Is Excommunication Useful?

Denver Snuffer

Denver Snuffer

Denver Snuffer is the latest Mormon author to face disciplinary action from the Church.  He posted his disciplinary letter on his blog; his disciplinary meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Aug 31.  In case you are not familiar with Snuffer, he is a lawyer here in Sandy, Utah, and has published about 12 books, most notable among these are:  The Second Comforter:  Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil, and the book that’s getting him in hot water: Passing the Heavenly Gift.  I’ve purchased the first, but have only read a few pages.  Now I really want to see what is so subversive in the second.

Denver was interviewed on Mormon Stories last year, and John Dehlin described him as “A Progressive, Fundamentalist, Non-Polygamist Mormon Lawyer Who Claims to Have Seen Christ.”  It was a very interesting interview.  Snuffer is definitely a strong believing  Mormon, and he seems to have taken the promise that we can see angels literally.  That probably has caused more than a few to raise their eyebrows, so I’ll bet it comes as quite surprising that he is accused of apostasy and his stake president wants him to cut his book tour.  From the letter,

The issue for consideration is whether the continued publication of Passing the Heavenly Gift constitutes an act of apostasy and, if so, what the appropriate remedy should be.  For your information, if the council concludes that publication of the book is an act of apostasy, the only alternative outcome for the council are disfellowshipment or excommunication.  Church policy makes no allowance for probation for acts of apostasy, a reflection of the serious nature of this issue.

Denver, I am not anxious to chase people out of the church.  My goal is the opposite–to enable all to enjoy the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have tried to be open minded about the issues we have discussed.  I am sympathetic with those who face a crisis of faith.

I cannot deny, however, the spirit’s influence on me and the responsibilities I have to protect the interests of the Church.  I have tried to persuade you that  PTHG is not constructive to work of salvation or the promotion of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The book’s thesis is in direct conflict with church doctrine.  In your effort to defend the restoration, you have mischaracterized doctrine, denigrated virtually every prophet since Joseph Smith, and placed the church in a negative light.  The book is a misguided attempt to bridge the gap between the church and its dissidents.

To avoid the disciplinary council, I ask you, again:

1.  To remove PTHG from publication;

2.  To acknowledge to those who follow your blog that PTHG contains content that needs to be withdrawn; and

3.  To cancel your planned speaking tour that begins in September, which I believe will promote the views expressed in PTHG.

Please, dear brother, we want and need you on the side of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter-days.  Please reconsider your journey down the path that is likely to lead to the impairment of your church membership.


Some questions for our readers.

As I said before, this isn’t the first time an author has been disciplined, or caused controversy.

The September Six refer to a group of 6 intellectuals that were disciplined by the church in 1993.

  1. Lynne Whitesides*
  2. Paul Toscano
  3. Maxine Hanks**
  4. Lavina Anderson
  5. Michael Quinn
  6. Avraham Gileadi**

*Five of the six were excommunicated with Lynne Whitesides being the exception–she was disfellowshipped.

**Of the six disciplined, Maxine Hanks and Avraham Gileadi have been rebaptized.

Despite claims to the contrary about the church being open, the church still seems concerned about what authors write.

  • In 1994, Professor David Wright of Brandeis University and editor Brent Metcalf were excommunicated for their scripture studies in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon:  Explorations in Critical Methodology
  • In 1995, author Janice Allred was excommunicated for her writings about Mother in Heaven.
  • In 2000, Professor Margaret Toscano was excommunicated for her theological reflections
  • in 2002, Professor Thomas Murphy was nearly excommunicated for his anthropological work on Mormonism.
  • Simon Southerton resigned under pressure from the church following his publication of information on DNA and the Book of Mormon.
  • John Dehlin, founder of Mormon StoriesMormon Matters, and StayLDS was summoned to a meeting with his Stake President. He said the meeting went well, and solicited comments to his website.  Last word is that he is a member in good standing.
  • Grant Palmer was disfellowshipped for publishing Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.  Palmer resigned his membership last year when he learned that a new disciplinary council was meeting to discuss his excommunication.  Rather than waste time with the council, he resigned.
  • In addition, many other unnamed intellectuals were called into disciplinary interviews that did not result in excommunication.

If the Church will go forth “boldly, nobly, and independent, til’ it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, and sounded in every ear”, why are they so fearful of these authors?

I have a Jewish friend and he said that you can never be excommunicated from the Jewish religion because God is to be your judge.  Christians, on the other hand, have excommunicated members for centuries.  Do you think that excommunication is appropriate, or is it an example of unrighteous dominion?

2 comments on “Is Excommunication Useful?

  1. I have the book and it was an enjoyable, if drawn-out, read. In a nutshell, it documents how different the modern LDS corporation is from the way Joe envisioned the church in the 19th century.

  2. Michael, I posted this at W&T, and we’re having quite an animated discussion. See http://www.wheatandtares.org/12576/is-excommunication-useful/

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