not as virulent denunciations against which the Church must defend itself or to which it responds with simple dismissal—but as voices that still speak with love and faith despite their pain. We hope that the Case Reports will create a middle ground that does not currently exist in explicit terms, a middle ground characterized by love, loyalty, honesty, and a commitment to public discourse on the nature of governance within the Church.

The use of pseudonyms, though not encouraged, is willingly allowed at the request of the person making the report. Those who have chosen pseudonyms have behaved responsibly to protect the privacy of family members or other loved ones and have willingly signed affidavits attesting to the truthfulness of the material they have provided.

Pseudonymity also offers some measure of protection from the current policy of the Strengthening Church Members Committee. This committee has, for a number of years, listened to Sunstone tapes or scrutinized publications, highlighted passages the committee has found offensive, and forwarded the material to the author’s bishop via the area presidency and stake presidency. These ecclesiastical officials, although usually receiving only ambiguous instructions, have sometimes felt called upon to act punitively; and a number of writers have been chastised, had temple recommends confiscated, been deprived of callings, been placed on probation, been disfellowshipped, and even been excommunicated. We deplore this covert means of punishment and regulation; a free exchange of ideas where the goal is to persuade is an important element of a healthy community. The imbalance of power between members and leaders is already enormous, and such official actions only increase the comparative powerlessness of members. One of our writers expressed the dilemma tellingly:

When the Church in effect says, "You will either shut up on this topic, or face action on your membership," I say, "No," to both. "No, I will not shut up." And, "No, you will not take action on my membership." The only way I can think of to do that right now is not to sign my own name to what I write.

The Case Reports is a forum for abused members to share their truth, including the emotional reality of how the experience felt. We do not, by policy, request ecclesiastical leaders to tell the story from their perspective for three reasons: (1) The case reports are not investigative journalism nor a court of law, both of which are structured to bring competing views into focus. We hope that readers, particularly those who are reluctant to believe that ecclesiastical abuse happens in a Church they love and feel loyal to, will be able to step into the shoes of the person telling the story and empathize with the feelings of disbelief, anger, hurt, and eventual healing. This goal engages the heart as much as the head. (2) Church officers have numerous forums for telling their own versions of what happened, including letters to members, ward and stake conferences, official instructions, and informal conversations which members pass on quickly as reports, rumor, and gossip. Violations of confidentiality can and do occur. The assumption that a bishop may of course report confidential information to the stake president is so common (in fact, it is specified as an allowable exception in the General Handbook of Instructions, March 1989, 10:2: "Confidential information must not be shared with anyone except authorized ecclesiastical leaders.") that most bishops do not even consider it necessary to inform the member that assurances of confidentiality have an automatic limitation. All of these forums have been used on the local level against abused members. (3) Inviting the ecclesiastical leader to tell his side of the story would alert him to the fact that the member is publishing an account of the abuse, which might cause him to further abuse the member.

That being said, we have tried, in collecting, documenting, and editing these accounts to be scrupulously fair to the extent that it is possible to accommodate the official point of view. Members have been remarkably fair-minded, we feel, in not simply blaming, dumping their anger, or stereotyping an ecclesiastical leader. We do not claim that all points of view are represented equally, but we do claim that we have made a good-faith effort to be restrained and fair.

We recognize that leaders also can be abused, becoming targets of gossip, anger, and threats. We fully recognize that many leaders quietly help repair the damage inflicted by less sensitive leaders. We earnestly invite reports of such experiences.

Although dozens of individuals have been involved in the larger project of the case reports in general, I am responsible for having compiled and written the information and for working directly with those reporting their experiences. Janice, in addition to writing the detailed documentary history of the protracted ecclesiastical action that ended in her excommunication in May 1995, has also contributed her editing skills.

We feel that the reader merits a personal statement of our editorial stance. We are not interested in "bashing" the Church or "digging up dirt." Even though Janice and I consider ourselves to have been wrongfully excommunicated, we are not apostates. We love and value the Church. We have testimonies of the Savior, of Joseph Smith, of the Book of Mormon, and of the authority vested in the current Church president and other General Authorities. We continue to attend church meetings with our families and participate to the extent that we are allowed. We have willingly given the Church years of service. We still willingly obey its rules in our personal lives. We consider ourselves worthy to partake of the sacrament and to attend the temple, blessings which are currently denied us. We regard with irony the fact that many who maintain unchallenged membership in the Church are completely inactive or living lifestyles that violate one or more important rules of the Church.

Some have asked us what we want. We want the Church to live the gospel. We ask for the embodiment of the Savior’s faithfulness, respect for agency, unconditional love, and unceasing uplift. We want a more empowered membership and a more compassionate leadership. Rather than obtaining compliance by threatening and intimidating members, the Church’s officers should persuade by example and love, seek forgiveness quickly when they offend, and extend forgiveness willingly. Members should behave in the same way toward leaders and other members.

We believe that there is great value in the mere act of providing a permanent forum for the voices of those who have been marginalized, betrayed, and repudiated by the Church to which they have given years of their lives, a significant portion of their income, and their deepest dreams and hopes. We believe that when people know better, they will do better; but without knowing, repentance is not possible.



The Mormon Alliance was organized on 4 July 1992 to counter spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse in the Church and to protect the Church against defamatory actions. During the next few months, the trustees established a broad range of supporting purposes: providing a comprehensive definition of spiritual abuse, working to reconcile leaders and members who were out of harmony, establishing a Members’ Bill of Rights, providing a forum for a reasonable and tempered discussion of governance in the Church, critiquing general conference, and identifying and documenting cases of spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse. Janice Merrill Allred and Lavina Fielding Anderson, two of the trustees, became co-chairs of the Case Reports Committee in the fall of 1992 and still serve in those positions.

The current activities of the Alliance including publishing a quarterly newsletter, publishing an annual Case Reports volume, of which this is the second, and sponsoring four quarterly meetings: in January, April, August, and October. The April and October meetings are scheduled for the first Monday after general conference and are devoted to a lively and far-ranging critique of the general conference just concluded. The August meeting is held in conjunction with Sunstone.

The purposes of the Alliance are currently defined as: to identify and document ecclesiastical/spiritual abuse, to promote healing and closure for its survivors, to build more sensitive leadership, to empower LDS members to participate with more authenticity in Mormonism, and to foster a healthier religious community.


Although the terms "ecclesiastical abuse" and "spiritual abuse" are used somewhat interchangeably, they have different emphases. Ecclesiastical abuse occurs when a Church officer, acting in his official capacity and using the weight of his (less frequently her) office, coerces compliance, imposes his personal opinions as Church doctrine or policy, or resorts to such power plays as threats, intimidation, and punishment to insure that his views prevail in a conflict of opinions. The suggestion is always that the member has weak faith, an inadequate testimony, and lacks commitment to the Church. Spiritual abuse occurs when a member, through the actions of another, is made to feel limited or lacking in free agency, diminished in value in the eyes of God, unworthy to pray, unworthy or incapable of receiving answers to prayer, outside the influence of Christ’s atonement, and excluded from the Savior’s love and grace.

Eight factors characterize most abusive encounters:

  1. A difference of opinion is not simply a difference of opinion but is treated as a revelation of moral inadequacy on the part of the member. If the difference of opinion stems from scholarship on the member’s part or the application of professional tools to an aspect of Mormon studies, the officer seldom has the technical expertise to discuss the point at issue. Frequently he shifts the grounds of the discussion to the dangers of promulgating any perspective but the traditional one and insists that there is something bad or wrong about holding alternative views.
  2. A request for help on the part of a member is seen as an invitation to judge the member’s worthiness on the part of the officer.
  3. No matter what the content of the initial issue, any issue can escalate with terrifying quickness into a power struggle in which the ecclesiastical officer demands compliance because of his office and accuses the member of not sustaining his or her leaders and/or of apostasy. These charges, in turn, lead to threats to confiscate temple recommends, to release the member from callings, and to conduct disciplinary councils, the results of which may result in no action, informal probation, formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication.
  4. If the member protests such actions and refuses to yield to the officer’s power, then the very act of protest or the expressed desire to continue the discussion is seen as evidence of the charges. The officer feels justified in refusing to explain the reasons for taking the action and unilaterally terminates the discussion by citing his authority. The member, rather than having a problem, has become the problem.
  5. If another ecclesiastical leader, such as a stake president or an area president becomes aware of and involved in the situation, the original leader almost always controls the flow of information to this second leader. The opportunities to present biased information, reframe the issue as one of disobedience, and portray the member as a trouble-maker are legion. The first leader seldom suggests a group discussion or meeting that involves a mediator or a referee; rather, he is usually able to use the weight of the second officer’s office and power to reinforce his own in his effort to force the member’s capitulation.
  6. The member feels unjustly treated. Feelings of helplessness, betrayal, anger, and depression frequently follow. Expressions of "increased love" seldom if ever follow "rebukes" from abusive ecclesiastical officers, only additional warnings about conformity that increase the sense of unfairness and powerlessness.
  7. If the member in pain withdraws from church activity to protect himself, herself, and/or the family from this assault upon their spiritual well-being, the withdrawal is seen as evidence of the member’s lack of worthiness, not as a cry for help or as a symptom of abuse in the system.
  8. If the member alienated from the Church by abuse seeks a new spiritual home in another church or religious movement, explores alternative forms of spirituality, suffers personal, familial, or professional disruption—or even, feeling a new sense of freedom, departs from what is considered traditional respectability in Mormonism—these facts, frequently distorted by rumor and gossip, are frequently used as ex post facto evidence that the member "was disobedient all along" and that "the Brethren knew what they were doing." In short, situations and problems subsequent to the abuse, perhaps caused by it, and almost always intensified by it, are interpreted as justification of the abuse.

The Church, particularly on the ward level, works amazingly well most of the time as communities of compassion and belonging; but in the remaining fraction, where an ecclesiastical officer succumbs to an appetite for unrighteous dominion, the Church offers no structural safeguards against abuse and very seldom even any recognition that the member’s rights can be violated. In this way, the Church’s hierarchical structure, as manifested in the "priesthood pipeline," is systemically vulnerable to the temptation to inflict abuse. We hope, by documenting cases where benevolence fails, that we can strengthen members as they set about healing from ecclesiastical abuse and also encourage less absolutistic views of authority by both members and leaders.


We encourage those who feel that their situations can be defined as spiritual or ecclesiastical abuse to contact us. Our procedure in working on a case report consists of three steps: First, we want to listen and understand. Sometimes that alone meets the needs of those who feel unheard. Second, we want to document what happened, and when and where—not only the factual reality but also the emotional reality of what it felt like and what it still feels like. We encourage respondents to write their own stories or, if it’s easier, to talk through their experience with a committee member who will then work with the respondent on drafting the account. When both parties are satisfied with its accuracy, then it goes into the file as a case report. A third step is publication of selected cases. At that point, we return to the respondent, provide the context in which the account would appear, and ask for any updates that might be necessary. The respondent is free to withdraw at that point, to rework the account with whatever assistance is necessary, or to approve the case report as it stands. The respondent will sign an affidavit attesting to the truthfulness of the information contained in the case report, to the best of his or her knowledge, and giving permission to publish the report.

Those writing their own experiences should be as complete, clear, and detailed as possible. We have found that we usually need to ask clarifying questions on the following points:

  1. Names (not just positions) of ecclesiastical officers.
  2. Names of wards and stakes.
  3. Chronology: the details of what happened when.
  4. Locale: What happened where (particularly if it’s a "life" story and covers several locations).
  5. Names of family members so we’re not trying to sort out whether "my brother" is the same individual as "my older brother," mentioned earlier.
  6. Are there any documents that support this situation? Journal entries? Letters from you or to you? Did you talk about the situation with anyone else—a member of your family, a friend—who might have made some kind of documentary record? Documentation is important, when it’s available, in establishing that you didn’t "make it up" and are not imposing current perceptions on a past situation. Even indirect records are sometimes helpful in establishing when an event occurred or in jogging your memory.
  7. Is there anyone else we should talk to, related to this case, or another case that you know about?

Privacy for oneself and family members is frequently an issue because speaking out in the current environment of the Church is fraught with a certain amount of risk. Although we cannot accept anonymous accounts as documented cases, we do offer a wide range of options when it comes to eventual publication, including total or partial masking of names, places, and other identifying information.


1Ted L. Wilson, "Review of Mary Lythgoe Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion: Teacher, Counselor, Humanitarian [Salt Lake City: Dialogue Foundation, 1995]," Journal of Mormon History 22, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 198.

2Most of these policies and procedures appeared in an earlier but substantially similar form in Lavina Fielding Anderson and Janice Merrill Allred, Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 1, 1995 (Salt Lake City: Mormon Alliance, 1996), 2-7, 10-11.


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