on the cover:
“Responsible dissent possesses the spiritual power to awaken consciousness, raise awareness, create paradigms, alter opinions, heal wounds, and bring wholeness and holiness to our community. But it must be remembered that dissent raises the stakes. It is by nature confrontational. Even when carefully and artfully advanced, truth telling and dissent are usually not well-received. One of the recurring mistakes of my life has been my silly belief that I would somehow endear myself to others by telling them what I believe to be the truth. Jesus, however, did not say that the truth would make us well-liked. He said that ‘the truth shall make you free’ (John 8:32). What he did not say was that it would first make everybody madder than hell.”
Paul James Toscano traces in ten eloquent speeches the odyssey of his life from conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1963 to excommunication in 1993. Included are the sermons that resulted in church action against him.
“Authority is adored as the dominant divine characteristic” in contemporary Mormonism, Toscano alleges; “patriology blows unimpeded through the church like a cold wind, chilling compassion, hope, and faith.” He worries that “unless there is a spiritual revival of mythic dimensions, (Mormonism) is doomed to resolve itself into yet another sect full of ethical pretension and xenophobic aspiration.”
Toscano, who considers himself a latter-day Saint-in-exile, remains confident that Christian love may yet “overflow the banks of righteousness, sweep away respectability, turn dignity into mud, lay waste the levees of our vaunted invulnerability, and contaminate us with holiness.” Mormonism, according to Toscano, will yet become an open, compassionate, and forgiving religious community dedicated to the spiritual empowerment of each individual, the celebration of diversity, and the sanctity of dissent.
about the author: Paul James Toscano, a member of the Salt Lake City law firm of Woodbury & Kesler, has practiced law since 1978 and currently serves as Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 Standing Bankruptcy Trustee for the District of Utah. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Brigham Young University and his J.D. from the J. Reuben Clark Law School. He is author/co-author of numerous articles and four books: Gospel Letters to a Mormon Missionary; Invisible Religion in the Public Schools: Secularism, Neutrality, and the Supreme Court; Music and the Broken Word (with Calvin Grondahl); and Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology (with Margaret Merrill Toscano). He is founder and co-president with Margaret of the Mormon Alliance, a non-profit corporation organized in 1992 to counter defamation of and spiritual abuse within the LDS church. A 1963 convert from Catholicism, he was excommunicated on 19 September 1993 as one of the September Six.
The Sanctity of Dissent
by Paul James Toscano
Signature Books, Salt Lake City
Cover design by Ron Stucki.
Photo illustration by John Rees.
∞ The Sancity of Dissent was printed on acid-free paper
and meets the permanence of paper requirements of the
American National Standard for Information Sciences.
This book was composed, printed, and
bound in the United States.
© 1994 by Signature Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of
Signature Books, Inc.
98 97 96 95 94 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Toscano, Paul, date
The sancity of dissent / Paul James Toscano.
1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Controversial literature
2. Mormon Church—Controversial literature.
3. Ex-church members—Mormon Church—Religious life.
289.3’32—dc20 94-26589 CIP
[p.vii]And the Word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
The son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds: Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have he sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them….
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out….
I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bindup that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.
—EZEKIEL, 34: 1-4, 11, 15-16
Prologue [see below]
Epilogue [see below]
01 – The Pandemic of Narcissism
02 – Beyond Tyranny, Beyond Arrogance
03 – Liberty and Justice for All
04 – A Plea to the Leadership of the Church
05 – The Call of Mormon Feminism
06 – Silver and God Have I None
07 – Dealing With Spiritual Abuse
08 – The Sanctity of Dissent
09 – All Is Not Well in Zion
10 – On Love
[p.xi]The essays collected in this book—originally written as speeches—are personal milestones in a journey into exile—a journey that formally began on 16 March 1963 when, as a seventeen-year-old convert from Catholicism, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the California Baldwin Park II Ward. That journey lasted thirty years and six months, culminating on 19 September 1993, with my excommunication by the stake presidency and high council of the Salt Lake City Big Cottonwood Stake.
Growing up I was never a rebel. I was all obedience and responsibility. And in my early years in the church, my views seemed thoroughly orthodox, and my loyalty to leaders seemed unshakable. But, from the beginning, there was something at the root of my religious life that made my ultimate excommunication highly likely, if not inevitable. This something was not—as some have conjectured—anger, nor ambition, nor amorality, nor arrogance. It was a fundamentally different understanding of the meaning of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The essays collected here serve as a chronicle of my progressive development and articulation of this perception of Mormonism that so radically differs from that currently advanced by the mainstream and corporate church.
[p.xii]Modern Mormonism asserts that the purpose of the restoration is to eliminate religious uncertainty by establishing a church and priesthood structure that provides a sure-fire, fool-proof, and fail-safe conduit to God. What modern Mormonism claims to offer the world is not principally a body of teachings or ordinances or spiritual experiences, but a body of divinely called and appointed church leaders (“the Brethren”) who are authorized by God to deliver to us inspired counsel on how to live happy, productive, and respectable lives in this world and how to perfect ourselves in preparation for the celestial world to come. Modern Mormonism, therefore, promises to eliminate the risk of personal error in religious matters. In the church we hear this promise again and again in the form of such catchphrases as:
To be learned is good, if we first harken to counsel.
There is safety in following the Brethren.
Obedience is the first law of heaven.
When a prophet speaks, the thinking has been done.
Over the fourteen-year period spanned by these essays I became painfully aware that the modern LDS church has become crushingly legalistic. It emphasizes strict adherence to rules. It sees righteousness and spirituality in terms of church membership. It teaches that one’s standing before God depends on one’s loyalty and obedience to the men in charge. In practice, it contradicts Jesus’ teachings that we should have no masters. Its policies are at odds with New Testament and Book of Mormon teachings that our relationship with God is not determined by status—be it race, gender, family, tribe, nation, wealth, office, or circumstance. It stresses incessantly the importance of church and priesthood [p.xiii]authority over personal spiritual gifts and experiences. Its members tend to testify of the truth of the church rather than of the gospel, to emphasize the family over the individual soul.
I have never agreed with this form of Mormonism. For me, the restoration was meant to re-establish the truth that our relationship to God is individual, personal, direct, and passionate. Our apostles, prophets, and leaders were meant not to give us rules of conduct, but to call us to Christ. The Brethren were not chosen primarily to receive revelation for us, but to teach us how to obtain revelation for ourselves. For it is not our leaders, but the spirit alone that can confirm in us all truth. The church was not created to save us. The church is what needs to be saved. Its purpose is not to dispense rewards and punishments, but ordinances and teachings by which we may be spiritually transformed. The church was never intended to serve as a shuttle to heaven, but to encourage us on our own spiritual journeys, to teach us that mistakes are inevitable, but that forgiveness is at hand, that God’s love for us is personal and unconditional, and that each of us is equally sacred.
This is not to deny or disparage the need for church, family, government, or other social structures. Scripture teaches that each Christian is a living stone in the spiritual temple of God. Structures are important. But they are not primary. They are necessary. But they are not sufficient. The basic building block of any community, religious or otherwise, must be the individual soul, whose worth, the scripture declares, is “great in the sight of God.” The ninety and nine must be left for the sake of the one because the individual is always more important than the organization. The congregation is never holier than the humblest of its members. The good news is not that Christ loves the church, but that Christ [p.xiv]loves each individual. He died not to spiritually empower the collective, but each child, each woman, each man. Had there been but one sinner, Christ would have died for that one alone. Chief among the radical teachings of Jesus Christ is that God is not a tribal deity at all. God is the God of each person, no matter what her tribe, his nation, her family, his class—no matter what his or her religious understanding.
The modern church is uncomfortable with this view because, down deep, it does not fully trust its members to respond to the spirit of God or to apply the principles of the gospel. It does not fully trust God to do his/her own work. The ecclesiastical bureaucracy doubts the power of God to spiritually transform the rank and file members of the worldwide church. It sees itself as a spiritual elite whose primary duty is to reinforce true worship. So, it makes additions to the gospel message. It makes up rules. It promises those who obey them that they will become citadels of rectitude safe from the vicissitudes of life. For this reason, in the modern church to avoid sin is a more certain course than to repent, to judge rightly more serviceable than to forgive, and to follow the Brethren more reliable than to follow the spirit.
The good news has always terrified the legalistic and controlling, those who demand closure. To them the gospel seems too unpredictable, too risky, too open-ended. Such people find it difficult to trust an invisible God, to shoulder a cross of personal sacrifice, and to assume and allow others to assume the risks of personal accountability to God. Jesus says to us: “Take up your cross and follow me.” But we do not want this. We want to lay it down and follow someone else. We want leaders who will make us lists of dos and don’ts, tell us how to dress, when to laugh or cry, what to speak, where to go, whom to trust, what to believe, and why. We want someone to outline our life’s plan, a plan of happiness, [p.xv]where everything is pre-scheduled. We want a celestial itinerary worked out by God-appointed travel guides who can give us a map that charts for us a spiritual journey without mistakes, losses, weaknesses, sins, or unpleasantness. In short, we want all the benefits of life and none of its burdens. We want to go back to Eden, away from the lone and dreary world. We want a clean, well-lighted place, perfect, changeless, safe. We want freedom from freedom.
But this is the one freedom God will not allow us. Salvation frees us from bondage not from liberty. Each person is responsible for his or her own spiritual journey, for his or her own failings. No competent person can escape this responsibility. Each individual must choose to make her or his own mistakes or to make the mistakes of someone else. If we make our own, we can grow through repentance. If we do not, we will stagnate in blindness or self-righteousness. No one can dodge this responsibility by transferring it to a spiritual leader. To attempt this is idolatry.
In the course of my journey into exile, I came to accept that the modern church’s view of the restoration was irreconcilably opposed to my own. With ever-increasing clarity I saw that the church, in its misguided attempt to create for its members a safe place, instead, was creating for them a prison and abetting abuse. I came to believe that God will not bless such an effort, nor acquiesce in the abdication of our personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of our own souls, nor smile benignly upon us as we sell ourselves into slavery no matter how well-meaning, or inspired, or authorized our masters may be.
I was excommunicated from the church for publicly expressing these criticisms, which have been collected in this book. These essays trace my spiritual journey away from legalism to redemptive Mormonism. They memorialize the [p.xvi]development and articulation of my view that the true purpose of the restoration was not to create yet another “one and only true” group, but to re-establish Christ’s “true and living church”—not a closed ecclesiastical corporation, but an open and genuine religious community whose members believe, not merely in the sanctity of the collective, but mainly in the sanctity of personal experience, personal salvation, personal revelation, personal freedom, personal empowerment, and personal accountability to a personal God—a community whose members believe in the sanctity of the individual and in the sanctity of dissent.
[p.183]The following prayer was given as the closing prayer at the B. H. Roberts Society meeting held at the University of Utah on Friday, 17 September 1993.
Gracious Father and Blessed Mother: What a strange picture we must present before your eyes. We know our attitudes are generally unacceptable, our voices are alternate, and our beliefs are unorthodox. We are, on the whole, a diverse and motley crew. What unites us is hard to say—except, perhaps, our pain, our love for each other, and our desires and longings for truth, love, justice, and mercy.
As for the Restoration, it seems to be in such a hopeless state. And those who should see this most seem to notice it least. It is as if you have forsaken us.
O Lord and Lady, draw near to our community again. Let some of the eternal fire of your everlasting burnings peel the whitewash off the church. Pull back the draperies. Let in the light. Shake out the dust covers. Rid us of the partitions and the bureaucratic little cubicles. Tear down the false ceilings and make the grand old scrollwork visible again. Retrieve the forgotten arts and return the beautiful books. Send to lead us kind, wise men of patience and faith and [p.184]women full of knowledge and no nonsense. Restore our appetites and passions, our faith and hope. Fill us with benign contempt for mediocrity. Give us courage in the face of coercion. Forgive those who think we are their enemies. Forgive us our trespasses. Fill us with divine love. And when trials come—and we know they must—deliver us from evil.
For these things we pray with sincerity of heart through the intercession of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.