Who on Earth knows what the ‘Strengthening Church Members Committee’ is or does?

By: Jake
March 29, 2012

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On Tuesday the BBC did a documentary called The Mormon Candidate. The aftermath resulted in every one of my member friends shouting (virtually, of course) that we should all complain about the programme’s misrepresentation of the church. By Common Consent even published an open letter to the BBC about the decontextualisation of the facts in the programme.

The programme was undoubtedly sensational and less-than-favourable to the church (perhaps “less-than-favourable” is a slight understatement). However, beyond the harsh criticism that inspired the frenzy of emotional reactions from my friends, there was something the programme raised that was problematic for me other than its polemic tone.

Sweeney brought up the Strengthening Church Members Committee (SCMC) whilst speaking with a bunch of ex- and post-Mormons. This committee is a strangely mysterious organisation about which we know very little, and it seems that we are not alone:  the people high up in the church also know very little about it as well, as the documentary shows that even the head of PR and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland are unsure about what the SCMC actually does. This leaves me even more baffled about who knows about it, and who knows what it does. Before we look at what the churchs representatives had to say on the matter in the documentary, let’s first look at what we know about it already.

The first sign of its existence came from a leaked document from the Presiding Bishopric about satanic rituals.The 12-page document was intended for the SCMC for them to review. After this initial exposure in 1990, the SCMC became a topic of  a Sunstone panel by Eugene England and Lavina Anderson, who called it ‘an internal espionage system.’  The church, uncharacteristically, responded to this criticism with a public statement in response to the claim that it had ‘so-called secret files’ and invoked Joseph Smiths revelation that instructed the saints to gather anti-mormon literature as a precedent for the committee as the document says:

“The Strengthening Church Members Committee was appointed by the First Presidency to help fulfill this need and to comply with the cited section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This committee serves as a resource to priesthood leaders throughout the world who may desire assistance on a wide variety of topics. It is a General Authority committee, currently comprised of Elder James E. Faust and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They work through established priesthood channels, and neither impose nor direct Church disciplinary action.

“Members who have questions concerning Church doctrine, policies, or procedures have been counseled to discuss those concerns confidentially with their local leaders. These leaders are deeply aware of their obligation to counsel members wisely in the spirit of love, in order to strengthen their faith in the Lord and in His great latter-day work.”

Now, perhaps it is just me, but this definition seems very vague about what exactly the SCMC does. From it we learn that the SCMC exists, is under the first presidency, and that it advises leaders about doctrine, policies, and procedures. This hardly gives us any indication about what it actually does. In order to establish a bit more then the above vacuous statement gives us, we need to look at those who have actually seen it in action.

Last year, Mormon Heretic reviewed a book, Latter-Day Dissent, which provided an insight into the SCMC through its coverage of the September Six, the infamous series of excommunications of Mormon Intellectuals in the 1990′s for speaking out against Church doctrine or policies. MH notes that the book’s interest for him came from its insight into the SCMC. As one of the September Six described the SCMC as:

There is a Strengthening Church Members Committee that we didn’t know about at the time, a Gestapo-like group which press-clipped everything anyone said who might be considered an enemy of the Church, meaning one who disagreed with Church policy.

Since then from various anecdotal evidence from the excommunication of other Mormon scholars, such as Grant Palmer, it appears that the SCMC catalogues members’ controversial statements so they can be later used as evidence against those members in church disciplinary settings. Donald Jesse, a former employee of the public affairs department, better explains this:

Donald:  It ‘s a committee that seeks information that, in time, if the proper action is taken, does just that–it can strengthen Church members through proper discipline.

Philip:  How so?  Many excommunicants have claimed that it collected files on them in preparation for potential disciplinary courts.

Donald:  They do it by caring about members of the Church.  Discipline is designed to help members who have gone astray.  The Church from its beginning has gathered anti-Mormon literature and derogatory or false information about the Church.  If the source of this information comes from Church members of record, then action is taken.  The Church must be aware of its critics and enemies.  Again, Church leaders must keep the Church morally clean and ethically straight.

(Quote taken from Mormon Heretic in his review of the book on the September Six).

This explanation seems to fit in with what the experiences of the September Six suggest, but als0 with what Don LeFevre, the church’s official spokesman in 1993, said of the SCMC: “[it] provides local church leadership with information designed to help them counsel with members who, however well-meaning, may hinder the progress of the church through public criticism.” There is a lot about this that I find deeply concerning. Considering I already think the church has some similarities with Animal Farm, this seems like something directly out of 1984 and the thought police. However, let us look at what the church representatives have to say about SCMC in the documentary.

Head of Media Relations Micheal Purdy

With this brief overview of what we know about the Strengthening Church Members Committee, let us look at what some of the excerpts from the documentary have to say about it. The first person asked about it is the Head of Media Relations, the brains behind the ‘I am a Mormon’ campaign (well, the one who copied it from Scientology, who then altered their campaign), Michael Purdy.

John Sweeney: What’s the Strengthening Church Members Committee? And does it still exist?

Micheal Purdy: I don’t know. I guess that’s not a question for me. I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know.

John Sweeney: You’re the head of Media Relations for the church?

Micheal Purdy: Right.

John Sweeney: I’ve spoken to people, um, ex-members of the, err, church, who say that the Strengthening Church Members Committee does still exist, does it exist?

Micheal Purdy: I… I.. Er. I’ve heard. Er. Yes there is a Strengthening Church Members Committee, but I couldn’t tell you the details of how that works but I would be happy to provide someone who can.

John Sweeney: Sorry for my confusion, but when I originally asked you weren’t sure, now you are sure and you do know that it exists and you will give me someone who will tell me more about it.

Firstly when questioned if he knew about the SCMC, the head of PR said that he had never heard of it before. That’s right; the head of PR said that he didn’t know if it existed, but then he changes his mind about it. So the head of PR initially out-rightly LIED about the SCMC by saying that he didn’t know about it, and then admitted he had heard of it but knew nothing about it (perhaps this is like if Gordon B. Hinckley knew if man becoming like God was taught at church, or maybe its more Brigham Young-style lying for the Lord). This made me wonder if he had not been told anything about it by his predecessors who may not only have known about it , but would have been able to say what the SCMC did. How then how did he not know anything about it? Don LeFevre clearly knew and spoke about it, so how did our current spokesman not know about it?

Elder Holland

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Perhaps we can forgive the head of PR for not knowing what the Strengthening Church Members Committee does: he might be new to the job and not privy to what the SCMC is or does. His intentional dishonesty, perhaps might require a PR statement for apology, but I am prepared to overlook that as a simple mistake. I actually felt sorry when I watched him, as he clearly was not prepared for such a question. With little luck from him, maybe Elder Holland can shed light on the matter?

Well, as it turns out, Elder Holland seemed to know just as little, and what he tells us doesn’t seem to fit with everything else we know about it. The following is my transcript of the interview:

JOHN SWEENEY: What is the Strengthening Church Members Committee?

ELDER JEFFREY R. HOLLAND: The Strengthening Church Members Committee was born some years ago to (pause) protect against predatory practices of polygamists.

SWEENEY: I asked what it is, not was

HOLLAND: That is what it is…

SWEENEY: So it does still exist?

HOLLAND: It does still exist; it does still exist…

SWEENEY: And it…er, looks at. It’s there to defend the church against polygamists?

HOLLAND: Principally, that is still its principal task.

SWEENEY: Ermmm. So what is its subsidiary task?

HOLLAND: I just…suppose to…to be protective generally, just to watch and to care for…any, err, insidious influence. But for all intents and purposes, that’s all that I know about it…is that it’s primarily there to guard against polygamy. That would be the substantial part of the work. I’m not on that committee so I don’t know much about it.

Polygamy? That is what Holland tells us the SCMC is all about. The church is so concerned about polygamists that it has a committee that is ‘primarily’ concerned with dealing with them. Considering how much the church tries to forget about polygamy, I find it interesting that this would be listed as its prime purpose being to deal with the potential threat of them. With over 14 million members across the globe, the church needs to establish a group that monitors its membership for potential predatory practices of polygamists?!? I thought the latest $3 billion mall was a waste of church resources, but forming a committee at the highest level of the church just to stop polygamists seems to be a bit excessive and on the same level. I haven’t seen many predatory polygamists recently, anecdotal I know, but still I doubt polygamy is reaching epidemic proportions in the members. (Ed. I guess it’s because the SCMC is doing its job.) And if this is what it is primarily about, then does that mean they got involved with the September Six because they thought that they were about to start a polygamist group? Perhaps Lavina Anderson was going to have D. Micheal Quinn sealed to her as her second husband.

Given that the church has told us that three of the twelve are involved with the committee, it makes me wonder how Elder Holland could not know much about it, or not even know what it does beyond polygamy. Did Elder Holland miss the meetings in which they spoke about the SCMC? Is the presence of SCMC so secretive that even the council of the twelve are not privy into what goes on within it? Is communication at the highest level of the church that bad that nobody knows what everybody else is doing?

…On the other hand, he’s old, so perhaps he simply didn’t remember the meetings they spoke about it.

Either way, both the interviews with Elder Holland and the Church spokesman did not end up portraying either of them very well (although Holland redeemed himself with his comments on shunning ex-mormons) and the church later sent its PR friends over to the BBC to hand deliver a complaint that Elder Holland was ambushed in the interview.

But even if the documentary was heavy-handed and polemic, I am still really confused about what the Strengthening Church Members Committee is all about. The official church release said that it was about teaching members about doctrine and alluded to gathering anti-mormon documents. The old spokesman, Don LeFevre, said it was about  collecting information for potential disciplinary action regarding criticism of the church, but Elder Holland is now telling me its all about Polygamy. With so many conflicting statements the whole thing is turning into a surreal Kafkan mystery in which we are like K in the Castle, who struggle to find out about a mysterious organisation that no one really knows what it is, not even the people who work for it.

Which leaves me to wonder…who on earth knows what the committee is or does? Do they even know themselves?

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51 Responses to Who on Earth knows what the ‘Strengthening Church Members Committee’ is or does?

  1. CounsellorNeil on March 29, 2012 at 3:46 AM

    Sounds like something from sci-fi films (eg Independence Day), where the government never knows about the department researching alien encounters, until the aliens suddenly become public :)

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  2. Bob on March 29, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    I have no idea what it does. I do know until the Church defines it what it is, you, I, any member, the World, will be free to define it as we/they wish.

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  3. Aaron R. on March 29, 2012 at 4:57 AM

    Part of the issue is that the evidence here is all so sketchy. For me, the only reliable source is the leaked memo and the comment from the Church. Those triangulate with Elder Holland’s comments – which are less reliable on their own but do consolidate a particular picture.

    What we have is a committee that primarily traces and observes incendiary trends in Mormonism. Thus we see them dealing with Satanic influences and other elements they view as apostasy.

    Conversion to polygamy is still a scary issue for the Church and there are still people who (particularly earlier this century) converted to polygamy (cf. French mission story). Thus I do not find Elder Holland’s comments completely unbelievable.

    My own sense is that we cannot now assume that the SCMC still has two apostles on the committee and actually I would suggest that after the September six fiasco they intentionally downplayed the role of this group. Probably even removing that high level of support. I imagine it is therefore primarily defunct or does very little at all. Hence Elder Holland might not know much about it because this was before he was called to be an Apostle.

    I agree that the responses were obfuscating at best and that Holland is probably more aware of what it does than what he let on but I can understand why he responded as he did. It reminds me of the Smoot hearings and the “I won’t give an inch!” mentality. He was clearly defensive and so whether he was ambushed or not this was clearly something he was not prepared for.

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  4. Jake on March 29, 2012 at 5:17 AM

    Counsellor Neil,

    I know it does sound like something you would expect to see on the X-files or something. Which is why I am so confused about it.

    Aaron,

    Would you accept the comment by Don LeFevre, the church spokesman, as reliable from his interview with the Salt Lake Tribune? I think that I would trust that. But I agree accounts from ex-communications are sketchy.

    Are the church really that scared about conversion to polygamy? Why? That seems to make no sense, given that in the PEW survey 90% of Mormons thought it was morally wrong, and almost all that I talk to struggle with it. It really seems like a fringe issue of a few in Utah. Perhaps this fear is a product of their cultural perceptions of the twelve and their exposure to it in Utah?

    As to it now being defunct, or close to it. I think the interview with the employee from public affairs that I quoted was done only 4-5 years ago, and that seemed to indicate that it was still fairly active and involved. I think Grant Palmers account of his excommunication in 2004 would consolidate with this. But, then he’s an ex-mormon so obviously we can’t trust anything he says.

    I do think however that it is probably not as extreme or intrusive as the impression is given of it. I can understand Holland’s reticence to disclose more, as I don’t think there is a positive way of saying that we have a group that collects any controversial, critical, or potential defamatory material on its members without it sounding like a secret police service.

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  5. Brian on March 29, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    “Do they (the SCMC members) even know themselves (what the committee is or does)?”

    If you ask them publicly, probably not.

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  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 29, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    To better understand the committee, look at its size and the other assignments the members have. It is a vestige.

    But predatory practices were a big deal in the 1960s and 70s. I’m aware of a few abusive cases, involving young single parents who were grossly abused through leverage exerted through their children.

    Now I suspect that doesn’t happen any more. So you have a small group that kind of does “stuff.”

    I would not call “I don’t know. I guess that’s not a question for me. I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know.” lying.

    Rather, what do you call a group that kind of does “stuff” when the stuff is mostly archive repetitive “crap” (which is what most anti-Mormon material is), occasionally keep a look out for activities that no longer are going on, and randomly looks into things but doesn’t have much over all input or effect?

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  7. Aaron R. on March 29, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    Jake,

    Sorry, I missed the Don Lefevre comment. It does not change the other evidence and actually, I think it, reinforces my position. First, his comment was in 1993. I do not doubt that there was a time when this committee worked hard to gather published materials from individuals who they thought was threatening the faith of the members but the Lefevre comment does not specify which type of information.

    For example, I have received one or two emails over the last few years about potentially predatory people (financially or emotionally) and it would be my guess that this might be related to the SCMC. This is conjecture but it makes sense from what we know about what the committee does.

    Re the excommunicated. It is not that the excommunicated people cannot be trusted but rather than their access to reliable information is limited.

    Yes, I think the Church really that scared about polygamy. Even if you are related to a polygamist and want to be baptized you need special approval. The leaders today grew up in an era when the boundary between polygamists and non-polygamists was not so clear and temple recommend questions were used to weed out polygamists.

    Grant Palmer is not a good example. He was disfellowshipped in 2004 for writing a highly publicized book on Mormon origins. It would not have taken a committee for that to come to the SP attention.

    Re Donald Jesse: Why would a PA employee have access to this committee? The COB is highly segmented in my experience and actually there is some distrust among different departments. I see no reason that he would be especially reliable. Plus it seems to me that he conflates the practice of collecting anti-Mormon material with the work of this committee. They are not the same thing.

    Just to be clear, I do not know myself what they do and I am not even really sure what I think about it. My immediate response is: ugghh! But, if there work is now primarily focused on situations of financial or emotional exploitation then I do not have a massive problem with that. It seems to me that the times of gathering documentation on academics (if that was ever widespread) has passed and that this committee does another kind of work.

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  8. ZelphTheLamanite on March 29, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    I have a question:

    Let’s say that abuse victims were perceived as a threat to the LDS Church both in PR terms and were seen as attacks on the good name of the Church.

    Is that something that the Strengthening Church Members Committee would cover? Reports from the way the Church has handled some victims would make a lot of sense if that were the case.

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  9. aerin on March 29, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    I bet there are large files about several prominent former mormons and mormon bloggers. The church leadership doesn’t answer to anyone, otherwise they could be forced to reveal those files to anyone who asks (like the FBI). So the committee is probably quite a lot like the McCarthy Committees of the 1950s.

    I would love to be proven wrong on this. Example of people who probably have files: The Tanners, Steve Benson, Tal Bachman, Sonja Johnson, Richard Packham, the founder of rfm (Eric K.), etc., etc.

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  10. Christian J on March 29, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I haven’t seen many predatory polygamists recently, anecdotal I know, but still I doubt polygamy is reaching epidemic proportions in the members.

    Just to this question alone:

    As a missionary in Southern Utah, I can say that I personally met individuals who left the Church to take on a polygamist lifestyle. (This is of course in a addition to the many well established sects throughout the region) I met them, because they really wanted to tell me how the mainstream Church was in apostasy.

    I also met more than one individual who proclaimed a prophetic calling from God – to lead Mormons back from fallen/water down Mormonism of today. (One guy stopped us in Walmart, claiming a John the baptist type role – to usher in the new prophet in place of Hinckley)

    The spirit of polygamy and prophets is still very much in the air of that desert kingdom.

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  11. Christian J on March 29, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    that said Andrew, I would doubt if polygamy is the ONLY important issue the SCMC is interested in addressing.

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  12. Howard on March 29, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    The church has a history of persecution and that mentality remains with us today in subtle ways and is sometimes exploited by framing the church and it’s members as victims and/or circling the wagons. The truth is today the church is much stronger than it was in the days of persecution and it’s only significant vulnerability is it’s own dishonesty and lack of transparency in dealing with it’s controversial past, doctrines and practices.

    The internet offers a forum to candidly discuss these issues and that poses a potential threat ONLY because the church chooses to abdicate it’s opportunity even invitation to lead the discussion. Of course this would require them to seek revelation and be honest about the issues and actually come up with some answers. Instead they choose to stick their heads in the sand and focus on their TBM base often leaving apologists with little to work with so we see a lot of if not lying spinning for the Lord. It is within the church’s power to hush it’s critics but that means facing into these questions and they apparently fear the fallout of that more than the critism they take by not doing it.

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  13. Nick Literski on March 29, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    #4:
    But, then he’s an ex-mormon so obviously we can’t trust anything he says.

    Somebody please tell me that was said “tongue in cheek.”

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  14. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Nick, usually I would pitch in and confirm that Jake was being ironic, but until I get a comment from you on my theosis post I will leave you to guess.

    ;)

    I was going to comment on the general audit committee, but having seen the reception my last comment got, will not.

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  15. Nick Literski on March 29, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Where’s this theosis post? I must have missed it.

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  16. Bonnie on March 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    I have files on my kids’s friends. I wasn’t going to say anything, but … parents unite! Don’t judge me. If they are later found, I will have forgotten.

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  17. Cowboy on March 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    From Jeffrey R. Hollands interview with Helen Whitney, for PBS’s The Mormons. The question was about the “folklore” in Mormon history used to explain the origin of blacks, and to justify the ban.

    Helen Whitney’s question:
    “What is the folklore, quite specifically?”

    Jeffrey Hollands Response:
    “Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. …”

    Jeffrey R. Holland has, as per wikipedia, both a Masters degree and Ph.D in American Studies. Again from wikipedia, one of his dissertations was on the religious sensibilities of Mark Twain, who was an occassional critic of Mormonism. Additionally, Holland taught institute before completing his education. He is probably a better qualified expert on the history of Mormon thought, than about anybody. While his above statement is not entirely dishonest, it is quite misleading. Certainly Holland of all people is acutely familiar with all of the teachings on race in Mormonism, both contemporary and historical. He comes across very disingenuously by claiming ignorance just on account of the fact that he wasn’t alive “back then”.

    He is also asked where he was when the ban was lifted:

    “I can remember exactly where I was. For us that’s the “where we [were] when Kennedy was shot,” this deep, deep, spiritual, emotional moment in the history of the church. I was a very young commissioner of education, still in my 30s, and I was coming over from my office in the church office building to the suite of General Authority offices for something or other. … I walked into the office of the General Authority I was going to see, and he said, “Have you heard the news?” This was barely moments out of the temple meeting and the announcement where it was official. And I said: “What news? I haven’t heard any news.” And he said all worthy men — regardless of race or status or circumstance — all worthy men are to receive priesthood.

    You’re going to think all I do is cry, but this is in the same family as that missionary experience I described to you. I started to cry, and I was absolutely uncontrollable. I felt my way to a chair … and I sort of slumped from the doorway into the chair and held my head, my face in my hands and sobbed. …

    There’s no issue in all my life that I had prayed more regarding — praying that it would change, praying that it would come in due time. I was willing to have the Lord speak, and I was loyal to the position and the brethren and the whole concept, but there was nothing about which I had anguished more or about which I had prayed more. And for that to be said in my lifetime, when I wasn’t sure it would happen in my lifetime, … it was one of the absolute happiest days of my life. …”

    So a guy with Ph.D. in American studies had been fervently praying for a change in the Priesthood ban, but didn’t once try and get a little historical perspective on the matter?? It’s just too much to swallow. This is all relevant because it demonstrates Holland’s model of dealing with issues he’d rather not talk about. Of course he claims ignorance of the Strengthening Church Member Committee, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t actually know exactly what they are and what they do! Reason would suggest that he does, and prior experience suggests that he won’t acknowledge that. Expect him to protect the image of the Church first, and be forthright only when it suits his agenda.

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  18. NewlyHousewife on March 29, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Some should inform fMh they’re being watched.

    On a serious note though, if the committee’s entire job is to dig stuff up wouldn’t the internet make their job obsolete?

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  19. Cowboy on March 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    NewlyHousewife:

    It would probably make it impossible.

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  20. Justin on March 29, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Some should inform fMh they’re being watched.

    Holy crap — I don’t want to know what they collect from LDS Anarchy!! — especially if Holland says they’re:

    it’s primarily there to guard against polygamy

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  21. dpc on March 29, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    If the SCMC just collects and archives materials that are unfriendly to the church, how is that an issue? If I had the time, I could do the same thing. Why is that so ominous and dark? I bet that Amazon or Google has a lot more information about me than the church will ever get, and yet those companies have yet to receive a shocking expose of their cookie software.

    If, as Aerin argues, there are “large” files on former Mormon bloggers (herself included, I guess), what’s the purpose? To use as a justification to harass and annoy them? I haven’t heard a single former Mormon talk about being watched or followed by active members.

    How is the information used? It seems like it can be used in disciplinary hearings, but beyond that it doesn’t seem to have much purpose. And if bishops and stake presidents are able to access that information, why haven’t we heard more about its workings from ex Mormon former bishops and stake presidents?

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  22. whizzbang on March 29, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Actually the first known instance of the Strengthening the Members comitte came in 1986 at the Sperry Symposium, it was talked about by Elder Carlos Asay then of the Seventy. It is on page 1-16 of that year’s Sperry Lectures, if anyone is interested

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  23. mapman on March 29, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    The polygamy thing doesn’t seem far-fetched to me. I have extended family who decided that they were supposed to practice polygamy and tried to convince my dad and other members of my family to leave the Church with them. This was in Bakersfield in the 60s I think. I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee was established primarily to deal with polygamy and then secondarily to deal with other things they perceived might be damaging to members of the Church. There secondary purpose could have come to overshadow their primary purpose over time as polygamy has become less of a problem (I presume).

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  24. Brian on March 29, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    “John Sweeney: What’s the Strengthening Church Members Committee? And does it still exist?

    Micheal Purdy: I don’t know.

    John Sweeney: I’ve spoken to people, um, ex-members of the, err, church, who say that the Strengthening Church Members Committee does still exist, does it exist?

    Micheal Purdy: “Yes there is a Strengthening Church Members Committee””

    Stephen M (Ethesis)– If it isn’t lying, what would you call it? If you were in court and Purdy was on the other side, what would you call it?

    Certainly the lie (to me) had a short shelf-life, but it was a non-truth for sure.

    I actually feel for these guys. They so want to not talk about it, but in the end they come clean (kind of).

    Holland picks his words so carefully, hoping that Sweeney doesn’t ask followup questions. Unfortunately for him, Sweeney asked numerous followups and Holland had to say more than he wanted to.

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  25. MH on March 29, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Jake, great post. I want to clarify a few things. DPC, I encourage you to read the link that Jake used to reference my post on “Latter-day Dissent.” There are some interesting quotes there.

    For example, it appears that Elder Oaks is much more knowledgeable than Holland for example. Quoting from my blog,

    According to Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, the Strengthening Church Members Committee is a “clipping service” that “pores over newspapers and other publications and identifies members accused of crimes, preaching false doctrine, criticizing leadership or other problems. That information is forwarded on to the person’s bishop or stake president, who is charged with helping them overcome problems and stay active in the Church.” Quoted in “News: Six Intellectuals Disciplined for Apostasy,” Sunstone 92 (November 1993): 69. The First Presidency further clarified the nature and history of the Strengthening Church Members Committee when it stated, “This committee serves as a resource to priesthood leaders throughout the world who may desire assistance on a wide variety of topics. It is a General Authority committee, currently comprised of Elder James E. Faust and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. They work through established priesthood channels, and neither impose nor direct Church disciplinary action.” Quoted in “News: Church Defends Keeping Files on Members,” Sunstone 88 (August 1992): 63. Many of those called in for investigatory interviews or discipline have claimed that this committee is responsible for compiling incriminating evidence against targeted members.

    So, the SCMC played a VERY large role in the September Six. They probably do follow polygamists as well, but I suspect that many leave (such as Kody Brown of “Sister Wives” fame–he’s actually a returned LDS missionary. His parents converted to fundamentalist while Kody was on his mission. Then Kody joined after.)

    It should be noted that the SCMC was created in the 1980′s under President Benson. It’s a little ironic that Benson was a staunch critic of the Communists infiltrating the government in the 1960′s.

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  26. Jake on March 29, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    If the church is building files on criminal members, critics, and polygamists then it seems as if the strengthening church member committee is really more about dealing with future PR scandals then actually strengthening members. If you can identify and either stop the targeted insidious influences, to use Holland’s term, keep them quiet, or excommunicate them then its a great way of keeping the churches name in good repute through damage limitation. Which is the same thing that Holland and the PR Guy did in the interviews they tried protect the churches image first even if it made them look clueless, or feeble.

    You have to admire their ability to sacrifice their reputation and image for the church. Holland hasn’t done it just once, but as Cowboy points out, repeatedly. I don’t know if I could make myself do what they did to protect the churches image.

    It makes me wonder whatever happened to the truth will go forth proudly, nobly and independently? Apparently, the truth now needs a PR firm to manage its image as it goes forth, and to avoid answering questions has a team of representatives who dodge the questions or give confusing answers. Truth has certainly been downgraded in its power since Joseph Smith gave us the standard of truth.

    Perhaps, it is harmless enough for the church to be collecting files on bloggers and critics. As DPC points out google, amazon, pretty much every company collects huge amounts of data. I guess my problem would be that why bother using time, effort and resources on policing members and collecting it all then? Its the good, better, best principle. I am sure there must be better things that a committee can do with their time then collect newspaper clippings, and monitor blogs. Its not like half the world is still in poverty, or that inequality between men and women still pervades the world.

    And yes Nick I was being Ironic.

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  27. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 29, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    Nick: http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/03/23/alt-ss-theosis-humans-partaking-of-the-divine-nature/

    NewlyHousewife — FMH does keep track of the domains that send them visitors, so they are able to keep track of the viewership they have from the Church office building ;)

    Brian — I would say that Purdy did a poor job of saying “I don’t know. I guess that’s not a question for me. I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know.”

    Which is what I would expect someone to say who is bobbling “I don’t know enough to answer that question completely — I’m not the right person and I’ll have to find you someone who is”

    What he is obviously trying to say there is that he isn’t the right person to answer the question.

    I’m sorry, I see people tripped up like that all the time.

    Of course I would expect better of a competent media specialist … though I’d like to see the unedited interview as well.

    Note that when he gets a chance to clarify he says “there is a Strengthening Church Members Committee, but I couldn’t tell you the details of how that works but I would be happy to provide someone who can.” — again, he states that someone else would do a better job of answering the question.

    He could have just said “I don’t know, I’ll have to find someone who can tell you” if he was intending to lie about it. Even better, he could have, if he wanted to lie, and was intending to lie, have said “I don’t know.” “Sorry, I don’t know.”

    Reminds me of when I was accused of lying.

    I asked a witness “what is in that packet”

    The witness responded “blank paper”

    So I said “It is blank paper. Give it to the court reporter.”

    It wasn’t blank paper. However, the court reporter’s job was to make a copy of it for everyone and pass it around immediately, which she did.

    Obviously I wasn’t intending to mislead anyone about what was in the package. The judge agreed with me. Sure, I lied about it and then made sure that everyone immediately got the proof? When I had nothing about what was in the package except what the hostile witness had just told me?

    But there is a real difference between someone giving an inept answer and someone intentionally lying about something.

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  28. [...] Elder Holland expressed with respect to the Strengthening Church Members Committee, he asks: “So who on Earth knows what the ‘Strengthening Church Members Committee’ is or does?“ …even if the documentary was heavy-handed and polemic, I am still really confused [...]

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  29. Rick on March 29, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    Have any of you ever thought how much better you would be if you scrutinized yourself as much as y’all are Elder Holland and Co.? Remember Matt. 7:1-3.

    If any of you have never given the exact, complete, satisfactory response that you’re demanding from Church leaders, think twice about casting the first stone.

    Good grief.

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  30. Thomas Parkin on March 29, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    Whatever this committee’s current make-up, they’ve sure got their work cut out for them now.

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  31. cowboy on March 29, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    Rick:

    Interesting choice of analogy, ie, “casting stones”. By all accounts the purpose of the Strengthening Church Members Committee is to stock pile stones for use in in a religious court.

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  32. Rick on March 29, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Cowboy:

    Couldn’t we say the same thing about all of our acts/misdeeds and stuff being recorded for use against us at judgement day?

    I don’t see anything wrong with dissension being monitored- the Church obviously has an interest in keeping the doctrine pure and making sure that incorrect teaching are not being propagated under their name.

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  33. wreddyornot on March 29, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    I don’t see anything wrong with the Church and, in particular, its leaders, especially at the top, being transparent and forthright. The truth shall set you free.

    Of course, Genly Ai says truth is a matter of the imagination.

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  34. Jake on March 30, 2012 at 5:13 AM

    Rick,

    Your point about records being kept in heaven to judge us undermines any need for the church to monitor dissension at all. It seems completely superfluous to be doing something twice. If God’s keeping tabs then lets leave it to him and get on with other things instead. It makes me wonder if they do not trust that the records in heaven will be accurate so they need to make sure we have a copy here? And do they not trust God’s judgement in the future from these notes so they have to judge and control people now?

    As for keeping the doctrine pure and and stopping incorrect teaching. I think Jesus said something about this. Something to do with motes and beams and eyes. Maybe they should concentrate on stripping general conference and Church publications of myths, distortions and incorrect principles first before they start compiling evidence against members.

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  35. hawkgrrrl on March 30, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Interesting post. One quibble – Joseph Smith was hardly forthright when asked questions he didn’t want to answer. I think the problem is that we are so insecure about our beliefs. The other issue, IMO, is that there is some need for the church to monitor the faithful so the church isn’t corrupted from inside. But doing that kind of monitoring makes us sound like paranoid controlling nut jobs. Hence the insecurity. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men “deep down in places you don’t like to talk about in your potlucks and linger longers, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you actually saves souls. I would just prefer you said thank you.”

    So, as you can see, explaining internal vigilance is never an easy task.

    While I think Jake is right in principle and theory about deferring to God’s judgment, it doesn’t hurt to have a few eyes on the lookout for rogue prophets, mission presidents who want to turn the sisters into a personal harem, and those who publish criticism of the church with the intent and effect of misleading people. However, the reality is that this type of committee needs to be kept in very strong check or run the risk of alienating the faithful rather than strengthening them. Individual bloggers don’t seem to me to be a threat. Setting up an alternate religion would be. Individual apostasy doesn’t need a committee. I would hope the committee is worried about the plight of those who leave wholescale: the divorced, YSAs, etc.

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  36. Mike S on March 30, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    #35 hawk:

    Great comment – didn’t just want to vote thumbs up.

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  37. Cowboy on March 30, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Rick:

    I was just noting the irony in your “casting stones” metaphor. In short, human shortcomings is not a license for Holland to be so selective with the truth. He helps run an organization that amasses huge volumes of wealth and power by capitalizing on the religious claim that God placed him in authority. He deserves to be scrutinized. If he were just a guy next door bearing testimony, perhaps my level scrutiny would be overkill.

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  38. Mike S on March 30, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Perhaps my biggest complaint with this whole issue is that this is largely a result of the Church leaders’ own actions.

    - Women gave blessings in the early church. Later leaders disallowed this. Some women write about this discrepancy. Let’s investigate them with the SCMC.

    - In the 1970′s people complain about the treatment of blacks in the Church. They are ostracized as not supporting the Church leaders. The policy is changed, even though we don’t know how the policy (for which people were disciplined if they disagreed) was started.

    - Joseph Smith preached against polygamy while he secretly practiced it. It became the de facto standard among the Church leaders. Yet now monogamy is held up as always being the standard and the SCMC investigates people talking about polygamy.

    And the “shading of the truth” that leads to this continues. From the same documentary referenced in the OP, here is an excerpt of an interview with Elder Holland:

    Sweeney: “As a Mormon, in the temple, I’ve been told, he [Romney] would have sworn an oath that he would not pass on what happens in the temple lest he slit his throat. Is that true?”

    Holland: “That’s not true. That’s not true. We do not have penalties in the temple.”

    Sweeney: “You used to.” [regarding the oaths]

    Holland: “We used to.”

    Sweeney: “Therefore he swore an oath saying I will not tell anyone about the secrets here lest I slit my throat.”

    Holland: “Well, the vow that was made was regarding the ordinance – the ordinance – of the temple.”

    Again, until he was called on it, Elder Holland was “shading the truth”, if you will. Yet we are expected to accept everything at face value, or potentially be investigated up to the level of the SCMC.

    So, ironically, many of the issues for which the SCMC supposedly exists are the result of people investigating various things claimed by different church leaders trying to figure out which is “most true”.

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  39. Rick on March 30, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Well, that’s fine then. You will think what you will think and I will think what I will.

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  40. Cowboy on March 30, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    Regarding Mike S:

    I just watched the full interview on youtube, and it’s fairly interesting, though somewhat shoddy and a clearly rushed production. Still, the interview with Holland was the only interesting thing in there. To emphasize, I don’t know if we can call it “shading the truth” with Hollands comment. The question he was asked was whether Romney would have swore the oath with penalty, and Holland emphatically states “that’s not true”. It is only when he is pressed for clarification that he admits that the Temple used to include the penalty. He would have been better served stating that he doesn’t discuss temple ordinances.

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  41. hawkgrrrl on March 30, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    To add another example to Mike’s list (although it’s not the SCMC), the missionaries who vet the answers to FAQs on mormon.org profiles stated that an answer a friend submitted was rejected for its potential to inaccurately portray facts about or doctrines of the church. Yet what they said was true (that JS practiced polygamy while preaching against it and we didn’t know why). Sometimes it seems that portraying what is accurate but unflattering is viewed as weakening the church. The rejection might as well have said it was verboten because it was accurate but sounds bad.

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  42. aerin on March 30, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    What about the right to privacy? Posting anything on the internet (or publishing, for that matter), removes that expectation for privacy (as dpc points out). There was never a privacy release that I signed when I was baptized at 8. Is there a reason that I should be able to know what information the church has about me and how they use it?

    What about private information shared with one’s bishop or friends? Will that be tracked somewhere? What about former members who never show up on the bloggernacle? Do they have files? What about faithful families? If they have children or siblings who publish or write on the internet, are they monitored?

    Do other churches pay people to do this type of monitoring or research? How open are they?

    It doesn’t seem in line with Christ’s teachings, love one another, turn the other cheek, feed my sheep.

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  43. Bob on March 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    I took those Blood Oaths in the Temple (1960s), and everyone believed them to be a reality.

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  44. Justin on March 30, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    What about private information shared with one’s bishop or friends? Will that be tracked somewhere?

    I’ve heard reports that such is the case on membership records.

    Also, Hawkgrrl brought up the mormon.org facebook profiles — which are potentially another form of membership “tracking”.

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  45. Mike S on March 30, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    #40 Cowboy: To emphasize, I don’t know if we can call it “shading the truth” with Hollands comment. The question he was asked was whether Romney would have swore the oath with penalty, and Holland emphatically states “that’s not true”.

    I agree that it perhaps was a bit more than “shading the truth”. I just personally have a hard time calling it what it is out of respect for his office.

    If interested, here is a link to the part of the program with the Holland interview.

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  46. Brian on March 30, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    “I took those Blood Oaths in the Temple (1960s), and everyone believed them to be a reality.”

    Yep. I also doubt the oaths of vengeance against those who killed JS and HS that were part of the temple ceremony for decades in the 1800s were spoken in the temple as only symbolic and yet I can hear today’s leaders claiming that if they were brought to light in the public square.

    It’s all about damage control, not truth.

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  47. [...] The BBC documentary on Mitt’s Mormonism has led to discussion of Jeffrey Holland and the strengthening the members committee, plus the church’s reaction (Elder Holland can make good on his promise to meet with [...]

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  48. Mormon Heretic on April 2, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    I wanted to point out one thing about Grant Palmer. He was disfellowshipped in 2004. Upon notification of a new church court to be held against him, he resigned his membership in Feb 2012. You can hear his latest interview at Mormon Stories. See http://mormonstories.org/324-326-grant-palmer-returns-to-discuss-sexual-allegations-against-joseph-smith-william-and-jane-law-and-his-resignation/

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  49. Elder Chantdown on September 6, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Alma 35:5
    Now their rulers and their PRIESTS and their teachers did not let the people know concerning their desires; therefore they found out privily the minds of all the people.
    AND WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

    I thought I would post the actual video link since the audio and visual can help people in feeling and discerning the spirit of the matter as well.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9djYmyumHKs

    It is a testament to the ironically intimate relationship between good and evil that the SCMC sounds like something out of Cold War Russia and yet went in under Benson. Paranoia is not the way to Lord over the these demons. What you fear controls you. LDS Leaders started out resisting evil, that resistance and pride fed and fueled the church’s ‘enemies’. This led to an extreme spirit of paranoia. Faltering faith in anything other than money has led to steady increase in the wickedness of the people. Priesthood leaders are people too. And, at this point P.R.iestly people like those who control the church today are the worst of the whole lot. They no longer cower to evil…but are beginning to worship it.

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  50. Elder Chantdown on September 6, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    At this point the institution is working endlessly to keep a F-I-L-E on you+your kindred dead but is itself, almost entirely devoid of L-I-F-E. When we see such a dire dearth of the Spiritual Gifts in The Church, it’s like watching a poisoned puppy die a slow painful death. That poor D-O-G is in need of men who heed G-O-D and can, with love, fulfill the wise purposes of the Generator Operator Destroyer of Heaven and Earth.

    http://heavenonearthblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/spiritual-gift-giving-and-receiving/

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