Excerpts from A Mormon Story
July 8, 2012
Stephen Stone, RA President

RenewAmerica has special reason to encourage objective examination of the LDS church.

For over a decade, the work of RenewAmerica has been intrusively interfered with by the church, causing serious damage to that work and those involved in it, including the Stone family and national pro-life advocate Alan Keyes.

Even now, the church continues its interference with RA and its leaders and refuses to stop.

In support of these claims, we herewith present three chapters excerpted from A Mormon Story by Stephen Stone. More excerpts will follow in upcoming installments of our series.

'God wants you to quit working for Alan Keyes'
In August 2000, the Stone family's Mormon bishop told Stephen Stone, a national staffer for the Alan Keyes organization, that "God wants you and your family to quit working for Alan Keyes."

The reason the bishop gave was that the Keyes organization wasn't "paying the family enough" — when in reality the organization had been compensating the Stones for months well beyond what they had ever been paid from any other source of employment, including Stephen's previous work for LDS church-owned Brigham Young University, and when in fact the Keyes organization had also asked the Stones to remain permanently with the organization, making the family's opportunity long-term.

So the reason the bishop gave — insufficient compensation — was clearly contrived, as was his claim that "God" was behind the bishop's demand.

The real reason likely stemmed from the bishop's inordinate desire to control the Stones, something he revealed on many prior occasions by his abusive treatment of the family — the direct result of aggressive lobbying by an antagonistic member of the congregation who wanted Stephen punished for his canon-based view of church doctrine, and who worked closely with the bishop to bring about Stephen's eventual censure.

At least, that's the most plausible explanation, in addition to the fact the bishop was a public school teacher who — like previous bishops — disliked the Stones' homeschooling efforts, as well as their refusal to conform to many customary (but not official) church norms.

The only other plausible explanation was that the bishop didn't like Alan Keyes — an outspoken pro-life advocate who happens to be black (bear in mind the church's well-known history of discrimination against blacks until a policy change 22 years earlier). The bishop's possible bigotry is not necessarily an unfair assumption, no matter any likely denial by the bishop.

It should be added, to flesh in the picture, that the family had long struggled to succeed with a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors and investments, and their opportunity with the Keyes organization therefore came at a time they needed a financial boost. Instead of welcoming this timely blessing for the family, the bishop demanded they abandon it.

Given the family's situation, Stephen's already-extensive political experience, and family members' unique talents and interests, working on the staff of the Keyes organization was a perfect fit — the best opportunity the family had ever had — and Stephen therefore told the bishop he refused to comply, as was his right under both church rules and governmental law.

Stephen also told the bishop he and his family believed God had led them to this opportunity — to which the bishop replied, "That makes me sick."

Not acting alone

As it turned out, the bishop was not acting alone, but had enlisted his church file leader, the newly-called "stake president," to support him in his desire to control the Stone family.

Thus, when Stephen and his wife DeeAnn met with the stake president a couple of days later to resolve the seeming misunderstanding that existed with the bishop, the stake president refused to let them speak, lectured them about the importance of "obedience" to church leaders, and told them — when Steve replied that obeying God's Spirit was church members' highest duty — "If members of the church were taught to follow the Holy Ghost, the church would fall apart," a common teaching among some church leaders.

He also said — twice — that dependence on God should be secondary to members' pursuit of material security, contradicting the very message of Jesus Christ.

DeeAnn was so distraught over the man's insensitivity, and apostate notions, that she cried as she walked home, refusing a ride. She said she had never been treated so degradingly.

More degradation

A few weeks later, members of the Stone family met with the bishop in an effort to resolve the controversy.

They did so at the insistence of their severely-diabetic daughter, Siena, who said the stress of the problem was damaging her health — even jeopardizing her life one particularly difficult night, following a disturbing and fruitless visit by DeeAnn with the bishop to discuss his claimed "revelation from God" about the family's work.

Once the family's meeting started, the bishop refused to discuss the controversy, and — without provocation from the Stones — announced the meeting was over. When Stephen reminded him that he had agreed before the meeting to discuss the growing problem in the interest of Siena's health, the bishop called the stake president to escort the Stones out, entirely misrepresenting the situation and falsely claiming the family was being "disruptive."

The stake president soon arrived, red-faced and visibly agitated, and placed the Stones' belongings out in the hall. He began by saying the family was apostate — with the "church over here and the Stones over there" — refusing to elaborate. He said Stephen "needed counseling" — a curious assertion since the man was a brand new stake president who had no previous dealings with Steve (in other words, he was relying on the bishop's mischaracterizations). He gave no reason or explanation when Steve asked.

He then turned to treating DeeAnn and Stefani — soon to be a member of the Utah Republican Party Executive Committee — with uncalled-for callousness, with even more insensitivity than he treated Steve. (They said afterward he made them "feel like trash.") When Stefani challenged his disparaging words about her family, he insisted that she, along with DeeAnn — neither of whom he knew — needed counseling.

In Mormondom, we should note, "counseling" means submission to authority — as well as modification of thinking or behavior through degrees of pressure. "You need to obey counsel" is a familiar refrain.

As the president talked, he exhibited a perceptibly threatening tone and demeanor.

With that, the man got up and left. DeeAnn, Stefani, and Steve agreed it was the most demeaning experience they'd ever had as church members. Stefani said she could sense the president "is going to hurt us."

As the president attempted to leave, Steve stood in front of him and reprimanded him for treating DeeAnn and Stefani so condescendingly — saying it was one thing to be treated so badly himself, but quite another for his wife and daughter to be insulted in such an "ugly" manner.

Steve followed him down the hall and out the door. Standing by the president's SUV, he asked, "What is this all about?" — to which the president replied, "Take it up with the Brethren."

Threat of excommunication

In early October 2000, Stephen scheduled a follow-up meeting with the bishop in a good-faith effort to work things out, and the bishop agreed, but said the stake president wanted to be in attendance at all such meetings. Steve therefore arranged for the meeting to be held in the stake president's office, with the president there.

When Steve and DeeAnn arrived, the stake president announced that he'd asked the bishop not to come. The president also claimed he'd set the meeting up — an incomprehensible claim, since Steve had taken all the initiative to arrange it.

Revealing anger at Steve's reprimand a few weeks earlier, the president said he intended to try Steve for his church membership — in other words, he threatened Steve with excommunication. When Steve asked the president's reason for such an extreme action, one that would ostensibly deprive Steve of salvation, under church tradition, the president said, "You won't obey your leaders."

Since the only controversy at issue regarding "obedience" centered in Steve's refusal to quit working for Alan Keyes, the president, in actuality, threatened to punish Steve with loss of eternal life for choosing his own employment and for exercising his right as a citizen to participate in the American political system.

Anyone familiar with God's Word, of course, would see such disregard for the worth of a human being, and for the rudiments of human law, for what it is: sheer apostasy from the things of God, as well as undoctrinal delusions of authority by a prideful man.

"First do no harm"

A week later, the stake president arranged to visit the Stone family home to discuss his intention to try Steve for his membership in the church for "disobeying" him.

When the president entered the home — some members of the family commented afterward — he brought with him an oppressive spirit they said they could feel. He commenced to say that Stephen's refusal to comply with the president's requirements could be likened to a "diseased arm" that needed to be examined.

Seriously-ill Siena did most of the talking on behalf of the family (as Steve thought it wise for him just to listen), and she disputed the president's analogy, as well as his claim that only by trying her father could the president determine if he had grounds for disciplinary action.

Struggling to keep her composure, Siena opened her scriptures and began reading passages that define godly leadership and the limitations of human authority, and the president rebuked her for implicitly challenging him. He then proceeded to compare the entire Stone family with excommunicated "polygamists," because the family believed in "following the Holy Ghost" — and he reiterated his earlier claim that "if church members were taught to follow the Holy Ghost, the whole church would collapse."

As Siena sat weeping uncontrollably, he exited the home without saying a word — with Steve following him. Steve reminded the president, an obstetrician, of his Hippocratic Oath, which requires of physicians: "First, do no harm." The president ignored him, walked to his car, and drove away.

A Stone's throw

Feeling not only oppressed by the church at this point, but increasingly tormented by an overzealous church leader, the Stones received a disturbing phone call from the obsessive president.

This occurred in mid-November. It followed by four weeks a meeting Siena arranged with the bishop in which he showed no concern for the effect the escalating controversy was having on her health (and in fact, this was the first time in the three years since he was called as bishop that he ever talked with her about anything, even though he was expected to get to know all members of his congregation as part of his duties).

In that meeting, the bishop confirmed he indeed believed he had a "revelation" from God about what the Stone family "needed to do" in their employment. He declined to elaborate.

The president said his reason for calling was to invite the family to sit together with him and view a recent video by church president Gordon B. Hinckley about the evils of tattoos, piercings, and pornography. Since the family already shunned such popular trends, Steve declined the invitation. He also had no interest in subjecting his family to the presence of a man he considered a menace to his family's peace.

When Steve asked why the president wanted the family to see the video, the president said it was because Steve was a "controlling father" — something the man had no basis for claiming, not personally knowing Steve. He also said that Steve's "strengths had become [his] weaknesses" — borrowing from the title of a popular talk by a high church official who argued (without doctrinal grounds) that seeking to follow the Holy Ghost "in all things" was inappropriate.

At this point, DeeAnn, who could overhear much of the conversation, took the phone and told the president to "leave us alone."

Siena then weighed in, and confronted the president for his unwanted intrusion into the family's wellbeing. She became so disturbed by his words to her that she threw the phone across the room. When Steve picked up the phone and asked the president if he appreciated what he had just done, the president hung up.

Mentally unstable

By now, it should be obvious that the stake president who threatened Steve with loss of salvation for doing nothing more than what he was entitled to do as both a human being and an American (that is, choose his own employment and pursue his own lawful political activism) was, himself, mentally and emotionally unstable — obsessed with grandiose notions of divine authority, as well as shockingly callous disregard for those who refused to do his bidding.

It is even fair to say that he — along with his cohort in abusing the Stone family, the above bishop — exhibited a disturbing fanaticism similar to that which motivated the Islamic terrorists of 9/11:

A day after the Twin Towers went down, Peter Jennings interviewed a Lebanese journalist and asked him what possible mindset could have possessed the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The Middle-Eastern journalist said, "They believe they have a divine right to impose their will on other people."

Such an extreme — and ungodly — notion of self-importance and inordinate power is what lay at the root of the above church leaders' abusive treatment of the Stone family, as will become increasingly clear as the church's interference with the work of the Stone family unfolds in the following account.

It also characterized the behavior of a least a dozen high church officials who collaborated with, or condoned, these local leaders' unlawful abuse of the Stones, including the church's presiding First Presidency.

All because of two "crazy" local church leaders who initiated unbelievable abuse of the Stone family at the outset, and then were permitted by high church leaders to act out their indefensible mischief with impunity, and to enlist other leaders in that mischiefdespite repeated pleas by the family to the church's highest leaders for relief — leading to Stephen's excommunication in October 2009, and ongoing harm to the family, and extended family, even to this day.

Seeds of authoritarianism

Nutty as the preceding scenario obviously is, the seeds of such extreme authoritarianism are deeply embedded in LDS church culture — in which members are widely taught to "sustain" and even idealize their leaders — all of whom, it should be noted, are merely "lay" members called to serve in the church at every level, including the First Presidency.

The result is a bureaucracy and a culture that reflect some of the worst tendencies of human nature. That is made clear in the church's own official guidelines for leadership, Doctrine & Covenants 121:34-46, which most church members and leaders all but ignore, or fail to take seriously.

The passage begins:
    Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

    Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson —

    That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

    That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (verses 34-37, emphasis added)
What could be more plain than these definitive words — which provide the backdrop for the illuminating verses that follow? Unfortunately, this section of the D&C was not published until almost nine years after the foundations of the church's culture and bureaucracy were laid, and undercurrents of extreme authoritarianism that formed early on still remain.

With that in mind, now consider the candid insight of the next two verses:
    We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    Hence many are called, but few are chosen. (verses 39 and 40, emphasis added)
It should go without saying that in a church where nearly all active members are given some kind of calling, and hence share some measure of authority, it is inevitable that widespread notions of unchecked authoritarianism would well up, even spill over — given human nature, and given the common belief in the church that all callings come directly from God.

Such tendencies easily explain what the church has done to the Stone family, and why there has been no real recourse for remedy, despite a decade of repeated requests by the family for an end to the abuses they've suffered at the hands of church officials at every level.

Initial outcomes
Some observers might be inclined to just shake their heads at the behavior of church officials at this point (chalking it up to the church's reputation as a cult), were it not for what was the centerpiece of the controversy — the family's political work — a matter with serious legal implications.

From the moment the abuse and threats began, the Stone family found it virtually impossible to concentrate their normal energies on the time-consuming, high-intensity work they were engaged in for the Alan Keyes organization, which they were being compelled to quit upon penalty of Stephen's excommunication.

Bear in mind that when the ordeal started, Stephen had just returned from a Keyes staff meeting at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia with the original plan of what later became RenewAmerica. He was immersed in fleshing in that plan when church leaders told him to drop his work for Keyes. He ultimately lost months of valuable time and effort on that project due to the church's political interference.

The week before the bishop injected himself (with the stake president's support) into the family's political work in August 2000, the family had also just arranged for Alan Keyes to be the keynote speaker at Utah's "Constitution Week" celebration, which they got permission to hold in Brigham Young University's 22,000-seat Marriott Center — a venue that promised to draw a large crowd of students and members of the community.

That March, the family had already staged the biggest Keyes-related event of the presidential primaries — drawing 5,000 enthusiastic supporters to Utah Valley University's McKay Events Center, along with the Lt. Governor and other public officials, and conservative writer W. Cleon Skousen, who introduced Keyes.

Then just days after the interference by the church began, BYU officials abruptly canceled the Marriott Center event — inexplicably disparaging the Stones in announcing that decision. The family was forced to scramble to find another venue, and at the last minute they secured the McKay Center, which required school officials to re-schedule a prior paid reservation. The widely-publicized Keyes event, which featured introductions of Keyes by Gov. Mike Leavitt and Sen. Orrin Hatch — and which was broadcast by C-SPAN as "America's Unity Call" just before the 2000 election — almost didn't take place.

Fortunately, the state's Constitution Week celebration went ahead as planned in its new venue — and a "Republican Wagon Train" event featuring Keyes earlier that day also proceeded as planned in Utah County. Meanwhile, the Stones were made to endure extreme duress, distraction, and humiliation by their church leaders as they tried to pull off these major public events (and as they devoted considerable energy afterward to getting a 30-minute version of the Unity Call on hundreds of conservative-Christian radio stations nationwide).

It's true to say that the church's untimely, intrusive interference with the work of the Stone family nearly cost Dr. Keyes his opportunity to participate. It certainly took its toll on the Stones, who worked as much as 40 hours at a stretch without rest to overcome the church's errant, politically-inappropriate, adversity.

Deceptive hearing into Steve's disobedience

The escalating controversy came to a head several weeks later when Stephen and DeeAnn were subjected to an unannounced "hearing" by the stake president and his two counselors — a deceptive meeting in which the president repeatedly lied and perjured himself in front of his associates to justify his intentions toward Steve.

In his testimony, the president focused on Steve's "disobedience" to his leaders, his claim that Steve's "strengths had become his weaknesses," Siena's reliance on faith to manage her diabetes, Steve's struggle to succeed with a series of entrepreneurial pursuits, the fact Steve had rebuked him for his disparagement of DeeAnn and Stefani, and a slanderous assertion that Steve "had mental and emotional problems" and therefore needed "mental counseling."

As the president recounted events of the controversy, he described many of the facts exactly backwards, in ways that could only be considered intentional. Steve and DeeAnn were shocked at his evident dishonesty.

Given minutes to respond, Steve dispelled — as best as he could with the limited opportunity he was given — each of the president's misrepresentations, which included an absurd claim that Steve monopolized the time in their brief meetings. He testified the president's allegations were not only false or misleading, but frivolous: none was a defensible basis for trying Steve for his membership.

Indelibly putting a metaphor on the hearing, one of the counselors privately asked Steve after the other leaders had left if he still believed the stake was a "spiritual black hole," as he'd once confided to the man. Steve assured him he did.

Upcoming church vote

In response to the above charade of a hearing by the stake presidency, the Stone family decided to do something allowed by Mormon scripture, but rarely taken advantage of by members: vote against their leaders.

They were influenced in this decision by the fact that Steve had maintained frequent contact with the president's counselors ever since the controversy began to escalate, and would periodically check with them to see if the president still planned to make good on his threat to try Steve for his membership. Each time, they responded "Yes."

The family was also influenced by the fact that both the president and the bishop had acted together at every significant point, the evidence revealed, reinforcing each other's controlling behavior — thus both were culpable.

A "ward conference" was to be held in February that would routinely conduct "sustainings," and the Stones determined to cast negative votes (as was their right under church law) against the stake president and bishop for behavior unbecoming church members, based on the leaders' abusive conduct.

Before doing so, however, Steve and other family members met first with the bishop, and then with the stake president, to inform them of the family's intentions, and to try to work things out prior to ward conference.

The meeting with the bishop was disastrous, and ended with the bishop shoving Steve physically from his office while Steve attempted to answer a question the bishop had just asked him — as a group of ward members watched out in the hall — reprising aggressive behavior the bishop had exhibited on at least two prior occasions in recent years. Before this latest show of force, the bishop told the family that Siena was an "unworthy" person because she tried to control her diabetes through a rigorous diet and the grace of God, and she therefore "deserved to suffer."

When Steve told the bishop that he and all other church leaders were subject to the laws of God as outlined in the LDS scriptures, and that those laws should govern all their duties and actions, the bishop called Steve's view "apostate" — reiterating what he'd said years earlier when Steve made the same point.

The meeting the next day with the stake president began with this compulsive individual acting flippantly toward the Stone family and their concerns, and ended with him making fun of the two sons Steve had brought with him, Ethan and Ellery. During the remainder of the brief meeting, the president showed little appreciation for the mischief his threats and intimidation had caused the family and their political work — denying he had done anything wrong — and he seemed likewise to have little respect for Steve's rights as a person, as a member of the church, or as an American citizen.

These meetings left the Stones feeling they had no alternative but to exercise their rights under the church's "Law of Common Consent" and vote against these two unworthy individuals — who by now, it should be said, had also enlisted many of their associates in the mischief, multiplying the stress on the family.

(A note about the use of the term "perjury" above and elsewhere in this narrative: Mormons vow at baptism, upon receipt of the priesthood, and in the temple to keep the commandments of God. Their oath is made before God and angels, and is binding upon all they do. To deliberately lie or bear false witness in a church disciplinary hearing can therefore be considered a form of perjury — the violation of a promise to be truthful.)

"Failure to communicate"

At ward conference, members of the Stone family did something they'd never done before: voted against church leaders — in this case, their bishop and stake president.

In voting against these men, the family felt they had ample doctrinal grounds for doing so from the church's scriptural canon, the "standard works" — including the stipulation in D&C 42:21 that "Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent shall be cast out"; D&C 42:27: "Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm"; Moroni 6:7: "[T]hey were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, . . . if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ"; and similar laws and doctrines in LDS scripture that provide for holding to account all seriously transgressing members of the church, including leaders.

The Stones also felt they had ample factual grounds for their votes — including extensive evidence of lying, perjury, false witness, slander, cover-up, persecution, teaching of false doctrine, and interference with family members' rightful choices by the bishop and stake president, as these men undertook to control, intimidate, and discredit the family.

The family further felt they had ample spiritual grounds for their action — feeling that they were being prompted by God's Spirit to vote against these errant men.

Following the family's negative votes (there were eight family members so voting), the stake president stood before the large congregation, named Stephen Stone by name, and claimed Stephen was the source of the controversy that led to the negative votes because he had "misunderstood counsel" — leaving out his own hand in the matter and placing all responsibility for the family's ordeal on Steve.

Typical obfuscation by someone publicly humiliated, who — seeking to save face — failed to mention that Stephen had taken the initiative at every opportunity to resolve the matter, in good faith, and also that the "counsel" given by the stake president and bishop was not only clear and undeniable in its message, but unlawful.

The president lied to his sympathetic audience — many of whom viewed him as a prophetic man of God because of his high calling (even though he was just a lay member like themselves). Some later told the Stones how wonderful the president's remarks were.

After the meeting, the president designated one of his high councilors and one of the bishop's counselors to interview the Stone family. He did so in violation of church protocol, which required the matter to be forwarded to a presiding officer above the stake president for review, since the president was the object of negative votes.

When Steve pointed out this fact to the two interviewers — who began the interview by reprimanding the family for refusing to "sustain" their leaders — the hand-picked representatives of the president said they were just doing as they were instructed. Steve refused to give them any details of the controversy, and insisted — citing church guidelines — that they contact higher church authorities and report the family's votes. The counselors agreed to do so.

110-page complaint

A few days later, the high councilor came to the Stones' home and said the stake president had told him not to inform the church's governing authorities of the family's votes.

Feeling he had no other choice if he was to put an end to the president's mischief, Steve spent the next several months assembling facts and testimony from family members and others (while carefully avoiding his local leaders, to keep the controversy from expanding), as he wrote a detailed complaint describing the misconduct of the bishop and stake president over the preceding six months, and its effect on the family and its political activities.

He forwarded the 110-page document to the "Utah South Area President" in Salt Lake City on May 31, 2001.

It took Steve almost four months to research, write, and carefully edit the document — valuable time he needed to spend on RenewAmerica and other vital projects, including arranging a featured speech by Alan Keyes at Weber State University in April (which involved working with school officials and the sponsoring students, escorting Dr. Keyes to a VIP reception the night before, and then accompanying him to the speech itself and luncheon afterward — miraculously avoiding, by the way, a potentially-fatal collision on the snow-covered freeway the morning of the speech, as the family drove to meet Dr. Keyes).

During this time, Steve (along with Stefani) was a member of both the state GOP's Central Committee and the Utah County GOP's Central Committee, elected positions that required significant amounts of his time.

Preparing the 110-page complaint — because a high counselor abdicated his duty under church protocol — was a great frustration to Steve, as it added to the distraction and pain already suffered by the family, and severely hindered them in their work.

"Eloquent letter"

On July 31, 2001, the Stone family was called into the stake president's office by the president and the bishop and told that the "Brethren" had approved both local leaders to be tried for their membership — in a stake disciplinary council to be presided over by the president's first counselor, if Steve desired to proceed. The family was told, however, that church authorities wanted the family to try to work things out personally between themselves and the two local leaders first, before deciding whether to go ahead.

In making these declarations, the stake president referred at least once to the presiding First Presidency as he read from a piece of paper, indicating his understanding of the decision's source. He also disparaged the validity of the May 31 complaint Steve submitted to the Area President, which led to this decision, by sarcastically referring to it as "the eloquent letter church headquarters received" — implying it succeeded on skill with words, not truth or substance.

The rest of the discussion centered in these local leaders' belief that they automatically enjoyed the inspiration of the Holy Ghost solely by virtue of their callings — something Steve challenged, since LDS scriptures do not teach such a notion, commonly held in the church. He referred the leaders to D&C 3 and D&C 121:36, which refute their undoctrinal belief, a belief that lies at the heart of the controversy between these misguided men and the Stone family.

Let's wait and see

Being preoccupied with other things, including preparing an extensive "Strategic Plan for Renewing America" — a document that laid the groundwork for what became RenewAmerica six months later — Steve and his family were in no hurry to enforce the pre-approved disciplinary council of their two local leaders.

They also had no particular desire to see their local leaders punished for their abusive conduct; they just wanted the misconduct to end.

So they were content to let things sit a while, as they considered what to do, and as they looked for indications their local leaders were open to resolving the year-long controversy. The Stones were not anxious to get into an unproductive confrontation with either leader.

As it turned out, this wait-and-see, non-confrontational approach — consistent with presiding authorities' request that the family not proceed in haste, but try to work things out person-to-person with their leaders if possible — cost Steve his church membership, beginning with his disfellowshipment in February 2002, and his eventual excommunication in October 2009. Had the family gone ahead as they were given the pre-arranged right to do, this outcome likely never would have happened.

But their time was limited — due to the demands of their political work — and the family chose to do as they were asked by high church leaders.

Here's how things played out over the next several months.

'Too bad for you, Brother Stone'
Having never voted against church leaders before doing so at ward conference earlier in the year, the Stones weren't sure whether it would be considered appropriate to vote against the same leaders again when a "stake conference" came around that similarly asked members whether they sustained or opposed any of their leaders.

The stake conference was scheduled for November 4, 2001 — and there had been no improvement in the controversy with the bishop and stake president. The two leaders had taken no steps to reconcile (as required by D&C 42:87-93), and the Stones were content with the relative peace and quiet they enjoyed from this lack of contact.

The upcoming stake conference, however, required the Stones to make a choice: either stay home from a meeting they were invited to attend, or go and vote their consciences, as they had done previously.

They opted to consult a local "area authority" who represented the office of the Area President. This man was already familiar with the Stones' problem with their leaders, they understood.

Stephen, Ethan, and Ellery met with the man in his office at BYU the morning of stake conference, and asked him if it would be considered "bad form" under the circumstances to vote against the bishop and stake president that afternoon, since the family had already voted months earlier and received a decision from the Brethren approving the two leaders to be tried for the membership, should the family wish to proceed.

The area authority — who indicated he was aware of the decision — simply advised, "Do what you feel guided by the Spirit to do." As the Stones were leaving, the man reminded them that the Area President was hopeful they could resolve the conflict with their local leaders "person-to-person," without the need to proceed with a disciplinary council.

With that tacit approval, Stephen and his two sons cast negative votes later that day at stake conference.

Afterward, Stephen and his sons were interviewed by two high councilors chosen by the stake president — a violation of church protocol as before, when the family voted at ward conference. These two interviewers repeatedly disparaged the Stones for stating facts they had no basis for judging — and they both displayed obvious prejudice toward the Stones throughout the interview.

Happy anniversary!

Three weeks later, two representatives of the stake president arrived on the Stones' doorstep with a letter informing Stephen that he was to be tried for his church membership in two weeks, "with the possibility of excommunication." The man who handed Steve the letter had a disturbing grin on his face. Steve told him that his participation in this errand wasn't right — but the man simply continued grinning as he and his associate got into their car and left.

The occasion was Steve and DeeAnn's 31st wedding anniversary.

It was obvious that this letter was precipitated by the negative votes Steve and his sons had cast three weeks earlier against their leaders — since there was literally nothing else that could be cited as grounds for taking such action against Steve, considering that for almost a year he'd had virtually no contact with these two men.

Of course, the Stones had every right under church protocol to vote their consciences against these men, and that right could not be infringed upon — nor could their votes be used as a basis for church discipline.

But more fundamentally —

The stake president and bishop had literally no authority, under church protocol, to discipline Steve — since they themselves had already been approved by the Brethren to be tried for their membership, subject to Steve's go-ahead. Without question, Steve himself could not justly, or appropriately, be tried for bringing valid charges against his leaders that resulted in their pre-arranged disciplinary councils.

At least, not in a church that respects not only God's laws, but its own rules. In this case, the LDS church revealed shocking disrespect for both standards — as well as for a law-abiding family that had already suffered enough mistreatment at the hands of corrupt church leaders.

Steve has since been able to determine, on the basis of valid evidence, that the stake president succeeded in persuading a weak new presiding authority in the Area Presidency to bypass normal due process required by church protocol and prejudge the matter without sufficient basis.

According to church protocol, aggrieved persons — on either side of a controversy — can appeal to the church's presiding authorities AFTER a judgment is rendered in a disciplinary council. What the stake president did was persuade this uninformed new member of the Area Presidency to judge the matter BEFORE the normal presentation of evidence (as required by the procedures set forth in D&C 102) and to side, without grounds, with the stake president and bishop.

This meant that Steve was unfairly deprived of the opportunity to present his charges, evidence, and witnesses in the manner prescribed by church law. Such lawlessness is called apostasy from the ways of God. It is also called elitism and favoritism, an affront to God, who declares Himself to be "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) — and who, according to LDS scripture, proclaims that "none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness" (D&C 107:84).

In any case, such irregularity — stemming from a stake president's desire to retaliate for being humiliated in front of the members of his stake on two occasions during routine voting, and for being earmarked for discipline at the discretion of a family he obsessively persecuted — was simply wrong, unreasonable, and reprehensible. Unfortunately, it reflected the kind of inordinate authoritarianism that persists in the LDS church.

Dueling disciplinary councils

Greatly disturbed at what was going on, Steve called the area authority he'd met with before stake conference and protested that he was now the subject of unjust discipline. The man responded, "Brother Stone, you should have gone ahead with a disciplinary council for your leaders when you had the chance."

This, despite the presiding Brethren's own wishes that Steve do exactly the opposite, and take his time in deciding whether to proceed to have his leaders tried for their membership.

"Dueling disciplinary councils" — as Steve described the situation to family and friends — is not the way of God, or of a godly church.

Face-to-face encounter

Steve had been reluctant to press for a person-to-person resolution of the conflict following the Brethren's decision on July 31 — feeling certain that premature in-person contact with his adversarial leaders would simply escalate things. So he waited until the time was right for doing so.

According to the area authority Steve called after receiving notice of his disciplinary council, the time was now. He recommended Steve arrange a meeting with the stake president as soon as possible to discuss the president's intentions and try to work things out.

In agreeing to this suggestion, Steve cautioned the area authority that the meeting was likely to make matters worse, given the president's already evident attitude toward the family.

On November 27, 2001, Steve, DeeAnn, Stefani, Ethan, and Ellery met with the president and his two counselors of the stake presidency. The president began the meeting by asking Steve to pray. Steve declined — feeling constrained by God from doing so in the face of the malevolence Steve felt in the room.

Angry, the president got up, said the meeting was over, and motioned his counselors to leave. Since Steve's church membership was at stake, Steve implored the counselors to "act as adults" and remain — and he asked them to prevail upon the president to do the same. He reminded the stake presidency that the meeting was the area authority's idea and they couldn't justify being disrespectful to him or the Stone family by canceling the meeting for no valid reason.

At the insistence of his counselors, the president returned and the meeting resumed.

Steve was invited to speak, and he asked the president what charges he had in mind for trying Steve. The president said he had only one: Steve's belief — expressed to the Area President and a few leaders — that the president had repeatedly displayed malicious, even evil intent toward members of the Stone family.

Steve affirmed that he believed the president had, on occasion, shown some kind of detrimental, ungodly, evil influence — one contrary to the Spirit of God — that disturbed Steve and family members. He looked the president in the eye and testified that he and other family members had valid grounds for their belief, and added that he'd witnessed behavior by the president that was clearly ill-motivated and malicious, and seriously apostate.

Steve then pointed out that such a belief was not an excommunicable offense.

Stefani then asked the president why he'd claimed, on two occasions in the presence of her family, that "if members of the church were taught to follow the Holy Ghost, the church would collapse." The president became enraged, and he told Stefani (who at the age of 23 was a respected member of the Utah GOP's Executive Committee, due to her successful activism in the political arena) that she was "a liar." He angrily claimed that he'd never said such a thing.

Stefani told him her family can prove he did — through journal entries and valid testimony. He told Stefani that she was mentally "sick."

As he berated Stefani, the president leaned within inches of her face in a menacing manner — while she, unperturbed by such intimidation, repeated her allegations. It was the most shocking behavior by a church leader any of the family had ever witnessed (and that's saying a lot at this point, in view of the abuse they'd already experienced). Then the president led his counselors from the room — not to return (except to turn out the lights a little while later).

As the family sat in amazement, Steve's membership hanging in the balance, DeeAnn said to everyone, "Now I know the president is an evil man."

Steve added that the stake president's behavior amounted to perjury, given the seriousness of the meeting and the forcefulness of the president's denials in the presence of so many witnesses, including his counselors.

Steve called the area authority the next day and told him what happened, reminding him of Steve's concerns regarding the wisdom of holding the meeting.

Cancelation

While Steve was on the phone with the area authority describing the disastrous meeting of the night before, the stake president came to the door and left a note stating that if the family had any charges against him, they should forward them to him for delivery to the Brethren.

The family spent the next few days preparing a list of charges, and — not trusting the president — faxed the list to the Area President, while also giving the president a sealed copy to pass on to church authorities. The charges were signed by six grown members of the family who had witnessed key events in the controversy.

The Stones later learned the request for charges had come from the Area President, in response to a November 27 fax Steve sent him protesting the upcoming disciplinary council.

Ten days later, the stake president came to the home again, this time to inform the family that Steve's disciplinary council had been canceled — by the First Presidency, Steve ultimately learned — and that in lieu of that council, Steve was invited by a few representatives of the Brethren to meet with them at the stake center.

Incompetent hearing

Not knowing the purpose of the meeting he was invited to, but left to assume it, Steve met with three low-level area authorities the evening of his canceled disciplinary council. When he entered the room, the men seemed patronizing in their reception of Steve, and as the meeting progressed, Steve could sense they were just going through the motions of whatever it was they were assigned to do.

The presiding area authority (the man Steve had gotten to know) announced at the outset that Steve had 30 minutes to explain the controversy between himself and his leaders — in other words, to make a persuasive case against his bishop and stake president. This, with no prior notice of such time constraints so Steve could prepare a concise presentation.

The three men took several minutes to talk casually with Steve — then announced he had 25 minutes left. Such insensitive behavior signaled the meeting was not a serious attempt to understand the facts of the controversy.

In the absence of any guidelines that defined what these men wanted to know, Steve gave a general overview of the problem, adding whatever particulars he thought they might be interested in (out of literally dozens of vital facts he could cite), and clarifying only when asked. As he spoke, he saw skepticism and disbelief in his listeners.

When the time was up, Steve was interrogated for about 15 minutes more — mainly to explain his doctrinal views, which seemed the men's main interest, especially after one man disputed Steve's assertion that a member's sole duty was to obey God. The man said that if this belief were generally held in the church, members might be unwilling to accept "callings." In other words, the salvation of members was secondary to the operation of the church, to this representative of the church bureaucracy.

Steve told him that members had the right to do whatever God tells them individually to do, and that the institutional needs of the Church were less important than members' relationship with God. The man was obviously unpersuaded.

As Steve was excused, he felt uneasy about these men's ability to appreciate what he had told them about the challenging matter before them, given the insincerity of their final words. He also thought it strange they expressed no interest in interviewing other members of the family, most of whom were waiting outside the room and could corroborate any vital issue Steve raised about the family's charges against the bishop and stake president.

In assessing what had just transpired, Steve felt his interviewers were clearly prejudiced against the family, and in favor of the local leaders, who were presumed to know God's will and to have His Spirit.

Evidently, the two local leaders were also interviewed that evening, and they denied the family's charges. The bishop — the family later learned from the area authority who presided — specifically denied ever requiring the family to quit working for Alan Keyes, saying he'd only "advised" them to do so — implying they were free to "disobey" their leaders about their work without penalty or serious threat.

Since he was testifying before a hearing into his alleged wrongdoing, the bishop's deliberate lie was tantamount to perjury.

"Too bad for you"

After several weeks went by without any significant development — leading Steve to assume he was no longer under threat of excommunication — the Stone family was asked to meet with the stake president in his office. All adult family members attended except Siena.

The president began by inquiring about the family's work. He then pointedly asked if the family was "still working for Alan Keyes." Steve answered, "Yes."

The man responded, "Then you're a fanatic."

The president added, as he got up to leave, "By the way, Brother Stone — too bad for you. The Brethren have sided with me."

This cryptic, but intentionally ominous threat became clear the next day — when two stake officers came to the Stones' home at 10:35 p.m. with a letter stating Stephen was to be tried for his membership, "with the possibility of excommunication," that Sunday. The men had large grins, as previously.

Just a few days earlier, the younger of these two men had delivered a sermon before the Stones' congregation on "obedience," in which he recounted how his father's "mission president" had required all 200 of his missionaries to shave their right armpit as a test of obedience to him. The father complied, the speaker said, along with most of the other missionaries, and "passed the test."

This man laughed at Steve as the two men got into their car to leave the family's home, after Steve predicted, "This will just be overturned."
 


They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31