Months have passed since the press coverage about my 30 Sept 2012 scheduled disciplinary court over my writings and activities as (then) managing editor of MormonThink.com. There were allegations about MT editors planning the entire episode as a means to build controversy and drive traffic to the site. While this in fact happened, my serving as editor and the controversy of my writings were not focused or primarily intended to create the conflict the church pursued. Further, there were conspiracy theories that I had in fact outed myself and acted as a sock puppet in order to expose myself to the church so as to entice them to come after me; that I prompted Scott Gordon to forward his concerns about me to "a list of friends, including some who work in the LDS Church Office Building" (Scott’s words in SLtrib).
The sock puppet theory comes from the claim that the IP address used by the person outing me and messages I posted in my own name were the same. I have never seen the evidence so I can’t verify it. At this time, I can reveal that a close-relation staying at my residence did apparently discuss me to an individual who I don’t know. The IP may be the same since there's only one internet connection (and shared computer access). I do not know if this is the same event as what others have claimed, because I do not have access to the records and data. Now, it isn't helpful to me to spend a lot of time obsessing over it because it is a sore spot and problem for family. At the time, many requested that I comment on this. I declined for personal reasons in order to avoid having any close-relations potentially dragged into media spotlight. Presently, in order to keep things peaceful, I won’t say more on this particular matter nor likely will in the future. I don’t expect others will agree, but Mormons never were very good about accepting boundaries.
It’s reported that Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, implied that I had in fact pointed the finger at him to the NY Times saying he was the one that outed me. Scott wrote on his newsletter:
I forwarded the links of that public blog to some of my friends. The New York Times reporter who called said my email was forwarded to Twede’s stake president. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not. I did not speak with any of his local leaders, nor did I send an email to them. I told the reporter it was more likely one of his local ward members had read his public blog and told the stake president, but she insisted I was the source as she heard that from David Twede himself.I want to make it clear that I did not direct the NYtimes reporter to Scott Gordon. I mentioned that FAIR had in the past been suspected of hunting down a former MT editor. But I had no contact with Scott Gordon or any other member of FAIR during the episode. I never saw any of their correspondence. Scott Gordon affirmed to the SLtrib basically the same as he told the NYtimes--that he was communicating about me with "a list of friends, including some who work in the LDS Church Office Building." The Trib also reports that none of Gordon’s contacts were a Mormon general authority, according to the FAIR president’s own claims. Reporters push you. They want to get you upset or make you believe that the story is already clear and that you better come clean. They're just probing, but that's how they do it. They get all the quotes they can from you and then choose the ones that emphasize the single point they need while ignoring the rest. I suspect that's what Gordon experienced. Believe me, I had my share of this distasteful practice over and over in Sept-Oct 2012.
(Note: In 2010-2011 I had contact with Brant Gardener, and as far as I know that's the only contact with FAIR I've ever had.)
As such, I do not know specifically how I was outed. There is a great deal of secrecy about how Scott got my name in the first place to circulate it to other friends at the COB. It could be likely that the initial source is a close-relation. However, the elongated chain of events went from that contact through several steps before it landed at my local stake president’s doorstop. I had never once met the stake president or even my bishop before the day they hauled me in to interrogate me about my MT activities and to hand me the letter informing me that I was “reported to have been in apostasy”. They did not witness my apostasy. It was reported to them. When I asked who reported me, the counselor in the stake presidency said, “Maybe we are inspired to know these things.”
Previous editors at MT have been outed by something akin to the Strengthening Church Members Committee who informed their local leaders of their activities. The MT founder reports his experience here: http://mormonthink.com/resignation_letter.htm.
These conditions have existed among “apostates” who are publicly vocal about their doubts and have influenced other members. When the court was scheduled in my case, and in speaking with John Dehlin by phone about it before it was public knowledge, I attempted to reconcile with the stake leaders to circumvent being excommunicated. They declined to respond and the only response I had, ten days before the scheduled disciplinary court, was that there was nothing I could do or stop doing that would halt the 30 Sept council. Given the leadership’s determination, several of us at MT and others among my friends suggested that like with Thomas Murphy, media attention postponed his court indefinitely. We decided to take our case to the media. We knew that active members would not help us get the case out, so we turned to forums where critics hold out. While the report somewhat emphasized the Romney angle, it also covered the issue of leaders probing for names and activities at MT, and the leaders insisting I do not publish my views (censorship). The Media reported only the Romney angle, of course, and the rest is history.
I’m pretty sure Mormon apologists will continually accuse MT of setting up the "game" to slur the church. They see it as a game, and I guess that makes this blog post-game analysis. The bottom line is that the church does not like alternative points of view that appear critical. They sometimes choose to use disciplinary courts to quiet critics. And most often, it works. When it fails, the church does appear onerous in the eyes of the world for its censor-mentality. That is laid at the feet of SLC, not at the critics. If they had left me alone, none of this would have happened and I would have blissfully continued being a “nobody” who had perhaps a less than adoring view of the LDS church. And probably none of you would be reading this blog.
Another question that I was asked often is whether the church was really disciplining me over my writings about Romney. I already wrote about this to the best of my knowledge here.
What I would like to offer now is a little “play-by-play” post analysis in the following partial transcript which I took from my memory immediately at the time I was interrogated for 45 minutes in the Stake President’s office on 16 Sept 2012. Someday, I will offer more transcript as I am ready to do so.
After introductions and questions about who I am, what I am doing in Orlando, and a discussion about reports that I have written derogatory articles about the church…
Stake president: “We will hold a disciplinary council and ask you to come and explain your views.”
Me: “You’re saying you’re going to have a council against me…already so soon?”
SP: “Yes, we are.”
Me: What would I have to do to avoid that?
SP: In terms of not having the council?
SP: There is nothing you can do.
Me: Really? It’s going to happen?
SP: (nodding) It’s going to happen. (pause) The council is hopefully a place for you to express and defend the views you’ve been propogating in our midst.
Me: I didn’t do any of that here. I wrote that off-site.
SP: You came here, and, it was very derogatory in my opinion what you wrote. (pause) So during this disciplinary council which will be held in two weeks—
Me: Two weeks?
SP: Two weeks. We will give you the opportunity to defend yourself and what you’ve been writing.
(SP went on to describe the makeup of the disciplinary council the order of the events and how I might be able to defend myself with witnesses and documents. I was told I could not blast the church or be critical, and that they would stop me if I insisted on being negative. I asked them if I could take down any content—the Romney pieces, the temple ceremonies at MT, my blog—and if I took it down, would that alter the outcome. The SP said no, again.)
Me: This seems very one sided.
SP: (thoughtful) This is not a witch-hunt, but we feel an obligation to protect the members of the church from apostates and anti-christs who are contrary to the teachings of the church. (turning to the bishop) Bishop would you like to speak?
Bishop: Yeah, I feel that you’ve been somewhat disingenuous. Based on your own comments in your blog: “I don’t want to be found out, I need to be careful. I don’t want anyone to know what’s happening.” Do you see how you coming here being true but you’re showing a different face?
Me: Yes, because I feared that I would get reprisal if somebody learned that I was the managing editor at Mormonthink-dot-com.
Bishop: But don’t you see that if it is such an honorable and good thing and you didn’t feel in your heart it was a problem—
Me: I don’t feel in my heart that it is a problem, but I know that others do.
Bishop: So you knew it was something that the church wouldn’t want you doing.
Me: Sure. Obviously I do, because the church has a system in place by which they say “do not look at these materials” They believe that members should be very careful what they study and where they go online. And there’s a reason for that—
Bishop: But you feared?
Me: I do think the reason I didn’t want my name out there, even though in my heart I believe I am championing the truth as managing editor of mormonthink-dot-com. I truly believe that’s what we are doing there.
Stake counselor: Who are the other individuals you work with on MormonThink?
Me: I’m not going to discuss that.
Stake counselor: Ok, but why would you be so secretive about who you are?
Me: Because of church disciplinary courts.
SC: It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s almost like “I’ve got a secret, I’m going to hide it.” It just doesn’t make sense—you say you’re for the truth but you won’t say who’s behind the truth. It’s like putting something out there but not the person putting it out there. If people are truly interested in truth, as you say they are, then why would they hide their name or who they are?
Me: You remember that Joseph Smith used code names for the revelations in the D&C and the founders used anonymity in the federalist papers? But the truth behind the federalist papers is not less valid just because they hid their names.
SP: But Joseph Smith feared for his life and he had real reason to fear. Your life is not in jeopardy.
Me: People can lose more than the life of the body. They can lose family, friends, business associates and more social connections if they dare come out as a church critic. There are different ways to lose one’s life by stamping your name to controversial subjects.
SC: But there are no modern Danites.
Me: There’s a saying: If you want to know who controls you, think of who you don’t dare criticize. I think a lot of members inside fear the Mormon church.
(I’ll put up more later.)
Two of us editors from MT attending my ward on 30 Sept 2012,
the day scheduled for my disciplinary court.