The September Six were a group of six members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) who were excommunicated or disfellowshipped in September 1993 for their intellectual and historical pursuits that were deemed contrary to the teachings and doctrines of the Church. The six members were:
- D. Michael Quinn – a historian and former professor at Brigham Young University who published research on Church history that was seen as critical of Church leaders and doctrines.
- Lavina Fielding Anderson – an editor and writer who was accused of apostasy for publicly questioning the Church’s treatment of women and its handling of historical documents.
- Maxine Hanks – a writer and feminist theologian who was excommunicated for her involvement in a publication that was seen as promoting feminist ideas that were at odds with Church teachings.
- Avraham Gileadi – a Hebrew scholar who was accused of apostasy for publishing a book on the Book of Isaiah that was seen as promoting a non-traditional interpretation of the text.
- Paul Toscano – a lawyer and writer who was disfellowshipped for publicly criticizing the Church’s handling of dissenting members and advocating for greater openness and transparency within the Church.
- Lynne Kanavel Whitesides – a writer and feminist who was disfellowshipped for her involvement in publishing and advocating for greater gender equality within the Church.
The excommunications and disfellowshippings of the September Six sparked debate within the Church about the role of intellectual freedom and the limits of dissent within the faith community.
Dubbed the “September Six,” the group were mostly left-leaning writers and scholars who had published articles or given talks about the role of women in Mormonism and the way the church’s leaders handle dissent. There have always been dissidents in the Mormon ranks—the religion itself is one particularly dramatic dissent from the rest of Christian tradition—but a new community of Mormon intellectuals had coalesced in the 1960s and ’70s. Independent publications—most notably Dialogue (founded in 1966) and Sunstone (1974)—provided forums for scholarship and reflection about Mormon history and theology. This made some church leaders uneasy. “There are three areas where members of the church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away,” declared Boyd K. Packer, one of the church’s Twelve Apostles, in May 1993. These “dangers,” Packer said, were the “relatively new” feminist and “gay-lesbian” movements, and “the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.”
One of the central questions in the aftermath of September’s events was just how involved Packer himself had been in them. At the pinnacle of the Mormon hierarchy is the First Presidency—the church’s prophet and his two counselors—and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Those 15 men oversee the multiple Quorums of the Seventy, who in turn direct the stake presidents and bishops who minister to congregations on a part-time, voluntary basis. The prophet at the time was Ezra Taft Benson, who, at age 94, was mostly incapacitated. The most senior apostle, Howard W. Hunter, also suffered from serious health problems. (Benson died in ’94, Hunter in ’95.) Packer, the second-most senior among the 12, was the “substitute president” of the Quorum of the Twelve whenever Hunter was sidelined for medical reasons. And he was the most strident of the group when it came to denouncing internal critics of Mormon leaders and teachings. He insisted that the September councils were local affairs, but church employees who reported to him had, it turned out, been keeping tabs on the six who were disciplined, and rumors swirled that Packer himself personally insisted that the courts take place.David Haglund, The Case of the Mormon Historian
What happened when Michael Quinn challenged the history of the church he loved.
Excommunication is a practice used by many religious organizations to remove members from the church community and deny them access to certain spiritual and sacramental privileges. The practice has been used by various religions throughout history, including the Catholic Church and the LDS or Mormon Church.
In the Catholic Church, excommunication has been used as a form of discipline since the early Christian era. It is a formal decree by Church authorities that removes a person from the Church’s communion and deprives them of the sacraments. Historically, excommunication was often used as a means of punishment for heresy, schism, or other grave offenses against the Church. In medieval times, excommunication was often accompanied by the “interdict,” which involved the suspension of all sacramental rites in a particular region or kingdom.
In more recent times, the Catholic Church has continued to use excommunication as a form of discipline for various offenses, including the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the ordination of women as priests. However, the Church has also emphasized the possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness, and excommunication is generally seen as a last resort after other means of correction have been exhausted.
In the LDS or Mormon Church, excommunication is also used as a form of discipline for members who are deemed to have committed serious offenses or violated Church teachings. The Church typically holds a disciplinary council, which is a private meeting with Church leaders, to determine whether excommunication is warranted. Offenses that may lead to excommunication include apostasy, adultery, serious financial improprieties, and other serious moral transgressions.
The Church has been criticized for its use of excommunication in response to members who express dissenting views or engage in activities that are deemed contrary to Church teachings and authority. Critics argue that excommunication is a form of censorship and intimidation, and discourages open discussion and critical thinking within the Church. The Church has defended its use of excommunication as a means of maintaining doctrinal purity and protecting the spiritual well-being of its members.
The practice of excommunication essentially expells a member of a religious community. It is a severe punishment that can have a profound impact on a person’s life. The church would have us believe that excommunication is a necessary tool for maintaining religious discipline and order and they argue that it is important to have a way to punish those who violate the rules of the community, and that excommunication is a way to do that without resorting to violence. Many believe it is a barbaric practice and should be abolished. They argue that it is cruel and inhumane to exclude someone from their community, especially when that person may be struggling with a personal problem or making a mistake.
D Michael Quinn
Quinn was a historian and former professor at Brigham Young University who published several works on Church history that were seen as critical of Church leaders and doctrines. In particular, his book “The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power” examines the development of Church leadership and its involvement in controversial issues such as polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Quinn reflected and spoke often on the tension between scholarship and faith. In his On Bring a Mormon Historian lecture, he argues that there is a need for a more open and honest approach to Church history that acknowledges the complexities and challenges of the past, while also maintaining a commitment to faith and community.
Lavina Fielding Anderson
Anderson was an editor and writer who was accused of apostasy for publicly questioning the Church’s treatment of women and its handling of historical documents. She was also the editor of a controversial collection of essays titled “A Woman’s Place,” which explores the role of women in the Church.
Hanks was a writer and feminist theologian who was excommunicated for her involvement in the publication of a book titled “Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism,” which was seen as promoting feminist ideas that were at odds with Church teachings.
Gileadi was a Hebrew scholar who was accused of apostasy for publishing a book on the Book of Isaiah that was seen as promoting a non-traditional interpretation of the text.
Toscano was a lawyer and writer who was disfellowshipped for publicly criticizing the Church’s handling of dissenting members and advocating for greater openness and transparency within the Church. He also published several works that were critical of Church doctrines and practices, including “The Sanctity of Dissent” and “Strangers in Paradox.”
Lynne Kanavel Whitesides
Whitesides was a writer and feminist who was involved in the publication of “Women and Authority” and advocated for greater gender equality within the Church. Whitesides was disfellowshipped for comments she made on television about how the LDS Church treated women. She is now a professional life coach.
Women have begun to identify with God the Mother. It is an empowering experience to see your body in the body of God. . . . Some of us pray to a mother god because we believe she is talking to us.“Find Our Bodies, Hearts, Voices–A Three-Part Invention,” May 1992,
quoted in Women and Authority (Salt Lake City; Signature Books, 1992), 261
Being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It opened up a world of spirituality I didn’t even know was possible.Lynne Kanavel Whitesides
Where Mormonism’s ‘September Six’ are now
After The Six
The ex-communications and disfellowshipping of the September Six sparked debate within the Church about the role of intellectual freedom and the limits of dissent within the faith community. Despite the controversy surrounding their publications, the works of the September Six continue to be studied and debated within the Church and among scholars of Mormonism.
Since the excommunications and discipline councils of the September Six in 1993, there have been several notable cases of Church discipline for members who have expressed dissenting views or engaged in activities deemed contrary to Church teachings. Here are some of the major cases:
- George P. Lee – Lee was a general authority in the Church who was excommunicated in 1989 for apostasy and other violations of Church law. Lee had been accused of making unauthorized contacts with Navajo leaders and advocating for a separate Navajo Mormon Church.
- Lyndon Lamborn – Lamborn was a member of the Church who was excommunicated in 1995 for apostasy, after he published a book critical of the Church called “Standing for Something More: The Excommunication of Lyndon Lamborn.” He argued that the Church was too focused on conformity and obedience, and not enough on individual freedom and critical thinking.
- Tom Phillips – Phillips was a member of the Church who was excommunicated in 2014 for apostasy after he publicly criticized Church teachings and participated in a campaign to resign from the Church in protest. He also filed a legal complaint against Church leaders, alleging fraud and misrepresentation.
- John Dehlin – Dehlin is a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Mormon Stories Podcast, a popular podcast that explores a wide range of topics related to Mormonism. Dehlin has been a vocal critic of the LDS Church’s policies on LGBTQ+ issues, women’s ordination, and religious freedom. He has also been critical of the church’s history and teachings. In 2015, Dehlin was served with a letter of excommunication from the LDS Church. The letter accused Dehlin of “apostasy” for his public advocacy of controversial views that were considered to be in conflict with the church’s teachings. Dehlin has said that he was not surprised by his excommunication, but that he believes it was an unjust decision. He has continued to speak out about his beliefs and to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance.
- Jeremy Runnells – Runnells was a member of the Church who was excommunicated in 2016 for apostasy after he published a document called the “CES Letter” which questioned Church teachings and challenged the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The CES Letter gained widespread attention among Mormons on social media and other online forums.
- Elder James Hamula – In 2016, Elder Hamula was released from his role in the Quorum of the Seventy serving as the Executive Director of the Church’s Correlation Department, following church disciplinary action. Details of the disciplinary council are private and were not released. The church stated it was not due to disillusionment or apostasy on the part of Hamula.
- Bill Reel – Reel is a former bishop who was excommunicated in 2018 for apostasy after he publicly criticized Church leaders and doctrines on his podcast. He also raised concerns about the Church’s handling of cases of sexual abuse.
- Sam Young – Sam is a former bishop who was excommunicated in 2018 for apostasy after he launched a campaign to end the practice of asking children sexually explicit questions in one-on-one interviews with Church leaders. He argued that the practice was harmful and put children at risk of abuse.
- Natasha Helfer-Parker – Parker is a therapist and Mormon sex educator who was excommunicated in 2021 for apostasy after she publicly questioned Church teachings on sexuality and gender identity. She also criticized the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and its treatment of LGBTQ+ members.
- Gina Colvin – Colvin is a New Zealand-based podcaster and writer who was disciplined in 2018 for apostasy after she publicly questioned Church teachings on issues such as women’s roles in the Church and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. She left the church and started attending the Community of Christ instead, while her spouse is still an active and believing member of the mainstream Mormon church.
As John Dehlin stated regarding his ex-communication, the practice is a holdover from medieval times and should be considered barbaric.
John Dehlin, longtime social activist, podcaster and outspoken critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the organization’s modern-day practice of excommunication is “despicable” and “barbaric,” and needs to end.Activist John Dehlin calls LDS Church’s excommunication process ‘despicable’; says no one should go through it
I want to acknowledge that I take full responsibility for putting these leaders and the church in a difficult decision. I could have resigned to make the process easier for everyone, and I chose not to. At the time, I felt as though I was fighting for a worthy cause – to help the Mormon church change, and to shine a spotlight on the Disciplinary Council process, which I consider(ed) to be barbaric and medieval.John Dehlin
A sentiment he also echoed in an interview:
Because I love the church, I love Mormonism, I want to see us become better. We can become a 21st century religion that’s stronger, that’s more mature, that is more tolerant and accepting, and in my view, more Christ-like. I would just call on all of us to try and grow in that direction instead of trying to fall back to the 19th-century or the 15th century and use more barbaric tactics in what should be a more enlightened age. So that’s my summary.Mormon Facing Excommunication Speaks Out
Dissidents Causing Change
The church wants to say that their changes are brought on by revelation, but over and over we see that the process is actually sparked from outside the leadership. First, an activist may raise awareness and challenge leaders, the leaders will deny them and attempt to quiet them. If they don’t step in line, the leadership will banish them via excommunication. Then shortly afterward, the leadership will update a policy to reflect the changes sought in the first place and call these changes inspired.
Latter-day Saint feminists watching Johnson’s spiritual trajectory began to assess their own paths and decisions, said historian Kathleen Flake, who teaches Mormon studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“As Sonia’s political protest took a greater share of her life choices,” Flake said, “it caused orthodox Mormon women to reflect on whether or not they wanted to live to fight another day and in another way.”
Johnson, who had urged outsiders not to listen to the faith’s missionaries, showed how far was too far for church leaders when it comes to criticism, the scholar said. She became the “poster child” for “what not to do if you want to change the church.”40 years after her Mormon excommunication, ERA firebrand Sonia Johnson salutes today’s ‘wonderful’ women
How does the practice of excommunication affect you? Do you consider it barbaric or at least despicable? Tell your story on this site or add comments below.
- On Being a Mormon Historian from Michael Quinn
- Contributors who indicate the September Six as a major shelf item in their faith transition