After resigning as bishop in August 1998 I accepted a calling to teach in Primary. My wife Jane also shared my concerns, but we still attended church as a family until December of that year.  It was a very difficult time as our many friends and extended family learned about my resignation. We were also finishing off our newly built house in preparation to sell, and preparing to move to Canberra in January 1999, as I had just accepted a research position at CSIRO.

Two months after my release I received a letter from Vaughn J. Featherstone, a General Authority of the Church and President of the Pacific Area. Without speaking to my stake president, or my new bishop, he took it upon himself to call me to repentance and warn me about the consequences of my decision to resign.  We corresponded several times over the next two months. I also received a letter from Bruce Hafen who was a member of the Pacific Area Presidency at the time. There is a stark contrast between the fire and brimstone of Featherstone and the warmth, understanding and intelligence of Hafen. I share this correspondence in order to reveal the type of pressure senior leaders regularly apply to questioning members in an attempt to keep them in the fold and to stop questioning. Unfortunately, too many leaders prefer the fire and brimstone approach.

Featherstone letter #1

Selected quotes

“In 2nd Nephi Ch. 9, v.28-29 there is a great scripture that applies at this time in your life:

‘O, that cunning plan of the evil one!  O the vainess, and frailties, and foolishness of men!  When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.  And they shall perish.  “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.'”

“If you set aside the gospel for what you now suppose is truth, you will be throwing away the pearl of great price for ‘a mess of pottage.’ 

“President Heber J. Grant said, ‘If you get on a hobby horse it will ride you right out of the Church.‘”

“…you will become a hollow shell of the man that you once were…

Southerton response #1

Featherstone letter #2

Selected quotes

“I humbly apologise if any offence was given by the remarks in my previous letter”

“The information which I shared with you had come to me from others, and if it was inaccurate please forgive me”

Southerton response #2

Featherstone letter #3

Selected quotes

“As far as defending yourself with members, you need not do that.  In fact, you could simply respond by saying ‘We are all tried in different ways in the Church; and through those trials comes either increased faith and greater commitment, or a lost faith.  I am committed to spending as much time as I need with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to get my previous witness back again as it was before.‘  I cannot imagine anyone thinking less of you with that kind of attitude.”

“We have brilliant men at the headquarters of the Church – spiritual and knowledgeable intellectuals, such as Dr. Hugh Nibley who may be as near a lay prophet as we have in the Church.  These are men with great, brilliant, minds who have withstood all the tremors and the quakes, and the fiery darts of the adversary, and still hold their testimonies precious and dear.”

Hafen letter

Selected quotes

“Just remember what Henry Eyring once told his children—you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.”

“he has demonstrated to you than an honest, well trained scientist can ask faithful questions, seeing all the data and all the theories you’ve seen, and conclude that the Book of Mormon and all that goes with it remains plausible. Whether you choose to take the same position will be compelled more by your attitude than by scientific evidence, because the evidence is simply inconclusive either way. And that is the common problem with using scientific evidence to prove or refute propositions that are fundamentally religious in nature