Australian author excommunicated by Mormon church

Associated Press/August 4, 2005
By Jennifer Dobner

Salt Lake City -- An Australian author who wrote that DNA evidence fails to support the ancestral claims outlined in the Book of Mormon has been excommunicated by The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After a three-hour disciplinary council meeting on Sunday in Australia, author Simon Southerton was informed that his relationship with his religion of 30 years would be officially severed, the writer said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Southerton said he was excommunicated for "having an inappropriate relationship with a woman.'' Southerton doesn't deny the relationship, which occurred two years ago while he was separated from his wife. The Southertons have since reconciled, and Jane Southerton testified on behalf of her husband.

Southerton believes church concerns about his writing are the underlying reason for the excommunication.

He said he refused to discuss his personal life with church leaders on Sunday, instead asking them why he was not answering to charges of apostasy for having widely published on the Internet and in his book his doubts about the church and his beliefs about DNA science.

Church leaders responded, Southerton wrote, by saying they were not avoiding the "issue of apostasy and that the charge they were investigating was more important.''

Mormon church officials do not comment on the decisions of local church leaders, church spokesman Scott Trotter said Thursday.

If Southerton appeals, the church's Salt Lake City-based leaders would have several courses of action, Trotter said. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and his two advisers could agree with the decision, modify it or send it back to Australian church leaders for a rehearing.

That process "takes some time,'' Trotter said.

Southerton's book, published in 2004, outlines how existing DNA data for American Indians does not support the Mormon beliefs that the continent's earliest inhabitants were descendants of Israelite patriarch Lehi.

The church teaches that Lehi was an ancient seafarer who came to the New World about 600 B.C., according to church founder Joseph Smith's 1830 Book of Mormon. Smith claimed to have translated the text from inscribed gold plates unearthed from an upstate New York hillside. His book is viewed by many members as a literal record of God's dealings with early Americans.

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