June 25, 2009

Who Speaks For Mormons?

The following is a column written
for the new religious web portal, Patheos.com.

Respectful religious dialogue is becoming increasingly important as the world becomes a global village and worldviews collide. Dialogue is critical in helping societies negotiate how to run the neighborhood in the face of inevitable conflict over politics, economics, religion, and other issues. Whether this conflict is destructive and violent or constructive and peaceful depends largely upon how world religions adapt to changes as believers from different traditions encounter each another. The tone of the conflict usually depends on the goals of each participant.

One approach I favor in religious dialogue is a respectful engagement that seeks first to understand and respect the beliefs of the other. While I believe spreading the message of my religion is important, one effective method of doing so rises from a foundation built on common ground. (At the least, such a common ground can be a mutual desire to understand one another). Morally, this approach fulfills the commandment to "do unto others." Pragmatically, it reduces the possibility of arguing past one another, or getting hung up on peripheral issues. One simple way to know if you understand the position of the other is by attempting to restate the position of the other to his or her satisfaction.

Significant problems remain in this idealistic approach. For instance, the beliefs of any one religion can be remarkably diverse amongst its own adherents. This is no less true for my own religion -- identifying "official Mormon doctrine" has been compared to nailing Jell-O to the wall. The idea of "doctrine" itself is difficult to pin down. Is doctrine equal to "truth"? Is doctrine something all Mormons must accept? What constitutes Mormon doctrine? In order to facilitate better communication between members of other faiths (as well as harmony among Mormons), various efforts have been made to identify a standard for Mormon doctrine.1 I'd like to further discuss a few of these efforts in order to answer the question "Who speaks for Mormons?"

Based on a Judeo-Christian outlook, Mormons believe God reveals His will to His children in order to help them navigate mortality and return home to Him. Such revelation can be given to particular individuals for their own life situations, or to leaders in behalf of the Church as a whole. According to the founding prophet Joseph Smith, this revelation is continuing and "adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed." Mormons look to personal inspiration from God, written scripture, and the words of living prophets and apostles for guidance in belief and practice.

However, Mormons do not believe these scriptures or prophets are perfect. Prophetic declarations reflect aspects of the culture in which they occur and can later take on new meanings in different circumstances or be overlooked altogether. The dynamism of continuing revelation makes it difficult to take a "snapshot" of Mormon belief as a whole at any given time. Different Mormons may understand LDS doctrines differently.

Joseph Smith objected to various creeds that require strict belief in officially defined doctrines, but Mormons are generally expected to agree on some fundamentals. For example, in order to be baptized, one must profess belief in Jesus Christ as Savior of the world and in prophets who help guide the LDS Church. More than assenting to intellectual doctrines, however, Mormons also participate actively in a community forged by ordinances, living in a continuing sacred history as depicted in and extending from scripture. What Mormons become through righteous acts and faith in Christ is often considered more important than any specific peripheral doctrines Mormons might believe.

Mormonism is lived and experienced as much as it is believed. Moreover, various "folk" doctrines tend to spring up from time to time, some becoming generally accepted while others are jettisoned along the way. As Mormonism becomes more of a global religion, official Church statements and publications have become narrower in scope, streamlined, and applicable to the growing diversity in the Church.

Considering these circumstances, how can Mormon doctrine be determined in order to facilitate healthy interreligious discussion? There is still no comprehensive and official answer to this question and Mormons continue to answer the question differently. For instance, Robert Millett, a Mormon professor of religion, has described an "authoritative approach" wherein official Mormon doctrine is defined by appealing to what are considered authoritative sources like scriptures and the statements of prophets.2 Sociologist Armand Mauss described a "scale of authenticity," ranging from canonical to popular or "folk" doctrine.3 Mormon philosopher James Faulconer has argued that Mormonism is "atheological," consisting more of keeping covenants between humans and Christ rather than of various unchanging doctrinal facts.4

Given this variety of Mormon views, perhaps the most practical way to discover "who speaks for Mormons" is to develop an awareness of the diversity itself. In any given dialogue this variety can be acknowledged and a basis for what a particular Mormon accepts as authoritative can be discussed. If the goal of dialogue is constructive discussion rather than polemical debate it is important to allow each individual the right to speak for his or her own faith. This approach requires patience, time, effort, trust, and respect, but it bears the fruits of interreligious understanding.

Blair Hodges is a student at the University of Utah majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Religious Studies. He is the former News Editor of The Signpost, the newspaper at Weber State University, and a frequent blogger.


One useful discussion on this topic is Loyd Ericson's "The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine," Element, vol. 3 Issue 1-2 (Spring and Fall 2007), pp. 69-90. The image is "Dialogue" by Doc Ross.

See Robert L. Millett, "What Do We Really Believe? Identifying Doctrinal Parameters Within Mormonism," Discourses in Mormon Theology, James M. McLaughlan and Loyd Ericson, eds., pp. 265-281. An official statement from the Church's Public Affairs department emphasizes aspects of Millett's authoritative standards. See "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," LDS.org Newsroom, May 4, 2007, http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/approaching-mormon-doctrine.

See Armand L. Mauss, "The Fading of the Pharaohs' Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 14, no. 3, Autumn 1981.

See James E. Faulconer, "Why a Mormon Won't Drink Coffee but Might Have a Coke: The Atheological Character of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Element vol. 2 Issue 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 21-37.

June 23, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 3: McCraney's Apostasy

Continuing review of Shawn McCraney, I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9

Throughout the rest of this review I wish to employ “apostate” or “apostasy” in the technical sense. As Seth Payne explained in his Sunstone paper on ex-Mormon Exit Narratives:

Recent ex-Mormon narratives…focus on the description of a fundamental shift away from what is perceived as rigid literalism to an unbounded scientific [or Evangelical] rationality. In this sense, members of the emerging ex-Mormon movement should be sociologically considered apostates although I hesitate to employ this label due to the extremely negative connotations this word has within the LDS community…I use this word purely in a technical sense and in no way intend to attach inherent negative connotations to its meaning.1
“For many Latter-day Saints, once they’ve stopped believing in the doctrines of the Church, life does an about face and they usually fall quite hard into the world," McCraney explains. "I’ve always said, ‘Mormons either walk on water or they turn it into wine and start drinking” (p. 62). McCraney intimately describes the situations leading up to his fall into the world. His own spiritual crisis is explained as being rooted in an excessively legalistic approach to the gospel. He found himself unable to live up to his understanding of LDS expectations, resulting in frustration, depression, a strong sense of personal hypocrisy, and ultimately, apostasy. Before taking a closer look at McCraney's experiences I will give a brief overview of some of the elements McCraney decided to include in his narrative.

McCraney details his childhood, describing his parents as “socially” Mormon. At the time the book was written his mother was still participating in the Church “without ever really buying into all the doctrines and theologies that the Church stalwarts claim are so important.” His father pragmatically joined the Church in order to help raise his children, then virtually ceased activity once his last child was married.2

McCraney describes his youthful self as “always desperately yearning to truly know God,” though through his childhood was given great latitude to freely run the streets of Southern California (pp. 37-40). Soon McCraney found himself falling in with “wild boys and loose girls,” becoming caught up in “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” all while remaining socially active in the Church. He “could not spend any amount of time with members who believed themselves holy and not walk away finding them just as sinful” as he was, only in different ways. “[G]ossiping, lying, judging, anger, violence, hypocrisy, selfishness, stinginess, and a host of other sinful attributes found in the souls of unsaved men and women” plagued the Saints he knew. McCraney’s view here isn’t black and white; there is simply no white whatsoever, other than a few later remarks on the kindness of a particular leader or friend. Even then, McCraney never connects their charitable actions as resulting from faith in Christ (for example, see p. 69). Add vindictiveness to the list of Mormon pitfalls; he recalls enjoying his reputation as a rebel and marveled at how many members “longed for [his] comeuppance” (p. 41).

By age 19 McCraney's wild life left him empty and he decided to straighten up by serving a full-time LDS mission. He vowed to use “every minute of the mission to fix [him]self” by following every missionary rule with exactness. He started to feel good about himself; too good, he explains: “I eventually found myself arrogantly believing that, because I was behaving well…I myself had become a good person.” McCraney asserts that such unholy pride resulted from conditioned obedience. His outward appearance of goodness was a facade. “Remember,” he warns, “Hitler hated burlesque, wouldn’t touch alcohol, demanded a clean, scrubbed appearance, and sought to elevate every aspect of the human condition through outward strictures. But this didn’t make the Nazis holy in the least” (pp. 42-44).3

McCraney quickly points out there is nothing inherently insidious about LDS missions and that some missionaries might discover the Lord through their service, though he didn't. He recalls leaving the mission field feeling sanctified from sin and worthy to enter God’s presence solely through his own efforts and service. He firmly believed, “as many LDS leaders and friends had explained, that the sacrifice of Jesus was there to pick up any slack or sin I might have forgotten to take care of, but that I had essentially paved my own road to heaven” (p. 44).

His feelings of being a righteous and justified Saint upon returning home were quickly extinguished: “After two or three hours of exposure to the licentious world, I was confronted with the ridiculousness of my ever thinking I…had become good while on the mission…I was very aware that my heart had not changed at all” (p. 47). McCraney decided the best way to avoid trouble was through marriage so he became engaged the day after returning from his mission. Within six months he and his wife Mary were sealed in the Los Angeles Temple and a year-and-a-half later they had their first daughter. After moving to Richmond, Utah, McCraney meticulously reports they continued to attend the temple and Church meetings regularly, pay tithes, obey the Word of Wisdom, and serve in various callings. Perhaps some of McCraney’s earlier confidence about being a good person had returned.

While working at a fitness club one morning in Logan he noticed a young man reading a Bible and asked if the boy was Mormon. The boy explained that he had been Mormon, but was now a Christian instead. After some banter over the Christianity of Mormonism McCraney remembers taking the young man’s Bible and throwing it at him, shouting that he “was under the influence of Satan and would someday pay for leaving the Church.” McCraney felt this prophecy was fulfilled a year later when he saw the young man working at a local McDonalds. That must be what happens to people who turn from the truth, he told his wife, “they end up flipping burgers at McDonalds as a twenty-five year old” (pp. 75-76).

Despite this confident attitude McCraney still felt something was wrong. “I knew what I was inside, my real self…the churning creature who cried out desperately to really know the Lord, not just act as if he did” (pp. 48-49). The desperation turned to near-obsession when McCraney was asked to serve as elder’s quorum president of his ward after starting school at BYU. He describes making sure his quorum had 100% home teaching success by personally driving to any missed home each month, sometimes more than once, frantically knocking on doors and leaving notes, even on Halloween night. McCraney does not mention any examples of members of the ward who benefited from home teaching; his approach is described as entirely number-based. Despite reaching his goal he felt like he “continued to do instead of be,” explaining, “I sought to do everything I could to have God approve of my soul. If pleasing the Lord meant killing myself in the attempt to obey Him then so be it” (pp. 50-52). McCraney admits this approach would be considered “far too extreme” to many Latter-day Saints, but at the time he saw other members’ less-enthusiastic mentality as laziness or self-justification. How could anything less than 100% please God? He wondered why some members would run to the store for a gallon of milk on Sunday, why alcohol and pornography were available in Marriott hotels, and why some Saints were “so darn mean” instead of being filled with love. While focusing increasingly on the failures of others, he “pressed on in the faith, zealously adhering to the Church and its standards [becoming] more legalistic, less patient, and mean-spirited to anyone who wouldn’t see things the way” he understood them. “Outwardly I was pious, inwardly, a phony.” It didn’t help that he was also working three jobs while attending school. (pp. 53-55).

Hounded by feelings of personal inadequacy, McCraney left BYU in 1987 without a degree and the family soon moved back to California where he began working a full-time job. He recounts spending all his free time reading various LDS works: Jesus the Christ, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, the Book of Mormon (“for a third time”) and Bruce R. McConkie’s Messiah series. He found the gospel “intellectually stimulating,” which to him meant “there was an answer or doctrine for nearly every problem or situation that rose up under the theological sun.” He “firmly believed that the Church’s teachings were infallible and were capable of leading all souls back to God,” all souls, perhaps, but his own. Unhappy and overburdened with work and Church assignments, he felt “strangely ill at ease” and dishonest even though he believed he had not committed any sin that would justify such feelings. Church leaders advised him to keep attending Church, studying the scriptures and praying. Friends assured him that the Holy Ghost would eventually give him peace (pp. 55-57). No such peace came and though he lists no other sources, he says he continued to read anything he could find regarding the LDS Church, specifically turning to history.
I decided that, if there was something wrong with my soul, there must be something wrong with the Church I was taught to follow. This only makes sense in the mind of someone desperately looking to place blame because it’s not difficult to find conflict or fault in an institution when you’re looking to justify your own individual failures (p. 59).
Drawing his approach to history as being motivated by a desire to find problems with the Church to justify his own shortcomings, McCraney says he “unearthed,” though he admits “I sought to project my own failures onto the organization rather than look at myself…I was young and in denial. The real problem lay within me.”4 For a year he waded through various anti-Mormon5 books and presentations while publicly questioning much of the Church’s history in Sunday school, Priesthood meetings and anywhere else he could find an audience:
After having believed that the Church was true and the only way to God, and then pushing myself to the point where I questioned everything about it, I discovered that I had nothing inside upon which I could rely...I was left to a state of complete spiritual weakness...Unable to trust the institution any longer, I turned, like so many others, to the world for solace and support...When a person has bought into the whole franchise, then discovers all the failures and problems inherent to the organization, it's no wonder he or she goes on the offensive, determined to show the world the truth (p. 63).  
After partaking from the fruit of his newfound tree of knowledge he sought to share it with as many members as he could, but found most of those with whom he spoke generally uninterested. “People are neither converted nor de-converted by facts of history or by the presence or absence of strange doctrines,” he concluded. Feeling alone, McCraney found himself suffering a major crisis of faith. “The thought of taking a step backward and embracing all I once believed was intolerable, but the thought of abandoning all I loved about the Church was far too painful to even consider” (pp. 58-62).

McCraney believes the sense of betrayal and anger inside those who lose their faith in the Church explains the “bitter, hardened souls in and around the Salt Lake City area who were once active members,” and believes “this is why so many excommunicated Mormons turn so harshly against the organization after they have been removed” (p. 63).

The 26-year-old stockbroker/seeker remembers wandering in strange roads of “human sophistries, [embarking on] a self-guided search through secularism, philosophical thought, and the lulling haze of fictional romanticism…I lost myself as often as possible between the pages of one book or another” (64). Constantly changing jobs, he recounts dabbling with agnosticism, atheism, humanism, Marxism, and said he was very impressed after reading Nietzsche; “I was sure…the Uber-Mench[sic] had everything within its grasp” (65). But not for very long. Leaving behind what he calls the “godless philosophies” of Plato, Descartes, and Kant,6 he sought the answers to questions about the purpose of life in Buddhism, Islam, pantheism, Judaism and art. He said even tried to write the great American novel. At times it is difficult to tell the difference between McCraney’s hyperbole and his passion, as when he asserts “I had gotten to the point where I would have fallen down and worshiped a dancing golden monkey if it could have provided me with genuine peace [and] a new heart” (p. 67).

Describing himself at age 30 as increasingly agitated, aggressive, depressed and literally suicidal, McCraney “fully embraced humanism” in 1990, his miserable stopping point for the next 7 years. “I began to lash out at certain members of my extended family and best friends for even the smallest reference to God or good, mocking their every allegiance to religion.” Amazingly, despite this particular behavior he describes himself as remaining “outwardly active in the Church,” serving as a member of a stake high council, high priest’s group instructor, and even “one short stint as a member of a bishopric.” Receiving these calls despite his inner turmoil, he believed that “no matter what people inwardly believe while a member of the Church, they will always be accepted, and at times even respected, as long as they look LDS” (pp. 66-68). He recalls receiving support from caring leaders and members- so long as he acted the part of a faithful member. This bothered him tremendously; he believed many members of the Church were intolerant and hypocritical. When a friend from work gave McCraney a letter explaining her own experience of becoming a born-again Christian, he saw her as something of a “Jesus Freak,” but decided to share the letter with a missionary preparation class he was teaching only to see an “institutional and aggressive” attack from class members mocking the Bible and proclaiming the author of the letter as destined for hell (pp. 77-78).

The pressure kept building and at age 34 “in a desperate effort to ease the pain of my cankered soul…I turned to secretly abusing alcohol and prescription drugs…as a way to numb and self-medicate my pounding pain.” Careful to hide his behavior from his wife and daughters he recounts “drinking half a bottle of vodka before right before going to bed, or loading up on Hydrocodone before a long drive.” In all his searching he felt he had poured his whole heart out only to find it had evaporated. The resulting pain was “all-consuming,” and he frankly acknowledges much of it would have been avoided had he “simply clung to the Church, its programs and directives…Had I possessed the will and nature to honestly live the LDS way of life, I would never have had a problem with any of these personal issues” (pp. 69-70). 

It was at this point he heard the radio sermon convicting him of his sins and telling him that nothing he could do could give him peace, only through accepting Christ as his Savior. For five more years McCraney remained active in the Church trying to reconcile his new-found spiritual life with what he understood the Church to be, but ultimately found it impossible.7 At a used bookstore he bought Here I Stand, a book on the life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton. “Words cannot describe the connection and resonance I felt toward Luther and his tumultuous search for truth…I felt as if I had personally undergone (and now shared) in the same sort of spiritual transformation” (p. 80). This detail underscores his intent in authoring I Was a Born-Again Mormon. He sees himself as a Martin Luther (or even a Joseph Smith) for the LDS Church; a reformer approaching an apostate group, critiquing his former faith and calling it to repentance.8 “Yes,” he explains, “in a sense, this is what every great religious leader and reformer has done throughout the ages. (p. 63). Still, he is careful not to portend any directive revelations. “This is not the dream or vision of some pseudo-prophet type. I have received no visions, dreams, or revelations. Born-Again Mormon is not a book I hold up as divinely inspired or infallible” (p. 346).

In the remainder of the review I will explore some of the specific claims McCraney makes about the LDS Church and see what currently active members might glean from his experiences.

Seth R. Payne, “Purposeful Strangers: A study of the ex-Mormon Narrative,” paper delivered at the Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium, 9 August 2008. Payne has published a version of the paper at http://www.mormonstudies.net/pdf/strangers.pdf, pp. 3-4.

McCraney says “most LDS stalwarts” (a label he frequently employs) will see his father’s “relatively weak church activity [as the] chink in the armor” of his faith. He plays up stereotypes strongly, saying “by acknowledging my father’s and mother’s relative weakness in the faith some LDS readers will automatically assume that…if I had experienced a proper LDS upbringing, which would have included a dedicated, strong priesthood-holding father, and a scripture-toting, Book of Mormon quoting mother,” he never would have questioned the Church. He tells readers it is “dangerous to categorically make such an assessment and consider it certain” (pp. 38-39). This type of caution is absent when McCraney directly attributes Joseph Smith’s religious concepts to his upbringing and the influence of his father and mother. He spends pages 123-137 discussing familial influence on Joseph Smith’s religious experiences, borrowing the interpretations of C. Jess Groesbeck, “The Smith’s and their Dreams and Visions,” Sunstone, March 1988, p. 22-29, Grant Palmer’s An Insider’s Guide to Mormon Origins, D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, and Craig Hazen’s The Apologetic Impulse in Early Mormonism: The Historical Roots of the New Mormon Challenge, Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 2002.

McCraney's description of his attitude as a missionary closely follows his earlier description of  "sin," when he claimed that “human beings have the need…to conform to all sorts of outward expectations in an attempt to gain social acceptance and make themselves look and feel good” (p. 9). See also p. 342 for another comparison of Latter-day Saints to Hitler.

Despite this concession, McCraney still emphasizes “there is much to question regarding the Church, its history, and its early leaders” (p. 63). To him the motives, not his newfound knowledge, was faulty.

“Anti-Mormon” here is McCraney’s term; it will be discussed further in the review. 

Including some of these names in a list of “godless” philosophers indicates McCraney has forgotten much of what he read, or didn’t fully grasp it, or believes they were “godless” based on their different views of what “God” is compared to his new belief. This kind of quick misrepresentation or misnuderstanding occurs often, sometimes in humorous ways. For example, consider McCraney’s suggestion that “material evidences are certainly nice in supporting the faith we have. This is one reason the Holy Land is such an important Mecca for Christians and Jews alike” (p. 184) or his assertion that “the only irrefutable evidence [that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record] would be for Moroni to publicly reappear with the golden plates and for Jesus, also publicly, to announce them as authoritative” (p. 183, see the testimony of the three and eight witnesses in the Book of Mormon). McCraney explains both Buddhism and the philosophy of Nietzsche in a single footnote (p. 10) and describes Christ as having “abandoned Judaism” (p. 63). At one point he describes himself as deciding that “Nihilism (or nothingness) was the only certainty,” while still believing God was somewhere out in the cosmos uninterested in humans (a sort-of nihilistic deism, or dehilism?). He knows the words but not always how to use them. These examples are illustrative of the problematic imprecision throughout the book.

Absent from the book are any details on McCraney’s seeking refuge within the pages of Sunstone magazine. In 2001 Sunstone published a short story McCraney submitted describing a seminary class he was teaching, the students of which were judging an absent member as being a “slut.” He tried explaining to the class that everyone is a sinner, but became frustrated when the class couldn’t catch on (see Shawn Aaron McCraney, “Unthinkable!” Sunstone, 120:18-19 [Nov. 2001]). By October 2002 he expressed his displeasure with the magazine in a letter to the editor saying “Sunstone—the magazine, its supporters, symposiums, and direct attempts to explore ‘Mormon experience, scholarship, issues, and art’—is but a liberal mirror of the conservative LDS experience. Further, it seems to be mainly supported by socially disaffected and/or frustrated people who, either through some sort of doctrinal grind or resentment at not being called to leadership, really just want to belong. In other words, if a person cannot be one of the elect, he or she should join or form a subculture that essentially mirrors what the elect are doing and call it ‘alternative but holy.’” He concluded that “only 3.75 percent” of the last issue was “true to the SUNSTONE I have come to love, which coincidentally (or not) is about the same percentage of love I have left for the Church as a whole since my youth. What a shame. What a damn shame” (McCraney, “Alternative Subculture,” Letters to the Editor, Sunstone, 125 [Dec. 2002] p. 2).

McCraney compared himself to Martin Luther again during the question and answer segment of his 2004 Sunstone paper “On the Verge: Will Mormonism Become Christian?” He explained that by requesting excommunication from the Church he hoped to return and be baptized a member as a new Christian.

Post Script on Rumors of Adultery

While researching for the book I was made aware of the rumors that McCraney had committed adultery before being excommunicated. Because he didn't include the detail in the book and because it was only hearsay, I elected not to include it in the forthcoming published version of this review. However, I've been asked repeatedly about the adultery rumor and I hope this addition responsibly clears things up. I don't know whether Shawn did such a thing or not and to be sure, it really isn't my business only insofar as Shawn professed to write the complete story of his apostasy, and leaving out this detail (if true) would call his claim into question. I will not include any information from rumors I have heard or names of people who passed them along. The following information comes directly from Shawn himself.

The only hint in I Was a Born-Again Mormon may be his description of hitting rock bottom shortly before his conversion:  "[I] broke the heart of my trusted friend and confidant, Mary, and turned from most of my life-long friends" (p. 89). In the narrative this appears to relate to his drug use and inability to hold a steady job. I believed the rumors were somewhat doubtful since Shawn didn't appear to sugarcoat other shortcomings.

However, during an episode of Shawn's TV program Heart of the Matter, a caller named Ed accused Shawn of being excommunicated because of adultery. The conversation was combative and in my view Ed was out of line for bringing it up in a heated conversation on television. Frankly, I was embarrassed by Ed's questions and comments overall. (For example, he ends up claiming part of Christ's Beatitudes were probably not translated correctly.) It is difficult to tell in this clip if Shawn is being rhetorical when he says he committed adultery and certainly I can understand why he wouldn't include such information in his published book so as to avoid harming family and friend relationships and so forth.

This excerpt is from Heart of the Matter episode # 176 (28 July 2009), "Polygamy Part III" from 44:27 to 47:40:

S: "First you talk about where do I get my money. Then you talk about how I've 'deteriorated.' What's next? You wanna know about my sex life now, Ed?"

E: "No, I'm sure your sex life's very full."

S: "Well, [laughs], my poor..."

E: "How many adulterous relationships have you had in your life? Wasn't that one of the reasons..."

[Laughter and commenting in the audience background]

S: "Wait, I couldn't hear ya, start it again?"

E: "I think one of the reasons you were excommunicated is because of sex."

S: "I was...I was...I was excommunicated, Ed, for everything you can imagine.And I have said that on this show..."

E: "You were...the principle...a seminary teacher, and you were excommunicated because of sexual violations."

S: "Ed, you are absolutely correct. And I was excommunicated because I refused to believe in Mormon doctrine. And I was excommunicated..."

E: "You were, you were..."

S: "Wait! And I was excommunicated because I used pharmaceutical drugs to excess. And I was excommunicated, not because I was a seminary teacher at the time. That's not true, Ed, that inference is incorrect. I have made no bones about what my life was as a Mormon, I was the product of Mormonism, remember. I looked really good when I lived that life. That's what's interesting about this, is now when I'm close to the Lord..."

E: "You chose...you chose the life you're living, and that's your responsibility, Right?"

S: "Absolutely. Absolutely."

E: "And, and because you failed, and you didn't show up, and you couldn't keep the commandments of the Lord, you now profess to know everything..."

S: "Ed..."

E: "When in reality you're covering up sins that you committed..."

S: "Ed, I don't cover any sin..."

E: "...and that you're probably continuing to commit."

S: "Ed, you're believing what you wanna believe, will you let me say this? Since the beginning of this show people have called in. 'Why did you get excommunicated?' I have said many times, for every sin under the sun. In the book I wrote I said I was the most egregious sinner. I consider myself like Jean Paul Sartre, I've never met a man more evil than myself. I have not hid anything, Ed. You are trying to put on me a picture to make yourself feel better."

E: "No..."

S: "I'm sorry!"

E: "No, I feel sorry for you..."

S: "I don't care about that! Let's talk about something else; and that is, you said I didn't obey the commandments. Ed, I wanna know, do you obey the commandments?"

E: "Yes I do, to the best of my ability."

S: "Excellent. Ed! Jesus said don't look on a woman with lust, have you ever done it?"

E: "I, I...do not do it."

S: "What?"

E: "I do not do that, no..."

S: "Have you ever done it?"

E: "I don't...I, I look at women, I appreciate beauty in all forms."

S: "Oh, you are pathetic, man! You are pathetic, dude!"

E: "I've never committed fornication, I've never committed adultery..."

S: "What did Jesus say about adultery, Ed? He said if you look upon a woman with lust you've committed it in your heart; have you done that Ed?"

E: "Is it in your heart or is it in, in, in your...[inaudible]"

S: "Ed...Ed answer my question."

E: "I don't believe that, sir."

S: "Jesus said it! Jesus said it!

E: "He said it in your Bible, as far as it's translated correctly."

S: "Oh, you are pathetic! That's in your Bible too, I know the King James Mormon Bible, it says it in yours too!" 

This conversation between Ed and Shawn demonstrates the sort discussion I wanted to avoid in my review. Both men talk past each other, discussion gets personal, Shawn seems loud and heated, Ed seems passive aggressive.

I decided to ask Shawn directly and let him have the final word on the matter in order to put it to rest. Anyone else who wants to know more can ask him directly, this is all the information I have to give. The following is our e-mail exchange of August 1, 2009 which Shawn encouraged me to share:

Several people have pointed out a rumor on the Internet (how reliable!)that part of the reason you were excommunicated was because you committed adultery. I do not know if that ever occurred, are you aware of the rumor? What are your thoughts on the rumor? When people ask me about it I have simply told them I have not heard of such a thing from any reliable source, but I am curious if you would provide a better, less vague, answer.


I was excommunicated because I requested to be.  When asked what I would do "if the decision was made to not excommunicate me," I said I would go to a higher authority.  I asked for excommunication because I deserved it in every way - I don't give specifics because I enjoy letting LDS people think, say, and believe what they want.  But perhaps I ought to set the record straight being that you have presented me with such an opportunity, Blair.  So here goes:

If heterosexual sin of any and all types makes Mormons feel best about my exit, I am wholly guilty.  If homosexual sin is the cause, I am fully guilty. If drug abuse, child abuse, wife abuse, or any crime against God or Man is the cause, I AM FULLY GUILTY IN EVERY WAY.  These are not rhetorical games, Blair.  I am literally guilty of all crime, sin, and disgust against God.  To the fullest extent, I was a carnal man, sold under sin, guilty of breaking the entirety of the Law. Where Jesus was pure and holy, I was the antithesis in the flesh.  There was no good in me - none.  And I committed all sin willingly, purposefully, and without remorse.

Then Jesus came into my life and saved me from myself.
Hope this helps.


Your response has only confused me more, I apologize that I have not picked up on your intent. I am familiar with the scripture in James that says "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." Is this what you are referring to when you say you are guilty of all crimes, etc.? Or, are you telling me that you literally committed these sins (homosexual behavior?) in addition to the other difficulties you describe in your book "I Was a Born-Again Mormon"? Again, it's not my business to know or to judge you on these matters, I don't seek to do so. I do, however, seek to be accurate when people ask.


Shawn replied:

My answer stands as is, Blair, in light of James or not.  I don't really care.  What I do care about is the Jesus line at the end; that only through Him was I able to overcome myself. Please add that in when you share this response with others.

Update, 18 February 2010
On a recent interview with John Dehlin, McCraney clarified that his comments about homosexuality were figurative. Evidently he was referring to the scripture in James. I hope this information allows others to get back to discussing more relevant issues and leave the personal details alone.