SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn, the author of controversial articles dealing with polygamy and the role of women in the church, says he is being investigated by the church for apostasy.
Quinn said Wednesday he had received a letter from his ecclesiastical leader, Stake President Paul A. Hanks, urging a meeting before Quinn left Salt Lake City. Quinn was to move to California this week.
Quinn is a former Brigham Young University history professor and outspoken critic of the church's efforts to suppress both intellectuals and ultraconservatives within the 8.5-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hanks' letter cited scholarly articles written by Quinn claiming that modern church leaders have ignored historical evidence that Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, taught that women could receive the faith's priesthood.
Hanks said he was particularly concerned about an Associated Press story in which Quinn accused church leaders of "religious imperialism" by demanding conformity.
"I have been anxious to meet with you and find out your personal feelings about the church," Hanks said in the letter dated Feb. 7.
He cited a section of a church handbook that defines an apostate as one who "repeatedly acts in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or its leaders" or "persists in teaching as church doctrine information that is not church doctrine" after being warned.
"My obligation is to investigate that and take action that is right for the member and the church," Hanks wrote.
Quinn, who describes himself as a faithful Mormon, said he believes he is being set up for excommunication and has declined Hanks' invitation.
It would not be the first time he has been disciplined.
In 1985, Quinn said, members of the church's Council of the Twelve Apostles secretly tried to punish him through a local church leader for publishng accounts of church-condoned polygamy after plural marriages were banned by church leaders in 1890.
He said the local church leader, however, refused to cooperate and told Quinn of the involvement of the council, which is second in authority to the faith's First Presidency.
Quinn, who has a doctorate from Yale, left church-owned Brigham Young in 1988, claiming that officials there were attempting to suppress his studies.
Hanks said Wednesday he was dismayed that Quinn had chosen to talk to reporters about the action.
"This is private communication and doesn't belong in the press," he said. I am acting as a stake president under my own responsibility.
"I wish he would call me instead of talking to you," he said.
News of possible disciplinary action against Quinn has sent ripples through Salt Lake City's close-knit community of Mormon scholars. But many, including the editor of the book that contained the article about women in the priesthood, wish Quinn would open a dialogue with the church.
Maxine Hanks, who edited "Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism," said she supports Quinn and stands by "everything in my book and his essay.
"I wish we had a better dialogue between church leaders and scholars," Hanks said. "Both sides feel they're being attacked."
The book was published by Signature Books, which produces several volumes a year about Mormon issues. Publisher Gary Bergera said he finds it frightening that a single local authority has so much power over someone else's spiritual well-being.
"For the church to send a message to its historians and other scholars that local and regional officials can determine what those scholars can publish runs counter to everything that I've ever been taught in, and cherished about, the LDS church," Bergera said.