Introduction: What Got Michael Quinn Canned?
Inquiries have recently been made on this board about what constituted the
basis for the excommunication of D. Michael Quinn from the Mormon Church for
This is an interesting question, especially since prior to getting the
ecclesiastical axe, Quinn--a noted historian and former tenured BYU
professor--had written at least six articles for the LDS Church’s premiere
magazine, the Ensign, as well as published several more in the
LDS-owned and operated journal, BYU Studies.
As to what exactly prompted Quinn’s expulsion from Mormonism’s ranks, RfM poster,
"Mad_Viking," asked the following:
"In light of [Quinn's post-excommunication expression of his personal
testimony in the truthfulness of the Mormon Church], it is simply amazing
that he would maintain faith. I am honestly baffled by it.
Is the research that got him excommunicated available to the public?"
(Mad_Viking,”Re: No, that was not my impression," Recovery from
Mormonism Board, 4 August 2005, 1438 hours)
Yes, Quinn's research on the subject is publicly available.
In a nutshell, Quinn’s ”sins'" were having published in the Spring 1985
issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a devastating
historical account of the shell game played for decades by the Mormon Church
in its deliberate campaign of misdirection and misinformation.
Quinn’s Dialogue article has been praised thusly:
”This essay is one of the best pieces of Mormon literature we have. [Quinn]
went to Gordon [B.] Hinckley before he ever published this essay and
showed him what he had. He then told . . . Hinckley that if he did not want
it published then [Quinn] would not publish it. . . . Hinckley told
[Quinn] that he needed to do what he felt best so [Quinn] published it
because he felt it dealt with a very sensitive issue that needed to be
Quinn himself explains in his article, "On Being a Mormon Historian (and
Its Aftermath)," how his research into post-Manifesto polygamy took form,
despite a decided lack of cooperation from the highest levels of the Mormon
"President Hinckley telephoned in June 1982 to say that he was
sympathetic about a request I had written to obtain access to documents in
the First Presidency fault [about post-Manifesto polygamy] but that my
request could not be granted. Since I now knew all I ever would about
post-Manifesto polygamy, I told him I would go ahead and publish the most
detailed and suportive study I could of the topic. President Hinckley said
the decision was up to me, that he had done what he could to help."
(Quinn, D. Michael, "On Being A Mormon Historian (and Its
Aftermath)," in Smith, George D., ed., Faithful History: Essays on
Writing Mormon History [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992], p.
Quinn also details in the same article the post-Manifesto reasons for his
“In 1985, after Dialogue published my article ‘LDS Church Authority
and New Plural Marriages, 1890 - 1904’, three apostles [Boyd K. Packer,
Mark E. Petersen and Ezra Taft Benson] gave orders for my Stake President
to confiscate my temple recommend. Six years earlier, I had formally notified
the First Presidency and the Managing Director of the Church Historical
Department about my research on post-Manifesto polygamy and my intention to
publish it . . . Now I was told that three apostles believed I was guilty of
‘speaking evil of the Lord's anointed.’ The Stake President was also told to
‘take further action’ against me if this did not ‘remedy the situation’ of my
writing controversial Mormon history. . . .
"I told my Stake President that this was an obvious effort to intimidate
me from doing history that might ‘offend the Brethren’ (to use Ezra Taft
Benson’s phrase). . . . The Stake President also saw this as a back-door
effort to have me fired from BYU. . . .
“At various stake and regional meetings, Apostle Packer began publicly
referring to ‘a BYU historian who is writing about polygamy to embarrass the
Church.’ At firesides in Utah and California, a member of BYU’s Religious
Education Department referred to me as ‘the anti-Christ of BYU.’ . . . Church
leaders today seem to regard my post-Manifesto polygamy article . . . as
‘speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed’ because they themselves regard certain
acts and words of those earlier Church leaders as embarrassing, if not
actually wrong. I do not regard it as disloyal to conscientiously recreate
the words, acts and circumstances of earlier prophets and apostles. . . . .
“No one ever gave me an ultimatum or threatened to fire me from Brigham Young
University. However, University administrators and I were both on the losing
side of a war of attrition mandated by the General Authorities. . . .
“On 20 January 1988, I wrote a letter of resignation, effective at the end of
the current school semester. . . . I explained [that] ‘the situation seems to
be that academic freedom merely survives at BYU without fundamental support
by the institution, exists against tremendous pressure and is nurtured only
through the dedication of individual administrators and faculty members.’ . .
“Three months after my departure, it angered me to learn to learn that BYU
had fired a Hebrew professor for his private views on the historicity of the
Book of Mormon. Although I personally regard the Book of Mormon as ancient
history and sacred text, I told an inquiring newspaper reporter: ‘BYU
officials have said that Harvard should aspire to become the BYU of the East.
That’s like saying the Mayo Clinic should aspire to be Auschwitz. BYU is an
Auschwitz of the mind.’ . . .
“When BYU’s Associate Academic Vice-President asked me if that was an
accurate quote, I confirmed that it was. ‘Academic freedom exists at BYU only
for what is considered non-controversial by the University’s Board of
Trustees [meaning the Quorum of the Twelve] and administrators,’ I wrote. ‘By
those definitions, academic freedom has always existed at Soviet universities
(even during the Stalin era). . . .
“It is . . . my conviction that God desires everyone to enjoy freedom of
inquiry and expression without fear, obstruction or intimidation. I find it
one of the fundamental ironies of modern Mormonism that the General
Authorities, who praise free agency, also do their best to limit free
agency's prerequisites --access to information, uninhibited inquiry and
freedom of expression.”
(Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian (And Its Aftermath),” in Smith, ed. Faithful
History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, pp. 91-95).
The Complete Text of Quinn’s Explosive Essay
Quinn's essay on post-Manifesto polygamy that so propelled paranoid Mormon
leaders into hanging him can be found at:
But wait, there’s more.
Now, as they say, some more of the story. :)
Years Later Amongst the Quorum of the Twelve: Babbling Baloney About
History and Bubbling Bitterness Over Quinn
Additional sordid details behind the excommunication of Quinn seeped out some
eight years after his post-Manifesto essay was first published.
These facts were provided by two of the Mormon Church's highest
henchmen—“Apostle-ologists” Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks.
On 9 September 1993, my wife Mary Ann and I met with Oaks and Maxwell in
Maxwell's Church office, #303, located in the Church Administration Building,
in downtown Salt Lake City.
We had approached them with a list of detailed and wide-ranging questions
about fundamental doctrines, teachings, practices and policies of the Mormon
Church that significantly troubled us--and about which we felt we deserved
credible and straight-forward answers.
In the broad sense on the polygamy question, we wanted to know from these
pre-eminent damage controllers why the Mormon Church had not been more
forthcoming and honest with its history with regard to the official practice
(and later blatant denial of) polygamy.
Then, specifically, we wanted to know about what I have subsequently referred
to as “the mystery of history, and those who tell the truth about
In that meeting with us, “good cop” Maxwell offered unconvincing
rationalizations for the Mormon Church’s failure to be honest and forthcoming
about its practice of polygamy.
“Bad cop” Oaks followed up by launching a shockingly shabby attack on Quinn’s
Maxwell's Murky Meanderings
In answer to the larger inquiry, Maxwell cagily replied by noting that the
process of writing history is frustrating, complex and incomplete.
He handed us a photocopy of a sermon. (The copy turned out, I discovered
later, to be a talk Maxwell himself had delivered during the 1984 October
General Conference entitled, “Out of Obscurity.” However, the single sheet
excerpts that he handed us contained no title or author, although it had been
marked up in red ink for our benefit. Maxwell’s address ultimately appeared
in the General Conference issue of the Ensign, 10, November 1984, p.
Quoting from a "Tribute to Neville Chamberlain," delivered in the
British House of Commons, 12 November 1940, Maxwell’s sermon declared:
"History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the
past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with
pale gleams the passion of former days."
The sermon then addressed what Maxwell verbally described to us as the
definition of history: a collection, he said, of "floating mosaic
"The finished mosaic of the history of the Restoration will be larger
and more varied as more pieces of tile emerge, adjusting a sequence here or
enlarging there a sector of our understanding.
"The fundamental outline is in place now, however. But history deals
with imperfect people in process of time, whose imperfections produce refractions
as the pure light of the gospel plays upon them. There may even be a few
pieces of tile which, for the moment, do not seem to fit . . .
"So, belatedly, the fullness of the history of the dispensation of the
fullness of times will be written.
"The final mosaic of the Restoration will be resplendent, reflecting
divine design and the same centerpiece—the Father's plan of salvation and
exaltation and the atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ."
What Maxwell’s excuses lacked in clarity, Oaks’ made up for in character
Oaks' Vicious Personal Attack on Quinn
While Oaks was much less colorful than his charming co-charlatan Maxwell, he
was much more direct in dealing with the substance of our question.
Oaks acknowledged that he had read Quinn's article on post-Manifesto
polygamy, covering the period from 1890 into the early 20th century.
Oaks also confessed that the Mormon Church had not, in fact, been honest
about its practice of polygamy during that time. He admitted that the case,
as laid out by Quinn, was, in fact, true. Oaks admitted that, in his opinion,
lies had indeed been told by Mormon Church leaders about the continuing
practice of polygamy after it supposedly was ended by the Manifesto of 1890.
But enough of admitting "divinely-inspired" Church wrongdoing.
Oaks then proceeded to attack Quinn personally by accusing him of breaking
Oaks said that Quinn had been given access to all of J. Reuben Clark's papers
for the purpose of writing a book on Clark's years of Church service. Oaks
said he had assured the Church that Quinn was credible, in order that Quinn
could be given access to those records. Oaks noted that shortly after Quinn's
research was published on Clark, out came Quinn's article on post-Manifesto polygamy.
Quinn, Oaks told us angrily, had violated Oaks' confidence. He accused Quinn
of having taken more information out of Church archives than he had been
given permission to examine and research, going in.
Oaks said that Quinn was not an innocent victim in this affair. Oaks informed
us that he subsequently wrote Quinn a letter, in which he expressed his
"deep disappointment" with him and telling Quinn he had exceeded
the limits of their original understanding.
In that letter, Oaks further said, he told Quinn that he now regarded him as
someone who could not be trusted. Oaks added that Quinn would not tell us
about these things, if asked, because of Quinn's involvement.
On that last point, I wanted to see for myself.
In August 2001, in a personal visit with Quinn at a gathering in Fort Worden,
Washington, hosted by a group of gay Mormon fathers (where Mary Ann and I had
been invited to speak), I recounted to him Oaks' version of events and asked
him for his own recollections.
Visibly agitated but in a controlled and quiet voice, Quinn emphatically
denied that he had violated any research agreement with the Church Historical
He told me that it was clearly understood going in that he had open access to
Conclusion: A Final Word on Michael Quinn
Dallin Oaks and Neal Maxwell, I know Michael Quinn.
Michael Quinn is a friend of mine.
You are no Michael Quinn.