My Controversy with the LDS (Mormon) Church
My Controversy with the Church
Janice M. Allred- Nov. 4, 1994
Last September when the disfellowshipment and excommunications of six Mormon scholars, feminists and intellectuals took place, my family and I were in Mexico while my husband, David, was on a semester sabbatical to do research. I had known that my friend, Lavina Fielding Anderson, was in trouble for several months before I left and my sister Margaret Toscano and her husband Paul had also been undergoing interviews with their bishop and stake presidents about their written and speaking. Not until we were leaving did I learn that another friend, Lynne Whitesides, was in trouble. She had just been summoned to a church court. It was several weeks before we were able to make contact with our family and friends again and I learned that Lynne had been disfellowshiped and Paul and Lavina hand been excommunicated. I felt heartbroken and sick.
What did it mean that these people whom I loved and knew to be good people who were deeply committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and faithful members of his church had been cast out of it? What did it mean for the church, for them and for me? Lynne had been disfellowshiped for the forthright feminist statements she had made as president of the Mormon Women’s Forum. I was her Vice President. Paul had been excommunicated for his speech, “All is Not well in Zion.” I loved that speech and agreed with everything in it. Lavina had been excommunicated for publishing an article in Dialogue which documented cases of ecclesiastical abuse of intellectuals in the church and for refusing to repudiate it and stop collecting more stories of spiritual abuse. I was working with her in collecting these stories and I was not planning on stopping either.
I later learned of the excommunications of Maxine Hanks, Michael Quinn and Avraham Gileadi. Again I was stunned. Maxine Hanks was also a friend and I knew her to be a good person and ardent feminist. I loved her book Women and Authority and felt that the church would benefit if every member would read it. I also had a short piece published in it. I knew and had read much of the work of Michael Quinn and Avraham Giliadi. I felt they were both scholars of integrity and intelligence with a strong commitment to the church. I had learned a lot from them and appreciated their contributions in church history and scriptural studies. What did it mean that the church was calling such people apostates, saying that they were dangerous and expendable.
One night in Mexico City in late September I dreamed that I received my own invitation to a church court. It was a beautiful invitation on exquisite white paper, engraved with white roses. The handwriting was elegant, the language formal and polite. But on the inside of the invitation there was a crudely drawn mimeographed map showing the homes where all those who would attend my court lived: The stake president, his counselors, and the twelve men who were members of the high council. One of them was a Bro. Cannon, then on the high council in our stake. Over the next year I came to understand the symbolism this invitation had for me. Those who asked me to come and be judged by them were polite and correct on the surface, but underneath, where they lived, they were as crude and violent as a military weapon.
Just over one year later my bishop handed me a long white envelope with the anticipated summons in it. It was polite, but I felt like I was being kicked in the stomach when I read it.
“The stake presidency is considering formal disciplinary action against you, including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication, because you are reported to have been guilty of apostasy. You are invited to attend a disciplinary council to give your response… The disciplinary council will be held at 7:00 p.m. on October 12, 1994 at the Provo Edgemont Stake Center.”
For many months I had known this moment was inevitable, yet this knowledge had often seemed strange, bizarre, and unthinkable. I had known this moment was inevitable when I recognized that my church leaders would act in authoritarian, abusive ways because their understanding of church government was authoritarian; I had hoped it might be avoided when I saw them as caring human beings trying their best to listen to the voice of the spirit. A good friend said to me, “It has always been your choice, no matter what a bishop or stake president do.” She meant I could have avoided it, and I could have if I had valued my church membership above everything else and acted realistically to protect it. But I put my relationship to Jesus Christ first; I have a vision of his church as built on his gospel, characterized by freedom and grace. I had acted according to that vision and had defended myself according to that vision and now I was facing a church court to see if I could keep my membership without violating my integrity.
A few weeks before I had been talking to my bishop and he said to me that he wished we could settle this without everyone else looking on. He felt that if it were only him and me we could work something out. Who were all the people looking on? The general authorities? The stake president and his counselors? My friends the dissidents? Ward members? All the people who had read about it in the newspaper or seen me on TV or heard me on the radio? Not only did each of us have to struggle to define our own meaning in the situation we found ourselves in, but we had to deal with the meanings that all these other people found in it. Bishop Hammond was very distressed because I had chosen to make my controversy with the church public. Like me, he is a rather shy, introverted person. My decision to talk publicly about my troubles had not been made lightly. One of the problems I see in the church is its discouragement of open, honest discussion. There is no forum where disagreements, dissent, negative responses, doubts, questions and criticism are welcomed or encouraged, but without them agreement, consent, positive responses, beliefs, answers and creative insight become meaningless. I believe that engaging in open discussion is a vital part of our truth seeking and that loving relationships can only be built by telling the truth about our feelings and experiences. It seems to me that the church should help us in our search for truth and our learning to love by encouraging open, honest discussion. Instead it increasingly equates disagreement and criticism with disloyalty and reduces all acceptable feeling to sentimentality. It was because of my belief in the importance of free speech that I chose to make my story public.
The other issue involved in my case which I felt needed to be make public was the abuse of ecclesiastical power. I believed that my leader’s threats to punish me if I didn’t follow their counsel were an abuse of their power.
My decision to tell my story and talk about the issues required me to give a lot of time, energy and thought to talking to people and I tried to make myself available to whoever wanted to talk to me. Because I believe the process of dialogue calls us to open ourselves to change, this meant that I had to question again and again my interpretations, assumptions, motives and actions. As I tried to understand the meaning my actions and situation had for other people and to help them understand the way I saw them, I realized that each of us create our own meanings- not from nothing, of course, but from our experiences, our ways of thinking, our emotional needs and other complex processes. Just as I told my leaders again and again that I would choose according to my own best judgment and what I believed the spirit of God inspired me to do, I told my friends that I had to act according to my own understanding. I tried to be open to exploring different ways of looking at the issues, but finally I had to rely on my own understanding. Similarly, I do not expect others to see the issues the same way I do or make the same kinds of choices I did. We must each find our own way. During one interview on e of the bishop’s counselors said to me, “Do you want every one to think the way you do?” My answer is, “No, I want everyone to develop her own way of thinking and be willing to share it with me, as I am willing to share mine with her.”
As I tell the story of my controversy with the church it will be necessary for me to describe the words and actions of some of the people involved. Some of them I will name by name and others I will not. I am recounting these events from my memory, notes of conversations, and letters and with the help of the memories of others involved. I will not try to judge other’s motives or reasons, although I may occasionally speculate about them. Please remember that I am recounting this according to my understanding and others involved have different viewpoints.
In May of 1992 I was trying to decide whether or not to submit a proposal for a paper to the Sunstone Symposium to be held in August. I had presented a paper at the symposium each summer since we had moved to Provo in 1987 (except the summer that my eighth child was born). I had an idea for a paper I wanted to work on, but, I was pregnant with my ninth child due late in July and I was not feeling very well. What finally caused me to decide to present a paper was the anti-symposium statement issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in 1991 after the August Symposium in Salt Lake City. I wanted to make it clear that I supported the symposium. Participating in the symposium had always been a positive experience for me and I felt that the vitality of Mormon thought depended upon such free and independent forums for the expression of varying viewpoints about Mormon theology and experience. I finished writing, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother” a few days before my baby was born and I presented it at the symposium two weeks later.
I knew that I was taking a risk by choosing to write about God the Mother. Pres. Hinckley had given his speech counseling members not to pray to the Heavenly Mother in Sept. 1991 and I knew of several women who had gotten in trouble for talking about her. However, this was a topic I very much wanted to write about. My most fundamental belief is that Jesus Christ is God. I believe that his gospel mandates equality. He makes no distinction between male and female when he asks us to have faith in him, repent of our sins, be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. In the atonement he makes himself equal to every person. If female and male are equal then God must also be female. I do not believe in a Godhead that does not include God the Mother. I do not believe in a Godhead where one of the gods is superior to the others and gives them commandments. To me the clearest and most important teaching of the Book of Mormon is that God himself will come down to earth, become a man, and redeem his people, that Jesus Christ is both the Father and the Son. From these ideas and a thorough analysis of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants on the names of God I developed an interpretation of the Godhead which I presented in my paper, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother.” In this interpretation the Eternal God is both a man and a women, the Eternal Father and the Eternal Mother. The Father becomes the Son, Jesus Christ, who redeems us from our sins and the Mother becomes the Holy Ghost, who is with us to comfort us and teach us the truth and sanctify for us. They both sacrifice to be with us and they both play a vital part in our salvation and they are both equally God.
I presented my paper and three months passed by. I decided that the newly revealed Strengthening the Members Committee had let it slip by. Then Sunday morning, November 8, my husband David and I got a call asking us to meet with our stake president Carl Bacon. My first thought was that the Committee had done their work and President Bacon wanted to talk about my speech. Then I had another thought. There were rumors that our bishop would soon be released. Perhaps David would be called to the bishopric. That was the last time I have thought or will probably ever think that either of us would be called to a position of any prominence in the church. Pres. Bacon said that he had been asked by Malcolm Jeppsen, our area president, to investigate me because of a talk I had recently given on praying to the Heavenly Mother. I told him that I had given a paper on God the Mother, but I had not advocated praying to her. I did not, however, tell him that I had given ideas that could be used to justify praying to her. We talked about Sunstone. President Bacon had never heard of it and I explained why I participated in it. In this meeting President Bacon was very concerned that we might be offended by his calling us in. He had delayed calling us in for over a week, but now he had to report back. He was not sure about what Bro. Jeppsen wanted him to do. Our bishop, Robert Lowe, was present at this meeting but he didn’t say a word. We left with the problem unresolved. President Bacon would get back to us after talking to Br. Jeppsen, he told us.
Our next meeting was on December 17, over five weeks later. We brought along a copy of my paper at President Bacon’s request. President Bacon had again been contacted by Brother Jeppsen to find out what he had done about me. We talked about President Hinckley’s talk on not praying to the Mother in Heaven. In this meeting it became apparent to me that making distinctions and appreciating subtleties were not President Bacon’s strong points. He believed that President Hinckley’s talk was a commandment to the Church to not talk about or pray to the Mother in Heaven. I pointed out the President Hinckley was clearly giving his own opinion since he discussed his reasoning and research. Perhaps President Hinckley had been soft with the sisters, but he really wanted to stop this thing, President Bacon said as he struck his palm with his fist. President Bacon wondered if I would be willing to make some kind of promise about not publishing or speaking if I were asked. I pressed him for details about where this directive came from and exactly what he wanted me to do. I told him I would have to pray about any promises I might make. He told us that two apostles were concerned about this matter. He said that he would talk to us again when he knew more.
Our next meeting was on Jan. 27, 1993. President Bacon asked that I not speak publicly or publish anything on God the Mother. I asked him, “Who is this from?” and he answered. “Me and the Lord.” I then asked him if this was a request for ever and he said that it wasn’t. I told him that I didn’t have any plans at that time to speak or write about the Heavenly Mother, but that if I decided to do so in the future I would tell him. President Bacon said that this was acceptable to him.
David came to all of these interviews at President Bacon’s request and he and President Bacon did most of the talking.
In the summer of 1993 I learned that Dialogue was planning a women’s issue. One of the editors, a friend of mine, asked me if I had anything they could use in it. I told her about my article on God the Mother and she asked me if I would submit it. We were getting ready to go to Mexico for the fall and I was very busy, so I decided to submit it and postpone the difficult decision of whether or not to publish it until after I knew whether or not it would be accepted.
When we returned from Mexico in the middle of December I found a letter from Dialogue accepting my article for the summer 1994 issue. I deliberated for some time about whether or not to let them publish it and I also prayed about it. I really wanted to publish it. It contains my deepest beliefs about God and an interpretation of the Godhead which could lay a foundation for equality in the church, which I believe is desperately needed. I knew that many Mormon women and some men were deeply concerned about the topic. My paper is an attempt to put the concept of the Mother God in a Christian context and give it a scriptural foundation. I felt that Dialogues’s audience understands the premises of scholarship and speculative theology and readers would either find it unpersuasive or helpful. Since the article is based on the revelations in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and assumes that they are from God I did not think it would challenge anyone’s faith. Indeed, I hoped it would strengthen faith in the richness, complexity and harmony of these scriptures. I felt good about my decision and was assured by the spirit that God was pleased with my efforts to serve him.
Although I realized that President Bacon would probably expect me to confer with him before making such a decision I did not consider myself under any obligation to do so. I thought I had made it clear to him that I intended to act on my own responsibility. I knew that he would tell me to not publish my article and that he would have not reasons to offer except that the general authorities didn’t want me to. I intended to inform him that the article was being published before it came out and I felt that that would fulfill my promise. Perhaps I acted cowardly by not informing him when I made the decision but I was trying to postpone the unpleasantness as long as possible.
In January of 1994 David and I needed to renew our temple recommends. We were told that our bishop, Scott Runia, wanted to talk to both of us together first. While we were in Mexico we had been invited to sign the Olive Branch, an ad that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune on behalf of church members being disciplined and suffering spiritual abuse which called for “greater love, respect, harmony and understanding between church members and leaders.”
We had gladly signed it as we agreed with what it said and strongly desired love and reconciliation. Bishop Runia told us that some ward members had seen the ad and been quite disturbed by seeing our names on it. We asked who they were so that we could talk to them and help them understand our point of view, but the bishop said he didn’t think that he could tell us although he agreed with me that people ought to go talk to whoever offends them rather than complain to the bishop. We tried to convince him that there is a place for scholarship and intellectuals in the church, but he seemed to be uncomfortable with the term intellectual. Bishop Runia knew that we were committed, faithful members of the church who would serve in any way we were asked, so he couldn’t understand why we would sign an ad with a lot of dissenters protesting church actions. We tried to help him understand our point of view and finally he said that he would sign our recommends. But before he could we would all have to meet with President Bacon. He told us that when people had come to him with the ad he had gone to President Bacon to ask his advice and President Bacon had said something like “oh, them , we’ve had trouble with them before.” He told Bishop Runia that he would have to meet with us before Bishop Runia could sign our recommends.
A few days later we met with President Bacon and Bishop Runia. After a long discussion they finally signed our recommends, but it was clear that President Bacon now thought of us as dissenters who had connections with those apostates who were giving the church so much trouble in the press.
In April 1994 my ward, the Edgemont 20th Ward, along with another ward was divided so that a new ward was created from parts of the two existing wards. My family was placed in the new ward called Edgewood. As I realized that most of the people that I knew and loved would remain in the 20th Ward I felt very sad, wondering if I would have an opportunity to get to know the people in my new ward after my article came out. Would they even want to know me if I were disciplined? I had been serving in the nursery of the 20th Ward and a few weeks later I was called to serve in Edgewood’s nursery.
During the evening on Sunday, May 15th, I received a telephone call from Scott Runia, my former bishop. He told me that before the ward division he had been asked by President Bacon to talk to me about an article that I was planning on publishing. President Bacon had just contacted him to see if he’d taken care of this and he’d had to admit to him that he hadn’t. Bishop Runia was obviously embarrassed and he told me several times he was sorry that he’d “dropped the ball.” I told Bishop Runia that I owed President Bacon an explanation of what I’d done and that I would call him. Bishop Runia said “No, let me report back to President Bacon and then I’ll call you again.” He called back a few minutes later to say that President Bacon wanted him to handle it and he then set up an appointment for me to meet with him and my new bishop, Robert Hammond, in two days. I realized, of course, that someone must have shown President Bacon the page in the spring Dialogue which listed titles from the upcoming issue. I immediately sent him a letter informing him of my decision to publish my paper on God the Mother and apologized for not telling him sooner.
At the appointed time I walked over to the church and knocked on Bishop Runia’s office. No one answered so I walked over to Bishop Hammond’s office and knocked on his door. Again there was no answer. For fifteen minutes I walked between the two offices waiting for someone to show up. Finally, I called David from the hall telephone and asked him to see if he could find one of the bishops. He called back a few minutes later and said he’d located Bishop Runia at a neighbor’s house. He’d said that Bishop Hammond was unable to meet that night and he’d thought that he was going to call me. He apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and said that he’d call me when he got home. I went home and waited for an hour for him to call. Finally I called him. He apologized again and wanted to set up another appointment. I told him that this was quite upsetting to me and asked him if we couldn’t just talk right then on the phone. What had President Bacon asked him to do? He said that President Bacon was very upset because someone had told him I was going to publish a paper I had promised not to publish. I told Bishop Runia that there must me a misunderstanding because I hadn’t promised to never publish the article. President Bacon had asked me not to speak or write on the topic of the article and I’d told him that I didn’t have any plans to do so at the time and that I would let him know if I ever decided to. The Dialogue in which the article was to appear was not yet out. I had written to President Bacon and he should have received my letter by then telling him the article would be published. “I feel that I have kept my promise.” I told Bishop Runia. “Well”, he said, “President Bacon told me that I had to stop you from publishing this article.” “It’s already at press,” I told him. “I couldn’t stop it even if I wanted to,” Bishop Runia then said that he would tell President Bacon that I couldn’t call it back and that he shouldn’t get upset with me because it was his fault for not telling me sooner. Bishop Runia called me back later and said that President Bacon wanted to talk to me and David on Sunday at 11:00 am.
That Sunday, May 22, we met with President Bacon and both bishops. The meeting lasted an hour and a half. Although President Bacon had another appointment at 11:30, he completely forgot it. The first thing that President Bacon told us was that he couldn’t remember who had told him that my article was going to be published. There was some disagreement about what had happened in our previous meetings and exactly what I had agreed to. President Bacon said that I had disobeyed him by publishing my article. I maintained that I had told him that I didn’t have any plans to speak or publish about the Heavenly Mother at that time and that I had not promised to never publish my paper but had only agreed to inform him if I decided to speak or publish on that subject later. I told him that I felt I had kept my promise. He agreed that I had done what I said I would but he felt that I had disobeyed him because I knew he didn’t want me to publish that article. While we were discussing this David was trying to get President Bacon to tell us where the directive to not publish the article came from. Finally President Bacon admitted that he had been told by Salt Lake that my paper was never to be published. When David tried to press him for more details he started to get angry. He said that it didn’t matter whether it came from Salt Lake or him; he was my stake president and I should obey him. He spent a long time talking about what it means to sustain the brethren. For him it means doing whatever they ask and believing whatever they say. At one point I felt I had to interrupt him to tell him that my faith was in Jesus Christ, not the brethren, and that since my primary connection to Jesus Christ was through the Holy Spirit, I would always try to follow what I felt the spirit inspired me to do, even if it contradicted what a leader said. President Bacon said he was very troubled by this attitude, that this was the sort of thing apostates say to justify going against the brethren. Bishop Runia wanted to know if I would withdraw my article if I could, now that I knew the directive was from Salt Lake. I said that I couldn’t say for sure but I probably wouldn’t. I explained why I decided to publish the article and that I honestly felt it might help some people and was unlikely to harm anyone. Just before the meeting broke up President Bacon asked Bishop Runia and Bishop Hammond to share their feelings about our discussion. Bishop Runia said that he felt I had been trying to do what I thought was right. It hadn’t been clear that the direction was from Salt Lake and there was a misunderstanding about what I had promised to do. Since he was to blame because it was now too late for me to stop publication, he thought that they should drop the whole thing. Bishop Hammond expressed his respect for our family. He said that he’d taught several of our children in classes and he knew that we’d taught them the scriptures in our home. He said that he was not very knowledgeable about the scriptures but that he had a simple faith. I was thinking, “That is good. Faith is good,” but then I realized that he was not talking about faith in Jesus Christ. “I have to rely on what my leaders tell me,” he said. President Bacon said that I had disobeyed him and would have to be punished. He and the two bishops would discuss what they would do.
After this meeting I realized the futility of agreeing to any limitations on my speaking and writing, I saw that when I did this I implicitly accepted a leader’s right to control me. I decided that from then on I would not allow myself to be trapped by a promise that implied I recognized any kind of obligation to obey a leader’s directives.
The Dialogue issue in which “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother” was published came out in late June. Bishop Hammond asked David if we could meet with him on July 24 about my article. David was late in returning from his home teaching so I went to the interview by myself. Bishop Hammond told me he had received a copy of my article from President Bacon and read it. He said that he must hold a disciplinary council on me. I asked him why he had waited so long to tell me this. It had been two months since President Bacon had told me I must be punished. This had put me under a lot of stress. He apologized and said that they had to wait until the article was published. President Bacon had thought that maybe I wouldn’t publish it. I asked him if he saw the content of the article as the problem or did he believe a court was necessary because I had gone against President Bacon’s counsel in publishing it. He said, “Both.” I told Bishop Hammond that this was a bad time for me to have a court. He said, “I know. I’ll try to put it off as long as possible.” One of my sons was leaving on a mission on August 31 and another was returning on August 18. We had planned to hold a combined farewell- homecoming meeting for them on August 28. I understood the bishop to be saying that he would try to wait until after this event. I then asked Bishop Hammond what ideas in the article bothered him. He said that there was a lot of false doctrine in it, but he couldn’t discuss it until the disciplinary council. He told me that when he had been made a bishop he had promised to defend the church and keep its doctrines pure so it was necessary for him to hold a court on me.
David arrived and Bishop Hammond again said that after talking to President Bacon he had no choice but to hold a court on me. David then pled passionately with him not to do it. He told him that he should consider resigning rather than do it. Bishop Hammond said that he had a responsibility to defend the church. “Against a mother of nine!” David exclaimed. He told Bishop Hammond that it would be in the press and he would receive a lot of pressure. “That is your choice,” he replied. “No, it isn’t,” David told him. “You don’t understand. Janice is well known in the Mormon intellectual community and there are already many people who know about the pressure that she is under. We don’t have to tell anybody about it, They’ll ask us and we can’t lie.” David also told Bishop Hammond that holding a court might cause polarization in the ward. “Janice is known and respected by many people. They won’t understand why you are doing this.” He then suggested that Bishop Hammond get President Bacon to hold the court since he had been so involved in the case. “You are a new bishop. It isn’t fair to you that you have to deal with this.” Bishop Hammond replied that he felt it would be better for me if he did it himself. Finally David got Bishop Hammond to agree to set up one more meeting with President Bacon before he scheduled a disciplinary council to see if it could possibly be avoided.
I didn’t tell Bishop Hammond but one reason it was a bad time for me to have a court was because I was working hard writing a paper for the Sunstone Symposium that was to be held from August 17-20. The paper I was writing, titled “Him Shall Ye Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ” challenges the popular Mormon belief that the Lord will not permit the prophet to lead the church astray. I argue that this belief is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and has no scriptural foundation. In doing so I explore the following questions: What is prophecy? Who is a prophet? Which prophet are we commanded to hear? What is the relationship between the individual, Christ and his church? How is a true church of Christ constituted and in what ways can it go astray? And what do the scriptures prophesy about the church in the latter days?
On Wednesday August 17th I received a call from Vern Anderson of the Associated Press. He had read my paper “Him Shall Ye Hear” and wanted to do a story on it. He had learned that I was facing a disciplinary council for my Dialogue article and wanted to include this information as part of his story. He told me that he did not want to make my situation in the church more difficult and he would not do the article without my permission. I had wanted to wait until I received the summons to the court before I talked to the press, thinking that until it was actually scheduled there was hope that I might avoid it. But Bishop Hammond had said that he would definitely hold a court. I had written “Him Shall Ye Hear” because I believe that the idea that the Lord will not permit the prophet to lead the church astray is causing the church to become more and more authoritarian and damaging people’s spiritual growth. I had written the article to get people to examine this idea critically. So I told Vern to go ahead with his story and I would give him an interview.
That same afternoon I received a call from Bishop Hammond telling me that he’d finally arranged a meeting for us with President Bacon for the following Sunday morning. Although he had agreed to meet with us, he had told Bishop Hammond to tell us that it wouldn’t make any difference. Bishop Hammond apologized for the delay but President Bacon had been ill and had undergone surgery and was only now well enough to meet with us. Bishop Hammond also wanted to confirm that we would be holding our missionary farewell-homecoming on August 28 for our two sons, Joel and Nephi. Our daughter, Miriam, who is 13, had been asked to be the youth speaker. Bishop Hammond said that he thought it would be good just to have the three children speak. It would give the missionaries plenty of time. I told him that David and I were also planning to give short talks. He replied that he didn’t think we should. “Why not?” I said. “David hasn’t done anything and I shouldn’t be punished before I’m found guilty.” “Let me talk to Pres. Bacon about it.” Bishop Hammond said.