Saturday, November 30, 2002 

    A graduate student at the University of Washington says he likely 
will be excommunicated next week for articles he has written questioning 
the validity of the Book of Mormon. 
    Thomas W. Murphy, 35, wrote an article in the May 2002 Signature 
Books anthology American Apocrypha that used genetic data to discredit 
the Book of Mormon claim that American Indians are descendants of 
ancient Israel. The conclusion also is the thesis of his doctoral 
    "We're told to tell the truth, but not if the truth contradicts 
church doctrine. I would prefer to tell the truth," Murphy said. 
    Lavina Fielding Anderson, who in 1993 was excommunicated along with 
several other historians, biblical scholars and amateur theologians, 
said Murphy is one of at least three scholars similarly threatened with 
expulsion or excommunicated in the past three months. 
    "It's kind of deja vu, a repeat of things we've seen several times 
in the past," said Brent Metcalf, who edited the anthology. "This is it 
for Tom, I think." 
    Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community 
College in Lynnwood, Wash., will face a church disciplinary council Dec. 
8. There, he will be allowed to make a statement and council members may 
try to change his mind about the Book of Mormon. 
    He won't, because he has made it his quest to expose racism in the 
scriptures, starting with the teaching that American Indians are 
descendants of Middle Easterners known as Lamanites, the heathen 
antagonists in the Book of Mormon. 
    Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is a history of the Americas 
beginning in 600 B.C. Scripture teaches that a group of Lamanites who 
decided to forgo violence and war became Christians -- and white. 
    "That's racist," Murphy said. "If we present the Book of Mormon as 
the history of the Americas, the racist depictions of Lamanites hurt 
real people." 
    He also objects to church teachings that dark skin is a curse from 
God. Murphy questioned the lack of minority representation in church 
leadership, the church's political campaigns against women's and 
homosexual rights and "the policy of excommunicating scholars who 
honestly confront problems with church history and doctrines." 
    In a Tuesday e-mail to Signature Books, Anderson said the two other 
scholars under fire were hoping to avoid public exposure. "Such 
ecclesiastical actions are deeply distressing," she wrote. 
    Anderson was excommunicated after she presented a history of 
ecclesiastical troubles between church leaders, scholars and feminists 
at a Sunstone conference on Mormon scholarship in 1992. 
   High-profile excommunications waned significantly after current 
church President Gordon B. Hinckley was ordained in 1995. 
   Dale Bills, church spokesman, declined to comment specifically on 
Murphy's case. 
    "Matters of church discipline are handled on a confidential basis 
between church members and their local leaders. Local church leaders 
determine what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate," Bills said. 

    Trent Stevens, a professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State 
University in Pocatello, met Murphy two years ago when both were 
panelists at a Sunstone symposium looking at the Book of Mormon and 
    He agrees with Murphy's genetics data that virtually all DNA samples 
so far analyzed link the genetic markers in the current Indian 
population with native Siberians. But he disagrees with what Murphy has 
    The Book of Mormon, Stevens said, makes no claim that every American 
Indian descended from the original displaced Israelites. 
    "Scientific evidence says that's not the case," Stevens said. But 
that doesn't mean the Book of Mormon is a fiction. 
    "The issue is, it was stated by Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon 
is the keystone of our religion," Stevens said. "So when you look at 
genetic and anthropological data regarding native Americans, and say the 
data prove the book is not of ancient origin, I would say that's grounds 
for excommunication." 
    Murphy, who described himself as active in Mormon intellectual 
circles but not a regular churchgoer, said being excommunicated will 
hurt his relationship with his southern Idaho family, descendants of the 
first Mormon pioneers. 

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