Sustaining “right or wrong” and kangaroo Church courts
The sustaining “right or wrong” belief has its roots in early Mormonism, in a secret, oath-bound vigilante group known as the Mormon Danite band or “Destroying Angels.” Mormon Danites took oaths to support a brother “right or wrong” even unto the shedding of blood. They were expected to sustain, protect, defend, and obey Mormon leaders under all circumstances. Members of the Danite band considered themselves as much bound to obey the heads of the Church as to obey God. To disobey was punishable by death.
My rude awakening to the modern-day version of the sustaining “right or wrong” Mormon rule came through Charles Parsons, when he unexpectedly stopped by my home on February 11, 1976. Parsons demanded that I meet with Parker that evening or a Church court would be convened. My Church membership was on the line, according to Parsons. When I asked him why I should meet with Parker, he insisted, “there could only be one voice in the stake and that was the voice of Stake President Parker.” Parsons then said I was required to sustain Parker “right or wrong.” I refused those terms on the spot.
It is commonly taught in the LDS Church that members should support all actions by presiding Church officers. If these actions are flawed, Mormons believe the leaders — not the members who support the incorrect actions — will be held accountable. According to Parsons, if the excommunications of the four Mormon men occurred in error, I was still expected to sustain Parker regarding those stake disciplinary council judgments — even though I believed all parties were innocent of any violation that could justify such action.
The issue at stake was the 1975 excommuncations of four Mormons — Wallace Brown, Jeffrey Watts, Brian Watts, and Paul Knightley. These men lived in Bankstown Ward, adjacent to Hurstville, in the Sydney Australia South Stake, presided over by Parker.
Jeff Watts, an associate of Wallace Brown, was the first to be excommunicated. Brown was allowing LDS missionaries to use his home to teach prospective converts. Watts was upset when missionaries abruptly stopped coming to Brown’s home. They were teaching two people there and Watts was concerned the couple would be lost to the LDS Church. He phoned Earl Carr Tingey, president of the Australia Sydney Mission, and asked for an explanation. Tingey refused to respond. Watts questioned Tingey, at a Sunday meeting at Bankstown Ward, a few days later. After Tingey brushed him aside, Watts told Tingey his behavior was unlawful. Jeff Watts was speedily excommunicated by a stake high council court, upon the basis of “evidence” from LDS mission president, Earl Tingey.
The final point put to Jeff Watts at his excommunication trial was, “Do you accept what we say as leaders of the Church in this stake?” Watts replied, “Yes, in righteousness.” According to Watts, the court’s answer to his response was, “No, right or wrong!”
After the trial of Jeff Watts, there was an attempt to excommunicate Wallace Brown, the following night. Brown had challenged a stake presidency edict that prohibited his wife, Taisa, from asking the children in her Bankstown Ward classes to kneel in prayer to maintain reverence. Taisa was told this behavior was too much like the Roman Catholics. Wallace Brown claimed stake officials had interfered with his wife’s prerogative.
Brown had also corrected Maximilian Forstpointner, the bishop of Bankstown Ward, who had tried to arbitrarily change the time of Sunday priesthood meetings without an elder’s quorum vote. Brown asked Forstpointner to obey the Church law of common consent. Forstpointner condescended and allowed the elder’s quorum to vote. Shortly thereafter, Brown received a scribbled carbon copy charge sheet summonsing him to a stake high council court. With no verifiable charges presented against him, Wallace Brown was disfellowshipped at his first Church court, which lasted nine hours, until the cock crowed.
Bishop Maximilian Forstpointner confronted Brian Watts and Paul Knightley soon after Brown’s first trial and demanded to know if they would support him “right or wrong.” These two young men stood firmly against Forstpointner’s requirement and they were soon summonsed to a Church court. The question of sustaining “right or wrong” was put to them a number of times, and they were drawn into nasty disputes and name-calling by those who presided over the court. Watts and Knightley were excommunicated because they refused to sustain local Church leaders, especially Forstpointner, “right or wrong.”
Brian Watts and Paul Knightley were probably excommunicated to eliminate them as witnesses so they could not testify against Forstpointer. They were present when he attempted to change the priesthood meeting time in violation of the common consent law.
Wallace Brown was excommunicated from the LDS Church three months after he was disfellowshipped. Independent witnesses, who were waiting outside the court at Brown’s excommunication trial, claimed he was verbally abused in an “unchristian-like manner” by LDS authorities during his rowdy second trial. Brown openly criticized this court for excommunicating Brian Watts and Paul Knightley. Facing no specific charges — and dealing only with personal harassment — Brown declared he was “in the synagogue of Satan…” He left the room and was subsequently excommunicated from the LDS Church.
In November 1978, while still listed as a disfellowshipped Church member, I prepared a seven-page pamphlet, Free Agency and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia, with the assistance of another member, John Mitchell. The pamphlet outlined the “…disintegration of respect for the rights and freedom of the individual within certain quarters…of Sydney…In the Church in Sydney, a number of individuals have been removed from the fellowship of the Church for failing to sustain their local leaders right or wrong, i.e., obedience to authority without regard to personal feelings, conscience, personal revelation, any second witness, self respect, or right of choice…”
Copies of the Free Agency pamphlet were mailed to the presiding officers of every stake, ward, district, and branch of the LDS Church in Australia, each Mormon apostle in Salt Lake City, various LDS mission presidents around the world, and selected Church members in Sydney. John Mitchell and I were promptly excommunicated, along with Stuart Olmstead, who had financed the distribution of the tract. Parker had been replaced by Graham Sully as stake president. Prior to my excommunication trial, when Sully handed me the court summons, he accused me of “causing confusion in the Church.”