Mischief and Meanness Mars Mitt's Mormon Moment

By R.B. Scott

Note: This article was originally published by WBUR Cognoscenti

Boston, MA - Although he was a co-creator of the “Mormon Moment,” Mitt Romney may be relieved when it blessedly ends along with the incessant guilt-by-association “gotchas” that have dogged him since he first ran for public office in 1994.

Here’s the most recent case in point.

A few weeks ago David Twede, the unpaid editor of MormonThink, a blog that challenges conventional church teachings and management, was invited to an ecclesiastical hearing scheduled for this Sunday that would have determined whether or not he was guilty of heresy.

On Wednesday of this week, Twede says the church abruptly and without much explanation – beyond “scheduling conflicts” – notified him that the hearing had been postponed indefinitely.

Should the “disciplinary council” be reconvened, or not, it would appear to be of little or no consequence to Twede. Although his family has been anchored to the Mormon religion and culture for nearly two centuries, Twede proclaims himself an atheist who rejects the fundamental tenets and historical claims of Mormonism. Detractors say he is a man on a mission to lead believers away from the church

Here comes the back story.

Shortly after he became editor of MormonThink a few months ago, Twede figured an editor in good standing with the church would enhance the blog’s credibility. So, he started attending worship services for the first time in five years. No sooner had he come back to the church than he began sharing unnerving historical information with faithful Mormons he met in Sunday School and boasting about it on line. That’s where Scott Gordon spotted it and overreacted.

Gordon, a former bishop of a Mormon ward, is president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), a self-appointed watchdog association that over the years has waged a running battle with non-doctrinaire Mormon writers and academics.

Gordon responded by dashing off damning e-mails about Twede to several friends -- "well-placed employees not ecclesiastical leaders," he said -- at church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Within days, Gordon’s complaints were forwarded from headquarters to Allan Pratt, a physician who also serves as the president of the Mormon stake (a stake is the equivalent of a Catholic diocese) near where Twede lives in Florida. Meantime at least three other FAIR operatives made it difficult for Twede to cover his tracks, attacked his character on line, and challenged the objectivity and the accuracy of his work

Is Gordon ashamed that he outed Twede before confronting him personally, the process taught in Mormon Sunday School? “Absolutely not,” he said in a phone interview from his home in California. “Would I invite someone into my house just so they could return and rob it? Twede was going to church to lead people out.”

This story would be of interest only to the parties involved were it not for the coincidence that Twede’s initial meeting with Pratt came shortly after MormonThink published two of Twede bylined articles, one chronicling church involvement in politics, the other laying out what Mitt Romney’s sworn allegiances to the church might mean for America. While Twede initially thought his current problems with the church were not linked to presidential politics, he seems to change his mind hourly.

Twede shared his story with Steve Benson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic who resigned from the church and became a zealous critic. Convinced that publicity might save Twede from excommunication, Benson drafted a press release that he shared with journalists.

“I don’t feel happy that discussions of my pending discipline have taken on such a national political tone,” Twede demurred disingenuously about the mixed attention he got from the national media – including a circumspect front page report in the New York Times — and the Mormon “blogosphere.”

In an email this week, Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, summarily dismissed suggestions the church would discipline anyone for his politics or religious doubts. “However,” he wrote, “all organizations, religious and secular, must be able to define where the boundaries begin and end.”

For now, those borders remain ambiguous. However, the church’s decision to delay the hearing may suggest that it is finally wearying of vigilantes, whose misbegotten efforts often begin to look like witch hunts.

For his part, David Twede seems to be trolling obsessively for an official slap down and the fleeting limelight of martyrdom.

Emboldened that the church seemed to have blinked, this week he mounted his personal soapbox –- A Paisley Peristroika — and thundered: “Plenty of members are secretly sick inside when thinking about the direction MormonCo heads… the corporate takeover of their religion.”

Twede’s harangue continued in a private e-mail to me: “I now call on members to help reform the church and take it back to being a charity with love and acceptance, rather than an oppressive empire building corporation."