Chapter 6
Home Up


Michelle Warner Kohler



Summary: Michelle Warner, recipient of a Benson Scholarship at Brigham Young University, decided during her first year that she did not believe the truth claims of Mormonism and asked to have her name removed from Church records. She was willing to pay the higher nonmember tuition rate and to give up the scholarship. Her home ward bishop, David Asay, who had already counseled her inappropriately, said she could not resign and would have to be excommunicated but that she need not attend the disciplinary council. The court was held the last day of Christmas vacation; upon returning to BYU, she discovered that she would not be allowed to register for classes.

BYU administrators told her one reason, the press another. The bishop had at least three stories that kept changing. There was no policy against the enrollment of former members or nonmembers. Because she had been excommunicated, she was deemed guilty of an Honor Code violation, yet resigning from the Church is not grounds for excommunication. She was forbidden to lodge an appeal, and BYU subsequently created a policy forbidding the enrollment of former members. (See Appendix, "New Policy for Former Members.")

I was raised in McMinnville, Oregon, where I was an active member of the Mormon Church in the Second Ward. My parents and my four siblings were also very active. The Church was the center of my life and the life of my family as a whole. My bishop at the time was David Asay. I felt close to him as a friend, particularly because he had been supportive of me during some difficult times with my parents. I trusted him and his counsel to be born out of love and concern for my happiness. When my boyfriend, Ian (a pseudonym), and I confessed a minor moral infraction, he counseled both of us kindly, encouraging my trust in him. Ian, who was not a member of the Church, accompanied me to only one interview.

I was eighteen at the time, and I was grateful for the bishop’s concern. However, the confession grew into a series of interviews to resolve the "problem." It never occurred to me to question his sincerity at the time; but looking back on the experience now and discussing it with those close to me, it has become very troubling. As our discussions progressed, he began to ask increasingly detailed questions about the nature of the transgression, seeking graphic, specific details about certain body parts and explicitly explaining to me things about sexuality and sexual drive. He would tell me exactly how aroused Ian must have been because he is male, that I was responsible for starting up Ian’s "sperm factory," and that once it was started up, there was no going back.

Once when I returned from a week’s vacation, my sister met me at the airport with an urgent note from Bishop Asay insisting that I call him immediately when I got home. I did so, and then met him at the church right away. He took my hands in his, sat very close, and warned me that because Ian had not seen me in a week, he would be "very, very aroused." Bishop Asay would also come over to our house after dark (he was our neighbor) and take me outside behind a tree so that we would be concealed from my parents. There he would hug me and talk to me, warning me not even to discuss the need for restraint with Ian because the topic of conversation itself could be arousing, explaining to me how uncontrollable a male’s sex drive was. These conversations with the bishop were themselves always very explicit and graphic; but at the time, I did not wonder why, if the topic was so stimulating, he felt so eager to dwell on it. If I was to avoid discussions with Ian, why was I enmeshed in discussions with Bishop Asay?

This level of explicitness and concern naturally made me very uncomfortable, but I did not question his right to ask me such questions nor his right to approach me as he did. I assumed that the explicitness was part of the necessary path to repentance and fully trusted that my bishop knew best. He was the only one I was able to turn to; my parents and I had a difficult enough relationship as it was. I have since grown angry and disgusted with a system which allows a religious leader to engage in such sexual voyeurism without any kind of checks and balances. Though I, too, participated in these explicit and invasive interviews, it was with a trusting mind and willingness to do what was right. I feel that he took advantage of my trust in him, delving unnecessarily into details, the discussion of which served no spiritual purpose in either Mormon doctrine or my personal growth. Looking back, the real pain for me lies in remembering the remorse I felt at having sinned, and knowing that he used my remorse to his own ends.

Toward the end of these interviews, in late spring of 1992, I moved in with his family after an explosive episode between my parents and me. After seven weeks of bedtime "good-night" visits and hugs in my bedroom (me in my pajamas with no bra), I was so uncomfortable that I moved back in with my own family when he was gone at a meeting. I didn’t speak with him again until a month or two later when I had my ecclesiastical interview to enter Brigham Young University, where I had been awarded the Benson Scholarship, which paid full tuition and board.

Among the baggage and books I took to Brigham Young University, however, were some beginning doubts about the truthfulness of Mormonism. During the spring of 1992, a Christian friend of mine had made some remark about her belief that Christianity was "the only true way." I had not grown up in a predominantly Mormon area, but this was literally the first time in my life that it dawned on me that there were actually people other than Mormons who believed they were absolutely right. I had been raised that a person "knows" the Church is true through the avenues of prayer, scripture study, faith, and service. How could another person "know" her church was true through the same avenues when her church was different from the one I knew to be true? How could we come to such different conclusions?

Intrigued, I went to church with her and was shocked and dismayed to feel that familiar "burning in my bosom" as I listened to a sermon which collided with Mormon doctrine. If this burning in the bosom was the no-fail gauge of "truth," as I had been taught in Sunday School, Young Women, and seminary, then why was I experiencing it in two settings which necessarily exclude one or the other? I found myself happiest and clearest when I was at my friend’s church and began to long to be there just to feel that feeling.

Doubting this foundational principle, I began a study of the Bible and several church books. I read Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith and found internal contradictions; I also found contradictions in comparing the fundamental doctrines with Mormon culture in general. Of the most impact to me, however, were the inconsistencies I found between biblical doctrine and Mormon doctrine. I listened to Church meetings with a different ear, questioning everything I heard, honestly striving to understand and redefine my faith in a way that included these new questions. I longed for someone inside the Church who would listen with an understanding ear and a willingness to explore. But I knew what most members thought of those who questioned; I knew what my parents thought, too. I avoided the subject altogether, fearing reactions and waiting to maintain the personal integrity of my search. Alone as I was, this was a time of opening up and experiencing pieces of true joy for the first time in my life. It was a time of learning to listen to my own heart—a voice I had been taught to essentially ignore. I felt a clarity and a stillness that had eluded me until this time in my life. My heart and my spirit said to keep searching, that it was a good and pure thing to do. This spiritual quest was an oasis of peace to me during the last half of my senior year in high school, continuing difficulties with my parents, and the series of "counseling" interviews with Bishop Asay.

In August 1992, I had my ecclesiastical endorsement interview with Bishop Asay. I was honest with him about my doubts, opening up to another Mormon for the first time. He told me that if I was questioning anything, then I had already lost the Spirit, that Heavenly Father wouldn’t be with me if I were asking questions about the Church. This statement completely contradicted my own experience, because I had never felt as close to God as I did at this time. I told this to him, and he told me that believing in Jesus Christ was a very simple, basic testimony and that the other parts (Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, etc.) were more important. But after all this, he signed my ecclesiastical endorsement.

My main problems with Mormonism at this point had more to do with my own struggle to gain a testimony than with the internal contradictions I was finding. I wanted to trust my own feelings but was confused by them, because they were leading me away from Mormonism rather than closer to that much-desired testimony "beyond a shadow of a doubt." The Spirit finally seemed to be truly at work in my life; and when I opened up to Asay, I was seeking for someone to see this light in me and treat is as a good thing. Instead, I was told that I’d lost the Spirit, that I was somehow empty. It confused me, but didn’t surprise me, to have Asay respond with such anger, fear, and criticism toward experiences that were bringing me joy. It was strange to me, though, that he was so unwilling to discuss my spiritual life when earlier he had been so eager to delve into every minute detail of my very limited sex life.

When I arrived at Brigham Young University, I continued on my path of questioning and searching. I attended my student ward faithfully for the first couple of months but increasingly found that it was not a setting that fostered the growing peace and happiness I was feeling inside. I began using church time to read, go on walks, and study.

After struggling with my doubts about the truthfulness of the Church for most of fall semester 1992, I decided to take the step of requesting that my name be removed from the official Church records. I felt that this action would clarify to my family and to the Church that I was not simply "inactive" but that I had made a complete and conscious decision to leave Mormonism. I did not want to be subject to interviews which would require me to answer to a doctrine I no longer believed. I had met some other students who had left the Church and I had attended a Baptist Church several times in Provo, as well as a campus Christian Bible study group, so I knew I would have to obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from a religious leader other than my campus or home bishop. Brendan Terry, one of these students, had been a Kimball Scholar1 when he resigned from the Church for reasons similar to mine. He had been allowed to keep his scholarship and had simply been required to pay the difference of the higher nonmember tuition. I assumed from the start that I would have to give up my Benson Scholarship because I knew Church membership was a requirement.

On 12 November 1992, I wrote to Asay requesting that my name be removed from Church records, explaining that I no longer believed in the Mormon Church. I specifically requested confidentiality. At the same time, I sent letters to my parents and to the bishop of my BYU ward, notifying them of my decision. I heard nothing from Asay for two weeks. Knowing that resignation was permitted under current policies, I assumed that my request had been honored. Because I needed to be a Church member to hold the Benson Scholarship, I submitted a petition to the scholarship committee, relinquishing the Benson Scholarship and asking to be reconsidered for the Trustees’ Scholarship which I had been promised when I was a Benson Scholarship finalist if I was not awarded the larger scholarship.

My parents called a week after I’d sent the letter, promising to respect my decision and expressing their sadness. I initially heard from neither Asay nor my BYU bishop. I did, however, receive a call from the Scholarship Office making an appointment for 8 December 1992 with Erlend Peterson, Dean of Admissions and Records. I did not know what to expect, but the worst verdict I anticipated was that my request for the Trustees’ Scholarship would be denied and I would have to pay full tuition. Never once did it even cross my mind that I might be expelled.

To my surprise, Peterson informed me that I would not be able to stay at BYU because I had lost my ecclesiastical endorsement and was no longer eligible. I remember bursting into tears. I sputtered that I had talked with several students who had taken the same action but had been able to remain at the university. Peterson said these cases must have been overlooked or misunderstood. He said I would be expelled because of a breach of contract—a breach of the Honor Code, in other words. He asked me why I’d decided to leave the Church; and I, already tearful and shocked, said that I’d rather not discuss it with him. Had I known how this statement would come across and had I known the events that would follow, I would have answered him the best I could. But at that point, I was much too upset—even shaking—to talk with him about anything.

When I got back to my dorm, I immediately called a friend Nora (a pseudonym), a non-Mormon sociology graduate student who had been supportive of me. Being an outspoken person, she immediately visited Peterson in his office, where he told her that he was certain I was hiding something, that he had spoken with Asay and knew "all about Ian," and that my family was not happy with me. When Nora told me this, I was frustrated, but it still didn’t register that perhaps Asay was the one muddling things up. Looking back, I can imagine this conversation between Asay and Peterson and know how inappropriate it must have been. At the time I only wanted to be believed and understood. I drafted a "To Whom It May Concern" letter of explanation and appeal, requesting that I be heard and be allowed to remain at BYU and sent it to Peterson, to Maren Mouritsen (dean of Student Life), and to R.J. Snow (vice president of Student Life):

I was recently informed that because of my departure from the LDS Church, I will no longer be eligible to enroll at Brigham Young University. After researching the matter a bit, I have been unsuccessful at finding a policy which entails such an action. I was told that I breached my contract. I have looked closely at this contract and have been unable to find such a statement in the Honor Code I signed. Further, I have obtained copies of the Honor Code from the Honor Code office. Again, I was unsuccessful at finding a policy or statement.

Beyond this, I am aware that there is some question concerning my honesty and intentions. I would like to clear this matter up as much as possible. Though I do not expect that an explanation will lead you to agree with my actions, I pray that you will understand my intentions. I began having some serious questions about the Church last summer and began to search prayerfully for answers to my questions. Rather than having my questions answered, I was driven into even more confusion. At this point, I faced an interview with my bishop in which I was told that I was wrong for questioning things and that I was losing the Spirit. I firmly believe that this is wrong, because I was continuing to have spiritual experiences in my personal study and prayer.

At this point, I believe that Mormonism is not true. But I will qualify this statement with the point that I do not know. After speaking with many different people, I have come to realize that there are many individuals in the world who believe in many different things. And they each have valid reasons for their beliefs, including spiritual manifestations. Because of this, I began thinking [that] had I been born a Jew or Catholic, I would be as convi[nced] and devoted to that belief system as I have been my whole life to Mormonism. So, I felt the pressing need to separate myself from any obligation to any religious system, because I knew that, if I didn’t, I would never truly find what I believed in.

Though I realize that you will not agree with me, I have had a closer relationship with God throughout these past few months than I ever have had before. I feel that He is leading me through these decisions, because He knows that it is the only way that I can be truly convin[ced] in my beliefs. My only intention is to find truth, and I sincerely believe that, because my intentions are pure, God will not forsake me in my search. Though, as I have said, I do not believe Mormonism is the truth at this point, I have communicated to myself, God, my family, and now to you, that if God leads me full circle back to Mormonism, then so be it. I have never been in a more teachable position, and I would not be too proud to return to the LDS Church if I believed that it was the truth. And if the LDS Church is true, I have confidence that I will return. Ultimately, my faith in Mormonism will either be strengthened, or, if it isn’t true, I will find that which is true. If you believe in Mormonism, then have confidence that I will return.

Further, it is understandable that there is some apprehension concerning whether I intend to preach my feelings. Because the nature of my search is between myself and God, I would implore you to believe me when I say that I will not undermine the religious purpose of this university by criticizing Church doctrines. I respect Mormons for their beliefs, and I ask that my beliefs be respected as well.

In addition, I would like to point out that it would have been very easy for me to deceive everyone and retain my Benson scholarship. After much thought and deliberation, I decided that I would return to the Young Women value of integrity and give up the scholarship, because I recognized that full Church membership was a requirement. The first words of the Honor Code were simply, "Be Honest." I feel that I have lived up to this standard in the fullest sense. I do not say this to glorify myself, but only to ask that you understand that I have done what I sincerely believed was right at the risk of giving up a scholarship, friendships, and family respect.

Finally, I would ask that you allow me to remain at your university. I am a good student and have professors who can vouch for my character and academic performance. I am involved in the Honors Program here and have found it to be of great value to my education. I was considering a transfer at the end of the year, but even that was unsure. Beyond the fact that there is no apparent policy concerning this matter, I ask that you would recognize my honest intentions and desire to find truth. I am living the Honor Code, and I believe that this circumstance is full proof of that fact. Please reconsider your decision. I would be happy to discuss my feelings with you, and I would be happy to hear your feelings on this matter. Thank you for your time.


Michelle Warner


I met with Maren Mouritsen, who contacted me after receiving my letter. She listened to my story, assured me that there had been other cases like mine, and promised fair treatment. She told me she was an advocate for students and that she would assist me all the way in appealing this decision. Snow also called me, assuring me I would be treated fairly. Both Mouritsen and Snow complimented the sincerity and honesty of my letter. They left me fairly assured that I would be permitted to remain at BYU. However, I immediately applied for entrance to several universities for winter semester so that, if things did not go well, my schooling would not be interrupted.

I went home to Oregon for Christmas break, having no idea whether I would be allowed to return. I faced my father, being called into his study, where he told me that I had lost everyone’s respect, that of course BYU was expelling me, that I had just thrown my life away carelessly, and that my good friends would want nothing to do with me anymore. His earlier promise of respect and display of sadness had turned to anger and criticism which mirrored Asay’s treatment of me in the ecclesiastical endorsement interview and Peterson’s condescension in his office.

On 21 December, I received a letter from Peterson dated 18 December. His letter was dry and businesslike. It also shifted the grounds of my case from being a member of the Church to being a dutiful and conforming member of the Church, a tactic which I regarded as a piece of deliberate obtuseness. I now think that at least part of the letter was simply a form letter.

Dear Michelle:

In response to your December 8 letter about the requirement that a student maintain an ecclesiastical endorsement to remain enrolled at BYU, the policy is stated under the heading "Continuing Ecclesiastical Endorsement" on Part B of the admission application form and on page five of the university General Catalogue. As printed, there is an expectation that LDS students: "Fulfill duty in the Church, attend meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church."

At the time you applied for admission to BYU you signed the "Student Commitment and Confidential Report" (Part B) which contained the statement, "I have read the BYU Code of Honor, Dress and Grooming Standards, and the Expectations for Continuing Enrollment, and I agree to abide by all the requirements therein…" The form was also signed by your bishop stating he reviewed these requirements with you and he gave his unconditional endorsement that you would comply to the requirements while a student at BYU.

An ecclesiastical endorsement is a condition for admission and an annual re-endorsement is a requirement for continued enrollment. The ecclesiastical endorsement can and should be withdrawn if the student is not complying with the "expectations for continuing enrollment." If the ecclesiastical endorsement is withdrawn, the student is required to discontinue from the university.

No action has been taken against you at this time. Although you wrote to Bishop David Asay requesting to have your name removed from LDS membership, he is waiting to meet with you when you return home for the Christmas holidays. After Bishop Asay meets with you he will contact the Honor Code Office about your ecclesiastical endorsement. If your ecclesiastical endorsement is withdrawn, the Honor Code Office will notify you to withdraw from the university.

If you decide to appeal the action, your appeal is to your Stake President. If he affirms the withdrawal of the endorsement, you can then submit a written appeal to the director of the Honor Code Office.

His final paragraph was somewhat warmer and more humane:

I appreciated the sincerity and candor expressed in your letter. Most people go through a time of evaluating and decision-making regarding their religious beliefs. My time was after living in the Islamic country of Iran during my junior high school years, where my closest friends were Catholic and where I attended a Presbyterian mission school. My searching and experiences brought me to a conviction of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope the same will happen for you.

Copies went to Asay and Norma Rohde, director of the Honor Code Office.

This was the first time I realized that it was not leaving the Church that was endangering my status at BYU but rather the issue of the ecclesiastical endorsement. I was bewildered. Why would they require me to appeal for this endorsement within the Church’s hierarchy when I had made it unmistakably clear that I no longer wished to be a part of the Church. Why was I still required to answer to its leaders?

Undaunted, I immediately made an appointment to talk to Asay. I asked him how I might be able to keep my ecclesiastical endorsement. Maren Mouritsen had told me to ask Asay to wait until the end of the next semester to remove my name from Church records. I didn’t care when he did it because I had made my statement to my family and the Church. He said he would have to go ahead with the action unless I could profess a "change of heart." He asked me to tell him what he wanted to hear, even if I wasn’t fully convinced, and that this would be enough for him not to revoke my endorsement. I felt that this would be dishonest and declined. He then explained that I could not just resign from the Church because I had been raised in a good Mormon family and had previously stated that I had a testimony of the LDS gospel. The only time we can "administratively remove names from Church records," he said, is when individuals have been baptized but have never attended or have had minimal contact with the Church. All other cases require excommunication."2

At this point in time, it seemed like a mere terminology difference to me, and I was not troubled. Either resignation or excommunication would serve my purpose—which was separating myself from the Church. I knew another woman in the Second Ward who had requested to resign and had been excommunicated for "apostasy," so I assumed that this was the official reason for my excommunication. I had no idea how crucial this semantic difference would become and that the Church would use it to publicly discredit me.

Asay also told me in this interview that Erlend Peterson had already told him there was no way I would be allowed back into BYU if my name was removed from the Church records. In other words, the crux at this point, according to BYU, was whether or not I left the Church—not whether or not I’d been excommunicated. Asay’s statement from Peterson, however, clashed with what Peterson’s letter had said regarding an appeals process within the Church hierarchy. At that point, I still had faith in that promise of an appeal, particularly because Mouritsen had promised the same, though her version was an appeal within the school.

As the interview concluded, Asay told me there would be a Church court. I asked when it would be so I could attend if I wish. "There’s really no need for you to go," he said. "There won’t be any discussion—just the excommunication action. Most people come to courts to defend themselves; but since we’re taking this action at your request, there’s no reason to defend yourself." Again, from what I knew of the Church and others’ similar situations, I assumed without much concern that I was being excommunicated for "apostasy."

On 3 January 1993, Asay telephoned me to say that the disciplinary council would be held that afternoon. Again, nothing was said to indicate that I needed to attend unless I planned on professing a "change of heart." I did not attend. Another phone call that evening informed me that I had been excommunicated.

I felt boxed in and alone. These interviews, letters, and phone calls were the very least of my worries during this Christmas break. I was even more estranged from my family, who did not respond to my situation with compassion but with much anger and criticism. I know that this was a difficult time for them, too, but I needed not only their love and support, but their practical advice as well. I had no idea what to do next. I had tried in vain for two weeks to get hold of anyone at BYU to figure out what my new status was. I was trying to select a new school, still unsure if I had been allowed such late acceptance. I knew that, if I was expelled, I would have only a few days to make travel arrangements, pack, move, and register for classes. I had some friends in McMinnville who knew what was going on and they were helpful; but I really lacked close support and real help and advice.

Asay had waited until the day before I was to return to BYU to hold the court. I flew back to Utah on 4 January, still uncertain about my future. I was finally able to reach Maren Mouritsen two days after arriving at BYU on the first day of classes. She told me that my endorsement had been revoked and that I would not be allowed to remain at the university. There would be no possibility of an appeal.

Not wishing to interrupt my education, I immediately packed up and arrived at Montana State University, where I had been accepted, in time to start classes on 13 January 1993. About a week later, I got a call from Vern Anderson of the Associated Press, and we began a series of interviews. The information that would unfold from BYU and Asay was indeed puzzling. Peterson told Anderson, "She became ineligible not because she had her name withdrawn but because of a serious transgression that she ended up being excommunicated. If one has been excommunicated, we’re talking that they are not living by the standards of the Church." This alleged reason for my ineligibility conflicted with what Peterson wrote me at Christmas break and with what he had told Asay, where the primary reason was leaving the Church—an act which constituted, as he called it, a breach of contract. He also told Anderson that Asay had told him that I had been excommunicated "for reasons other than her request to have her name removed."3 This was obviously the official story since, the next month, BYU spokeswoman Margaret Smoot told reporters that my excommunication "was not for apostasy but for transgression (according to Warner’s Church leaders.)"

Anderson called Asay who confirmed that I had not been excommunicated for apostasy but for other reasons: "The bishop, citing clergy confidentiality," summarized Anderson, "declined comment except to say that Warner’s understanding that she had been excommunicated for apostasy—a conclusion based on her conversations with Asay—was inaccurate."4

Vern Anderson called me back with reason to question my credibility, believing that I may have lied to him to save face. I was horrified when he told me what Asay had told both him and BYU. It was the first time I was even aware of the significance to BYU that I had been excommunicated, rather than resigning.

I called Asay on 24 January. He told me that Vern Anderson had called him and asked if I had been excommunicated for apostasy and that he had told Anderson no. He explained, rather condescendingly, that only high Church officials could be excommunicated for apostasy. I wasn’t important enough. I was astonished. In our interview over Christmas break, he had left me with the clear impression that I would be excommunicated for "leaving the fold"—for apostasy. He had made no mention that my excommunication would be for any reason other than my request to resign from the Church. I asked him what the Church regarded as the official reason for my excommunication. He said; "Your relationship with your family, your relationship with Ian, and your request to leave the Church." I was so blown away by this that I didn’t know what to say to him. When had a troublesome teenager-parent relationship ever been grounds for excommunication? When had minor teenage immorality (quickly and thoroughly repented of) been grounds for excommunication? He had never even mentioned disfellowshipment in our earlier interviews—and suddenly I was excommunicated for a sin which was not serious enough for such an action and of which I had repented. Why was any of this relevant when I had simply asked to leave a religious institution of which I no longer wished to be a part? Why couldn’t I just leave? This first phone call ended rather abruptly because I was so completely shocked and upset by this revelation. I had told him that material in confidence. He had assured me over and over that our interviews were confidential. So he had talked about Ian and my problems with my family, not only to Erlend Peterson but also in the court? What did "confidential" mean?

I called Asay later that same evening with a list of questions I wanted answered, hoping to clarify the court proceedings. "Was my relationship with my family a factor in my excommunication?" I asked pointedly. He said no but that it had been discussed at the court. I inquired whether or not my relationship with Ian had been a factor, emphasizing that our problem had been very minor—not serious enough even for disfellowshipment, and that it had been cleared many months ago.

Asay replied, "It doesn’t work that way. When you repent of a sin, it’s tucked into in a figurative file folder and put away. When anything else goes wrong—such as requesting to leave the Church—the file is reopened. That’s the way Heavenly Father works."

I was incredulous. "So no file is ever really closed?" I asked, visions of Sunday School lessons going down the drain.

"That’s right." He admitted that my relationship with Ian had not been an offense worthy of excommunication. "But we had to bring it up at the court in order to weigh all the evidence, to be fair to the Church."

I was far from satisfied with this explanation. "Why did anything else need to be considered? You’d said that asking to have my name removed from the records is reason enough to excommunicate me."

Again he said, "I needed to be fair to the Church." Then he added, "I wish you’d come to the court." Wholly frustrated, I reminded him that he was the one who’d discouraged me from attending. He admitted this was true.

At this point, I asked him to find and read aloud to me the place in the Church handbook which required excommunication of those asking to have their name removed from Church records. He fumbled through his book for quite some time and eventually read me a policy which I have since discovered was obsolete

I also asked him to please send me the letter notifying me of my excommunication, which he explained he hadn’t mailed yet because he didn’t have my address. I felt irritated at the transparency of this excuse—my parents lived next door to him and were his friends.

I called him again five days later on 29 January, still waiting for the excommunication letter. Vern Anderson was waiting for this paperwork, which I was hoping would be evidence to him of the truth behind my excommunication. I asked Asay if he had mailed it. He hadn’t. I asked him for a verbal explanation of what had transpired in the court. "When you come home in the summer," he said, "we can sit down and go over it carefully." I demanded to know now—not only for Anderson but also for my own peace of mind. He grew very uneasy and continued to put me off, finally explaining that BYU had contacted "the Church" in Salt Lake City. A Salt Lake official had then called Asay and told him not to tell me or reporters anything. He had called my parents and his counselors and told them not to talk as well. He refused to say any more because he believed I was taping the conversation.

I begged him, at this point tearfully, to tell me what was going on, that this was my life everyone else was dictating. He finally agreed. The notes he read were vague but said that my relationship with Ian had been "difficult" and that my family situation was "critical." So, because of my relationship with Ian and because of the letter I’d written requesting to leave the Church, I did not qualify to have my name removed administratively and that I would therefore be excommunicated. Immediately after reading these notes to me, Asay said, "I wish I wouldn’t have said anything about Ian." This after previously insisting that it was necessary—"to be fair to the Church"! Even more frustrated at this increasingly ridiculous series of conversations, I asked once again why he had, then, brought Ian into the conversation. Again, it was "to be fair to the Church."

He then admitted that "Salt Lake" had asked him not to mail the letter. "I’ll do it in a few days," he promised. "I’m making some changes on it." I didn’t even want to begin to wonder why he had changed it and what the changes would be.

Finally, on 14 February, after several more letters to Asay requesting the letter, I received it. It was dated 5 January 1993, the day after I flew back to BYU.

On January 3, 1993, a Church disciplinary council was held to consider your conduct as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and your request to have your name removed from its records. As a part of that process all evidence relevant to your situation was discussed and weighed in that decision. I realize how sensitive these matters are to you and to the Church and will do my best to keep them confidential.

It was decided that you be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as you requested. As such you can no longer enjoy any of its membership privileges. You are encouraged to attend any public meeting of the Church. However, you may not give a talk, offer a public prayer, partake of the sacrament, or vote in the sustaining of Church officers.

I encourage you to seek the council of your Heavenly Father throughout your life. It is my prayer that you might seek to return to fellowship in the Church. If there is anything I can do to assist in that process, please contact me. I stand ready to help in any way I can.

His pledge to keep the evidence "confidential" was not one I put much faith in, nor did I trust his claim that all evidence discussed was "relevant" to the situation. He had not been able to distinguish, somehow, what was relevant and what was not. His sense of confidentiality apparently meant that he could tell his counselors, Erlend Peterson, other BYU officials, and the unnamed official or officials from Salt Lake City whatever he wanted, while withholding information from me. His offer to "help in any way" was apparently directed, not at me, but at BYU and the Church. This "help" had already resulted in sexually explicit interviews, violation of my confidentiality, my excommunication from the Church, and my subsequent expulsion from BYU. Further, he could not seem to get his story straight. He told Vern Anderson that I was excommunicated for reasons other than apostasy; he told Peterson that I was excommunicated for a moral transgression; he told me in December that I would be excommunicated for asking to resign; he told me two stories in January, and now his letter said "as you requested."

There was nothing in the letter to indicate that I was not fully worthy to be a member of the Church except for my desire to leave. There was no mention of my boyfriend, indiscretions, or moral transgressions—the grounds on which I had been denied continued attendance at BYU. If there was no moral transgression and no apostasy, why was I unworthy to attend BYU? Peterson’s first claim—that I would be expelled for lack of an ecclesiastical endorsement—was unfair because I would have been able to obtain an endorsement from another source. Peterson’s and BYU’s final claim—that I would be expelled for being excommunicated for a sin—was based on Asay’s dishonesty and a fabricated but "confidential" version of my excommunication.

Asay’s behavior simply does not square with established Church procedures. The General Handbook of Instructions explicitly allows a member to resign. That was all I wanted to do. The only exception is that it does not let a member undergoing discipline to resign. This provision did not apply to me. It specifically states: "If a bishop or stake president is considering bringing a member before a disciplinary council, he should not act on that member’s request for name removal until church discipline has been imposed or the presiding authority has concluded that no disciplinary council will be held. Name removal should not be used as a substitute or alternative for excommunication or disfellowshipment" (March 1989, 8-4). It further specifies: "Total inactivity in the Church or attending or merely holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy. … A disciplinary council should not be held to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word or Wisdom or whose transgressions consist of omissions, such as ... inactivity in the Church or inattention to Church duties" (March 1989, 10-4).

None of these categories applied to me, nor were my beliefs even an issue as far as Asay was concerned. He didn’t ask me if I still believed the Church. He didn’t even ask me what my issues were or why I wanted to leave. Instead, he had spun me some story about how the Church doesn’t allow active members to resign—that I was too well-taught to be allowed to merely leave; I had to be excommunicated. Then he claimed that only high-ranking officials were excommunicated; I was too unimportant. Was he lying on purpose? Was he just incompetent? Was it just another way of invading my life as he had done during the interviews?

My mind grew dizzy with what Vern Anderson and I had unearthed. I had been publicly slandered and expelled, and all of the fingers pointed to Asay’s dishonesty to me, to BYU, and to Anderson. Asay had given me an ecclesiastical endorsement in late August, apparently with no question about my worthiness. I had had no contact with him or with the bishop of my student ward at BYU between then and my request to remove my name in November. Certainly I had made no "confession of indiscretions." The situation with Ian had happened almost a year earlier. Asay had expressed no concern about it since and had twice assured me in January that it was not an excommunicable offense.

I was bewildered and angry. Mostly, I felt helpless. BYU administrators had acted on false information—information which Asay had revised in the only written record available to me—the letter of excommunication. Their public claim—that I had been expelled for a serious transgression and that I wouldn’t have been expelled if I had simply left the Church—was a direct contradiction of what Peterson had told me: that leaving the Church constituted a breach of the Honor Code and required expulsion. What on earth was going on? Why were all these people so anxious to fabricate whatever story seemed necessary to discredit me and save their own faces? I don’t necessarily equate one bishop or one administrator with the entire Church, but I was having a hard time not making that association because the "Church" had sided with Asay and BYU by restricting them from speaking with Anderson. And it wasn’t just one BYU administrator who played this dishonest game. It was Peterson, Smoot, the Board of Trustees, and likely several others. And what about Maren Mouritsen and her role as a student advocate? What about R. J. Snow and his promises that the situation would be fair?

When Vern Anderson’s article came out in the papers, I realized fully how jumbled everyone’s tales had become. The public, especially the Mormon public, would hear that I had been excommunicated and expelled from BYU for a "serious transgression" that I was trying to deny. It seemed that I had truly been excommunicated. My voice had been silenced and negated. During my first month in Montana all of this information had exploded on me. I was struggling to deal with this turmoil, attending school, and fighting to maintain a sense of control over my own life. I had a feeling that I was, to some extent, powerless—that these men—"men of God"—had had the final public say. I was deeply depressed during those first months.

My family was distant and hostile. I endured angry phone calls from my father, largely in silence, and spoke with careful cordiality to the rest of my family. I was deeply hurt that they had been unable to give me support during this time, that their love for the Church ran deeper than their love for me. They viewed me as an angry ex-Mormon who was dragging out a public grudge against the Church. Ironically, I’d had no intention of speaking anything against the Church, but the way I had been treated was so unjust that I had to speak out just so I could sleep at night.

I felt so out of control. I had been forced to move, publicly slandered, and, worst, my family believed everyone but me. I went through a short bout of bulimia during these early months in Montana. Looking back, I understand it as a way of gaining some control over my life. Distorted and unhealthy as it was, it was a sort of temporary defense of myself. I remember not understanding the urge to be empty of food but feeling overpowered when I did let food stay in my stomach.

I felt completely separated from God; it seemed that my spirit had been extinguished. Trust and faith truly evaded me for a while, and I remember feeling that panic that comes with such solitude. I was hungry for the community I had always known within the Mormon Church, but I continually turned down offers to attend various churches with friends. I didn’t want to belong to a group of people who would accept me or reject me based on my religious beliefs, and it seemed that everywhere I turned there were religious institutions running people’s lives. I became inseparable friends with a woman in one of my classes. Katie was not a church-goer; she was a bright, funny individual who flew through life by the seat of her pants. It was this friendship that began my slow process of letting go, of looking for the funny things and the vibrant things in life.

Piecing the story together now, I understand very easily how confused and duped I felt. It seems to me that BYU administrators and Asay were cooperating, first to make sure that I could not stay at BYU and, second, to cover up the flimsiness of their reasons. On 8 December, Peterson told me I’d been expelled because leaving the Church breached the Honor Code. Ten days later in his letter, he said I’d be expelled because I wouldn’t have an ecclesiastical endorsement. On 21 December, Asay told me that Peterson had told him I’d be expelled because I’d left the Church. However, Peterson told Vern Anderson that I was expelled for a moral transgression.

Asay’s story changed six times—each time I or anyone else talked to him. At that interview in December, he told me I’d be excommunicated because "good, active Mormons" don’t have the option of resigning. I understood this to mean that I was being excommunicated for apostasy—for no longer believing. However, he simultaneously told Peterson that I would be excommunicated for "reason[s] other than [my] request to have [my] name removed." On 24 January, he told me over the phone that I’d been excommunicated for three reasons: my relationship with Ian, my relationship with my parents, and my request to leave the Church. In a second phone call the same day, he told me that I was not excommunicated for the first two reasons but only for requesting to resign from the church. Two days later, he read the minutes of the court which said I’d been excommunicated because of my relationship with Ian and my request to have my name removed. When he finally mailed the letter of notification, the cause of action as listed was my request.

As if that were not enough, during these first few difficult weeks in Montana, a friend called from McMinnville saying she’d heard that Ian had physically abused me. She had heard this report from her daughter, who had heard it from the daughter of a counselor in the bishopric. Once again incredulous at this untrue and slanderous rumor, I called Asay. He said he would investigate. He later called and said that Dirk Parker, one of his counselors, had told his whole family what had happened in the court and that Ian had "hurt Michelle." Asay promptly released Parker, but the damage had been done. The confidentiality I had requested regarding leaving the Church had already been violated, and the false information had already circulated through the ward.

I was determined, and still am, not to let this experience drag me down or consume my life. I cooperated with Vern Anderson to complete the newspaper article but sought no further publicity. Several lawyers called me in Montana, willing to take my case against BYU, but I knew it was time to move ahead with my own life. I did speak with ACLU lawyers in Salt Lake City, but BYU’s private status made a civil liberties case impossible. They, too, offered to take my case privately; but again, I decided to push forward instead of dwelling on this experience.

I earned two additional one-time cash scholarships during my first year at Montana State and was awarded its Presidential Scholarship during the summer of 1993, equivalent to full tuition and fees plus some room and board. My parents became even better friends with David Asay since all of this happened. They continued to pay some of my school expenses, but they removed me from the family health insurance and tax forms, telling me it was time to establish my "own household." I spent the summer of 1993 working in McMinnville, living in my own apartment, and returned to Montana in the fall, where I have lived ever since. I graduated with highest honors in English literature and returned to Utah for several days where I read a research paper at the Medieval and Renaissance Studies conference sponsored by BYU. In May 1995, I married Rob Kohler. We have custody of his two little girls, Maja and Wesley. I gave birth to our son Sam in August 1996 and am currently spending a lot of time with him and teaching piano lessons. In the fall of 1998, we will move to Eugene, Oregon, where I will begin a graduate program in literature.

I still struggle to gain my family’s full respect, even though I realize that it may never happen. I still carry the hurt inside me that they were unable to give me support during that most difficult time. It hurts that they have grown so close to David Asay. I have seen him only once in the past few years, and our last encounter was again unpleasant and manipulative. When my brother was leaving on his mission, I ran into him at the airport. Catching me off guard, he subtly grabbed my right elbow, lifting my forearm and placing my hand in his so that I would shake his hand. In the presence of his family and my own, I chose not to react or make a scene.

But except for the ties to my family, the days of BYU and Mormonism feel so far away. I feel more and more at peace with myself and have greater faith in God than I ever have. I have found a radiant source of love within my own children, my husband, and, most deeply, within myself.

But I look back on this bizarre episode, still baffled by what happened. When I initially decided to resign, I still trusted the integrity of the system; I trusted that Asay and the BYU administration would deal with me honestly and fairly because I believed the Church was honest and fair. I trusted that my parents would treat me with the respect I have been taught everyone deserved. Even during the process of being expelled, I believed that everyone was doing what she or he believed was her or his job. It was not until Vern Anderson began comparing everyone’s stories that I realized what a dishonest game everyone had been playing. Even at that point, I was incredulous that a Church system which claimed such high Christian ethics, and which claimed to be doing God’s work on earth, had actually behaved in such an ungodly way. I even remember defending Asay to Anderson, still convinced that he had been striving to fulfill his calling correctly. But it has become obvious that all wasn’t done in good faith.

Eugene Bramhall, BYU’s chief counsel, told Vern Anderson:

"We’ve been blindsided because we don’t have a written policy in place dealing with these issues, but we have responded about as effectively as we can, given the information. ..."

Bramhall said it would be premature to discuss the written policy he is drafting.

If Warner was excommunicated for a transgression, Bramhall said, then BYU’s unwritten policy worked as it should. He stressed that bishops are strictly forbidden from sharing such confidential details with BYU.5

"If, on the other hand, she was excommunicated because she had asked to have her name taken off the records of the Church, then it all gets very difficult. But we do not know that. As a university we have no record of that," he said.6

But Asay was apparently only too willing to share everything he knew with anybody who asked—except me and the press. Why couldn’t the university have found out before yanking my education away from me? And why, exactly, did it all get so very difficult? I didn’t understand. I still don’t.

I feel that I was very thorough during those months, constantly trying to find out what exactly was going on. To this day, I’m not sure I fully understand what happened, because everyone seems to have a different version. I can only say that I know I was honest to everyone the entire time. I had one story to tell, and I told it exactly the same way every time to everyone. I don’t care if BYU or David Asay want to discredit me, because I know and they know what happened; and when I have seen David Asay, it is he who cannot look me in the face. In fact, given David Asay’s inappropriate interviewing, he probably has a strong motive for wanting to discredit me.

I am not concerned with convincing Mormons that they are wrong. I still believe the principle behind the Eleventh Article of Faith: to "allow all men [and women] the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." I am troubled, however, that the Church itself has such power over its members. The members hand this power over to the organization when they proclaim their belief, because their belief must include "sustaining the Brethren."

In a split second, David Asay was able to discredit me to a large number of people, many of whom were lifelong friends of my family. They will always trust his authority over my personal relationship with them. I now realize that even writing to him to request the removal of my name handed him an acknowledgement that I recognized his authority.

It is sad, even horrifying sometimes, to see the ways in which my family and Church friends treat me with such a lack of respect. It seems ridiculous to allow issues of belief to stand in the way of treating a daughter, a sister, a friend, as an equal. I now get along well enough with my family, but there is a distinct sense that I am invading a space that is no longer mine.

I have found a wonderful generative world outside of the Church. I can honestly say that I have moved beyond defining myself as an "ex-Mormon." I no longer define myself by what I am not but have begun to explore ways of becoming self-defined rather than regarding myself as "the rebellious child." I am not turning against anything anymore. Rather, I am turning towards new ways of being, through my schooling, my relationships, and my personal explorations of beliefs and values. I know, too, that I carry my Mormon heritage with me. I am grateful for having been raised to regard faith, integrity, hard work, and love as central tools in my life and for having been taught the value of family relationships.

I wrote this report, not because I am resentful, but because I hope it will begin a process to protect others like me who desire to leave the system. I hope that clearer and more humane policies will be established by the Church and by BYU, and that these polices will be carried out in good faith, adhering to the values in which the Mormons claim belief. Where injustice has reigned, I believe people should be made aware, even if it threatens their belief system. After all the dishonesty that occurred, I was far more disillusioned by the Church than I was by my initial doubts. Even more disillusioning was the refusal of the Church and BYU administrators to investigate, the refusal of Church members, my family included, to look at what happened and ask questions. Blatant dishonesty occurred, and no one even flinched. That, to me, is the real issue.


Lavina Fielding Anderson

A month after the Associated Press story on Michelle Warner’s expulsion appeared in print, BYU administrators announced the creation of a policy that covered students in Michelle’s situation.7 The policy replaced a quiet case-by-case handling that had permitted earlier students in Michelle’s case considerably more leeway and more humane treatment. There seems no question that the policy was prompted by the combination of bungling and cover-up on the part of Michelle’s bishop and Erlend Peterson, who accepted the bishop’s muddled versions of the story without checking with Michelle.

Rev. Scott McKinney, pastor of the Evangelical Free Church in Orem, Utah, inquired about the policy that Eugene Bramhall, BYU’s chief counsel, told Vern Anderson on 20 February he was clarifying. In mid-March 1993, he received a letter from R. J. Snow, vice president of Student Life, spelling out the new policy: "Removal of one’s name from Church records or formally joining another church will generally result in withdrawal of Ecclesiastical Endorsements and in permanent discontinuance of enrollment from the University." Former Mormons are "a separate category from non-members and, therefore, reentry into the Church will thereafter be a condition for readmission to BYU." The Board of Trustees, consisting of General Authorities and two women, one general president of the Relief Society and the other general president of the Young Women, had approved this new policy about March 18.

The new policy expands the ecclesiastical endorsement interview form by asking: "Have you ever been disfellowshipped or excommunicated or have requested your name be removed from the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or formally joined another church?" If the answer is "yes," then the student must be rebaptized before he or she can be readmitted to Brigham Young University.

This policy is more specific than that in the General Handbook of Instructions: "Total inactivity in the Church or attending or merely holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy. ... A disciplinary council should not be held to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom or whose transgressions consist of omissions, such as ... inactivity in the Church or inattention to Church duties" (March 1989, 10-4).

According to the Associated Press account, "A small number of Mormon students have requested that their names be removed from church rolls. Others have just started attending other churches. In some cases they have been permitted to continue as students under an unwritten policy that permitted greater flexibility."

Pastor McKinney commented, "‘On one level, a personal level, I was dismayed. I love these kids and I hate to see them go. On another level it’s [the church’s] school.’ However, McKinney said he couldn’t imagine church-sponsored schools like Notre Dame or Baylor taking the same action. ‘They want to be a world-class university and they also want to be a distinctively Mormon university. I don’t know how it will all end up, he said."

McKinney said that he had signed ecclesiastical endorsements for "two disenchanted Mormons" who were informed by BYU officials that "they would have to get those endorsements from their Mormon bishops." Non-Mormons have always been a tiny fraction—usually under 2 percent in the student body of 27,000. (In the fall of 1994, this figure dipped to under 1 percent for the first time in the school’s history where it still remains.)

According to Pastor McKinney, BYU administrators told him that the elimination of former Mormons as students "was largely driven" by the competition for admission. BYU receives "upwards of $170 million a year from the Church’s tithing funds."

The contrast is marked between Michelle’s case and those of earlier students who resigned from the Church. A returned Mormon missionary, Tod Anderson, who graduated in April 1993 with a double major in international relations and Chinese, commented, "The Honor Code Office never gave me a hard time. They didn’t threaten me at all with having to leave the university. I just paid the higher tuition required for non-LDS students." He added, "I am sad in a way about this new policy, but I am glad they (BYU) allowed me to stay. I feel lucky that I wasn’t asked to leave." Anderson began attending Evangelical Free Church meetings along with LDS meetings in the fall of 1990. When it was time for him to get an ecclesiastical endorsement for spring semester, his bishop sent him to the stake president, who "asked me if I was still living worthy for a temple recommend. I said yes, but that I just wanted to change my faith." The stake president asked him to wait a year, Anderson agreed, and the bishop signed his endorsement for 1991. When the year was over, Anderson felt no desire to stop attending the Evangelical Free Church and had his ecclesiastical endorsement signed by the Honor Code Office, whose officers stipulated only that he had to be classified as a non-LDS student and pay higher tuition. Although Anderson was still a member of record, despite his baptism as an Evangelical Christian in the spring of 1992, he willingly paid the higher tuition price.

Brendan Terry, a former Kimball Scholar, Mormon missionary, and active Mormon until he became "disenchanted" with the Church, was one of the students whom Michelle consulted when she thought about resigning from the Church. He had requested in January 1991 that his name be removed from Church records. He was allowed to continue as a student. Rev. McKinney signed Brendan Terry’s ecclesiastical endorsements until Brendan graduated in August 1992 with a double major in history and music. Terry told a Daily Universe reporter, "I don’t see how the (LDS) Church can feel otherwise about the policy. It is to be expected."

A third student, Jeff Kerby, a sophomore at BYU, was baptized into the Evangelical Free Church, where he had attended for a month, on 21 March 1993—two days before the policy became publicly known. He told a Deseret News reporter: "I received a letter from the Honor Code Office that said my ecclesiastical endorsement has not been accepted. ... The policy is pretty cut and dried. As long as I remain a member officially, I have to get it signed by the bishop and he won’t sign it. If I take my name off the roll, I will be kicked out of BYU. It’s a no-win situation." At the time of the interview, he was planning to resign from the Church.

In speaking to the media, BYU and Church spokespersons did not mention any need to "pare" the student body and at least one repeated the slanderous insinuation that Michelle Warner had been excommunicated for transgression:

"The policy was instigated because there were sufficient cases to instigate a policy," said BYU spokeswoman Margaret Smoot. ...

"What this policy does is create an additional category. We are no longer lumping former members of the church with nonmembers. Former members are now in their own category," Smoot said.

"The board [of trustees] decision, which I agree with, is that members who have left the LDS Church belong in a different category than the members of good faith and the nonmembers who attend," said BYU President Rex Lee.

Smoot said the policy will only affect a small number of people. ... "Warner’s case prompted the policy, but her case does not fall under the parameters. Her excommunication was not for apostasy, but for transgression (according to Warner’s Church leaders)," Smoot said.

If no transgression is involved, a request to have one’s name removed from the records of the Church is handled strictly as an administrative procedure. No Church excommunication is involved, said LDS Church spokesman Don LeFevre.

"When there is an excommunication, there is already a policy that states the student will not be able to continue at the university," Smoot said.8

But is the new policy really all that clear? In an interview with a Daily Universe reporter published 23 March, R.J. Snow, who had replaced Maren Mouritsen as dean of Student Life, "said the school will continue to handle enrollment situations on an individual basis. ‘The Board of Trustees did reiterate that Church affiliation and the continued ecclesiastical endorsement would affect standing and re-entry into BYU,’ Snow said. ‘But it is still on a case-by-case situation. No two cases are quite the same. Snow said the student would normally hear from the Honor Code office and be told in a formal letter to discontinue. He also said the decision can be appealed."

So what happened in Michelle’s case? Why, in the absence of a policy, was she not allowed to continue? Why was she not allowed to appeal?

Was Asay acting ineptly? Punitively? Seeking to discredit Michelle lest her attempt to seek justice end up revealing both his sexual voyeuristic interviewing and his inconsistent stories? Clearly Erlend Peterson, Maren Mouritsen, or R.J. Snow could have collected enough information with a single phone call to Michelle to make it clear that a more thorough investigation was needed. Clearly, they chose not to do so. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they considered her expendable. And the proposition she posed them remains unanswered: "Ultimately, my faith in Mormonism will either be strengthened, or, if it isn’t true, I will find that which is true. If you believe in Mormonism, then have confidence that I will return."

Apparently BYU’s official representatives had no such confidence in Mormonism. Young adulthood is a natural, indeed, an appropriate, time to explore one’s moral and ethical beliefs. Yet BYU sent all of its students a clear message that such a spiritual quest was dangerously out of bounds. By expelling Michelle Warner, the university made a panicky admission that students’ faith cannot withstand a searching examination. It is a sorry confession for either a university—or a religion.



1At this time, the scholarship name changed as the Church president changed; it has since been designated more simply as the Presidential Scholarship.

2Editor’s note: Michelle reports that the bishop later read over the phone a statement to this same effect, purportedly from the bishop’s handbook. In point of fact, Bishop Asay so completely misrepresented the actual policy that it is difficult to see how he could have done so other than as an intentional lie or as rather complete incompetence. The current procedure, in force since 1989, four years before these events, as outlined in the General Handbook of Instructions (8-4) nowhere makes the distinction he did between long-time active Mormons and the barely baptized, nor does it allow the bishop to delay except to be sure that the requester understands the "consequences" of name removal. From that point on, it is strictly routine: The bishop forwards the request to the stake president who holds it for thirty days to give the requester a chance to reconsider, then forwards the request to Church headquarters where the name is removed. See pp. 35-37.

The hypothesis that Asay, rather than being dishonest, was incompetent, suggests that he was using an out-of-date handbook. The 1983 General Handbook of Instructions seems to provide for uncontested withdrawal without a court, although no procedures for doing so were spelled out until 1989. "If a person’s name has been removed from the records of the Church in response to his request, any announcement should not include the word excommunication. It merely should state that his name has been removed from the records of the Church at his request" (p. 59). The equation of resignation with apostasy may be rooted in this policy: "A court should not be convened for a Church member who attends another church unless he has joined another church or an apostate cult is involved. However, if a Church member joins another church, he should be cited and brought to a Church court to be tried for his membership" (p. 52). This situation does not describe Michelle’s nor did the question of whether she was attending another church even come up in any of the discussions.

The 1968 General Handbook of Instructions, twenty-four years out of date, is the most recent book that seems to describe the position Asay took: "Members who seek to withdraw their membership from the Church should be labored with in kindness and patience in an endeavor to bring them into active fellowship. If this fails after long and patient effort, the regular court procedures leading to excommunication should be followed" (p. 123).

3Vern Anderson, Associated Press, "BYU Will Put to Paper Unwritten Policy on LDS Students Who Leave the Church," Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Feb. 1993, D-3. This statement obviously conflicts with what Peterson told Asay and with what Peterson wrote me during Christmas break.


5But Peterson implied that Asay did "share details when Nora confronted him. ‘I know all about it.’"

6Anderson, "BYU Will Put to Paper," D-3

7Material in this appendix, unless otherwise attributed, comes from Vern Anderson, "BYU Will Put to Paper Unwritten Policy on LDS Students Who Leave the Church," Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Feb. 1993, D-3; Laura Andersen Callister, "Students Who Renounce LDS Church Membership Not Allowed to Stay at Y.," Deseret News, 23-24 March 1993, B-5; Associated Press, "BYU Policy Ousts Those Who Leave LDS Church: High Rate of Applicants Forces Paring of Students," Salt Lake Tribune, 23 March 1993, 5C; Michelle Erickson, "Y Enrollment Reviewed Case by Case," (BYU) Daily Universe, 23 March 1993, 1.

8Callister, "Students Who Renounce."