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CHURCH EXPLAINS EXCOMMUNICATION TO NAVAJOS AS LEE SEEKS A REBIRTH

While George P. Lee seeks a spiritual rebirth, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are meeting with Navajo Mormons to explain his exit.

Lee, the first general authority in 46 years to be excommunicated, is heading to the mountains alone for a month of fasting, prayer and meditation about his future outside a church he loves but claims is polluted by pride and racial prejudice."It's the way of my people," said Lee, the son of a medicine man. "My father would take me to a mountaintop and we'd communicate with the Great Spirit. I was more spiritual then than I am now."

Meantime, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Elder H. Burke Peterson of the First Quorum of the Seventy met Friday night with local church leaders in Window Rock, Ariz., headquarters of the nation's largest Indian reservation. A similar session was held Saturday in Shiprock, N.M.

"Generally they said it was not the church's fault and that it was due to George losing his testimony," said one Navajo, who declined to be named. "They said the prophet would never lead them astray."

Lee said in an interview with The Associated Press he had no intention of recruiting his own following and discouraged disillusioned church members from leaving the faith. But he did not retreat from his characterization of LDS leaders as vain men bent on dislodging Indians from their rightful place in Mormon theology.

A general authority since 1975, Lee was excommunicated Sept. 1 for "apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the church" following an hourlong meeting with President Ezra Taft Benson, his counselors, and the Twelve.

A request to interview a member of the Twelve about Lee's complaints was declined. As a matter of policy, church officials do not divulge details of disciplinary actions.

In the wake of Lee's excommunication, Romero Brown, a Navajo bishop in Window Rock, wrote a letter to President Benson seeking an explanation of the church's action.

Friday night, Brown met privately with Elder Ballard and Elder Peterson. Brown declined to discuss anything about the meeting.

Lee's excommunication is seen by many Navajo Mormons as a validation of his claim that the church leadership is quietly moving to dislodge Indian members from their heritage.

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"There is no room for righteous men and women, but there is plenty of room for those that love pride, arrogance, power, money, position and exercising unrighteous dominion," Lee said. "I believe there's a real need for a spiritual rebirth in the church."