The Truth on Post-Manifesto Polygamy That Got Mike Quinn Excommunicated--and the Private, Pathetic Response of Two Mormon Apostles to Quinn’s Expose’ (with new material added to both the post and the thread)


Aug 08, 2005


steve benson

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 supposed "apostasy."

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 addressed.”

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 Church:

"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. 90)

Quinn also details in the same article the post-Manifesto reasons for his excommunication:

“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 polygamy--without permission."

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 personal integrity.

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. 11).

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 tiles":

"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 assassination

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 his word.

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 Department.

He told me that it was clearly understood going in that he had open access to archival materials.

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.



Again, thank you Steve for bringing forth timely information that continues to ..


Aug 08 10:38



expose the leadership of the Morg for what it is. The Michael Quinn saga is a classic example of what some ignoramus's prefer to keep from enlightening the members and ex members of the Morg.

Please continue contributing this valuable information even though there are some who would prefer to be left in ignorance.

You do us all proud!



So, Maxwell was making excuses for Neville Chamberlain?


Aug 08 10:45



Chamberlain was enthralled by Hitler. Why are we not surprised.



Your insights are intriguing as well as your writing style. I enjoy 'the rest of the story' since the church refuses to acknowledge it.


Aug 08 10:47


a thought

Your information is actually comforting to we that have chosen to leave because of the 'doctrine'. Strange that your posts are comforting as well as informative.
Thanks Steve.



Re: The Truth on Post-Manifesto Polygamy That Got Mike Quinn Excommunicated--and the Private, Pathetic Response of Two Mormon Apostles to Quinn’s Expose’


Aug 08 10:59



Thanks for the added information. I still am puzzled by Quinn's continued dedication though.



It surprises me that Oaks and Maxwell did not go for the jugular...


Aug 08 11:43



In attacking Michael Quinn's sexual orientation.

BTW, I was under the impression Mr. Quinn was excommunicated for that, not a breach of confidence. Glad to hear that I could be wrong.

The "apostle ologists" (that is hysterical) went for an apparently weak ad hominem attack but only in a round about way in that an accused breach of confidence by Mr. Quinn was extoled as his character flaw... and therefore what? What difference did it make if a breach happened or not?

If that was the attempt to shoot the messenger (Mr. Quinn), how lame is that? Who cares if he breached confidences? Don't the apostles see that? Don't they see their finger wagging comes off petty? They got caught with their historical fact hiding pants down. That they sat on this information is the heinous crime, not Mr. Quinn's expose. However, I don't think I could expect them to actually publish it as an activity falling into the church's best interests.

Because now the question is begged, as to what else is in the church archives/vaults that could blast the church between the eyes like the post manefesto polygamy expose? There probably is more. Now they will just double up on paranoia and throw the key away... no more access to the revealing rest of the story.

It's just another look at the unslightly, gangly, knock kneed, stubbly legs under the skirts of the church!





More evidence that these guys will say anything.


Aug 08 12:02



They love to get you into a little room where they can say absolutely anything without accountability. Thanks for posting that.





Steve, isn't it ironic that Oaks questions Quinn's integrity


Aug 08 18:54




Oaks then went on to falsely tell the reporter that rumors of Packer's interference in the Toscano case were contrary to what he (Oaks) knew about Packer.


In actuality, just two weeks earlier, Oaks had told me precisely the opposite in a private conversation between the two of us.


In that discussion (also attended by Neal Maxwell), Oaks grumped that Packer had violated Church disciplinary procedures, that Packer had stepped outside the bounds of his authority and invaded Oaks' domain on legal issues, that he (Oaks) was afraid Toscano would sue the Mormon Church for violation of his ecclesiastical rights and that, in the end (referring to Packer), "you can't stage manage a grizzly bear."


When Oaks publicly lied about having known these things about Packer, I faxed him a note, outlining what he had told me in our conversation and comparing it to his publicly-uttered falsehoods.


I informed Oaks that he had 24 hours to come clean and set the record straight or I would do it for him.


Oaks subsequently made a futile attempt to contact me, then phoned the reporter to whom he had lied, warned the reporter that I had it out for the Mormon Church and ended up confessing to the reporter that what he had said on the record about Packer was not true.





This reminds me of Rauni Higley


Aug 08 19:21



Rauni had free access to the church's archives for the purpose of translating information and documents into another language. She took her assignment very seriously and wanted to do an excellent job. She read each word carefully to ensure proper translation. What she read and learned in the archives enraged her. She was a dedicated member and employee of the church that found incriminating evidence against the church, with their permission, while on the clock. They rebuffed and denied her claims. She left the church and lead many people out. Her website is:

Steve, thanks again for providing informative and thought-provoking material to us.



Another quote from Quinn re: his excommunication.....


Aug 08 19:24


Randy J.

"At the publication of 'Early Mormonism and the Magic World
View', I was full professor and director of the graduate history program at BYU. I resigned within several months because of administrative pressures against my continuing to work on controversial topics. In 1993 LDS officials
formally charged me with 'apostasy' (heresy) for my historical writings, and I was excommunicated from the LDS church." ("Early Mormonism and the Magic World
View," 1998 edition, p. xiii.)



Good quote, Randy. Here are some additional observations from Quinn along the same lines, explaining the Mormon Inquistion against him . . .


Aug 09 03:28


steve benson

After tape recordings and transcriptions of Quinn's talk, "On Being a Mormon Historian," began to be published and circulated without his permission, national attention to Quinn's views was heightened by a February 1982 issue of Newsweek headlined, "Apostles vs. Historians."

From that point forward, the Mormon squeeze play on Quinn began in earnest.

Writes Quinn:

"A few days [after publication of the Newsweek article], a General Authority invited me to his office. He warned me that he found Elder Packer to be easily offended and vindictive years afterward.

"In May
[1982], my stake presidency informed me that five former bishops had recommended me to be the ward's new bishop but that Apostle Mark E. Petersen had blocked the appointment. He asked the stake presidency, 'Why is Michael Quinn in league with anti-Mormonism,' apparently referring to the unauthorized publication of my essay by the Tanners.

"Elder Petersen arranged for the stake presidency to bring me to the Church Administration Building at 47b East South Temkple to meet with Apostles Petersen, Benson and Packer. The second counselor in the stake presidency accompanied me. The Apostles were careful not to ask me a single direct question. In order of seniority (Apostle Benson first, me last), each of us expressed his own views of the Newsweek article, the 'problems' of writing Mormon history and the effects of all this on the faith of LDS members. The meeting was congenial and supportive."

That seeming support was to eventually evaporate, as those same three Apostles began a deliberate pressure campaign to have Quinn discredited, isolated and deposed, despite the fact that Quinn had proven himself to be a highly regarded researcher and acclaimed educator.

Notes Quinn:

"In the spring of 1986, graduating history majors at BYU voted me 'outstanding professor.' That fall BYU's administration had my name dropped from a list of participants in an upcoming celebration of Mormonism in Britain. Then, for the second year in a row, BYU's administration denied my application for 'Professional Development Leave.' This time the college dean invited m to his office to explain why. He said the Apostles on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees had prepared a list of faculty members and research topics which BYU administrators were forbidden to support. 'I have always hoped that one day BYU will become a real university,' the dean said, 'but this makes me feel that that day will never arrive.'

"By January 1987 pressures on me increased. BYU's administration required the History Department and Charles Redd Center for the American West to withdraw funds they had promised me to give a paper on general American religion at the University of Paris. It did not matter that the advanced text of the paper, entitled 'Religion, Rationalism and Folk Practices in America to the mid-19th Century,' made no reference to Mormonism. I paid my own way to France to represent BYU.

"Despite all tha that had happened, until January 1987 I could not yet believe that my life's hopes were at an end. A new department chair let me know that my situation would improve only if I stopped doing research which implied Mormon studies. . . . Abandoning Mormon history may have been safe in the climate of repression but it as unacceptable to me, especially as an option of duress. 'Publish or perish' is the experience of scholars at most universities, but for this Mormon historian it was 'publish and perish' at BYU.

"After publication of my Early Mormonism and the Magic World View in mid-1987, two members of BYU's History Department circualted the rumor that my stake high council was excommunicating me for apostasy. The rumor was completely false but more important, I had thought these rumor=mongers were my colleagues and friends. When a student asked the Dean of Religous Education if BYU was going to fire me, he replied that the Board of Trustees had decided against it. 'Like stirring up a turd on the ground,' he told the student, 'firing Mike Quinn would only make a greater stink.' At this point, I began applying for research fellowships that would allow me to leave BYU. . . .

"On 20 January 1988, I wrote a letter of resignation . . . At the time of my resignation, I had tenure ('continuing status'), was Full-Professor of History and was Director of the History Department's graduate program. My letter of resignation represented my formal acknowledgement of failure--personal and institutional. . . .

"I again addressed
[the issue of academic freedom] in 1991 after a rarely-used joint declartion by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles condemned the annual Sunstone Symposium. . . . Those who questioned this statement were being summarily dropped from Church positions and both Church and BYU administraive pressure was directed against a junior professor of anthropology at BYU who had given a symposium paper. I observed in a newspaper story; 'Consistently, from the beginning, the [LDS] Church leadership has always been uncomfortable with open forums that have been organized by the rank and file.' However, I added, 'in the 19th-century, the leadership recognized the existence of a loyal opposition and the 20th does not.'. . .

"Since leaving BYU and Utah, I have been an independent free-lance writer. I still do Mormon history. People of various persuasions still seem eager for it."

(D. Michael Quinn, "On Being a Mormon Historian (and Its Aftermath)," in George D. Smith, ed., Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992], pp. 89-90, 92-96)


Other Benson Topics


409 Ezra Taft Benson - Racist Prophet

407 Benson - What do Mormon Leaders Really Know?

419 Looking Inside the Mind of Ezra Taft Benson Through His Personal Correspondence

415 Benson: Sonia Johnson's Speech "Patriarchal Panic..."

424 Benson:  Mormon Handcarts 1800's

420 Benson: Post-Manifesto Polygamy - Pathetic Response of Two Mormon Apostles to Quinn’s Expose’

418 Steve Benson: "Good-bye to God": My public testament to leaving Mormonism...

421 Benson: efforts by the Benson family to silence their "disloyal" own

427 Benson:  Patriarchal Abuse at the Hands of Mormon Church Leaders


Recovery from Mormonism - The Mormon Church

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