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Hancock supports the faith’s right to discipline those who challenge its authority.
"The whole mission and identity of the church depend upon prophetic authority and the ecclesiastical authority that issues from it," says Hancock, president of the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs, "and I see no reason to contest the church’s right to determine its own boundaries."
Mormon historian Matthew Bowman, who teaches religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, sees the 1993 episode as a natural part of LDS development.
"As any church grows and becomes more diverse, it has to work out ways of managing diversity of belief and practice, ways of drawing lines and determining legitimacy," Bowman says. "What the September Six show us is that the process can often be dialectical, involving the give and take of leaders and laity, as the church in total seeks to come to a deeper understanding of what its mission is. In that way, then, pain can sometimes lead to growth."
In the intervening decades, the LDS Church has largely taken a gentler approach to its critics, rarely resorting to excommunication (though a conservative Sandy writer was booted out earlier this month). At the same time, new generations of Mormon thinkers have found ways to explore the knotty questions of faith, feminism and history without directly challenging church authorities.
USU’s Barlow doubts such a purge would happen today.
"Not only has the church gained experience in dealing with such tensions, but various scholars also have been induced to examine their presumptions," he says. "In some instances there has been a maturing on both sides."
And what of the six themselves?
Two (Hanks and Gileadi) have been rebaptized into the LDS Church, one (Anderson) continues to attend her Mormon congregation, another (Quinn) maintains his faith but not his church ties, and two (Toscano and Whitesides) have moved to other spiritual paths.
"Being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Whitesides says. "It opened up a world of spirituality I didn’t even know was possible."
Hanks undertook her own spiritual journey before rejoining the Mormon fold in February 2012.
"I felt spiritually led back to the LDS Church," she says. " ... I found membership to be even more rewarding than I had expected."
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