I have been participating off and on this past week in an online discussion regarding the excommunication of a disaffected Mormon in Mesa, Arizona. The discussion has apparently shattered the record for most comments ever received on a news article published in the East Valley Tribune. The article that spawned the discussion concerns one Lyndon Lamborn, a member of the Thunder Mountain Ward in Mesa. Apparently, Lamborn has been studying church history and doctrine from non-approved, non-correlated sources for the past couple years (sound familiar to anyone), and he has come to doubt the literal dogmatism contained in the official sources. Lamborn shared his doubts with his Bishop and Stake President (James Molina). He also shared some of his doubts and concerns with his brothers (who are also Mormon) and some of the members of his ward. For this, he was excommunicated. That's not so unusual (unfortunately). What is unusual is that President Molina told Lamborn that his excommunication would be announced in every ward in the stake in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. And that's when Lamborn went to the media.
In case the newspaper takes down the link to the article, I reproduce a portion of it here:
“I thought if he could go public, so can I,” said Lamborn, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who said his research into church history gave him “thousands of reasons the church can’t be what it claims to be.”
Stake President R. James Molina acknowledged Friday he intends to have Lamborn’s excommunication announced to the wards at men’s priesthood meetings and womens Relief Society gatherings, even with Lamborn now taking his case public. Molina, as well as officials at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, call such a public warning about an ousted member extremely rare.
They say, however, church members must be protected from what discordant ex-followers may say to damage the church.
. . .
"Because of the nature of your excommunication and your involvement with people in this area, an announcement will be delivered to the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society in each of the wards in our stake ... on Sunday, September 23, 2007, that you have been excommunicated for apostasy," Molina wrote.
"We need to let people know if there is a danger to them, such as him teaching doctrine that is contrary to what is taught by the church," Molina said Friday.
Molina later changed his mind, after the initial article generated more than 1000 comments, saying that the Lamborn issue "is a private matter, so I don’t have anything to say to you guys on it."
I find it interesting that President Molina was ready to make the excommunication of Lamborn public until Lamborn beat him to the punch, at which time it suddenly became "a private matter."
The many pages of comments that the article generated have covered a wide range of topics, with a few Mormon apologists battling church critics and non-Mormons on things such as polygamy, Book of Mormon evidence (or lack thereof) for its historicity, Mormon doctrine, etc. Of interest to me is the general lack of desire on the part of the Mormon apologists participating in the discussion to focus on the question I raised repeatedly--just what is it about Lamborn that makes him a "danger" to his fellow saints? If the information he has found is true, and he shares it, then President Molina is essentially saying that truth itself is dangerous to the Latter-day Saints. Can this be? If the information Lamborn has found and that he shared with his brothers and friends is not true, it can be easily refuted, in which case there appears to be no danger to the Saints.
It seems the church (or at least President Molina) is both fearful and intolerant of members who have gleaned knowledge from non-approved, non-church-correlated sources and who share that knowledge with others. Why do some in the church fear truth and knowledge? Why do some fear doubts and questions and constructive criticisms? If the church is all it claims to be, there ought to be no fear of someone like Lyndon Lamborn or the information he discovered and shared with his fellow saints. After all, if he was wrong, wouldn't we want him to share his information so that his fellow saints, more enlightened or knowledgeable than he, could correct his erroneous views. No one benefits from a culture that discourages openness and encourages people to stifle their doubts and concerns for fear of community censure.
Perhaps Mormon apostle Hugh B. Brown said it best:
I have been very grateful that the freedom, dignity, and integrity of the individual are basic in church doctrine. We are free to think and express our opinions in the church. Fear will not stifle thought. God himself refuses to trammel free agency even though its exercise sometimes teaches painful lessons. Both creative science and revealed religion find their fullest and truest expression in the climate of freedom. . . .
We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent -- if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. . . .
We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people's thoughts. We should be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and faith. There have been times when progress was halted by thought control. Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail. Knowledge is the most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard. . . .
One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking. More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgment of our own shortcomings.
We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts.
The Lamborn story is of interest to me, obviously, because I am a member of the church who has been troubled by many of the same things Lamborn discovered in his research. I have been told by a friend of mine from my ward that some members of my ward's leadership are aware of my blog and have expressed the opinion that it has "done a lot of damage." Thus far, no one in my ward or stake leadership has approached me about anything specific I have written here. I am curious, though, about what kind of "damage" my little blog could possibly have inflicted. I am careful (I think) with facts and evidence. If there is anything false on my blog, I would hope someone would inform me, and I will remove any false information and correct any factual errors. I have a number of astute, faithful church members who read my blog regularly. I am fairly confident that if I were to make any errors of fact, they would correct me. I allow comments from faithful members, do not censor for content, and welcome robust and respectful discussion.
I suppose I am just a little bewildered by the Lamborn excommunication and the concerns reportedly expressed by some members of my ward's leadership. Perhaps you, my readers, could tell me what you think the "danger" was that Lamborn represented and speculate on the "damage" that Equality Time might be inflicting on members of my own ward. If the "damage" is in fostering doubts in things that are not really true, I do not view that as a negative thing. If the "damage" results from people being more fully informed about their own religion's doctrine and history, again, I would take that as a compliment. In my view, the church does not need more people believing with greater certitude; it needs more people questioning, doubting, wondering, thinking critically and analytically. If that's the kind of damage my blog is inflicting, well, that can only be a good thing in my estimation.
My views are expressed in a short essay by Robert T. Weston, called Cherish Your Doubts, which I reproduce here:
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false. Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief. The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing: For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands. But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock. They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.
Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.