David Twede, 47, a scientist, novelist, and fifth-generation Mormon, is managing editor of MormonThink.com, an online magazine produced largely by members of the Mormon Church that welcomes scholarly debate about the religion’s history from both critics and true believers.
A Mormon in good standing, Twede has never been disciplined by Latter Day Saints leadership. But it now appears his days as a Mormon may be numbered because of a series of articles he wrote this past week that were critical of Mitt Romney.
On Sunday, Twede says his bishop, stake president, and two church executives brought him into Florida Mormon church offices in Orlando and interrogated him for nearly an hour about his writings, telling him, "Cease and desist, Brother Twede."
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Twede says that during the interrogation he felt “attacked, cornered, and very anxious."
The four church leaders verbally chastised him, he says, for hiding his identity on MormonThink and his personal blog in order to avoid discipline. Twede, who writes using only his first name, says they kept asking him why he didn’t identify himself online if he had nothing to hide.
“I told them I hide my name precisely because of things like this,” he says. “I said, ‘Look how fast you got to me.’ I know a lot of members don’t want their life disturbed. In the Mormon church, if you’re not part of the uniform group, you are ostracized.”
Twede asked church leaders how they came up with his name so fast after posting the articles. They wouldn't tell him, but he says he’s since been told by a church insider that a contributor to the pro-Mormon Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, many of whose members are professors at Brigham Young University, alerted church officials in Salt Lake City, who apparently informed his local ecclesiastical leaders.
“When they interrogated me, they denied that they were on a witch hunt, but they kept asking me, ‘Who are the other individuals you work with on MormonThink?’” he says. “They continued demanding that I tell them. But I didn’t.”
Twede's situation was first publicly disclosed this week on an ex-Mormon online discussion site by Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist for The Arizona Republic and grandson of former secretary of agriculture and Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson.
Benson, who left Mormonism in 1993, the same year he won the Pulitzer, is now a vocal critic of the church and is an active voice on the ex-Mormon sites.
“What you’re seeing with David is not atypical of what the church has done in the past, where local leadership becomes focused on riding into battle under the flag ‘out damn spot’ and ridding itself or perceived apostates,” Benson tells The Daily Beast. “I was under this kind of investigation when I left in '93. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of an excommunication. I no longer wanted to be a member of that organization.”
In his role as managing editor of MormonThink, Twede wrote an article about Romney last month titled “The God of Mitt Romney: Why Do Some Claim He’s Not Christian?”
Then last week he posted several stories about the political history of LDS and how the church may or may not influence Romney, as well as a few blog posts that were tongue-in-cheek takes on the church. And that was apparently all it took for church leaders to intervene.
“When they brought me into the office, they told me they were upset by the way I had portrayed myself,” he says. “They didn't like that I was writing a blog critical of the church, and they were upset by the fact that I was discussing the temple, which is connected to Mitt Romney in my article. I revealed things about the temple, and secrecy, and other things that they just don’t want anyone to talk about.”
Twede took down his blog in an effort to compromise with church leaders and even pulled some material off MormonThink. But he says it apparently didn’t change their view that he is an apostate, which means a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle.
Word has already begun to spread about Twede’s possible excommunication among members and former members of the church. While Benson's post about Twede has been taken down from the Mormon chat room at Twede's request, “people are really angry about this,” Benson says. Supporters have planned a candlelight vigil in support of Twede outside the Orlando Temple on Saturday, Sept. 29.
Twede was initially reluctant to talk about it, but he decided that "the public should be aware of what is happening within the walls of the Mormon church to those that dissent during this ‘Mormon Moment'."
Twede insists the church shouldn’t be allowed to act in this manner and quietly get away. “This encourages them to continue with others using similar tactics,” he says. “We prefer they act responsibly with those that dissent. We believe this article will in fact halt disciplinary action against me. However, my feelings about being part of this organization are changing rapidly. Even if they proceed, it will not be considerably harmful to me anymore.”
Twede, who is trained in physics and molecular biology and did his undergraduate work at Cal-Berkeley and his graduate work at the University of Michigan, works with lasers and light to analyze the makeup of material. He takes a similarly scientific, analytical approach to his editing job at MormonThink, which is billed as an “objective look at Mormonism.”
The online journal, which has been around for about eight years, offers a variety of posts about church history that are not necessarily being taught in the official curriculum but which, Twede says, “is accurate.”
Twede started contributing to MormonThink about four years ago and says he was recently asked to be managing editor when the former editor resigned after also being “confronted and pressured” by the Church leaders, according to Twede.
“Rather than go through the excommunication, he resigned for family reasons,” explains Twede, who notes that after the former editor resigned, LDS leaders kept it quiet. “They didn’t want anyone to know about MormonThink. They wanted him to take the site down.”
Twede was told that the blog site he occupied has now been taken over by someone else. "I think a Mormon apologist group is running it now,” he says. “If you see it, you’ll notice that it is critical of MormonThink.”
Despite the unpleasant interrogation this week, Twede says he does not want to ruin the public reputation of church leaders in Florida because he believes they are “acting as agents of HQ leadership in Salt Lake.”