D. Michael Quinn is the kind of Mormon who sees God’s hand in ordinary moments, who believes he was miraculously healed of polio, who thought he might one day be an LDS apostle, and who still feels a "burning in his chest" that he interprets as spiritual promptings.
Quinn is the kind of researcher whose obsessive interest in the Mormon past compelled him to read every church authority’s journal, to scour the country’s libraries and private collections for LDS documents and to analyze every anti-Mormon pamphlet he could find, hunting for ways to justify contradictions between simplified official accounts and messy human history.
Where the other five are now
Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, who was disfellowshipped for comments she made on television about how the LDS Church treated women, is now a professional life coach: “Being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It opened up a world of spirituality I didn’t even know was possible.”
Lavina Fielding Anderson, who was excommunicated for publishing a list of attacks on intellectuals by LDS leaders, is president of Editing, Inc. and continues to attend the same Mormon ward she did in 1993: “Being excommunicated is something I think of or am reminded about every single day. It’s like a death; I haven’t gotten ‘over’ it. It hasn’t become irrelevant. But it has turned my heart even more to the plain and precious part of Christ’s love, grace and atonement. My LDS ward, by accepting me, allowing me to serve where I can, and respecting what I can offer has, in significant ways, canceled the exclusion that usually accompanies excommunication. They’ve helped me stay Mormon.”
Paul Toscano, a consumer bankruptcy lawyer, was excommunicated for critical comments he made about LDS apostles in public: “My wife, Margaret Toscano, who was targeted first, was eventually excommunicated on Nov. 30, 2000. Our children are all adults and disaffected from the church. We don’t go to church but worry about it. My story will soon be published as an ebook, ‘Road to Exile: Memoir of a Mormon Excommunicant.’ I’m a Christian with doubts.”
Maxine Hanks, a chaplain and independent scholar who lectures and writes on religious studies, was excommunicated for public writings and speeches about Mormon women and religious authority. Hanks was rebaptized in 2012: “After my excommunication, I undertook a personal spiritual path exploring other faiths and ministries, to find deeper answers about myself and women’s priesthood. I felt spiritually led back to the LDS Church as a necessary part of that journey to completion and wholeness. I found membership to be even more rewarding than I had expected.”
Avraham Gileadi, a Hebrew scholar who was excommunicated for some of his writings about Isaiah, kept the lowest profile. He was rebaptized into the LDS Church in 1996 and continues to write for a Mormon audience: “In my case — not a single charge was true or supported by evidence — and all mention of it was expunged from the church’s records. I’m fully active in the church and gospel and have continued to publish books, including my last major work on Isaiah, the Apocalyptic Commentary of the Book of Isaiah, published at the end of August, exactly 40 years after coming to the U.S. I have been in Washington since April but may return to Utah. I hope for the day that zealous Mormons will no longer be treated as anti-Mormons.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack
The accomplished scholar and lifelong believer naively assumed that these two halves of his personality were complementary, that he would use them to build up the faith he loved.
In reality, Quinn’s twin passions were on an inexorable collision course from his teen years in the 1960s until September 1993, when the Yale-trained historian was drummed out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for apostasy.
That same month, four other writers and feminists were excommunicated and one was disfellowshipped, a less-severe punishment. Together, they became known as the "September Six."
Of them, Quinn is arguably the most tragic figure.
He appeared to have the most literal faith (believing in angelic visits, gold plates, Christ in America) and the greatest ambition (seeing himself as the next church historian and maybe as a general authority).
Instead, Quinn, 69, has not had an academic appointment or steady income in more than a decade, and, though he still considers himself a believing Mormon, he has no community of faith.
"He may know more about the Mormon past than anybody alive," says Jan Shipps, a Methodist and a pre-eminent scholar of Mormon history. "He could have had a successful career at Brigham Young University if he had been willing to give up his research in LDS Church history and just teach."
But Quinn couldn’t do it.
"Mike is an idealist," says Elbert Peck, who was editor of Sunstone, a magazine for intellectual Mormons, at the time of the September Six. "He believed that Mormonism would eventually embrace the historical truths that he was discovering and be able to deal with the tensions like he did."
Quinn was wrong about that — or maybe just ahead of his time.
Teenage defender of the faith » When Quinn was 5 years old, his Mexican Catholic father and his Anglo-Swiss, sixth-generation Mormon mother divorced.
Young Mike, a precocious only child, was reared by his mother in the Los Angeles area with Mormonism as his cocoon. Shortly after the divorce, he contracted polio, he told a Sunstone audience in 1994, and, before going to the hospital, was blessed by a Mormon high priest and ultimately suffered no lasting effects from the disease. He was healed by faith, he believes.
Another time, Quinn got separated from his LDS youth group in a cave and heard a voice say, "Stop." When the leaders found him, he was standing on a ledge with a sheer drop just inches away. In his view, another miracle.
By regularly sharing these stories at church, Quinn came to be seen as unusually attuned to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, a religious rock star of sorts in his Mormon ward, or congregation.
At the same time, the future historian spent hours and hours of his youth at the library, checking out 20 books at once — especially biographies of U.S. presidents and World War II icons.
When he began to experience stirrings of attraction for other boys at age 12, he did what he knew best: read everything on the topic.
Quinn looked in the card catalog under "pervert," he told David Haglund of Slate magazine, "which was the word his grandmother had used after he told her that another kid at church had been groping him."
Under "perversion," it said, "see homosexuality."
From that day on, Quinn says, "I privately defined myself as a ‘homosexual,’ but confided in no one but God. I knew it wasn’t what God wanted for me so I decided to live a straight life."
Five years later, Quinn’s interest in Mormon history was ignited by poring over official accounts, such as the multi-volume "Comprehensive History of the Church," while coincidentally discovering the work of critics.
In "Family Kingdom," for example, Samuel W. Taylor wrote a lively and compelling story of his father, John W. Taylor, who had been forced to resign from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1905 for taking more wives after 1890, when Wilford Woodruff, then the president of the LDS Church, issued a Manifesto declaring an end to the faith’s practice of polygamy.
Though other LDS leaders also disregarded that proclamation, Taylor and another apostle were the only ones disciplined.Next Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.