Excerpts from A Mormon Story, installment 5
Stephen Stone, RA President
September 17, 2012

This latest installment of A Mormon Story describes unthinkable bureaucratic mischief at the highest levels of the LDS church toward members of the Stone family — who were never found to have committed any transgression of church law at any point, yet were continually threatened and persecuted as a result of their refusal to quit working for Alan Keyes.

At one point, the Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency — a man who repeatedly acted as though he were the governing First Presidency itself, and who was at key junctures singularly responsible for the perpetuation of mischief toward the family — declared that the family's supportive new bishop was "an apostate" for siding with the Stones and finding they had "made their case" against the church.

Prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance in high places — from someone who screened everything the First Presidency saw, according to another representative of the First Presidency's Office.

There's more... Read on.

Dealing with an unfortunate change of the guard
A month after the Stones were barred from Stefani and Chuck's wedding for no reason beyond church leaders' disrespect for the laws of God, Steve received a letter from a man who succeeded the Area President under a reshuffling of the church's high leadership.

The man was the same individual who, when he was president of BYU, canceled the originally-approved keynote address by Alan Keyes at BYU's Marriott Center, scheduled as part of Utah's "Constitution Week" celebration in September 2000 — cancelation that occurred just days after the church's persecution of the Stone family began.

In announcing the cancelation, the president's office made disparaging public statements about the Stones, to cover up the university's inexplicable decision to drop what promised to be a popular event.

The letter this man sent Steve mirrored much of the letter Steve received from a church attorney in 2004 — the same letter the stake president deceptively used in trying to persuade the bishop, in a meeting with the bishop and the Stones a week before the wedding, to drop his investigation and possible disciplining of the former bishop.

Given the timing and substance of the letter, it appeared to be something the stake president likely had a hand in, since it was clearly intended to intimidate the Stones and cause them to drop their effort to see the former bishop tried for his membership. That conclusion is consistent with the new presiding authority's unjust deference to the stake president throughout the man's remaining tenure as an Area President — virtual bigotry toward the Stones that greatly distressed them.

We should point out — in view of the letter's disturbing substance — that during the 2004 election season, members of the Stone family attended a VIP reception sponsored by Sen. Bob Bennett at an avant-garde historic building in Salt Lake. They were there escorting their gubernatorial candidate.

As they milled about with other guests, they got into a conversation with a former BYU athletic director, under whom a brother of DeeAnn had once served as BYU's sports information director.

In the course of the conversation, the former athletic director volunteered — with no prompting from the Stones — that he was continually treated abusively by the man who wrote Steve the above letter, during the four years the athletic director oversaw BYU's sports program. He made a special point of telling the Stones that the president had a reputation for abusiveness toward subordinates when he ran the university — and that as a result of the constant mistreatment he received, the athletic director resigned what was a highly sought-after position after four years, saying he "couldn't take it anymore."

The sports administrator, we might add, had given up a 7-figure income as a corporate attorney to head BYU athletics — doing so at great sacrifice because he believed in the university and its lofty mission.

Bear in mind, also, that shortly after taking over the reins at BYU, the former president — now the Area President over the Stones — came under criticism for plagiarism in a major speech he gave that was published by the university. He later issued an apology for his "inattention" to detail.

Realizing that he was dealing with someone who had a reputation for not "playing fair," Steve was disappointed to read the letter he received May 26, 2005, from this man.

Contrary to what the family knew to be true — and what the previous Area President was fully aware of — the new Area President claimed, among other inaccuracies:
    Consistently, [the First Presidency's] decision has been that no action will be taken against either [the stake president] or [the former bishop].
The claim that the highest church leadership has "consistently" determined that these two local leaders are undeserving of disciplinary councils is simply — and demonstrably — false. As the foregoing narrative makes abundantly clear, both men have been approved TWICE to be tried for their membership because of their continuing mistreatment of the Stone family.

The first of these occasions, of course, was on July 31, 2001, when the Stones were informed by the stake president and bishop that the "First Presidency" had approved these two leaders to be tried in a disciplinary council, if the Stone family wished to proceed, because of the family's letter of grievances dated May 31 of that year.

In fact, in that meeting, the family was told a "three-step procedure" pre-arranged by the church's governing leadership: (1) the First Presidency wanted the family to try to resolve the controversy person-to-person, to the extent that was possible; (2) if Stephen was not satisfied with the outcome of this person-to-person effort, then the two local leaders were to be brought before a stake disciplinary council — with first counselor Bruce Young of the stake presidency designated to preside — if Stephen chose to proceed; and (3) if Stephen was not satisfied with the decision of this council, the matter was to be decided by the First Presidency.

The family was actually called, as they consistently claimed, into the stake president's office on July 31, 2001, and told this pre-approved procedure — a procedure that appeared fair and reasonable. This really did happen.

The second occasion occurred April 13, 2003, when the then-Area President — acting on authority of the First Presidency, he made clear — approved both men to be tried for their membership as the only feasibly way to resolve the longstanding controversy (a decision in harmony with church law and protocol).

That approval actually was given — as all members of the Stone family present at the meeting can attest — and any claim to the contrary is inaccurate, as well as unfair to the family, who have suffered enough harassment, abuse, and malicious persecution from overly-controlling church leaders in this matter.

All of this is true, and readily provable.

Yet the new Area President literally made up a false summation of the facts — unjustly asserting that which he could not possibly know: that the bishop and stake president have never been approved by the Brethren to be tried in disciplinary councils.

Such dishonesty, we might note, is consistent with the man's reputation for being unjust, arbitrary, and unreliable.

It also amounts to serious false witness — since he forcefully claimed a verifiable falsehood, misrepresenting something he had no firsthand knowledge of, while undoubtedly aware of the pain he would cause the Stone family in doing so. That's a transgression of God's laws.

After claiming several other things that showed his lack of understanding of the facts in the matter, the dishonest new Area President then wrote: "I ask you to direct all further inquiries and concerns to your bishop or stake president."

This curious directive — which the man no doubt thought would end the matter — actually served unwittingly to open the way for the Stones to continue the course they had taken since their supportive bishop was called three years earlier. Yet, it was precisely because they were engaged in directing their "inquiries and concerns to [their] bishop" that they received the new Area President's letter of reprimand.

And it was a letter of reprimand — as a letter he wrote six months later made clear (more on that in a moment). That letter also revealed the man's obvious incompetence, since he not only heightened his original reprimand, but did so specifically because Steve did exactly as the man had requested: he went to his bishop for resolution.

A canceled meeting

The new Area President's May 26 letter arrived just as the family was undertaking to create and maintain the website for the special congressional campaign in California of Jim Gilchrist — co-founder of the "Minuteman Project," a national movement calling for reasonable control of illegal immigration.

Because the unexpected letter proved a substantial distraction to the Stones, Steve called the Area President's office to talk with him. Surprisingly, he was willing to discuss things.

Steve gave him a brief overview of the controversy — including the truth of the family's claims regarding high-level approval of both local leaders to be tried for their membership — and arranged for the family to meet with the man in an effort to resolve the conflict.

Because the Area President seemed cordial enough as they talked, and because he'd served as president of BYU, Steve shared a fact told privately among his extended family for years — that Steve's father was twice among the finalists to be appointed BYU's president. The first occurred in 1964 when President Ernest Wilkinson was running for the U.S. Senate (he lost), the second in 1971 when Wilkinson retired.

To help the Area President better understand the controversy at issue, Steve faxed him afterward a letter outlining in some detail the facts of the matter, as a courtesy, so their meeting might be efficient and productive. A day or two later, the man's secretary called and said there would be no meeting.

So here's the situation —

Whereas the previous Area President was kind enough to meet three times with the Stone family to resolve the distracting conflict, and ultimately stepped in and ensured that Steve's wrongful disfellowshipment was set aside, his replacement not only sent Steve a disappointingly false letter of reprimand (with no basis upon which to issue it, other than the self-serving influence of the stake president), but after Steve did him the courtesy of sending him a list of facts so their upcoming meeting might not impose unduly on the man's time, the man canceled the interview.

When Steve tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting, the man turned him down.

This "change of the guard" at church headquarters was devastating to the family. The new Area President turned out to be an unwelcome — and shockingly obstinate — adversary in their efforts to persuade church leaders to cease persecuting and tormenting the Stones.

Corroborating testimony from two independent witnesses

After meeting several times with the bishop to make more emphatic and undeniable their case against his predecessor that summer — so the travesty of being prevented from attending a family wedding for no valid reason would not be allowed to happen again, and so the continuing distraction of the "church problem" might finally be put to rest, notwithstanding the evident hostility of the new Area Authority — the family persuaded the bishop to listen to two independent witnesses who were willing to testify of the truth of the family's claims.

The first of these witnesses was a former high councilor who witnessed Steve's disfellowshipment and who had attempted on several occasions to bring the church's persecution of the Stone family to an end — because he saw numerous instances of bad faith on the part of local leaders toward the family.

The second was a former bishop who preceded the errant bishop who set in motion the church's mistreatment of the family.

The meetings were held, in part, so the family could obtain written evidence to counter the false facts and premises in the new Area President's May 24 letter, should the need arise.

On July 24, 2005, the bishop, Steve, and Ethan met with the high councilor to hear his testimony of the facts, and to question him about "his perceptions of the church's treatment of the Stone family."

It was understood at the outset that the meeting was intended to gather evidence for a potential disciplinary council against the former bishop — and afterward, the results were written up and then signed (after everyone had a chance to make desired edits or changes) by all participants.

The meeting lasted more than two hours. The high councilor was the same man who leaned over during Steve's disciplinary council and told him he was "going to help" him, because he felt the proceedings were unjust.

In his testimony, the high councilor reiterated his earlier comment that Steve had been "treated unfairly" — not only in his disciplinary council, but throughout the Stone family's difficulties with the church. He said this unfairness had occurred "throughout or from the beginning" of the controversy, and that it wasn't limited to the disciplinary council.

Concerning the disciplinary council, he testified that he did indeed feel "uneasy" about it as it unfolded, and that this led him to whisper to Steve that he would "help" him. As a result, he said he visited Steve on his own several times in the weeks and months afterward to comfort him, and also went to the stake president at least twice to voice his concerns about the unfairness of the disciplinary council.

The witness acknowledged the impact of a former member of the Stones' ward who induced the former bishop to persecute Steve over Steve's scripture-based views, even writing several letters against him in 1998 as a result of Steve's belief in the innocence of little children — and noted that this aggressive individual's influence on the bishop was a key factor in Steve's disfellowshipment, since the preponderance of the evidence submitted against Steve centered in this man's letters against Steve and Steve's written responses.

This key witness also acknowledged that Steve's refusal to obey church leaders in his choice of livelihood (which centered in working for Alan Keyes) was central to Steve's disfellowshipment — in view of the fact that this refusal was cited as the "official" reason for that disciplinary action in a February 6, 2002, letter by the stake president.

At one point, Steve called the witness's attention to the fact that, during the disciplinary council, Steve was prevented from responding to the written testimony submitted against him by the above aggressive adversary and others who had long ago left the ward (the latter testimony being written in most cases by a stake clerk) — denial of due process based on the fact that the accusers "weren't there." Before Steve could finish his statement, the witness finished it for him — since he was well aware firsthand of what had occurred. He then said emphatically that Steve had a right to confront his accusers, and that he was "deprived of this fundamental right due to the questionable nature of the evidence."

The witness then described an impromptu meeting that took place on March 24, 2002, between himself, members of the Stone family, the former bishop, and the second counselor in the bishopric. He testified that during the meeting, the bishop displayed deep animosity toward Steve — characterizing the bishop as "contentious" and showing a "bad attitude." He said the bishop tried to pressure Steve to conform to his will, and then (as the family has repeatedly testified) declared that he was going to disfellowship all members of the family if they continued to stand with Steve in this controversy.

The high councilor went on to say that, out in the hall after this encounter, he told Steve, "Brother Stone, I saw evidence in that meeting that what you have said about your bishop is true."

Near the end of the discussion, Steve asked the witness if he felt the Stone family "had legitimate grounds for voting against the president and former bishop," and he said, "Yes." Steve reiterated the question so there could be no mistaking its implications, and the man again said, "Yes."

When Steve and Ethan visited the witness to have him sign the final draft of his testimony (after all involved had edited the document to their satisfaction), he affirmed that the Stones had "valid claims" against the president and former bishop "for serious misconduct."

Interview with the earlier bishop

On July 31, 2005, the bishop, Steve, and Ethan met with the man who preceded the Stones' former bishop.

This earlier bishop — who served one year, then asked to be released — told Steve privately a few years later he resigned from his calling "because the stake leadership is too controlling," and he was not allowed to "be [himself]."

The man was Steve's closest friend in the ward.

As with the meeting a week earlier with the former high councilor, this meeting was held to obtain evidence for use in a potential disciplinary council against the former bishop, as all understood. Afterward, the proceedings were drawn up and signed, after everyone had a chance to make edits or changes.

During the meeting, the witness attested to the following facts and observations:

He said at the outset that he was long aware that his successor (who at the time was one of his counselors) and Steve held profoundly different views of leadership — and that this counselor "believed strongly in the need to obey leaders."

For emphasis, he reiterated this fact, saying the counselor and Steve were "on opposite ends of the spectrum" regarding who church members were obligated to obey. His successor "believed members were required to obey those placed over them, and [Steve] put higher value on obeying God" — a situation, he said, that would inevitably set the two at odds.

He then discussed an incident that was deceitfully handled by local leaders — including the successor bishop — during Steve's disciplinary council, even to the point of constituting perjury by a key witness for the bishop and stake president. The incident involved the ward high priest leadership, of which the witness was a member, and occurred right after "priesthood meeting," as the controversy between the Stone family and the church was beginning to escalate in the fall of 2000.

On that occasion, another member of the high priest leadership asked Steve to stay afterward and talk with the three or four leaders.

With the doors wide open, allowing those outside the room to overhear, the man laid into Steve for the fact he and his son Ellery were not currently "home teaching" (that is, visiting members' homes each month to give them a brief message).

Steve explained to the man that "a problem" with his local leaders had so demoralized and degraded the family that he and Ellery couldn't go into members' homes without feeling extremely depressed.

The man (whom the witness interjected was even more controlling than his former counselor, then the bishop) demanded to know "what was bothering [Steve] enough that [he] wouldn't feel like home teaching."

Steve recounted how he gave the man a vague answer — in part because there was little privacy. He said the man then demanded to know specifics, and Steve again gave him a vague answer. Finally, the man pressed Steve to know exactly what the problem was, and in exasperation Steve told him in a nutshell — saying the bishop and stake president had been incredibly cruel to the Stone family, more than any leaders they had ever encountered in the church, and that this cruelty was devastating to them.

After Steve reprised these facts, the witness said he recalled the incident, and he stressed that the man at issue had initiated the meeting — and had also pressed Steve to summarize the controversy with his leaders, contrary to what he falsely reported.

So there could be no question regarding his testimony, Steve directly asked the witness if the above account of this incident was accurate according to his memory, and he said it was.

Steve then asked him if Steve's behavior on the occasion at issue could accurately be characterized as "deliberate, open, public opposition to the Church and its leaders," as the incident was made to appear during his disciplinary council.

The witness said, "No."

Steve pointed out that the high priest leader, in an untruthful written account of the meeting, claimed otherwise, and his untruthful account was used unfairly against him — when Steve in fact did nothing in the abovementioned meeting but respond reluctantly when repeatedly borne down upon by the man.

Steve added that this kind of false witness was typical of the seriously-inaccurate testimony submitted against him, at the urging of local leaders, in his disciplinary council. He said others in the high priest leadership — including the witness — were reported to have submitted similar distorted accounts, in testimony gathered by the stake clerk, who embellished the facts.

The witness conceded this happened — something he had revealed to Steve years earlier he was aware was happening, emotionally saying at the time it was "wrong."

Steve and the witness then talked at length about his perceptions of the Stone family's long struggle over the years to succeed with various business ventures. He said he understood that Steve had "quit [his] previous job teaching English at BYU." Steve let him know that he completely misunderstood the situation, since Steve had never quit, but instead was pushed out by a new English Department chairman because — unlike the chairman's predecessor, who had hired Steve — he disapproved of blending scriptural principles with the teaching of English.

In recounting this, Steve emphasized that he had been conscientiously, but tactfully, making such illuminating connections in his teaching because of his belief in the published mission of the school — which invited such scripture-based instruction — and he did so with the express approval of the previous chairman.

As he and the witness discussed the family's struggles, the witness conceded that when he was bishop, he substantially misunderstood the family's endeavors — which family members pursued with great dedication, even though their efforts were largely unsuccessful. He acknowledged that these highly-principled endeavors could not be faulted.

The witness then noted that Steve's personal standards were higher than those of others. Steve said that his standards were derived from the scriptures, and that he had a God-given right to live those standards without interference from persons who were committed to lower standards. He pointed out that he was disfellowshipped for doing nothing but live by his scripturally-sound ideals.

The discussion then turned, at the end, to an interview the witness had with a low-level area authority shortly after Steve's disfellowshipment. This occurred in the spring of 2002. On that occasion, the area authority approached the witness because his name was mentioned in some of the documents Steve had submitted with his appeal, and he told the witness to "stay out of the matter." He even threatened and intimidated the witness, the witness told Steve at the time.

As Steve and the witness rehearsed the facts of this encounter, the witness affirmed that they were accurate.

Several days after meeting, Steve gave the witness a detailed description he had written a few years earlier about the witness's encounter with the area authority — now a presiding leader in the church — based on what the witness told Steve at the time, and Steve asked him to read it. The next day, Steve followed up and asked him if it was accurate, and he said it was, adding that Steve was entitled to use it in describing what happened. He said he did not dispute anything in it.

The document — titled "The Failure of the Utah South Area Presidency," dated July 6, 2002 — was among the many items Steve submitted to the First Presidency in the course of his appeal.

A few weeks later, the witness again assured Steve that he endorsed what Steve wrote in the above document about the church official's intimidation of him, intimidation he concurred amounted to "witness tampering."

Steve kept the signed testimony of each witness on file, and later made both available to the First Presidency.

'Your bishop's an apostate, and so are you'
As the family continued to meet with their supportive bishop after being barred from Stefani and Chuck's wedding for no doctrinally-valid reason, they focused on basic facts the bishop was willing to "affirm" about the church's disturbing mistreatment of the family.

They worked together on compiling a list of things they'd proven to the bishop's satisfaction, so he might have a clear basis for ruling in favor of the family's charges against the former bishop, and thus bring the controversy to closure.

After months of working toward this goal, the family and the bishop drew up a document the bishop was willing to sign affirming his understanding of the controversy, and the validity — and truth — of the Stones' testimony, evidence, and assertions in their meetings together.

This critically-important document was drawn up by Steve from notes and recollections he made of the bishop's statements, and from answers to questions the family put to him. The bishop then edited the result, and a final copy was made, which he read carefully, and signed.

In the four-page statement, dated September 4, 2005, the bishop affirmed, first, that —
  1. The adult members of the Stone family are deserving of temple recommends "insofar as personal worthiness is concerned."

  2. The family's claims are either "undeniably true" on their face, or otherwise "valid" and "irrefutable."

  3. The "difficult" nature of the problem between the church and the family warrants impartial review by the highest church leaders (or at least by competent persons outside the stake).

  4. The family's claim that, in July 2001, the Brethren approved the former bishop and stake president to be tried for their membership "cannot be denied."

  5. The Area President did in fact approve both the former bishop and the stake president to be tried for their membership on April 13, 2003, with the new bishop specifically authorized to initiate a disciplinary council against his predecessor.

  6. The Stone family has valid reason not to sustain the stake president or the former bishop (at that time a member of the stake high council), or others who've shared in these men's abusive behavior.
The statement then said the bishop did not dispute the family's claim that those who disfellowshipped Steve "acted inappropriately, even maliciously" — and that at least some "behaved dishonestly, bore false witness, and conducted themselves in ways unbecoming of members of the church."

The statement also affirmed that Steve's disciplinary council was "inappropriate" and "disturbing."

In his statement, the bishop further affirmed that the evidence submitted against Steve at his disciplinary council was "either irrelevant or unreliable" — and he added that several documents were introduced against Steve as a result of his comments in a 1998 Sunday School class about the innocence of little children to suggest Steve was an apostate, even though his comments, and several documents he wrote supporting them, were sound and merely offered scripture-based testimony of the "saving principles of the gospel."

The bishop affirmed that he had seen evidence to suggest that the stake president and former bishop "did not act in good faith" — and that Steve may well "have been disfellowshipped not only for his view of [little children], but for his involvement in the family's political livelihood, which centers in working for Alan Keyes and other political figures."

His statement concluded by affirming: "I consider the Stone family to be truthful and honorable, and their testimony valid and unimpeachable. I would encourage the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Presidency of the Seventy to permit the Stone family a full and impartial investigation of this matter, in whatever venue seems appropriate, in the interest of getting this serious problem truly resolved."

In making this recommendation, the bishop acknowledged that the record suggests that the inept member of the Area Presidency and the Area President at the time both "seriously erred" in their handling of the problem, and that the Stone family "is within their rights, under the Law of Common Consent, not to sustain [them]," should they choose.

Steve forwarded a copy to the Office of the First Presidency a while later, in the sincere hope of ending the stake president's interference with the bishop's assignment to try the former bishop — so the bishop might be allowed to function without unreasonable constraint in fulfilling that role as a "judge in Israel."

Interference with the bishop by the new Area President

Soon after the family's bishop signed the above statement affirming basic facts in the controversy, he was contacted by the new Area President and asked to submit a replacement document, Steve learned a few weeks afterward.

The bishop apparently did so at church headquarters in Salt Lake City sometime in September or October 2005, under the supervision of the new Area President.

The Stones have never seen this alternative statement, but according to the bishop, it emphasized that his September 4 statement "was not worded the way [he] would choose to say things."

Because the family considered the Area President's attempt to discredit the bishop's September 4 statement tantamount to witness tampering — as well as further evidence of the church's bad faith and unfairness in this controversy — the family ultimately drew up a clarifying statement for the First Presidency.

Among other things, the family emphasized that:
    The [bishop's signed] statement was prepared jointly by the bishop and members of the Stone family over a period of several weeks of careful writing and re-writing, following months of discussion between the family, the bishop, and the family's principal witnesses.
The family described the process as follows:
    After clarifying certain details of testimony and evidence with the bishop, the Stone family drew up a proposed draft of basic affirmations of fact and offered it to the bishop for his consideration — with a request that he revise it any way he chose. The bishop then made whatever corrections he wanted and gave the edited version back to the Stones. The Stones suggested a few final adjustments, which the bishop approved. The resulting mutually-agreeable document was then signed by the bishop of his own free will, after a significant period of discussion, writing, editing, and refinement. (emphasis added)
"What resulted was thus a collaboration in every important sense," the Stones stressed, adding —
    The signed document does not purport to be "the way the bishop would have worded things," of course — but that could be said of countless written agreements, attestations, and contracts among various parties in and out of the Church and in the realm of law. What matters is that the language is agreeable to all involved, and in this case, [the bishop] had every opportunity to ensure that this occurred, and he then attested to his formal approval of the document by his signature. No attempt, therefore, by those seeking to protect the Church from the consequences of its actions can credibly dispel the validity — or profound significance — of [the bishop's] September 4, 2005, signed statement. (emphasis added)
By contrast, the family said,
    [The Area President's] version did not involve members of the Stone family in its substance or wording, and thus lacks the authority of the version prepared jointly by the family and their bishop. The [replacement] version was also implicitly coerced — for [the Area President] had direct and influential jurisdiction over the bishop in the line of command for [the family's] area of the Church, and as a rule, bishops are expected to do as directed (or asked) by their file leaders.

    It would indeed be rare for a bishop to defy or ignore a request by a General Authority who presides directly over him in the Church structure.

    The [Area President's] alternative document is therefore insignificant in comparison to the jointly-prepared, completely uncoerced September 4, 2005, signed statement of [the bishop]. (emphasis added)
The family further stated,
    [The bishop's] September 4, 2005, signed statement was the product of nearly three years of interviews and discussions with members of the Stone family, during which the bishop came to believe that the family's claims were at least "valid," "irrefutable," or "unimpeachable" — and in a large number of instances "undeniably true." He also concluded, after these conversations, that the Stone family's witnesses, testimony, and evidence met every standard of proof required by the scriptures.
One thing the Stones' letter of clarification does not say — but it bears saying now — is that the Area President was the bishop's former boss at BYU, where sports employees with significant responsibilities are both highly esteemed and privileged, on the one hand, and under continual pressure from the administration to perform and conform, on the other.

BYU also has a strict policy of terminating staff, faculty, or students who are perceived to be at odds with church leaders.

Whether the bishop would admit it or not, such considerations cannot be ignored in assessing whether his revised statement was made entirely of his own free will — uncoerced implicitly or directly — and thus equal in reliability to the statement prepared mutually with the Stones.

A reasonable observer would see the revised statement for what it obviously was: a dishonest attempt by the Area President to manipulate a witness and damage the Stones' case in the controversy with the church.

More interference by the new Area President

Sometime during the first week of October 2005, the new Area President sent a letter to the stake president saying that Steve had disobeyed the presiding authority's May 26, 2005, letter, because Steve was working closely with the bishop to resolve this difficult controversy.

Bear in mind that the Area President expressly told Steve in his May 26 letter: "I ask you to direct all further inquiries and concerns to your bishop [since he has] the keys to help you." (emphasis added)

As a result of the Area President's October letter, the bishop was called in by the stake president and instructed no longer to help the Stone family resolve the longstanding problem.

According to the bishop, the letter from the Area President was precipitated by the bishop's signed statement affirming that all of the family's basic claims in this matter were "valid" and "irrefutable." Note that Steve had sent the bishop's statement to the First Presidency just prior to General Conference (around the first of October), and the statement was evidently forwarded to the Area President — who responded with his letter to the stake president reprimanding the family for their efforts to resolve things through their bishop.

The paradox, of course, was obviously ironic. Here the Stones were doing precisely what the order of the church normally calls for (that is, dealing with local issues at the local level, in accordance with church protocol and doctrine) — yet were chastised for doing so.

Furthermore, they were doing exactly what the Area President had asked them to do in his May 26 letter — which told them to deal directly with the bishop.

We should stress that Steve was never permitted to see the letter, although the stake president read parts of it briefly to him in an impromptu meeting with him and the bishop. For weeks, Steve had resisted the president's request to read Steve the letter, since the president typically refused to allow him to speak when they met. On this occasion, they sat down to discuss a vote Steve had just cast in a priesthood meeting against an action of the president, and the president deceptively pulled out the letter and said he'd like to read it. (It was apparent that this was the real reason for the meeting.)

Steve agreed to the reading on condition that his bishop be allowed to read him the letter in its entirety later that day — as Steve had been promised by the presidents' counselors that morning would happen — in response to his repeated requests for such a non-threatening meeting. Steve therefore told the president he was not about to waive this long-awaited opportunity, and the president agreed, and then proceeded to read the letter.

From what Steve could tell without actually examining it, the Area President's letter appeared to restate errors he'd previously asserted in his May 26 letter, and offered no substantive new information — other than to accuse Steve of "disobedience" for repeatedly meeting with the bishop to seek his help, even though the Area President had clearly suggested Steve do so in his May 26 letter.

Later that day, when Steve met with the bishop to hear the October letter, the bishop said the president refused to honor their agreement concerning it. Steve was not allowed to review the letter with the bishop as promised.

Since the letter was implicitly ADDRESSED TO STEVE, even though it was sent only to the stake president, such intransigence (and outright deceit) obviously makes no sense. Steve could hardly be expected to take seriously the substance of a letter to which he was denied reasonable access.

When the bishop later told Steve in mid-December that his repeated efforts to gain access to the letter were futile, Steve told the bishop — in response to the president's manipulative behavior: "He tricked me."

Both the president's deceit and the Area President's willful collaboration could accurately be characterized as treachery, given what was unquestionably at stake, and the cruel escalation of the conflict they ensured.

At least that's way the baffled and beleaguered Stones looked at it. How could professed representatives of Jesus Christ act with such devious contempt toward a family whose members were guilty of no definable transgression of church law, and who sought only to end the church's mistreatment, the Stones wondered.

"Proven your case"

In the wake of the Area President's October 2005 letter to the stake president, and the president's self-serving exploitation of it, members of the Stone family met with the bishop to assess the situation. The date was November 27, 2005.

Of particular concern to the Stones was the stake president's most recent directive that the bishop no longer help the family — even though the Area President's letter, which was kept hidden from Steve, apparently said the opposite, consistent with the Area President's May 2005 letter.

After summarizing these facts, Steve read the bishop some scriptural passages about church discipline, the Law of Witnesses, and guidelines for "judges in Israel" (as LDS scripture defines bishops).

He also summarized the essence of the bishop's signed statement of September 4, 2005, affirming the validity of the family's charges against his predecessor following three years of meetings between the bishop and members of the family.

Steve then asked the bishop if, in his judgment, the family "had proven [their] case against [the former bishop], in accordance with the laws and doctrines in the standard works."

The bishop answered, "YES — according to the laws and standards in the scriptures."

He said this knowing full-well the significance of his statement, it was obvious as he and Steve talked.

This culminating judgment by the bishop, after so many starts and stops and continuing interference from the stake president and others, meant — for all intents and purposes — that the Stones' long nightmare should be over.

Unfortunately, it was made in the context of the bishop's confidential announcement that he was moving from the ward in just a few weeks, and would have little opportunity to do anything further to resolve the controversy, given the stake president's increasing pressure on him to abandon the assignment he'd been given by the previous Area President to try the former bishop.

While he was still in his role as a bishop, however, the bishop's conclusions in the controversy were more reliable and authoritative, under church protocol, than the perspective of other church leaders — including the new Area President — whose role in discipline under church protocol is normally appellate, following a decision by a "judge in Israel."

To reasonable minds — and to those familiar with the church's "standard works" — the bishop's conclusions should set the matter to rest, once and for all, unless overturned on appeal by the First Presidency upon submission of valid evidence to the contrary by those found by the bishop to be guilty of misconduct.

Regarding the latter possibility, the Stone family has always maintained that their only interest has been in seeing due process play out — no matter the outcome — even if the highest leaders chose to set aside a judgment of a local disciplinary council.

What has disturbed them most throughout the controversy has been pre-emptive judgment issued by church authorities in flagrant disregard for due process — preventing the family from presenting their evidence and testimony in an orderly manner as provided by church law.

Such meddling — obviously an expression of disrespect for "regular" members by the church's governing elite — defies the very order that the Law of Common Consent, the Law of Witnesses, and related statutes are meant to preserve.

Hence the following. Read on.

A call to the Area President's office

On December 3, 2005 — shortly after hearing the bishop's authoritative judgment — Steve called the Area President's office to learn what the man intended the family's bishop to do in dealing with the Stone family, in view of his two letters, and why his recent letter was being used by the stake president to obstruct the bishop's rightful prerogatives as a "judge in Israel."

He also wanted to inform the man that the bishop had told the family on November 27, 2005, that they had "proven [their] case against the former bishop."

His secretary, as she had on several other occasions, was rude to Steve from the outset. She told him the stake president had been "delegated all the authority in the matter," and that Steve was to do whatever the president said regarding the bishop's involvement.

When Steve pointed out that the previous Area Authority had authorized the bishop to try the former bishop, she said the earlier church official's authorization "didn't matter," since the man was "no longer a General Authority."

Bear in mind that, by this way of thinking, persons set apart as bishops, for example, or missionaries, would lose their calling upon the release or retirement of the person who called them. Such thinking would result in complete chaos in the Church.

As Steve tried to explain this to her, she hung up on him.

Further affirmation from the bishop

Steve and Ethan met December 6 with the bishop to discuss the demeaning treatment Steve was given by the Area President's office and to consider the family's limited options.

In the context of these frustrations, Steve reminded the bishop of his assurance on November 27, 2005, that the Stones "had proven [their] case against [the former bishop]." Steve asked him if he would be willing to "re-affirm" this assurance — and Steve then reiterated basically the same question he put to him in November regarding the strength of the family's evidence.

Steve asked him if the family had "proven [their] case against [the prior bishop], according to the laws and standards in the scriptures."

The bishop said, "Yes."

"Your bishop's an apostate"

Because the Area President's office was uncooperative, Steve called the office of the Area President's file leader — the "Senior President of the Seventy" — the next day.

Steve had previously talked with two of the Senior President's secretaries in the past, to express his frustrations at the insensitivity of the Area President, and they'd always been respectful.

Steve described to the main secretary his frustration in trying to find out from the Area President's office why the Area President refused to honor the bishop's rights and authority as Steve worked with the bishop to resolve the church's mistreatment of his family.

Steve framed this frustration in the context of the bishop's recent acknowledgement that the Stones had already proven their case against the former bishop — and he asked her to see if the Senior President would be willing to call the bishop to clarify the bishop's prerogatives, especially regarding the disciplining of the previous bishop.

The woman presented Steve's request to the Senior President, then returned and said, "Elder [deleted] said you've received previous counsel, and I'm to hang up now," which she did.

Shocked at such treatment from what appeared to be one of the family's last avenues for recourse, Steve promptly called the Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency.

He told the Assistant Secretary that the family's bishop had concluded that the family had "proven [their] case" in this disturbing matter — especially their allegations of cruel, dishonest, malicious behavior by the former bishop toward members of the Stone family over several years.

Steve added that the bishop had affirmed this decision twice to family members.

The Assistant Secretary responded by saying, "Then your bishop's an apostate."

The man actually said this — despite the bishop's special rights and authority as a "judge in Israel," and the Assistant Secretary's lack of any ecclesiastical authority whatever to judge the bishop, or the controversy the bishop thoroughly investigated and ruled concerning in favor of the Stones.

In fact, this paid employee of the First Presidency had never been voted on and "sustained" to fulfill the influential role he played as a de facto member of the church's presiding body.

In making his bigoted pronouncement, the secretary not only revealed his apparent animosity toward the bishop for being exceptionally kind to the Stone family, but his own willingness to assume authority he did not possess under the laws and order of the church.

The man then said, "And so are you, Brother Stone" (an apostate) — again displaying his significant prejudice, ill will, incompetence, and doctrinal ignorance.

Steve reminded the secretary that the bishop had also signed a written statement — after meeting regularly with members of the Stone family for three years — affirming that all of the family's basic claims in the controversy were "valid and irrefutable." That September 4, 2005, statement was seen by the secretary in October.

Steve further told the secretary that the bishop had "more understanding of this matter than anyone else in the church," due to his extensive investment of time regarding it — in harmony with instructions from both Area Presidents.

In addition, Steve pointed out that two independent witnesses — one a former bishop of the family's ward, and the other a former stake high counselor who witnessed Steve's disfellowshipment — had also signed written statements verifying the family's most basic claims in the matter.

Without hesitation, the secretary rudely rejected — out of hand — what Steve told him, and hung up on him.

We should point out that this presumptuous, inept man is now the Secretary to the First Presidency, not merely the "assistant," following the retirement of his predecessor not long ago. This means he has even more of a hand in the church's internal dealings than before — and raises legitimate questions about who is "minding the store" at church headquarters.

Letter of complaint

On December 11, 2005, Steve sent a letter to the Secretary to the First Presidency — the above man's superior — and protested the man's disturbing behavior, which Steve considered inappropriate for anyone in his high position.

After describing what the man said about the family's bishop, as well as about Steve himself, Steve wrote:
    I believe that the above behavior by Brother [deleted] is the most deplorable and irresponsible behavior by a high Church official that I have ever witnessed, and I protest such degrading treatment.
Steve then asked,
    Would you kindly pass this short expression of disgust to the First Presidency, along with my observation that Brother [deleted] has repeatedly treated me with inexplicable condescension and prejudice throughout this matter — beginning with our first conversation in March 2002, shortly after I was disfellowshipped.

    It is irregular and inappropriate for someone who has not been sustained as a "judge" in his position to form opinions of any kind about facts or claims that he knows nothing of, firsthand, in a local matter. My bishop's knowledge and judgment in this matter are nothing to trifle with, under the laws of God, and deserve respectful consideration by officers of the Church.
Steve ended by saying,
    Given the highly-unusual facts in this controversy, it should be obvious that this matter warrants a full and thorough review by an impartial General Authority assigned by the First Presidency. To date, such impartiality has been absent — as two complicit Church leaders (Elders [deleted] and [deleted]) have been permitted in the past to cover up their serious errors at our family's expense.

    Fairness has also been absent by allowing President [deleted] — who is as responsible for this problem as former Bishop [deleted], and who has repeatedly obstructed its resolution through perjury and deceit — to control the investigative and disciplinary process.

    Please prevail upon the First Presidency to end the cruel persecution our family continues to suffer in this needless conflict.
That same day, Steve and Ethan met again with the bishop to discuss the family's evidence against his predecessor, and the bishop affirmed a third time that the family had "proven [their] case" against the former bishop.

In the family's last meeting with the bishop before he was released on January 1, 2006 — an informal conversation in his office on December 18, 2005 — Steve and Ethan, for good measure, asked the bishop to verify once more his view that the family "has proven [its] case against [the former bishop]." Steve pointedly asked the bishop, as before, if he believed that the family had done so, and the bishop said, "Yes."

When Steve asked him if he would be willing to stand firm in the face of diligent inquiry and still defend this view, he said, "Yes."

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