LDS church excommunicates podcaster for ‘public opposition to the Church and its leaders’

ST. GEORGE — A Washington City man has been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for what his local congregation’s leader calls apostate behavior and deliberate public opposition to the church and its leaders.

Bill Reel was hand-delivered a letter from church personnel informing him of his dismissal from the church Sunday afternoon.

Reel, who once served as a bishop for the church, hosts the “Mormon Discussions” podcast, a series of regularly released audio programs examining often controversial subjects concerning the church, such as policy on LGBT issues and the involvement of the church in Utah politics.

In one of his recent podcasts, provocatively titled “Elder Holland – Liar Liar Pants on Fire,” Reel accuses Jeffry R. Holland of lying to members on multiple occasions. Holland, who is from St. George, serves as an apostle, one of the highest-ranking church positions.

Reel released a digitized copy of his excommunication letter Monday. The letter is signed by Emerson Carnavale, who acts as a stake president overseeing a conglomerate of congregations in and around Washington City.

Prior to his excommunication, Reel participated in a church disciplinary council Nov. 27 organized by area leaders in order to address what they call his “apostate behavior.” The council’s decision, as written by Carnavale, reads as follows:

After many thoughts and prayers on this matter, we have determined that your views and behavior are apostate, and that there is no indication that you are willing to work on realigning your views or on changing your behavior. You have shown no remorse for your actions as you continue to act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church and its leaders. Therefore, the decision we have made is to excommunicate you from the Church.

Carnavale writes that Reel has been publicly sharing his opposition to the church in an effort to persuade others to his point of view.

In a statement written in response to his excommunication, Reel says the letter represents “just more of the many games that Mormonism plays,” explaining that it speaks in generalities rather than addressing what was actually said during the disciplinary council.

Bill Reel, host of the “Mormon Discussions” podcast, wears a tie in support of the LGBT community, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Bill Reel, St. George News

During the nearly two-hour proceeding, Reel, alongside his wife, outlined a substantial list of grievances to the gathering of men known as high councilors – locally-based members of the church’s priesthood.

Topics he addressed included what he calls “messy” historical inconsistencies in the church’s doctrine and scriptures, “unhealthy” church practices regarding its treatment of women and LGBT members and alleged dishonesty on the part of top church leadership, among other issues.

While Reel and all of the participants were required to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to participate in the disciplinary council, an anonymous third party who did not sign the NDA reportedly “infiltrated” the council chambers prior to the meeting and set up a recording device. The recording was released by the “Radio Free Mormon” podcast Sunday night.

Reel told St. George News he was aware that the anonymous third party was going to make an attempt to record the proceeding but that he wasn’t working with or encouraging the individual to do so.

“I wasn’t in on it,” he said. However, he verified the authenticity of the audio for St. George News and pointed out some candid responses from the high councilors.

On the recording, one unidentified high councilman explains how Reel’s criticism makes the church appear:

I think that the purpose of the council, as was mentioned at the first — now, your integrity is not in question at all; it isn’t — the purpose of this council is to look at protecting the integrity of the church. And you mentioned that as well. … But I believe now that pretty much as you outlined every step of your presentation, if you take all that, there is no integrity left in the church.

And so that’s a problem. There are a lot of nuances there. You are a very intelligent man. You’ve looked at sources as you’ve said on both sides, all the information there. It leaves the church with zero integrity — that we’re all here to protect, and I think it’s important – critical, in fact.

This section of the proceedings seems consistent with previous statements from the church. In an article on MormonNewsroom.org, they state that protecting the integrity of the church is one of the key reasons for holding disciplinary councils.

“The Church teaches its members to follow the example of Jesus Christ in leading moral, faith-centered lives,” the article reads. “Anyone who does not meet these standards and significantly harms the integrity of the Church by their actions may face Church discipline.”

The full audio and transcript of the proceeding is available on the Radio Free Mormon website.

In Reel’s post-excommunication statement, he addresses what he calls the lack of transparency on the part of church leadership.

“Mormonism can not stand an honest investigation,” he writes. “I learned this the hard way. Mormonism itself does not trust the truth seeker to explore both sides objectively and dissuades one from such a course at every turn and hence it poisons the well of every data point that seeks to expose its shadow.”

Citing the privacy of individuals involved, church officials previously said they do not comment on disciplinary proceedings.

Read more: Southern Utah man who served as Mormon bishop faces excommunication

Multiple attempts by St. George News to reach someone from the church following news of the official excommunication were unanswered.

Reel previously told St. George News that he didn’t want to be removed from the church.

“I don’t want to be severed from my tribe,” he said. However, since his official excommunication was made official Sunday, he said his wife and four children all “united” in a decision to resign their membership as well.

“I wouldn’t go back,” Reel writes in his statement. He continued:

This journey wasn’t easy. It hurt and at some points it hurt a lot. Learning your Religion and the God your religion handed you are not what was claimed is chaotic and imposed a ton of anxiety, hurt, anger, and grief. But what I have gained from this journey I wouldn’t trade for anything. Empathy, Learning to value authenticity over belonging, appreciation for diversity, learning to claim my independence, recognizing the moral authority within myself, and learning to confidently stand on my own ground and for my truth, oh…. and the Best friends in the world!

In the disciplinary letter, Carnavale likewise writes that Reel and his family can still look to the church for support in the future, regardless of his excommunication.

“We are still your brothers and sisters in the lord, and you are a son of our Heavenly Father and He loves you,” Carnavale writes. “We will also be here to extend a hand of help and assistance whenever needed.”

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

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