Mormon Scholar May Face Excommunication


November 29, 2002  

Filed at 8:21 p.m. ET

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A graduate student with Mormon family roots says he will probably be excommunicated next week for articles he has written questioning the validity of the Book of Mormon.

Thomas W. Murphy, 35, published an article in the May Signature Books anthology, ``American Apocrypha'', that uses genetic data to discredit the Book of Mormon claim that American Indians are heathen descendants of ancient Israel. The conclusion also is the thesis of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington.

``We're told to tell the truth, but not if the truth contradicts church doctrine. I would prefer to tell the truth,'' Murphy said.

Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash., will face a church disciplinary council Dec. 8. There, he will be allowed to make a statement and council members may try to change his mind about the Book of Mormon.

Church spokesman Dale Bills declined to comment specifically on Murphy's case.

``Matters of church discipline are handled on a confidential basis between church members and their local leaders. Local church leaders determine what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate,'' Bills said.

Lavina Fielding Anderson, a historian who was excommunicated in 1993, said Murphy is one of at least three scholars threatened with expulsion or excommunicated in the past three months, raising concerns about renewed efforts to purge dissident church members.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to Signature Books, Anderson said the two other scholars were hoping to avoid public exposure. ``Such ecclesiastical actions are deeply distressing,'' she wrote.

Anderson was excommunicated after she presented a history of troubles between church leaders, scholars and feminists at a 1992 conference.

The next year, Elder Boyd Packer, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, declared feminists, homosexuals and ``so-called intellectuals'' dangers to the church. A series of excommunications followed, though high-profile cases have waned.

Murphy said he has made it his quest to expose racism in the scriptures, starting with the teaching that American Indians are descendants of Middle Easterners known as Lamanites, the heathen antagonists in the Book of Mormon.

Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is a history of the Americas beginning in 600 B.C. Scripture teaches that a group of Lamanites who decided to forgo violence and war became Christians -- and white.

"That's racist," Murphy said.

He also objects to church teachings that dark skin is a curse from God. Murphy said he also questioned the lack of minority representation in church leadership, the church's political campaigns against women's and homosexual rights and ``excommunicating scholars who honestly confront problems with church history and doctrines.''

Trent Stevens, a professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State University, agreed with Murphy's genetics data that links the current Indian population with native Siberians.

But he disagreed with what Murphy has concluded.

The Book of Mormon, Stevens said, makes no claim that every American Indian descended from the original displaced Israelites, though that is the traditional view every Mormon grows up with.