Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Of Neighborly Pit-digging, Fishing Expeditions & Works in the Dark


"Now there was no law against a man’s belief, for it was strictly contrary to the commandments of God ... For there was a law, that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief." (NC Alma 16:2)
"[I] having been … persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly — and if they supposed me to be deluded, to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me…" - Joseph Smith (JSH 2:10)
"Now I tell you beforehand what to expect to come upon you so you are not surprised, nor will you stumble and fall. They will excommunicate you. The time will even come that the self-righteous who kill you will think that they speak for God. And they will do these things because they cannot do what the Father and I have done. I warn you beforehand that you will face this opposition so that when it happens you will remember and be strengthened." (The Testimony of St. John 10:23)
"And again I say unto you, Go into the world and do not care for the world, for the world will hate you and will persecute you and will turn you out of their synagogues." (NC Matt. 3:35)
"And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel, and they say unto the people, 'Hearken unto us and hear ye our precept, for behold, there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work and he hath given his power unto men! Behold, hearken ye unto my precept! If they shall say, There is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not, for this day he is not a God of miracles! He hath done his work!' Yea, and there shall be many which shall say, 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die and it shall be well with us.' And there shall also be many which shall say, 'Eat, drink, and be merry, nevertheless fear God--He will justify in committing a little sin. Yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor, there is no harm in this. And do all these things, for tomorrow we die. And if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God!' Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord. And their works shall be in the dark. And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them. Yea, they have all gone out of the way. They have become corrupted." (NC 2 Ne. 12:1)
"And woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? And who knoweth us? And they also say, Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay. But behold, I will shew unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works." (NC 2 Ne. 11:21)

Summary

On Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, my wife and I received matching letters informing us we would be jointly tried in a stake disciplinary council for unspecified charges amounting to "apostasy" on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. On attempting to ask for the charges against either of us, we were refused. Due to an act of God (the only snowstorm to shut the city down last winter), the stake president was forced to reschedule it. We were asked to sign a legal agreement to make no record of the proceedings should we attend, which we could not sign on moral grounds. Despite this, however, we were permitted to come into the rescheduled disciplinary council on Thursday, Mar. 1, 2018, long enough each to make statements and leave copies of our statements with the stake clerk before leaving, thus complying with the stake president's demand for strict secrecy in his proceedings.

We learned three days later that he had elected to excommunicate me but not my wife, whom the stake president had not met prior to his disciplinary council. (I introduced them that evening.) The "letters of decision" I was given three days after the council outlined the actual list of apparent charges that were kept carefully hidden until their council and only revealed to us afterward. I then composed and mailed an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday, Mar. 10, 2018, and also sent a copy to the stake president. I finally received an indirect response on Monday, May 7th, which the stake president paraphrased to me by email. I had avoided sharing news of the excommunication with family and friends for a period of time, allowing for the possibility that the appeal could be granted.

This post provides a record of these events. It is not shared out of spite against those who were locally involved in our excommunication hearing--I see their actions performed precisely as directed by superior leaders and, I believe, contrary to their own personal preferences. It is presented as information that demonstrates the irrefutable foreknowledge that writers of the Book of Mormon had of these patterns of action in our day. What we experienced is neither the first time nor the last time these will have happened to believing, faithful, covenant-keeping members of the modern LDS Church, nor is it in any way unique to our location or leaders here. I doubt there is anything special about our situation. More will be shared on prophetic fulfillments from the Book of Mormon in subsequent posts. This post presents primarily the events (through relevant documents) with only minor additional notes included.

Our Statements & Appeal Letter

The following three documents are sufficient to document the essential elements of what has happened:
  • 2018-03-01 Disciplinary Council Statement by Corina Hughes (PDF)
    • My wife's verbal statement made to the stake president and high council during the disciplinary council, a printed copy of which was then given to the stake clerk for inclusion in the disciplinary council record.
      • As mentioned above, any information about the charges were intentionally withheld by the stake president prior to the council
      • Prior to arriving at the council, she had never met or talked with the stake president and had never met with the bishop
      • We were not permitted to attend the council (other than to make our statements) because we refused to sign the required legal agreement, which would have forbidden us from making any record of the proceedings. (We did, in fact, make a complete record of what we were permitted to attend that night.)
  • 2018-03-01 Disciplinary Council Statement by Vaughn Hughes (PDF)
    • My verbal statement made to the stake president and high council during the disciplinary council, a printed copy of which was then given to the stake clerk for inclusion in the disciplinary council record. Mine was shared with the council after my wife shared hers.
    • Of note:
      • Reviews the scriptural precedent for the stake president's intended procedure of questioning us on our beliefs, although he was prevented at the last minute from using this procedure during the disciplinary council because he refused to allow us to attend the remainder while recording it
      • Clarifies why we were unable to sign his required legal agreement and therefore were not permitted by him to attend his disciplinary council
    • Other notes on what took place that evening:
      • Despite not being permitted to attend the council because we could not sign the legal document, we were nonetheless later accused by the stake president of "refusing" to attend the rest of the council despite his urging (see subsequent email, letters of decision, and the refutation in my Appeal below)
        • His statement is only true in that we were neither willing to sign his legal agreement nor willing to promise not to record the proceedings and were therefore barred by him from attending the rest (we did, in fact, audio record our entire experience in the building that evening)
      • After completing our statements, handing copies of them to the stake clerk to be added to the record, and immediately before exiting the room, a high councilor could not refrain from asking a question of Vaughn, which we recorded:
        • High Councilor: Brother Hughes, can I ask you one question?
        • Vaughn: You're welcome to, although we're not looking to take questions.
        • High Councilor: That's fine. I just want to ask you one question, and all it takes is a simple yes or no. Do you believe that we have a prophet in these latter days that leads and guides this church under the direction of Jesus Christ, and the Father and the Son?
        • Vaughn: Are you asking me about my beliefs?
        • High Councilor: I'm asking… I'm asking you ….
        • Vaughn: Because I stated my beliefs on that topic a few minutes ago, and I don't believe it would do you any service to further discuss beliefs, given what the Lord has strictly forbidden. So, I'll leave it at that.
        • High Councilor: Okay. Thank you. [You've answered my question.]
      • Interestingly, this (the only question asked during the council) perfectly aligns with and is further evidence of an assertion made in social media five months earlier
      • We did not wait outside for their council to conclude before departing
      • A city police officer already in the stake center parking lot (perhaps the chief of police, who happens to be LDS) coincidentally followed us to the well-lit, empty east parking lot on the far side of the stake center, where my wife and I went to take a phone call before leaving the premises. He lingered there for some time before departing back to the original parking lot on the west side. This suggests the some unwarranted expectation of the stake president that evening where he might call on law enforcement to detain or remove us.
  • 2018-03-10 Appeal Letter to First Presidency (PDF)
    • The actual letter sent by certified mail to the First Presidency of the LDS Church, for which I received a USPS return receipt confirmation that it was received on their behalf
    • This letter includes:
      • The procedural mistakes made which would have almost certainly resulted in a different outcome
      • A refutation of the falsehoods and lies fabricated by the stake presidency and presented to the high council in order to make a case against us in our absence (not having made us aware of them in advance, preventing any reasonable response from us at the time)
      • The Idaho state law broken by the stake president and corresponding violation of Church Handbook direction, in order to achieve his predermined outcome
      • Two facts which later acted as smoking gun evidence that the appeal letter was almost certainly not reviewed by anyone at church headquarters (see notes below for 2018-05-07 Indirect Communication of First Presidency Response to Appeal of Excommunication (PDF))

Additional Records

  • 2018-02-12 Disciplinary Council Letter to Corina (PDF)
    • Delivered to Corina at our home by a stake presidency counselor and a stake clerk
    • Of note:
      • Its claim of evidence or witnesses of wrongdoing ("you are reported"), which turned out to be a bluff: no witnesses or reports were produced.
      • The very unusually short timeframe before the disciplinary council (6 days)
      • The lack of any accusations that could constitute the basis for the claimed apostasy
      • The terse nature of the letter--I'm not sure I've seen a shorter one
      • The highly unusual nature of the disciplinary council relative to official instruction leaders are routinely trained to strictly adhere to in the official Church Handbook of Instructions (even when contrary to scripture), which matches leaked secret directives from church headquarters understood by local leaders to supersede the Handbook (see the late Elder Von Keetch's recent centralized engineering of excommunications in "The Secret LDS UCMJ"):
        • Women are always to be tried by her bishop in a bishop's court and not by the stake high council
        • A joint disciplinary council is not permitted
  • 2018-02-12 Disciplinary Council Letter to Vaughn (PDF)
    • Also delivered to Corina, with no inquiry as to whether I was home
    • Of note:
      • Word for word identical to Corina's except for my name.
  • 2018-02-12 Email to stake president and exchange prior to Thursday meeting (PDF)
    • A seven-question request that the stake president provide us with a statement of what crimes we were being accused of and of other details regarding the planned disciplinary council. Besides the request to know the charges, each of the other five questions are yes or no questions.
    • The subsequent email exchange and stake president's refusal to commit anything to writing for fear of disclosure.
  • 2018-02-15 Transcript of interview with stake president regarding disciplinary council (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • (Yellow highlights) The stake president's clear declaration that the disciplinary council will be focused only on our beliefs. (mentioned 15 times) That it is his intention during the disciplinary council is to bring no witnesses, present no evidence, but only to have us attend the council and be quizzed on our beliefs.
        • The most direct acknowledgment that the charges will be "different beliefs" is in lines 178-180.
        • Contrast these 15 assertions made in a setting presumed to be private with his presumed-to-become-public statement in the letter of decision after the council that, "your beliefs were never a matter of consideration for the council." (see below) This later attempt in and after the disciplinary council to hide this stated, intended plan is thus, by definition, a lie.
        • It cannot be contested that he would have actually carried out this plan had he allowed us to attend the council, because he used precisely this procedure when he jointly excommunicated a different couple in the Sandpoint area just over three years ago, which they have a full record of.
      • (Blue highlights) The repeatedly stated (9 times), preeminent concern that, above all, his actions and the council proceedings must be kept secret and not disclosed
      • (Magenta highlights) The condescending tone and use of taunting, mocking, and coercion during a believed private conversation in an attempt get me and us to come and disclose our beliefs in an open way, allowing for the stake president to find something to accuse us with at the time of the council
      • The utter refusal to disclose any misdeeds or sin that either one of us is accused of and which would amount to apostasy
        • This is a clear indication that there was no interest whatsoever in helping us to retain our LDS Church membership
      • The pretense that his secrecy is to protect us, even after we had asked that it be done publicly
        • Consider that "apostasy" is a crime that normally demands a public trial, as common sense and scripture would dictate. There is no rational reason for hiding the proceedings, except in the case of planned wrong-doing on the part of leaders conducting it.
        • Even months afterward, members of this stake and ward are not only unaware of the excommunication for apostasy but also have never been informed of anything I have ever shared in church meetings that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ--these should be top priorities for a concerned church leader
      • The refusal to accept the benefit of the doubt afforded him at the end of my 2018-02-12 email, even boldly inviting me to "completely squarely put this on my shoulders, if you would like." (lines 387-392)
      • The stated opinion that publicly correcting the false, unscriptural teachings of a dissenter yields "the least spiritual atmosphere that you can possibly have" (lines 295, 335-338)
        • This opinion contrasts with three extended accounts matching this description (true prophets of God contending with apostates/dissenters) highlighted in the Book of Mormon, where each would be subject to this criticism. (see Jacob 7, Alma 1, and Alma 30)
      • The opinion that a religious leader breaking priest-penitent law should be considered the moral equivalent of a congregant publicly sharing an abusive leader's communications (lines 372-377)
        • Another way of putting it: He believes it is not fair when a religious leader's misdeeds are brought to public light, because religious leaders do not and legally cannot share private confessions from congregants. Therefore, public accountability for (or criticism of) religious leaders is indecorous.
  • 2018-02-15 Constructive Notice of Demand (PDF) handed to the stake president
    • Of note:
      • Presented at the end of the Thu 2018-02-15 meeting
      • Constitutes a standard way of giving official legal notice of something, such that the recipient cannot claim not to have been aware of it
  • 2018-02-15 Non-Recording Agreement (PDF)
    • The agreement the stake president asked us each to sign
    • Of note:
      • Emailed to us the evening of 2018-02-15
      • It's homespun appearance (lacking any standard LDS Church letterhead) could suggest the possibility that it is a local concoction
        • A counselor to the stake president, who is a local attorney heavily relied on by the stake president for writing letters, could have had a hand in drafting it
      • Other outside evidence strongly suggests otherwise, however
  • 2018-02-16 Midnight Email Response from Stake President after meeting (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • Forbids our children from attending despite our request
      • The Disclosure of Non-recording Agreement (see above) and current secret Church Handbook list of grounds for apostasy, which differ completely from the public LDS Church definition
      • An explicit written statement of his intent to interrogate us regarding our beliefs (all previous statements were carefully kept verbal-only and in private) and then to try us for them. It is an interesting contrast, considering he has also barely shared the list of possible misdeeds from the Church Handbook.
      • Clear offense taken at being apprised of the Lord's scriptural requirement (outlined in the Constructive Notice of Demand above), and confusion of that information with someone trying to take control of his proceedings (although, for those familiar with it, it does bring to mind a certain ritual dialog where the speaker angrily expresses concern that the onlooking interlopers are interested in "taking possession of the whole of [his kingdom]," the character then having a word to say about it)
      • Mistaking an occasional tangential scriptural reference in the Church Handbook for scriptural revelation or direction given in the Lord's words (to be fair, this is a not-uncommon practice among LDS leaders)
  • 2018-02-18 Stake president email acknowledgment an act of God had prevented his council (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • Confession that his status with God afforded him no say in preventing or delaying the most severe winter storm of the season, which included high winds, heavy snowfall, and many power outages, resulting in cancelation of LDS Church meetings that Sunday
      • This was the only snow storm of 2017-2018 that shut down the city of Sandpoint in any significant way
      • The expressed desire to now meet (only because of delayed council to excommunicate) and "discuss" (determine) our beliefs in advance
        • Implies worry about lack of evidence
  • 2018-02-24 Email exchange with stake president on a new date and his attempt at star chamber proceedings (PDF)
    • Definition of Star chamber proceedings
    • Of note:
      • The stake president's hope to now proceed with an interrogation of beliefs outside the earshot of his high council
      • The strongly adversarial, patronizing, and manipulative manner of the interview on 2018-02-15 (see transcript above) left neither my wife nor I the slightest inclination to meet again behind closed doors
  • 2018-03-01: Disciplinary Council Statement by Corina Hughes - for High Council (PDF) (see above notes)
  • 2018-03-01: Disciplinary Council Statement by Vaughn Hughes (PDF) (see above notes)
  • 2018-03-04 Disciplinary Council Letter of Decision for Corina (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • The thinly-veiled threat of "at this time" when the "no action" decision is stated
        • As further laid out in the letter, they were not happy that their quarry did not willingly and happily step into the not-so-well-camouflaged pit that was dug for just for her (apparently believing "there is no harm in this")
      • The misrepresentations and lies presented in this letter can only be taken to be grandstanding, in the hope that his letter might be made public at some point
        • The writer(s) were fully aware that the misrepresentations and lies would be completely apparent to the recipient
      • Examples of knowing misrepresentations and lies:
        • "President Marks and I have both been unable, despite several attempts, to meet with you"
          • As clarified in Vaughn's Appeal letter (see below): Prior to the letter notifying her of the excommunication hearing, Corina had only been invited to meet with a leader once. That invitation was under the false pretense that they wanted her to come and 1) discuss her feelings about the church and 2) express concerns about church leadership. She had no interest in either. When I, however, attended the requested meeting in December 2017 despite similarly expressing no interest in sharing criticism of church leaders, the purpose of the meeting and interrogation turned out to be completely different than stated. (A record of that meeting exists but is not published here.)
        • "We have made every effort we could reasonably make [to meet]"
          • This refers to the single attempt mentioned above, made under false pretenses, and to the one attempt made only after an act of God had prevented originally scheduled council from taking place
      • The idea that an excommunication trial is a place that can be used "to get to know you better and to determine what actions you have been taking" or "to visit." (see p. 1, 6)
        • Disciplinary councils are, by the LDS Church handbook, not for the purpose of socializing and collecting evidence of wrongdoing, so that charges can be drawn up during the proceedings.
        • Whether in scriptural instruction, in Church Handbook instruction, or in civil law, they are all alike in asserting that courts are places for considering evidence already collected and hearing the testimony of eyewitnesses of wrongdoing.
        • The letter she received inviting her to attend the council asserted that they already had reports from witnesses or evidence in hand. This turned out to be a bluff.
      • The patronizing attempt to place blame on her for not attending church meetings, pretending that the only possible reason for her lack of attendance is her obligation to play organ for a different congregation
        • Such condescending scolding is usually considered unhelpful in any genuine attempt to understand someone's motives.
        • Her actual concern expressed in her statement to the high council was her surprise at the feigned friendliness and false smiles of those delivering her summons to an excommunication hearing where she would likely be severed from her church and family.
      • The assertion that the purpose of priesthood is to exercise control (contrary to scripture), and that the sacrament is required to be performed in chapels (a doctrine newly invented in this letter, having been never before or after publicly taught by a general authority, as of Nov. 2018)
      • The assertion that any unauthorized change to a church ordinance cannot be tolerated
        • This, despite the fact that all LDS Church ordinances have, in fact, been altered in the absence of revelation in the time since the dispensation head introduced them. Any return to them is thus deemed to be heresy and an excommunicable offense.
      • The feigned surprise that the writer doesn't "know what made [her] conclude that our purposes were so nefarious." (likely another example of grandstanding)
      • The patronizing suggestion that his decision to excommunicate is actually "a way the Church acknowledges when a person has separated himself from the Church", when in fact the two thirds of Church members who have separated themselves from the Church through inactivity are not ever subject to excommunication.
      • The unintentional acknowledgement of the impotence of the council with his correct statement that "the Lord knows your husband's heart, and the Lord, not the disciplinary council, will determine where your husband stands in that eternal relationship."
      • The suggestion that "General Conference talks and … Ensign articles" contain the Lord's words today, despite never quoting the Lord, except on rare occasions from the standard works
  • 2018-03-04 Disciplinary Council Letter of Decision for Vaughn (PDF)
  • 2018-03-06 Denied Request for Record of Disciplinary Council Proceedings and imagined expectation of legal action (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • The uncanny resemblance his response has with Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee though no one pursues"
      • That he even seems to have now convinced himself that he really would have allowed us to audio record his disciplinary council proceedings, despite his repeated statements to the contrary and the required legal agreement
  • 2018-03-10 Appeal Letter to First Presidency (PDF) (see above notes)
  • 2018-03-15 Cover Letter to stake president (PDF)
  • 2018-04-05 Appeal Letter mailed to and refused by stake president (PDF)
    • USPS made multiple delivery attempts over a three-week period, leaving notice that it could be picked up a few blocks away at the post office
  • 2018-04-10 Email Exchange about Refused Appeal Letter (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • The claim that he thought the certified letter (where the sender's name and local zip code could be viewed by him) was an advertisement. In retrospect, it seems more likely the letter was refused out of fear of it might be related to legal action against him for his violation of Idaho State priest-penitent law.
      • Again, the uncanny resemblance his refusal to accept his certified mail has with Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee though no one pursues"
  • 2018-05-07 Indirect Communication of First Presidency Response to Appeal of Excommunication (PDF)
    • Of note:
      • No evidence or suggestion that the member of the First Presidency addressed by the appeal ever actually even saw the appeal
      • The response was not as requested, nor was the inability to fulfill the request even acknowledged as a pleasantry
        • Again, no indication it was seen by Henry Eyring
        • More than one person well familiar with Henry Eyring's character has suggested it would be unusual in the extreme for him not to have personally responded in some way
      • A lack of any concern over the stake president's violation of Idaho statutory law suggests either 1) that the letter was not read or reviewed, or 2) that the threat if litigated was deemed small enough that the lawbreaking could be ignored
      • By far the strongest evidence--beyond a reasonable doubt--that the appeal letter was never read or considered by the First Presidency (or anyone else) remains publicly accessible to this day (27 Nov 2018): The LDS Church continues to use paid Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure that a Google search for "Vaughn Hughes" returns my "I'm a Mormon" page on Mormon.org as the very first search result, and the page continues to be prominently available on Mormon.org.
        • The web page was explicitly discussed in my appeal letter and would be an embarrassment to the LDS Church were they to realize that almost ten months later they had continued to use the profile of an excommunicated member to market their church
        • Had anyone actually read the letter at church headquarters, it would have been a very simple thing to email the marketing department and have the profile removed
        • This strongly suggests that the standard procedure by LDS Church headquarters for any appealed excommunication is 1) for no one to read it, 2) for it to sit for about three weeks, and then 3) for a standard form letter to be sent to the stake president reaffirming his verdict, no matter the situation or problems with it
        • See:
      • Side note: Now that the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its intention to cease calling itself Mormon (effectively also making all its members "ex-Mormons"), I do not expect the "I'm a Mormon" marketing campaign pages to remain online much longer

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