Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reflections on the Second Excommunication

Event: June 6, 1992; Updated: April 2, 2012.

Ventura, California

On July 25, 1975, exactly ten years after the event that initiated my original conflict with the Mormon Church (a revelation on the Negro), I was re-baptized into the LDS Church in the Pacific Ocean by my oldest son Nick, then age 17, at the cliffs beneath the Laguna Beach house where the original notice of excommunication had been delivered to me by two local stake high council representatives to me on Mother's Day 1966. The re-baptism was performed at the direction and enthusiastic support of Newport Beach Stake President Ferren L. Christensen. I had felt there was unfinished business to attend to.

On June 6, 1992, almost 17 years later, I faced another trial for membership, but this time was able to stand in my own defense. This second excommunication was precipitated by my upraised hand in opposition to sustaining general and stake Mormon authorities at the annual stake conference in January 1992 in Ventura, CA. I had done this as the only way I could think of to call public attention to what I fervently believed had become an ill-advised official policy of intimidation of the LDS intellectual community, which was sanctioned by then Church president Ezra Taft Benson.

To me it was clearly a policy of "unrighteous dominion", an ecclesiastical term familiar to all active Mormons. How dare I think this?!--or presume to hold those in power to account?!  I had announced my intent so to vote to some of my closest LDS friends at the upcoming annual Ventura stake conference of about 5,000 voting members. One of them, a former bishop, advised that I risked excommunication. "Not so!" I retorted. Surely we had not sunk to the level of the Soviets, who used similar tactics against their dissidents.

Two years earlier (March 1990) I had presented a paper titled The Values Crisis to the Sunstone West Symposium in Pasadena, California, which refers to similarities and contrasts between Mormon and Soviet leadership attitudes and behavior. It was this paper that was used as primary evidence for the 1992 excommunication decision by Ventura stake president Richard C. Bryce, who was also the Ventura County deputy sheriff.

The "disciplinary" event was an intense six-hour KGB-like interrogation, which proceedings were recorded by Dr. Rex C. Mitchell, an active LDS high priest and one of my closest friends. After I objected to the stake president at the beginning of the proceedings about how the event was being conducted, Rex was allowed to come in to sit with me from among the nearly two dozen people standing outside and barred from the high council room. They had come to the trial from far away to offer moral support.

Of all those whom I could have chosen as a special witness, Rex was by far the most qualified to make such a rigorous account.  Not knowing beforehand what to expect, when Rex realized the nature of what was transpiring he quietly began to take notes on anything he could find in the room to write on.  His "Field Notes" are now in the public record in the special collections archives of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.

A few weeks earlier, on March 17, 1992, I had given a last concert for the Church at the request of the stake Relief Society president Judy Hule entitled An Evening with Zhenya. I did not then know that Bryce had secretly sent a directive to local church leaders that I was not to be allowed to sing anywhere in the stake. When Bryce found out about the concert later that night, he called the attending bishop (who had come in late to the performance to check it out) and ordered him to call every woman in attendance with a warning of how dangerous a person I was. The above link contains an account of the bishop's late-night telephone call to "Becki", one of the women in attendance at the concert. (Click on the "Time-line map" to listen to the concert.)

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