by J.J. Dewey(To read the previous entry, click here. To start this series from the beginning, click here.)
The next step the Nephites took was to vest greater power in the authorities, thus giving them power to dictate: “Therefore they did exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison.” (Verse 30)
Do the authorities today exercise authority over the disciples of Christ? Most people in the Church would say no, but they are not aware of the facts. They are unaware, for instance, of the history and struggle of a man named John H. Koyle who said he received visits from the translated Nephites and received many revelations. From 1895 to 1949 he struggled against the authorities to reopen what he claimed was an ancient Nephite mine, but they fought against him tooth and nail in every way possible, and, of course, they excommunicated him for merely claiming that God had given him revelation concerning the mine.
A more recent example of an excommunication to preserve authority is that of historian D. Michael Quinn. He and others were cast off for merely writing the truth about controversial aspects of church history.
I was excommunicated in 1979 even though I broke none of the church rules.
I wrote a short article showing from the scriptures that there is progression from one kingdom to another after death. I gave this unpublished article to my nephew, Curtis Harwell, and he was so impressed by it that he shared it with several people in his ward. Within a short period of time the Bishop called him into his office and released him from a half dozen jobs he held and told him he was scheduled for a trial for his membership before the high council in three days.
He was shocked and called me up that evening.
“They’re going to try me for my membership and are only giving me three days to prepare,” he said. “They say that any witness I have for my defense has to be a member of the church in good standing. You’ve got to come to my trial and speak on my behalf.”
“If I do that they’ll excommunicate me and I’ll probably lose my wife and children,” I said.
“Well, you got me into this; now you’ve got to try and get me out!”
I took a long pause, “You’re asking a lot, my friend. They’ll not only excommunicate you, but me also and our lives will never be the same.”
“Are you going to come to the trial or what?”
“I’ll be there. Even though there is no way around the thought police discovering that we have some unorthodox beliefs. We have done nothing wrong and have violated no church rules, but we must take a
strong stand in defending ourselves to that effect so when they do excommunicate us they will have to violate their own rules, like the Jews who condemned the Savior.”
Three days later I took my friend Wayne (an inactive member) and drove 300 miles to attend the trial. The High Council had their minds made up before the trial was held which was greatly aided by the advice of a general authority to the stake president that the “brethren” wanted to see an excommunication.
They were so fixed in their course that they were not going to let Wayne and I testify, even though my nephew was told in writing he could have witnesses if they were church members. Curtis made a plea for about ten minutes for the witnesses he was told he could have. Finally when Wayne and I were about ready to force our way in, they finally yielded.
We both gave them hell for attempting to excommunicate an innocent man who had violated no rules except for being excited about an article I wrote. He wasn’t a polygamist, he had committed no sin, he obeyed the rules and he was no threat to the church.
They did not listen and everyone in the room voted to excommunicate.
Afterwards I joked to Curtis that he probably would have received better treatment and leniency if he had raped the Bishop’s wife.
The minutes of the trial were sent to Church headquarters and within a few weeks directives were sent from church headquarters to my Bishop and Stake President to interrogate me and make sure my thinking was in harmony their thinking.
It didn’t seen to matter what I was doing, but only what I was thinking. I was a full tithe payer, had seven church jobs, a temple recommend, attended all my meetings and was guilty of no sin outside of a few cuss words now and then. All my friends in the old ward would testify that I did nothing to attempt to divert them off into any strange doctrine or rebellion or even disbelief in the authorities or the church.
All this did not matter, as my sad bishop and friend admitted to me that he didn’t want a trial for me but advised me that one was going to be held by the High Council. They were gracious to me in that they gave me a week to prepare instead of just the three days they allotted my nephew.
I realized that there was probably no way to avoid being excommunicated, for many of the truths I had concluded to myself were at least as unusual as my nephew’s. At that time I was writing the first draft of this treatise. I made 15 photocopies of what I had written and mailed a copy to each man who was going to try me.
After the passing of a week I found myself in the house of my friends on trial for my supposed eternal salvation. Many of these were men I had known and been friends with for most of my life, and had spoken admiringly of me in the past. This time was different. This time the approach was deadly serious.
I put forward my defense that I had not broken one rule of the church and that if they excommunicate me they will have to break the rules of the church to do it, and thus condemn themselves by their own laws.
This did not phase them as they were more interested in what my thoughts were than any physical wrong doing on my part.
After all twelve of the High Council interrogated me as to my private thoughts on doctrine, they concluded I needed to be excommunicated because my thinking was “out of harmony.” Below are the three areas where my thinking was supposed to be incorrect.
(1) One does not have to be a general authority to receive revelation on the mysteries of God.They ended the meeting proclaiming me excommunicated. The next Sunday, even though it was against church policy to announce publicly the excommunication of members, they broke this rule and announced the results of my trial to all of the wards. They warned all members to not listen to anything I had to say, but if they come across me to merely show me “lots of love.”
(2) The President of the Church is not infallible
(3) There are inspired writings and people outside of the Church.
After this, many approached my wife and told her they would love me back into the church. No one said that to me directly and no attempt was made to visit me or “love me back in.” In fact, a high council member told me right after the trial that he thought I deserved the death penalty and it was too bad they couldn’t put apostates to death in this day and age.
It didn’t really bother me that I was no longer in the church, and I didn’t want back in. But what did bother me was the hypocrisy of excommunicating me, my nephew, and other innocent people, not because of what they do, but because of what they think – even to the extent of breaking their own rules to accomplish this.
This was wrong and we decided to fight for what was right.
Copyright J.J. Dewey, used with permission.
(To continue to the next chapter, click here.)
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