Lynnwood -- Tom Murphy figures he has a better chance convincing his doctorate dissertation committee at the University of Washington than a Mormon church disciplinary council about articles he has written questioning the validity of the Book of Mormon.
The Edmonds Community College instructor could be excommunicated when he faces a local disciplinary council from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday.
His case is gaining national and international attention. On Monday, he fielded a dozen media calls, including the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.
Murphy, 35, said he has met with the local president from a Lynnwood stake of the Mormon churchwho seemed "resolute in his duty to sever relations with intellectuals who publish materials contrary to the official positions of the church."
At issue was a May article written by Murphy that was published in an anthology called "American Aprocrypha." The article uses genetic data to discredit the Book of Mormon claim that American Indians are heathen descendants of ancient Israel. His conclusion is also the thesis of his doctoral dissertation.
His article also concluded that the Book of Mormon was a 19th century document, a position contrary to the teaching of the church. The church believes the Book of Mormon was inscribed on gold plates in the 4th century A.D. and translated in the 19th century by Joseph Smith, Murphy said.
The controversy "is comparable to the Creationism-evolution debate in the larger Christian community," he said.
Church officials have offered little comment.
"Matters of church discipline are handled on a confidential basis between church members and their local leaders," church spokesman Dale Bills told the Associated Press. "Local church leaders determine what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate."
Efforts to reach the stake president of the Lynnwood area church, which will assemble the disciplinary council, were unsuccessful Monday.
Lavina Fielding Anderson, a historian from Utah who was excommunicated in 1993, said Murphy is one of at least three scholars excommunicated or threatened with expulsion in the past three months, raising concerns about renewed efforts to purge dissident church members.
Murphy, chairman of the EdCC anthropology department, was raised in a Mormon home in southern Idaho. He started teaching part time at EdCC in the fall of 1998 and full time in the fall of 2000.
This winter, he will team-teach a class "On Being Human" in which students can extract their own DNA, sequence a segment of it and compare it to the DNA of the monkeys and apes and explore their genetic ancestry.
Some supporters of Murphy, including American Indians and Polynesians concerned about the church's teachings in the Book of Mormon, are planning a candlelight vigil on Main Street in Salt Lake City Sunday while he meets with the disciplinary council in Washington.
"My emotions have been all over the map but it is definitely harder than it sounds and a lot harder than it thought it would be," Murphy said.
The college is not taking a position.
"Right now, it's a personal matter between him and his church and it's not going to affect his position with the college," said Michele Graves, an EdCC spokeswoman.