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An Excommunicated Believer (Part 3 of 8)

In September 1993, six scholars were disciplined by LDS Church leaders over their writings.  Dr. Margaret Toscano’s husband Paul was one of these, although Margaret wasn’t excommunicated…yet. I joked with Dr. Margaret Toscano that she was September 6 and a half. 

Margaret:  So in 1992-93, Elder Boyd Packer was really concerned. He told a group of Institute and Seminary directors that the three big dangers to the Church were feminists, intellectuals and gays. I was already really involved in Mormon Studies and in Sunstone. I remember a lot of my friends joking, “How many of the categories do you fit into?” But then in 1993, during that summer, I was one of the first. I was called in by my Bishop and Stake President. I was living in Salt Lake at the time. Paul and I were there in the Cottonwood area. I was told, I guess that Boyd Packer had gotten in contact indirectly with my stake president. The basic message was, “Can’t you control that woman?”

So, in September, and it seemed like more than a coincidence, you had several people who were called in front of church disciplinary councils. So the six were Lavina Fielding Anderson, Paul Toscano, my husband, Mike Quinn, Maxine Hanks, who was the editor of this Book of Mormon feminism, and I have a chapter in that book. So, Paul, Lavina, Mike, Maxine, Lynn Whitesides, who was the head of the Mormon Women’s Forum, which I guess in controversial terms was the predecessor of Ordain Women, although it was not primarily about ordination, but just a forum for discussing gender issues. We discussed everything, so it was seen as a threat. Then the sixth person was sort of the oddball, Avraham Gileadi, who had written things about the book of Isaiah, and the church going into apostasy. He had quite a following. I haven’t followed him since. I knew all of them. They were all friends. But before any of them, before September, in July, I was called in and told. My stake president was not supposed to tell me that he was contacted by Elder Packer, but he did tell me. He told me that directly. He basically was just saying to me, I mean, he was not a theologian. He’s just saying, “Can’t you sort of tone things down?”

Well, then, two things happened. Well, first of all, of course, they always want your husband there, when they call a woman in. You’ve got to have the man there. Paul has written a lot, too. But it’s interesting that first Brother Packer was more concerned about me, the women’s issues. Paul kind of jumped into my defense. I have to say, he got into this big conflict with Kerry Hines, our Stake President. Kerry immediately said, “You’re more dangerous than Margaret.” I’m not sure if that’s really what he meant, (chuckling) but at any rate, at the same time, I actually received a letter at that time, before any of the other summons, where it said, it was basically an ultimatum. “You are not allowed to speak, discuss, publish anything to do with Church History or Doctrine in any venue or we’ll hold a church disciplinary council. It was that broad. I just said, “I can’t obey that.” I said, “I know you just think I’m being proud, but really, it’s not. I think that’s unrighteous dominion, to ask that of me.” Interestingly, what happened simultaneously, that was like in July, is that my Bishop, who was supposed to hold the court on me refused to do it. So he disobeyed the Stake President. The Stake President wanted him to hold a court on me. I guess you don’t call them courts, that shows I’m old. But he wanted them to hold a council on me and my Bishop wouldn’t do it. Then, at the same time, Paul gave a kind of speech at Sunstone, which was called choose love, not power, where he criticized the leaders for sort of their corporate structure. So suddenly he was the focus. Then you had this explosion. So you had these six people disciplined all in September. That’s why they’re called the September Six. They were all excommunicated, except for Lynn Whitesides, who was disfellowshipped.

GT:  It could have been the September Seven.

Margaret was eventually excommunicated in 2000.  Despite all this she still believes in Mormonism!

Margaret:  I have to say that my relationship to Mormonism is very sad to me on many levels, but I still consider myself, I’m not a true believing Mormon, because I question too much. But at heart, I am a believer. That doesn’t mean I believe everything. I don’t, and I have lots of doubts. I always have. I question everything. But the bottom line is that I’ve tried to deny it. Because you know, as a good intellectual, you want to kind of say, “Oh, yeah, I’m an atheist. I’m agnostic.” By agnostic, I mean, do I absolutely know for sure? No. But I have to say that I have felt the Spirit of God working in my life for a long time. I believe in the soul. I believe in God. I believe in the spiritual realm. I also believe that God is in the restoration. Does that mean that the church is all right? No. I love Joseph Smith, but do I think he had major flaws? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that he was in instrument of God to bring us truth. I know that some of the things I say that some of your audience may think that I’m–oh believe me, I’ve been called everything: that wicked woman or whatever. But that’s not how I view myself. I love Mormonism. I love the history, the theology, the people. I get really upset at the church.

What are your thoughts?  Check out our conversation…. 

Despite her excommunication, Dr. Margarate Toscano still believes in many aspects of Mormonism, including Joseph Smith’s role as prophet.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Margaret!

367: Feminist Awakening at BYU

366: Toscano: From BYU to Utah

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