HOW AND WHY THE MEETINGS CAME ABOUT
Over the years, inquiries have been made about details of meetings my wife Mary Ann and I had with Dallin H. Oaks and Neal A. Maxwell on September 9th and 24th, 1993, in Maxwell's personal office, #303, Church Administration Building, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Since what was discussed may be of value to individuals in, out of or struggling with their own Mormon faith, Mary Ann and I have decided to open the time capsule and lay out in detail what transpired. While I am the ostensible author of the account to follow, Mary Ann participated directly and extensively in the narration.
Because the meetings were of some length and covered many topics (the first on September 9th lasted approximately three hours; the second, on the 24th, roughly an hour-and-a-half), their contents will be broken out according to the questions we asked. I will attempt to be concise, yet comprehensive. (Otherwise, folks' eyes might get almost as sore as Joseph Smith said his did staring into that hat for hours on end).
These meetings were reported in the press during the fall of 1993, within the larger context of a Mormon Church crackdown on dissidents (notably, the so-called "September Six"). However, with the exception of details regarding the intervention of LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer in the excommunication of Paul Toscano and Oaks' subsequent public deceptions concerning that episode, the contents of those meetings have not—until now—been spelled out in extensive detail.
What follows is a history of those meetings, taken from detailed handwritten notes made by Mary Ann and/or myself during the discussions of September 9th and 24th, as well as from audio-recorded recollections we made the day of the September 9th meeting, upon our return home to Arizona from Utah.
THE PURPOSE OF THE MEETINGS
The Oaks/Maxwell/Benson meetings were arranged in order for us ask the two apostles several questions concerning basic Mormon doctrine, history, policy and practice. It was an attempt (one which ultimately proved unsuccessful) to reconcile our flagging faith in Mormonism with our own sense of ethics and real world experiences.
One curious poster on the ex-Mormon bulletin board, after reading our original installments, perceptively noted that what we were sharing would probably have little effect on those firm in the faith. Indeed, facts have never had much impact on the true-believing mind.
"If I were still a TBM [True Believing Mormon]," he wrote, "I would not be moved by anything [you said in your posts about the Oaks/Maxwell/Benson meetings]. I would be saying, well, they are the apostles so if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me . . .
"One thing that would make this more interesting to me, Steve, is if you would tell us what you think of these answers as they are reported."("If I were still a TBM," e-mail from "Bob" to Steve Benson, "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 4 November 2002)
I replied on the board:
"The primary purpose of the meetings with Oaks and Maxwell was not to argue with them—it was, rather, to hear their versions of events, their explanations on Church matters about which we already had serious questions.
"We had done much research on our own prior to meeting with them and saw no real point in engaging in antagonistic debate. Time was limited and wrestling with them on each issue of difference would have not allowed us to cover as much ground as we did . . .
"Mary Ann and I left the Church within a month of the last meeting held with Oaks and Maxwell.
"That, I think, is a good indication of what we thought of their answers." ("If I were still a TBM," e-mail from Steve Benson, firstname.lastname@example.org, to "Bob," "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 4 November 2002)
We had tried very hard to stay in the Mormon Church. It was, after all, our upbringing, our experience, our culture. But it was not truly us. In those final, tail spinning days, my father, Mark Benson, tried just as hard to keep us in.
My father (son of the late LDS president, Ezra Taft Benson) facilitated our meetings with Oaks and Maxwell. Over the previous several months he and I had engaged in long conversations, wherein I had expressed my deep and growing doubts about the truthfulness of Mormon claims. My father asked if I thought it might help if he could arrange for me to present my questions directly to ranking Church authorities. I said that I would appreciate the opportunity, if such could be arranged. (My father had previously served as a counselor to Maxwell when Maxwell was bishop of a University of Utah student ward. Over the years, he and Maxwell had remained friends, despite the fact that Maxwell was a "liberal." The latter fact was a subject of great concern to my grandfather, whom I overheard tell my father that he thought it was unwise for President McKay to have appointed Maxwell to the post of Church commissioner of education. Nonetheless, my grandfather resigned himself to McKay's choice, vowing to faithfully "follow the Prophet").
My father proceeded to contact Maxwell, via letter, in my behalf, in which he laid out some of my concerns. Maxwell responded to me by personal letter, offering to meet. I told my father that both Mary Ann and I would like the chance to do so, which my father then relayed back to Maxwell. (Unbeknownst to either Mary Ann or I, Maxwell subsequently invited Oaks to participate in the first meeting. Oaks also joined in on the second).
Prior to the September 9th meeting and at Maxwell's request (as again conveyed to us through my father), Mary Ann and I composed an extensive list of written questions, which Maxwell wanted to see in order to review and prepare. My father served as the faithful intermediary in getting the questions back to Maxwell. We faxed our list of queries to a copy center in Salt Lake City, where my father picked them up and forwarded them on the Maxwell.
We then flew up to Salt Lake City. My father met us at the airport and drove us directly to Maxwell's downtown Church office.
The responses provided by Oaks and Maxwell in the September 9th meeting were illuminating, troubling and incomplete. At its conclusion, I requested of Oaks and Maxwell—both verbally and later in writing—a second chance to visit, in order to ask follow-up questions. Oaks and Maxwell agreed to a follow-up meeting, which occurred two weeks later, on September 24th.
Mary Ann, however, did not attend the second meeting. She had concluded from the first encounter that she had heard enough. Less than a week later, she wrote her letter of resignation from the Mormon Church.
Before sending it, however, she patiently waited for me to catch up. When I finally climbed on board a few days after the last meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, we submitted our letters of resignation together.
Before going into the details of what transpired in Maxwell's office, some groundwork needs to be laid, in order to understand what led Mary Ann and I to request the meetings in the first place.
THE SLOW DEATH OF BELIEF
By 1993, we were in a crisis of our faith. I had, over the years, spent hours reading, studying, debating, discussing and struggling with my concerns about Church doctrine and history. I had talked with Mary Ann—as well as with other devout Mormons; non-Mormons, anti-Mormons, B.Y.U. professors; stake presidents; bishops; Church presidents and their office staffs; General Authorities; Mormon Church functionaries and official LDS spokesmen; family members; and professional colleagues.
My doubts about Mormonism began to surface early in my mission—back in 1973—and had to do with the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon, the authenticity of the First Vision and obvious, glaring inaccuracies in my personal Patriarchal blessing.
Twenty years later, I had wandered some distance from my roots.
I had reached the conclusion that the Mormon temple ceremony was replete with undeniable borrowings from Masonic cult rituals. Consequently, I had suspended my personal payment of tithes while attempting to sort things out in my mind.
Mary Ann had already quit paying tithing because she concluded she could no longer give money to an institution that had lied to her and betrayed her about its history and its treatment of women. We let our temple recommends lapse—despite efforts by our ward clerk to schedule a renewal interview with the bishop by loudly bringing the matter to our attention in the crowded hallways of the wardhouse between classes, within easy earshot of everyone else.
Also, by 1993, Mary Ann and I had determined that The Book of Mormon was not an ancient historical document but, rather, a product of 19th-century
plagiarism and an obvious invention of Joseph Smith. I had therefore notified my bishop that I could no longer in good conscience teach The Book of Mormon to my young men's priesthood quorum. However, I offered to continue to instruct the class, following the lesson plan as far as I felt comfortable in emphasizing general codes of human conduct and character. The bishop thanked me for the offer—and released me.
The same year, I turned down a call to be ward mission leader, extended to me by the stake president. When he invited me into his office to make the offer, I proposed that he reconsider by imagining the occasion was a temple recommend interview and suggested he ask me the standard questions. He agreed, so down the trail we went.
Did I believe The Book of Mormon was the word of God?
Did I have a testimony that the Mormon Church was led by a prophet of God?
Was I a full tithe payer?
Did I have sympathy for so-called "apostate" groups?
At the end of the questioning, I asked the stake president if he still wanted me to be the ward mission leader. He said no—adding that he probably would not give me a temple recommend, either.
Other anti-testimonial termites had steadily eaten into the foundation of my faith.
MONKEYING WITH SCIENCE
I had concluded, from direct contact with the highest leaders of the Church, that they were confused, conflicted, contradictory, misleading—and simply wrong—on basic matters of science, notably organic evolution. Not wanting a little earthly knowledge to get in the way of their divine duty to keep the flock in line, they spoke in public as if they knew what they were talking about, while privately wrangling among themselves over matters about which they clearly knew very little.
Efforts on my part to document the official Church position on organic evolution for an undergraduate B.Y.U. college paper were met with stiff resistance from my father and grandfather. They suggested that they—along with Apostle Bruce R. McConkie and my B.Y.U. Book of Mormon instructor uncle, Reed Benson—be given an opportunity to first review my findings before turning them over to my professors. My father assured me this was not meant as an effort to censure me but only as a means by which to offer helpful suggestions.
My grandfather had already offered his own helpful suggestions. He told me not to write or publish anything that would "undermine faith and testimony in the Brethren," promising me that even if Church leaders were wrong on organic evolution and I nonetheless chose to faithfully follow them in their error, I would be blessed by the Lord. This, he declared, was a basic principle of the Gospel.
LEAD ME, GUIDE ME, STAND BESIDE ME—AND DON'T YOU DRAW THAT WAY
Mary Ann and I were both increasingly put off by the Church's mistreatment, excommunication and condemnation of intellectuals, gays and feminists.
Not to mention cartoonists.
I had personally experienced interference from Mormon Church leaders on both the local and Salt Lake level over cartoons I had drawn involving the Church.
Attempts were made to discourage and prevent me from publishing editorial cartoons critical of Mormons, Mormon doctrine and the misuse of the Mormon faith by LDS officeholders for political gain. This resistance came from a bishop; a stake president; a Mormon legislator in the Arizona state senate; Arizona's regional LDS representative; LDS campaign workers for Arizona's Mormon governor, Evan Mecham; H. Burke Peterson in the office of the Presiding Bishop; a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who insisted on remaining anonymous but whose concerns over the feared impact of my cartoons on overseas missionary work were conveyed to me through my father; and my own then-President of the Twelve grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson.
I was punished by my stake president for doing what were deemed offensive cartoons, when he removed me from the high council for, he said, "mocking the sacred symbols of the Church." In addition, certain right-wing Church members attempted to haul me into LDS Church court over my artwork. They complained directly to my grandfather, as well as through organized local firesides, in which they urged members to start a writing campaign to Church headquarters in order to get me to stop.
Similar protests followed when I publicly disputed official Church lies regarding my grandfather's declining health. Fliers were circulated at a local stake priesthood meeting, citing scriptural chapter and verse, suggesting I was an apostate. In an effort to set me straight, my stake president invited me to his home, where we spent hours arguing Church doctrine, practices, policies and cartoons. That same stake president wrote me letters accusing me of being filled with the spirit of Korihor and denouncing me as a liar for claiming to be "active" when I had, in reality, lost my faith.
In my own family, I was warned that if I continued to talk to the media about my grandfather's health, I would be permanently cut off from seeing him.
THE MORMON UNDERCLASS: BLACKS AND WOMEN
Mary Ann and I were deeply disturbed by Mormonism's racist and sexist doctrines—noxious ideas that were considered "givens" during my upbringing.
The Benson family suffered from deeply-ingrained racial bias. My grandfather despised the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., denounced him as a communist sympathizer and warned that the civil rights movement was a Soviet-inspired effort to overthrow America. (I remember the day King was assassinated: April 4, 1968. It was also my sister's birthday. We celebrated with cake and candles, ignoring altogether the national turmoil caused by his death being played out on our TV).
My grandfather opposed busing to achieve racial integration and supported Alabama's segregationist governor George Wallace for president. He told me that Wallace's political principles were closer to those of the Founding Fathers than either the Republicans' or the Democrats'. Wallace approached my grandfather in 1968, asking him to join Wallace's American Party ticket as his vice-presidential running mate. (President McKay finally stepped in and said no). My father was a Dallas county organizer for the Wallace '68 campaign. We had an African-American maid named Lilly who, when she came to clean our house every week, had to walk past the "Wallace for President" sign firmly staked in our front lawn.
My grandfather briefly toyed with an invitation four years later to run on a draft presidential ticket with segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. He contributed to White supremacist writings and had White supremacist literature in his personal library. (By "White supremacist" I mean the benighted notion that Whites are genetically, intellectually, morally and culturally superior to those of other races).
As a child, I was taught within my home that African-Americans were "different" and inferior human beings—all of this a direct offshoot of Mormon racist teachings concerning the so-called "fence-sitting" and "cursed lineage" of Cain. These insidious ideas were, as scientist Richard Dawkins calls them, "viruses of the mind"--poisons to which I was exposed early in life and that I had to expunge from my system.
Then there was the Mormon Church attitude toward women.
I was told by our priesthood-holding stake youth director to inform my wife to cease teaching lessons to the young people of our ward in which she extolled the courage and loyalty of the women who stood by Jesus at the time of his trial and execution, while many of the male apostles headed for the tall grass. Such lessons, he complained, could undermine devotion to priesthood leadership.
Mary Ann was outraged by the Church's inattentiveness to the festering problem of sexual abuse within its ranks, particularly since members of her own family had been its innocent victims.
MEDDLING IN OUR MARRIAGE PLANS
Neither of us appreciated the high-handedness of Church leaders who took it upon themselves to intrude into our personal lives. My grandfather—invoking his position as President of the Quorum of the Twelve—had intervened years earlier to break up my engagement to Mary Ann. He had done so at the insistence of my mother, who thought Mary Ann was too tall, had too big of bones and was using her body to seduce me.
I remember the day my grandfather dropped the bomb. It was a cold, gray February morning when he phoned me at my off-campus B.Y.U. apartment. He told me he was not calling me as my grandfather, but as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He commanded me to call off our engagement, go home, "mend the family" and be blessed by the Lord for it. I did as commanded but eventually had enough of trying to make others happy at my and Mary Ann's expense. We bucked the system and decided to get married anyway. My grandfather relented and performed the ceremony in the Salt Lake temple. My mother predicted we would get divorced. (As Mary Ann notes with delicious irony, a quarter of a century later we're still married, but divorced from the Mormon Church).
Irritating, arrogant Church encroachment into our lives continued. Years later, when my public statements and cartoons were causing intestinal upset among the faithful, our stake president asked Mary Ann if he could come over to our home to pray and sing hymns with her and the children. Mary Ann said thanks, but no thanks. She assured him she was fine and would contact him, if and when she felt it necessary. The stake president retorted that he had been prompted by the Holy Ghost to come over and see her. He informed Mary Ann that if she did not allow him to follow those promptings, then he would become "spiritually blocked" in other areas of his life.
Our ward Relief Society president also got into the act. Mary Ann was reported to her for having been seen walking into the community pool dressed ready to swim, rather than in the regulation garments. This "sin" was considered especially serious since Mary Ann was a member of our ward's Relief Society presidency. Mary Ann confessed, but said she had ventured outside wearing a bathing suit in order to prevent the peering eyes of the world from catching a glimpse of Mormonism's holy underwear in the public dressing rooms. The Relief Society president said she appreciated the intent, but insisted it was better that Mary Ann remain protected and shielded on the way over to the pool. Besides, she said, Mary Ann had to set an example for ward members who looked up to her.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE APOSTLE KIND
By 1993, this kind of micro-managing and macro-duplicity had taken a heavy toll that was drowning us. Going into our meetings with Oaks and Maxwell, we were looking for straws—any straws—to cling to, in an effort to salvage a faltering faith that was steadily slipping beneath the waves.
After my father picked us up at the Salt Lake airport and dropped us off at the Church Administration building, we proceeded up to Maxwell's office, where he greeted us warmly.
Mary Ann then made a quick stop at the office restroom--just long enough for Maxwell to pull me into his private sanctum, a side office adjoining the inner-office hallway. As I was being subject to a pre-meeting grilling, Mary Ann emerged and was greeted by Oaks. She introduced herself, telling him she was waiting for me while I met with Maxwell. Oaks informed Mary Ann that Maxwell had invited him to come down to his office, perhaps, he said, to meet with us. Making conversation, Mary Ann reminded Oaks that following my 1979 B.Y.U. graduation, at the President's Luncheon, then-B.Y.U. head Oaks (in reference to my Daily Universe cartoons) had told me, "Steve, sometimes we have our lids screwed on too tight." Oaks responded to Mary Ann, "Are you sure that's what I said?"
Approximately three hours later, at the end of our meeting, I reminded Oaks of the same statement. He replied, "I've never been reluctant to admit I said it." He was later to prove reluctant, however, to admitting certain facts in the course of things to come.
THE PRE-SCREEN WORTHINESS TEST, ARM-TWISTING FOR SECRECY, CHARGES OF BETRAYAL, A "VOICE OF WARNING," EXPRESSIONS OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND FAMILY/CHURCH FEEDBACK
THE INNER SANCTUM INTERVIEW
While Mary Ann chatted with Dallin Oaks in the outer office hallway, Maxwell--in a surprising and what I considered at the time to be a puzzling move--invited me into his smaller personal office. He shut the door, moved wordlessly around behind his desk, sat down and motioned for me to take a seat in a chair facing him.
Maxwell then looked at me intently and said, "I want to make sure we are all right. Are you worthy? Are you a covenant breaker?"
I was startled--taken aback, even--by the blunt and sudden nature of the question. I hadn't expected to walk into a lion's den version of a personal worthiness interview; rather, Mary Ann and I thought we had come to get answers from Maxwell and Oaks. Nonetheless, I overcame the initial jolt and replied that I didn't consider myself to be a covenant breaker and believed myself to be worthy. (Upon later reflection, I also considered myself to have been a victim of a not-too-subtle Maxwell power play. In leaping out front with his intensely personal inquires, Maxwell sought to remind me that he was my spiritual superior—one of God's top dogs--in charge of how, and under what conditions, our visit was to proceed).
The visit continued, as did Maxwell's laying down of the ground rules.
Maxwell told me he had reviewed our list of questions and had decided that if I didn't object, it would be helpful to have Oaks join us in the discussion. Maxwell said Oaks would have information on "a couple of matters" that Maxwell did not. I did not object. Having another apostle there, I thought, could only provide us with more sources of information.
Several times during this side office meeting, Maxwell emphasized that his comments were being made "in confidence." He also said that Mary Ann and I would likewise be speaking with Maxwell and Oaks "in confidence."
Maxwell's obsession with secrecy became evident in a personal letter he wrote to me back on August 31, 1993, in which he indicated a willingness to meet with us, on the "that I would be glad to meet with you sometime but only if you wanted. At the same time, Steve, I wouldn't want you to feel I am being intrusive. I only want to be helpful and only if you desire . . . The visit would need to be as friends and 'off the record.' Mentioning the latter is doubtless unnecessary in your case, yet sadly, there have been a couple of times when other individuals did not honor the chance to so visit."
Maxwell stood up and I followed him out the door, down the hallway to a larger office, where Mary Ann and Oaks joined us. As we sat down to begin the roundtable conversation, Maxwell mentioned that ABC was reportedly planning a "20/20""segment with Barbara Walters on the Mormon Church. He said he did not want what was said in our visit to end up on "some TV talk show." Maxwell then mentioned to us that one woman with whom he had once had a conversation hid a tape recorder in her bag. When the machine loudly clicked off in the middle of their visit, she admitted to Maxwell what she had been up to. Maxwell asked us if we were tape recording him. Mary Ann--never the shrinking violet--smiled pleasantly and replied, "No. And we hope you're not recording this and planning to send it to our stake president." Oaks and Maxwell assured us they had no such intention--or taping system.
Oaks added his own story of being mistreated by inquiring minds who wanted to know. He said a man had once taped a private conversation with him and then sent him a copy of it. Oaks said he felt confidences had been betrayed.
By this point, I was getting a bit concerned about the Nixonian Oval Office "bug mentality" that seemed to be settling over the conversation. So, in an effort to lighten the mood, I leaned over to Oaks, who was sitting in a chair next to Maxwell's desk, quickly frisked his suit coat and asked if he was wired. I then turned to Maxwell, lifted an epoxy paperweight off his desk (in which was suspended a wad of dollar bills) and spoke into the bottom of it with a loud "Hello?" Neither man seemed particularly amused.
OUR DECISION TO BREAK THE CODE OF SILENCE
It's been nearly a decade since those September meetings and we haven not spoken to the media about them. But now we are speaking to you. Why?
For one, we are no longer members of the Mormon Church. So, we choose not to be bound and gagged by its rules. We decided we cannot live lives of honesty, openness, personal freedom, conscious choice and individual responsibility when following the commands of an organization led by a group of paranoid control freaks. Let's look at the rules of engagement that the Oaks/Maxwell axis attempted to impose:
Oaks expected me to cover for him after he lied in public about what we had talked about in private. In an on-the-record interview with a newspaper reporter, he blatantly misrepresented the truth about Boyd K. Packer's involvement in the excommunication of Salt Lake author, Paul Toscano--who had attracted scowling Church attention for, among other things, suggesting that members need not perpetuate a Cult of Personality by standing up when General Authorities walked into the room.
Oaks had shared the details of Packer's involvement with me in a second, "confidential" meeting on September 24, 1993 (also attended by Maxwell). There, Oaks confessed that Packer had inappropriately injected himself into local Church action against Toscano, in the process violating Church disciplinary procedures and opening the Church up to a possible lawsuit from Toscano. Referring to Packer as the source of these headaches, a frustrated Oaks told me, "You can't stage manage a grizzly bear." When subsequently asked by the media about rumors that Packer had worked behind the scenes to get Toscano excommunicated, Oaks claimed ignorance and denied that Packer could ever do such a thing.
Had I remained silent in the face of these lies, I would have been an accessory to Oaks' falsifications. Oaks had demanded that I not talk about the conversations we had about the Toscano/Packer affair. Oaks had then prevaricated on the record about what we discussed. Finally, once the cat was out of the bag, Oaks had expected me to cover his keister by covering my mouth.
Top Mormon leaders rob members of the right to speak by extracting from them vows of silence before the leaders themselves agree to even talk. Then they tell them things that, in the interest of honesty, truth and full disclosure, should not be secret in the first place.
High Church leaders take advantage of members who sincerely desire answers to their questions but who have also been indoctrinated to unstintingly obey what their leaders tell them to do. What their leaders tell them to do is to keep quiet. Once these rules have been established, only then do the leaders agree to secretly share thoughts and realities they would never dream of offering to the larger flock of faithful. Pulling ecclesiastical rank and invoking supposed moral superiority, they trap carefully-selected members into speaking with them "in confidence." Even those with special access to the inner circle of power (through family members, press connections or well-placed friends) are subjected to the Pledge of the Zippered Lip. For those who conform to this unholy code of silence, the reward is "special" information for "special" member clientele.
Talk about a two-way ego trip.
Such exclusive rules of engagement mean that high Church leaders rarely answer "lowly" Church members' questions in any sort of open and meaningful way. If illumination does come, it is announced in secret, taking the form--as in our case--of a obligatory courtesy visit with General Authorities, arranged by request through those close enough to the inner power circle--as was my father--to pull strings in the first place. Everyone else is just out of luck.
This cover of confidentiality thus provides protection for the institutional Church from meaningful scrutiny, public accountability--and potential embarrassment. As Mary Ann says, it is like the perverted uncle who abuses his little niece, then reminds her, "It's our little secret."
Our decision to go public after nearly a decade of silence was not an easy one. We knew we would be accused by Mormon true believers of breaking a trust and that anything we had to say about what actually transpired in the meetings would be dismissed out-of-hand. Indeed, in response to our recent disclosures, one such critic, identifying himself by the unusual handle of "Joseph Birth," wrote:
"I am really amazed! Thanks. Sure it should be hard to disclose these things, especially after a promise to keep it secret. Steve has the courage to destroy his grandfather's credibility, or better to put his ancestors on the stand as liars, deceivers and so on. [H]e also admits that he is not a promise keeper. [H]e has an excuse for that. Well maybe he feels as Samson, it doesn't matter if his family (the Bensons) will be discredit [ed,] even himself[,] if the Mormons, too, will have the same fate. Thanks, Steve, probably you are a real Benson in the way you think your relatives were, a liar and a deceiver." ("Responding honestly to the guaranteed criticism," e-mail from "Joseph Birth," Joebirth@cox.net, to Steve Benson, email@example.com, on "Recovery from Mormonism bulletin board, http://www.exmormon.org, 11 November 2002, original spelling and punctuation).
To which I responded:
"Dear 'Joseph Birth' (assuming that is your real name):
"When Oaks lied in public, and on the record, about matters with which he had spoken to me in private, he lost his cover of confidentiality.
"I refused to be a party to the deception of a man who assumed he could use strong-arm tactics of confidentiality agreements to keep his deceptions secret.
"When Oaks and Maxwell used pressure tactics of 'mum's the word' against vulnerable, seeking Church members in order to keep the general LDS Church membership from learning the truth that they all deserve to know so that they can make rational and informed decisions for their own lives, they lost their 'right' to duck and cover.
"When Mary Ann and I realized that Mormon Church leaders--in the highest circles of power--were abusing their authority against the LDS rank and file by swearing them to secrecy, then admitting behind closed doors to realities and attitudes that they had no intention of sharing with the general Church membership (realities and attitudes that struck at the very heart of their Church's public deceptions concerning Mormon doctrine, history, policy and practice) then we determined that we could not, in good conscience, continue to be parties to that abuse.
"The party's over.
"No more: 'OK, Uncle Dallin, OK, Uncle Neal, I know you got me to promise not to tell anyone about what really went on between us. And I'm really scared of you because you're so much bigger and powerful than me and, like you said, if I talk to any one else about what happened, then I could be in really big trouble. I want you to love me. I want my family to love me. I want Jesus to love me. Please love me. I promise not to tell.'
"No more: 'That's right, honey sweetheart. It's our little secret. And if you really love me, you'll keep it that way.'
"Mary Ann and I have spoken facts--dare we say, truth--about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that its abusive Church leaders will not admit to you.
"Because the power system that they have created--the one to which so many bend their knees, devote their lives and empty their wallets--does not respect the truth. And it does not respect its members because it feels no obligation to tell them the truth.
"Rather, the Mormon Church seeks to impose guilt, even sanction, on those who dare to seek truth by asking for answers and accountability from its ruling elite.
"That Mormon cadre of power-holders then threatens, in the name of their God, those who have learned the dirty little secrets not to even think about sharing what they now know with others.
"Ultimately, as demonstrated by your reaction, the Mormon Church depends on enablers to promote its historic pattern of destructive deception in order to distract attention from the mother lode of lies that has been uncovered.
"May I respectfully suggest you deal with those realities. Face your own fears, deal honestly with your own issues. Quit desperately lashing out at others who speak what you find so uncomfortable.
"In the end, your attack was not about me.
"It was all about you." ("Responding honestly to the guaranteed criticism," Steve Benson, firstname.lastname@example.org, "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 11 November 2002)
Mary Ann and I were heartened to receive immediate support from those who understood our situation--and how Oaks and Maxwell had misused their ecclesiastical authority in an effort to shut us up. As one sympathizer observed after we began posting our account on the "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board:
"To demand confidentiality in the first place indicates that the Apostles recognize and admit that the vast majority of the people who make up the general membership of the church are living lives based on delusions. The only reason for confidentiality in this context is to prevent these delusions from being effectively challenged by disclosures of inside information.
"In fact, the Brethren have the confidentiality thing all backwards. If the claims of Mormonism were true, confidentiality, if required at all, would be intended to protect Steve and Mary Ann. It would be analogous to a doctor-patient relationship, a lawyer-client relationship or clergy-congregation member relationship. In all of these relationships, the purpose of confidentiality is to protect the privacy of the client (who may need to reveal embarrassing things to the professional, so that the professional can provide effective advice or help). The purpose is not to protect the professional. In fact, honorable professionals in these settings have nothing to hide and their sole interest in confidentiality is to protect those who have sought out their advice and assistance in times of trouble. What if you went to a doctor and the doctor said, 'I'm gonna give you some medicine but you have to promise not to tell anyone'? Wouldn't it make you just a wee bit suspicious about what the doc is up to?
"In a context where members of the church, from multi-generational families, are questioning their faith and seeking advice from the Apostles, confidentiality, if properly applied would be to protect the privacy of the questioning members. They are the ones who have come to be healed. There is no reasonable justification for applying confidentiality to protect the Apostles, who should be speaking in one voice and preaching only the same gospel, doctrines and truth to all the world. If confidentiality is being construed to enable the church leaders to preach certain things in private and contradictory things in public, something is terribly wrong with the leadership and the need for confidentiality should be setting off alarms.
"When confidentiality is invoked to protect a doctor against a patient, a lawyer against a client or a clergyman against an altar boy, you have a sure sign of professional abuse.
"An honorable professional has nothing to hide, if their client (or patient or congregation member) has abandoned confidentiality. In such cases, the interests of the honorable professional are best served by full disclosure.
"Additionally, confidentiality is not an absolute duty, even when the person to be protected by it continues to expect and demand it. When the person to be protected by confidentiality is about to perpetrate a crime or a fraud and the confidant can prevent such a thing by disclosing the truth, it is appropriate to weigh the harm of disclosure against the harm of keeping silent.
"In the case of Steve and Mary Ann, they gave up some of their privacy and chose disclosure. I think it was an honorable decision. The Apostles are big boys who hold and wield tremendous authority over the lives of millions of trusting members of the church. The Apostles have magazines, a newspaper, a publishing and book distribution corporation, globally televised conferences, Sunday School manuals, a public relations firm on full-time retainer, a law firm on full-time retainer, in-house corporate counsel, a skyscraper full of office staff and an army of lay clergy all at their disposal (and all funded by tithes demanded from the very people who are to be deprived of the 'confidential' inside information). The Apostles can and do use these vast resources to promote their view of things and their side of the story in any controversy, at every turn, as suits their needs and desires.
"In choosing between disclosing truth that may help some members escape their delusions about Mormonism and keeping quiet to avoid embarrassing a powerful circle of men who exploit those delusions, I think Steve and Mary Ann weighed the relative merits and made the right choice." ("Why confidentiality?" e-mail post from "Perry Noid," on "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 12 November 2002)
Although Mary Ann and I decided to go public for personal ethical reasons, it was also comforting to hear from an attorney who also felt we had made the correct decision:
"I suppose you have already heard this from a lawyer. Anyway, my view on your conversations with Maxwell and Oaks were privileged under the Priest-Penitent notion of privileged communications. You hold (held) the privilege. Not they.
"Even though Maxwell stated the conversations were merely 'among friends' his private, worthiness-determining ecclesiastical interview at the first of your meeting refutes the notion they were friendly conversations." (e-mail to Steve Benson, 14 November 2002, name withheld on request)
The unequal power arrangement between the Mormon power elite at the top and the regular LDS membership at the bottom keeps most rank and file adherents in the dark about issues of doctrinal, historical, financial and administrative importance. Locked in ignorant obedience, they are nonetheless expected to support the Brethren with their blood, sweat, tears and tithes.
In the end, this system of all checks and no balances prevents open, honest and robust examination of issues critical to the lives of Church members and to the credibility of the institution itself. It encourages unbridled misuse of power against the weak, the vulnerable, the faithful--and the fearful. (Can you say, "The execution of the penalty? . . .")
So, Mary Ann and I concluded that, based on our own encounters with "wizards" behind the curtain, it was time to reveal some of the inner workings of--for want of a better term--the Mormon La Cosa Nostra.
After all, the sunlight of knowledge is the best antiseptic against the abuse of authority.
ACCUSATIONS OF TRADING ON THE BENSON NAME
Early into posting the details of our meetings with Oaks and Maxwell, I was accused (in a since-deleted post) of trafficking in the Benson name in order to gain an audience with Mormon General Authorities who were hiding behind their infamous "Zion Curtain." From that specially-secured vantage point, the accusation went, I proceeded to spread gossip and lies.
To the lurker on the "ex-Mo" board making this charge, I responded as honestly as I knew how:
"[The] get-togethers in question occurred largely because of Benson family connections to the Church inner power network. That is not meant as a boast, but as a simple statement of fact. My father, Mark Benson, knew and worked with Maxwell personally. They are good friends--and have been for years. Their relationship was, no doubt, a key factor in making the meetings possible. Maxwell may also have felt a certain obligation and desire, based on that relationship, to do what he could for a friend--a friend who, to be frank, happened to be the son of the then-living head of the Church, under whom Maxwell at the time directly served. The meetings were also, no doubt, brought about because of a sincere effort by Maxwell and Oaks to be of assistance to a grandson of that prominent Church leader. (Again, no bragging; just stating what appears to be at work in these kinds of situations). Moreover, the fact that the grandson also happened to be a member of the media and had something of a public profile perhaps enhanced the chances that a meeting would be considered.
"That said, and if I may be so bold, I think it is both unfair and false to characterize the installments in question as examples of gossip.
"'Gossip' is defined by Webster as 'chatter,' 'idle talk,' 'hearsay' or 'rumor' that is 'repeated about the private affairs of others.' The content of the installments in question hardly fits those descriptions. To assert that it does is to ignore the content altogether and to suggest that the issues discussed therein are inherently of no value, point, significance or foundation.
"Moreover, unlike rumor or gossip, these installments are not inventions or the product of second-hand story-telling. They are reports of information that was conveyed directly by Oaks and Maxwell to the person who authored the installments. I hope that reasonable people would not dismiss the information contained therein as foolish or vain musings. These posts are intended to accomplish the serious goal of reporting accurately on the important issues which were discussed. They are issues which were spelled out, explained and confirmed by the two apostles in question. I, and my wife, were witnesses to their transmissions. These installments are an honest and scrupulous conveyance of what we saw and heard first-hand.
"Finally, the meetings focused on matters of fundamental importance to the faith and belief of members of the LDS church, as relating to doctrine, policy, history, Church governance and personal testimony. They are issues dealing not with private affairs but with subjects of significant public concern to the general Church membership. One can, of course, choose to characterize the messenger as a 'gossiper,' a 'tale-bearer,' a 'scallywag' or a 'liar.' Name-calling, however, is of no relevance here. I stand by the veracity of the posts on this board bearing my name. How others deal with them is, of course, something only they can decide." ("For the record," Steve Benson, e-mail response to since-deleted post, "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 3 November 2002)
CONCERN THAT OUR ACCOUNTS HAVE BEEN HARMFUL TO THE BENSON FAMILY AND BIASED AGAINST OAKS AND MAXWELL
In response to sharing details about the meetings with Oaks and Maxwell, an anonymous reader asked the following questions:
"Do you ever feel uneasy about giving all these revelations about your family? . . .
"Do you feel that this expose is a bit one-sided? If we heard the versions of Elders Maxwell and Oaks we might get a very different story."
("Two questions for Steve Benson, e-mail from "Questioner" to "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 13 November 2002)
"Just as you enter the front hallway of my parents' home stands a beautiful, sparkling china cabinet.
"It is full of delicate glasswork, glistening sculpture and fragile figurines. All beautiful--to be handled with care, lest they break.
"A perfect place for porcelain prophets, where you can look and admire from a distance, but not touch and examine from up close.
"My posts have not been about porcelain prophets.
"They've been about flesh-and-blood individuals, hands-on experiences with top Church leadership--the touch and feel of real life behind Command Central's Curtain.
"The Mormon Church should not be a shimmering showcase for mystical museum pieces, though that is what its leadership wants to present.
"I am not inclined to move along the rope line with the crowd, keeping a proper distance, being allowed only to whisper and admire, having first paid the required admission fee.
"I am not uneasy in stepping across the line, armed with a magnifying glass and a skeptical eye. What makes me uneasy are those who think the porcelain figurines are real.
"As to my accounts being 'one-sided,' I confess: They are my side, my perspective, my experience.
"If Oaks and Maxwell wish to contest what I have seen and heard by offering their own version of reality, let them step to the plate and present their perspective so we can all 'reason together.'
"But I don't need to go there again. I have been to the other side, seen and heard it first-hand, much of it from their own lips.
"In these posts I have repeated their rhetoric, recounted their 'research,' rehashed their 'revelations,' regurgitated their 'reasoning.'
"And rejected it all.
"If Mormonism's porcelain elite think they have a better case, then they should be encouraged to make it--up close and personal.
"But don't expect a GA Town Hall anytime soon."
A BIZARRE "VOICE OF WARNING"
As our original installment series on the meetings with Oaks and Maxwell continued, a rambling "voice of warning" was sounded from a reader identifying himself as "honkydoodlie." He denounced our joint decision to go public, declaring that it had crossed the line into the realm of unholy, self-aggrandizing, prejudicial lampooning.
I subsequently posted the complainant's note on the ex-Mormon bulletin board and asked for comment. Some regarded it as a serious threat; others dismissed it as nothing about which to worry. (I tended to side with the latter camp).
Nonetheless, for enlightenment (and entertainment), the e-mail in question is reprinted here:
"Dear Steve Benson:
"This is 'direct feedback' (as opposed to 'feedback on a public-forum board.') Having said this, there are some things that I really want to 1) compliment you for; 2) critique; and, 3) write with the net effect of: 'Look out!'
"There's a car coming--straight toward the middle of the gravel lane where you've set up camp!
"The thing I don't do is lampoon: I believe that those who DO do that are people who are either 1) cynical and not well-intentioned; (or), 2) frustrated at the near-sightedness of others; (or), 3) tired of the Big (and little) farmers parking (and activating) their manure spreaders 'upwind from, and on the small knoll' above your gazebo [while you are still IN it]!
"So, then, No. 3 is true, for you. I am concerned, though, that you may be
becoming--inadvertently or no--'cousin to a great waster [destroyer]' as the 'Good Book' says: in other words, becoming one, two, and three [above] altogether.
"There are things that I identify within 'our written observations' (vis-à-vis, in 'how things are done within the LDS religion'). And, there are ideas and METHODS that you have that are 'cause for consternation', as well. (It is my firm belief that those who 'bitterly criticize others' are, and will be, the MOST defensive when they perceive themselves to be criticized: I have no illusion that you are an exception to this--you will most probably come back in your own defense 'for the record', at least.) In spite of all, I will proceed, here, anyway.
"I'm going to pose a question to you, in light of the fact that you have used 'lampoon' as the basis of your cartoon caricatures: If you were a cartoonist for a religious 'tabloid' (no, not tabloid ala National Enquirer) that tended to raise the level of public awareness in RE: 'social issues within the, say, Catholic Church' [for example], would you say that you could draw a manure spreader and a gazebo and make a good point, thereby: and, would it not be sufficient?
"Critique: you seem to think that 'waving a red flag in front of a bull' is 1) a viable option and, 2) your ONLY option. What really is of concern, though, are those lances that you, the matador, have beside you to 'finish the bull off, with.'
"If The Brethren were bulls, then they are 'smart bulls' who will not 'charge [toward] a Steve Benson and his red flag': they 'sense something in the air', and they just STAY PUT.
"I believe you when you say that Arizona LDS leaders try to micro-manage people--especially people who try to 'back their way out of the perceived [or actual] cattle chute,' speaking metaphorically: electric prods are waiting for people just like you, Steve.
"Question: do you feel it to be a good thing to cry FIRE in a theater, when the person next to you has just 'flicked a live, cigarette ash' onto your expensive wool and polyester-blend slacks [and burned a small hole into them, thereby]? Again, a metaphor.
"And, again, no lampoon. (And no slam-dunk, either.)
"I am offended at such 'epithets' as 'legal beagle': this--no matter who the object is nor how innocuous it may seem, to you--is STILL denigrating! It is still name-calling.'
"Think of 'consequences', for a minute: you would never call The Right-Reverend Jesse Jackson [whose title 'Reverend' was acquired from one of those mail-order 'reverend' places] a 'spade'; or 'Sambo'; or 'darkie', would you?
"No, it's NOT different from what you did (and do)!
"On the one hand, you lampoon 'personal characteristics and personality traits'; on the other hand—regarding the 'Afro-references'--one is ALSO writing about 'obviously-identifiable characteristics' [except that the latter represents 'external factors seen with the naked eye'; or, in other words, things of an 'external physical nature'].
"Am I a lampoonist? NO
"Am I 'acerbically cynical'? NO
"Am I 'crying wolf here'? NO
"Am I 'slam-dunking you'? NO
"Am I 'just another electrified cattle prod'? What do YOU think?'
"By attacking General Authorities' 'personality traits' in 'the court of public opinion', you put YOURSELF within the 'crosshairs of the scope-sight of the public eye'. Is that what you want? (I think it IS what you want!)
"You grew up on a steady diet of National Lampoon Magazine (by your own admission): it is in your blood!
"I believe that those who lampoon are basically "powerless" in their own estimation: lampooning gives them both a 1) sense of power, and, 2) an "identity" (like Zorro and the Lone Ranger, maybe).
"You 'put on' your 'six-gun pen' and your 'saber' (or 'foil') scabbard', and then you use lampoon as your IMPLEMENT OF POWER. I think that you have rationalized away the wrongness of it. (Remember, Steve, that 'fighting a wrong WITH a wrong' will come to nothing. Whether the ideas or the METHODS are wrong, it is the same: I 'testify to that!', in your 'court of public opinion', Steve Benson.
"[And, I don't trust you to keep confidences: because, anyone who keeps a confidence 'only when it is convenient to do so', is a 'thief, liar, and a deceiver', himself: all rolled into one].
"You know, your observations aren't 'altogether wrong'--as they relate to personages 'both high and low' within the LDS religion. It is your METHODS that are [mostly] wrong.
"Who SAID that it makes any difference what METHOD one employs! Answer: Jesus Christ and Mahatma Ghandi, for two.
"When I think of the Savior being 'lampooned' by those Pharisees of long ago (because they were VERY-highly critical), I think, 'Steve, who's side are you on, anyway?'
"PS: I am not implying that the GAs are Christ, here: I am just asking you to 'evaluate your methods' and see if they are what Christ did, or not.
"Remember, if some GAs--those that you have observed and do know--are like 'those of old, in dirty underwear', then the question that must ensue is this:
"Are you responding as Christ responded? (Or, have you 'thrown out Christ and His Words and His Scriptures', altogether?). How DID Christ respond?
"Some examples of suggestions:
Did He 'go on the offensive'?
Did He 'try the Pharisees in the court of public opinion'?
Did He 'lie down like a rug,' for people to walk upon?
Did He 'get up a great commotion'?
"Do a self-evaluation, Steve. Lampoons are 'pharisaical epithets' and are very, very destructive.
Metaphors (especially those based in scriptures) are NOT lampoon; invective; diatribe; harangue; nor otherwise 'tools for personal attack': if they WERE, then they would BE LAMPOONS! (in other words, they would then become something they are not: something else, altogether--something UGLY!)
"This is a 'voice of warning': cars are coming! Break camp quickly!
"Howard D. Anonimo" ("Feedback," Howard Dinkers [aka, 'honkydoodlie'], e-mail to Steve Benson, 8 November 2002)
Despite some fear that "honkydoodlie" somehow posed a serious threat to ex-Mormons who are singing like canaries, one reader offered his real concern:
"You know, Steve, what scares me the most when I read stuff like that is this person could be someone's Bishop, a Seminary Teacher, or for that matter, a General Authority. :)
"Here's my take on Howard Anonimo: Last name short for Anonymous. Is threatened by your fame and family background. Is desperately trying to sound intelligent, but obviously isn't. Very threatened by your written
word. Thinks of himself as an important person, probably tells people he's an attorney but has never been to law school. Owns lots of weapons, but has never used them except on animals. Spent many, many days consumed in writing his email to you. Has many demons living in his head."
("You know Steve," e-mail from "Ether" to Steve Benson, "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 8 November 2002)
WANTING MORE "JUICE" OUT OF THE INSTALLMENTS WHEN THERE WASN'T MUCH PULP TO WORK WITH
Some readers of these installments have expressed disappointment that they were not more of an titillating expose' on the Mormon leadership. Wrote one observer, with a bit of tongue in cheek:
"The buildup to the series was great, created a lot of excitement. We all thought he was going to tell us some outrageous stories from Maxwell or Oaks. Instead, all I've heard is the same boring explanations I've heard many times before this. I have to agree with Bob, everything they have said so far, would not have done anything to my damage my faith when I was a TBM.
"Now, if he told us Oaks showed them a secret cavern under the temple, containing JS's [Joseph Smith's] peep stone, and the sword of Laban....THAT would have been interesting. Or, if he had lit up a big fat Cuban!" ("The Steve Benson series has been a bit of a letdown," e-mail from "Craig" to "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 5 November 2002)
I reminded the disappointed reader that I was no miracle worker, when it came to producing accounts featuring amazing special effects:
"What you may have wanted to read and hear--thrills, chills and spills--is not so telling, perhaps, as the unspectacular truth: namely, that when it comes to the so-called 'prophets, seers and revelators' of the Mormon Church, 'there's no there there.'
"It is something like when Geraldo Rivera announced a few years ago that he was going to be the first one into the long-sealed storage room of Al Capone. There was all kinds of speculation of what would be found: money, documents, stolen goods, you name it.
"But, alas, when the door creaked open and the cobwebs were brushed back, all they found were a few empty wine bottles.
"Unlike Geraldo, I didn't promise you a Celestial Garden. No spectacular show. No magic tricks. I knew there wouldn't be any. (I knew--I had been into the vault, so to speak).
"They were, and are, not Wizards of Oz behind the LDS curtain--just a group of tired old men, pulling levers, puffing themselves up and relying on not-so-amazing, see-through special effects.
"They are mere mortals--and certainly not very good wizards.
"For some, that quiet, matter-of-fact revelation can be the most depressing--and disappointing--of all." ("The Steve Benson series has been a bit of a letdown," e-mail from Steve Benson, email@example.com
, to "Craig, "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, 5 November 2002)
Another reader of the ex-Mormon board wrote in to remind us all to be realistic in assessing Mormonism's prophets, seers and revelators:
"As Steve mentioned . . . 'There is no there there.' I've never expected the top Mormon leaders to be living wild double lives. I wouldn't be surprised by an occasional scandal, but I really don't think any of them are cruising for prostitutes in Vegas during their off hours or snorting lines of cocaine during their meetings in the upper rooms of the temple.
"But as a TBM, I was expressly taught and conditioned to believe that the Mormon prophets and apostles were remarkable men of vision and inspiration. It would be no exaggeration to say that the average TBM is taught to believe that there is no group of men on earth as inspired, as visionary, as wise and as 'close to Christ' as those specially anointed servants of the Lord collectively referred to as 'General Authorities' or the 'Brethren.'
"Similarly, TBMs are taught to respect their Bishops, Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents as being only a few notches below the Brethren in terms of their access to divine inspiration, and several notches above any of the ordinary members that are under them. However, if one is reasonably observant and spends a sufficient amount of time around bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents, it eventually becomes clear that, on average, their wisdom, inspiration and so-called 'closeness to Christ' is no greater than any other random collection of men, whether Mormon or not, who have similar educational and cultural backgrounds. Some of these leaders are very good administrators. Some are incompetent. They would
probably show the same tendencies in any comparable administrative position, whether managing the local grocery store, or acting as president of the local chamber of commerce.
"At the time I went on my mission, I was a TBM who was still expecting to see miracles and to see divinely inspired mission presidents in action. I was the kind of TBM Boyd K. Packer wants to see more of. I was pre-disposed to 'see the hand of the Lord in every hour of the Church from its beginning to the present.' But the more I observed, the more I saw nothing but ordinariness, and the more I had to bend over backwards and look at the world cross-eyed in an effort to see the hand of the Lord.
"Despite the titles, the hype and the Sunday School fables, the priesthood leaders I was able to observe personally were clearly decent, but ordinary men, struggling to make good decisions and trying to make sense of the incoherence and irrationality of Mormonism, while at the same time pretending that Mormonism was somehow the key to all happiness and enlightenment.
"Well, to bring this rambling to a close, after seeing the ordinariness--the lack of anything exceptional--in the priesthood leaders whom I could observe personally, I became a lot more skeptical of the hype and myths regarding the Brethren. I pretty much concluded that if I could spend some time around them, I would see the same ordinariness. I would see relatively well-intentioned people struggling with the demands of administering a very large organization and acting as cheerleaders to boost morale. I wouldn't expect them to be great founts of wisdom and inspiration.
"Steve's and Mary Ann's accounts have confirmed my expectations, as I read of these two managers of Mormonism, Oaks and Maxwell, looking for answers in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism or in the latest treatises from FARMS [the B.Y.U.-based Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies], trying vainly to spin interpretations of ambiguous Mormon scriptures to advantage.
"No, they aren't really bad men. And they aren't particularly good men. They are better than some, less honest than others and, for the most part, quite ordinary.
"With my own weaknesses and problems, I wouldn't ever say I'm any better than they are on the whole. Probably not as good in many respects. But I see absolutely no reason to be obedient to them or to surrender control over 10% of my income to them. They have no particular vision or history of giving exceptional advice that would indicate that they speak for god, except perhaps accidentally from time to time.
"If you were to take Oaks and Maxwell and make them High School Guidance counselors, they'd be essentially the same guys and their counsel would be no more or less inspired. If they were made directors of a business corporation, they would probably employ essentially the same management methods and decision-making approaches.
"This is starting to go on and on like some kind of Sac. Mtg. talk. So I'll close now by saying I'm grateful for Exmoism and for people like Steve who takes the time to share his experiences. Comparing notes and realizing that we aren't alone in our disillusionment with Mormonism is what this forum is all about.
"Isaythesethingsinthenameofcatherinezetajonesbeforeshemarriedmichaeldouglasamen." ("The ordinariness of the apostles. What Steve Benson's series confirms to me," e-mail from "Perry Noid" to "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org, 5 November 2002)
IN THE WAKE OF THE INSTALLMENTS: CONTACT FROM BEYOND
A few days after our postings details on the Oaks/Maxwell/Benson meetings, I got a cell phone call from out of the blue. It was from Jack Goaslind, formerly of the Council of Seventy and current president of the Manti Temple.
The Goaslinds and Bensons are old family friends, but I had not heard from Jack since he sent me a kind personal note after Mary Ann and I left the Church in 1993.
When I answered, Goaslind identified himself as "a voice from the past" who just wanted to touch base after all these years. He said he had gotten my cell number from my parents, after mentioning to them that he was wondering how I was doing.
Goaslind proceeded to reminisce fondly about the days when, on the General Authority speaking circuit, he came to our Arizona stake, where we had him over to our home for lunch. (I remember how we sat around reading through Mormon cartoonist Cal Grondhal's wonderfully satirical jabs at LDS life. Goaslind laughed uproariously as he pored over them).
Just as he did in his letter after we left the Church, Goaslind said he merely wanted to call and tell us how much he loved us. He also invited us to beautiful Manti.
Coincidentally, perhaps, my father had also been calling us from Salt Lake around the same time, leaving voice messages to let us know he and mom were thinking of us.
This flurry of unusual attention came on the heels of me informing one of my siblings that I was posting on the ex-Mormon board and that it might be worth a peek.
Maybe I'm just imagining things. Maybe there was no connection to what has been showing up lately on www.exmormon.org.
Or maybe it was the spirit of ET telling them to phone home.
THINGS GO BETTER WITH 7-UP: PRE-QUESTION WARM-UPS AND POST-MEETING HUGS
Having been subjected to Maxwell's surprise pre-screening "worthiness" interview, and after he and Oaks had satisfied themselves that we weren't taping the conversation, the meeting proceeded.
The atmosphere was cordial. Maxwell had cans of 7-Up brought in for all of us. When he asked if that was OK, I jokingly responded that it was all right by me--as long as they were decaffeinated. During the next three hours, Maxwell's demeanor was warm and open. He often paused to ask if he and Oaks were being sufficiently honest and helpful in answering our questions and reminded us several times that they were there as our "friends."
In contrast, Oaks was initially reserved and quiet. With a serious, "legal beagle" look on his face, he would pencil notes on a large pad, then peer up at us with a steady, narrow stare. It seemed almost like a "good cop-bad cop" routine.
Gradually, however, Oaks loosened up. He smiled a time or two and eventually even chuckled. Oaks and Maxwell were extremely polite, respectful and deferential to one another. Each urged the other to speak, clarify or add to what was being said. It was clear we were witnessing a mutual admiration society. Maxwell even mentioned he was glad he had been able to get Oaks into the Quorum of the Twelve.
When the meeting concluded, Maxwell rose from his desk, came around and indicated he wanted to give me a hug, adding that he could not do the same to Mary Ann. I told him I did not mind if he hugged Mary Ann. (Nobody asked Mary Ann's opinion). Oaks also gave me a hug--and shook hands with Mary Ann. Maxwell then helped me on with my suit coat and we left. My parents were waiting outside the office building and took us to the airport for our return flight home.
That constitutes the bookends of hellos and good-byes. Now, for the in-between.
MAXWELL: "ARE YOU BEYOND REJUVENATION?"
At the outset of the September 9th meeting, Maxwell handed us for our examination a F.A.R.M.S. plaque inscribed with a quote, to the effect that the lack of argument destroys belief, while debate builds it. Maxwell asked where I was in my personal state of belief. I answered by recounting an experience I had had late one night on an apartment rooftop, early into my mission to Japan. Struggling with doubts about the truthfulness of the Joseph Smith story and The Book of Mormon, I had gone there to pray for answers. After several hours of pacing back and forth and soul-searching, I was exhausted. The feeling came over me that I should go to bed, that I knew it was all true anyway and that, besides, I had a lot of work to do in the morning. So, I put my doubts to bed, plowed through the rest of my mission, working hard, sincerely wanting to believe that I was engaged in the work of the Lord.
I then told Oaks and Maxwell of an experience I had after returning from my mission and enrolling at B.Y.U., where I had a long discussion one afternoon on "the quad" with a rare non-Mormon student. He boasted that he had destroyed the faith of five returned missionaries and wanted to know if I would like to be the next. I told him to give it his best shot. After rattling my confidence with a devastating, item-by-item assault on Book of Mormon archaeology, I limped over to the office of a trusted professor, Ray Hillam, and asked if he had answers to the arguments against The Book of Mormon that this fellow had made--because I did not. Hillam replied that when he was my age, he harbored some of the same questions, but had decided to put them on the shelf and have faith that "all would work out." I told Oaks and Maxwell that while that may have worked for Hillam, it did not work for me. I told them that I had been raised in a strong, devout Mormon family, where I accepted on faith what was taught me, but that as I grew older, I began to ask questions--questions that needed answering.
Maxwell asked Mary Ann where she was at in her state of personal belief. She replied that she was raised in a farming community in southeastern Idaho, where she began having doubts about the church at age 12, doubts which persisted into her married years. She told Oaks and Maxwell that after the last of our four children entered grade school, she began spending more time studying and reading about the Church. Mary Ann said she felt "betrayed" by the fact that what had been taught her in Seminary did not reflect what the Church was really like. Mary Ann noted how her Mormon friends warned her that her studies were to blame for weakening her testimony. Mary Ann said she refused to accept that assessment, insisting it was not her fault. Rather, she firmly told Oaks and Maxwell, it was the fault of the Mormon Church for not giving her the truth during her four years of Seminary.
At the point, Maxwell asked us if we thought we were "beyond rejuvenation."
I responded, "No, I'm open to new facts all the time and think we should be willing to change our opinions if the facts warrant." I added that I did not consider myself permanently settled in my views, but, rather, saw myself engaged in an "ongoing quest."
True to form, Mary Ann was more direct. She told Oaks and Maxwell that she believed in being open-minded, but that much depended on the answers they would be giving her. I chimed in, "No pressure, of course."
Maxwell turned to the letter we had faxed him, containing our list of questions. He said he had until 4 p.m., before he had to catch a plane and hoped we could cover most, if not all, the material. Maxwell also showed us a handwritten, one-page letter from my father to him which outlined some of my concerns, questions and feelings, drawn from an earlier phone conversation I had had with my father.
THE MYSTERY OF HISTORY,
ABOUT POLYGAMY--WITHOUT PERMISSION
With the preliminaries out of the way, we waded into the September 9th meeting by asking Oaks and Maxwell a series of questions we had brought with us (and of which they had copies). The queries are quoted below, under which are noted Oaks' and Maxwell's responses.
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO THE LDS PRACTICE OF POLYGAMY AND THE DENIAL THEREOF?
Maxwell replied by noting that the act of writing history is frustrating, complex and incomplete. He handed us a photocopy of a sermon (If memory services me correctly, it was delivered by him. There was, however, no title or author given on the single sheet he provided us). The address had appeared in the November 1984 General Conference issue of the Ensign, p. 11, and contained several passages which Maxwell had highlighted in red ink for our benefit.
Quoting from a "Tribute to Neville Chamberlain," delivered in the British House of Commons, November 12, 1940, the sermon declared:
"History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days."
The sermon then addressed what Maxwell had described for us as the definition of history: a collection, he said, of "floating mosaic tiles":
"The finished mosaic of the history of the Restoration will be larger and more varied as more pieces of tile emerge, adjusting a sequence here or enlarging there a sector of our understanding.
"The fundamental outline is in place now, however. But history deals with imperfect people in process of time, whose imperfections produce refractions as the pure light of the gospel plays upon them. There may even be a few pieces of tile which, for the moment, do not seem to fit . . .
"So, belatedly, the fullness of the history of the dispensation of the fullness of times will be written.
"The final mosaic of the Restoration will be resplendent, reflecting divine design and the same centerpiece—the Father's plan of salvation and exaltation and the atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ."
Oaks was a lot less colorful but a bit more specific in dealing with the substance of our question.
He admitted that he had read D. Michael Quinn's revealing article on post-Manifesto polygamy, covering the period from 1890 into the early 20th century. Oaks acknowledged that the Church had not, in fact, been honest about its practice of polygamy during that time. He admitted that the case, as laid out by Quinn, was true. In his opinion, he said, lies had, indeed, been told.
But enough of admitting Church wrongdoing. Oaks then proceeded to attack Quinn.
Oaks said that Quinn had been given access to all of J. Reuben Clark's papers for the purpose of writing a book on Clark's years of Church service. Oaks said he had assured the Church that Quinn was credible, in order that Quinn could be given access to those records. Oaks noted that shortly after Quinn's research was published on Clark, out came Quinn's article on post-Manifesto polygamy. Quinn, Oaks declared angrily, had violated his confidence, claiming that Quinn had taken more information than he had been given permission to examine and research. Oaks said that Quinn was not an innocent victim in this. He said he wrote Quinn a letter, expressing his "deep disappointment" with him and telling Quinn he had exceeded the limits of their original understanding.
In that letter, Oaks said, he also told Quinn that he now regarded him as someone who could not be trusted. Oaks added that Quinn would not tell us about these things, if asked, because of Quinn's involvement.
A few years later, in a face-to-face visit with Quinn, I recounted to him Oaks' version of events and asked Quinn to give me his account. Visibly angered, Quinn emphatically denied that he had violated any research agreement with the Church Historical Department. He said it was clearly understood going in that he had open access to archival materials.
HIDING HISTORY: THE HOFMANN CASE AND BEYOND
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT MORE OPEN WITH ITS OWN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS? WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT ITS CONFIDENCE IN ITS OWN HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY AS RELATED TO THE CHURCH'S INCREASINGLY RESTRICTIVE ACCESS TO ITS ARCHIVES BY HISTORIANS AND MEMBERS ALIKE?
Maxwell insisted that the Mormon Church values the accurate keeping, and sharing, of historical records. He handed me a photocopy from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, featuring red underlinings in a section entitled, "Importance of Records":
"After prayer by President Joseph Smith, Jun., he said, if we heard patiently he could lay before the council an item which would be of importance. He had for himself, learned a fact by experience, which, on recollection, always gave him deep sorrow. It is a fact, if I now had in my possession, every decision which had been had upon important items of doctrine and duties since the commencement of this work, I would not part with them for any sum of money; but we have neglected to take minutes of such things, thinking, perhaps, that they would never benefit us afterwards; which, if we had them now, would decide almost every point of doctrine which might be agitated. But this has been neglected, and now we cannot bear record to the Church and to the world, of the great and glorious manifestations which have been made to us with that degree of power and authority we otherwise could, if we now had these things to publish abroad." (p. 72)
Maxwell asserted that the Mormon Church is "very free" with its historical documents and evidence. He insisted that if one went to the Church archives and asked for documents, "75% of the time you would be allowed to see what you had asked for."
With regard to the remaining 25%, Maxwell said denial was based on the requestor's identity, as well as what was being researched and why.
Maxwell said restrictions on access to Church documents are also due, in part, to their physical fragility. He said, "We don't want a group of Girl Scouts coming down and handling everything."
Besides concern about Girl Scout troops, Maxwell admitted that denial of access is also based on content. Documents falling into this category, he said included "sensitive matters involving people who are still alive."
Maxwell said, further, that it would "not be appropriate or in their best interest" to reveal the names of people who may have confessed to Church leaders about adultery or other past sins, when they had "children who are still alive."
Other confidential materials, he said, included minutes of Quorum of the Twelve meetings.
Oaks, however, remarked that as documents become older, there is "less sensitivity" about them.
Nonetheless, he added that many of the papers pertaining to Ezra Taft Benson's tenure as Secretary of Agriculture and "financial matters" would not be opened at this time to public scrutiny.
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT MORE OPEN WITH ITS OWN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS, SPECIFICALLY AS RELATING TO THE REFUSAL OF THE CHURCH TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE EXISTENCE OF, OR SHARE WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES, THE MCLELLIN PAPERS DURING THE HOFMANN INVESTIGATION?
By way of background, William E. McLellin was, as described by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith in their book, The Mormon Murders, "an early Apostle and close associate of Joseph Smith's who left the Church in 1836 to become one of its bitterest enemies. It had long been rumored," wrote Naifeh and Smith, "that McLellin, who kept the minutes at early meetings of the Twelve, had taken with him a pirate's chest full of papers, letters and journals, all of it incriminating, with which to destroy the Church. Over the years, tantalizing clues had turned up. But neither the Collection itself, nor any part of it, had ever surfaced." [p. 164]
This collection, contrary to Mark Hofmann's claims, was eventually determined not to exist. However, the Church did have in its possession certain McLellin papers, as admitted by Richard E. Turley, Jr., in his Oaks-sanctioned book, Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case [p. 303]. It was these papers that were the subject of our conversation with Oaks and Maxwell.
A couple of additional background matters before delving further:
In the fall of 1985, a few days after the Hofmann bombings, I accompanied a reporter from The Arizona Republic, Chuck Kelly, to Salt Lake City to assist him in making contacts for covering the story. We walked up to the street where Hofmann's bomb had prematurely detonated, destroying his car and severely injuring him. Kicking through the fall leaves scattered along the gutter, I came across a piece of broken black vinyl trim that looked like it had come from an automobile. I brought it home, where today it sits in my personal office, a proud, albeit only possible, memento of "The White Salamander That Ate Salt Lake City."
While in Utah, we attempted to get an audience with Oaks. He refused to grant a newspaper interview but did agree to meet with me in his office. I remember how starkly clean the top of Oaks' desk was. In fact, there was nothing on it at all, except for a single newspaper article, the subject of which I could not read, since from where I sat, it was upside down. During our brief chat, Oaks was very cryptic in his comments, saying nothing of substance about the Hofmann scandal.
A few years later (after Hofmann had been bundled off to prison and prior to Mary Ann and I meeting with Oaks and Maxwell in 1993), I again visited with Oaks in Salt Lake City. This time he was somewhat more willing to talk about the Hofmann affair--specifically, why the Church had not, even in the face of a law enforcement subpoena, produced the McLellin papers, which it had in its possession. The reasons, Oaks said, were two-fold:
First, the Church had privately determined that the McLellin papers it possessed were not relevant to the police investigation.
Second, there were no Church leaders available at the time to work with the police on the McLellin paper caper, because the Church personnel authorized to do so were all on vacation.
Fast forward to our meeting in September 1993.
Oaks told us that the Mormon Church had discovered in mid-March of 1986 that it possessed some McLellin papers--and so publicly announced. Maxwell concurred, adding that the McLellin papers had been "stuffed away somewhere" and the Church did not realize it had them.
Oaks said that the McLellin papers held by the Church had been originally purchased by a representative sent by then-President Joseph F. Smith to Texas who, under orders to make sure they did not fall into "the wrong hands," acquired them for $50.00. Oaks said McLellin (who became disaffected from the Church and eventually left it), had ransacked Joseph Smith's home while Smith was incarcerated and taken several of Smith's belongings. Oaks said the Church was concerned the papers McLellin had purloined would turn out to be very negative and reflect poorly on the Church. In sympathy with the Church's decision to buy these McLellin papers back, Oaks noted that President Joseph F. Smith's father, Hyrum, had been murdered by a mob and was thus naturally very sensitive to the potential negative contents of the papers.
Oaks told us that when it came to the Church's attention that it did, in fact, have McLellin papers in its possession, the discovery process was already underway, preliminary trial motions were ongoing and Hofmann was destined to plea-bargain in July. Oaks said the Quorum of the Twelve debated when they should bring the McLellin papers forward. He said that if the Church had at that time revealed it was in possession of McLellin's papers, the press would have made "a big brouhaha about it." Besides, he said, the McLellin papers the Church had were of no relevance to trial evidence being requested by the police (although Oaks admitted that no one in the Quorum had read them at the time or knew what was in them).
Oaks further defended the Church's refusal to provide its McLellin papers to law enforcement investigators on the grounds that the subpoena only requested McLellin documents that Hofmann, not the Church, was said to have possessed. He said that the whole question of this portion of the investigation centered on whether Hofmann even had the McLellin papers. Oaks said that the Church made a conscious decision not to bring forward the McLellin papers during the preliminaries. He said the Church decided it would wait until those proceedings were over, then produce them before trial. That option was negated, he said, when Hofmann plea-bargained in July.
Oaks also argued that the Church only had between May and August of that year as the available interval in which to get the McLellin papers out. Since everyone was on vacation in August, he said, there was no one to make decisions during that time frame.
At any rate, he maintained, that interval was too narrow, so the Church decided to wait until Turley's book, Victims, was published in 1992. Oaks said the book explained the proper context, the role of the Church and the facts on the ground regarding the McLellin papers. Following its publication, Oaks said the Church decided to release the McLellin documents it had in its possession. Oaks claimed that at the time the Church brought them out, it realized (apparently, he suggested, for the first time) that they spoke positively and glowingly of the Church. He said they were written by McLellin in his earlier missionary years of Church service.
Now that we've cleared all that up . . .
BLOOD ATONEMENT, ADAM-GOD, OFFICIAL MORMON DOCTRINE AND THE SURE SIGNS OF PROPHESYING
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY IN REGARD TO BRIGHAM YOUNG'S TEACHINGS ON BLOOD ATONEMENT?
In response, Maxwell brought out a copy of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. (By way of background, the Encyclopedia's four-volume set, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow of Brigham Young University, deals with, according to its cover page, "The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Ludlow notes in the preface of Vol. 1, p. lxii, that the Encyclopedia "is a joint product of Brigham Young University and Macmillan Publishing Company, and its contents do not necessarily represent the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In no sense does the Encyclopedia have the force and authority of scripture").
Holding a copy of the Encyclopedia, Maxwell told us that he and Oaks had been consultants on the volumes. He said that his and Oaks' approach and inclination were to, when historians came to them and asked questions on various subjects, to include the matters in the Encyclopedia. Maxwell further said that he and Oaks had been working with Church Archives to ensure that a systematic procedure was in place to catalogue and "meter out" over time documents pertaining to these subjects.
Before answering our questions on Adam-God and blood atonement, Oaks and Maxwell told us that individual statements made by the prophet of the Church (meaning the Church president) do not carry the same weight as First Presidency statements signed by the counselors, in conjunction with the president. Maxwell said that First Presidency statements take on a special, or "higher," significance of their own. He also said that when the Quorum of the Twelve is in agreement on, and party to, these First Presidency statements, they become more significant than if just the prophet had spoken as an individual. Maxwell then proceeded to explain how one can know if a position on a given issue qualified as a fundamental (i.e., official) Mormon doctrine.
He said that, in the early days of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith could speak alone and that this, in and of itself, constituted Church doctrine. But, Maxwell said, when Joseph Smith acquired his counselors, as per command in The Doctrine and Covenants, restrictions were placed even on the Prophet Joseph. Subsequently, he said, the status of doctrine "advanced" to including First Presidency statements. From there, according to Maxwell, the concept of official doctrine developed further, eventually requiring--in order for a position to be considered fundamental doctrine--that it be "an official declaration."
Maxwell then handed us a copy of the Encyclopedia article on blood atonement. He said that, as the article acknowledged, Brigham Young taught it--namely, that the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood.
The article in question says the following about the subject:
"The doctrines of the Church affirm that the ATONEMENT wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the atonement of Christ.
"Several early Church leaders, most notably, Brigham YOUNG, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord would require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood--presumably by CAPITAL PUNISHMENT--as part of the process of atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as 'blood atonement.' Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has not been practiced by the Church at any time.
"Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced 'blood atonement,' by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement--which was based on voluntary submission by an offender--into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood atonement." (Vol. 1, p. 131, original emphasis)
Maxwell reiterated the article's claim, saying blood atonement was never practiced by the Church at any time, nor was it a doctrine of the Church (as highlighted in red ink on the photocopy of the article which he provided us).
Oaks and Maxwell explained that there were two sins that, according to scripture, Christ's atonement does not cover: denying the Holy Ghost and the shedding of innocent blood (with their emphasis on "innocent"). Maxwell told us that God, or Jesus himself, said there were some unpardonable sins. Maxwell argued that if there are such (as Jesus has defined them) "unpardonable sins," then there is nothing conceptually wrong with certain sins not being covered by Christ's atonement. Maxwell told us that Christ's grace covers, or atones, for all of our sins--and then Christ sets conditions on his atonement. He said mercy eventually overpowers justice. He added that "we don't know if Jesus can redeem in all cases. Christ sets the limits of redemption."
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO BRIGHAM YOUNG'S TEACHINGS ON ADAM-GOD?
By way of background, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 4, says only the following about the Adam-God doctrine:
"Brigham Young recognized that many people were not prepared to understand the mysteries of God and godhood. 'I could tell you much more about this,' he said, speaking of the role of ADAM, but checked himself, recognizing that the world would probably misinterpret his teaching." ([Journal of Discourses 1:51], p. 1610, original emphasis)
A more forthright and honest definition of what actually constituted Young's teachings on Adam-God was provided by LDS apologist Van Hale, in a 1986 pamphlet, entitled "What About the Adam-God Theory?" Hale acknowledged that Brigham Young "had taught a concept which generally has not been accepted by Mormons--namely, that God the Father, the Father of our spirits and the Father of Jesus [of both his body and his spirit], came to this earth, took upon himself mortality, and was known as Adam, the progenitor of the human family. Simply stated, according to President Young, God the Father became Adam." [Journal of Discourses 1:50], p. 1)
Maxwell told us, "Adam-God was wrong."
Oaks said that the Mormon Church does not accept Adam-God as doctrine.
In response to my observation that Brigham Young, in fact, taught it as doctrine, Oaks said that one can tell whether or not the matter deserves to be taught as doctrine by whether it is actually presented to the Church for approval--meaning, canonized and published as doctrine in the revelations of the Church. This, Oaks noted, was not done with Adam-God. Rather, he said, "It kind of petered out and didn't continue." Maxwell admitted that Adam-God was taught in Mormon temple ceremonies "for a while." Maxwell said that it was in the LDS temple where Young got some of his basis for it. However, Maxwell emphasized, Adam-God did not continue or "persist as a doctrine that is taught today."
Oaks and Maxwell then attempted to put Brigham Young's Adam-God teachings in perspective. They said he was a relatively young prophet when he made his statements on Adam-God. They said they wished Young had had the benefit of "a couple of good counselors to help him with some of the things he was saying." Maxwell repeated a common maxim used among the Mormon faithful: "A prophet is not always a prophet. He is only a prophet when he speaks as such."
Maxwell then offered some speculation. Maybe Joseph Smith, he said, at the end of a very tiring day, was sitting around in a social setting when someone asked, "Where are the lost Ten Tribes?" Maxwell said he could envision Joseph pointing up and saying, "On the moon." Maxwell continued by suggesting, "Someone goes home and writes it down in their diary. Decades or years later someone discovers the diary and a spin is put on it not originally intended by Joseph Smith."
For clarification, I again, and somewhat stubbornly, asked what constitutes an official Mormon Church statement and inquired whether Brigham Young's declarations on Adam-God could be considered as such. Maxwell replied by citing D&C 107, saying that "we have a scriptural admonition that three High Priests preside over the Quorum of the Twelve." Maxwell said "the more modern approach" to matters of Mormon doctrine are governed by the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency, acting together as a body. Maxwell asserted that once Joseph Smith had established the basic doctrines of the Church, then he was instructed by the Lord to call counselors.
After that, Maxwell said, Joseph Smith's role as unilaterally revealing doctrine was much more reduced. Maxwell summarized by telling us there are four levels of fundamental Church doctrine:
Oaks added that all of the basic Church doctrines were revealed by Joseph Smith early in the history of the Church. He said that the more modern approach of Church governance has been, since the time of President Joseph F. Smith, to "beseech his counselors in the First Presidency to help him, to watch over him, so that they could together make the right decisions that God wanted them to make."
JOSEPH SMITH'S RELAXED ADHERENCE TO THE WORD OF WISDOM
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, AS RELATING TO JOSEPH SMITH'S PERSONAL DISREGARD FOR THE WORD OF WISDOM, IN THAT HE OCCASIONALLY USED, OR CONDONED OTHERS' USE OF, ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO?
Maxwell said he was not aware of this behavior by Joseph Smith, claiming it was "new information" to him.
EXPLAINING THE VARYING ACCOUNTS OF THE FIRST VISION AND THE SELECTIVE EDITING OF THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO JOSEPH SMITH'S VARYING ACCOUNTS OF THE FIRST VISION?
In response, Maxwell, handed us photocopies of two articles, one by B.Y.U. assistant professor of history James B. Allen, entitled "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision" (Improvement Era, April 1970, pp. 9-17) and the other by B.Y.U. professor of Church History Milton Backman, entitled, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision" (Ensign, January 1985, pp. 4-13).
In his article, heralded as a "first(-)time . . . report on eight different accounts of the First Vision," Allen wrote:
"[T]he account [of the First Vision] was repeated several times and in several different ways, even by the Prophet, and . . . although each narrative emphasized different ideas and events, none is incompatible with other accounts. There is a striking consistency throughout all the narratives, and if one wishes he may combine them into an impressive report that in no way contradicts any of the individual reports. Moreover, the descriptions given of events related to the vision but that happened outside the grove are consistent with our knowledge of contemporary events.
"In the last analysis, the First Vision becomes truly meaningful in a personal way only when one seeks, as Joseph Smith sought, to reach God through private, earnest supplication." (pp. 11, 12)
Backman contended in his article that "[a]ccounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times, for different audiences, and for different purposes. Each of them emphasizes different aspects of the experience . . .
"Since the 1838 recital [of the First Vision] was included in the Pearl of Great Price, an investigation of the publications of this history helps one better understand principles concerning the formation of scriptures. Joseph Smith was responsible for many changes in punctuation, spelling, and other similar revisions in his manuscript history. After a portion of this history was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price, additional textual refinements were made by editors acting under the authorization of Church leaders. These revisions were apparently made in the interests of grammatical quality, clarification, and consistency. Several short paragraphs were also added that had been included as notes in the manuscript history prior to the Prophet's martyrdom. All these alterations were in harmony with precedents set by Joseph Smith in his textual revisions of latter-day scriptures. In no instance was there a change in the basic message recorded in the manuscript history concerning the historical setting of the First Vision or the truths unfolded during this remarkable experience. But changes were made in an effort to convey the truths unfolded by God in the latter-days in the best and clearest language that man could fashion." (pp. 9, 17)
Maxwell told us that, in his opinion, Backman's article was better than Allen's.
Oaks said that he didn't believe the various accounts of the First Vision contradicted one another. Rather, he explained, they merely emphasized different aspects of the First Vision which were important to Joseph Smith "in his process of development" at the time he relayed them. Oaks said that we needed to keep in mind the context, circumstances and audiences to whom Joseph Smith was speaking.
WHY IS NOT THE CHURCH HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, IN NOT PUTTING INTO ITS MANUALS AND TEACHING MATERIALS ALL OF THE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE FIRST VISION, SO THAT MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH DO NOT HIT UPON THEM ON THEIR OWN, ARE THUS CONFUSED AND DO NOT HAVE THE BENEFIT OF HAVING OBTAINED THIS KNOWLEDGE THROUGH OFFICIAL CHURCH CHANNELS?
Oaks said the decision not to do so was "a judgment call." He said, "We can keep things simple or we can lay out all the details and complexities." Oaks compared the Mormon Church's public presentation of the First Vision to what I did for a living, saying, "It's kind of like drawing cartoons. You keep the cartoons simple." I replied, "All my cartoons are simple because that's all I'm capable of doing--drawing simple cartoons." Oaks responded, "That's what makes them so beautiful." Maxwell made a similar analogy between the Church's decision to keep the account of the First Vision uncomplicated and the drawing of cartoons.
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO THE PUBLISHED ACCOUNT IN THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS OF JOSEPH SMITH'S VISION OF ALVIN SMITH IN THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM, IN WHICH HIS WITNESS OF EXCOMMUNICATED MEMBERS OF THE QUORUM OF THE TWELVE DWELLING IN THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF GLORY IS EDITED OUT?
Oaks and Maxwell replied that it was possibly left out because it had already been published in The Doctrine and Covenants as an example of an offering of hope for mercy.
ONLY A "5%" PLAGIARISM PROBLEM IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, EVIDENCE OF SOLOMON SPALDING IN BOOK OF MORMON TEXT, BOOK OF MORMONTRANSLATION SPEED,
LACK OF ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE BOOK OF MORMON--AND F.A.R.M.S. TO THE RESCUE
WHY DOES NOT THE CHURCH OFFICIALLY ADDRESS PROBLEMS CONCERNING JOSEPH SMITH'S ABILITY TO TRANSLATE ANCIENT RECORDS, SPECIFICALLY REGARDING THE CONSPICUOUS PARALLELS BETWEEN THE BOOK OF MORMON AND SOLOMON SPALDING'S "MANUSCRIPT STORY"--IN TERMS OF STORY OUTLINE, DISCOVERY OF EACH RECORD, ANCIENT AMERICAN LIGHT- AND DARK-SKINNED INHABITANTS, SEA CROSSINGS, ARTS AND SCIENCES, CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, A WHITE GOD FIGURE, THE USE OF SEER STONES, WARS OF EXTERMINATION BETWEEN TWO NATIONS WHICH DESCENDED FROM THE SAME FAMILY, WORD COMBINATIONS, GEOGRAPHY AND PLACE NAMES?
We spent a great deal of time on this subject.
Mary Ann began by explaining to Oaks and Maxwell that she was sincerely trying to do what the Church had admonished its members to do: namely, study the scriptures. She informed them that the more she examined Mormonism's scriptural texts, the more she found contradictions between The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants. Mary Ann informed the two apostles that she was having a difficult time reconciling those contradictions. Therefore, she said, she decided to undertake her own personal study of The Book of Mormon--but from another point of view.
She took out a well-used, paperback copy of The Book of Mormon and showed Oaks and Maxwell what she had done with it. Opening the book and thumbing through its pages, she demonstrated to them how she, in Seminary scripture study cross-referencing style, had color-coded the text for the "Spalding Manuscript," B.H. Roberts' study of parallels between Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon, the King James text of the Book of Isaiah and the King James text of the New Testament--with particular emphasis on The Book of Mormon timeline from 600 BC to 1 BC, when the words of the New Testament had not yet been written.
She then pointed out to Oaks and Maxwell 17 parallels she had discovered between the lives of the Book of Mormon prophet Alma and the New Testament apostle Paul. She also directed their attention to wording in Alma's letters that was found in exactly the same language as that in Paul's. Mary Ann asked Oaks and Maxwell to explain to her how these things could find their way into The Book of Mormon.
Mary Ann said she noticed how Oaks jumped more eagerly at her question than did Maxwell and how he became quite animated during this portion of the discussion. She also later noted to me that Oaks was, in some ways, "a little condescending" to her.
Oaks told Mary Ann, "Well, you know, as you've thumbed through your book, it only appears to me that 5% of your book has been marked, so I would say don't throw out the 95% because of the 5%. Don't take the 5% that you have serious questions about and cast out the 95% that is unexplained or, as Steve said, divinely inspired." (In point of fact, I did not tell Oaks that I felt 95% of The Book of Mormon was divinely inspired, despite his claim to the contrary). He continued, "It's like being married to our wives. I'm sure there's more than 5% of me that my wife finds disagreement with, but she puts up with it anyway. It's kind of like being married to The Book of Mormon. Don't let your doubts keep you out of the mainstream."
Oaks and Maxwell challenged Mary Ann to read them something from the "Spalding Manuscript" that she felt found parallel in The Book of Mormon. Mary Ann initially chose an example in which Spalding described fortresses and earthen banks defended by spikes placed at intervals apart from one another, in order to prevent arrows from coming through. (She later said to me she wished she had offered a better example. Nonetheless, she felt--and I agreed--that it was a comparison of substance).
Mary Ann showed Oaks a pamphlet authored by Vernal Holley, entitled, "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look," which laid out, among other things, strikingly parallel word combinations between the "Spalding Manuscript" and The Book of Mormon. Oaks' response was that many of the comparisons were "insignificant" and "almost superficial." He dismissed them as being unimportant, arguing that they reflected general concepts which were typical of the day in which Joseph Smith lived. I replied that I thought the precise ordering of the words in both texts seemed "more than coincidental." Oaks rejected that position. He insisted that the phrases in question represented "common ideas" one could share "across culture and time."
Further, he noted, there was no doctrinal content in the parallels. He asked, "Where's the doctrine? You've only shown me these technical points." I therefore mentioned that the doctrine of polygamy--which was expressly forbidden in The Book of Mormon unless specifically authorized by God--was also the same doctrine found in the "Spalding Manuscript"--namely, that the practice was forbidden unless divine permission was granted. I also pointed out to Oaks the shared centrality between The Book of Mormon and the "Spalding Manuscript" in stories featuring a divine figure (Christ, in The Book of Mormon and Labanska, a great teacher in the "Spalding Manuscript"). I encouraged Oaks to read the "Spalding Manuscript" for himself. Oaks, however, was dismissive of Spalding's work and refused to take the offer seriously.
Instead, Oaks offered me some counsel of his own. "You ought to go through The Book of Mormon," he said, "and color in all the differences and emphasize the unique and special teachings of The Book of Mormon that don't have any similarities to other sources." (However, Mary Ann's point for being at the meeting in the first place, as she herself said, was not to talk about or debate differences between The Book of Mormon and Spalding texts; rather, she wanted to get answers regarding their similarities in areas of story lines, exact wording, etc).
I acknowledged that Lester Bush's article, "The Spalding Manuscript--Then and Now," had put to rest the contention that Spalding himself had authored 12 pages of an unsigned, original Book of Mormon manuscript, noting that this contention was no longer accepted by serious scholars. I also acknowledged to Oaks and Maxwell that no one seriously believed that Solomon Spalding actually wrote The Book of Mormon. However, I did point out that some believed Joseph Smith borrowed from Spalding's work to produce The Book of Mormon. It was a belief, I told them, to which I was sympathetic.
Maxwell also defended The Book of Mormon as a divinely-translated, authentic ancient document based, he claimed, on the speed and method of its translation. He said the process was very rapid, taking only "65 to 75 days." At that rate, he calculated, it meant seven to 10 pages would have had to have been translated each day. Maxwell said he telephoned a translator who was then working on converting The Book of Mormon text from English into Japanese. Maxwell said he asked the translator how many pages, on a good day, he could do. He said the translator replied, "Barely one." Maxwell thus said the translation was "amazing." He claimed that it flowed forth without major revisions and without Smith going back over it; rather, he said, Smith picked up where he had left off and continued on with translation. Maxwell said the only time Smith and his scribe would stop would be to correct, for instance, the spelling of a name.
Maxwell then opened up a large manila folder and showed us several black and white photographic enlargements of portions of what he said were the 20% extant remnants of the original Book of Mormon manuscript. He pointed to them to show there was very little punctuation and no chapters or verses--instead, he argued, "one continual flow."
Maxwell further argued that people could hear Joseph Smith while he dictated The Book of Mormon translation. He said 10 or 12 individuals were witness to the fact that there were no translational aids available for Smith's use--no references, manuscripts or books. Maxwell also noted that Emma Smith had claimed that during the entire time of translation, she never saw any other books or reference materials. Maxwell said "the only thing we have to deal with," in terms of actually investigating the format of The Book of Mormon translation process employed by Joseph Smith, is a painting of Oliver Cowdery showing a blanket between him and Smith, as Smith was translating. Maxwell said the painting mistakenly depicted the presence of a blanket when, in fact, he declared, there was "no blanket between them." Furthermore, he said, only one person transcribed Smith's dictation, and that was Martin Harris.
After Oaks and Maxwell presented their respective defenses, Mary Ann again asked them how she should deal with the things she had found in her own Book of Mormon. At this point, Oaks and Maxwell said that the jury was still out. Maxwell asserted that the Lord will leave The Book of Mormon to the very last, before providing definitive proof of its truthfulness. In the meantime, he said, "we will have opposition in this externally."
WHY DOES NOT THE CHURCH OFFICIALLY ADDRESS PROBLEMS CONCERNING JOSEPH SMITH'S ABILITY TO TRANSLATE ANCIENT RECORDS, SPECIFICALLY AS RELATING TO THE GLARING LACK OF PRIMARY, EXTERNAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE INDEPENDENTLY AUTHENTICATING THE BOOK OF MORMON?
Maxwell again insisted that external authentication of The Book of Mormon would be left "until the last," but that the Lord will no longer let critics of the Church "slam-dunk" The Book of Mormon.
Be that as it may, Oaks acknowledged that F.A.R.M.S. sometimes gets "hyperactive" in trying to prove that The Book of Mormon is true. He said he becomes concerned when F.A.R.M.S. "stops making shields and starts turning out swords," because, he said, "you cannot prove The Book of Mormon out of the realm of faith." Accepting The Book of Mormon, Oaks said, was ultimately a matter of faith.
Nonetheless, Maxwell interjected to say, "We're grateful for F.A.R.M.S., though, because they protect us on the flank." Maxwell told us that F.A.R.M.S., in fact, had been given the express mission of not letting the Church become outflanked.
Maxwell asked if B.Y.U. professor Noel Reynolds had spoken with me about research he, in conjunction with F.A.R.M.S., was doing in the Middle East. I replied that, no, Reynolds had talked with me about research he had undertaken to investigate Near Eastern influences on The Book of Mormon. (I had visited personally with Reynolds in his B.Y.U. office, where he had informed me of efforts to search for evidence authenticating, as described in The Book of Mormon, the existence of a lush, wooded launching point in the Arabian peninsula for Lehi's boat voyage to the New World. Reynolds told me they had not, as yet, found anything definitive, but that they were pursuing tantalizing leads).
Oaks and Maxwell, in their final assessment of evidentiary proof concerning The Book of Mormon, admitted to us that the arguments for and against the book were "equal," with neither side being able to prove whether The Book of Mormon was true or untrue. In the ultimate analysis, they told us, The Book of Mormon had to be accepted on faith.
I responded by telling them that I was attempting to examine both sides of the question and was not convinced that the pro-Book of Mormon side had the advantage. To the contrary, I told them that I was inclined to believe the advantage lay with the book's critics. I said that because I did not regard the evidence on The Book of Mormon to be equally balanced, I therefore did not believe I was obligated to accept it on faith. I also expressed the view that if, in fact, there was an evidentiary advantage to one side or the other, that should then allow for the person doing the investigating to make a decision as to Book of Mormon veracity--outside the realm of faith.
Oaks responded by again saying there was no evidence proving or disproving The Book of Mormon. He placed his right hand over his heart and said, "I get this knot, this warm feeling right here, and that is what I go on." Oaks told us that he had a conviction that The Book of Mormon was "true." He said that feeling of truthfulness came from a "personal witness."
FURTHER EVIDENCE OF BOOK OF MORMON PLAGIARISMS: OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT LANGUAGE IN PRE-BIBLICAL BOOK OF MORMON TIMES
WHY DOES NOT THE CHURCH OFFICIALLY ADDRESS PROBLEMS CONCERNING JOSEPH SMITH'S ABILITY TO TRANSLATE ANCIENT RECORDS, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO THE WHOLESALE BORROWING OF KING JAMES OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT VERSE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, INCLUDING MUCH WHICH HISTORICALLY POST-DATED THE TIME THEY ARE SAID TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN ON THE BOOK OF MORMON PLATES?
Oaks asked Mary Ann to demonstrate "another example" of "doctrinal evidence" for plagiarisms in The Book of Mormon. Mary Ann turned to Moroni 10, where it speaks of gifts of the spirit (To one is given one gift; to someone else is given another, etc). Mary Ann pointed out to Oaks that, verse for verse--comparing Moroni 10 to First Corinthians 12--the texts were almost exactly the same.
Oaks replied, "That's better," but refused to concede, adding, "Well, it's not word-for-word and it's not the whole chapter."
Mary Ann responded that--it except for some minor variations, such as the phrase, repeated over and over, "and again"--it was, for all intents and purposes, word-for-word. She asked Oaks how he could explain that Moroni used the same language found in the King James version of the Bible, written hundreds of years after The Book of Mormon was recorded.
Oaks replied that he himself had had the same question while preparing a talk on gifts of the spirit, as outlined in The Doctrine and Covenants, The Book of Mormon and the New Testament. Oaks said he concluded that all three authors were "impressed by the Holy Ghost" to record their thoughts "in this particular manner and in these particular words." Maxwell chimed in, citing 2 Nephi 29:8, saying that the Lord speaks to us in our own languages, so that we can understand.
Taking the offensive, Maxwell then asked Mary Ann to point out to him where we got Alma 32 and Mosiah 3.He had Mary Ann read two verses out of The Book of Mormon which, he declared, were more explicit in revealing what the Savior's atonement actually covers than in any other scripture. Maxwell pointed out that these scriptural passages taught that Christ took on more than just the sins of the world--he took on our "sufferings and infirmities." Maxwell said, "You don't find that anywhere else." Oaks backed up Maxwell, saying that there were "sublime teachings in The Book of Mormon" not found in any other source.
Maxwell proceeded to say that the central message of The Book of Mormon is Christ. (Actually, he described it as "Christo-centric.") He said The Book of Mormon "gets us beyond the provincial" and "teaches Christ." He said that President Ezra Taft Benson--despite emphasizing to the Church membership the importance of reading The Book of Mormon--perhaps "did not realize all the ramifications" of its central message. It is a worldwide message, Maxwell said. He told us that emphasis on The Book of Mormon is coming at a very critical time, as we prepare for the last days of this dispensation. Without elaboration, Maxwell said that "the timing is just incredible."
THE KINDERHOOK PLATES: A "BOGUS" TRANSLATION BY A "BOGUS" PROPHET
WHY DOES THE NOT CHURCH OFFICIALLY ADDRESS PROBLEMS CONCERNING JOSEPH SMITH'S ABILITY TO TRANSLATE ANCIENT RECORDS, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARD TO HIS INITIAL ACCEPTANCE AS GENUINE, AND LATER ERRONEOUS TRANSLATION OF, THE FRAUDULENT KINDERHOOK PLATES?
I first reviewed for Oaks and Maxwell why the Kinderhook Plates were, in fact, spurious. Quoting the assessment (borrowed from the Tanners) that "only a bogus prophet translates bogus plates," I proceeded to provide a brief history of their origin. The Kinderhook Plates, I said, were manufactured for the express purpose of setting Joseph Smith up for an embarrassing fall. I noted that Smith accepted the Kinderhook Plates as genuine and indicated he would translate them. I mentioned that Smith also approved a Times and Seasons editorial, written by Apostle John Taylor, which declared that the Kinderhook Plates served to verify the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. I related that (as published in The Documentary History of the Church), Smith wrote that he had commenced a translation of a portion of the Kinderhook Plates. As a result of that partial translation, Smith declared that the plates contained the story of a man related to Ham who had descended through the lineage of the Egyptian pharaoh.
I acknowledged that the actual diary entry penned in Smith's name had, in fact, been written in his behalf by Smith's scribe, William Clayton. Clayton put the narrative in the form of a Smith first-person account--a practice common at that time when compiling Church history. (LDS historian Dean Jesse has indicated that 60% of Mormon Church history was written in the third person, by individuals who then changed the pronouns to first person). I indicated to Oaks and Maxwell that individuals took their own diary accounts and journals describing what Smith had taught or done, then wrote them from a first-person perspective.
However, I also mentioned to Oaks and Maxwell that Clayton was a close, personal friend of Smith and had served as the scribe for the history of the Nauvoo temple. I further noted that Clayton maintained Smith's personal diary for him. I said, therefore, that if there was anyone who would have known what Smith said or felt about the Kinderhook Plates, it would have been Clayton.
As I was laying out this background, Maxwell was busy taking notes on a pad. He said he didn't know about this and would look into it. But that did not keep him from offering his opinion on the matter. He said that if Joseph Smith had felt the Kinderhook Plates were indeed important, worthy of translation and from God, "he would have moved on them," but he did not. Maxwell said Smith's "benign neglect" thus verified that the Kinderhook Plates were not important. Maxwell compared and contrasted the Prophet Joseph's "benign neglect" toward the Kinderhook Plates with what he characterized as Smith's eagerness and quickness in dealing with The Book of Abraham.
EXPLAINING THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM "TRANSLATION"
AGAINST ITS SOURCE MATERIAL OF EGYPTIAN FUNERARY TEXTS
WHY DOES NOT THE CHURCH OFFICIALLY ADDRESS PROBLEMS CONCERNING JOSEPH SMITH'S ABILITY TO TRANSLATE ANCIENT RECORDS, SPECIFICALLY REGARDING FUNDAMENTAL INCOMPATIBILITIES BETWEEN JOSEPH SMITH'S VERSION OF THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM AND THE TRANSLATABLE EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHICS ACTUALLY FOUND IN THE PAPYRI (THE ORIGINAL PARCHMENTS PROVING TO BE COMMON FUNERARY TEXTS FROM AN ERA DATING LATER THAN THE TIME OF ABRAHAM AND COMPLETELY UNRELATED TO THE STORY PRODUCED BY JOSEPH SMITH)?
Oaks responded that this was a "substantive issue" which raised important and fundamental questions--as opposed, he said, to the Kinderhook Plates and Solomon Spalding. I told Oaks that, in comparison to The Book of Abraham question, I agreed the Kinderhook Plates were of significantly less importance.
Maxwell observed that, according to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 7, The Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith in "catalystic fashion." Smith, Maxwell claimed, had, in vision, seen parchments from the writings of John the Revelator. Maxwell said that, likewise, Smith may have also had revealed to him Egyptian parchment which he did not touch, physically hold or from which he did not directly translate. In other words, Maxwell said, Smith may have been "accessing" an ancient parchment that was not actually with him. Instead, Maxwell proposed, he may have had revealed to him "in some kind of vision" the source from which he then translated The Book of Abraham.
Oaks admitted he did not know how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Abraham. He said, however, that Maxwell's explanation seemed persuasive.
Oaks also said he was familiar with the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar that Smith was constructing. I responded by going into brief detail about how Smith, or his scribes, would copy an Egyptian hieroglyph from the parchment into a left-hand column, then apparently from that single hieroglyph, produce a whole series of words and paragraphs. I noted that the words and dictionary which Smith attached to the facsimiles had absolutely no relationship with the content of the papyri--as indicated and translated by such noted and reputable Egyptologists as Klaus Bauer of the University of Chicago and others.
At this point, Oaks said, "Well, there are some things I just don't understand and just don't know." But, he said, he was willing to put such matters on the shelf "until further knowledge comes." Oaks said the jury was out on The Book of Abraham and that we should "wait and see." Oaks admitted that "the scholars" seemed to have evidence "in their favor," but that he himself had a "personal witness" that The Book of Abraham was true. Oaks concluded by saying that he does not let evidence "weighted against Joseph Smith on this" persuade him that The Book of Abraham is not true.
FALSE PROPHESYING BY THE LORD'S PROPHETS
WHY DOES THE CHURCH CITE FULFILLED PROPHECIES WHILE IGNORING THOSE PROVEN TO BE MISTAKEN, SPECIFICALLY RELATING TO JOSEPH SMITH'S PREDICTION THAT A TEMPLE WOULD BE BUILT IN MISSOURI BEFORE THOSE LIVING IN HIS GENERATION PASSED AWAY; BRIGHAM YOUNG'S PROPHECY THAT THE UNITED STATES WOULD NOT SURVIVE THE CIVIL WAR; BRIGHAM YOUNG'S AND SUBSEQUENT CHURCH LEADERS' DECLARATION THAT BLACKS WOULD NOT RECEIVE THE PRIESTHOOD UNTIL THE REST OF ADAM'S POSTERITY HAD BEEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR THE GOSPEL; AND THE TEACHINGS OF BRIGHAM YOUNG AND OTHERS THAT THE SUN AND MOON WERE INHABITED BY INTELLIGENT BEINGS AND THAT LORENZO SNOW WOULD BE CALLED TO PROSELYTIZE EXTRATERRESTRIALS WHILE IN THE FLESH?
Oaks replied that "we shouldn't be citing fulfilled prophecies, because prophesying is only a minor aspect of what a prophet does." Oaks said that, in actuality, the fundamental role of a prophet is "to testify of Christ." He said that "foretelling events" is a prophet's "minor responsibility."
Maxwell said that Church members "shouldn't use fulfilled prophecies to keep box scores." He added, "We've never had a perfect prophet or a perfect general authority."
When Mary Ann and I pointed out Joseph Smith's failed prediction of a temple being built in Missouri before those living in Smith's generation would pass away, Maxwell commented with a laugh, "Maybe there was too much foretelling and not enough testifying."
Oaks observed, "Prophecies are for private use and private application, more than they are for general Church application."
I asked if it was not problematic for a Church to be led by prophets who are making frequent mistakes in their prophesying. Oaks replied, "In total, there aren't that many mistakes that have been made." Of 5,000 prophecies, he said, "only five haven't been fulfilled." He then added, "But we shouldn't be keeping track, anyway."
Maxwell noted that according to one scripture, even Jesus was said not to know when the Second Coming is scheduled, so, Maxwell said, "no one really knows" and "everyone could be mistaken." The bottom line, Maxwell declared, is that ""t is our duty to be loyal to the prophet." He said that he disagreed politically with Ezra Taft Benson "on certain things" but felt he could always follow him in good conscience when, as prophet, President Benson was emphasizing a particular aspect of the gospel.
Oaks agreed--but with a condition. Oaks vowed he would "march from sunup to sundown" in following the prophet on a particular teaching but said "if the prophet was to come out and say that we are no longer going to preach The Book of Mormon as true," he "would look around for an affirmation of that by the Quorum of the Twelve."
I asked how one could determine whether a prophet was speaking truthfully. Oaks and Maxwell replied that what the prophet says must be in compliance with the Standard Works of the Church. In response, I asked if the Standard Works of the Church are to be the ultimate guide, then what would be the use of a living prophet, since both Brigham Young and Ezra Taft Benson declared that the words of the living prophet took precedence over the Standard Works.
Oaks and Maxwell replied that the prophet can preach on a wide variety of subjects.
LYING ABOUT THE FAILING HEALTH OF EZRA TAFT BENSON
WHY HAS THE CHURCH DISHONESTLY MANIPULATED THE PUBLIC'S PERCEPTION OF PRESIDENT EZRA TAFT BENSON'S DECLINING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH?
I introduced this question by quoting, essentially verbatim, the statement of then-LDS public relations spokesman, Don LeFevre, in which he claimed that President Benson's counselors reported to, met and reviewed with President Benson all major issues before any final decisions were made.
Oaks replied, "That simply is not true." He said, "When it comes to President Benson making important decisions for the Church, those decisions are not made." Oaks told us that when members of the Church ask him how President Benson is doing, he tells them that "sometimes he can say some things and other days he can't say much at all." Oaks informed us that the Twelve Apostles took turns visiting President Benson on a weekly basis, in pairs, in order to check up on his welfare, thus rotating through the Quorum in a period of six weeks.
Maxwell said that "the important thing" he tells Church members who inquire about the health of President Benson is that he "does not seem to be in pain." Maxwell added, "President Benson says one word or a phrase and seems happy."
Oaks insisted that a year earlier, in 1992, President Benson was capable of "affirming or agreeing to something with a 'yes.'" For example, Oaks said, when discussions were held about where to site a particular temple, Oaks said he got "the clear impression that President Benson was aware of what was going on."
I mentioned a 1992 General Conference statement by then-First Presidency counselor Gordon B. Hinckley, claiming that Ezra Taft Benson was not impaired in his prophetic role, although he was physically limited. Oaks replied that in 1992, "it was a lot different than it is now. President Benson is rapidly deteriorating."
With regard to the statements of Mormon Church public relations spokesmen, I asked if they were "ill-advised or ill-informed." Oaks said they were "ill-informed." (A few weeks later I was again in Salt Lake City, this time for October 1993 General Conference, assisting Arizona Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers in making contacts for interviews with ranking Church leaders and others on the recent disciplinary action against the so-called "September Six." I met Church PR spokesman LeFevre and asked him why he was issuing statements about my grandfather's health that were not accurate. LeFevre replied, "All my statements have been approved by my superiors." I said, "Don, just because they've been approved by your superiors doesn't make them true." LeFevre responded, "Steve, this is a difficult job").
Back to the matter at hand, I asked Oaks and Maxwell why neither one of them had chosen to set the record straight as to the actual physical and mental condition of my grandfather. Oaks answered by pleading both ignorance and impotence. Waving dismissively toward Maxwell's office window, outside of which stood the nearby 26-story Church Office Building, Oaks said, "Sometimes we don't know what goes on in the High Rise. We don't have control over it."
Maxwell said that he had not taken issue with public pronouncements on Ezra Taft Benson's state of health being made by the Church public relations department because, he said, he already had several responsibilities and did not need any more.
Maxwell further sought to justify his public silence on the matter by offering an interesting definition of "integrity." He said, "We have to maintain our integrity by not speaking out and claiming certain things about President Benson that aren't true." (I found this definition intriguing because it seemed to suggest that, at least as far as Maxwell was concerned, "integrity" included not explaining for the record what actually was true).
Maxwell further defended his public silence by maintaining that "we have to be loyal to the Prophet."
Oaks then offered me advice as to how to deal with my concerns over the truthfulness of Church public statements about my grandfather's health. He suggested that I "resolve these matters through private channels," warning that if I instead chose the public route, I might face "unintended consequences."
THE ROLE OF MORMON WOMEN
WHERE IS THE VOICE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH?
This question was put directly to Maxwell and Oaks by Mary Ann. Both men seemed unsure of what she meant, so she explained her concern by asserting that LDS women did not have a female role model to follow and knew nothing about their Mother in Heaven. Mary Ann also expressed her concern for the plight of women and children in the Church who had been physically, sexually or emotionally abused.
She shared with Oaks and Maxwell comments made by Boyd K. Packer in an address to the "All-Church Coordinating Council" in which he declared, "The woman pleading for help needs to see the eternal nature of things and to know that her trials, however hard to bear, in the eternal scheme of things may be compared to a very, very bad experience in the second semester of the first grade." (Boyd K. Packer, "Talk to All-Church Coordinating Council," 18 May 1993, transcript copy, p. 6)
In response, Maxwell assured Mary Ann that the Church did indeed care about women. As proof of that, he handed her a photocopy of a General Conference sermon he had delivered, entitled, "The Women of God," reprinted in the Ensign, that, he said, demonstrated the high esteem in which LDS women were held.
Mary Ann glanced at the article and was struck by how much younger Maxwell appeared in its accompanying photo than he did in our meeting. She later admitted her first thought was, "Gee, you look so young in this photograph. Haven't you said anything more recent on the topic?" Mary Ann, however, kept this reaction to herself and thanked Maxwell for the talk. She then looked at the date it was published: May 1978, 15 years prior to our meeting when he was not yet a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Mary Ann did not bother reading the article.
I read Maxwell's article years later. (something Mary Ann has yet not felt inclined to do). His condescending view of women reminded me of the kind of suffocating, insufferable patriarchy that Mary Ann lamented "dripped from the walls" of her "own home."
"We are accustomed," intoned Maxwell, "to focusing on the men of God because theirs is the priesthood and leadership line. But paralleling that authority line is a stream of righteous influence reflecting the remarkable women of God . . .
"We men know the women of God as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, associates, and friends. You seem to tame us and to gentle us, and, yes, to teach us and to inspire us . . . In the work of the Kingdom, men and women are not without each other, but do not envy each other, lest by reversals and renunciations of role we make a wasteland of both womanhood and manhood . . .
"We salute you, sisters, for the joy that is yours as you rejoice in a baby's first smile and as you listen with eager ear to a child's first day at school which bespeaks a special selflessness. Women, more quickly than others, will understand the possible dangers when the world self is placed before other words like fulfillment. You rock a sobbing child without wondering if today's world is passing you by, because you know you hold tomorrow tightly in your arms . . .
"When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling that what happened in congresses? . . .
"No wonder the men of God support and sustain you sisters in your unique roles, for the act of deserting home in order to shape society is like thoughtlessly removing crucial fingers from an imperiled dike in order to teach people to swim.
"We men love you for meeting inconsiderateness with consideration and selfishness with selflessness. We are touched by the eloquence of your example. We are deeply grateful for your enduring us as men when we are not at our best because—like God—you love us not only for what we are, but for what we have the power to become.
"We have special admiration for the unsung but unsullied single women among whom are some of the noblest daughters of God. These sisters know that God loves them individually and distinctly. They make wise career choices, even thought they cannot now have the most choice career . . .
"Notice, brethren, how all the prophets treat their wives and honor women, and let us do likewise!" (Neal Maxwell, "Women of God," Ensign, May 1978, pp. 10, 11, original emphasis)
Oaks told Mary Ann that he appreciated all the women in his life, especially his wife. He said that because she took care of the household, drove their daughters to music lessons, etc., he was able to do his work for the Church.
CLOSING COUNSEL FROM THE APOSTLES
As we prepared to leave the September 9th meeting, Oaks and Maxwell offered us some parting advice.
Oaks said, "Don't take irrevocable steps. Continue to work on it. Don't get out of balance with reason. The Lord answers things spiritually, not reasonably."
Maxwell counseled, "Don't put too many logs on the beaver dam that you have to lift off, one by one. Be trusting, patient and wise. Perspire—and be patient."
MARY ANN MAKES UP HER MIND
The meeting had come to an end. Mary Ann and I had had the unique opportunity of spending roughly three hours in a revealing give-and-take with two LDS apostles.
We had come to the meeting, hoping to get answers to our deep and growing doubts regarding the Mormon faith. Mary Ann recalled how she had traveled to meet with Oaks and Maxwell because she had hoped that they could answer her questions and concerns, repair the damage to her belief (which she described as "severe cracks in the walls and foundation" of her Mormon faith) and help her rebuild her testimony.
It did not happen.
After meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, she decided she had had enough. Drawing on her own intense study of the Mormon Church--particularly The Book of Mormon--combined with her assessment of Oaks' and Maxwell's answers, she determined that the LDS Church was a fraud.
Upon our return home, she was exhausted and disappointed. As she later told me, "It felt like a wrecking ball had been swung through the remaining walls of my faith and now I was left standing in a pile of rubble."
On September 16, 1993, a week after meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, Mary Ann wrote her no-nonsense, notarized letter of resignation from the Mormon Church:
"Dear Bishop Annison:
I am hereby directing you to remove my name from the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I fully understand the ramifications of the decision; i.e., my baptism, temple sealing and blessings will be cancelled.
I realize that you and others may want to discuss this with me, yet my decision is final. I cannot be dissuaded. Therefore, I do not want you or anyone else to call or in any way try to contact me.
I want you to immediately forward this written request along with a completed Report of Administrative Action form on to President Cardon [the stake president], as well as remove my name, address, phone number and personal information from the ward roster.
Mary Ann Benson
cc: President Craig Cardon"
Looking back on that moment nearly a decade ago, Mary Ann recently summarized her reasons for abandoning the faith of her birth:
"Ultimately, the veracity of the Mormon Church stands or falls on the authenticity of The Book of Mormon. It's either a divinely revealed document from gold plates, or it isn't. The Book of Mormon is either 100% of what the Church claims it is, or it isn't."
"So, Oaks' argument that there was only 5% trouble with The Book of Mormon was 5% too much. It's either all or nothing. Besides, I would estimate that more than 5% of my Book of Mormon had been crossed-referenced to other sources.
"The doctrines that were originally taught by earlier prophets and then discarded by later prophets were not as problematic to me as the question of Book of Mormon authenticity. Because doctrines have changed, it just underscores that it is not a divinely-led Church."
STEVE GOES BACK FOR MORE
I wasn't done, however. There were still questions I wanted to ask, answers I was still seeking and--as they say in Mormon swearing--"Flip," we had just run out of time.
Since Mary Ann and I had not been able to cover all our original inquiries in the first meeting and since I wanted Oaks and Maxwell to do some clarifying on their September 9th utterances, I asked at the end of the first meeting (and in a letter to them the next day) for a chance to follow up. They agreed.
Not being as bright as Mary Ann and without her by my side, I flew back to Salt Lake two weeks later--on September 24th--for a final round in Maxwell's office on September 24th.
Admittedly, by this time, I, too, was experiencing a severe hemorrhaging in my Mormon faith. Nonetheless, I had not yet decided to abandon ship. I still wanted to believe.
Leading into the meeting, Maxwell took the initiative by addressing some
matters that had been discussed in our first encounter two weeks earlier.
He also seemed intent on tying up loose ends, so we first dealt with those issues before moving on to other questions.
Oaks, as was the case in the first meeting, was less verbose.
Maxwell was energetic, aggressive and--compared with our meeting two weeks earlier--seemed to have done some homework. In fact, he appeared to have stiffened his spine a bit when it came to defending the LDS Church against its critics. He handed me a statement regarding Christian apologist C.S. Lewis' defense of the faith:
"C.S. Lewis made the point that those without faith are entitled to dispute with those who have faith about the grounds of their 'original assent,' but doubters should not be surprised if 'after the assent has been given, our adherence to it is no longer proportioned to every fluctuation of the apparent evidence." (The Quotable Lewis, Walter Martindale and Jerry Root, Tyndale House, Wheaton House, Illinois, 1989, p. 211)
MOTHER IN HEAVEN
Maxwell had some thoughts on praying to the Mormon Mother in Heaven that he shared with me and wanted me to pass on to Mary Ann. He asserted that when Jesus taught his followers how to pray, "the form of address was very clear," adding that "no one could accuse Jesus Christ of insensitivity." (Actually, people have, but that was a topic for another day).
Maxwell said it was appropriate to "think on Mother in Heaven but not to introduce her into the pattern of worship." He cited Hebrews 12:3: "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."
BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION
Repeating his position from our meeting two weeks earlier, Maxwell said that, according to Emma Smith, Joseph Smith used "no reference books" while translating The Book of Mormon--a process which Maxwell again described as "rapid" and taking "only 65 days."
He handed me a statement attributed to Emma, wherein she was reported to have been "emphatic on this very point,"--namely, that "[h]e [Joseph Smith] had neither manuscript nor book to read from. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me." (Saints Herald, vol. 26, 1 October 1879: 289, 290)
THE BOOK OF MORMON VS. "THE SPALDING MANUSCRIPT"
Maxwell said that comparing The Book of Mormon to "The Spalding Manuscript" was like comparing "the opening notes in 'Chopsticks' and 'Beethoven.'" He dismissed Spalding's writings as "general slosh" and explained away similarities between Spalding's novel and
The Book of Mormon text by insisting that when one works in English, there are bound to be "some similarities."
CRITICAL TEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
Maxwell attempted to defend The Book of Mormon via "critical textual analysis"--as well as through personally attacking one of the most outspoken critics of The Book of Mormon at that time, former Church security employee and excommunicated LDS researcher, Brent Metcalfe.
Maxwell said that the first critical textual analysis of The Book of Mormon was soon to be published by Royal Skousen, a B.Y.U. professor of English and linguistics, whom Maxwell described as being in "the intellectual wing of the Church." (At the time, Skousen was in the process of examining the original English "translation" of The Book of Mormon, based on the surviving 28% of the original manuscript held in the historical archives of the Mormon Church).
Maxwell said that, unlike Metcalfe's recent critique of Book of Mormon authenticity, Skousen's treatment of The Book of Mormon was "deep." (Metcalfe was editor of a newly-released book, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1993]. The work billed itself as an outline of "the broad contours of contemporary scholarship which continue to examine issues of antiquity . . . from the standpoint of physical and cultural anthropology, geography, linguistics, demographics, literary forms, liturgical context, theology, and evolution of the original manuscript to published work," front flyleaf).
Unimpressed by Metcalfe's efforts, Maxwell derisively described the difference between Metcalfe's approach and that of Skousen's as being like "the difference between seagulls hovering over garbage thrown overboard and seagulls that know how to fish." Speaking in condescending and disparaging terms of Metcalfe, Maxwell said, "We pat him on the head and say, 'Little boy, you haven't even scratched the surface.'"
Despite his acerbic personal attacks, Maxwell nonetheless said that "we shouldn't proclaim we've won the game with every piece of positive evidence. We should avoid being tossed to and for by every doctrine."
DEATHBED TESTIFYING ON THE BOOK OF MORMON
In defense of Book of Mormon authenticity, Maxwell cited the reported deathbed affirmation of Oliver Cowdery. He handed me the following excerpt:
"At the approach of death, Oliver Cowdery couldn't have been more dramatic in his exit endorsement concerning The Book of Mormon. Of this experience, Oliver's half-sister said:
"'[J]ust before he breathed his last, he [Oliver] asked to be raised up in bed so that he could talk to the family and friends and he told them to live according to the teachings in The [B]ook of Mormon and they would meet him in Heaven. [T]hen he said lay me down and let me fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, and he fell asleep without a struggle . . ." (MS, d, 842#1)
VARYING ACCOUNTS OF THE FIRST VISION
Oaks attempted to explain the varying accounts of the First Vision by citing then-B.Y.U. professor of literature and English as a Second Language, Arthur King, who, Oaks said, expressed gratitude that Joseph Smith gave "a ripened version of the First Vision." Oaks said this version indicated Smith was "at the crossroads of spiritual development."
DEFENDING THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
Maxwell presented a vigorous case for The Book of Abraham.
He said that two "pseudo texts" have revealed a relationship between Abraham and the Egyptians, knowledge of which was "unavailable to scholars in Joseph Smith's time."
While acknowledging that Joseph Smith's former scribe, Warren Parrish, and Mormon hymn composer, W. W. Phelps (of "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning" fame), were at one point about ready to leave the Church, he said "don't pounce on Joseph Smith."
Maxwell said, in fact, that the work of Parrish and Phelps on The Book of Abraham manuscript helped bolster the argument that the Egyptian funerary texts were not the actual parchments used by Joseph Smith in his translation of The Book of Abraham—or that Joseph Smith was even the author of the four extant manuscripts of The Book of Abraham.
In support of that position, Maxwell handed me a F.A.R.M.S. review, written by Michael D. Rhodes, of Charles M. Larson's book, . . . By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri (Grand Rapids: Institute for Religious Research, 1992, p. 240 pp., illustrated). On closer examination of the paper on which Rhodes review was photocopied, I determined the review originated with F.A.R.M.S. It was printed on fax paper bearing the acronym "F.A.R.M.S," along with the "FAX" date of "09/09/93." It also bore a dispatch time of "1:55" and a B.Y.U.-area phone number of "378 3724." It appears that Maxwell had solicited the assistance of F.A.R.M.S. in preparing for our discussions).
Maxwell had highlighted in yellow the following excerpt from Rhodes' article:
"First of all, none of these manuscripts of the book of Abraham is in Joseph Smith's handwriting. They are mostly in the handwriting of William W. Phelps, with a few short sections written by Warren Parrish. Nowhere in the documents is Joseph Smith designated as the author. Moreover, the Egyptian characters in the left-hand margin were clearly written in after the English text had been written. These cannot be the working papers of a translation process. Instead, Phelps and Parrish seemed to have copied down the text of the book of Abraham and were then attempting to correlate that translation with some of the scrolls in the Church's possession. These documents are most likely that preliminary stage of investigation and exploration the Lord prescribed in D&C 9:8 to 'study it out in your mind.' The Lord expects us to first do all we can to understand something (and in the process discover our own limitations) before we seek for direct revelation from him. This is what Phelps and Parrish were apparently doing, although their efforts were short-lived and unsuccessful. In fact these same men shortly after this began to turn away from the Prophet Joseph and fell into apostasy. If they had been parties to some fraudulent process of producing the book of Abraham, they would surely have denounced Joseph Smith for this, but they never did." (original emphasis)
In the end, Maxwell, responding to criticism of The Book of Abraham's authenticity, declared, "We will not twist or oscillate every time we come across new evidence. The Church is not a jerkwater organization."
Having dealt with matters left over from the meeting of September 9th, I then posed some additional questions.
WHY IS THE CHURCH NOT HONEST WITH ITS HISTORY, SPECIFICALLY WITH JOSEPH SMITH'S 1828 JOINING OF A METHODIST SUNDAY SCHOOL, DESPITE THE COMMAND FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON TO JOIN NONE OF THE EXISTING CHURCHES?
Oaks said Joseph Smith's "state of knowledge was much deeper than mine" (meaning Oaks'). He said that because, after receiving the First Vision, Smith "could not meet with others of his own faith," he "would want to meet with other Christians." Moreover, Oaks described Joseph Smith as a "friendly" person, one who was "interested in sampling what others taught." Maxwell added that Smith was "social" and "gregarious" and that, at any rate, his joining with the Methodists was "brief."
Oaks noted that just as people were "moving in out and out of marriage in the Utah period," so, too, on the New York frontier during the 1830s, an attitude prevailed requiring "no formal divorce in church membership."
Oaks added that, according to the LDS General Handbook of Instructions,
"joining other churches is not, by itself, a sign of apostasy."
DOES THE CHURCH BELIEVE ANY GROUP OF MEMBERS IS EXPENDABLE? SHOULD THE CHURCH, AS HUGH B. BROWN ASKED, BE "A MUSEUM FOR SAINTS OR A HOSPITAL FOR SINNERS?" AS EXAMPLES, SO-CALLED INTELLECTUALS AND SCHOLARS, FEMINISTS, GAYS AND LESBIANS HAVE RECENTLY BEEN ACCUSED OF LEADING THE CHURCH ASTRAY. THEIR PAINFUL AND PERSONAL EXPRESSIONS OF CONCERN AND NEED HAVE BEEN MINIMIZED BY SOME CHURCH AUTHORITIES.
Oaks responded by defining "apostasy." He described it as "clear, deliberate and open opposition to the Church or its leaders." He said it involved "persisting in teaching as Church doctrine when corrected otherwise by Church leaders." Oaks defended Mormon Church disciplinary action against apostates, arguing that "any organization has to draw the line. You can't ignore apostasy."
He added, however, that those accused of apostasy "can appeal." He said, "There are limits," but assured me that those limits "are clear and fair." Oaks insisted that "people can disagree in good faith." He said that "we don't want 'telephone justice'" (referring to the practice of a ranking Church leader picking up the phone and ordering a subordinate to take action against a member considered to be an apostate).
Oaks said, however, that a stake president can ask for a meeting with a General Authority and that the General Authority "can't turn him down." Oaks said the General Authorities can "relay information to local leaders" through the "Strengthening the Members Committee," but that "they don't tell them what should be done."
In defending the existence of the "Strengthening the Members Committee," Oaks said there have been cases were bishops and stake presidents have been so "busy" that they "didn't read newspapers about crimes committed by their members." Oaks said that "Sunstone stuff" goes into "this kind of traffic."
I asked Oaks if the General Authorities had issued any kind of instructions to stake presidents on how to deal with apostates. Oaks said that there were three different area presidencies. I asked him if any of the Quorum of the Twelve had leaned on him to take action against apostates. He replied, "No, but we have been dealing with them (apostates) for a long time." He complained that Sunstone had become "shrill," "more pointed" and "more confrontational" and was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
In the end, Oaks said, in matters of personal belief, "you should act independently by the Spirit, based on your evidence." He argued that "people take themselves out of the Church long before action is taken" against them. Oaks described it as a "sift" that is "self-sifting."
Oaks admitted that he expects the time will come when "lots of people will 'opt out'" of the Mormon Church, having, he said, "ceased to believe."
OAKS CONFIRMS THE BACKSTAGE INVOLVEMENT OF
A question I posed to Oaks and Maxwell in the September 24, 1993, meeting concerned reports that Apostle Boyd K. Packer had been behind the excommunication of Paul James Toscano, a local Salt Lake City attorney, author and outspoken advocate for women's rights.
To understand the context of the question, it is necessary to review events at the time, as reported in the press.
Packer's suspected entanglement in the excommunication of Toscano became a subject of extensive media coverage in the fall of 1993. Toscano was excommunicated from the Mormon Church on September 19,1993, "for writing and speaking publicly about church doctrine, feminism, the state of the faith's leadership and other issues." At the stake high council disciplinary hearing that ultimately sealed his fate, attention was focused on a Sunstone symposium speech Toscano had recently delivered, entitled, "All Is Not Well in Zion: False Teachings of the True Church," in which Toscano was alleged to have made derogatory comments . . . about general authorities." ("LDS Apostle Denies Ordering Dissident's Excommunication," Associated Press, 11 October 1993, sec, D, p. 1ff; and "Six Intellectuals Disciplined for Apostasy," Sunstone, November 1993, p. 66).
With the Mormon Church having recently disciplined the infamous "September Six" for activities relating to scholarship and feminism, speculation was rampant that Packer had been "behind the church's recent crackdown on dissidents." That assessment proved to be well-founded. Five months earlier, Packer had warned a gathering of LDS bureaucrats that some Mormons "influenced by social and political unrest are being caught up and led away" by "the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, as well as the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." ("Cartoonist Says Oaks Lied To Protect Fellow Apostle," Vern Anderson, Associated Press, in Salt Lake Tribune, 12 October 1993, sec. B, p. 1ff; and Boyd K. Packer, "Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council," transcript, 18 May 1993, pp. 3, 4)
Packer, however, vehemently denied that he had been behind the banishment of Toscano. Specifically, he insisted he had not directed Toscano's stake president, Kerry Heinz, to convene a disciplinary council against him. While admitting to having met with Heinz to discuss Toscano, Packer assured the press, "We talked doctrine and philosophy. I absolutely did not instruct him to hold a disciplinary counsel and did not then, nor have I ever, directed any verdict. By church policy, that is left entirely to local leaders. When he [Heinz] left, I did not know what he would do." ("Cracks in the temple: Mormon unity in peril," Paul Brinkley-Rogers, The Arizona Republic, 10 October 1993, sec. A, p 1ff)
Packer further revealed to the Church-owned Deseret News that his decision to meet with Heinz had been made through a lower-ranking Church middleman. Contrary to Oaks' claim to me in our September 24th meeting that Packer had independently strayed outside approved channels of authority, Packer insisted that, in fact, he had been advised by "the brethren" to meet with Toscano's stake president.
Said Packer, "Even though general authorities of the church are free to
contact or respond to local leaders on any subject, I felt there may be some
sensitivity about his request. The brethren felt I could not very well
decline to see a stake president. I therefore consented." ("Packer Says He
Was Concerned by Request for Meeting, But Apostles Endorsed It," Associated Press, in Salt Lake Tribune, 17 October 1993, sec. B, p. 1ff)
Toscano was not persuaded by Packer's explanations.
Reacting to Packer's admission of meeting with Heinz, Toscano said, "I knew all along that Boyd Packer was behind it. He's behind all this." ("Grandson of President Asks To Be Removed From LDS Church Rolls," Jennifer Skordas, Salt Lake Tribune, 11 October 1993, sec. D, p. 1ff)
In my meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, I specifically asked if Packer had, in fact, been involved behind the scenes in the excommunication process against Toscano.
Oaks confirmed that Packer had.
Oaks told me he was "distressed and astonished" over Packer's decision to meet with Heinz, even though he said Heinz was the one who had called Packer and asked "for the meeting." Oaks said it was "a mistake" on Packer's part to have agreed to meet with Heinz, the latter whom Oaks described as "an old seminary man." (Packer had come up with Heinz through the ranks of the Church education system).
Oaks told me that, by meeting with Heinz, Packer had gone outside the bounds of his assigned responsibility. Oaks said one of his own areas of expertise was in legal affairs. Maxwell noted that one reason Oaks had been brought into the Quorum of the Twelve was to help rewrite the manual on Church disciplinary procedure. Oaks expressed concern that Packer's involvement with Heinz might lead Toscano "to sue the Church" over violation of his ecclesiastical procedural rights.
In the end, Oaks, with a note of resignation in his voice, said of Packer,
"You can't stage manage a grizzly bear."
OAKS PUBLICLY LIES ABOUT PACKER'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE TOSCANO EXCOMMUNICATION
In early October, 1993, I accompanied Arizona Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers to Salt Lake City to assist him in making contacts with LDS leaders, spokesmen, educators and critics for a story on the recent purge of Church dissidents, notably, the "September Six."
On October 1, Brinkley-Rogers met for a prearranged, on-the-record, taped Q&A session with Oaks in his Salt Lake City Church office to discuss, among other things, recent Church action against the dissenters. I had not arranged the interview and did not join the reporter in it, as I did not think it would be appropriate for me to do so. Moreover, prior to the interview, I did not speak to Brinkley-Rogers about what Oaks and Maxwell had told me concerning the Packer/ Toscano matter in my meeting with them on September 24th.
At the conclusion of the interview, I picked Brinkley-Rogers up outside the Church Administration Building and asked how it went. He put the tape into the rental car cassette deck and pushed the "play" button. What I heard astounded --and angered-- me.
Much of what Oaks had dished up for public consumption directly contradicted what he had told me in private. I was immediately aware of the bind that Oaks had put me in. He had lied to a reporter about events which he had described to me in much different terms. I had no choice but to tell the reporter at that point that Oaks was attempting to pull a fast one on him.
So, there in a rental car in Salt Lake City, for the first time, I revealed what Oaks had shared with me in our September 24th meeting, pointing out the contradictions to what I had just heard on the tape. (see "Cracks in the temple: Mormon unity in peril," Paul Brinkley-Rogers, Arizona Republic, 11 October 1993, sec. A, p. 1ff)
WARNING TO OAKS: COME CLEAN OR YOUR COVER'S BLOWN
During the next five days, I privately struggled with how to publicly deal with Oaks' blatant dishonesties. I was torn between remaining quiet (thereby preserving a confidentiality agreement) or setting the record straight (thereby exposing Oaks' act of calculated deception). I spoke at length with my wife, friends, and colleagues--seeking advice and weighing my options.
I wish I could say it was an easy decision--that I saw the road brightly ahead of me from the moment I was confronted with Oaks' deceit--but that was not the case. I was troubled and, frankly, even a bit frightened by the possible consequences of speaking out. I did not relish the prospect of being accused of breaking a promise; at the same time, I could not stand by silently, given what I knew.
Most of all, I resented the fact that Oaks had put me in this position in the first place.
I finally decided to follow my gut--and my conscience. Oaks' misrepresentations--indeed, his out-and-out lies--prompted me to fax him a letter a few days after the interview. It read as follows:
6 October 1993
"PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL"
"Dear Elder Oaks:
"I wish to share with you my concerns relative to our private conversation in the office of Elder Maxwell on September 24th, in relation to your subsequent comments to Arizona Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers on October 1st."
"In our September 24th meeting, I asked you if Kerry Heinz, Paul Toscano's stake president, had had any contact with, or received any instruction from, Elder Boyd K. Packer during the time leading up to Paul Toscano's excommunication. According to my notes taken during our discussion, you acknowledged that Elder Packer met with President Heinz prior to the rendering of judgment by the stake disciplinary council. You said that President Heinz was 'an old seminary man' and friend of Elder Packer during their days together in the church seminary system and that President Heinz 'called and asked for a meeting' with Elder Packer."
"You told me that you were 'distressed and astonished' that Elder Packer met with President Heinz. Referring to Elder Packer, you observed that 'you can't stage manage a grizzly bear.' You opined that 'it was a mistake for Packer to meet with Heinz and a mistake for Heinz to ask for the meeting."
"You further acknowledged that you later talked directly to Elder Packer and told him that you felt it was wrong and violated church disciplinary procedure for Elder Packer to have been in contact with President Heinz. You said that Elder Packer had no authority or responsibility to participate in such contact and you told me that you strongly urged Elder Packer not to engage in such contact in the future. You added that you fully expected Paul Toscano 'to sue' the church over this breach of procedural authority. "
"In contrast to what you told me in private, your public statements concerning the Toscano excommunication process and any participation of Elder Packer in it presented a far different picture. Mr. Brinkley-Rogers asked you: 'In the case of Toscano . . . do you have any evidence that Elder Packer [was] involved in any way in the decision-making process in the disciplining of [him]?"
"You responded: 'As for Elder Packer, Elder Packer does not have a specific responsibility for any area in the church . . . So, if Elder Packer is having any conversation with Kerry Heinz, it is outside the normal channel. That's all I can say. I have no knowledge of whether he did. But if he, and if he gave a directed verdict or anything like that, that is contrary to policy, it is irregular and it's contrary to what I know of Elder Packer and the way he operates. Elder Packer is not the least bit inclined to shrink from saying things like in the talk you saw [to the All-Church Coordinating Council, 18 May 1993]. He is a forthright, plain-spoken man, but Elder Packer is far too sophisticated and sensitive a man to call a stake president and tell him what he has to do in a church discipline case. I just don't believe that. What's possible is that a stake president might think he had heard such a thing; nobody can dismiss that possibility . . . that kind of slippage happens in communication. But Elder Packer has no, Elder [Loren C.] Dunn has a natural communications link, though an outdated one; Elder Packer does not. So, that's all I know about that at this point."
"Frankly, I find the differences between what you told me and what you told the press to be irreconcilable and ethically troubling. First, by couching your answer to the question of Elder Packer's conversation with President Heinz in the hypothetical, you falsely imply, it seems to me, that you do not know whether he did talk with President Heinz. Second, contrary to what you told me, you explicitly said to the reporter that, in fact, you were not aware if any conversations took place between Elder Packer and President Heinz. Third, your assertion that for Elder Packer to have talked with President Heinz goes against your knowledge of Elder Packer's modus operandi is contradicted by your admission to me that you knew that Elder Packer had talked to him and that you later talked with Elder Packer about it. Fourth, your blanket denial of knowing anything beyond what you told the reporter is completely undermined, I feel, by what you told me."
"In other words, you have told the truth in private about the Packer-Heinz meeting, while denying the truth in public."
"When you asked that I keep our conversation confidential, I assumed that anything you might subsequently say for the record on the matter would be at least honest, if not complete. However, what you said in public varies significantly from the facts as you laid them out to me. It appears that you have asked me not to publicly divulge our conversation in your hope that my initial agreement to remain silent would keep the accuracy of your public utterances from being challenged."
"I have concluded that to remain silent is unacceptable. It would be a cowardly and dishonest act. It would be analogous to having an individual come to me and say, 'Just between us, I killed my wife,' then turn around and tell the press that the next-door neighbor did it. I would have the clear moral obligation to set the record straight, since refusal to act would do violence to the truth and make me an accessory to the crime."
"I will not be a party to a cover-up. Your request for confidentiality, I believe, has been superceded by the fact that you have lied in public, contrary to the facts as you know them, and that your hope of confidentiality rests on maintaining the deception. It has been observed that 'a lie is like a blanket of snow. It may cover unpleasantness for a time but, sooner or later, must melt, exposing that which was hidden."
"To participate in this fraud would only serve to erode trust and destroy relationships."
"I would hope that you would feel it right to publicly set the record straight. Mr. Brinkley-Rogers' phone number is 602-271-8137. If you choose not to do so within the next 24 hours, I will have no choice but to undertake that obligation myself."
OAKS' INITIAL REACTION: A PHONE CALL TO MY HOME
Hell hath no fury like a cover blown.
Oaks responded quickly, calling my home the same afternoon he received the fax, in an attempt to reach me. Our daughter, Audrey--six years old at the time--answered the phone, as Mary Ann simultaneously picked up the line on the other end and listened.
"Is your father there?" asked Oaks, in a stern, angry voice.
"No," Audrey replied meekly, "He's at work."
NOT-SO-TRUE CONFESSIONS: OAKS CALLS THE REPORTER
Oaks did not have my office phone number but he had the reporter's, since I had given it to him. (Oaks needed to do his explaining to the person he had lied to in the interview, not to me).
Oaks left a message with Brinkley-Rogers, who returned the call that evening, reaching Oaks at home through the Church switchboard operator (CSO).
Below is the full transcript of the ensuing conversation between Oaks (O) and Brinkley-Rogers (BR), taped by Brinkley-Rogers (which he later allowed me to audio-copy and which copy is currently in my possession). It is reported here with permission of Brinkley-Rogers.
CSO (choir music in the background): "LDS Church Offices."
BR: "Yes, good evening. Uh, this is Paul Brinkley-Rogers calling from Phoenix."
BR: "Concerning Dallin Oaks' call. He asked me to call the switchboard."
CSO: "Yes. Just a moment, please, while I"--
BR: "Thank you. Thanks a lot."
CSO: "Go ahead, please."
BR: "Thank you."
O: "Hello, Mr. Brinkley-Rogers."
BR: "Good evening, Mr. Oaks. How are you?"
O: "Thanks for calling back."
BR: "Well, thanks for calling me."
O: "Let me put the robe on and go in another room, where I can be comfortable."
BR: "OK, sure."
O: "Thank you for calling back."
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "Somebody has called me a liar and I don't like to (inaudible) to that on a charge like that."
BR: "Oh, all right. How did that happen?"
O: "Uh, well, let me explain. I received a very disturbing letter from Steve Benson."
O: "He compares what I said to him in a confidential setting, relating to Church issues, with a transcript of the interview that I had with you"--
O: --"and accused me of lying."
O: "And I'm a truthful man and I care for my integrity and, uh, and I, I take no, uh, no little, uh, concern for something like this."
O: "Before I talk with you about it, let me ask you a question"--
O: --"so you'll understand why I need to ask that before I speak about this."
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "What I would like to know is the relationship between you and Steve Benson in this matter. Specifically, was Steve on a reconnaissance for you when he asked about two weeks ago for a Church interview and came into an interview, in an ecclesiastical setting, which is the occasion of this comparison?"
BR: "No, I, I had no idea that he even did that."
O: "I didn't think so."
O: "Uh, let me ask a follow-up question."
O: "Uh, is, are you involved in any kind of an effort that Steve is now making to extort information from me--and I use the word 'extort,' uh"--
O: --"to extort information from me in behalf of you?"
BR: "No. I'm not aware of any such thing."
O: "Now, he had, the reason I had to ask that is that he had the manuscript that was our interview."
O: "And he was comparing that with notes he'd made earlier when he had a conversation"--
BR: "Oh, I see. No, I played the tape for Steve of, uh, our interview, you know, after the interview and I noticed that he looked sort of surprised by it."
O: "OK, well, then, I, I take that at face value."
BR: "All right."
O: "And, and you, what I'm going to tell you why, I, uh, oh, why I was aroused by this."
O: "Now, I assume, as I told you at the time, that you're a professional journalist"--
O: "I assume, I take The Arizona Republic at, at face value. Uh, uh, it seems to me like it's been very professional and, and I deal with you in that light."
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "And I assume that neither you nor The Republic want to be used in Steve's grievances against, and controversies with, his Church"--
O: --"that are rather considerable, uh, uh, controversy with his Church."
O: "I was trying to do, to deal with that in having a confidential interview with him."
O: "And now he, he has drawn in this letter to me, he's drawn these two things together"--
O: "And I'd rather deal with you separately"--
BR: "You mean this conversation with you, uh, compared"--
O: "His conversation with me"--
BR: --"compared with the tape?"
O: "Compared with the tape, and that's, uh, what I'd like to do, is deal separately with you."
O: "And I assume that you don't want to get involved with Steve's controversies with his Church."
O: "I assume that that's part of your professional approach to this and if I, if I can deal separately with you, independent of Steve Benson"--
O: --"then it's, then it's much easier for me to (inaudible) my problems."
BR: "All right, so let's go ahead on that basis."
O: "OK, good. Now, when (cough) I received this letter from Steve, which was, uh, a very accusatory letter"--
O: --"and, uh, I presume that you don't know about its contents"--
O: "But when I received this letter, which I did this afternoon about 5 o'clock"--
O: --"I got the transcript out and reviewed it very carefully, the transcript of my interview with you."
O: "When I did that, I saw one sentence in my interview with you--and only one sentence--that I would say overstated the truth."
O: "And that sentence I want to correct."
BR: "All right, sir. Fine."
O: "And I am sorry for it, but in a, in a, our, our interview was 60 minutes long and, you know, I was shooting from the hip (inaudible) along"--
O: --"and it was one of those things, which called to my attention, is inaccurate and I want to correct it."
BR: "All right."
O: "The, the, the only thing I can see that I want to correct."
BR: "OK, sir."
O: "And this is a, is a, uh, oh, about one-fourth of the circumstances that, uh, that, uh, Steve cites in his letter, because I looked, uh, I looked at the others and, and, uh, I think that, uh, I, I don't, uh, feel any necessity under my commitment to integrity to make any change in what I said."
O: "But in this one instance, I do."
O: "The sentence is, is toward the end of the interview."
O: "It is the, the last paragraph of the interview."
O: "I'm looking at the transcript that was made from the recording when made here."
O: "It's, uh, it's in this talk about the Kerry Heinz matter"--
BR: "All right."
O: "And the sentence is this, about having a conversation: 'So, if Elder Packer is having any conversation with Kerry Heinz'"--
O: --"'it is outside the normal channel'"--
O: --"'that's all I can say. I have not'—"my transcript says that. It must be 'no'"—'I have no knowledge of whether he did.'"
O: "That's the sentence that should be stricken."
O: "If you'd just strike out, 'I have no knowledge of whether he did'"--
O: --"then I'll stand by the transcript of things that I said to you, but that statement, 'I have no knowledge of whether he did'"--
O: --"was, uh, as I looked back on the transcript, I think that's inaccurate and I want to withdraw that."
BR: "All right. Now, um, I guess my question is, do, do you have knowledge that he did that, in that case?"
BR: "Is that what we're getting to here?"
O: "Let me just, uh, let me just say this"--
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "Uh (clears throat), when I met with Steve Benson"--
O: --"Uh, I was trying to help Steve Benson in a matter, a Church matter, that does not concern the subject of our interview."
O: "In the course of doing that, I spoke to him confidentially and in a privileged relationship"--
O: --"and, uh, I think his letter and the things he says in his letter, abuse that privileged relationship, uh, in a really, uh, well, I'll stop there."
O: "And, and I, uh, [Steve] also says some things in his letter which he may share with you, I don't know"--
O: "But he, he claims to have notes of things that I've said in the, in the conversation with him"--
O: "I don't affirm his notes."
O: "If he shows you a copy of his letter"--
O: --"I certainly don't affirm his notes"--
O: --"and I'm not either admitting or denying things that I, I was speaking there in a privileged relationship and I don't think that it's fair for Steve, uh, nor is it fair for me"--
O: --"to go into a privileged relationship"--
O: --"and for me to affirm or deny his notes, so I, I simply stand silent on what he claims took place"--
O: --"in a privileged conversation and, as a journalist, you'd understand the privilege."
O: "I think his notes are quite self-serving, but that's, that's simply my, my perspective."
O: "But what I am saying is that I just don't choose to go, uh, I don't choose to be—what's the word I'm looking for?—leveraged"--
O: --"into saying anything more than I said to you in the interview by Steve Benson's use of privileged information."
O: "So, to answer your question, I'd say that I just don't choose to affirm or deny."
O: "But I do wish to withdraw a sentence which, as I read it on the transcript, is inaccurate."
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "So, I, if you will do me the favor of striking out that, you do whatever you want with what remains."
BR: "All right, sir."
O: "And I'm glad to defend whatever remains, but I cannot defend that sentence."
BR: "All right. Well, it's clear to me."
O: "All right. And I appreciate that and I appreciate the opportunity of being able to speak to you as a, on a professional basis and I, I must tell you that I make this phone call because it distresses me when somebody claims that I lie."
BR: "All right. Well, all right."
O: "Because I don't do that."
BR: "OK, sir."
O: "Well, I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you and thank you for calling."
BR: "Thanks for calling me."
APOSTLE AND CARTOONIST DUKE IT OUT IN PUBLIC
A PREMATURE THANK-YOU NOTE
I was not immediately informed by the reporter of the details of the above conversation, being initially told only that Oaks had called to clarify the record. Assuming (as it turned out, naively) that Oaks had come completely clean, I faxed him a letter the next day, which read:
7 October 1993
"PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL: SECOND TRANSMISSION"
Dear Elder Oaks:
I want to personally thank you for calling the Arizona Republic reporter, Mr. Brinkley-Rogers, to clarify your earlier statements.
May I emphasize that I came to you with no hidden agenda. My sincerity of motive, I believe, was evidenced by the fact that, given the problem I faced with reconciling your public and private comments, an opportunity was provided for you to set the record straight.
Again, thank you.
I had spoken too soon.
When Brinkley-Rogers permitted me to listen to the full tape of the phone conversation between himself and Oaks, I realized I had been duped. Oaks had not come close to coming clean, as I had hoped and expected he would. His apology was cagey, hesitant, defensive and limited. He had lied by omission and commission, but somehow had talked himself into believing he had done the right thing. Moreover, Oaks' subsequent statements to the press in ensuing days were far from forthright.
I was not about to sit by and let him get away with it.
I went to the press, laid out the entire story and, together with Mary Ann, submitted my letter of resignation from the Mormon Church.
In the meantime, Oaks was dribbling out half-hearted confessions. Five days after the phone conversation with The Arizona Republic reporter, Oaks publicly admitted that he had not been truthful about his knowledge of Packer's involvement in the Toscano episode. In an Associated Press wire-story appearing October 12th in The Salt Lake Tribune, veteran Utah reporter Vern Anderson wrote:
Elder Oaks admitted late Monday he 'could not defend the truthfulness of one of the statements' about Packer, who is considered by many to be behind the church's recent crackdown on dissidents . . .
Oaks told Arizona Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers on Oct. 1 that he had 'no knowledge' of whether Packer had met with Kerry Heinz, the local ecclesiastical leader for Salt lake lawyer Paul Toscano, before Heinz excommunicated Toscano on Sept. 19. Toscano was cited by Heinz, his stake president, for criticizing church leaders and acting contrary to the role and order of the church.
However, in a 'personal and confidential' letter to Oaks on Oct. 6, Benson reminded the apostle that in a private meeting Sept. 24, Oaks had told Benson he was 'distressed and astonished' that Packer had met with Heinz.
He quoted Oaks as saying of Packer, 'You can't stage manage a grizzly bear,' and added that 'it was a mistake for Packer to meet with Heinz and a mistake for Heinz to ask for the meeting.'
Benson also wrote that Oaks 'further acknowledged that you later talked directly to Elder Packer and told him that you felt it was wrong and violated church disciplinary procedure for Elder Packer to have been in contact with President Heinz.'
Benson said he was making his letter to Oaks public because he was fed up with church leaders shading the truth. Last summer, he criticized the faith's hierarchy for claiming his 94-year-old grandfather was still involved in important church decisions.
In an interview Monday evening, Oaks declined to confirm or deny most of Benson's assertions about a pair of private interviews the church prophet's grandson had in September with Oaks and Elder Neal Maxwell, another member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a body that advises the church's presidency.
However, Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, acknowledged that his single statement to reporter Brinkley-Rogers about having no knowledge of the Packer-Heinz meeting was one 'I could not defend. It was not a truthful statement.'
Benson's letter to Oaks had warned the apostle that unless he set the record straight, Benson would feel under no obligation to honor the promise of confidentiality he had earlier given Oaks and Maxwell.
Oaks called The Republic's reporter that night and retracted the 'I have no knowledge of whether he [Packer] did' statement. The Republic's story, minus the statement, appeared Sunday. It quoted Packer as admitting he had met with Heinz about Toscano's case, but he denied having pressured the stake president to excommunicate Toscano.
Oaks did not retract other statements in the interview with Brinkley-Rogers that Benson had alleged--and Oaks denies--were false or deliberately misleading. Nevertheless, Benson faxed Oaks another letter Oct. 7 thanking him for having called Brinkley-Rogers to 'clarify your earlier statements.'
Oaks said he had assumed by Benson's second letter that he was satisfied. He stressed that Benson at least three times had assured him and Maxwell that their meetings--initiated by a kindly letter to Benson from Maxwell—were confidential and would never be publicly discussed.
'I think that Steve Benson is just going to have to carry the responsibility for whatever he relates about a confidential meeting,' Oaks said.
Benson said he felt acutely the moral dilemma of having promised confidentiality, but then having seen deliberate efforts to mislead the public about Packer's role in the Toscano affair. "'I had to decide to be a party to the cover-up or be faithful to my own convictions,' Benson said. 'I had to let Elder Oaks walk a plank of his own making.'
Toscano, who is appealing his excommunication, said he loves the church, but doesn't confuse it with 'individual leaders who are kind of running amok in a vacuum.'
He said that if Ezra Taft Benson were capable of managing the church today, his eldest grandson's plea would not have gone unheeded." ("Cartoonist Says Oaks Lied To Protect Fellow Apostle," Vern Anderson, Associated Press, in Salt Lake Tribune, 12 October 1993, sec. B, p. 1ff)
By now the fireworks were lighting up the Temple Square skyline. Rather than agitate Oaks even more, however, I tried a softer, more conciliatory approach--even as I again chided him for refusing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God.
In "an open letter" dated October 15, 1993, I wrote:
Dear Elder Oaks:
Given the events of recent days, I feel it important to communicate to you the reasons why I believed it necessary to speak openly about our conversations concerning the Packer-Heinz-Toscano affair.
I understand your displeasure with the fact than an agreement of confidentiality was abrogated. I also understand your reasons for being upset that I went public after having expressed appreciation for your calling the press in an effort to clarify your earlier statements.
Yet, even in your subsequent revision, you did not correct what I believe to have been other deliberate misrepresentations. I could not, therefore, in good conscience, let them remain unchallenged, when both you and I knew better. You were provided with an opportunity to set the record straight completely. You chose only to correct one of the three falsehoods. I do not consider myself responsible for your decisions not to be fully honest.
As I noted in earlier correspondence, I feel you lost the benefit of confidentiality when you knowingly dissembled in public about what you told me in private. In so doing, I feel you violated the trust and faith between not only you and me, but between the church leadership and the members at large. I therefore felt it my moral obligation to break the silence that otherwise would have served only to perpetuate falsehood and false faith.
I have done so because I see so many people in the church hurting under the crushing heel of ecclesiastical abuse. It is time to lift the heel and start to heal.
The scriptures tell of another apostle--a man of God and servant of the Master who, because of weakness and pressure--also lied three times. Yet, he admitted his mistakes, repented of them and became not only one of the Lord's mightiest witnesses, but an example to the rest of us imperfect souls of what It means to be honest and true in Christ.
You now have the opportunity to shine your light in the darkness and warm us all through your spiritual courage. Please use the purity of your spirit, intellect and testimony to help us heal together.
I didn't hear back from Oaks, except when I read what he was now saying to the press.
Oaks next went to the Church-owned Deseret News to air his grievances. On October 16, 1993, the following article appeared:
Sitting in his office in the LDS Church administration building, Elder Dallin H. Oaks carefully reads a news report that says he admitted to 'falsely telling' a journalist he had no knowledge of an event involving the excommunication of a church member.
'Life isn't fair,' Elder Oaks said. 'Somebody said that time heals all wounds. But it's also true that time wounds all heels.' he added in jest.
But in a serious tone, Elder Oaks, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Council of the Twelve, said he feels 'wounded' by an Associated Press story that he said dwelled on his admission that he made a statement he couldn't defend, and downplayed his efforts to promptly correct his unintentional error.
'It impugned my integrity and seriously distorted the account of the facts as it was presented,' Oaks said in an interview this week.
The apostle said he didn't willfully mislead a news reporter. He explained that he had misspoken during an hour-long interview and when he was notified of that he called the reporter to retract a 'statement I could not defend.'
The story was published four days later in The Arizona Republic newspaper, without the statement.
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson expressed frustration over what he sees as high-ranking church officials twisting the truth and deceiving members.
'I'm tired of playing this little game,' he said in a phone interview from his office at The Arizona Republic. 'The church needs to respect its members . . . It wants to muzzle its members.'
Benson, a sixth-generation Mormon and grandson of church President Ezra Taft Benson, wants no longer to be a 'muzzled' member. On Sunday he announced he had requested his name be removed from the rolls of the Mormon Church. The next day, he disclosed to The Associated Press details of confidential conversations and correspondence between him and Elder Oaks."
The subsequent news story published locally in Tuesday's Salt Lake Tribune was the latest episode in a saga surrounding recent disciplinary action taken against six prominent Mormon scholars and feminists. Five of them--one who was disfellowshipped and four who were excommunicated--said they were disciplined for apostasy and are victims of an orchestrated purge.
Earlier this month, Elder Oaks spoke with an Arizona Republic reporter about the recent string of disciplinary councils. During the interview, they discussed whether Elder Boyd K. Packer, also a member of the Council of the Twelve, talked with local stake president Kerry Heinz, who later presided over a disciplinary council that excommunicated church critic Paul Toscano.
In the interview, Elder Oaks said he had no knowledge of whether Elder Packer met with the stake president. According to The Arizona Republic story, Elder Oaks also said that if Elder Packer told the stake president what action to take against a church member, it would violate church policy and 'be contrary to what I know about Elder Packer and the way he operates.'
Benson claimed that Elder Oaks told him a different story during their confidential discussions held two weeks earlier. Benson would not say why he had a private talk with Elder Oaks. But he said that during their talk Elder Oaks disclosed that Elder Packer and Heinz were old friends who did get together at Heinz's request and that such a meeting was a mistake.
Benson added that Elder Oaks referred to Elder Packer when saying, 'You can't stage manage a grizzly bear.'
Oaks declined to discuss what Benson said took place in their private discussion. 'Even though I could defend myself by affirming or denying those things, I don't feel free' to do that without violating a pledge of confidentiality, he said.
The dispute over what Elder Packer said in a meeting with Heinz has attracted news media attention because some of those disciplined and their supporters had claimed Elder Packer was personally conducting a crackdown on church dissidents.
In a statement issued Friday, Elder Packer said, 'In late June, President Kerry Heinz asked his regional representative if he could arrange an appointment with me. We had served together in the seminary program 35 years ago.'
'Even though general authorities of the church are free to contact or respond to local leaders on any subject, I felt there may be some sensitivity about this request,' Elder Packer said. 'I, therefore, in a meeting of the Council of the Twelve Apostles raised the question of whether I should see him. The brethren felt I could not very well decline to see a stake president.
'I therefore consented but asked President Heinz if he would feel all right about his file leader, President Loren Dunn, being present. He readily agreed,' Elder Packer said. The meeting was held Sunday, July 11, 1993.
'We talked doctrine and philosophy,' Elder Packer said. 'I absolutely did not instruct him to hold a disciplinary council and did not then, nor have I ever, directed any verdict. By church policy that is left entirely to local leaders. When he left, I did not know what he would do.'
In his interview with The Deseret News, Benson said what Elder Oaks told him didn't square with what was said to the reporter. So he transmitted a confidential letter to Elder Oaks pointing that out. Benson said he also warned that if the apostle did not 'set the record straight' he would no longer feel obligated to keep their discussion confidential.
After receiving the letter, Elder Oaks said, he reviewed the transcript of his interview with the reporter and found he couldn't defend his comment about having no knowledge of Packer meeting with Heinz.
'How do you make a statement like that? I can't give any better explanation than the fact that I was talking a mile a minute and I just said something that on mature reflection I (concluded), "I can't defend the truthfulness of that,"' Elder Oaks said. "But he let his other statements stand 'because I could defend those,' he said.
While Elder Oaks said he was glad to correct his misstatement, he didn't like Benson's methods. 'He has taken a confidential meeting where he had repeatedly assured me that he would never speak of subjects we were discussing . . . and now he has written me a letter using that confidential meeting to pressure me. And I deeply resent that.'
Benson said he had no hidden agenda to corner a church authority. He said he wrote Elder Oaks before the story ran, thanking him for retracting a statement and explaining his intention was to give Elder Oaks a chance to set the record straight.
But after later learning that Elder Oaks left intact the other comments that troubled Benson, Benson said he followed through on his threat to go public.
In a followup letter transmitted Friday to Elder Oaks explaining why he decided to speak openly about their confidential conversations, Benson said, 'I feel you violated the trust and faith between not only you and me, but between the church leadership and the members at large. I therefore felt it my moral obligation to break the silence that otherwise would have served only to perpetuate falsehood and false faith.'" ("Elder Oaks says news story 'seriously distorted' facts, LDS apostle calls his error unintentional.
Cartoonist says church twists truth," Matthew S. Brown, The Deseret News, 16 October 1993, sec. A, p. 1ff)
OAKS TELLS HIS FIB TO THE TRIB
Oaks next turned to The Salt Lake Tribune, to further defend his honor. In a highly unusual commentary written for that newspaper, published on October 21, 1993, he declared:
On October 12, 16, and 17, The Salt Lake Tribune gave prominent and extensive coverage to wire-service stories on cartoonist Steve Benson's charges that I 'lied' to an Arizona Republic reporter in an interview on current controversies over church discipline. I have no desire to prolong this controversy, but feel it necessary to set the record straight on some important matters omitted or obscured in this attack upon my integrity.
My dictionary defines lying as being 'deliberately untruthful' and a 'lie' as 'a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive.' I did not 'lie' to the reporter and, contrary to the wire-service story printed in the October 16 Tribune, I did not 'admit' to 'falsely telling' the reporter something that was untrue.
I withdrew one sentence I had spoken in a long interview, and I did so three days before the article was published because I realized when I saw the written transcript, that this single sentence was not 'truthful' (meaning 'accurate' or 'correct'). When a newspaper publishes something that it later realizes to have been incorrect, does it apologize to its readers for 'lying' or does it just print a correction? My statement to the reporter was corrected before it was published.
The sequence and timing of various events is important.
On Sept. 9 Elder Neal A. Maxwell and I met with Steve and Mary Ann Benson for about two and one-half hours to discuss their questions. Because he was a newspaperman, we sought and he gave solemn assurances that our discussions would be confidential. We continue to honor that confidence.
On Sept. 10, Steve Benson wrote us a letter expressing gratitude for 'being able to talk freely in an atmosphere of trust,' reaffirming his commitment to 'honor completely the confidentiality of our conversation, in not speaking, or even alluding to, for the record anything said by either of you,' and asking for another meeting to deal with 'some follow-up questions.'
On Sept. 24, we met again with Steve Benson for about an hour and a half.
On Oct. 1, a reporter for the Arizona Republic interviewed me for about an hour on a wide variety of subjects pertaining to current controversies over church discipline. Though Steve Benson works for this paper, he did not arrange this interview and was not included in it.
At about 4:30 p.m. on October 6, I received a 'personal and confidential' letter from Steve Benson. Relying on his personal notes of our confidential conversations, he charged that I had 'lied in public' in my interview with the reporter and stated that unless I 'publicly set the record straight' by calling the reporter within 24 hours, he would do so himself.
I immediately studied the lengthy transcript of the Oct. 1 interview (16 pages single-spaced), received the previous day. I was distressed to find one statement to the reporter I could see was not accurate ('I have no knowledge of whether he did'). I am sure I did not speak that sentence with intent to deceive, but whether it was an inadvertence or a result of forgetfulness in the context of a long and far-reaching interview, I cannot be sure. But the important thing was that I could recognize that this sentence was not correct. (Three other statements challenged by Steve Benson required no correction.)
That same evening (Oct. 1) I reached the reporter, advised him of the circumstances, and asked to withdraw the single sentence. He agreed.
On Oct. 7, I received another 'personal and confidential' letter from Steve Benson thanking me for calling the reporter 'to clarify your earlier statements.' His letter did not even hint that he thought further clarifications were necessary.
The Arizona Republic article appeared on Oct. 10. It made no mention of the sentence I had withdrawn. There was also a separate story about Steve Benson and his wife seeking to have their names removed from the records of the Church.
On Oct. 11, Steve Benson sent a copy of his 'personal and confidential' letters of Oct. 6 and 7 to the Associated Press in Salt Lake City. He also gave TV and radio interviews on this subject.
In summary, when I found that I could not defend the correctness of one brief sentence in a long interview, I immediately contacted the reporter and withdrew that sentence, doing so more than three days before the story was scheduled for publication. When the publication honored that correction and made no comment on it, Steve Benson accused me of lying in public and participating in a cover-up, and the wire-service coverage of this episode has inaccurately portrayed me as deliberately making false statements in public.
My perception of this matter is simple. I have been the victim of double-decker deceit: 1. betrayal of promises of confidentiality, and 2. false accusation of lying.
My heart goes out to all who have suffered from this painful sequence of events.
("Oaks: 'I've Been A Victim of Double-Decker Deceit," Dallin Oaks, Salt Lake Tribune, 21 October 1993, sec. A, p. 19)
Faced with Oaks' full-court press aimed at damage control, I determined it was time to push back. Four days after Oaks' article appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune, my own commentary followed in the same newspaper, giving a somewhat different perspective on events:
Mormons are admonished to be honest. Unfortunately, Apostle Dallin Oaks chooses to deny important truths relating to Elder Boyd K. Packer's involvement in the excommunication of Paul Toscano.
On Sept. 9 I met with Elders Oaks and Maxwell. In a Sept. 10 letter, I promised them I would not speak on the record about the contents of that meeting. I have kept that pledge.
On Sept. 24, we met again and confidentially discussed the Toscano excommunication. Confidentiality agreements are valid only when the parties involved remind truthful, whether publicly or privately. Oaks broke that ground rule, thereby releasing me from any obligation of silence in the Toscano cover up. All else on that date has remained confidential.
In that meeting, I asked Oaks if Kerry Heinz, Toscano's stake president, had any contact with Boyd K. Packer prior to Toscano's excommunication.
According to my notes taken during the meeting, Oaks admitted that Heinz 'called and asked for a meeting' with Packer. Oaks said he was 'distressed and astonished' that Packer agreed to the meeting. Referring to Packer, he said, 'You can't stage manage a grizzly bear.' He said that 'it was a mistake for Packer to meet with Heinz and a mistake for Heinz to ask for the meeting.'
(One wonders why the conflict between Oaks' surprise over the Packer-Heinz meeting and Packer's public statement that the Twelve authorized that meeting.)
Oaks said he later talked with Packer and told him he felt Packer had violated procedure by meeting with Heinz, noting that Packer had no authority or responsibility in this area. He said he strongly urged Packer to avoid future such meetings, adding the he expected Toscano 'to sue the church.'
"On Oct. 1 an Arizona Republic reporter asked Oaks if Packer was 'involved in any way' in the disciplining of Toscano.
Oaks replied: '. . . If Elder Packer is having any conversation with Kerry Heinz, it s outside the normal channel . . . I have no knowledge of whether he did. But if he did, and if he gave a directed verdict . . . that is contrary to policy . . . and it's contrary to what I know of Elder Packer and the way he operates . . . So, that's all I know about that at this point.'
"Oaks' answer contained several clear-cut falsehoods which point to a larger pattern of deception.
First, by couching the Packer-Heinz meeting hypothetically, he falsely implied personal ignorance of whether it occurred. Oaks left this on the record.
Second, Oaks said he had no knowledge that Packer met with Heinz.
Commendably, Oaks later retracted this statement.
Third, Oaks claimed that if Packer met with Heinz, it ran contrary to Oaks' knowledge of how Packer operated. Oaks left this on the record.
Finally, Oaks claimed he knew nothing more. He left this falsehood on the record.
Upon hearing Oaks' attempted cover for Packer, I was dismayed and faxed Oaks a letter on Oct. 6, detailing what he told me on Sept. 24, juxtaposed against what he told the reporter on Oct. 1. I highlighted his false on-the-record statements, so that there could be no misunderstanding.
I informed him that our confidentiality agreement was void and offered him 24 hours to set the record straight, advising him that if he did not, I would.
It is critical to understand that Oaks did not initiate any corrections for the record. Only after receiving my Oct. 6 letter did he contact the reporter to issue a limited retraction.
Initially, I was pleased to hear from the reporter that Oaks had corrected himself. On Oct. 7, I faxed him a second letter, thanking him for taking the opportunity to clarify his earlier statements.
That thank-you note proved to be premature, because I was unaware at the time I wrote it that Oaks had not retracted all his falsehoods. Upon discovering that he had left most of them intact, I concluded he had been provided ample opportunity to set the record straight and had not.
"When Oaks chose to publicly dissemble, he violated my trust and that of the church at large. May his heart go out, not only in love, but in reconciliation, to those who have suffered from this abuse of ecclesiastical power."
("Benson Replies, Charges Oaks With Dissembling," Steve Benson, Salt Lake Tribune, 25 October 1993, sec. A, p. 5)
BUCKLING AT B.Y.U.
Oaks also took his "Battle of Wounded Me" to the Brigham Young University campus, where attention focused on keeping the hearts and minds of the rising generation in line.
The same day his defensive commentary ran in The Salt Lake Tribune, it also appeared up in the Church-owned campus newspaper, The Daily Universe. ("News reports distorted facts, Elder Oaks Says," Dallin Oaks, The Daily Universe, 25 October 1993, p. 3)
In the interest of equal time, I contacted The Universe and requested that my response to Oaks (the one also originally printed in The Salt Lake Tribune) also be published in the B.Y.U. student newspaper. I was told by a Universe faculty adviser that Oaks' version of events had been published in The Universe at the direct request of the First Presidency. He further informed me that the school paper was already having problems "up the road" with the Church. He said that if The Universe printed my reply, "the General Authorities might shut us down."
It was becoming clear that if Church members were going to get the truth on this messy affair, they couldn't depend on the Church for help.
I turned to an off-campus, supposedly independent student publication, Student Review, and spoke with its student editor, requesting that he publish a letter to the editor from me about the controversy. The editor replied that if the Review published my piece, it would be perceived as being a critic of the Church and "lose advertisers."
Still holding out hope, however, I faxed a cover letter, along with the letter to the editor, to Student Review, wishing for a change of heart. The cover letter read:
October 29, 1993
Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you yesterday. I appreciated your explanation of the current situation with Student Review. I sincerely hope that arrangements can be made to publish my letter in your paper.
It would be unfortunate if the letter is killed for fear that your publication would somehow be considered 'anti-church' or that it would be bad for business. Truth is ultimately our best defense and the best way of doing business. Shying away from forthrightly informing readers on matters of public importance only guarantees that wrongs will be perpetrated and, in the long run, serves only to hurt the church.
I would not object to having Elder Oaks' version of the events printed alongside my letter. In fact, that format might provide the best opportunity for readers to determine for themselves the facts of the case.
Thanks for your consideration.
The accompanying letter to the editor read, in part, as follows:
On October 25, The Daily Universe, reportedly acting on a request from the office of the First Presidency, published an article by Elder Dallin Oaks, claiming recent news reports had falsely accused him of lying about Elder Boyd K. Packer's involvement in the excommunication of Paul Toscano and alleging that I had broken a confidence in making that charge.
In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I requested that The Universe provide me an opportunity to reply. That request was denied.
The reason given by Universe staff was that opinions contrary to that of Elder Oaks would not see print, because of expected opposition from Salt Lake. Fear was expressed that if the Universe published contrary to the wishes of the Brethren, it might be shut down.
Given these unfortunate circumstances, I approached Student Review, hoping that fuller access to the facts would allow readers to make informed and intelligent judgments.
Those facts are as follows [the letter then covered ground already noted above, with these additional observations]:
On Oct. 1, Elder Oaks gave a carefully-worded, tape-recorded interview to The Arizona Republic, where he was asked if Elder Packer was 'involved in any way' in the disciplining of Paul Toscano.
Elder Oaks now admits that one of his answers to the reporter was untrue but blames it on 'inadvertence' or 'forgetfulness.' He insists that other challenged statements he made 'required no correction.'
These explanations are simply not persuasive. Four of his on-the-record answers are quoted below, paired with contrary facts he provided me in the Sept. 24 meeting, during which I took notes. Examined together, they point to a deliberate pattern of deception.
First, by framing his answer in the hypothetical, Elder Oaks falsely implied that he did not know whether Elder Packer had talked with Paul Toscano's stake president, Kerry Heinz. He told the reporter, 'If Elder Packer is having any conversation with Kerry Heinz, it is outside the normal channel.'
In truth, Elder Oaks acknowledged to me that they had met, saying President Heinz 'called and asked for a meeting' with Elder Packer.
Second, Elder Oaks falsely claimed ignorance of whether Elder Packer conversed with President Heinz. He told the reporter, 'I have no knowledge of whether he did.'
In reality, Elder Oaks did know the discussion took place--as evidenced by the fact that he later retracted this statement.
Third, Elder Oaks misleadingly insisted that for Elder Packer to have had contact with President Heinz ran counter to Elder Oaks' personal knowledge of both Elder Packer and his approach. He told the reporter, 'If he did . . . it's contrary to what I know of Elder Packer and the way he operates.'
In actuality, Elder Oaks knew how Elder Packer operated and did not like what he saw. Speaking of Elder Packer, he told me, 'You can't stage manage a grizzly bear.' He said he was 'distressed and astonished' that Elder Packer met with President Heinz, noting 'it was a mistake for Packer to meet with Heinz and a mistake for Heinz to ask for the meeting.'
(Elder Oaks may want to explain the contradiction between his claim of being surprised by the Packer-Heinz meeting and Elder Packer's claim that the Twelve gave prior approval for that meeting).
Elder Oaks also told me he later spoke directly with Elder Packer, advising him that Elder Packer's meeting with President Heinz violated disciplinary procedure and that Elder Packer had no authority or responsibility in this area. He said he strongly urged Elder Packer to avoid such meetings in the future and admitted he expected Paul Toscano 'to sue the church' (This also contradicts Elder Packer's claim of prior approval).
Fourth, Elder Oaks summarized his knowledge of the Packer-Heinz-Toscano case by once again falsely pleading ignorance. He told the reporter, 'So, that's all I know about that at this point.'
As he admitted earlier to me, he clearly knew more . . .
In conclusion, while Elder Oaks portrays himself as an innocent victim in this regrettable affair, he has (1) admitted privately the facts concerning the Packer-Heinz-Toscano case, (2) falsified publicly about those facts, (3) retracted one of his untrue statements under threat of exposure and (4) refused to disclaim other statements of his that are demonstrably untrue.
This dispute has been a painful one. It could, and should have been avoided if Elder Oaks had originally told the truth . . .
The letter was not published.
HURRAH FOR THE HERALD
Finally, I turned to Provo's community newspaper, The Daily Herald, hoping for a sympathetic ear. To the credit of its editor (who happened to be Catholic), the paper published the letter to the editor that Student Review would not touch, along with the following "Editor's note":
News stories earlier this month dealt with the resignation from the LDS Church of Arizona Republic political cartoonist Steve Benson. Benson is a grandson of LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson.
Following Benson's resignation from the LDS Church, he made charges that LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks was less than truthful in some statements made concerning Apostle Boyd K. Packer's involvement in the excommunication of Mormon dissenter Paul Toscano. There were several Associated Press wire stories detailing Benson's allegations and responses from Oaks.
On Saturday, The Daily Herald printed, on the front page, the complete text of a letter from Oaks explaining his position and actions on the matters. On Sunday, Benson called this paper's managing editor at his home and requested the opportunity to respond to Oaks' letter. Benson's response follows.
("Benson responds to Oaks' letter," Steve Benson, The Daily Herald, 26 October 1993, sec. A, p. 1ff)
The above is the most extensive account I have given to date on events involving the Toscano-Packer-Heinz-Oaks affair. If only Oaks had told the truth, it would have been a lot shorter.
Mark Twain once observed, "Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it."
Twain's words would be an appropriate replacement for the Mormon motto: "The glory of God is intelligence."
TESTIMONIES OF THE "SPECIAL WITNESSES FOR CHRIST"
Mary Ann and I had purposely saved one particular question for last.
We had come to the Mormon Mecca seeking answers from men the Church proclaims to be Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ--servants of God, acting and testifying in his holy name, leading by divine mandate "The One and Only True Church on the Face of the Earth."
We considered it not only our personal obligation, but our inherent right as individual members, to ask questions of those claiming divinely-dispatched authority over us. If they wished to rule our lives, we thought it only fair to know "by what authority."
Together or separately, we spent roughly four hours with Oaks and Maxwell in an effort to squeeze from them substantive and definitive answers on fundamental Mormon matters. The results were both frustrating and frightening. We realized they didn't know all we thought they did. Moreover, much of what they said was true certainly did not seem so to us.
If we were expected to accept in faith what they were telling us, then we wanted to hear--for ourselves, from their own lips--the basis for their claim to such awesome and ultimate power.
In short, we wanted Oaks and Maxwell to bear their personal testimonies to us, explaining how they had come to know for themselves that they had earned the right to the high and holy calling of "Apostle of the Lord, Special Witness for Jesus Christ."
Hence, our final question to them:
WHAT PERSONAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES HAVE YOU HAD WHICH GAVE YOU YOUR TESTIMONIES AS SPECIAL WITNESSES FOR CHRIST?
In response, Apostle Oaks summoned up memories of his days as a college student at the University of Chicago. Back then, he said, he though he "knew a lot" about the gospel. He admitted, however, that he had "questions about the Church"--although he did not elaborate for us exactly what they might have been.
Oaks said a local LDS Institute teacher helped him work out the answers.
Apostle Maxwell hearkened back to his days as a boy, when he said he observed his father give a healing "priesthood blessing" to his sister, whom Maxwell thought was dead.
This, brothers and sisters, was the sum total of their answers--answers that I did not need to travel 700 miles to Salt Lake to hear. I could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble if I had just stayed home, gone to the next fast and testimony meeting at our local ward and listened to regular members bear personal witness to the same kind of experiences.
There was no testimony bearing from these modern-day Peters and Pauls of personal visits, in the Flesh, from the Father or the Son.
There was no telling of any "road to Damascus" story
There was no recounting of angelic visitations.
There was no description of rushing winds or flames of fire.
In short, there was "no there there."
A CLOSING PRIESTHOOD BLESSING
The meeting was nearly over, but there was still one last act.
Maxwell gently admonished me not to leave the Church, saying that he personally knew of someone who had left its ranks, resulting in untold generations being denied the blessing of being born under the covenant. All it took to rob them, he warned me, of the Gospel's eternal benefits was for someone back in the lineage somewhere to abandon ship.
I thanked Oaks and Maxwell and stood to leave. Then, Maxwell unexpectedly offered to give me a priesthood blessing.
Before proceeding, a confession is in order here:
I had never been a particularly avid believer in priesthood blessings, although I had given, as well as received, my share over a lifetime in the Church. Try as hard as I might to believe in the Power of the Priesthood, from my experience, they just did not seem to produce the promised results.
My earliest recollection of receiving a blessing was when I was about six or seven years old. I suffered from severe congenital asthma and one night was having a particularly difficult time breathing. I was lying in bed, eyes closed, waging war with my lungs, when my parents came into the darkened room and knelt down beside me. My father proceeded to drop some consecrated oil on my head, lay on his hands and give me a priesthood blessing. During it all, I pretended to be asleep. After the blessing was over, my parents remained at my bedside for several moments, monitoring my breathing. I felt no relief, but did not want to disappoint my folks, so with eyes still closed, I tried as hard as I could to regulate my breathing, inhaling and exhaling as deeply and slowly as possible. Apparently the ruse worked. I remember them whispering to each other how they could detect an improvement. When they left the room, I quit faking it and returned to my regularly-scheduled wheezing.
In my teens, while on a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch, one of the boys in our troop slipped and fell while trying to ford a stream, banging his head on a rock and knocking himself unconscious. The Mormon scoutmaster asked me to help him give a blessing, even though I was, by priesthood rules, still underage. With the boy stretched out on the bank of the stream, we placed our hands on his head and prayed for the best. He eventually came to, but could not remember who, or where, he was.
When it came to false prophesying, my patriarchal blessing was a real eye-opener. I was promised that I would return home from my mission to find loved ones to greet me and things just about the way I left them, then proceed to wed. Barely six weeks into my mission, my girlfriend--whom I very much wanted to marry--died unexpectedly during final exams week at Ricks College. About a year later, several of my MIA friends, together with our adult leader, were killed by a tornado while returning from a seminary trip to Nauvoo.
My patriarchal blessing was not the only one to fall short in the promise department. I remember my mother being quite dissatisfied with the one given to a younger sister of mine. She argued with my father, insisting that my sister be sent back to the patriarch for a new and improved version (only the best for the Bensons).
On my mission, my companion and I were asked by a local member family to give a healing blessing to their newborn infant, who suffered from a cleft palate. We had fasted all day in preparation for a miracle. When we got to the hospital, I took one look at the poor, disfigured child lying in its bed--and fainted. Praise the Lord and pass the icepack.
While a student at B.Y.U., I further witnessed the highly ineffectual power of the priesthood. During elders' quorum meeting one Sunday morning in my Provo ward, a class member began loudly disputing a point of doctrine with the instructor. In a dramatic climax, the teacher stretched forth his hand (like WKRP's Gordon Jump himself playing Peter in the temple film) and boldly commanded the agitator "by the power of Jesus Christ" to be still. The supposedly demon-possessed elder yelled back: "You have no power!" Nothing happened, that is, until members of the class decided to take matters into their own hands. Several Helaman warrior-types jumped on him and, through the scuffling influence of the Holy Priesthood which they bore, hustled him out of the room.
Later, I had a brief health scare. A large mole had suddenly appeared on one of my toes. At the urging of my parents, I prepared to fly up to Salt Lake City for examination by a cancer specialist friend of theirs. Prior to heading to Utah, I asked for a blessing from the stake mission leader, under whom I served. He placed his hands on my head, promptly announced that I was healed and then gave me an added bonus: He proclaimed that all my sins had been forgiven. (I thought that was the job for Jesus Christ, not the stake mission leader). Here I had just been hoping for a healthy toe and, instead, I come away with a completely purified body. (I later found out that my blessing-giver had secretly constructed a prayer altar in his master bedroom--modeled after the one in the temple--on which he knelt nightly, dressed in his temple clothes. To his credit, however, he eventually left the Church, too).
But I digress.
Maxwell had offered to give me a blessing. It was a rare opportunity to receive such a favor under the hands of not one, but two, Apostles of the Lord. If a blessing was ever going to work, this might be the one. So, I accepted and sat back down.
Oaks and Maxwell proceeded to place their hands on my head. Maxwell served as voice.
I don't remember much of what he said. (I didn't think it appropriate to take notes during it). I do recall, however, Maxwell blessing me that I would remain steady through the course of my life and not be buffeted by "every wind of doctrine."
OUR OWN PARTING TESTAMENTS
The purpose of our meetings with Oaks and Maxwell was to ask hard questions of LDS top management on critical matters pertaining to Mormon doctrine, history, policy and practice—matters on which our future in the faith pivoted. It was a last-gasp effort on our part (borrowing Maxwell's term) to "rejuvenate" our dying faith.
As their answers would have it, there was to be no resurrection.
Our discussions with them had covered a broad range of topics:
--Joseph Smith's varying accounts of the First Vision and the reluctance of the Mormon Church to meaningfully address those accounts with Church members.
--Joseph Smith's decision to join a Methodist Sunday school after receiving the First Vision, even after God had told him to stay away from all the other churches
--Joseph Smith's personal disregard for the Word of Wisdom;
--Book of Mormon plagiarisms, particularly those involving Solomon Spalding's story-tellings and the Bible's Old and New Testaments;
--The lack of archaeological evidence for The Book of Mormon;
--Joseph Smith's bogus translation of the equally bogus Kinderhook Plates;
--Irreconcilable differences between the supposedly translated Book of Abraham and the Egyptian funerary texts Joseph Smith claimed were its source;
--Confusing definitions of what constitutes official Mormon doctrine;
--The "corporatization" of prophetic revelation;
--The limited role the Mormon prophet actually plays in declaring Church doctrine, prophesying the future or declaring God's will;
--False prophecies uttered by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other LDS leaders;
--Selected removal from The Doctrine and Covenants of troublesome elements from a Joseph Smith vision in which excommunicated members of the Twelve were seen making it to the Celestial Kingdom;
--Mormon practice, and denial, of polygamy;
--President Brigham Young's bizarre teachings on Adam-God and blood atonement;
--Mormon Church obstruction of evidence-gathering during the Hofmann case;
--Unreasonable limits placed on access to LDS historical archives;
--False and manipulative claims by the Mormon Church on the actual mental and physical condition of my grandfather and Church president, Ezra Taft Benson;
--The LDS Church's abusive patriarchal attitude toward women;
--Mormon Church prohibition on praying to Mother in Heaven;
--Official LDS intolerance of intellectuals, gays, feminists and other so-called "apostates;" and
--Boyd K. Packer's "grizzly bear" interference in the excommunication of Paul Toscano—and Oaks' blatant lying about it.
After the final meeting with Oaks and Maxwell had ended, I flew back to Arizona, physically and emotionally drained. Mary Ann was there to greet me. I trudged upstairs to our bedroom, fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling in a state of conflict and confusion. In a tired voice, I recounted to her my meeting with Oaks and Maxwell--and their parting blessing.
She listened silently, gazing kindly--charitably--at me with her big, brown eyes.
When I had finished, she said:
"Stephen, you know it's not true."
And, you know what? She was right.
On October 4, 1993, I finally wrote my own letter of resignation from the Mormon Church, addressing our ward's bishop by his first name:
I hereby request that my name be removed from the records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I fully understand the consequences of this action. My decision is final.
Thank you for your expeditious attention to this matter.
Mary Ann had been patiently holding on to her own exit letter, which she written almost three weeks earlier, waiting for me to get in gear. Now, together, on a calm Arizona evening, we walked down the block--hand-in-hand--and delivered the good news to the guy who ran the ward.
Mary Ann has a way of speaking simply--yet powerfully--to the truth. She also has a wonderful sense of humor, all of which she shares here with our fellow ex-Mo travelers:
I would indeed be ungrateful today if I did not sit down at my computer . . .
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Steve and I and all the rest of you are true and living human beings, who have seen the light (and found the life) out of Mormonism.
Thank you, Steve, for finally getting a grip. :) It has saved us thousands of dollars in therapy (and tithing).
And thanks to all of you in Exmo Land for sharing your stories, for being examples of courage to the rest of us and for your kind words and support. I honor and applaud your journeys.
One of my favorite rock groups, "Styx," has a song that invites us to 'Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me . . .' It's great to be with all of you on board the Exmo Love Boat.
"Peace in your travels--and I need another latte."
To these truths I also attest--along with all the rest of you who have your own personal and equally valid witnesses.
For what it may have been worth, hope you enjoyed the inside ride.
(Hand me another Diet Coke, will ya?)
"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" - Galatians 4:16
I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil - Romans 16:19
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds - 2 John 1:9-11
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. - John 17:3
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. - Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. - John 14:23
Bible Verse of the Moment
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