The September Six and the Struggle for the Soul of Mormonism

Most readers of this blog have likely heard of the “September Six”—the six feminists and intellectuals who faced church discipline in September 1993 for their research and writing related to the theology and history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One—Lynne Kanavel Whitesides—was disfellowshipped. Five—Avraham Gileadi, Paul Toscano, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and D. Michael Quinn—were excommunicated. Though local church leaders held the disciplinary councils, there is good reason to believe that general authorities coordinated these councils.

While the “September Six” is a catchy moniker, it threatens to obscure that month’s events as isolated anomalies. Just in time for the thirtieth anniversary, Sara M. Patterson’s book The September Six and the Struggle for the Soul of Mormonism will be released this month.

I received an advanced copy courtesy of the publisher, Signature Books. I was surprised when the book opened with the story of David Wright, a former BYU professor who was excommunicated in 1994 while living in Boston for publishing unorthodox perspectives on the Book of Mormon. It soon became clear that Patterson was setting the stage to discuss not only the individuals who faced church discipline in September 1993, but the larger story of an era of intellectual retrenchment in the LDS church where church leaders and members clashed over which narratives of the Restoration were okay to publish.

Patterson does indeed discuss each of the six—their work that led to the disciplinary councils, the results of the councils, and the intellectual and spiritual paths that each followed in the decades to come. Patterson uses a variety of sources for the book, including personal interviews or correspondence with several of the key participants. I was moved to hear more about the experience of Margaret Toscano, who was excommunicated in 2000, seven years after her husband Paul was excommunicated as part of the Six. Patterson writes, “It should have been Margaret Toscano. She was the primary focus of the church authorities’ attention until her husband, Paul, stepped in. She did not need to be rescued” (213). It was an interesting manifestation of the church’s sexism that infantilizes women and considers their priesthood-holding husbands as spiritually responsible for them.

The September Six and the Struggle for the Soul of Mormonism is available for pre-order. Come for the stories of the September Six, stay for Patterson’s in-depth analysis of the church’s purity system that placed some ideas and bodies inside a circle of acceptability and pushed others out.

And while you are waiting for your copy of the book to arrive, you can read this roundtable from Dialogue with insights from Taylor Petrey, Jana Riess, Patrick Mason, Kristine Haglund, Benjamin E. Park, and Amanda Hendrix-Komoto.

Katie Ludlow Rich
Katie Ludlow Rich
Katie Ludlow Rich is a writer and independent scholar focused on 19th and 20th-century Mormon women's history. Email at katierich87 at gmail .com


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