Excerpts from A Mormon Story, installment 3
August 19, 2012
Stephen Stone, RA President

On the presumption that a candidate's religious background is fair game in assessing and understanding that candidate, including lifelong Mormon Mitt Romney, we continue our presentation of excerpts from A Mormon Storythe first part of which was released in draft form earlier this year.

The full book (in similar draft form) should be ready later in the year.

In the meantime...

We take up where we left off — with the LDS church's continuing interference with RenewAmerica and those who oversee it at considerable sacrifice.

We believe this interference demands to be scrutinized in the light of day — for not only is it unlawful, but it has damaged both RA and the work of national pro-life leader Alan Keyes, whose work RA has assisted for over a decade.

At the same time, we believe the inordinate authoritarianism that precipitated the church's persecution of RA likewise deserves to be examined, for it reveals a culture and institutional structure at odds with its own official canon, as well as the Bible.

Read on.

Formal appeal
During Steve's disturbing disciplinary council on February 3, 2002 — which lasted twelve hours — Alan Keyes' chief of staff tried calling the Stone home repeatedly. She had an urgent message for the family.

When the family arrived home after Steve's disfellowshipment, they found an email from the chief of staff notifying them that RenewAmerica — which the family launched in mid-January — was just designated by the Keyes organization as its top priority, right behind Alan Keyes' new live MSNBC TV show, "Alan Keyes Is Making Sense," which the cable network launched January 21. The Keyes organization wanted to make full use of RenewAmerica to help publicize the new show.

The chief of staff also assured the family the Keyes organization would devote all the resources it could afford to financially assisting RA.

This message secured the Stones' future with the Keyes organization, and represented an ironic response to the church's demand that the family "seek meaningful employment" elsewhere.

It elated the Stones, and buoyed their resolve to continue their political work, no matter the challenges they might face in doing so — on what was otherwise the worst day of their lives.

With that implicit repudiation of the LDS church's interference with the work of the Stone family — delivered the very day of Steve's disfellowshipment for his refusal to drop that work — we now take up the protracted process of appeal.

The process was aggravating, humiliating, and inordinately time-consuming, given the complexity of the controversy, and given the lack of accountability — due to the presumption that leaders inherently speak and act for God, a notion contrary to Church doctrine — that shields the church's bureaucracy.

'You're hurting your cause'

Two or three times during his disciplinary council, Stephen told local leaders that their groundless action against him would be overturned by the church's presiding First Presidency, who were appointed under church rules to consider appeals of church discipline. Steve was right — and he was able to show presiding authorities they ultimately had no choice but to throw out his punishment under church law. But it took fifteen months of certifiable hell to accomplish this reversal — at a time when the family's responsibilities continued steadily to grow in the political arena.

Unfortunately, the church has a rule that church discipline must be appealed within 30 days of its occurrence, and this presented a significant obstacle. Steve knew he had no way to make a persuasive case for dismissal of his disfellowshipment, in writing, to the First Presidency in that time-frame — in view not only of the extreme pressures on his time (including helping Alan Keyes succeed with his new TV show), but the convoluted facts surrounding the controversy between the Stone family and its leaders.

So he called the Office of the First Presidency, explained some of the unique facts in the controversy, and asked for an extension of time to file. The man he talked with — the Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency, the second highest representative of that presiding body — turned him down, saying, "You're hurting your cause, Brother Stone."

Steve responded that he didn't think of his appeal as "a cause" — since he'd been wrongfully disfellowshipped for his lawful political work — but needed a little more time to prepare an appeal in what was an usually difficult, complicated matter.

The Assistant Secretary — a paid employee of the church with no ecclesiastical authority — told Steve curtly, even rudely, he had the standard 30 days to file, and no more. His tone, and words, revealed a presumption that Steve's local leaders were right, and Steve was wrong. He was clearly prejudiced — and antagonistic — toward Steve.

Steve later learned from a woman in the Office of the First Presidency that "everything the First Presidency sees" goes through the Assistant Secretary. That was not optimistic news.

As it turned out, this man had a direct hand in some of the most egregious cruelty the church visited upon the Stone family in upcoming years. In many ways, he was the First Presidency — greatly influencing the outcome of this controversy — acting in their stead as a judge without authority to do so under church law.

Last-minute filing

Because he and two other Stone family members were planning to make a special trip to Washington, D.C., to visit with Keyes' chief of staff (and possibly see a live broadcast of "Alan Keyes Is Making Sense"), Steve did his best — under difficult circumstances — to submit an appeal of his wrongful disfellowshipment on time.

The appeal summarized the controversy, described in detail local leaders' unjust behavior and the irregularity of Steve's disciplinary council, stressed that the church's interference had already greatly impeded the family's political work, and then alerted the First Presidency that, given the complexity of the matter, Steve planned to submit follow-up installments, over time, so they might better appreciate a problem that required special attention before rendering a judgment.

He met the filing deadline he was given, left by car for D.C., where he and family members spent a week on political business, and returned with more work to do than he'd previously been burdened with — at a time when the demands on his energies were already considerable, amounting to over a 100 hours a week, mostly urgent, high-intensity work.

It therefore took him weeks, then months, to assemble, write, and submit the additional documents he felt were essential for presiding authorities to take into account in considering his unique case. He did so with no acknowledgement from the Office of the First Presidency — for months — that it even received any of these, or his initial appeal letter.

In the meantime, the Stone family staged two major political debates for two heavily-contested Utah Republican congressional races — the largest events of their kind that election season — as well as a third event for local candidates in their county, all resulting in significant media and delegate attention.

The events were extremely difficult to put together under the distracting circumstances created by the LDS church — a fact Steve pointed out to the First Presidency in one of the documents of his appeal.

Among other notable Stone family activities that the "church problem" intruded into during this time was an excursion to Iowa, where family members assisted a former member of Alan Keyes' national staff with an event he'd staged involving Republican candidates in the state, with Dr. Keyes as keynote speaker.

Not long afterward, the family refurbished the county GOP's former parade float, which they'd acquired, and entered it — accompanied by banners for RenewAmerica, numerous supporters in patriotic outfits, live musicians, and a group of musket-firing Minutemen — in Provo Utah's annual Freedom Festival parade, which draws hundreds of thousands of spectators each year.

Ironically, their float and lively procession of patriots followed shortly behind the "grand parade marshal" — the influential "Area President" who presided over the mishandling of this whole controversy from the outset.

The inept new member of the Area Presidency

After faxing a number of appeal documents totaling 60 pages to the First Presidency over several months and receiving no response, Steve was called in the middle of the summer by the high church authority who'd given the stake president a "green light" to punish Steve for "disobedience."

This was the man who joined the Area Presidency just after the Stones were told by the stake president and bishop that Steve's 110-page complaint to the Area Presidency had resulted in these men's approval to be tried for their membership if Steve wanted to proceed, with a counselor in the stake presidency designated to preside.

In other words, the inept man who knew little of the facts at issue — yet was persuaded by the stake president to prejudge the controversy in favor of the local leaders and let them come after Steve in retaliation for the Stones' charges against them.

He was the same man who'd authored the untruthful letter dated January 31, 2002, falsely claiming that all members of the Stone family had been interviewed and their charges against their local leaders were therefore found to be groundless.

He was the last person Steve would choose to confide in, because of his demonstrated ineptitude, dishonesty, and favoritism.

The man called to say the First Presidency had assigned him to be its sole representative in dealing with Steve's appeal. He said Steve was henceforth to cease sending the First Presidency any further documents, and instead Steve was to send all communication in the matter exclusively to him.

Stunned by such unthinkable injustice, Steve told him this was unacceptable, since the man had — in reality — been the ultimate cause of his disfellowshipment and could not be trusted to be fair or honest in handling (or assessing) Steve's appeal. Steve said he would continue to send all elements of his appeal to the First Presidency, who alone, under church law, were authorized to consider his appeal.

It's noteworthy that the bureaucratic incompetence and profound insensitivity of this man were reflected by the First Presidency's decision to give the man sole authority in so difficult a matter.

It's also noteworthy that, had Steve "followed the prophet" — as Mormons are taught to do as a basic obligation of membership — and gone along with the above unjust plan, his disfellowshipment would likely never have been overturned. Fortunately for him, he placed the requirements of church law above the absurd demands of even the highest church authorities (as LDS scripture admonishes), and left the outcome in the hands of God.

As it was, the manipulation of the First Presidency by the above inept church authority added nearly a year to the difficult process it took Steve to get his disfellowshipment overturned. Nonetheless, Steve preferred that frustration to the alternative of not having it overturned at all.

A friend of Israel is silenced

Shortly after Steve learned the above inept church authority had been assigned to oversee Steve's appeal, MSNBC canceled Alan Keyes' TV show — one of the best of its kind on television.

The reason insiders cite for MSNBC's decision, since the show had respectable ratings, was vigorous lobbying against Keyes by Palestinian supporters and gay-rights activists. Keyes was unflinching in his defense of Israel night after night on his show — as well as vocal in his opposition to the gay rights agenda.

Keyes was the most conservative talk show host on MSNBC, arguably the most liberal news network on cable TV.

One of the highlights of the show was the broadcast when Keyes sat down separately with the ambassadors to the U.S. from India and Pakistan for significant talks — at a time when both countries were threatening each other with nuclear conflict.

Keyes did so with unusual skill and understanding as only a seasoned diplomat could — a role he learned as an ambassador to the UN in the Reagan administration.

During its five-month run, "Alan Keyes Is Making Sense" became increasingly polished, and its impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations steadily grew. Keyes regularly featured intense debates between outspoken Palestinian spokesmen and well-known Israeli representatives, including former Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert. During these debates, Keyes would educate viewers on the issues — taking the moral-based Israeli position, but being fair and reasonable to the Palestinian spokesmen, who developed a grudging respect for Keyes.

The show was remarkable for a mainstream media offering.

Within days of the show's cancelation, Dr. Keyes was flown by the State of Israel to receive an award for fairness and accuracy in journalism for his reports regarding Israel. He is the only person ever to receive such an honor.

The last day of the show was June 27, 2002.

With the Stones profoundly distracted by the time and effort involved in completing Steve's appeal, as well as by the demeaning experience of encountering their local church leaders on Sundays (such as the time the bishop called the family into his office on March 24 of that year and threatened everyone — including ten-year-old Callan — with disfellowshipment for voting against him a month earlier at ward conference; or the time family members voted against the bishop and stake president at a recent stake conference and were degraded by the two stake high councilors assigned to interview them; or the time Steve learned, shortly afterward, that an area authority had menacingly intimidated a friend in the ward — a former bishop — who wanted to be a witness in Steve's behalf and was told to "stay out of the matter, it's none of your concern") — with such distractions intruding into their work for Alan Keyes, the Stones were fortunate to keep up, on any significant basis, with the requests of Keyes' chief of staff as they worked to help Alan's show succeed.

Their energies were dissipated — and their effectiveness minimized — by the church's dehumanizing treatment, which caused the family constant depression and deprived them of the focus needed to do their high-intensity political work with their usual skill.

Would Alan's show have succeeded were the Stones not continually harassed and persecuted by the LDS church for refusing to quit working for Keyes? There's no way to know. But they were robbed of much of their opportunity to try by a church that demands cult-like conformity of its members above the public's right to be informed in America's political system.

"That's why we're here"

Several weeks later, in August, the above inept church authority again called Steve and said he wanted to interview the Stone family in response to the latest submissions of Steve's appeal (which by now had become considerable — totaling over a dozen documents and a hundred pages that the First Presidency had forwarded to this errant man).

Steve reluctantly agreed — then wrote a letter to the First Presidency protesting the man's role in mediating the matter because of his past dishonesty and insensitivity. Steve told them he would challenge the man's report if he felt the interview was unfair or prejudiced.

Not long afterward, the family met with the man and an area authority he brought with him (one of the three church officials who'd incompetently interviewed Steve several weeks before his disfellowshipment). The Stones brought their youngest children with them, so these leaders could meet the whole family.

After introductions, Steve was interviewed first, in a discussion that focused on Steve's claims regarding the presiding leader's dishonesty and callousness, at the leader's insistence. The man was visibly humiliated and angered by Steve's recent letter to the First Presidency protesting the man's untruthful, insensitive letter that led to Steve's disfellowshipment.

Steve recited the verifiable facts about the man's January 31, 2002, letter — in which the man absolved the stake president and bishop of any misconduct without considering the testimony of the Stone family, yet falsely claimed all members of the family who'd filed charges "had been listened to."

Steve added that this leader's refusal to give him more than three days to prepare for his disciplinary council could only be considered incredibly unfair, even cruel, given the complexity of the issues — including the history of malicious behavior by local leaders toward the family, as the Stones alleged in serious accusations against these men.

Steve told the church authority he was not blameless, as he claimed — and made it clear he'd severely wronged the Stone family by his untruthful, unjust actions.

At that point, Steve asked the man if he realized that, by meeting with the family, he was implicitly admitting these errors. He responded, "That's why we're here."

Nutty buddies

The rest of Steve's interview (which required a follow-up meeting because of its length) focused on matters of doctrine.

Both men disputed Steve's claim that the sole duty of church members was to obey God — as well as his insistence that the sole canon of church doctrine was limited to the church's "standard works" (that is, the published, voted-upon, official body of church scripture), even though both premises were settled doctrine, according to the church's scriptures themselves, with which neither man appeared to be well versed.

As a result, they indicated they intended to report to the First Presidency that Steve was an apostate for these two unapologetic beliefs — which Steve told them were the root cause of the longstanding controversy between himself and his leaders.

At no time in talking with these men was Steve asked to give evidence in support of the family's charges against the bishop and stake president. The interviewers were disinterested in the charges — obviously having prejudged the matter — and centered the interview instead on authoritarian notions of obedience. The chief interviewer stressed the undoctrinal belief — widespread in the church — that obeying church leaders was the same thing as obeying God, an extreme notion derived from misuse of scripture. Later, "bearing his testimony," the man witnessed his most cherished personal beliefs, which sounded strangely mystical and New Age — causing Steve to wonder what religion the man believed in. It certainly was not a scriptural perspective, nor did it center in Christ.

Not long afterward, the traveling companion of this "authority" — who repeatedly seconded the presiding leader's words — was elevated to president of the church's influential Sunday School system, where he remained for years.

Don't speak negatively of your leaders

In a follow-up meeting, other members of the Stone family were asked to share their knowledge of the ongoing "church problem." All five said afterward they were treated with condescension and prejudice by their interviewers. When family members testified of serious cruelty, lying, false witness, apostasy, malicious behavior, harassment over the family's political work, and other inappropriate conduct by the bishop and stake president, they were chastised for speaking negatively about their leaders.

Those who were interviewed wrote down their encounters, saying the interviewers "were just going through the motions and did not care about our charges," "were not interested in investigating any of our claims," "were not open-minded and seemed prejudiced," etc.

In September, Steve sent the First Presidency a complaint protesting the interviewers' incompetent review and asking to be restored immediately to full fellowship. He ended one part of the complaint with the following words — underscoring the error the church kept making toward the Stone family:

"It is unfair to allow the instigators of mischief to also be the investigators of that mischief."

More lay-bureaucratic fumbling
No doubt the reader wonders how much church authorities were really aware of the adverse effect their actions were having on the Stones' political work — since church leaders appeared oblivious to it, as though the family's work, and the church's impact on it, were inconsequential.

Be assured that Steve stressed the damage the church was causing the family and its work at every opportunity. The 110-page complaint, for instance, that led church authorities to approve the family's bishop and stake president to be tried for their membership contained a major section detailing the extensive harm local leaders had already done to the family's work for Alan Keyes and other political figures they represented.

Similarly, the initial documents of Steve's appeal, which were extensive, described the detrimental consequences of the church's abuse of the Stones on their political efforts, even stating at the outset:
    The time I am taking to file even this incomplete appeal has already severely diminished the work that I am obligated to fulfill, in turn damaging the interests of those I represent. (emphasis added)
Follow-up documents of the appeal continued to stress the terrible toll the church's persecution of the family was causing the family's political work — work at the heart of the controversy.

On April 26, 2002, for example, Steve wrote a letter to the First Presidency describing several political events the family had staged for over 25 Republican candidates and said "our family is under such degrading circumstances that the staging of these events has been nearly impossible for us to accomplish."

He ended the letter by emphasizing that "this intolerable problem has made it very difficult for us to do any of the challenging work in which we are engaged."

On July 6, Steve wrote — in a document titled "The Significance of My Disfellowshipment,"
    I wish to stress that this escalating problem continues to intrude into my own time and worthy pursuits in a way wholly unwanted and undeserved. I have important work that demands my attention, yet I am forced — by the cruelty of my leaders — to keep pursuing a fair and true resolution, not only for my sake, but for the sake of my family. And that takes time. Time I don't have.
A little later in the same document, he emphasized,
    Since my February 3, 2002, disfellowshipment, the productivity of my work has dropped to the point that I can hardly perform my duties and obligations with any consistent competence. The result has been detrimental to those I represent. [In my] political consultingfor Alan Keyes nationally and for various candidates in Utah — . . . the main issue is creativity and energy, as well as skilled, efficient writing and other communication, including effective use of computers. My productivity in these vital areas is now almost negligible. Were it not for the support and assistance of my wife and adult children, our family's political work would be completely unproductive — and hence of little value to those we work for.

    In plain language, my unfair and illegitimate disfellowshipment at the hands of professed representatives of the Savior — and the likelihood that this action will ultimately result in my excommunication because I refuse to submit to the unrighteous control of my bishop and stake president — has sapped me of my normal strength and dissipated my concentration and confidence, vital to succeeding in my political activities.

    The additional threat to my family of the same eventual fate has further distracted me.
In a related document titled "The Significance of My Disfellowshipment," submitted the same day, Steve ended by saying,
    Meanwhile, our family plods along — with all the energy we can muster under horrific conditions — to do the righteous work in which we are engaged, pleasing God in that effort and sacrificing whatever he requires of us in the cause of preserving our nation. How tragic and indefensible for our greatest single adversary in that righteous cause to be the Church of Jesus Christ [of Latter-day Saints] — whose own security and success, most ironically, are greatly dependent on a strong and stable America.
The written record is full of undeniable evidence that high church leaders were notified of what the church was doing to the Stones and their political work all along — but for reasons that are incomprehensible to reasonable (and freedom-loving) minds, they evidently did not care.

To underscore the compounding cruelty of the church's ongoing interference with the Stones' work, consider the following excerpt from Steve's August 15, 2002, letter to the First Presidency protesting the interview the inept church authority was planning for the family — an excerpt that leaves no doubt about the church's knowledge, and culpability:
    Please file this letter with my appeal and use it as a basis for correcting any irregularities or inappropriate conclusions that may result from the Saturday meeting. Again, I am hoping for the best, and I am willing to give Elder [deleted] and Elder [deleted] a chance to fix things. Let's see what comes of the meeting.

    So you know, there is even greater urgency — from my vantage point — than before to get this horrible situation finally over with. Our family is bringing Alan Keyes to Utah for two back-to-back speeches in behalf of 2nd Congressional District GOP candidate John Swallow, one in the Wasatch Front area, the other in St. George.

    If things go as planned, I will need to be central to the event, representing Dr. Keyes in dealing with numerous private and public officials. I won't be able to rely heavily on Stefani (as I have done since my disfellowshipment) to handle calls, attend meetings, or solve PR problems. I will personally need to be in good form and up to speed.

    It is essential that my indefensible disfellowshipment be ended immediately. I have done nothing to merit this degrading action by cruel leaders of the Church, and I am weary of appealing. Let's get this mess cleared up.

    The visit by Dr. Keyes is tentatively scheduled for September 17, 18, or 19th. I request that I be fully reinstated to good standing in the Church well before then.
These words make clear the effect of the church's unjust, ongoing abuse of the Stone family, and leave little room for the church to deny knowledge of that effect on the family's work.

Unfortunately, Steve's plea was met with further abuse by the church, and further contempt for America's political system. The First Presidency took no action to overturn Steve's disfellowshipment until eight months later.

Close election

The congressional candidate, by the way, lost in the November election by less than 1 percent of the vote, in a race that became neck and neck immediately following Dr. Keyes' widely-publicized criticism of the incumbent's little-known vote supporting partial-birth abortion. In the weeks prior to Keyes' two-day visit to Utah, the GOP candidate had been behind 15 percentage points.

In a tight, hotly-contested race as this was, any undue, unlawful interference with a candidate's staff or key supporters can be a potential factor in the outcome. The fact the Stones created and oversaw the GOP contender's website while under extreme duress caused by the church's escalating interference with their political work, and their distraction from degrading interviews by those assigned to evaluate Steve's appeal, cannot be ruled out as having a detrimental impact on the race.

Pulling the First Presidency's strings

Following the election — and several weeks after a phone conversation in which the inept presiding authority told Steve he deserved to be disciplined for criticizing church leaders — the presiding authority called to say the First Presidency had "reached a decision" in the matter of Steve's appeal. He assured Steve the decision — which he noted he "influenced" — was "fair and reasonable."

Two days later, Steve and DeeAnn were invited by the stake president to his office. In the presence of his two counselors, he read a letter from the First Presidency stating these governing Brethren recommended that Steve's status be changed from disfellowshipment to "formal probation" — a status that in some ways was worse than disfellowshipment, under church protocol, since local leaders can define it essentially any way they want, and can set any terms they "feel inspired" to create.

Disfellowshipment, by contrast, is clearly defined and its punishment clearly spelled out.

Steve responded, "This is Elder [deleted]'s doing." He added, "The evil and the mischief just keep on going," and declined to accept this arbitrary change of punishment — which would give the stake president and bishop more, not less, control over him and his family.

He said he would continue as before pursuing his appeal.

When Steve got home, he confronted the inept leader on the phone and reminded him of several assurances and facts he'd claimed on two or three occasions, statements Steve relied upon in communicating with the Office of the First Presidency. The man denied ever saying such things — contradicting what Steve had recorded in writing.

As he had done at least a few times previously, the man lied.

Overhearing the man call Steve a "controlling father" — a groundless notion he no doubt picked up from the stake president — Siena asked for the phone and got into an animated conversation with him that lasted over an hour, saying her father was guilty of no transgression, informing him that the stake president was "the most evil man I have ever met," and catching the inept presiding authority in several disturbing contradictions and outright lies.

For several months after this conversation, Siena repeatedly told family members that the church's latest actions were destroying her health and "made her heart hurt." She spent hours each day severely despondent.

A friend indeed

Unbeknownst to the highest church leaders — who continued their charade of "disciplining" Steve for "disobedience" without once conducting anything resembling an objective review of his appeal — the Stone family was given an unexpected edge that ultimately helped them overturn Steve's disfellowshipment.

That "edge" was the half-full dimension of a lay church that is much of the time half empty: a new bishop. The very thing that caused Steve's disfellowshipment — unchecked authority in the hands of overbearing leaders — has a flip side: an occasional decent human being who has no desire to impose his will on others.

In a lay church — one ignorant of its own rules — you get both, in cycles.

And so it was that the man who initiated the persecution of the Stone family over Steve's belief in obeying Christ alone, as well as Steve's knowledge of scripture, was released in September 2002 and replaced by a man who was already deeply troubled by the well-known sufferings of the family.

Shortly after being called as bishop of the Stones' ward, the new bishop assigned himself to be the family's "home teacher," and came each month to listen to the family's grievances and help them get the long pattern of abuse ended. On his first visit, he said he knew the family had been wronged, and he wanted to correct it.

For as long as he was the bishop, the family was protected from any further outright mischief by the stake president — with the exception of things over which the bishop had little control. The stake president continued to harass and intimidate the family, but in most instances the family had the ear, and the protective arm, of the new bishop.

This was a remarkable man who was constantly torn between his loyalty to the family and his perceived obligation to obey his file leaders. Most of the time, the man acted as a buffer between the two allegiances — to the Stones' benefit.

The man served barely three years, then moved. After that, the mischief heightened as before, culminating in Steve's excommunication.

Had the new bishop remained in his position, that outcome likely never would have happened.

Light at the end of the funnel
As the cloud of destructive oppression continued to swirl around the Stone family following their recent meeting with the stake presidency, Steve wrote the longest single item of his appeal — 24 pages — and hand-delivered it to an aide of LDS church president Gordon B. Hinckley, who was speaking at a large regional conference convened at BYU's 22,000-seat Marriott Center.

The letter was a detailed response to the First Presidency's recommendation that Steve's status be changed from disfellowshipment to "formal probation" — a meaningless decision Steve rejected, opting to remain disfellowshipped while he pressed forward with his appeal, so as to prevent the stake president from placing arbitrary new demands upon him.

Challenging the undoctrinal rationale the stake president told him was behind the presiding Brethren's recommendation — namely, that Steve should be punished merely for alleging misconduct by church leaders — Steve declared the truth of his family's charges against church officials, assured the First Presidency that the family can prove these charges to any competent review, and again stressed the harm the church continued to cause his family and its political work.

He pointed out that the family was now overseeing the campaign of a conservative candidate for governor of Utah, and that the demands on the family's time were now greater than ever before — adding,
    I literally have no time, therefore, even to write you this letter. By taking time right now to do so, I am damaging this man's candidacy.
Steve then reminded the First Presidency:
    As I have said repeatedly in the past, I have no time — as usual — to deal with the unjust persecution with which the Church continues to burden me and my family, persecution that is a constant detriment to our important and respected work. The Church's unremitting interference with our lives has cost numerous people for whom we work considerable loss.
He reiterated,
    Indeed, the single greatest source of opposition to our family's dedicated, selfless work continues to be the Church.
The letter then described in detail a list of grievances, rehearsed the causes of the needless controversy, and appealed for an end to the unremitting abuse.

Finally, after so many submissions to the Office of the First Presidency, Steve received a reply — a letter from the Secretary to the First Presidency. In a rebuking tone, the letter told Steve not to send anything further to their office, and directed Steve to deal solely with his stake president.

This, despite the requirements of church law, which clearly place sole responsibility for review of appeals of church discipline squarely on the First Presidency — particularly when a case is still under appeal, thus having received no definitive, ultimate judgment.

Meanwhile, just before Steve's receipt of this disappointing letter, Stefani phoned the office of the Area President and succeeded in making an appointment with him to sit down with the family. Evidently, the man was unaware of the stern reply the family received from the Office of the First Presidency. This fortuitous meeting — coupled with the sympathetic influence of the family's new bishop — paved the way to getting Steve's disfellowshipment finally thrown out.

"Sustain us" or else

On January 14, 2003, members of the Stone family met with the Area President in his office at LDS church headquarters in Salt Lake City. When the conversation began, he feigned ignorance of the family's long-running problem with the church, and asked to be filled in as though he were unfamiliar with it.

This seeming lack of familiarity surprised Steve, who briefly reviewed his unfair disfellowshipment and the mistreatment the family had experienced at the hands of church leaders.

Steve then told the man the First Presidency had adopted the recommendation of the man's associate in the Area Presidency to place Steve on "formal probation" for doing nothing but protest the church's ongoing persecution of the family.

The Area President responded, revealing personal knowledge of the situation: "The First Presidency determined that you hadn't done anything for which you should be disfellowshipped, but instead determined that you should be placed on formal probation until you changed your thinking toward your local leaders and were willing to sustain them."

Steve said he refused to accept the penalty of formal probation for committing no transgression, and reminded the Area President that the church "has no doctrine requiring members to sustain their leaders — it's not in the scriptures."

The man responded, "You may be right, but it's a church practice."

Steve assured him that no amount of church punishment would force him to change his thinking toward his errant leaders, since he knew firsthand of their cruelty, false witness, and deceit.

To Steve's dismay, the conversation somehow shifted to the family's financial circumstances, and the family spent the rest of the meeting discussing how they'd miraculously gotten out of debt since the Area President wanted them to elaborate on it. This, despite the fact that they'd specifically come to resolve the extreme burden the family continued to endure because of Steve's wrongful disfellowshipment.

They left without any resolution of the controversy — and family members said afterward the high church authority seemed indifferent to their plight. Nonetheless, he did suggest partway into the discussion that a meeting with all parties might offer a possible way of airing things out. That was all the opening the family needed to finally get Steve's disfellowshipment overturned.

A letter of thanks

A few days afterward, Steve sent a letter to the Area President thanking him for his kindness in giving the family an audience — and requesting that a meeting of all parties in the controversy be held, as the Area President had suggested, as a step toward resolving things.

Steve pointed out that daughter Stefani would be moving to Washington, D.C., in early March to serve as Alan Keyes' deputy chief of staff, and that it would be helpful if a meeting could be held before she left.

As a result of the letter, Steve succeeded in arranging a meeting of all involved — the Stones, the stake presidency, the former bishop, the new bishop, and the Area President — on January 29, 2003.

Besides requesting a meeting, Steve's letter took up the issue of "sustaining leaders" that the Area President said was behind the First Presidency's recommendation that Steve be placed indefinitely on "formal probation."

Steve reminded the man,
    As you know, on Tuesday, you said that the First Presidency determined that I wasn't guilty of anything that should merit disfellowshipment. But you added that they also determined that I was guilty of "not supporting" my leaders and thus deserved to be placed on formal probation indefinitely until I changed my view toward [the stake president and the bishop].

    I noted that this was a curious decision, considering that the Law of Common Consent entitles — even requiresa Church member to oppose any leader whom they sincerely consider unworthy of his office by virtue of serious transgression.
He added,
    During our conversation, I pointed out that the Church has no doctrine in the standard works of "supporting our leaders," of the sort that I have been disciplined for violating. You did not disagree. You responded that, although the Church may not have an actual doctrine of "sustaining" our leaders, it nonetheless has a longstanding "practice" regarding it, the violation of which I must be held accountable for. (emphasis added)
Steve then summed up the entire controversy at issue, based on that exchange:
    The above discussion was at least useful in identifying the underpinnings of this whole problem. As I have maintained consistently, I have been persecuted and punished for violating no definable Church law. Violating an undoctrinal Church "practice" that has absolutely no foundation in the Church's official canon, and that in fact directly conflicts with that canon, is not a transgression of anything.
He ended the letter with a challenge:
    Such obsolete "fundamentalism," likely traceable to the formative pioneer era, has no relevance in [the Church]. . . . The universal message of the Church is the saving doctrine of Christ. The twisting of the scriptures to perpetuate a false tradition of "sustaining" and to justify persecuting those who take the gospel seriously . . . cannot continue to be officially sanctioned by the Church.
We'll take a closer look a little later at the fraudulent notion — prevalent in the church — of punishing (or intimidating) members for exercising their God-given right, under the Church's Law of Common Consent, not to "sustain" unworthy leaders.

For now, suffice it to say that the governing Brethren wanted Steve punished indefinitely for charging church leaders with misconduct — and they wanted to use that arbitrary punishment to force Steve to vote, against his will, in favor of those leaders who persisted in abusing the Stone family and destroying their lawful political work.

That was the substance of the First Presidency's position, as relayed by the Area President.

Shootout at the stake center

The January 29, 2003, meeting proceeded as planned between the local leaders, the Stone family, and the Area President — with the hitch that the Area President got stuck in freeway traffic and was quite late. This forced a second meeting of all parties several weeks later, a fortunate turn of events, since this particular meeting was chaotic and unnecessarily contentious, due to the litany of lies the bishop and stake president were permitted to utter without restraint.

But before the meeting became a virtual free-for-all, the Area President opened his LDS scriptures and read a passage from D&C 64 — revealing he had little appreciation of the longstanding controversy:
    Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

    I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (verses 9 and 10)
The church authority sat across from the family at a large conference table where Steve was disfellowshipped a year earlier and where Stefani was angrily screamed at by the stake president two months before that, and directed his reading at the Stones. When he finished reading, he bore down on Steve and asked if he were willing to "forgive" his leaders and drop the whole matter.

This was curious, since the local leaders were the ones who persisted in acting without "forgiveness," and who had in fact retaliated against Steve — for his 110-page letter seeking relief, as well as his votes against them when invited in church conferences — by punishing him unfairly with disfellowshipment.

Hence the purpose of the present meeting: to set aside the arbitrary, unfair punishment inflicted on Steve by his vindictive leaders, so the family might have some measure of peace. The Area President appeared to forget why he was there, as though the Stones were the perpetrators of cruel mischief against innocent, if imperfect, leaders.

Not about to allow such ironic turning of the tables, Steve responded that he had, in all honesty, long ago forgiven his leaders for what they had done and continued to do to him and his family — but he pointed out that the scriptures differentiate between forgiving others of their trespasses and holding them to account for serious transgression, especially if they persist in the sin and are unrepentant.

That in fact is the clear message of the verses that follow, which the Area President neglected to cite:
    And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.

    And this ye shall do that God may be glorified — not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is you lawgiver —

    Verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things. (D&C 64:12-14, emphasis added)
Brushing off Steve's response, the Area President asked Steve to recount what had caused the problem at issue.

Steve described in detail some of the petty jealousies and undoctrinal notions that caused many leaders in the stake to behave unkindly, even abusively, toward the Stone family, going back many years. He told about a malicious letter he received years ago from a stake leader for his efforts to help a very poor single woman in the stake with two small children, who had little food and unusually desperate living conditions, and he described how his efforts in her behalf precipitated a lengthy letter threatening him with excommunication. Although the letter was over ten years old — and although the family's bishop told Steve and DeeAnn at the time to "throw it away, it's mean and lacks love" — the letter was included among evidence against Steve at his disciplinary council, along with several similar letters from others in the stake who simply disliked Steve (most of whom had since moved away).

The Area President agreed with Steve that the letter was inappropriate and should have been discarded long ago by stake leaders.

After Steve brought things current by describing specific actions local leaders had more recently done to harm the Stone family, the Area President turned to the former bishop and asked him to give his side of the controversy.

The dishonest man proceeded to tell at least six or eight outright lies that can only be characterized as perjury, since the meeting was a formal hearing — while Steve protested his shocking, intentional distortions at every opportunity.

Since the former bishop was obviously not telling the truth — as should have been apparent to the presiding authority because of the bishop's self-contradictions, evasiveness, and extremely uncomfortable body language — Steve thought the high leader would readily perceive the obvious deceit he was hearing. Apparently, he didn't.

Had Steve not challenged the many false statements by the former bishop, and cited the true facts instead, the Area President made it clear he was biased enough to believe uncritically whatever he was told by the bishop.

When the church authority involved the stake president in many of the disputed facts, asking him to clarify things from his vantage point, the president was permitted to say almost anything he wanted without being asked to elaborate — despite his obvious evasiveness (bear in mind that his typical response to many questions the Stone family put to him was simply to refuse to answer).

In his notes afterward, Steve wrote that the Area President had "deliberately insulated [the stake president] from our grilling," and that both the stake president and the bishop had clearly "perjured themselves in [the high church leader's] presence."

Similarly, Siena wrote: "In our January 29, 2003, meeting with [the Area President], [the] former bishop . . . repeatedly perjured himself, in what was essentially a hearing, to cover up his mistreatment of my family."

One particularly revealing moment occurred just after the meeting ended and the Area President had left, when Steve and Siena stayed and talked with the former bishop.

As Steve was reiterating his view that the church's "standard works" (body of scripture) constitute the sole official canon of church doctrine, the man said Steve "deserved to be disfellowshipped for that view, and for [his] refusal to obey [his] leaders."

As Siena and Steve tried to reason with him, he slammed his car door in their faces and sped off.

Second time's a charm

Following a phone call from Stefani (who hadn't yet left for D.C., opting to remain in Utah a few more months to help with a gubernatorial campaign), and a letter from Siena, the Area President agreed to meet again with all parties in the controversy. The meeting took place April 13, 2003.

Also attending was a new stake clerk, who took notes.

In another of his ironic self-contradictions, the Area President began by saying that if the Stones "would drop the matter" of wrongdoing by their leaders, Steve could immediately be reinstated to fellowship.

This stipulation confirmed what the Stones knew all along: that Steve was disfellowshipped in direct retaliation for the family's charges and votes against the stake president and bishop — which they made in response to these leaders' abusive behavior over Steve's "disobedience," disobedience that centered in the family's work for Alan Keyes.

The Area President's proposal amounted to a glaring violation of church law, since members are entitled under church statutes to vote freely against any leader they choose, when invited to do so, without interference from those opposed, or from anyone else in the church's leadership.

The high leader's "solution" indicated he was more intent on protecting the family's errant leaders from accountability than resolving the controversy, or being fair to the Stones.

Steve responded that he felt no ill will toward his leaders, and said he merely wanted them to desist from their continual persecution and intimidation of his family.

As before, he reminded the Area President that LDS scripture teaches that those who commit serious transgression must still be held to account, even if those they injure feel no animosity toward them. Steve also stressed that the issue at hand was not "forgiveness," per se, but "correcting the problem."

The topic then shifted, at Steve's urging, to the July 31, 2001, disciplinary "procedure" arranged by the presiding Brethren for trying the stake president and the former bishop for their membership, with a counselor in the stake presidency presiding, if Steve wished to proceed.

Steve was hoping the Area President would agree that, in all fairness, the Stones still had the right to proceed, as originally arranged, to have their local leaders tried, since Steve was deprived of that opportunity for no other reason than doing what church authorities requested — that is, move slowly, seeking person-to-person resolution first, and proceeding to a disciplinary council against the stake president and bishop only if a personal approach failed to satisfy the Stones.

Throughout the discussion of this pre-arranged disciplinary council — which presiding authorities were persuaded by local leaders to prejudge, in violation of church protocol, allowing the stake president and bishop to punish Steve vindictively — the Area President pleaded ignorance, to the point of asking the stake president what the facts were, as though he himself were uninvolved.

This, despite the fact that the area authority who verified the procedure in his BYU office just before the November 2001 stake conference — when members of the Stone family voted the second time against their leaders — specifically named the Area President by name as requesting that the family try person-to-person resolution first, before proceeding with the pre-approved disciplinary council.

The man was fully aware of the details he feigned no knowledge about.

When pressed by the Area President to describe the Brethren's arrangement, the stake president said, "I'm not going to attempt to respond," adding derisively, "Unlike Brother Stone, I don't have a photographic memory" — even though the president was knowledgeable enough about the details that night in 2001 to explain them clearly to the Stone family, as he read from a letter from his file leaders he no doubt still possessed.

So as to leave no question what was pre-approved by the highest church leaders on that occasion, Steve rehearsed to the Area President the particulars that the stake president undeniably shared with the family two years earlier.

Steve then protested his unjust disfellowshipment as a result of church authorities' unjust prejudgment of the outcome of his local leaders' approved disciplinary council — rather than letting due process take its course.

To this, the stake president derisively said to Steve, "You're always right, and we're always wrong. You're always inspired, and we aren't. You always have the facts, and we don't" (as recorded in DeeAnn's notes).

The stake president then defended his punishment of Steve by saying he had the active support and involvement of the inept new member of the Area Presidency.

White as ghosts

As things moved from one subject to another (including the fact that Steve had carefully avoided contact with his local leaders for most of a year after voting against them in the February 2001 ward conference, yet these men felt justified in coming after him for voting against them a second time at the November 2001 stake conference, claiming he was in "open opposition to the church and its leaders"), the issue of the stake president's repeated claim that "the Church would fall apart if members were taught to follow the Holy Ghost" came up.

The president's response? "I never said that." Since the Stones can prove that he did say it at least twice to family members, the president's outright lie amounts to deliberate perjury in a very serious disciplinary hearing.

He made a number of other outlandish claims — such as equating the family with "polygamists in Manti," and calling Steve a "fanatic" for his work for Alan Keyes.

The subject of several documents Steve had written then came up, documents that were later submitted against him at his disciplinary council. The former bishop claimed these documents "made many members of the ward uncomfortable" — an exaggeration that turned out to refer to only two individuals who disliked Steve's scripture-based view of doctrine, and who therefore sought to have Steve disciplined.

The bishop then emphasized that he personally "was uncomfortable" with what Steve wrote. When Steve asked him to explain his basis, he said, "I'm not going to answer."

Siena then asked why "my father's writings were used against him." The stake president responded, "Brother Stone's writings speak for themselves."

It is worth noting that the new bishop — the man who appointed himself the family's "home teacher" and said he wanted to help the family end the wrongs church leaders had committed against them — later certified in writing that the documents in question were "doctrinally sound," in his judgment, and that "no Church member should be accused of apostasy for writing [them] — as Brother Stone evidently was."

Near the end of the meeting, the matter of the stake president's "letter of conditions" for Steve's reinstatement came up.

At first — as he had many times before — the president denied that the letter amounted to "conditions" Steve was required to meet in order to be restored to full fellowship. After Steve pointed out that he received no other letter and that he was entitled to some kind of statement of conditions, and after family members pressed him, the president reversed himself and admitted that his letter indeed constituted the official statement Steve was entitled to receive following his disfellowshipment, by which he might know how to be reinstated.

The needless pattern of evasion clearly amounted to a show of bad faith.

As the discussion wound down, Steve stressed that the meeting had accomplished nothing to resolve the conflict, because of the two local leaders' dishonesty and denials, and he re-invoked the family's prior right to have their local leaders tried for their membership.

The Area President conceded that Steve was within his rights in that desire, and he concurred that the only feasible solution was disciplinary councils for the stake president and the former bishop.

He then authorized the new bishop to try the former bishop (if the Stone family wished to proceed), authorization that was recorded by the stake clerk. The presiding authority said he would consult with the First Presidency concerning the procedure and venue for trying the stake president.

The presiding leader finished by saying he "was sorry the problem couldn't be resolved in any other way but disciplinary councils." As he left, the stake president and former bishop stood together at the end of the long table with sullen, horrified expressions — white as ghosts.

Predictable outcome
Just as Steve had predicted at his disciplinary council, the First Presidency decided to overturn his wrongful disfellowshipment, in a letter dated May 8, 2003. Fifteen months of distracting, condescending, incredibly unfair treatment by church officials following his groundless punishment — itself the result of collaborative mischief by local leaders and high church authorities in violation of church law — finally ended.

In the end, the presiding Brethren were left with no other choice — since Steve had done nothing definably wrong under church rules, as became obvious during the Area President's hearings, and since the Area President had concluded the Stones were entitled to have the two chief instigators of the mischief tried for their membership.

More bad faith from the stake president

When members of the Stone family were brought into the stake president's office on May 18, 2003, and read the letter from the First Presidency "setting aside" Steve's disfellowshipment — with a stipulation that local leaders refrain from bringing any further action against Steve unless they had a basis — the stake president revealed his deep anger at the presiding Brethren for their decision.

One of his counselors later confirmed this anger to the Stones, telling family members more than once that the president was "very upset at the First Presidency," when the president's resentment was becoming increasingly apparent.

In the May 18 meeting, this same counselor also told the family that Steve's status was "as though [he] had never been disfellowshipped" — and on a separate occasion, he told Steve the First Presidency had obviously "overturned" Steve's disfellowshipment on the merits of his appeal.

This was not the president's view.

The president's ire was evident from the outset of the above meeting when he asked Steve if he wanted to say anything — following the president's reading of the First Presidency's letter.

Steve responded by asking the president a question he'd asked him on other occasions: "Why did you disfellowship me?"

The president refused to answer, and instead asked others in the room if they wanted to speak. Steve reiterated the question several times and was ignored each time.

Finally, the president responded to Steve's question by saying, "I don't know."

The president's evasive answer was similar to an equally-evasive response he gave during the January 29, 2003, hearing with the Area President, when the Stone family asked the president why he came after Steve on November 25, 2001, with notice of a disciplinary council — after Steve had carefully stayed away from him for most of a year — and the president answered, "I don't remember."

The rest of the meeting focused on ways to publicize the First Presidency's decision, since many members in the stake knew of Steve's disfellowshipment and the controversy surrounding it. The president said he would abide by any reasonable wish Steve had for publicizing the decision.

Steve asked if the First Presidency's letter could simply be read, verbatim, in a general meeting of the stake (or in individual wards). The president said this was not an option, since the First Presidency doesn't publicly release confidential letters.

Steve then suggested, as an alternative, that he and the new bishop draft language that could be used in place of the First Presidency's letter. The president agreed.

After drawing up brief text a few days later that Steve thought would be appropriate, and after gaining the bishop's input and approval, Steve, along with DeeAnn, hand-delivered the text to the stake president.

As DeeAnn and Steve were delivering the text, the president inexplicably threatened to come after Steve again for his membership — entirely unprovoked, beyond — evidently — deep-seated resentment toward the First Presidency.

A few days later, the bishop visited the Stone home with a copy of the text, with a handwritten note in the margin from the president, addressed to the Area President. In his message, the president told the church authority that Steve wrote the text without permission to do so, and he disavowed the language — ending the note with a threat to Steve's membership.

The bishop said he was asked by the president to share with Steve the contents of the note. It was clearly an insensitive attempt by the president to intimidate Steve — to show "who's the boss," so to speak (certainly not the First Presidency, who'd already shown themselves easily manipulated by subordinate officials throughout the unnecessary controversy).

Déjà vu

So here's where things stand at this point in the narrative: no sooner was Steve's disfellowshipment thrown out by the church's presiding Brethren than the erratic stake president — who could accurately be described as obsessed with Steve and intent on harming him — started all over again with his threat to excommunicate Steve for literally nothing, in a way that intruded again into the family's peace and day-to-day concentration.

Several weeks after these two incidents, Steve encountered the president in the halls of the stake center and asked him on what basis he threatened to try Steve again. The president answered, "I couldn't tell you."

The significance of this renewal of the president's capricious behavior was this: Just as Steve had lived a year and a half, from October 2000 to February 2002, under a very real threat of excommunication from the stake president — a threat that continued for fifteen months while he was disfellowshipped — so again he was forced to live under an equally real threat of excommunication after his reinstatement, from May 2003 until the threat's ultimate fulfillment in October 2009, due to the president's shocking obsession with the Stone family.

The more things stay the same, at least in the LDS church, the less they change. To the Stones, it was "déjà vu all over again."
 


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