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 I gave this unpublished article to my nephew, Curtis Harwell, and he was so impressed by it that he shared it with several people in his ward.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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It would be interesting to hear the other side of this story. But, if it is accurate, it seems quite insane. I think I would be exed for the same beliefs.
I was just put in as counselor in the Elder's quorum and last night I mentioned that I believe you need to discover for yourself and question what the prophet and brethren say. It threw him off guard.
Our way or the highway. wasn't that why the protestants were formed? Good thing the inquisition never happened. Karma is going to have a field day with many "good" and "faithful" members of this organization/corporation. Oh, Wait, karma is from a different inspired writing outside of the church. never mind, all is well in zion.
"Being out of harmony" with your local leaders was indeed considered grounds for discipline for quite awhile there. Just ask the September Six, who were doing little more than believing or promulgating doctrines that had long been known to be basic Mormon teachings, such as that we have a heavenly Mother.
When any leader can decide that you are unworthy of having fellowship with the Saints because your thoughts are out of harmony with his own (often simply because you happen to know more about church history and doctrine that he does), that is not a community of believers, that is tyranny.
Thankfully, this kind of tyranny in the church has subsided somewhat. Such cavalier excommunications have subsided because others have discovered through the internet that many share their own opinions, and that there is room in the church for diverse points of view. If the church ex'd all those who dissented, they'd lose much more tithing revenue than they already have from those who have chosen to leave rather than put up with the nonsense of a threat hanging over their heads.
In my opinion, the excommunication of J.J. Dewey was a blessing in disguise, for it freed him to express his theology in a manner that he would not have been able to otherwise. He has reached many non-members through his books. Had he been known as a Mormon, his influence would have been curtailed.
I knew a gentleman at a previous ward I atteneded who struggled to reconcile his belief in the church TM as it is presented today with the historical church founded by Jospeh Smith and he had quite an extensive knowledge of Church history from pro and anti mormon viewpoints.
I used to visit his home regularly as a young priest and I used to enjoy whiling away an evening discussing the history of the Church over a mug of Caro no less.
Sadly when then Bishop got wind of this I was warned to stay away from this gentleman in case he led me away from the Church.
This individual never had any callings until he appeared to repenent and became fully active again. At which point he was called into the Bishopric....
People in the church must be very insecure in their beliefs as they seem unwilling to discuss the true nature of the faith they profess to hold.
They are merely content to cling onto the comfort blanket the corporate church has given them for dear life and blank everything else out in case it disrupts that rosy picture.
Life down the rabbit hole is much more fulfulling in my view. By recognising the falling away of the church I can make more of an effort to live the true gospel regardless of my membership in the corporate church or any other church for that matter.
Paraphrasing what JJ. said 'where-ever two or three shall gather there is my Church'. So my friend and I were the Church regardless of our official membership status in the corporate club.
Fabulously well written and very thought inspiring articles.
Thanks for sharing. :-)
This is a wildly facinating read. I got the whole pdf from Rock and have read through it. Of course I am not 100% in agreement with it all, but I will say unequivocally that reading this has been a very direct and specific answer to a prayer.
So apparently Alma 30:7 does not apply to us in the latter days...?
Alma 30:7 it says:
7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.
Very well put, Commander. I had forgotten about that scripture; glad you brought it to my attention.
In Book of Mormon days they wouldn't have thought to have excommunicated a man for his beliefs. Neither would Joseph Smith. Today, it's a different church with differing ground rules.
I'm sorry, J.J. Dewey. I'm sorry this happened to me. I think every ward has historical horror stories of leaders getting carried away. There is a much older woman in my present ward who had an opinion that differed from that of the BP, and she was taken to a court. She was allowed to remain in the church, but it has unsettled her all these years. Sad.
My husband and I were in a position with a leader where our temple recommends were threatened over a policy regarding Sunday School and our special needs child. We spoke with this leader. We told him our needs and concerns, and he told us that they were not valid, that our child had no special needs (which, indeed, our child did/does have). The bishop had a counselor who sat in on the discussion. I pled with the bishop to understand that raising a special needs child was not the same as raising a more "normal" child, all to no avail. I was told that I did not understand, and he was the bishop. His young counselor almost had tears in his eyes. Years later that bishop has gone on to have some very difficult trials, and the young counselor is now the bishop and embraces our special needs child and ourselves. What goes around comes around?
Our recommends were challenged, and we backed off. We decided it wouldn't be worth it to "go there". But it has changed us deeply. We are very wary. There is not very much of a feeling of comfort with the others members of our ward, though we work hard there. We have a feeling there is a blot beside our name. The fact that we could have, later, written the book on disabilities for lds.org doesn't matter. I feel sorry for those who have shown such unrighteous dominion. They can't reap a happy reward for themselves. How can they live with themselves? That sadness erases my own feelings of pain to some extent.
I meant I am sorry this happened to YOU.
The issue as I see it isn't that you had unorthodox beliefs (I have many and currently serve as a bishop in the church), it is that you went about espousing those beliefs on other members. There is a distinction here. This is what led to the early christian apostacy.
But JJ was not espousing unorthodox beliefs, Bishop.
As he points out, the idea that there is progression within the degrees is scriptural; Joseph Smith himself taught and believed these things.
If anyone had unorthodox beliefs, it was the bishop who excommunicated him. He seemed to be of the same mind as many baptists, who preach that when you die you go to either heaven or hell, and once in hell there is no hope of rescue. JJ's bishop imposed his personal, undoctrinal beliefs on one of the members of his flock who should have been under his protection.
Ummm. Actually the belief in progreesion between the kingdoms has been denounced by modern prophets as you probably know full well. At is also the case that it cannot be supported by reference to the scriptures alone.
We cannot judge the Bishop in this case and I am surprised you are doing that, especially as 1. He has not spoken out about this case, 2. He won't either - so we only have one side of the story, and 3. The Bishop wasn't involved in the disciplinary council anyway - it was the stake presidency and the high council.
On the general matter of the afterlife the fact is no one knows what it will be like, what options will be open to us and what options denied. We can only "look through a glass darkly" at best. One of the frustrations I have is with members who fixate too much on the hereafter, rather than concentrate on the task at hand - to create heaven (or Zion at least) on earth in the here and now.
By the way, I like your blog. You're probably more "apostate" (for want of a better word) than you let on, but all have a contribution to make and truth, as well as error, can be found in many places.
You are right that the issue was with the Stake President and not the bishop, so thanks for that correction.
I am not aware of any comments by modern prophets that directly counter the idea of progression between the degrees. But unless those statements have come to us through actual revelation, I care little about what "leaders" may have to say on the subject, as they would only be sharing their personal opinions. I'm guessing Bruce McConkie has weighed in, but I have learned to take his declarations with a grain of salt.
At any rate, though it's true we don't have the Stake President's side of the story, the facts we do have don't seem all that controversial. Here's what we know from hearing Dewey's side:
1. Dewey held the personal opinion that after a person dies and ends up in one of the lower "degrees of glory," there is opportunity for him to work his way up and out to a higher level. Whether that advancement might take days, weeks, or aeons, Dewey didn't speculate. JJ also didn't speculate upon what type of effort might be required by the individual, only that he was not confined to a lower "kingdom" for eternity. This view seems to me compatible with the teachings of Joseph Smith, and also compatible with what we are taught about the mercy of Christ. I compared Dewey's local leader with a parochial baptist not because I knew him to be one, but only because that narrow attitude is often found among members of that denomination.
2. Dewey expressed his beliefs in a private letter to his nephew; he did not preach or espouse them to the church; not that there would have been anything wrong with that. Joseph Smith affirmed in discussing the Pelatiah Brown incident that no member should be disciplined for his beliefs, or for sharing them. (I would suggest that Church leaders be held to a higher standard because their pronouncements are often seen as official doctrine, although in modern times some leaders seem to espouse all manner of unsupportable teachings without being subject to any censure whatsoever.)
3. I'm going solely by memory here, but I don't believe the stake high council was properly set according to Church law with half the council taking the side of the accused and advocating on his behalf.
4. When Dewey and his nephew attempted to follow procedure for appealing the excommunication to they were ignored and rebuffed, even though they showed up for the meeting at the appointed time. The result is that an unfair and unwarranted excommunication was allowed to stand, and those convicted left with no further recourse as the Lord has provided for in the D&C.
I fully agree with you that we don't know much about what happens in the afterlife, but of course that is irrelevant here. JJ Dewey was entitled, as are all members of the church, to speculate beyond that which is commonly believed by the majority. I have heard people share more controversial opinions in testimony meeting. Many members have shared their witness of personal visions or near death experiences regarding the afterlife; why not be allowed to hold a view based upon scriptural interpretation? What harm could there possibly be to the church as a body to know someone holds a particular view, particularly of such an innocuous topic about which we admittedly can really KNOW very little?
The good news in all of this is that since being liberated from his membership in the corporation, Dewey has been free to introduce many people outside of Mormonism to concepts that are quite compatible with many teachings of the Restoration. Had he been officially a "Mormon," I doubt that his books would have attained the popularity they now have. So I see this as an example of God turning a bad situation to the good.
Thanks for your reply.
I would take issue with a point or two though. Joseph did indeed say that it was a privilege to be free to believe whatever we want to and not be disciplined for it. I know the quote quite well, I believe. He didn't say it was ok to promulgate those personal beliefs to others. Having those beliefs about eternal progression is fine, sharing them with family members is fine too in my view, but it is when it goes beyond that (as the original article strongly suggested it did - afterall, how would the church leaders have heard about it if it hadn't?) that the problems begin to stack up. Preaching false doctrine in these circumstances is a disciplinary offence.
With regard to the modern denouncing of this doctrine, I will find the reference for you. I believe it was Joseph F. Smith if my memory serves me right.
I myself personally believe reincarnation can, and sometimes does occur. I don't spread this around and the church will not approve this doctrine just because I believe it. It is not pertinent to my salvation now, nor to our calling to establish Zion in this generation. Therefore, it remains personal to me, which is probably where your thoughts on the idea of kingdom progression should have stayed.
I also find the assertion that the scriptures support the doctrine in question rather misleading. They do not. Personally, I believe a lot depends on how the word "eternity" is understood. You might be aware, for instance, that some have interpreted statements by Joseph and others to indicate that an eternity is actually 2.5 billion years, not forever. So perhaps, after 2.5 billion years all bets are off! Who knows!
As for the appeal, I have to say I find this part of the story rather suspect. Any appeal would have to be to the First Presidency and not to the Stake authorities who pronounced the excommunication. If you were sure this council acted inappropriately why was the case not appealed to the First Presidency? I can't believe you were unaware of this provision.
As for your observations regarding the way the council was conducted; by your own admission you were not present for all of the proceedings and would therefore be entirely unaware of what was said and done in your absence. Six high priests look after the interests of the accused, and six look out for the interests of the church. However, this is to ensure that correct procedures are followed in the interests of the parties, and not to argue for or against an individuals guilt or otherwise.
It occurs to me that you are arguing from a disadvantage.
The contents of your comment above, and the fact that you began these comments after reading Chapter Seven suggest to me that you are not yet familiar with the subsequent chapters that address your concerns.
Chapter 8, "A Visit To The Prophet" does indeed chronicle the appeal to the First Presidency, and not to Stake authorities as you had presumed. And I realize now that you have not yet read the letter that is at the heart of the controversy. That letter is presented in Chapter 10. Not yet having read the "false doctrine" you presume JJ to have been preaching, I think you're jumping the gun regarding its contents.
Although JJ Dewey is indeed open to the possibility that eternal progression may include inhabiting multiple mortalities either on earth or on some other planet, that is not the subject of the letter that got him excommunicated. The letter to his nephew merely demonstrates through the use of scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith, that once one finds himself either in the telestial or terrestrial kingdom, he is not stuck there forever, but has opportunities to progress.
As for "preaching false doctrine," I don't believe sharing ones beliefs with a family member (or others) is a violation of any Church law. And yes, Joseph Smith had no problem with Pelatiah Smith sharing his views with any number of people, even though Smith himself acknowledge Brown was doctrinally in error. He believed a man has the right not only to his beliefs, but to promulgate them. If a person in error, as Brown was, others can correct him without attempting to silence him. Joseph Smith did so by expounding the true doctrine regarding the book of Revelation, and pointing out where Brown had been incorrect. There was no need to kick someone out of the Church for being doctrinally incorrect.
There is some seriousness to the act of preaching false doctrine, but preaching and sharing are different things. Dewey's nephew sharing his uncle's opinion among other latter day saints is not a problem on the magnitude of Elder Costas standing at the podium in general conference and actually PREACHING what has already been established as false doctrine to the general membership as I documented in my piece "Preaching False Doctrine From The General Conference Pulpit."
Whether the doctrines of the Restoration hint at what we commonly call reincarnation can be an interesting academic exercise, but as you say, it probably isn't pertinent. That doesn't mean we are not permitted to speculate about any number of things. Lorenzo Snow admitted that the idea of reincarnation was not an unreasonable one in his opinion, and you can find a very thick book available through Amazon providing every imaginable evidence suggesting there could be something to it. Speculating upon what lies on the other side is not something we latter day Saints are prohibited from doing.
But again, the reasons JJ Dewey was ex'ed had nothing to do with a discussion of reincarnation. He was sharing something that has never been considered controversial, and that has been assumed by probably the majority of Mormons from the beginning, that there is indeed progression between the kingdoms.
And as long as we're not on the topic...
June 8th, 1889: Apostle Lorenzo Snow says that "his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith, was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband (sic). He said he saw nothing unreasonable in it, and could believe it, if it came to him from the Lord or His oracle."
April 14th 1898: The First Presidency and apostles consider the "alleged belief of some Elders in the doctrine of reincarnation... the conclusion reached was that every Elder's right to believe what seemed right to him should be respected and that no action should be taken against him while he refrained from teaching his views to others and respected and upheld the authority vested in the Presiding Priesthood." This refers to local bishop Orson F. Whitney who becomes a member of the Twelve in 1906.
I take the phrase "teaching his views to others" to mean teaching such an opinion as if it is established doctrine, since Orson Whitney's leadership position could cause some members to believe he is teaching an official doctrine. There can be no harm in freely sharing one's ideas with others, particularly if the sharer is not speaking from a position of authority. It is the false doctrines of our general authorities we should be wary of, such as those espoused by Boyd Packer in his presentation, "The Unwritten Order of Things."
But then, guys like Packer are never taken to task for stepping out of line, are they?
Just want to clear something up. I mentioned reincarnation as an example because it is an unorthodox belief but one which I hold. I did not mean to infer that JJ believed this. I don't know whether he does because, as you rightly point out, I have read no further as I am new to this blog and don't have time to read everything. With regards to my reincarnation belief - I don't ever speak of it to others in the ward etc, give my reasons for believing it, teach it, whisper about it, and so on. The reason for this is that I am busy trying to live the gospel right here right now. I might be right in my beliefs and I might be wrong. So what? If you or JJ really love the gospel then my advice is to live it rather than speculate about it.
I would be interested to learn of how JJ's views came to the knowledge of the church leadership. I'll read further.
One of the issues I have with this blog is that it is nearly all negative. It appears you are well read, have an entertaining writing style etc; you love an audience (otherwise why write a blog? you would just keep all this stuff to yourself) but you certainly have an almighty chip on your shoulder. And I see so much of the person I used to be in you. I know your mindset pretty well because I have been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. I might tell you about it one day. But here's the truth which I learned my friend; most people have no interest in personal venting, and the only real purpose it has is to maintain your, well, ego.
Sounds a harsh thing to say but like I said, I have been there and come through the other side. Hopefully, you have that to look forward to.
On the topic of reincarnation. According to Paul it is appointed unto man to die but once. Not that that means reincarnation is true or not, it is just Paul's opinion that was canonized, not necessarily what God would have us believe.
I think Alma says something along the lines of that today is the day of repentance. Why today if we can work on it in the next life? Just some thoughts to ponder. Not that it has any weight on whether reincarnation because it is also stated more as opinion rather than revelation from Christ.
Anonymous, enjoy your questions and probing. It is nice to see some push back, even if it is wrong or right.
Your perception that I often come off negative is a point well taken. I am aware that much of what I write is perceived that way. Still, you may be surprised to learn that those who know me personally see me as quite the optimist. What I don't have is a chip on my shoulder; at least not one I can recognize.
As for ego? That is, of course, what we are all here to overcome, which I think is meant by the scriptures when they describe "the natural man." I believe I am motivated to write the things I do by a desire to share my discoveries with others; it is not over any drive for recognition. You couldn't pay me to do this for the attention.
Well, you COULD pay me, but then I'd be doing it for the money, not for the attention.
What I am endeavoring to do here is to share my latent discoveries that many of the things I was raised to believe were legitimate parts of my religion actually are not. According to much of the feedback I receive, many others in the church have also labored under this false perception.
If we are to take seriously our claim that the religion of the latter-day Saints is based on direct revelation from God, then we owe it to ourselves to separate revealed truth from the cultural beliefs we have come to accept that were received by means other than direct revelation.
I embrace as doctrinal those things promulgated in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as the teachings of our founding prophet. Anything subsequent to that, in order to be accepted as doctrine and not mere policy, must be be clearly announced as actual revelation from God. Otherwise, there is nothing to separate us from Protestantism or Catholicism.
The thrust of this blog is an effort to separate those beliefs that have a legitimate claim to being "Mormon" from those that are merely cultural or speculative. There is nothing wrong with speculating (an inclination toward reincarnation is a healthy example), so long as we can recognize the demarcation between that and official doctrine. (And by "doctrine" I don't mean the opinions of Bruce McConkie or Joseph Fielding Smith just because they are labeled "doctrine.")
I intend, in the future, to balance my rants against the Corporate Church(TM) with some pieces about what I find to be virtuous, lovely, and of good report about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I intended from the beginning that my voice here not be the only one. I hope you'll stay tuned and participate.
Thanks for that. I appreciate the candid explanation of your position, but on my view you need to keep an eye on that shoulder!
You are right about cultural things being regarded as doctrine. It happens all the time and is not limited to the LDS or even religion.
I had to correct one of my counsellors the other day for telling someone that tithing is paid on ones gross (before tax) income. I explained to him that the revelations do not say that and a persons tithing is between them and the Lord. As a Bishop, all i am interested in is their declaration at tithing settlement - full, part or non - tithe payer. I leave the mathematics up to them.
And don't get me started on Coca Cola!!!
So yes, you're right in this regard. But you do come over as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" to a certain extent, which does you no credit and adversly mitigates your message.
Yikes! It's the wolves in this church who disguise themselves in sheep's clothing that irk me just about more than anything, so to learn someone perceives me that way is disconcerting. Sounds like I ought to watch my tone a bit.
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