Southern Utah man who served as Mormon bishop faces excommunication

Composite image. Inset: Bill Reel, right, poses for a family photo with his wife and four children, date and location not specified | Family photo courtesy of Bill Reel. Background silhouette of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Salt Lake City Temple by Fintastique/Can Stock Photo Inc., St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Washington City man who curates a podcast that examines historical and contemporary issues surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is facing the prospect of excommunication from the church.

Bill Reel, a father of four and former church bishop, was served Thursday with a notice of a pending church disciplinary council stating that he has been reported to have “participated in conduct unbecoming a member of the Church” and that he has “repeatedly acted in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church and its leaders.” The disciplinary council is scheduled to take place at a church meeting house in Washington City Nov. 27.

Reel conducts the “Mormon Discussions” podcast, a series of audio programs in which he conducts interviews with authors, scholars and historians of Mormonism. The podcast also features monologues by Reel examining often contentious topics in the church, such as the religion’s stance on LGBTQ issues, youth interviews and church political ties with government officials throughout Utah.

With such provocative titles as “Elder Oaks puts the Con in General Conference” and “The Joseph Smith Translation – Revelation or Plagiarism,” the podcast has caught the attention of church leaders on more than one occasion.

However, Reel believes it was his October podcast titled “Elder Holland – Liar Liar Pants on Fire,” where he accused St. George native and top church official Jeffrey R. Holland of lying, that led to the church disciplinary notice.

Jeffrey R. Holland, a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at Dixie State University’s Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons, St. George, Utah, Sept. 7, 2012 | File photo by Chris Caldwell, St. George News

“I think that one was what really did it,” Reel said during an interview with St. George News.

In the podcast, Reel outlines what he says are five “absolutely demonstrable lies” told by Holland, such as allegedly inflated claims about the church’s growth rate.

Reel says his goal with such podcasts is to “push back against the church’s unhealthiness.”

“There are a lot of mechanisms in our church that prevent healthy conversation and prevent people from being completely open about whatever it is they’re struggling with,” Reel said, explaining that inconsistencies with the church’s narrative of its history are more often than not swept under the rug.

Reel says he is outspoken because he wishes to improve the church, of which he is committed to remain a member.

A convert at the age of 17, Reel’s commitment to the church eventually led him to serve as a bishop of the local church congregation where he previously lived in Ohio.

“Halfway through serving as bishop, I had a faith crisis,” Reel said. “The history’s messy. We don’t treat people that nice at times.”

Bill Reel, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Bill Reel, St. George News

Though he had his doubts, he said at the time he was committed to helping others cope with their faith crises and conducted “fireside” meetings encouraging those members. Not long after his own faith crisis in 2012, he started the podcast series.

“I wanted a voice for people who were going through that to slow down and validate them and give them some comfort with all the angst that comes along with having a faith crisis,” he said.

Though he clashed with local church leadership in Ohio, he said he was eventually found not to be in apostasy by his stake president — the church’s highest position of local authority — for his early work on the podcast series.

After moving to Southern Utah for a new job opportunity about three years ago, Reel said his interactions with local church authorities became more contentious, eventually culminating in last week’s letter informing him of a formal disciplinary council to take action on what the letter says is his “intensified efforts” to oppose to the church and its leaders.

According to the church, decisions to hold such councils are made by local authorities. However, Reel says he doubts this is the case.

“My stake president acknowledged that he would get a phone call once a month from Salt Lake from the Church Office Building,” he said, referring to the church’s headquarters. “To think that they’re not getting any direction or influence from higher up is just silly.”

Reel said he has reached a point where he “obviously crossed the line.”

“As I’ve become more aggressive in not pulling any punches, the church has begun to say, ‘We’re aware of you and you’re on our radar.’”

The church typically only authorizes its Public Affairs Department to speak with media on behalf of the church, preventing any kind of on-the-record conversation with Reel’s stake president.

St. George News asked church spokesman Eric Hawkins whether the decision to hold Reel’s disciplinary council was made entirely at the local level and how far someone like Reel can go in their criticism of the church before disciplinary action is warranted.

In a statement, Hawkins responded as follows:

Because of the personal nature of Church disciplinary matters and to respect the privacy of those involved, the Church does not provide information about the proceedings. Church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances. If helpful, you may refer to this resource on the subject of church discipline.

The church has apparently taken special care with Reel’s forthcoming disciplinary council, implementing guidelines not typically called for in disciplinary proceedings, such as requiring him to sign a confidentiality agreement.

“Those things match up only with how high-profile cases are handled,” Reel said. “You can start to see that the leadership in Salt Lake has its fingers all over it.”

Reel’s disciplinary council allows for a variety of outcomes, and excommunication isn’t a foregone conclusion. However, Reel believes his dismissal is all but certain.

“I think it’s a done-deal. I think I’m going to be excommunicated,” he said, adding that does indeed prefer to remain a member.

“I’m to the point where church is toxic enough where I couldn’t be attending, but I don’t want to be severed from my tribe,” he said, explaining that he, his wife and four children have all opted to stop attending Sunday church meetings as of December 2017.

Reel said his likely dismissal is part of a larger pattern by the church to quiet voices of dissent or those seeking reform, pointing to the recent high-profile excommunication of former church bishop Sam Young.

Sam Young, center, speaks to a group of people during a march to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Young seeks to end the religion’s practice of one-on-one “worthiness interviews” between adolescent youth and lay leaders that often include questions asking whether the youth adheres to church rules regarding sexual activity.

Read more: Facing excommunication, former LDS bishop says Mormon leaders could learn from Catholic Church

“The church likes to say it has this healthy system to get concerns addressed,” Reel said, “but in reality it doesn’t.”

Church protocol requires that concerns that can’t be addressed by local authorities be relayed to top church officials known as general authorities. But Reel said he never got answers from said leadership.

“Where does anybody go when they have a healthy, positive suggestion to make a change?” he asked. “There’s no viable outlet to have that happen.”

People in faith crises waiting for answers are suffering, Reel said.

“The church likes to pretend like it cares so much about families, and yet the growing suicide rate in Utah is due to almost assuredly the anti-LGBT issue,” he said.

Read more: Suicides rates rise across US; Utah’s increase among the highest

“If we get past the smiles on the outside, the reality is there’s a lot more shadow in people’s lives here in Utah.”

Regardless of the outcome of his disciplinary council, Reel said he will continue to work to improve people’s lives, church members and nonmembers alike. He has been actively involved in helping struggling youth in Southern Utah, recently using his “Mormon Discussions” platform to hold a funding drive for the now-operational youth shelter in St. George.

Reel plans to attend his Nov. 27 disciplinary council where he intends to reiterate his stance against church policies regarding LGBT members.

“I can’t be a quiet guy,” he said. “I can’t sit still when I see someone being hurt unnecessarily.”

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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37 Comments

  • Jmfixitman November 20, 2018 at 7:22 am

    Wow that’s amazing. Yet we have a person in our family that was released from prison after 13 years for sexual relations with his kids, and then the LDS church welcomed him back in and allowed him to baptise his grandchild. This churches standards and ethics are unbelievable.

    • aintthatsumthin November 20, 2018 at 11:04 am

      YA DOOD IM WITH YOU! I even heard of this one guy who would legit have dinner with sinners, and allow them to wash his feet with their tears and wipe it with their hair. That’s so unbelievable he would keep in company a bunch of sinners. Heck im pretty sure one or so of his “apostles” was a Tax Collector! and you know what they say about those guys. So ya this guy and his standards and ethics totally unbelievable. #youresodumb

      • Rice November 20, 2018 at 3:43 pm

        Well, good to know Jesus draws the line at critical podcasts.

  • Carpe Diem November 20, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Someday the dam’s gonna break.

    • aintthatsumthin November 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

      oh noez, you really think so Sam?

  • Real Life November 20, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Mormons are starting to lose grip on their youth. It doesn’t help when one of their presidents, or one of their “quorem” members dies of extreme old age, they simply replace them with another old white guy on his deathbed. If they want too keep their youth, they need to change.

    • Comment November 20, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      “extreme old age”

      AHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Malcolm November 20, 2018 at 10:34 am

    St. George News asked church spokesman Eric Hawkins whether the decision to hold Reel’s disciplinary council was made entirely at the local level …

    In a statement, Hawkins responded as follows:

    “… Church discipline is administered by local leaders …”

    Worth noting that Hawkins sidestepped the question – the decision and the administration of discipline are two separate issues.

    No surprise here, of course: it seems that some folks prefer to answer the question that they wanted to be asked, rather than the question that was asked.

  • aintthatsumthin November 20, 2018 at 10:51 am

    BAHAHA oh noez he served as a Bishop, better put that into the title cause it’s important to show he was “important” even though they rotate every few years. Sound the alarm for those anti-mormon peeps to come chat.

    FTFY:
    Title: This guy no one cares about is getting disciplined because he thinks he’s right about something he has no clue on because he was a Bishop once in Ohio.
    “Article”: I’m a guy who doesnt like going to church and disagree with any other church leader. I stopped going to church and make my own podcast calling out their leadership… BUT i want to stay in the church dear god dont cut me off.

    • iceplant November 20, 2018 at 12:52 pm

      Holy crap. Talk about not getting the point. You’re so far away from it you might as well be living in another universe.

  • iceplant November 20, 2018 at 11:09 am

    A long time ago, excommunication was a one-way ticket to being shunned and ostracized by fellow latter-day saints.
    Now, excommunication only empowers people like Mr. Reel and those who listen to him. And that’s a very good thing. The truth is being told and when the church reacts to the truth by removing the very people who tell the truth, it makes the church look bad. Really bad.

    More power to those who speak the truth. This world would be a much better place.

  • Tav November 20, 2018 at 11:31 am

    The LDS church seems much like the FLDS(polygamist breakoff of the LDS church): when someone goes against the grain, they are ousted from the club, ran out of town. The LDS church does the same thing, minus running them out of town, in the form of a letter and a meeting, all done to shut the person up before causing more people to examine the actual truth

  • youcandoit November 20, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Control, control,control Mormons don’t want freedom of speech. Shame on you

  • theone November 20, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    I figured out the LDS church’s lies and deceit at age 8 and left unscathed. Soon enough all religion will take a back seat in society and we will benefit as we evolve as a species.
    Science rules!

    • tazzman November 20, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      Name one atheistic and purely secular society that advanced and survived.

      • theone November 20, 2018 at 3:45 pm

        Our past is riddled with religion and has prevented us from living a peaceful and advanced existence. Move forward to the 21st century and places like Japan, Iceland, Norway Canada etc all have the least amount of religion and are the most peaceful Nations on Earth. Religion is a parasite that is on the decline worldwide because of the hate and tragedy which comes from it. Bye bye, religion it can’t disappear fast enough.

  • Enrique November 20, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    All comments made publicly online by Bill Reel- Does it sound like he would want to be part of this tribe?

    When we are active Mormons, most of us saw problems. But we somehow intuit that we must protect and show loyalty to the institution in order to belong. So we tell our neighbors how great it is. We pretend to be a perfect family. We smile and we refuse to give voice to the things that are wrong that we see and feel. We allow ourselves to be abused and have trauma inflicted on us. We choose to believe the bad answers we are given because belonging seems so important to us……. then once we step away we sense how much better the world is on the other side. Fear. Risk aversion. Worries about our marriage or family relationship. Those risks are real but most people report being far better as a human being once they step away.

    And yet the Holy Ghost is more effective than secular tools for knowing truth….. meanwhile secular tools showed this to be fake while many Latter-day Saints felt its truthfulness…. huh

    And the best modern prophets can do is change the names of activities and protocols and reduce church by an hour and throw past prophets under the bus disavowing their teachings?

    As I have done that I have become adeptly aware that Mormonism offers the least amount of inspiration of the places I spend my time and energy. It offers the least amount of wisdom. It offers the least amount of encouragement to develop into deeper stages of humanity and consciousness than any of the other areas I spend my time. It can not afford to have you actually seek truth objectively, as you would discover that what you thought was the brightest smoothest pearl in your small pile inside your small box, was actually rough and dull when compared with the immense world of pearls available in the world. But you are not even allowed to take your eyes of the pile in your box to see it. Mormonism is so threatened by real truth that its only course is to scare everyone from even looking.

    Mormonism is unhealthy and toxic for so many. It is not the Balm of Gilead for so many

    The LDS Church likes its “faithful” scholars. What makes a LDS Scholar “Faithful”? Simple! A LDS Scholar is “faithful” when in spite of knowing the data and the facts and such being their expertise, they prefer to make emotional appeals for the Church being true rather than make any appeal to the data that they are experts in?In other words it is their ability to set their scholar hat aside that makes an LDS scholar “faithful.” A Faithful scholar instead is not a scholar at all in such conversations but rather an expert of emotional appeal with an educational degree around scholarship but knows full well that the scholarship he is an expert in, is not on his side of the argument. Arguments only based on the facts essentially never work out in favor of the Church’s truth claims and hence a faithful scholar wants to do everything except appeal to scholarship.

    Wouldn’t it be faster if Prophets, Seers and Revelators could just ask God?

    The trouble is once the biased lens of Mormonism was shed from my eyes I began to realize something else about Elder Holland which is that he seems to be deceptive and flat out lying on multiple occasions. And often about small things that seemed to indicate a person who easily decides and chooses to exaggerate and deceive.

    In the end, vulnerability and honesty is the only answer. Sadly leaders never seem to contain both.

    “When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the church closed ranks in a conspiracy of silence to protect its own reputation at the expense of these children.”

    Then Jesus asked ……. But they remained silent. Bill Reel asked ……… But they remained silent.

    What the ……. Sadly the idea of authority to do what the hell you want because your God said so, even if rationale and reason says your an idiot, is at the heart of why religion is so unhealthy and abusive and toxic

    So Mormonism burns everyone out rather than lightens their load? Huh

    The world is watching you Mormonism and it isn’t looking to well!
    Today We sit down with Spencer Wright, author of “How To Think”, and discuss how Faith and Rational thought are actually opposites.

    Sadly shame is a huge part of being a believing mormon

    A church led by prophets is one of the last to work to protect children. How prophetic!

  • CADET321 November 20, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    1. Who Cares? Do I get a news story if I get excommunicated from the church?
    2. You want to have real credibility, don’t make money off of what you’re doing.
    3. “My wife and my kids don’t go. I don’t go anymore, I don’t want to go anymore, Forget those hypocrites, and Forget those lying bigoted leaders. But I still want to be a member” Uhm what?
    4. Congratulations on all of the new publicity for your podcast

    • Henry November 20, 2018 at 10:31 pm

      1) It depends upon whether or not you publicly challenge the church, and whether it’s an interesting story.
      2) Why is it in your mind that the mormon church can charge 10% of its members’ income, yet someone making considerably less money has no credibility in your eyes?
      3) To some people, being mormon is an identity thing. And it’s important to them.
      4) I’m sure he appreciates your congrats.

  • Comment November 20, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Some of these clowns like to retain their membership because they like to say spitefully how are still a member even though they hate the LDS organization. It’s kind of a dishonest tactic–seems like more of a show than anything. I’m still a member because I’m simply not going to go to the trouble of “resigning”, and why would I anyway? I was baptized at 8 years old! I don’t even want that much attention from the LDS organization that it would take to “resign”. And it’s my right to be a member even if I don’t believe in any of it and don’t pay them. Plus, they pay me no mind because I DON’T PAY THEM.

    Religion is dying out in much of the world. Go in any church around here in town besides mormons and have a look at the ages of people that attend. Yes, they are generally very senior. Younger people simply have no interest in all this Jesus stuff. It’s why mormons are sending so many missionaries to the 3rd world. People in the west are getting harder to trick into religious agendas. It’ll be interesting to see how long mormonism can REALLY thrive. Slicing an hour off the ol’ 3 hour block seems to me to be a sign of things to come. People are losing interest. The church isn’t making enough $$$ anymore. We aren’t allowed to say ‘mormon’ or ‘LDS’ anymore. How much will they shake things up?

    If they excommunicated me I simply wouldn’t care, and if I posted here on stgnews under my real name they probably would have long ago…

  • Kilroywashere November 20, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    All Religions have fallen in this day and age. They are all cliches. (note true Buddhism is more a philosophy than a religion) The new religion is that of staring into, interacting with, and talking to the black mirror, as I am doing now in posting this comment. Now spiritually is another thing all together. This article has nothing to do with spirituality, rather it is about political conflict and questioning the dogma of authority. What it shows is religion is dead. Same crap going back 2000 years, and same old BS. What happened to spiritually said one of the Angels on the pinhead? The other Angel was too busy on his Cellphone, but then looked up and said “what did you say?”

    • Comment November 20, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      The technology will make the world worse, and yes ‘the black mirror’ is the new religion. The technology has done a very good job at proliferating every kind of porn. It’s done a good job of ‘pornifying’ the entire society. That’s one thing I’m fully in agreement with the LDS about is how damaging porn and ‘pornification’ is to a society. A lot of ultra leftists tend to wallow in all kinds of porn and degeneracy, hedonism, and nihilism, and they believe it’s a wonderful thing. I’m in agreement with the values that LDS preach in several areas beside porn. It’s too bad the entire religion has to be based off… well, everything it is. It’s too bad about its dark past with polygamy and the continuing legacy of that. It’s too bad LDS inc has to behave like a greedy wallstreet corporation. But there are a few things they do right. Not many, but a few.

  • Nobody November 20, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Religions are like empires, they rise and they fall… Spirituality is forever. The Mormons ugly truth is coming out more and more, thus their empire is about to fall. Let’s all sit back with a beer in hand and watch… I love this story, I wish I could shake this Bishop’s hand and congratulate him for trying liberate his tribe. As for wanting to stay with the church… he is most likely scared of the “normal world”. I imagine this is not easy for a formerly “staunch” Mormon. It was scary for my other half at first. However, the good news is, most will see,
    that a whole new better life awaits them.
    Much respect for those who choose to take back control of their lives!

    • Kilroywashere November 20, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      Nobody, like Know Man in the cave of the Cyclops , you see what others cannot. I bet Ulysses would not have balked at a 3.2% beer , if the offer was there in the darkness. Cheers , and remember, follow the sheep into the light. Then haul ass to your ship.

    • Comment November 20, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      such a cliched, generic, catch-all term: spirituality. ugh

      it can mean anything to anyone.

      • Kilroywashere November 20, 2018 at 7:56 pm

        To get there Comments, you first have to stop your internal dialogue. Until then what you cannot grasp remains unknown. He who knows does not know. And as Sgt Shultz use to say every episode of Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing”. One of these days you’ll get Jimmy Hendrix, when he says “are you experienced, or have you ever been experienced”. Trust me, your time will come. Be prepared. Boy Scout motto. 😊

        • Comment November 20, 2018 at 10:54 pm

          I get it, believe me. It’s why I’m an “atheist” (w/ quote marks). Just the term “spiritual” makes me want to throw up in my mouth. It’s just the way it’s used ad nauseam. Even LDS’ers throw the term around fairly frequently, relating to mormonism.

          • KR567 November 21, 2018 at 5:37 am

            Well thats your opinion and your entitled to it …..but they have their own opinions so yours doesn’t carry any weight with them

        • iceplant November 21, 2018 at 4:34 am

          One of these days you’ll spell Hendrix’s name right.
          Jimi, not Jimmy. 😛

  • Redbud November 20, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I am still technically a member, sorta “on the fence” is the best term to describe it. I haven’t gone to church for over 12 years. The one thing I remember clearly is that I was not allowed to ask deeper questions about the church, it was not acceptable. That’s one thing that has kept me from going back, is I don’t feel like there’s a freedom of expression, I feel like I can’t have my own opinion about certain things, and even though the church is more open than in the past, I still feel like I can’t ask questions. I have always gotten vague responses to just pray about it, to just rely on faith that it’s all true, etc.. One example I have questioned is coffee, we are absolutely not to drink it at all under the Word of Wisdom. I don’t like coffee all that much, but I have never seen what’s so bad about it? I would think energy drinks would be far more harmful than coffee, and while I have no statistics to cite offhand, haven’t lots of kids and sometimes adults ended up in the emergency room from drinking these? If coffee is so horrible that it needs its very own commandment, should there not be one for energy drinks? This is just one of the many examples of things in the church I just can’t wrap my head around. And see, if I bought this topic up in church before a bishop, or perhaps other members during a lesson in class, they would just shrug it off and say I need to pray harder, or someone would try to shut me up by bearing their testimony, and then say nothing else afterwards. I was born and raised in the church, and the older I get, the more difficult it becomes for me to have a firm belief that it’s all true because of the submissive atmosphere I perceive while at church. I have always wondered how many members feel the same way I do? What keeps them going when they feel like they can’t ask questions? I’m not trying to bash my religion, but its just been so frustrating not being able to get simple answers to things that just don’t make sense.

    • Comment November 21, 2018 at 12:25 am

      It’s because none of it makes any sense. There are no real answers to any of life’s questions in our religion. It’s just a bunch of blah blah pray, feel the holy spirit, pay the 10%, blah blah, get up to the celestial heaven if you do everything right, blah blah. I’m simply a nonbeliever. I’ll probably always be a member unless they just start deleting people from the records that don’t pay up. Maybe one day I’ll get an ultimatum like that from them, “PAY UP OR YOU’RE GETTING DELETED!”. They’ve loosened up on the coffee stuff in the 12 years you’ve been gone. Pretty much all of the mormon gals I associate with will hit starbucks now and again. Maybe they do it just to be naughty? It isn’t that great of coffee.

  • David November 21, 2018 at 6:40 am

    Would you all consider signing this petition in support of BIll.
    He has done a lot help Mormonism, and now he faces excommunication for it.

    https://www.gopetition.com/signatures/show-of-support-for-bill-reel.html

    • redrock4 November 21, 2018 at 9:28 am

      No – I want him to be ex-communicated. it’s really the best way forward for him. He’s too good for the church. Same with the Boy Scouts organization. Just too good and I mean that sincerely. So, questioning, free thinking, modernization, introspection, and inclusion are obviously not part of the (Mormon) Church.

    • Comment November 21, 2018 at 11:24 am

      Absolutely not. There are no good reasons for him to continue to stay a mormon. I mean, he’s not been active in well over a year anyway, right? And there are plenty of other cults he can join.

      • ladybugavenger November 22, 2018 at 11:56 am

        I still wonder why you call the LDS, you’re church. You can be “atheist Bob” without being mormon. Be authentic Bob. Go 100% “atheist” (with quotation marks)
        P.S. I bet you $5 you cant go 100% atheist (without quotes) and feel good about it.

  • LunchboxHero November 21, 2018 at 9:21 am

    “A Washington City man who curates a podcast…”
    How do you “curate” a podcast? Don’t you just “host” it? Or produce it? Do we really need to start using the word “curate in this way?

    • bikeandfish November 21, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      Curate: verb

      Definition: “select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.”
      Example: “nearly every major news organization is using Twitter’s new lists feature to curate tweets about the earthquake”

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