Peter and Mary Danzig

(Peter and Mary Danzig, (Paul Fraughton /The Salt Lake Tribune)

I was amused and even a bit saddened while reading Peggy Fletcher Stack’s most recent article on media made myrtars who have publicly criticized the Church for their life’s problems.  In an article deceptively entitled “LDS Church disciplines musician”, Ms. Stack marshals an array of misrepresentations and some outright falsehoods to support such a ridiculous conclusion. (Update 2/25/08 9:18 a.m.) I just checked the Tribune website and the Tribune editors have apparently changed the article headline now to read “Fallout from debate over gays leads musician to leave LDS Church.” Seems the Tribune is backpedaling just a bit now.

Ms. Stack’s article begins with a very nice photo of the Danzig’s a very good looking couple, and sets the stage for their activism by recounting how they sat silently by while the LDS Church leaders cleaned house with the September Six–though she remains silent about the fact the six went off the deep end in publicly criticizing Church policy and doctrine:

Danzig said nothing in 1993 when church officials charged six well-known Mormon scholars and intellectuals with apostasy for their writings or speeches about LDS issues. He kept quiet when Brigham Young University fired history professor Steven Epperson, a member of Danzig’s Mormon congregation, for serving the homeless rather than attending church.

And, why would he do anything other than keep quiet, if in fact he was as Stack described, a gentle musician who loved and served the Church, and not a Mormon activist?  Interestingly, Ms. Stack does not disclose that Mr. Epperson, who is now apparently a Unitarian Universalist minister, was actually dismissed from BYU because he was not attending Church, paying tithing, and did not qualify for a temple recommend–which is required to teach at BYU.  And, as his letter to BYU administrators reflects, was actually quite bitter toward the Church and BYU.

But, Danzig, the gentle musician was about to become less gentle and more of a “Mormon activist” because he could no longer remain silent at the outrage that was to follow:

 But in 2006, Danzig finally felt compelled to protest. BYU adjunct professor Jeffrey Nielsen lost his job for arguing in a The Salt Lake Tribune column that the LDS Church was wrong to oppose gay marriage and to enlist Mormon support for a constitutional amendment against it.

The dismissal appalled Danzig, who had explored the questions of homosexuality while pursuing a graduate degree in clinical social work.

The gentle Danzig let fly his feelings about such an injustice with the following letter to the editor, published in the Salt Lake Tribune 6/14/06:

As a member of the LDS Church, returned missionary and member of the Orchestra at Temple Square, I am appalled at the intellectual tyranny that our leadership has exercised through the summary dismissal of Jeffrey Nielsen from his teaching position at Brigham Young University for speaking his mind in an op-ed published June 4 in The Tribune. I was troubled that my church requested that I violate my own conscience to write in support of an amendment (marriage) I feel is contrary to the Constitution and to the gospel of Christ.

I am even more discouraged to see how they deal with an honest difference of opinion  I wish to express to Jeffrey Nielsen that I admire his courage and that I stand with him. I hope that rank-and-file members of the church as well as members of the lay clergy who also find this troubling will have the courage to step forward and let themselves be known. To do anything else would be to hide in the shadow of an injustice.

OK,  let’s fact check just a bit, as both Mr. Danzig and Ms. Stack are playing just a bit fast and loose with them.  Mr. Danzig’s letter expresses discouragement at honest differences of opinion, yet in his letter he refers to the LDS Church leadership as intellectual tyrants.  Now, he doesn’t specify to which leadership her refers; however, I can only assume without further clarification that he’s talking about at the time, Gordon B. Hinckely, Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust, and the entire Quorum of the Twelve.  Now, I’m not familiar with the inner workings of the Temple Square Orchestra, but it seems to me that publicly calling the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles intellectual tyrants is not likely a good way to retain first chair viola.  If this is an expression of an honest difference of opinion, one can just imagine a harsh disagreement.

Let’s not forget Mr. Nielsen’s role in all this horrific injustice.  Mr. Danzig claims, without any supporting facts whatsoever, that the top LDS leadership had some role in Mr. Nielsen’s dismissal.  Rather, it appears Mr. Nielsen’s contract was simply not renewed by those who were in authority over him at the philosophy department at BYU.  To suggest that Mr. Nielsen’s travails made their way to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve’s Thursday Temple meeting is simply absurd.

And, what of Jeffrey Nielsen?  Who was he, and what did he do?  Well, Mr. Nielsen was, at the time, an occasional part time faculty member at BYU’s philosophy department–not an adjunct professor as Mr. Stack writes.  I previously posted about Mr. Nielsen, here.   In short, Mr. Nielsen publicly labeled the same LDS Church leadership, their position on gay marriage, and their call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage troubling, immoral, discriminatory, and based on fear and superstition.  Again, when you are employed at the Church owned and supported University, even as a part time faculty member, there are certain rules and regulations by which you are bound.

The Salt Lake Tribune has a history of making Mr. Nielsen a martyr for their anti-LDS causes (particularly homosexuality as is obvious from this article).  You can read more or their absurd  coverage about Mr. Neilsen here, here, and here.  Yes, the Salt Lake Tribune had a field day with Jeffrey Nielsen and the Church, comparing him to Thoreau and Martin Luther.  So, it is really not a surprise that when Ms. Stack stumbled upon Mr. Danzig and his idolization of Mr. Nielsen that she would perpetuate the fantasy.

What is odd, however, is the title of the article?  What LDS officials have disciplined the Danzigs, and what discipline?

Within a week, LDS officials contacted Danzig with concerns about the letter. They suspended him from the orchestra and for the next year, he and, ultimately his wife, defended their loyalty, faith and actions. No amount of persuasion or pleading could convince these ecclesiastical leaders they meant well.

Ultimately, the Danzigs moved out of their Levan house and, in December, resigned their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than face excommunication.

It seems pretty clear that it was the Danzigs who resigned their membership, rather than LDS officials having disciplined them.  What is most telling, however, is Ms. Stack’s link to an anti-Mormon blog (run by an individual who has left the Church, but can’t seem to leave it alone) which has published the Danzig’s own account of their issues with the Church.  It seems pretty clear where their loyalties lie at this point.

What cannot be over emphasized is the fact that the Tribune is giving only one side of the story, the Danzigs.  The Church does not and will not comment on such matters:

All of the leaders declined to comment or offer any written accounts of their actions. “Communications of this nature between church leaders and members are considered confidential,” Trotter said.

Given the tenor and tone of the article, the Danzigs complaints, and their reliance on an anti-Mormon blog for their own story, speaks volumes about the Danzig’s own bias and lack of credibility.

The Church, on its own website has responded to the Tribune article and rebutted the false accusations, including the ridiculous idea that the Church disciplined them:

Church leaders are always saddened when an individual, whether through his or her actions or personal choices, decides to leave the Church.  A welcoming hand of fellowship is always extended to those who wish to return at anytime.

Every organization, religious or secular, has to determine where its boundaries begin and where they end. The Apostle Paul said that the original Church was organized to help members to be “no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to study, learn and ask questions in their quest for knowledge.  Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of the Church said:  “This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education … we expect them (Church members) to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields.”

However, it is not acceptable when their digging and questioning leads to public opposition against doctrine Church leaders are obliged to uphold.  That doesn’t mean that Church leaders don’t listen and consider opposing views.  Quite the contrary.  Local bishops and stake presidents (congregational leaders) love and are concerned about all members of the flock.  This is the purpose of counseling provided by local Church leaders who know and care for each individual in their congregations.

Honest disagreements are not the same as public advocacy of positions contrary to those of the Church. When disagreements arise, the principle of the Church is that local leaders discuss these matters with members with love and concern.  This was the case with Peter Danzig.

On 23 February 2008 The Salt Lake Tribune posted an article about Mr. Danzig who was a member of the Church’s Orchestra at Temple Square.  According to the story, in June of 2006 Mr. Danzig published a letter-to-the-editor in the Tribune (and letters in other local newspapers) encouraging members to oppose Church leaders on the issue of same gender marriage.

In his Tribune letter-to-the-editor, Mr. Danzig said he “was troubled that my church requested I violate my own conscience to write in support of an amendment I feel is contrary to the constitution and to the gospel of Christ.” In reality Church leaders had asked members to write to their senators with their personal views regarding the federal amendment opposing same gender marriage, and did not request support or opposition to the amendment.

Initially Orchestra leaders met with Mr. Danzig to see if his public advocacy of this issue could be reconciled.  Finding no resolution, they contacted the Office of the First Presidency, and were instructed to refer the matter to Mr. Danzig’s local Church leaders, as Church protocol requires.  Mr. Danzig was asked to take a leave of absence from the orchestra until the matter had been resolved.

For more than a year and a half, Mr. Danzig counseled with his local bishop and stake president regarding same gender marriage and other Church doctrines.  Unfortunately he was not able to reconcile his personal beliefs with the doctrine Church leaders are charged to maintain by divine mandate.

In December 2007, Mr. Danzig voluntarily withdrew his membership in the Church by his own formal written request.  He was not officially disciplined by the Church as the Tribune article indicated.

The Church normally keeps this type of communication confidential.  However, the Church felt compelled to defend its position when Mr. Danzig made this information public and because of the blatant, inappropriate editorializing by the Salt Lake Tribune in what was purported to be a news story.

Again, this is a sad story.  No one wins.  The Danzig family has been torn apart, and in the process they have made affirmative efforts to hurt the community of Saints in their own hurt and anger.  Is the 15 minutes of fame on the pages of the Salt Lake Tribune and anti-Mormon Blogs really worth it in the long run?

See also the FAIR Blog’s post here.  And, check out Dave’s analysis and post over at DMI.