4th November 1998
10 Stavewood Court
Samford 4520 QLD

Dear Elder Featherstone,

Thank you for your recent letter and the time you took from your busy schedule to write it.  I understand how what is occurring in my life at the moment can upset members of the church.   I know how much it has upset members of my family and some friends.  I feel sorry that my choices have contributed to this.  I have not set out to hurt people, it is just the natural consequence of my decision not to believe things that are dear to many people.  I too shared those strong beliefs until recently and have been very upset by what has transpired.  I am sorry but I cannot allow my fear of hurting other people influence what I accept to be the truth.

I am surprised at some of the conclusions that you appear to be making about what is happening to me.  If you had personally spoken about this issue with my Bishop or Stake President then I am certain you would not have said some of the things you did.  Both of these men have been very compassionate and I am very grateful for their understanding.

It is not correct that I had decided to withdraw from the church.  I asked for a release from the calling of Bishop because I was struggling with an issue and it was not appropriate for me to continue in that office.  Since my release I have been teaching a Primary class on assignment.  In the last few weeks I have missed church for various reasons including being in Sydney, illness, or visiting with relatives.  I have never at any time stated that I am leaving the church.  It will likely be a consequence in the future when attendance ceases to be a positive experience in my life.

It is true that Elder Hafen put me in touch with Scott Woodward at BYU.  I have corresponded on a number of occasions with Scott.  I think no one would be more surprised than Scott to hear that he is a “world-renowned expert” in this field.  I have thoroughly surveyed the literature in the field of human mitochondrial DNA analysis and I have not found any work attributable to him.  I know he is testing the DNA of Peruvian’s at present, but that hardly makes him a world expert.  I have no doubt that he is a competent scientist, and I have enjoyed communicating with him and respect him.

My communication with Scott confirmed my understanding of the research that essentially all American Indians came from Asia.  With this letter I have included all my email correspondence with Scott.  In those emails he acknowledges that significantly greater than 98% of American Indians are genetically related to people from Asia, and came across the Bering Strait over 15,000 years ago.  I interpret the data to suggest that it is about 99.5% that are positively linked to Asia.  The Lamanites came from Israel and would be expected to be genetically similar to Hebrews.  I have always thought it was church doctrine that the Lamanites were the principal ancestors of the American Indians.  It says this in the second paragraph of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon.  It is also clearly stated in the Doctrine and Covenants and all the prophets, including Joseph Smith, have declared it.

I understand that some members of the church that study the Book of Mormon believe that Lehi and his descendants occupied a small portion of Central America and that they intermingled with other inhabitants.  Scott now believes that in addition they have all but died out.  I am new to this interpretation of the Book of Mormon.  I had a firm belief in a Book of Mormon that spoke about vast numbers of people inhabiting the Americas.  The surviving Lamanites would then receive the Gospel from the Gentiles in the last days as prophesied on numerous occasions in the book.  This is what most members I know also believe.  This is why at this stage I cannot reconcile the things I have found.  Scott can and I am happy for him.

From your letter I sense that you have little faith in the findings of biologists.  This is a view that I have frequently encountered in the church.  I think if you were to read the writings of highly respected Latter-day Saint scientists such as Henry B. Eyring, then you would find that there are some in the church that don’t share that view.  I realise that scientists are human and that they make mistakes, but I also hold in high regard, as do many Latter-day Saints, the scientific method which is very rigorous and open.  The scientists doing the DNA research are not trying to tear down the church.  They are all unaware of any conflict their work will raise with Mormons.  I refuse to accept that they may all be dishonest in their research or deceived by Satan. I also share Elder Eyring’s acceptance of the principles of evolution and the way it testifies of a divine creator.  Other apostles view it as the greatest evil taught by modern science (Elder Packer, Oct. G.C. 1992).

I am unsure why you attempt to discern other motives for distancing myself from the church.  I am sure many people leave the church for these sorts of reasons.  They have nothing to do with my decision, as my Bishop and Stake President will attest.  I think it is unfortunate that you felt it necessary to make such dire predictions about my future.  I know you must feel a strong desire to make me change my mind, but how can this sort of rhetoric help.   It doesn’t help me feel any more accepted at church.

From my point of view I cannot deny the things that I know are correct.  I can’t become a closet sceptic in order to make other peoples lives easier.  I am sorry if what I have said disappoints you.  I am saddened by the whole business, particularly now that I am starting to hear the rumours and lies being spread around the church about me and my family.  I thought the Saviour condemned this sort of thing.

I still have a strong faith in God and I know that Christ lives and that He died for me.  I still will try to keep the commandments as I always have because I know obedience to them will bring the greatest happiness in life.  I hope that you can respect my position.

Yours sincerely

Simon Southerton