5 reasons for excommunicating Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin

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ExcommunicationOn Sunday, the LDS Church is expected to proceed with the excommunication of Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin.

Sadly, I don’t think I’m premature in assuming that his excommunication is a foregone conclusion.

I’ve nothing to add to the copious analysis of whether John personally deserves excommunication. There are already plenty of thoughtful takes on that, including Nathaniel Givens’s argument in Real Clear Religion that the problem is not John’s support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination, but his criticisms of the basic religious truth claims of the Church.

I’d rather evaluate what John’s excommunication could actually accomplish for the Church as an institution.

The word excommunication means, literally, placing someone outside the communion of gospel fellowship. In Mormonism, not just that person but his or her entire family can be affected. John’s wife and children can retain their church memberships, but their temple sealings to one another will be automatically canceled for all eternity.

That’s an extreme severance, so it’s important to be sure it’s the right one.

Which means we should all ask: How might excommunications for apostasy help the Church?

1) Punish the offenders

Verdict: Mixed

In the best of circumstances, excommunication is supposed to lead to repentance and, one hopes, an eventual rebaptism into the fold. Church discipline is, in the words of Elder Ballard, “a chance to start over,” a time-out from church activity in order to help people grow. In the case of apostasy, however, excommunication has more of a punitive and less of a redemptive feel. How does one repent of an idea? Of a doubt?

2) Clarify doctrine and policy to insiders

Verdict: Not persuasive

One potential advantage of excommunication is that it can clarify what is and is not kosher by current standards. I say “potential” because in Mormonism what may be an excommunicable offense to one stake president isn’t necessarily that for another. The Church has stated that these past months of discipline for John, Kate Kelly, and others have not been coordinated from Salt Lake City. While it’s good to be reassured that such acts don’t signal an institutional purge, the local nature of these efforts means that excommunication fails to clarify the Church’s overall standards of behavior and belief. What, then, does it accomplish?

3) Exercise strong leadership

Verdict: Persuasive

A basic principle of organizational behavior is that good leaders sometimes need to demonstrate who is in charge. Ecclesiastical discipline (of which excommunication is the most severe form) successfully reinforces the structure and leadership of the entire organization, contributing to its overall stability and endurance.

4) Protect the Church’s reputation to outsiders

Verdict: Mixed

The LDS Church, like most institutions, is justifiably concerned with the way it is perceived in the world. How are outsiders to understand the Church’s standards when some people within the organization appear to have radically different views? One way of protecting the Church’s reputation is to communicate to outsiders what is and is not acceptable behavior. However, as the Church undoubtedly saw with Kate Kelly’s excommunication, such actions can also generate angry responses, inaccurate or hasty reporting, and unfair caricatures of Mormons—which in the end defeats the purpose.

5) Deter others from similar behavior

Verdict: Mixed

Usually, Mormon excommunications are quiet affairs that no one hears about. But in high-profile apostasy cases, excommunication becomes a visible threat that may succeed in preventing similar behaviors or expressions of apostasy. At least in theory. In practice it sometimes has the opposite effect, galvanizing those in the moderate middle to speak out in defense of the excommunicant or even to leave the fold themselves.

In sum: John Dehlin’s excommunication stands to help the Church advance as an institution that exercises decisive leadership. But on the other four fronts an excommunication may have an undesirable effect — not just for John and his personal circles, but for the Church as a body.

A final thought. It’s often said in Mormonism that the Church is a perfect institution that’s composed of imperfect people. As I grow older I find myself agreeing instead with Reinhold Niebuhr, who said that individual persons are, perhaps counterintuitively, typically more moral than institutions.

Institutions behave in ways that are consistent with the advancement of those institutions: corporations emphasize profits over people, and churches choose purity over people. It’s the way of the world.

Whether it’s the way of the Savior is another question.

  • Bitherwack

    I have enjoyed your articles for some years, and have appreciated your perspective. This may be one of the very few times I have felt compelled to take exception…
    I believe that American culture has changed so much in the recent past, that a dictatorial stance in a leader is paradoxically seen as “strong leadership”. I would disagree with your assessment that excommunicating John would result in a strong leadership, and a strengthening of the organization. I believe that excommunication will result in the organization becoming more brittle, and the leadership more remote, less loved, and more self justified in its abuse. Authoritarianism, and the abuses of power seen in its extremes are a sign of insecurity… that the leader is no longer persuaded by the value or truthfulness or efficacy of their message, and must rely on authority to move people.
    The inability of the church and its leaders to allow alternative voices is a sign that they do not believe their message will remain valid in the marketplace of ideas.

  • Marion Fust Sæternes

    Thank you Jana for your wise post.

    I love my church, and I love the people in it. Few things in my life have helped me develop my thoughts and talents as much as my membership! And of course I find it to be a source of spirituality and faith. But. I cannot be uncritical; not today, probably not tomorrow, and most likely not this comming sunday either, which is infinitely sad.

  • ABM

    I don’t know if the point of excommunication is ever to truly “help the church”. So I am not sure if you are asking the right question in this acticle. Removing members who are actively fighting against it (like I believe Dehlin is doing) is probably beneficial for all organizations. But I think that excommunication as the LDS church practices it is much more about each individual than about the institutional church or the publicty that comes from it. For JD, he made certain covenants… covenants that he no longer lives and publically speaks against. Being excommunicated officially releases him from those covents and allows him to more fully live the life he wants to live, free from the authority of priesthood leaders and obligations.

    So no, I don’t think the church gains anything, but that is not why JD will likely be excommunicated anyway.

  • Nate Oman

    Jana: It seems that you missed a key argument, namely that by depriving Dehlin of his membership, his stake leaders diminish his influence among the Saints, which they judge — probably correctly — to be largely destructive.

  • Rawkcuf

    John’s excommunication is the church’s way of saying, “We’ve failed you. We are not interested in helping you work out your salvation. We don’t have enough room in our hearts to acknowledge your essential role in the body of Christ. We called you brother, because we believed you to be our spiritual brother, but we can no longer treat you as if we believe that doctrine. We will make an investigator welcome where you are not.”

  • Joel

    This. They believe that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They’re exercising their power to take that clothing from him.

  • ABM

    On the contrary, the church (his local leaders) has pleaded with him to come back into the fold and be a part of the body of Christ. JD has rejected that repeatedly.

  • Rawkcuf

    This is not the patience and longsuffering one expects from a hometeacher let alone a stake president.

  • Joel

    Verdict: Probably effective

    (1) For instance, according to the Mormon Stories wiki page, the podcast has 25,000 downloads per episode. Assume only 20% of those listeners are (a) current believers who (b) are curious and (c) may even recognize that it’s edgy, but who (d) feel adequately safe because the podcast isn’t actually “anti-Mormon” or “apostate.” Excommunicate John and Mormon Stories crosses that threshold into being an “apostate” forum, too dangerous to visit.

    25,000 x 20% = 5,000 people. That’s a whole stake worth of members who will no longer listen to John with their guard down. And others like them now will never tune in to begin with.

    (2) Newspapers also will be less likely to rely on him–and describe him—as an insider.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Actually, if you’ll carefully review the correspondence John Dehlin has published from his Stake President, you will see considerable patience (see the letter from his Stake President rather than focusing on his spin in Press Release, etc. at http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/a/a/e/aaed72a836f41a59/JohnDehlinDisciplinaryCouncilPressRelase-FinalV3.pdf?c_id=8199185&expiration=1421881360&hwt=538afe628e343af86df61742b78037d9 ). If I were Brother Dehlin’s Home Teacher, personal friend, family, etc., I would continue to happily exercise patience and long-suffering. However, his Stake President has added responsibilities as a common-judge in Israel and seems to be proceeding correctly.

  • Joy

    Good points. I hadn’t looked at it from that vantage point before. Thanks.

  • Jack of Hearts

    This point seems apt to me.

    “Analogies between the church and institutions such as the secular state and the independent university are helpful only to a limited extent, because the church, while it has the features of a human society, is very different in its purpose, origins, and means. Neither the state not the independent university, at least as conceived in our American tradition, is committed to any substantive set of beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. The state is a community of people willing to live together under the same laws, even though they may vehemently disagree in their philosophies and theologies. The academy is a community of scholars committed to adhere to certain methods of investigation and communication without necessarily sharing any common convictions about the way things are. The church, however, is by nature a society of faith and witness. It exists only to the extent that it continues to adhere to a specific vision of the world—one centered on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Unlike any secular organization, the church has a deposit of faith that must be maintained intact and transmitted to new members. Thus the church cannot accommodate the same kind of ideological pluralism that is acceptable in the secular state or university.”- Avery Dulles, Catholic theologian

  • Sharee

    Jana, You mention that excommunicating John will invalidate his temple sealings to his family. A man who claims not to believe in God or Christ likely does not believe those sealings are valid anyway. Also, all ordinances, including sealings, are dependent on worthiness. In the end, it is God who will judge.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Excellent comment, Sharee. Moreover, their earthly marriage and family relations continue as long as all those involved remain committed to them. I do Not see Brother Dehlin’s beliefs or actions as ones that should of necessity endanger his relations within his family.

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    Perhaps the most important reason that the Church feels the need to excommunicate John Dehlin is that this action makes it crystal-clear that teaching other people that the basic truth claims of the Church are false is utterly incompatible with membership in the Church. (John Dehlin has taught this, undeniably, through his podcasts and blog posts.)

    JD is not being punished for his doubts. He is being expelled for teaching against the core doctrines of the Church. Frankly, it would be rather stupid for the Church to _not_ excommunicate JD: the LDS Church has very definite truth claims (for example, God lives, Jesus is the Messiah and Redeemer, the Book of Mormon is the Word of God). The Church goes to great lengths to promote those truth claims, and there is absolutely no reason to tolerate the membership of someone who teaches others that these truth claims are not true. It really is just that simple.

    The main reason that JD’s excommunication is so fraught is that many people are under the impression that his excommunication is the result of his advocacy of ordaining women to the LDS priesthood, and his advocacy of gay marriage. (Nathaniel Givens’ essay, to which you link above, suggests that this is an impression that JD himself has fostered.) However, the LDS stake presidency wrote JD a letter explicitly denying this, and stating that the cause of the disciplinary council is JD’s denying these basic truth claims, and advocating the same to others.

    It should not be controversial for a religious organization to expel a member who explicitly rejects the religion’s central teachings. Frankly, it does not speak well of JD that he did not simply resign his LDS membership when he came to disbelieve central LDS teachings. Membership in any organization may carry privileges, but it also certainly carries moral obligations, as well.

  • Dewaine

    Excommunication is not done for the church; the primary consideration, in all the cases I’ve known, is that of the individual. Brother Dehlin has some serious issues, none of which are my business even though he apparently loves the notoriety his issues stir up. He really is best suited to found his own church that would better serve his interests.

  • Joel

    I can see why the church would be justified. But do you really think it would be stupid to refrain from doing so?

    There does seem to be a disadvantage. It makes the church appear weak and insecure, that it feels threatened by one guy with a podcast. It looks to the world (see the press it has generated) and many observing members that the Church is afraid that it cannot survive in an open marketplace of ideas.

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    Joel, I stand by what I said and the way I said it. The Church would be stupid to not excommunicate JD. When it is properly applied, excommunication in the LDS Church is a statement that “this, this is beyond the pale of what can be tolerated in a member of the Church.” For the Church _not_ to excommunicate JD for preaching the central truth claims of the Church would be to undercut the importance of those very truth claims. It would be to say, “well, believe these things, or not, it ultimately doesn’t matter.” That is absolutely, positively not the LDS Church’s stance on its truth claims–nor should it be.

    Sure, some people will think poorly of the Church for this action; in my opinion, that will occur because they do not really understand the issues at stake here. But one ought not to let others’s perceptions determine one’s course of actions in anything important in one’s personal life; the same applies to organizations. The Church is not “threatened” by JD, anymore than it is threatened by someone who commits adultery or child abuse (to mention two other excommunicable offenses, each far more heinous than what JD has done). But the Church has pretty clear standards for what membership entails, and teaching against the core teachings, or actually joining another religious organization (each of which acts JD has committed) are, quite reasonably, outside those standards.

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    Actually, JD’s excommunication is the Church’s way of saying, “You have failed in your commitments to the Gospel. You have separated yourself from the body of Christ (given that you teach that there is no need of a Savior to start with). We called you brother, we we can no longer treat you as if you are a brother, because you teach people to reject our message.”

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    Certainly there is a limit to patience and long-suffering. Given that JD is teaching that the central claims of the Church are not true, and that he has done so after interventions from his Church leader, it looks like that limit has been reached.

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    It’s one thing to be an “alternative voice”; it is another thing entirely for JD to teach others that the central truth-claims of the Church are false. There would be no “strength” in the Church keeping such an individual on the rolls of the Church; rather, such an action would ultimately weaken the Church itself.

    No organization can tolerate a member that actively teaches against it’s agenda. JD has done this, repeatedly, _con vivace_. It would be senseless for the Church to undermine its own mission by retaining him as a member.

  • Nobody Important

    JD has taken credit for, and to an extent celebrated, people leaving the church. That alone is ample reason to remove him in order to protect the souls of other saints.

  • Jill

    Is jana riess a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? It doesn’t appear so to me. If she were she would know what she was talking about. She obviously does not. Take it from me, I’m an active member. Before you go chanting falsehoods, you may want to check your facts, jana. Let’s all spend our time on something worth while, not gossipy untruths!

  • Joel

    The charge of apostasy–especially when we use the term interchangeably with heresy–seems to be different in kind from adultery, child abuse, etc.

    Do we mean to communicate that it’s actually SINful merely to express disagreement with our Church? I can imagine that the Church’s PR dept would bristle at that. On one hand, we wear peculiarity as a badge of honor. On the hand, we seem to be pressing hard with the “I’m a Mormon” campaign and “Meet the Mormons”, etc. to project that we’re not the cult many suppose us to be. Punishing the expression of disagreement doesn’t help those efforts.

    That said, it may indeed be a no-brainer for John’s stake president, because local leaders are not charged to factor in those big-picture considerations. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Church eventually were to take the decision of excommunication for apostasy from local leaders and reserve it to Salt Lake. It’s an odd fit for the intimate priest-penitent paradigm (as opposed to the other issues handled in courts of love). And the ramifications for the Church’s image go far beyond the community level.

    It just doesn’t seem that simple.

  • Joel

    Enlighten us. What is the untruth?

  • Mark Koltko-Rivera

    Jana Reiss is most certainly a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; she converted as an adult. The story of her conversion was reported in a Salt Lake Tribune story: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/52745310-80/riess-says-mormon-church.html

  • GP

    Although I am a supporter of John Dehlin, and I no longer attend church due to problematic historical issues, I do feel that the church (as a private institution) has the right to excommunicate him.

    That said, I can only wonder what is next for the church. So they excommunicate a critic. Now what? Will it be back to the same old General Conference addresses regarding doubting our doubts, praising Joseph Smith as being “honest and moral”, recording our testimony of Joseph Smith to play back to ourselves, etc?

    The church is once again falling behind on social issues. Additionally, although the church has opened up somewhat with the recent essays (mormonessays.com), most members I’ve spoken with haven’t heard of them… or don’t really know/remember the details of the contents. The essays remain hidden (by omission) amazingly even from local leaders. I am not aware of any concerted effort top-down to reach out to local leadership to equip them with knowledge of the issues and training on how specifically to deal with them. Instead, the leaders are left with picking up the pieces just like the individuals who approach them for guidance. The result is ambiguity of response. This is precisely why we have disparity in criteria for temple recommend issuance and on what constitutes grounds for a disciplinary council. Yes, I know that these men are supposed to be guided by the spirit, but in reality the judgement varies from ward-to-ward, stake-to-stake, leader-to-leader. It really boils down to a personality difference, not the spirit. Trust me, I’ve seen it in action in leadership meetings.

    What I really want to know is when are we going to get acknowledgement of any of this over the pulpit from a General Authority who stands behind what he says PUBLICLY? When are we going to get an open dialogue that reaches out and hits the major issues head-on? No private meetings with members, I mean something in General Conference or some other public venue where an open exchange is encouraged. Even if the church doesn’t change one iota in its position, can’t the leaders at least acknowledge that there are issues? So far, there has been near complete silence on these issues (social and historical) outside of nameless essays and impersonal press releases. If the church has prophets, seers, and revelators who represent God, then why don’t they speak up in that capacity? Does God not care enough to address the issues head-on for His children who are troubled? I just don’t get the message that church leaders are trying to convey by remaining silent.

    And for that, I am grateful for John Dehlin (and Jana and others). These fine folks bring an honest discussion to the table. If you don’t like what these well-meaning folks say, then go to your church leaders and ask for them to host “church-approved” forums to discuss these issues. Until the church does something about this directly, you can expect a market to emerge elsewhere.

  • Nobody Important

    Jana, I’m a little perplexed about your choice of the seemingly arbitrary five reasons considering (1) you don’t consider the reasons to be very persuasive and (2) the LDS church itself has listed its reasons for excommunication, which are apparently ignored.

  • Sharee

    Dehlin is also an ordained minister in another religion, which is reason enough for his excommunication. How can you be a member of two different churches at the same time?

  • John

    Being excommunicated often leads to shunning and being mistreated by family, friends, and acquaintances.

    Besides any eternal implications, (which, even if JD doesn’t believe in them, his judges at his church court will believe in them) these earthly ones should give pause to those calling for this spiritually violent procedure.

  • John

    This an internet form you fill out to perform a wedding ceremony. It is not a professed belief in anything.

  • Randal Cox

    In cases of apostasy, excommunication from the Church only serves an attempt to silence high profile members from speaking against the organization or supporting values that differ from the Church’s list of values such as Same Sex Marriages and equality for women in the church.

    In my opinion, though JD supports some agenda that differs from the Church, he is also pushing for transparency in the LDS Church in regards to it’s tattered history in which it still attempts to cover up despite layered placed essays that are difficult to find. The fact is, Mormons have no freedom to think for themselves, and must comply fully with all tenets and agree without question with all doctrines it teaches, or face the consequences. That has happened to me. I questioned many things including Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and other things, and eventually I was threatened with excommunication unless I repent.

    I chose to leave the Church, finding answers at so-called anti-Mormon sources including lds-dot-org.

    I believe that the possible excommunication of JD is uncalled for and unnecessary. Mormons should have a voice. OK, the Church will probably never support gay marriage – it is an opinion and a concept that should be upheld – through example, not control and fear. The Church may never equalize women in Priesthood responsibilities, but that should also be upheld by example and leadership and not fear of rejection toward those who support this cause.

  • Randal Cox

    So, you support protecting a church that cover up the true events of a peodaphile who “married” at least 33 wives (essays say up to 40) some of whom still married to men living? Polygamy – physical and spiritual? Racism? False doctrine?

    It’s time to get your head out of the sand and get acquainted with the BIBLE and with JESUS, and stop praising the man!

  • Randal Cox

    The Universal Life Church is an internet religion that does not hold onto any denomination values and though anyone can print up an Ordained Minister certificate from their website, it clearly does not constitute belonging to another denomination.

    Back in 1992 several of us in the Elders’ Quorum in my ward printed up “Ordained Minister Certificates” from the ULC website and had a good play but never the bishop gave a second thought to it because we were clearly joking around. The Church today is way too serious. Even John Wayne Bobbitt was an ordained minister of the ULC before he got into recording porno flicks.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Shunning, etc. is part of human culture, “Mormon Culture,” and especially “Utah Mormon Culture.” It is generally Not part of “Gospel Culture” and teachings with perhaps the exception of individuals who are persistently rude and toxic. Elder Ballard teaches: “To members and leaders of the Church who know of a brother or a sister who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated: Love him or her without judging. Be sensitive and thoughtful without prying. Be warm and caring without being condescending” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/09/a-chance-to-start-over-church-disciplinary-councils-and-the-restoration-of-blessings?lang=eng ). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to be inclusive, kind, and generally non-judgemental (see Matthew 5:43-46 and Matthew 7:1-4 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt?lang=eng ). The most vital Christian attitude to develop is the pure love of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 13 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/1-cor/13?lang=eng and Moroni 7 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/moro/7?lang=eng ). The restored gospel condemns “shunning and . . . [mistreatment] by family, friends, and acquaintances.”

  • Wayne Dequer

    Thank you Mark for your thoughtful and wise response to Jill’s comment about Jana Reiss. 😉 While I don’t always agree with all of Jana’s views and feel free to disagree with her, I have No doubts about her membership and sincerity.

  • JHall

    You missed a major point as to why people are excommunicated and it always has to do with the offending person, not the church or its reputation. One of the benefits and reasons a person is excommunicated often has to do with the severity of one’s sins. As a member, especially a member who has gone through the temple and is living under certain covenants, some sins are much more severe than if committed by those not living under those same covenants. If you have a person like John, who clearly has no intentions of stopping his apostasy, it is much better for him to continue to sin outside of the covenant. Excommunication doesn’t absolve him of his past trangressions and mistakes made while he was a member, but his further rebellion can be done under lesser condemnation if he is excommunicated. It’s really for his own good.

  • Monica

    I think you’re being far too kind. What John’s pending excommunication accomplishes is the creation of even more of an authoritarian, closed system with very rigidly defined, black and white rules, although capriciously enforced, since it can vary with local leadership although some may think the higher ups might have had something to do with this one.

    I would have to take issue with this being good or even strong leadership. Good leaders of a healthy organization would not deal with people in this way. Clearly, this is a dysfunctional and authoritarian organization that manipulates its members into obedience through threats and fear. Reflecting on what could have been, this is sad.

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  • Monica

    What specifically did you think she got factually incorrect? I assume you do know the difference between an opinion and a fact. The only thing I can see that is incorrect is your assumption that she is not a member. She is and has been for over 20 years. And no, I will not take it from you as an active member. Since you claim to be so well informed, you should know that you do not speak for the church and only the First Presidency, or those they authorize, do. Still, I’m curious what you think she got wrong.

  • While Mormonism is seen as a cult that follows a prophet without letting members think for themselves, the reality is that Mormonism is literally 15 million churches that all lump into one religion. We have branches – McConkieites that actually think “Mormon Doctrine” is what it claims to be, prophetites that don’t think for themselves or read the scriptures but just “follow the prophet” at all costs, “scripture scholars” (like me) that understand that the prophet is inspired, but that he is a mortal and that if what he says can’t be backed up by scriptures, then he is spouting his own opinion (until we get a real prophet and seer that can add to our cannon rather than just holding the title while we wait), etc. Each ward or branch, in turn, is also its own church, as are stakes; and the formless blob of opinions grows until we have the face of the Church as a whole – the 15 men at the top.

    This is great, theologically, as our religion holds like water in a bucket where every drop has it’s own physical properties yet acts like a solid mass due to the bucket encasing it. Rain adds water to the bucket as new members join or are born into the fold. Doubts and temptations evaporate some of the water as some members leave the fold by choice.

    Excommunication is a way for the smaller churches in the larger body to evaporate those they feel would be a spiritual threat to themselves and/or others. We get more leaders involved to ensure that the church of the one bishop or stake president is not going lone-wolf and kicking out another church for idealistic or perverse reasons. But they are not really gone as they may stay in the bucket and only stop going to church by choice. If the Lord is with them in their beliefs, them He will send someone to correct the mistake of the excomunicators. If He is not, the the person will have time to repent.

    The point of this very long comment is to say that we cannot leave the Lord, even if the Church kicks us out. Excommunication isn’t just a time for the excommunicated to repent, but also for the Church to change. It likely won’t. However, people come and go and eventually, if one is truly with the Lord, he or she will be restored to the fold as long as they stay in the bucket. I can say that the revelations the Lord has given me have had me fearing excommunication. But the Lord has promised me that if I stay with Him, regardless of what the Church does, then everything will be made as should be in His time. It is the Lord we follow, not ourselves and not the Church. Just as we are not always in alignment with His divine will, nor will the Church. It is, after all, run by humans.

  • Not if he doesn’t leave. Not if he takes a stand and keeps going. Authoritarians want free thinkers to go away. They lose even more power when the free thinkers do not leave.

  • Joel

    In defense of Jana, she wrote a good book, “Flunking Sainthood,” which (like some of JD’s work) inspired my wife and I to STAY in the church when we were ready to bolt and at least try activity with another approach.

    She’s an example of someone who’s found a way to follow President Uchtdorf’s invitation to “stay yet a little longer” with authenticity and integrity. She’s inspired others to try it as well.

    I wonder how many “real Mormons” exist by the definition of the love-it-or-leave it folks. Certainly not 15 million! I wonder if they’d prefer a church of 2-to-4 million of the ideologicically pure.

  • JJM

    John Dehlin’s excommunication is a no brainer. He has publicly doubted a raft of core beliefs (the existence of Jesus Christ, the divinity of the Book of Mormon, the reality of the First Vision and becoming ordained in another faith) and he promulgated his views in a highly public way under the guise of dialogue. He has told more aggressively anti-Mormon groups essentially that he stays in the church because his message has more potency as an ‘insider’ than if he was just yet another ex-Mormon. Having been given an explicit pathway to retain his membership by his Stake President, he has chosen to remain on his disbelieving course and has continued his blog and podcasts reinforcing publicly his unbelief. The effect of this on the church or the perceived purposes for the excommunication are irrelevant. People I know who so fundamentally disbelieve as JD does left the church ages ago so, aside from the self esteem and prestige he seems to derive from all the publicity, it seems pointless to stay in a religion whose core beliefs and whose stance on various issues he rejects.

  • paula

    The podcasts would not even exist if the LDS church didn’t whitewash and cover up the disturbing details of church history. The church is having a truth crisis and instead of addressing the issues, they are cutting off the messengers. This may have worked during the days of Michael Quinn, but it will not work in this day and age with internet and social media. I have yet to find one historicity issue addressed on the Mormon Stories Podcasts that hasn’t turned out to be true upon further study and investigation. And the vast majority of the historicity issues are validated directly from the church archives.

    I have listened to almost every podcast on Mormon Stories. John has never told people to leave the church. He has a vast variety of interviews with both believers and non believers. I personally think that by the time people find Mormon Stories, they are already struggling. People make their own choices for church activity and John has always encouraged people to follow their own personal paths regarding the church. For some, it may involve leaving the church. For others, it might involve staying in the church with likely a deeper understanding of church issues and hopefully some understanding/compassion towards people who struggle. I have no doubt in my mind that John is a good person of integrity, honesty and he has the courage to say what some of us think but are too afraid to say.

    When I hear people spew vitriol toward John, I can’t help but think of the Sadducees and Pharisees.

    I have been a member of this church for over 40 years and have never really felt I could say “I know Jesus lives or I know God lives.” After all, these beings are invisible and my brain doesn’t accept “good warm fuzzy feelings’ over tangible facts. Yes, I’m a doubting Thomas and if I recall correctly, even Jesus made room for Thomas as an apostle.

    I served a mission, I’m married in the temple, my husband and I currently have stake callings. It’s not from lack of trying to believe in all the supernatural stories. I’m just not wired to do so. I do believe in living a good life of service, love and hope. Does my lack of “testimony” mean I should be kicked out of the church?

    Mormon Stories has been a source of therapy for my soul. I can’t recommend the podcasts enough to people who feel they have questions or don’t understand why people are leaving the church. My path will most likely be in the church but I don’t know how much longer I can hold on when the church doesn’t make room for all people who want to participate at various different faith levels and with the need/desire to discuss doubt openly. The church will only shrink if it continues this course in a world where educated countries are becoming increasingly more secular.

    Jana, Thanks for your article. If I recall correctly, you also have a interesting podcast with John Dehlin. I find all of John’s interviews incredibly interesting especially since every Mormon has a unique experiences as members of a unique religion.

  • Nobody Important

    I teach a Sunday School class from the New Testament each week. You should come listen sometime 🙂

  • Nobody Important

    “The fact is, Mormons have no freedom to think for themselves…”

    I always laugh at this line, which gets repeated over and over and over again by ignorant. If it were a “fact”, then my PhD committee would have probably given me a much harder time.

  • Nobody Important

    *the ignorant… or ignorant people

  • Joel

    Isn’t apostasy a little different?

    Open disagreement would have to be a sin for this line of argument to make any sense. Do you think it is a sin?

    I think it’s silly to say that execommunication for apostasy is just part of the spiritual rehabilitation of the individual regardless of the apostate’s impact on the Church and its members.

  • Linda

    How can excommunication diminish his influence?? There is still the Internet. Simply by depriving him of membership cannot make him go away.

  • Dan the Mormon

    Excellent point ABM

  • Dan the Mormon

    Excommunication diminishes his influence because it makes him less trustworthy to outside media as an “insider” and it is also a clear signal to other members that what he is doing is not ok, thereby letting them know not to follow his example.

  • Dewaine

    Any normal person, I would think, would see that Mr. Dehlin has personal problems and issues, not the least of which are pride or at the very least a lack of humility, a lack of charity toward many people (at least toward people in the church), and a bizarre (to me) sense of joy* in provocation and getting attention and even adulation from detractors of the church. He needs adulation and popularity like he needs oxygen. He really needs to start his own church wherein these needs can be filled without harming others’ faith.

    *See the photo of him applauding the Book of Mormon musical.

  • Dan the Mormon

    What the Church gains is that it follows what the Book of Mormon teaches about dealing with unrepentant members of the Church in Mosiah 26:

    29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.

    30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.

    31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.

    32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward

  • Dewaine

    Exactly. And, why does he want to be in a church with which he as so many fundamental and personal disagreements!?

    My opinion is that he is driven by attention, and has been receiving lots of it.

  • Dan the Mormon

    Apostasy is a sin. Publicly teaching doctrines that are contrary to the fundamental teachings of the Church is apostasy and therefore a sin. That said, we are all sinners in our own way. Excommunication only happens to those who refuse to try to repent.

  • Happily Mormon

    GP – You don’t happen to live in Lehi do you? I know it’s a long shot but I know someone with the initials of GP and wondered if you were him.

  • sprat

    If it’s anything like the New Testament class I’ve been sitting through this year, a more accurate title would be “What Joseph Smith and other (male) Mormon leaders have said about the Bible.”

  • Ed

    Excommunication in the LDS faith is an individual endeavor based on the case of the individual in question; there are factors related to others that have an effect, yes, but every disciplinary court is for the personal benefit of the person involved. (Dewaine earlier above explained this). We outside of the court can speculate, but utltimately it is between the person indicted and those that are his plaintiffs, in this case a stake council.
    I have had the LDS Handbook in my posesssion twice in my life, when I posessed the authority to have it; there are three main reasons why Mormon/LDS leaders direct themselves overall: (forgive my memory if I have it fuzzy) 1. Help all of God’s children come unto Christ through His covenants and ordinances. 2. Serve all people as Christ would. 3. Safeguard the good name and station of Christ’s Church.
    Mr. Dehlin knows why he is summoned to the Church court, and it is largely his business. The stake and church try to the utmost to keep it private. Most of us members know the temple questions. If he (Dehiln, or anyone as a member) answers incorrectly to the questions, he is denied access to the temple. If he works in a way against the faith itself, he can expect this step (church counsel) as a part of his repentance process. He can be re-baptized (and actually in the Handbook it states that that is always the goal to achieve for anyone excommunicated) and we all pray and hope that he does re-join the faith. It may seem draconian, but leaders of the LDS Church really believe that his and all of our souls need these measures to be safeguarded and led to our divine nature.
    It may seem harsh, but ultimately there is love in the process of cutting people off from church privilleges. And I know more than one person that has done so.
    I hope Dehlin and many others will re-join in the future and receive all the blessings as a member again.

  • Jim Hodgen

    If John Dehlin claims to have a different path for the Church of Jesus Christ, then that path needs to be evaluated as a prophecy… because it takes specific direction from Jesus Christ to change the doctrine and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Attacking the doctrine, denying pieces that don’t fit with personal beliefs is fine and valuable… but only from someone that does not claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ’s Church. Lobbying human leaders is a secular activity, designed to change human minds.

    Petitioning the Lord and Savior of all mankind is – by command – something done personally and privately through prayer… with the expectation of a direct and personal response and then a revelation through existing leadership that aligns with that revelation is the way the Savior said things work.

    I do not perceive that Mr. Dehlin has trodden that path. He has made no claim of revelation but he has lobbied and critiqued. He has not said that the Savior is the source of his questions but instead cites the trends of the world and his personal beliefs and expectations.

    I applaud him for his personal exercise, but I am compelled to reject his call for change because of it’s source and method. Where – specifically am I wrong in this?

  • EngineerSenseHere

    You ask a great question, which ties directly into the need for excommunication. Somebody else after listening to John Delhin asked “Is he a member of the church?”. Then after finding out he was they might have thought he represented what a righteous active LDS member would say. He was the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Jana Riess (an LDS member) has to worry about the same issue. I’ve read many of her posts and she certainly puts her opinion above that of the LDS leaders (just look at how she passes judgement on the church’s actions). Her actions appear to be on the same path as John Delhin’s.

  • Sarah

    John’s wife and children can retain their church memberships, but their temple sealings to one another will be automatically canceled for all eternity.

    One point to clarify where your post was mistaken. My father was excommunicated over 30 years ago and never rebaptized. His excommunication in no way affected my siblings or my mother’s status, even as it relates to the sealing. My membership record states that I was Born in the Covenant; my mother’s states her sealing date without any additional caveats.

  • Joel

    So, yes, expressing disagreement with the Church and suggesting change in the institution is a sin.

    Sounds creepy. But props for owning up to it.


    He’s a modern day Korihor, teaching the people incorrect principles which leads not just a hometeaching family astray but many. You watch he will come full circle at some point and will completely lose the light he has. Then he is turned over to the buffettings of Lucifer where there is no remorse for Lucifer will not support his followers in their time of need, nether can he because he is the ultimate father of all lies. He is in the building without a foundation. And in the process of losing the one gift that could have saved his soul he has abused and soiled with his folley.

  • Joel


    Let me take your question at face value.

    Because a religion’s impact in a culture (from the familial level all the way to the national) extends far beyond–and often independent of–acceptance of dogma. That’s just an anthropological fact. Consider all of the secular humanists in Europe who are still willing to indentify themselves as “Catholic.” There are many ultra-liberal jews who accept the Jewish label–and might even be willing to wear the yellow star–even though they don’t beleive.

    I don’t know why the existence of unashamed “cultural” or “cafeteria” types so baffles and annoys orthodox/orthoprax members. Honestly, I don’t claim to know.

    But, I suggest, if you are among that baffled and annoyed group, you ought to feel very disingenuous if you ever boast of the Church being “15 million strong.” By your concept of membership, it’s probably a third of that, at best.

  • Joel

    Sorry, DEWAINE. Auto-correct.

  • David

    I have to agree with Sarah. As Hugh Nibley points paraphrasing Heber C Kimball:

    “As Heber C. Kimball reminded the saints, there are no covenants made between individuals in the church. All promises and agreements are between the individual and our Father in Heaven; all other parties, including the angels, are present only as witnesses.” (Breakthroughs I Would Like to See)

  • GP

    Hi Happily Mormon – no, sorry, wrong person. I’m not in Lehi.

  • GP

    Jim – I get the angle where you’re coming from. But do you sincerely believe that the polygamy manifestos and the lifting of the priesthood and temple ban from blacks were in no way influenced by political and/or social pressure? If you do not sense any outside influence, do you have any other explanation as to why God decided to change his mind at a politically and socially opportune time? Coincidence?

    Where are you wrong in this? Certain church policies were/are influenced by the personalities of the leaders. An example of this was the priesthood ban to the blacks which we now know from the recent essay on the subject was a result of American culture at the time (although admittedly the church was a holdout and about 30 years behind the actual movement to get beyond this mindset). You may personally believe that the priesthood ban was of God, but the church moving away from that mindset. If you don’t move too, you will find yourself standing alone.


  • GP

    Both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith were “apostates” in the eyes of their contemporaries. As a Mormon, you are an apostate to the greater Christian world. Christians are apostates to Muslims. Etc.

    My point? You have been told the definition of “apostate” in your upbringing and now you attach it to others who fit the description that has been told to you. Throwing around the word “apostate” is a way to socially punish an individual. Sadly, the definition of this word is only established using circular reasoning… in short, you have let others define it for you.

    It’s too bad that the LDS church has such a broad meaning for the word “apostate” to the degree that they attach it to anyone who disagrees with them publicly – regardless of if it is a doctrinal or a historical matter. Take a breather for a moment and think about how this may be harmful. I hope that you will at least understand, even if you do not agree with me… and perhaps think about why attaching labels and judging those who disagree with you as being in “sin” is not productive nor is it based on solid reasoning.

  • GP

    What we are witnessing is a purification and a call to obedience. Weed out the dissenters. You’ll soon find yourself in good company soon by only being around those who agree with you… but the group will be smaller and smaller over time.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    6) Assure integrity and coherence of “membership” as a concept.

    Verdict: Winner.

    Not sure why this one didn’t make the list. When one says, “I am a member of X,” what does that mean? That you signed up one day? Or that you adhere to the principles and requisites of membership. This applies to all sorts of membership organizations not just churches.

    I really don’t know why Jana Riess can’t understand this, or maybe she understands and doesn’t want to admit it. The bottom line here is that it is funny that anyone says he (or she) doesn’t believe in God, Christ, the Atonement or the Restoration but still wants to be called a Mormon. It has to be OK to say, gee, fella, it doesn’t work that way. If you want to be a moralistic therapeutic deist (look it up), then go be one but it ain’t Mormonism for heaven’s sake.

    Look. If you’re a cop and you steal things, they’ll take your badge away. That’s not being mean, that’s just the way it works. If you join the Rotary and don’t pay your dues, they’ll drop you like a hot potato. That’s not being mean, it’s just the way it works. If you’re a doctor but you pass controlled substances under the table, they’ll kick you out of the AMA among other things. Any membership group wants to be able to police the standards and practices of its members by withholding membership for people who don’t want to adhere to those standards. I appreciate that Jana and others would like to lower the standards, but that’s just whining. The standards are just fine the way they are, because this way everyone knows what it means to be a Mormon. People who don’t believe in God, Jesus, the Atonement or the Restoration may be something else but they sure as God made little green apples ain’t Mormons, no matter how much you complain.

  • Joel

    And in Mormonism, that includes policing thought crimes!

  • sally

    I am a member of church. Mormon Stories has kept me in the church. I am not misled by his statements, but viewing all sides of issuesperfected my testimony. This excommunication is not christlike.

  • GP

    I think that this may be the first time that I can agree with you, at least to some degree. They should excommunicate John because he is not playing by their rules.

    However, people like Jana and John who want to somehow still be connected and are looking for a type of reform in areas where society has already advanced. This will ultimately lead to changes (“revelations”) to allow the church to continue to grow. Imagine what the church would look like if polygamy was still being practiced and blacks were banned from the priesthood.

    In a way, I kind of wish that the church does not reform. They should continue to excommunicate critics and avoid direct dialogue regarding historical and social issues. I think that will lead to a faster and more clear realization that it is not what it claims to be. But I know that in the end the church will indeed reform… once the data on bad PR, slowing/declining membership numbers, and tithing dollars are affected negatively in a measurable way, a revelation will come.

  • Joel

    I agree, Sally. And it makes me sad.

    Apostasy should mean something more than expressed disagreement, even if voiced through the bullhorn of a podcast. We’re not talking about someone submitting an affidavit in support of an extermination order. Nor are we talking about someone contesting who technically holds the keys.

    It’s disappointing. Honestly, I’d like to imagine my Church as being strong enough and having enough confidence in itself to ignore gadflies. As a member, it would be more reassuring to hear the bravado of Hugh B. Brown, “Only error fears inquiry,” or of J. Reuben Clark, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” Instead, our leaders teach: ‘Be careful what you read and listen to. If you’re exposed to some ideas and information, you’ll find it hard to believe us anymore.’

    And, as for Christ-like love, it’s never been a strength of the institution. Throughout all dispensations of time, the institution has never been immune from getting wrapped up in itself and loosing focus. Several of the Prophets in the Old Testament, the Book of Mormon, and arguably the New Testament, were those who railed against the intuitional church, which we believe held keys–at least to the Aaronic Priesthood. (See, e.g., Jeremiah, Abinadi, Jesus.)

    Apologists, don’t get you panties in a bunch. I’m not saying that JD is the Messiah.

  • Nobody Important

    That’s not what my class is like. You might be offended, however, to learn that the twelve apostles that Christ chose were all male 🙂

  • Rawkcuf

    Wow. Woah.
    As Jay Leno would say, “Someone hasn’t been eating enough happy meals.”

  • E.D.

    Nobody Important – I think a more accurate statement would be

    “Mormons have no freedom to share alternative opinions on religious issues.”

    As a member (and a fellow Ph.D.) I definitely censor my thoughts on many topics including gay marriage, gender, and women’s ordination in discussions with other members because I believe that these thoughts are not free to share due to threat of discipline. Yes, I may have a somewhat permissive set of local leaders now, but that changes every 5-7 years. Friends have not been as lucky.

    I am constantly checking the balance of conscience vs. church activity.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    “Silence” members? I can’t imagine why you think anyone is silenced, least of all John Dehlin, who is playing this for all the publicity value he can milk from it.

    It’s not silencing. It is affirmatively saying that you can’t publicly declare your disbelief in God, Christ, the Atonement or the Restoration and still think of yourself as a Mormon. I can’t imagine what the objection to that could possibly be.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Delighted that you agree, even if only a little. 🙂

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I am interested in the statement, “Apostasy should mean something more than expressed disagreement, even if voiced through the bullhorn of a podcast.” I’d like to ask you to clarify that, but first, let’s be sure of our context. Here, “disagreement” is a mild term in the case of someone who declares affirmative un-belief in such core concepts as the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, the eternal significance of Christ’s Atonement, and the Restoration of the Gospel in these, the latter days. Through the bullhorn of a podcast and the Internet and press releases and everything else, the fellow is saying that he disbelieves those things, on account of just how smart and brilliant and empathetic and really very wonderful he is, and that all those “true believing Mormons” (his term, sometimes abbreviated “TBM”) are really a bunch of brainwashed sheep. And he is happy to explain that to anyone who will listen for as long as they will listen and tell him how much they adore him. And then he’ll start in on Church leaders and how mean they are.

    So, here’s my question: If you don’t think that that should be considered apostasy, what on earth SHOULD be considered apostasy? Because the way I see it, if Dehlin isn’t apostate, then we may as well cut that paragraph out of the handbook entirely.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No, it doesn’t.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Good point. Thank you.

  • Mark

    Those Utah Mormons are really worthy of your judgment, eh?

  • Joel

    I recognize that the stake president might be technically justified.

    But it’s unfortunate that “public opposition” would be construed so broadly as to include mere public disagreement. I get that that’s putting it mildly in JD’s case. The problem, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, is that “hard cases make bad law.”

    John expresses (1) that he doesn’t believe, (2) why he doesn’t, and (3) that several church policies are unwise. But he does NOT present as Church doctrine that which is not. He’s not following an apostate sect—i.e., some breakoff branch of the Church. He has not formally joined another church. In essence, he merely expresses disbelief and is critical of policy outcomes. AS A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE, I’m saddened that candid expression of disbelief and disagreement is considered tantamount to apostasy. That JD does it a lot and publicly, doesn’t change the nature of the conduct.

    I admit my bias. I’m steeped in American values and traditions. I get that a religion is different from government and that the Church is not bound by the First Amendment. But freedom of expression seems like a fundament virtue that ought to be tolerated by a noble church. It’s the liberty that Joseph Smith demanded for himself, and championed for others.

    And construing apostasy so broadly just makes the church look insecure. But perhaps it is.

  • Mark

    It is far more than disagreeing with a viewpoint or stance that the Church took. Dehlin has broken with the fundamental doctrines of the LDS Church. I honestly know of no core LDS doctrine that Dehlin would fully defend.

  • Joel

    Have you had a chance to read Gregory Prince’s biography of David O. McKay?

    The anecdotes about Sterling McMurrin and Juanita Brooks are apropos. McKay intervened in both cases to shutdown apostasy proceedings.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Yes, but that would be a cult. 😉

  • trytoseeitmyway

    You sort of didn’t answer my question. And I don’t think that this is a “broad” construction of “apostasy.” To the contrary, if the word doesn’t apply here, it is hard to imagine the case to which it would apply.

    Good for you for being “steeped in American values and traditions.” I’m an American too. 🙂 But there is absolutely nothing un-American about a membership organization requiring fidelity to its principles and values as a condition of membership. The analogy between a membership organization and a government is, well, let’s just say it’s a bit flawed. I can be “steeped in American values and traditions” and still find that analogy to be useless. Right?

    So, here’s my question: If you don’t think that that should be considered apostasy, what on earth SHOULD be considered apostasy? Because the way I see it, if Dehlin isn’t apostate, then we may as well cut that paragraph out of the handbook entirely.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No, I have not read that. I am familiar of course with Juanita Brooks but had not heard of Sterling McMurrin before you mentioned the name. I know a little about Juanita’s history … from her interviews on John Dehlin’s podcast. So, I should acknowledge that I have found that podcast a source of information and perspective. There was a time when my impression of Dehlin would have been inconsistent with church discipline. (I’ll make a little bet with you – I bet it ends up with disfellowshipment not excommunication.) And it seemed for a while that he was making an effort to reconcile or at least co-exist, as it were, with the Church and his membership. But I’ll make another bet with you (is that a sin? I forget. Lemme go get my Coke while I think about it): I bet that in the brief period of “faith reconstruction,” about the time of the most recent Givens (plural) interview, he caught heck from the bulk of his post-Mormon audience. I bet that his pursuit of admiration from them led him to rethink his brief effort to be respectful, and he then turned essentially full time to airing episodes with opponents of the Church. While refusing to accept home teachers in his home, or even visiting teacher for Sis. Dehlin. (Gee.) While posting online not just his doubts but his expressions of rejection of core beliefs. While (and I think this is the worst of all) mocking and disparaging grassroots members as “TBMs” who just aren’t as smart and well educated and moral as him. Listening to him and his buddies chuckle about how dumb we all are (see the “Infants on Thrones” interviews) was the last straw for me.

  • Joel

    Let’s agree to disagree, both as to the topic and whether I answered your question.

    To be honest with you, I suspect either you didn’t read carefully or you’re being deliberately obtuse in hopes of scoring cheap debate points.

  • Joel

    If I’m misinterpreting, I apologize to you.

  • Jen K.

    Amen to what Joel just said. ^^^

    In general, trying to silence and/or censor dissent seems cowardly. It strikes me as the realm of dictators and tyranny. People with true strength and power have no need to prove it or make displays of it – quite the opposite. Only people who feel threatened threaten others.

    People who disagree with us are usually our best teachers if we’re open to listening and truly seeking to improve ourselves. (Listen to the MS podcast with Hans and Birgitta Mattsson – a Swedish former General Authority and his wife – they seem quite genuine with a compelling story.)

    I think it’s important to know the reasons behind this accusation of apostasy – not personal or private reasons – but insofar as it is a message to the rest of us – what exactly is expected of us in terms of loyalty and sustaining the church? It seems we’re entering this strange no man’s land – this foreign terrain called “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” We’re allowed to have our own opinions, but we can’t open our mouths?

    I hope things are clarified. And I hope this isn’t a motion to try to ‘protect’ the rest of us. That seems an insult to intelligence. [I listened to some of John’s podcasts when he first started up – then I thought he got too critical/skewed, often looking for the bad, not admitting the good the Church does – so I stopped listening – then he started interviewing faithful people (Richard Bushman, the Givens, Adam Miller, etc) so I started listening again.]

    I’d like to think the Church can handle any criticism anyone can dish out. Silencing disagreement doesn’t speak well to that.

    If this disciplinary council is about John and John alone, then what I’ve written has no relevance.

  • Mark

    If you were “steeped in American values and traditions,” you would realize that no freedom or right is an absolute. Speech is not an absolute right, there are limitations. As a teacher, I cannot say anything I want to my high school students. You cannot say anything you want on this blog without risking censure. Yet you have construed an Americanism which denies right of association for a church. In your world, blogs and governments have greater power to reject expression than a church. You have invented a theology which neglects the covenant obligations of an individual. Dehlin is not keeping the covenants he promised to uphold. The Church leaders may remove those covenant obligations. It is a merciful act on the part of those leaders.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Well, I’ll accept your apology then because being obtuse or trying to score debating points was the farthest thing from my mind. I thought I was approaching you reasonably so the nasty crack catches me a bit off guard. But since you seem to understand why that might be so, then, sure, we can let it go.

    Still mystified by what makes you think you provided me with an answer to my question (“what on earth SHOULD be considered apostasy?”) or why you think I didn’t read your comment closely enough.

  • Joel


    It’s not a question about what the Church CAN do. The Church is perfectly within its legal rights to excommunicate anyone it chooses.

    I’m expressing my hope as to what the Church would do, what it OUGHT to do. This excommunication says more about the Church than it does about Mr. Dehlin.

    I think that tolerance for the freedom of expression, to the greatest extent possible, is a noble virtue in any institution. I would be praiseworthy in any family, religion, or other private organization. I regard it as a sign of institutional strength and confidence.

    I point to my indoctrination in American tradition and values merely to identify the probable source of that reverence. I don’t mean to grandstand. I wouldn’t accuse anyone of being un-American or a Nazi if they disagree with me.

  • Joel


    What covenant do you think john violated by expressing disbelief and disagreement with policy? (I recognize he does it a lot and that he’s an braying ass about it. But I don’t think that alters the nature of the charge.)

    Personally, I don’t recall promising to not express disbelief or criticize policy. Do you think that “sustaining” requires that?

  • Joel


    Reasonable grounds for finding “Apostasy”: (1) Teaching false doctrine qua doctrine from a position of authority; (2) Advocating that another person or Church holds the keys; (3) Formally joining another church; and perhaps (4) filing affidavit to support an extermination order to drive the saints from a state.

    Should NOT be sufficient to constitute “Apostasy”: Mere heresy, expressing personal disbelief, “incorrect” belief, or disagreement with institutional policy.

    I gave you several examples of reasonable grounds (what “SHOULD” be justification) for finding apostasy. I’m not claiming that list is exhaustive. But, importantly, to help define that list, I also was clear about what OUGHT NOT be on this list, heresy.

    Perhaps the problem is that you’re asking ‘What degree of degree of heresy would warrant a finding of apostasy?’ and you refuse to accept my answer: none.

  • Nobody Important

    not sure what Mark had in mind, but how about baptism covenants? sacrament? aaronic priesthood? melch. priesthood? at least three temple ordinances…

    It’s hard to be a witness for Christ if you don’t believe in Him.

  • Nobody Important

    You seem to love the word “mere”, and, imo, appear to contradict reality every time you use it. It’s hard to claim that someone who has taken credit for – and celebrated – people leaving the church, and has been publicly criticizing it regularly to large audiences for over a decade – is “merely” expressing disagreement.

  • Joel

    Nobody important,

    I hear you. Let me take another crack at this.

    When I’ve used the word “mere,” my intent has been to distinguish between categories of conduct, not to comment on the degree of culpability within that category. I don’t believe that heresy, as a category of conduct, should be equated with apostasy. I think that’s an essential line that baracades a dangerous slippery slope.

    As I understand it, John’s conduct fits the definition, falls within the category, of heresy–extreme, obnoxious and destructive though it is.

    If you think that drawing such a line is analytically incorrect or simply untenable and leads to absurd results, I can respect that. Our disagreement would resemble that between Joseph Fielding Smith and David O. McKay regarding Juanita Brooks and Sterling McMurrin. Those cases were canalogous to this one.

  • Joel

    Guess I walked into that one. Ask a vague question, get a vague answer.

    I suppose I should have asked “what element or aspect of which covenant do you believe John violated?”

    Your reference to the sacrament covenant is resourceful. And I’d agree there’s a breach there. Touché.

    Relying on that as the type of breach that would warrant excommunication strikes me as strained. Expressing that you lack faith in the divinity of Christ would reasonably disqualify you for a temple recommend. But should it disqualify you from membership? That would seem to put you at odds with Elder Uchtdorf: “I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, ‘Your testimony must be this tall to enter’.”

  • Nobody Important

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I personally find that “heresy” and “apostasy”, while not synonymous, do have a bunch of overlap, and both would apply to JD. As the LDS church defines it, apostasy means “turn away from the truth” which JD certainly has from this viewpoint. You mentioned above, as does the LDS material, a list of particular examples of apostasy that would warrant disciplinary action.

    As far as drawing a line is concerned, I would find it improper. In our secular justice system, we try as hard as we can to compartmentalize crimes committed by a perpetrator and try/judge them by predefined laws. While this is about as good as we can do in a just society, it’s not so in God’s church. The entire spiritual health and trajectory of the individual is taken into account, in addition to the effect that it was having on other members. I would certainly be disciplined more severely than a new convert for the same type of sin. Most important, the Spirit is to direct and confirm disciplinary outcomes. I’ve heard anecdotes of this contradicting the bishop/stake pres’s planned course of action in both directions, and can affirm it in my own (very limited) experience (which luckily have all had positive outcomes).

  • Joel

    Well said. Food for thought beyond this thread. Thank you.

    For tonight, you make me realize that it comes down to trust and faith in the institution. While I believe in inspiration and even revelation, I don’t believe that the leaders are so reliably in tune that the kingdom can afford to ignore the distinction between heresy and apostasy. I don’t think our well-intentioned but mortal leaders should trust themselves with such arbitrary power.

    “Lead kindly light” is one thing. To me, lead kindly Church is another. You’re a humbler man than I.

    Nevertheless, in the end, this conversation is academic. The arbitrary, plenary power of local leaders to excommunicate just is. No checks, no balances, no meaningful appeals.

    Time will tell what effect these excommunications for heresy have. Again, the moment matters a lot more the Church than it does for the obnoxious gadfly.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    “Do we mean to communicate that it’s actually SINful merely to express disagreement with our Church?”

    No, that’s not what “we” mean to communicate at all. Not even close. Hope that helps.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    OK, this represents an answer. Thank you. But all of these amount to expressing disagreement, don’t they? Look:

    #1, What is a “position of authority”? Isn’t holding the priesthood a position of authority? If not, why not. And why is the position important – if the key is that false doctrine is being taught, then that’s John Dehlin. Your point here and elsewhere has been that anyone in the Church should be free to express any opinion they want without ecclesiastical consequence. If you start to abandon that ground – and good for you, because it is obviously too extreme – adding something vague about the person’s “position” in the Church seems unrelated to the question of imposing discipline based on the expression of contrary belief.

    #2 – So you agree that some forms of advocacy are bad; you just want to limit what kinds of advocacy are disqualified. OK, then you agree with me that some forms of advocacy are inconsistent with membership in the Church. Yet, somehow you imagine that denying the existence of God, denying the divinity of Christ, denying the existence or meaning of the Atonement of Christ, and denying that the true Gospel has been restored to the earth in these, the latter days, are not among the things that can’t be advocated? But forever why not? Keep in mind, you’ve already abandoned the position that all forms of speech are immune, because you think that advocating that someone else holds the keys (or that no one does? you’re vague about that) is disqualifying. So how did you arrive at your list of disqualifying expressions of opinion, and why do you think that the Church should respect your list as opposed to the definition it has always used?

    #3 – This has the advantage of being a bright-line test, and one that is not directly related to advocacy. Dehlin of course *did* join another church – the Universal Life church, and you are obviously willing to give him a pass for that, so even this test you would not apply in practice. It also elevates form over substance.

    #4 – This one is laughable. It is a sui generis category to take into account a historical precedent which would be extraordinary unlikely to occur today. But let’s also consider that for someone steeped in American values such as yourself, this one should also be extraordinary problematic. “Filing an affidavit” has long been the kind of conduct that the law regards as *privileged* (it’s called the litigation privilege) and immune from liability, for First Amendment reasons. So, here, you’re willing to abandon application of First Amendment principles to church discipline. And, good for you, because that is obviously an untenable position, as this discussion demonstrates.

    I appreciate that you answered my question – thank you. I think we’ve illustrated, together, that your very narrow definition of discipline-worthy apostasy is untethered to the free-speech values you claimed to be upholding and would have no practical benefit to the Church or its members in assuring themselves that membership in the Church implies a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and of the Restoration of the Gospel in these, the latter days. It would reduce membership to a sort of social club (this is how Dehlin imagined it, by the way) in which those who don’t share the values of the organization can hypocritically pretend otherwise. I see no value in that, and have trouble imagining why you do.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    “The arbitrary, plenary power of local leaders to excommunicate just is.”

    Oh, c’mon. That’s a terrible thing to say. Church discipline is only exercised according to specific procedural requirements, and in a case like this assures that the matter is considered by as many as 15 priesthood holders after notice to the member and an opportunity for the member to be heard and to present witnesses. More importantly, the procedure demands that the priesthood leaders earnestly seek the will of the Lord in the matter. Does that seem arbitrary to you? Tell me why. Far from “no effective appeal,” you have yourself cited historical precedents in which the general leadership intervened in matters to correct errors or to extend leniency. I think your comment does a disservice to the seriousness, hesitancy and spiritual supplication with which bishops and stake presidents proceed in disciplinary matters.

  • Joel

    You win, Socrates.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    High praise! Thanks. Glad I could help.

  • Dewaine

    Seeing all this comments, I’m not as surprised as I should be that the sense communal democratization has transferred from the political to the religious sphere for many people. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, democracy tends to violence and destruction, along with a massive blind spot toward said violence.

    Thank heavens the church is not run as a democracy, and that those who desire such a thing can start their own little dominions.

  • Dewaine

    I don’t care about the numbers of members in the church. I know they are higher than actual practicing members, and too high because many of those counted as members don’t want to be but have not bothered to remove their names from church records.

    Culturally, the trend overall trend is toward decivilization, at least among the US population, in my opinion.* To follow my line of reasoning, which I do, there should be a trend of fewer LDS in the US in the church, overall. People who are out to make a change in the world are free to do so, they are not free to force any and all social organizations to put up with their proposals for “betterment” and change.

    * I suggest, in my own experience, these factors of deciviliaztion: the general decline in education, the decline in the number of young people learning higher artistic skills, the general increase in military spending at the local level, the general increase in militarization abroad, and the pervasive rotten corruption in every piece of legislation that passes for law at the national level (such as the insurance company lawyers writing the latest health legislation, ACA).

  • Nobody Important

    Your experience is mostly foreign to me. Generally the best Sunday School lessons are the ones filled with questions and discussions. Sure, if someone presents something that contradicts LDS church teachings or doctrine, then the teacher or someone is obligated to correct or clarify.

    I see the “permissiveness” argument on boards these days quite frequently, and once again, it’s foreign to me. Having spent time in wards in multiple states over the last decade, the bishops and other leaders, while vastly different in personality and appearance, have taught the same gospel principles and followed the same church policies. I acknowledge that I personally have never “pushed” my local leaders to see how far I could go before they would intervene.

  • Dewaine

    It occurs to me that this needs pointing out, as others have not figured it out:

    Mormonism, which is / and Christianity (as defined in Matthew 5-7), is an elitist religion, not intended to be practiced by an entire demos. It separates out people. Those who cannot take instruction, who cannot be disciplined in by the commandments, cannot and should not be bothered with the expectations and demands of Christianity.

  • GP

    ‘People who are out to make a change in the world are free to do so, they are not free to force any and all social organizations to put up with their proposals for “betterment” and change.’

    Who is exercising “force” on an organization in this case? John Dehlin is following his conscience and an organization (the LDS church) has decided (or will soon decide) that his conscience and actions are incompatible with their private organization. Since it it their own private organization, it is within their right to excommunicate him. But nobody is forced to do anything here… each party is choosing their own actions.

  • GP

    You are making a broad assumption that the reason those who cannot be part of the church, do not because of a lack of obedience (sin):

    ‘One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

    Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.’

    President Uchtdorf, October 2013 GC

    My case falls under the “other” category that President Uctdorf cited. I was in no way sinful (beyond being human), lazy, or offended. It was the problematic history of the church that caused me to make the very painful decision to leave. I did not want to leave – I was very happy as a member. But the evidence against the church’s truth claims is so overwhelming many times over as comprehensively outlined in http://cesletter.com. I wish that this troublesome history did not exist and there would be more room for belief, but I cannot testify of something in the literal sense when I know (in the literal sense) that it is not “true”. That would be dishonest.

    Once you see through the problematic history, the direction of the church becomes less than divinely inspired and things start to make sense. Like the lifting of the practice of polygamy and the priesthood ban to the blacks. Those were changed because of social pressure, not because God coincidentally changed his mind at a politically and socially opportune time. John Dehlin is advocating the same kind of directional change. He is actually trying to help the church out in moving forward. He will be the fall guy today, but the church will ultimately move in the direction he is advocating – to what degree and in what way, I am not sure, but I have my own speculations. In any case, I predict that when the church does that, the members, will chime in with comments like “we always knew that this would happen” or something along those lines. That’s how it works… and it is effective so long as the changes can be made over time, particularly over generational lines.

  • Dewaine

    I don’t disagree with your point.

    But to the degree the church assimilates, it will become less defined, and ultimately less Christian.

  • GP

    I agree that assimilation will make it less defined. But I’m not sure about less Christian. I suppose it all comes down to how a person defines “Christian” though… and I’m not inclined to get in a debate over a subjective definition.

    Anyway, take a good look at the Community of Christ (formerly “RLDS”) church. The LDS church will look similar in some ways in 30 or so years from now. Quite frankly, it has no other choice in order to remain relevant.

  • Dewaine

    I was pointing out the obvious: that the church (or anyone else) is not forced to listen to Mr. Dehlin. Defenders of democracy often conflate freedom of speech with the implication that others should be required to put up with the speech they do not want to hear. Private discrimination in the choice of speech is fundamentally good.

  • Joel


    I can’t disagree with that statement.

    Although, the pious rebuke ought to be tailored to lack of faith in the Restoration and lack of deference to Church leaders, which the Restoration may entail. That would be fair. Who is disputing the virtue Christian discipleship?

    See, I think you’re conflating obedience to God with subservience to Church leaders. And even more specifically, the difference of opinion seems to center around whether acceptance of the Restoration requires us to be comfortable that local bishops and stake presidents are the final judges of whether another’s beliefs and statements should disqualify that person from the benefit of saving ordinances.

    There’s still plenty of room for calling people to repentance, even without the straw men.

  • Bruce

    What in the world is The Church, and many members so afraid of? I have found John Dehlin to be a really good guy: who simply wants the truth as I do. He really isn’t some bogeyman or demon intent on stealing children from their homes. I too, have found great comfort and support in Mormon Stories – frankly much more (lately) than unknowing, ignorant and uncaring local leaders. It has been my life experience that “when the pig squeals the loudest – its an indication that one is getting pretty close to the truth”.

  • Trytoseeitmyway

    There is zero evidence of fear, so it’s funny that critics keep wanting to frame the question in those terms. There is not fear but instead a desire to retain integrity and discourage manifest hypocrisy. I’m amazed that y’all don’t want to acknowledge that. What are you afraid of?

  • Joel

    We’re all looking at the same body of evidence. Eye of the beholder.

    NEWS FLASH: To everybody except a few million faithful members, it looks like an act of fearful retrenchment against the Information age, unbridled social media, and a growing movement among Mormons to speak their minds.

    You think national newspapers are covering the story because they see it as an example of the Mormon Church maintaining its integrity and preventing hypocrisy? No, through a Western World zeitgeist that reveres the market place of ideas, this looks like the suppressing of contrarians.

    Say it doesn’t matter what people in the Big and Spacious Building think. That’s respectable. But let’s not be naive.

  • Dewaine

    Subservience? Please. You become a member of a church by adopting the beliefs and social mores of the group. This is not subservience; it is a choice made by free people. If you don’t like a church, it is silly to be a member of it, especially when there are so many better choices for people like Mr. Dehlin.

  • Joel

    Sorry that word prevented you from getting the point.

  • Nobody Important

    It seems your acknowledging exactly what ttsimw is saying – that those who have an inside knowledge or first-hand experience know that “fear” is not a player in this process, and rather it’s a false narrative propagated by the ignorant or deliberately deceptive.

  • Trytoseeitmyway

    Thank you, yes. Perception isn’t reality, and when the perception is wrong, it deserves to be challenged. Joel obviously doesn’t like being challenged, or he wouldn’t resort to sarcasm and dismissiveness (“news flash”). And he’s factually wrong anyway; it is just not the case that “everyone” outside of the Church sees this case in the way he describes, even if they care at all. I think that there must be many, particularly those who are conscientious and faithful about their own religious and other membership affiliations, who respect the effort to assure membership integrity and preclude hypocrisy. That was my point earlier, which Joel never addressed, being too busy with sarcasm and “debating points.”

  • Joel

    Nobody important,

    I see that. And I’ve been on a number of disciplinary councils myself, as it sounds like you have. No fear for the institution or membership was a factor. There was a lot of love and concern. Although, none of those were about apostasy.

    I do think fear is at least a factor, even in the face of it. It’s fear for the safety of other members, because he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who might kill the sheep. You mentioned that he’d bragged about persuading members away. Isn’t that a fear issue?

    As far as top-down strategy of purging from Salt Lake, on one hand, the insider would have good reason to believe that’s not true. It’s certainly not supposed to happen that way. And the PR dept seems to deny it. On the other hand, even viewing it from the inside, it can be difficult to dismiss the coincidence as happenstance: JD + Kate Kelly + Rock Waterman + GC talks about church history and the Internet, all within a couple of months. You haven’t seen a cluster like that since the fall 1993.

    When Packer and Oaks use the watchtower analogy when discussing excommunication of intellectuals, doesn’t that connote fear of the destruction that they might cause?

  • Trytoseeitmyway

    I guess if you equate a motive to protect with “fear,” then you can say that leaders fear hypocrites. But the problem is, that’s not a reasonable equation. To see that, ask yourself if a desire to protect children from abusers means that you “fear” the abuser. I also don’t think – this still gets ignored, which is telling in itself – that the dominant purpose is protective of membership. I think the dominant purpose is to assure the integrity and meaning of membership as a concept. If (like John Dehlin) you declare before a public audience that you disbelieve in God, Christ, the Atonement and the Restoration, you probably shouldn’t have our blessing in calling yourself a Mormon. No one wants to address why that doesn’t make sense – because it does.

  • Joel

    I deserve that.

    It was bad form for me to respond to your comment after earlier indicating that I don’t care to engage with you.

  • Joel

    Nobody important,

    My initial point was that I think it’s silly to insist that there’s “no evidence” that this excommunication–and excommunication of apostasy, in general–is primarily fear based.

    There’s plenty of room to argue about what conclusions that evidence supports. None of us are actually participating in these proceedings. So, we’re all in the position of construing the evidence from some degree of distance. It’s perfectly reasonable for the faithful member to explain why the evidence doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion drawn by so many “liberal” members and non-members–especially when you interpret everything in a light most favorable to the Church and extend every benefit of the doubt. And the faithful member may have particular insight, because of greater familiarity with the process.

    But it’s not as if the same body of evidence can’t be construed with a reasonable degree of cynicism to conclude that this reflects retrenchment out of fear. In fact, I think that’s the most common conclusion, drawn by both some members and most non-members.

  • Joel

    I deserve it also because I was snide. And there was no call for that.

  • JayDawg

    This post and many of the comments lack any kind of logical foundation. This comment, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. It takes no creativity or interpretation to judge Mr. Dehlin as an apostate, because his words are unalterable evidence that he has, through his words and actions, as Mr. Koltko-Rivera has pointed out, “separated himself from the body of Christ.”

    The purpose of excommunication is to remove the wolves from the midst of the sheep. The wolf I’m worried about is not the one who says, “leave the fold” and then devours only one, but the one who says, “stay nearby, and allow me to mingle amongst you”, and then devours multitudes.

  • GP

    What is ironic is that you pointed out a lack of logic in the responses, yet demonstrated the use of a logical fallacy in your response (circular reasoning). Through what logic basis do you charge John Dehlin as having “separated himself from the body of Christ”? Ask a variety of folks with different backgrounds and you will get different responses. Personally, I think that the LDS church has separated itself from the body of Christ by whitewashing and otherwise obscuring or hiding the true history of the church and the character of Joseph Smith in particular. Logically speaking, what more value did your statement add than mine?

  • Nobody Important

    In response to “it can be difficult to dismiss the coincidence as happenstance…” (this can also apply to the most recent comment of yours)

    Actually, I still haven’t seen any evidence of anything besides coincidence, and statistically speaking, it’s a very unimpressive coincidence.

    In the multi-million member LDS church, several people are disciplined/excommunicated EVERY WEEK. The fact that a couple (unrelated) cases tried to boost their worldly fame by publicizing their own, with a healthy dose of deception to boost their own image, doesn’t change anything on the LDS church’s side of the equation.

    Consider this- what if the subjects from every apostasy disciplinary case in the LDS church that took place in Feb. 2014 (the chosen month is arbitrary) would have publicized in the same way as KK or JD? Then the news media would have certainly been talking about a Mormon “purge” from that month. However, because they didn’t, the media treats it as if it didn’t happen.

  • Joel

    Fair enough.

  • Jen K.

    Here’s an excerpt about David O. McKay intervening on behalf of Sterling McMurrin. It gives me hope – I love the story!

  • Jen K.

    I agree that to the world-at-large, disciplinary proceedings for John probably look like “an act of fearful retrenchment against the information age, unbridled social media, and a growing movement among Mormons to speak their minds.”

    Whether that has anything to do with actual motives, we may never know.

    Sociologically speaking, being part of an elitist, top-down organization may have been desirable 40 – 50 years ago, but the world today (younger individuals generally) find it distasteful, even repugnant. That may baffle octogenarians, but I think Jana has a point wondering if the Savior ever endorsed such a mindset.

  • Joel

    I love that story.

    JUANITA BROOKS: Because wrote the book “Mountain Meadows Massacre,” which really resurrected and elucidated the scandal in great detail. Because of the damage caused by the book, Apostle Delbert Stapley strongly recommended to McKay that she be excommunication.

    Stapley related; “President McKay is a more compassionate man than I am, and he said ‘LEAVE HER ALONE.’”

    Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, at 54-55.

  • Dewaine

    I like this point very much, and have long believed this without knowing Heber C. Kimball said or wrote that.

  • Dewaine

    Most mindsets are not suited to be LDS. That is not a problem.

  • Joel

    Design defect?

  • Nicole

    Oh, lord… we’ve well and truly reached the point where I honestly can’t tell if I’m reading satire or a true blue mormon being sincere…

    I have listened to many hours of John Dehlin talking on various podcasts and have read a lot of what he’s written, and I honestly believe he is driven purely by a desire to help fellow struggling mormons. His podcasts have been a stepping stone out of an abusive situation for hundreds of people (at least), including me and my whole family.

    John Dehlin receives a TON of flak from the “detractors of the church;” most exmormons can’t stand how middle-of-the-road-try-at-all-costs-to-stay-in-the-church his stance is. I believe (I could be remembering wrong, of course) that he once said that he receives more hate from exmormons than he does from mormons.

    And seriously???? You’re using a picture of him applauding at a musical as evidence of… what, exactly? that exmormons love him?? I really hope you’re joking here.

  • Elder Skywalker

    “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine”. -Obi Wan Kenobi

  • Kevin Christensen

    Excommunication is, inevitably, a disturbance in the social fabric. But John’s explicit and longstanding denial of the fundamental truth claims of the church, and his formal endorsement of critics like Grant Palmer and Jeremy Runnells, as well as his diagnosis that no thinking person could confront the evidence and avoid the conclusions he has come to (not exactly and endorsement of Bushman, Givens, etc.), exists as a painful and disruptive disturbances in the Mormon social fabric already.

    I personally sympathize with John’s starting ideals, and I wrote about some of the problems he has built Mormon Stories on in a 1995 RBBM essay, “Paradigms Crossed,” long before he started. And for a couple of years had offered to be interviewed myself. He said he wanted to make it happen, but ultimately didn’t. And I removed myself from the list after the the events of 2012 at the Maxwell Institute.

    I can’t help but notice that John’s use of Press Releases is the equivalent of summoning his Stake President, Bishop, and the Church to a Trial in the Court of Public Opinion. He is telling the Church, “conform to my standards, or face the social consequences I have the power to impose.” What he is doing is a form of social control, based on the values and the power of the society to which his deepest loyalties are rooted. And that, apparently, is okay when he does it. If there were such a thing as Irony Police, I think some arrests would be made.

    John accuses the Church of white washing their history (despite the Joseph Smith papers project, the Tragedy at Mountain Meadows book, and other indications of long-standing trends to openess). How come no one told me this stuff? he complains, and then admits that he doesn’t read much. He quotes Runnells on the ideal that the Church is obligated to put all of the information on the table before we make any faith decision or commitment of time and money. He doesn’t stop to consider just where we can go to get Omniscience as a free gift, and how a faith decision could occur when Omniscience is demanded. Faith, by definition, occurs in the absence of complete knowledge. I notice that none of his favorite authorities have come close to putting “all information on the table.” And John doesn’t either. He poses as a martyr for truth and open discussion. But can’t help but notice that his thumb is always on the scale when it comes to the issue of balance.

    I was rather startled a couple of years ago to see that most of my comments under the Coe interview at Mormon Stories had been deleted. I had, among other things, pointed out that the Book of Mormon did not mention iron arrowheads and brass helmets for he and Coe claimed that the lack of evidence for which was damning, and a hard truth for Mormons to face. My experience in being silenced and excluded in his forums is not particularly unusual. Open discussion in his forums ought not make either John or his favorite authorities look like they don’t really know what they are talking about. Censorship and silencing is apparently fine when he does it in the interests of his society.

    And incidentally, I know a woman who woke up the morning after he husband’s excommunication, and her overwhelming emotion was that her pain had been validated. She finally felt as though the men in authority had taken her side and sympathized with her feelings. And rather than decide that he had been kicked out and rejected by the church, the husband never missed a meeting, and eventually got rebaptized, and counseled and supported other men and familes in their processes. The mother of one of the men involved even told him that he was an answer to her prayers.

    Excommunication is not the same thing as burning at the stake. Nor is it the same thing as damning someone for eternity. It is simply about social boundaries. We chose we boundaries we cross, which ones we question, and which ones we defend.

  • GP

    It’s difficult to decide where to start with your posting. I’ll pick out a few things that stood out to me:

    1. “He is telling the Church, “conform to my standards, or face the social consequences I have the power to impose.”

    It’s entirely up to the church as to how it wants to deal with social change. John Dehlin is just a person. If it isn’t him, then it would be someone else (and there will be more in the future). What you’re witnessing now is very similar to the events that led up to the reversal of the practice of polygamy and the priesthood ban to the blacks. Fast forward 20-30 years from now, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation about John. The church always lags society on making change, yet ultimately it does change when there is a threat to loss of membership or power.

    2. “John accuses the Church of white washing their history…”

    Without a doubt, the church is not forthcoming about historical accounts that challenge the whitewashed/correlated version. I challenge you to show me any gospel art or video depicting the first vision or BoM translation method that actually tells a true accounting of the events. The apologetic arguments on the BoA issues have morphed over the years from being a literal translation (as is clearly noted in the book, the facsimiles, and evidence like the Egyptian Grammar and Alphabet) to being a kind of inspirational conduit for “the gift and power of God” to inspire Joseph to “translate”… which in the church’s new definition of “translate” really means “dictate”. In no church curriculum are any details of Joseph Smith’s polygamous past mentioned at all including the most recent PH/RS book on Joseph Smith’s life – not a mention of him even practicing polygamy in that book. All of this under the hasty generalization of “milk before the meat” which technically means that it’s permissible by God to hide weird and troubling history because people aren’t “ready” to handle it. Of course, the reality is that these troubling historical facts don’t really “sell” as well as the whitewashed version – which is why the church whitewashes.

    3. “I was rather startled a couple of years ago to see that most of my comments under the Coe interview at Mormon Stories had been deleted…”

    Nobody’s filtering you. Write a paper on it and get it peer reviewed in general academia. Challenge Coe and show your data to prove it.

    4. “And rather than decide that he had been kicked out and rejected by the church, the husband never missed a meeting, and eventually got rebaptized, and counseled and supported other men and familes in their processes.”

    The church’s truth claims are false. If more people would be told the truth of the church’s history like in the cesletter.com, they would easily come to this realization. Social pressure (family and friends) and the circular reasoning that “the spirit” (simply a physiological emotion) as establishing tangible facts like the BoM’s historicity is what causes the confirmation bias that fuels illogical apologetic arguments. Trying to explain this to someone outside of the faith would be laughable to the person you’re talking to.

    Given this, and how John was treated, why in the world would he want to go back? I can speak for myself… trying to sit through church and hearing the same whitewashed history without logical or scientific grounding would approach psychological torture.

  • Kevin Christensen

    Point 1, misses the point I was making. I disagree with the picture of the LDS church as always lagging on social issues, or that social pressure is the only source of change. Not that I don’t notice the tensions on hot button issues, but that I have a broader perspective than just those issues.

    Point 2, somehow my examples of church openness disappeared and you shift to a discussion of church art, as though Church art is the sole official voice of the Church? Long before John was having a cow over First Vision issues, I was enjoying Allen’s 1970 Improvement Era essay, buying Bachman’s book off the shelves at the Deseret Book across from the SLC temple, and for the record, seeking and finding amazing and open scholarship on a wide range of topics provided by church members, who to me, represent the church just as much as some guy on a committee. Rather than go all Othello on the church, I asked and found straight answers from the people who were eager and willing to share what they knew. And I have noticed for many years that John can criticize selective white washing in one moment, and ask for supportive testimonials from which to cherry pick and present with the other. His PR tendencies are courageous and honest, whereas any Church PR reeks. Yep.

    Point 3. Actually, the evidence demonstrates clearly that John did delete my well documented comments from under the Coe interview. And while he wrote that he wanted to make an interview with me happen, he didn’t due to other priorities, which to me looked like negative interviews. I do realize that John’s message boards is not my only recourse. For the record, I have been published in several peer-reviewed journals, a few books, and even have an essay in collaboration with Margaret Barker out from Oxford University Press. One of my essays does include a discussion of Coe’s comments on the PBS Special.

    4. So we jump from a discussion of how other people have responded to excommunication in a positive and productive way to a cliche dismissal of LDS truth claims.

    That follows. For the record, I wrote a long and detailed response to the CES letter for the Interpreter. I had a different response to the content because I nurtured the same seeds in a different soil and with a different sense of care and potential. Of the parable of the Sower, Jesus says in Mark, “Know ye not this parable? How then shall ye know all parables?”

  • GP

    1. Based on the historical record, I am certain that social and political pressure ended the practice of polygamy and ended the priesthood ban to black men. As soon as a few years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, church leaders continued to propagate and reprehensibly expound upon the racist teachings of Brigham Young. I am certain that without those social and political pressures, the church would have continued promoting those practices and doctrines. That said, you are obviously free to have a differing opinion.

    2. I would expect the church curriculum to have written material and art that is accurate to the historical account. I would also expect that the church has a responsibility to educate their membership with the complete history, and not just a favorable subset cobbled together with cherry-picked bits of information, sometimes to the point of borderline falsifications. I expect to receive this at church and not to have to hunt for the information (that I otherwise wouldn’t know existed) on my own. All of this would be to allow an individual to make an informed decision as to what they believe, not a decision based upon partial information. I do not think that is an unreasonable expectation.

    Regarding the art, I’ve heard the “artist’s conception” argument and I can’t bring myself to buy it because the church is very careful in what it chooses to show its membership. Look for gospel art depicting angels with wings or showing the Holy Ghost descending in the literal form of a dove. Those details are carefully vetted out because they are inaccurate according to the church’s viewpoint. Yet we have about a dozen or so images incorrectly showing the BoM translation method without correction. Even now (post-essay) there isn’t a single church-sponsored image of Joseph Smith looking in a hat at a rock to translate the BoM, without the plates being used. I doubt that I can convince you personally on this point, but I encourage you to get an outsider’s perspective on this matter and keep an open mind as to how this can be seen as whitewashing at best or deceptive at worst.

    3. In which journals have you published your peer-reviewed findings? Have you shared your publications with Coe? What is his response to your findings? And what do you make of the absence of literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other pieces of missing evidence like DNA, archeology, linguistics, coinage, chariots, horses, steel, etc? Do you believe in the limited geography model? How do you reconcile two Hill Cumorahs or a long foot journey lugging plates that ultimately were not needed in the translation? A wayward Zelph who found his way to North America? The “Lamanites” being identified in Joseph Smith’s backyard for literally decades (see: Lamanite Placement Program)? BoM concepts and textual matches with “The Late War”, “The First Book of Napoleon”, “The View of the Hebrews”? Anachronisms of NT text and KJV translation errors in the BoM? The tree of life dream matching Joseph Smith Sr’s dream? All of these problems from the most correct book upon the face of the earth? I could go on and on… and I suppose that you have an answer for each of those since it seems that you are well-informed. Answer me honestly – do you find your apologetic theories to be more rational and consistent than the available evidence?

    4. We have looked at the data, we have come to different conclusions, and we have expressed those conclusions here. That’s what a blog comment is intended to be. I would disagree that it is “positive and productive” to have an excommunicated member come back to the church and I listed my reasons to support my position. You think otherwise.

    Regarding the CES Letter response, I would ask you again, do you honestly believe that your positions are more rational than what the evidence that critics raise? I personally have found apologetic arguments to be scientifically vacuous, historically inaccurate, irrational, and/or logically fallacious. As such, I personally could not assert any divine origins on the LDS church and remain an honest person, yet I recognize that there are shades of gray and metaphysical perspectives that others have found and made work for them. In those cases, I respect one’s right to belief; however, I directly challenge any attempts to hide or obfuscate the historical or scientific record.

  • Dewaine

    There are things Mr.Dehlin does not like about the church, and things the church does not like about Mr. Dehlin. It is not a tragedy that they part ways.

  • Kevin Christensen

    1. I’ve lived through the period of most intense social pressure, and was in Salt Lake City when the revelation was announced, where there was amazingly little outside pressure. For the record, Brigham Young did not invent his own racist teachings but simply passed on an unfortunate heritage of Western culture. See The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by David M. Goldenberg and Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery by Stephen R. Haynes, both reviewed for their implications for understanding LDS attitudes by
    Stirling Adams in BYU Studies 44/1.

    2. One of the great insights of recovery literature is that “expectations are premeditated resentments.” From another perspective, Thomas Kuhn observes that in science “anomaly emerges against a background of expectation.” In my own life, I’ve found a great deal of enlightenment in considering, whenever I run across something I did not expect, by considering, what should I expect. When I remove the beams from my own eye, it turns out that I always see more clearly. It turns out that it’s rather unrealistic to expect artists to be the best historians. After all, how historically accurate is most devotional religious art in any culture?

    3. I publish under my own name, so finding my publications is a simple matter of Googling. I’ve been in Dialogue, Sunstone, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, the FARMS Review of Books, the FARMS Occasional Papers, Interpreter, and books including Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, and Joseph Smith Jr: Reappraisals after Two Centuries.

    Coe can read them if he wants, but I understand that these days, he is far more interested in fly fishing. And it doesn’t take peer review to investigate whether or not the Book of Mormon mentions iron arrowheads or brass helmets. Mild curiosity and minimal interest and effort will do. The same applies to coins. The editorial header may have interpreted Alma 11 as talking about coins, but the actual text does not, so that form of criticism is misplaced. Nibley talked about that decades ago, and Robert Smith presented at the recent FAIR Conference on how the details of that system match up against the ancient world.

    Rather that focus on hot button issues for the Book of Mormon, I take a broader perspective. Your list of decisive issues does not show any awareness of the things that I personally find most impressive and important. For instance, Alma’s conversion as NDE, the presence of First Temple Judaism in the Book of Mormon, Larry Poulson’s demonstration that the Grijalva is the only river in the Western Hemisphere that matches the description of the Sidon, and how the description of the journey of Limhi’s explorers matches what they would have seen and found when mistaking another location for Zarahemla, And comparisons with ancient Tree of Life literature such as the Narrative of Zosimus that impress me far more compared to 1 Nephi than the late second-hand account of Smith Senior’s vision of wandering amid fallen timber (which details, I note, do not appear, in the Book of Mormon). The accurate descriptions of Lehi’s journey.. much more. Ben McGuire, I find, does very good work on attempts to derive the Book of Mormon from 19th Century parallels. I do keep up with the critical approaches to my faith. I find that I consistently learn far more about the best arguments of the critics from the defenders than I learn abut the best arguments of the defenders from the critics.

    4. I’ve written a lot about how and why people can approach the same questions and come to different conclusions. That, it happens, was the theme of my response to the Letter to a CES Director. “Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest.” And the LDS scholars that I respect most don’t hide or obfuscate the historical or scientific record. The look deeper and further, and see more. IMHO.

  • GP

    1. I agree that BY did not invent his own racist teachings. He picked it up from the culture around him. Either way, it’s a shame that those teachings led to withholding so many “blessings” to black members of the church for over 100 years. We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether there was social influence, I certainly see the influence and can think of no other reason to undo something that was started by social influence to begin with.

    2. It sounds like the church is living up to your expectations – that would make it a good fit for you. At the very least, I would suggest that you try to understand that many others (I would guess/hope the majority) prefers to be given the complete story of something when they commit their lives to a cause.

    3. I have read in all of the publications that you have mentioned and I do find them fascinating when learning about things relating to Mormonism. I was actually hoping for some good peer review outside of the Mormon intellectual community to see what they make of it. I sincerely find it interesting the things that apologetics come up with; however, I find it very telling that the information collected is not contiguous. That is, the evidence does not connect to tell a narrative that matches the BoM. For example, what difference does it make when minor esoteric details may align yet the DNA does not match? Did you know that there are similarities between JFK and Lincoln? Sometimes there are blips of information in entropy, but unless that information is useful and coherent with the other evidence, then the value and relevance diminishes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln%E2%80%93Kennedy_coincidences_urban_legend

    4. If you look at something long enough, you can make it match your conclusion even if the logic is fallacious or irrational. Given that you’re well-read, I’m sure you already know all about confirmation bias. Let me ask you this – if it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses who tried to explain all of this complicated history to you, would you believe? I doubt it. You’re going to stay Mormon no matter what the evidence says on the contrary and no matter what people of other faiths say. I did that for a while, but for me personally, I felt that I was being dishonest with myself and others; hence, why this position was untenable for me in the long-run.

  • Leon

    I wish you were not serious ..but i know you are. Your comment has to be one of the most judgemental, unfair, uncharitable, uninspired and downright unintelligent things i have ever read.

  • Irina

    Jana, you are guilty of the same sleight of hand that John is guilty of — namely, presenting your case in less than honest way. You ask: “How does one repent of an idea? Of a doubt?” But that is not the issue here. We’ve all had ideas and doubts that run counter to orthodox teachings, but how many of us use those ideas and doubts — as John freely admits — to help more people OUT of the Church than to remain within? Let’s be honest about the real reasons for his Church court, shall we? I am personally weary of the dog and pony show that is John Dehlin.

  • Fox

    Though I do enjoy the logical aspects of this article, and I really enjoyed reading many of the comments explaining pros and cons of his excommunication I did find it a bit unsettling that the assumption is made that God is no involved in this decision whatsoever.

    If we make the assumption that the church is a body designed to grow and make money then yes these arguments are all valid and interesting. However excommunication is one of the most misunderstood processes of the LDS church. It has nothing to do with shaming, like someone has already pointed out the doctrine is quite the opposite. I had what some might call ‘opportunity’ but felt more like an obligation to sit in on a few disciplinary councils. One was for a guy who ended up being put on a probation period and another was a man coming back and being rebaptized after having been excommunicated a year or 2 earlier. The reason for excommunication has less to do with punishment and more to do with protecting the individual. Keep in mind that NONE OF IT MATTERS if one assumes that the church is false. However, assuming the person believes in the church, assuming that the church’s doctrine is true then someone has made promises and covenants during baptism and the temple, excommunication ends those covenants so that the person is no longer sinning within the covenant. It sounds bad, but it is better for someone to sin outside of church membership and outside of baptism than to sin within it, that is the reason for excommunication.

    Yes, there are of course as mentioned other side effects, other impacts but the decision is never an easy one, and it is always something very personal. No president I’ve seen has ever excommunicated someone and said, “good riddance, about time”, it is always a very sad event but one that is best for those involved. Like it is better for a child to steal a diamond ring instead of an adult, it is also better for someone to sin outside the covenant. None of us were at his DC, no amount of support or outrage at comments he’s made will change what God reveals to the stake president who presides as a common judge in the church. These are case by case scenarios where the spirit is involved heavily, there is no all encompassing set of if you do this or that you will get excommunicated. It is a case by case bases that involves a lot of prayer and love.

    I don’t have an issue with looking at potential outcomes and affects like many have done here, like I said I find it interesting however if you take God and revelation out of it then literally none of it matters.

  • Fox

    note to self, reread and correct typos before posting next time haha, sorry guys

  • GP

    “Keep in mind that NONE OF IT MATTERS if one assumes that the church is false.”

    None of it matters [theologically].

    Now, that we’ve gotten past that point, think about what good John is doing by providing a place where people can come and manage the sense of loss that they have when they found out that the church history is non-divine and that they’ve been kept in the dark about it. Think about how their family and friendships suffer because they may no longer believe. I could go on and on but hopefully you get the point. That matters.

  • GP

    “… how many of us use those ideas and doubts — as John freely admits — to help more people OUT of the Church than to remain within?”

    Please provide the source to your claim. I know of not a single case where John told someone to leave the church. On the contrary, he setup http://www.staylds.com/. Did he setup an equivalent to leave the church? Nope.

  • Irina
  • GP

    Those links go to an anonymous blog from someone who doesn’t like John Dehlin. People are welcome to their own opinions, but what I’m actually asking you for is a quotation of John where he “freely admits” to helping more people leave the church than stay.

  • Irina

    I have also read this (more than once) on his own Facebook page. He does not deny it. Why don’t you ask him yourself?

  • Irina

    GP, my last response was to your previous inquiry. As for your latest comment, what matters to ME is that John has set himself up as the “truth” — the point being that he might well be wrong. And if he is? Then he has provided a place that really isn’t as “safe” as he would like his followers to believe. How do you think those same people will feel if they find he has turned them in the wrong direction? The question is rhetorical; you don’t need to answer. I’ve wasted too much time thinking about him as it is. I’m tired of his grandstanding and I really don’t want to talk about him anymore.

  • GP

    I follow John closely on Facebook, on MormonStories, and in the media, and I have never heard John state that he helps more people out of the church than stay. On the contrary, he has gone through great lengths to make it very clear that he is there to offer support for anyone whether they choose the leave the church or stay. He does not judge and helps people find their way. In fact, he even went further and setup the StayLDS.com website to specifically help people stay, while there is no such website dedicated to specifically help people leave.

    I am asking you a direct question to back up your claim of John Dehlin “freely admitting” to helping more people leave the church than stay, and you are evading a direct response. Without proof behind your claim of what John said, I can only surmise that you are expressing your own personal opinion, yet aren’t qualifying your statements as such when you make the claim.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t want other people saying that you said something that actually turns out to be the other person’s opinion. I’d respectfully suggest you to consider doing the same when it comes to quoting others, especially when the quotation is a misrepresentation of what they stand for. I respect your right to a different opinion, but what you’re doing isn’t ethical and borders, if not crosses the boundary into libel.

  • GP

    How many podcasts by John Dehlin have you listened to? I’ve listened to over 100. He has interviewed both devout members and exmormons. The exmormons may say things that are uncomfortable to believing members of the church; however, it is just information. Don’t shoot the messenger – John is just passing information along.

    What I really think needs to happen is the church needs to sanction open dialog like what John Dehlin provides. As of now, the church provides a very whitewashed version of history. The church offers very little services to those who have difficulty in reconciling their conscience based on what historical and scientific evidence supports. Instead, many are told that they need to have more faith and are given cherry-picked apologetic arguments that are in no way close to being scientifically and historically sound as the real narrative. John saw the gap and filled it.

    When I found out the church wasn’t “true” over a year ago, I was devastated. I had struggled for years on certain church history issues. Then I found out a ton more about a year ago. I didn’t really have anyone to go to and I suffered greatly from a loss – a faith and church that I loved very dearly. I did not want to leave, but found myself unable to stay. I lost nearly all of my ward “friends” and my family life is strained to a degree. John Dehlin’s podcasts helped me digest what I had just found out and helped me cope with reality. I know that you may not agree with my conclusion, but I ask you to please have empathy and understand that John Dehlin does help people like me. Thank you for listening.

  • Irina

    GP, I am sincerely sorry for your loss, I really am. Please know that, like you, I have questioned everything I have ever been taught. In the end, however, questioning has only strengthened my testimony — perhaps because I chose a different source than you did. Because I truly WANTED to believe, I sought out people whose testimonies were stronger than mine. But I also accepted that there would remain questions without answers — for now — for all of us. I put my trust in the Lord, not in the arm of flesh.

    I cannot tell you that I have listened to over 100 podcasts, as you have done, nor can I tell you that I have any intention to. John Dehlin was only a blip on my radar screen until recently, but when I saw the impact he was having, I decided to take an honest look at what he was doing. I was not impressed. I did not need to listen to 100 podcasts to see what direction he would take me. I could see it in the comments of his followers. Nevertheless, I researched him some more. At this point, I am following everything he does. I remain unmoved. I am merely fascinated by his tactics — his assertions. Frankly, I am embarrassed for him. He is making a spectacle of himself.

    Your “reality” is obviously different than mine, but I would advise you not to be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, who is to say that John’s “truth” is any more valid than mine? Yes, church history is messy and there is a reason for that. None of us was there! History is not going to give up all her secrets and I’m okay with that. John’s “proof” has not convinced me of anything except that John wants to be right. I’m happy to let God sort it all out. I place my trust in Him. He has let me know in ways far too sacred to share here that I should stay the course. I will be eternally grateful for his tender mercies and His patience with me. He loves me and He loves you, too. I hope you know that.

  • DP

    “John’s wife and children can retain their church memberships, but their temple sealings to one another will be automatically canceled for all eternity.”

    That statement is false. The potential blessing is taken away for John’s marriage sealing through excommunication only if he does not repent. The parents and children do not get “re-sealed” together if John returns to full fellowship in the church.

    All ordinances in the temple are only valid in eternity by following the covenants associated with that ordinance. If John repents fully and is reinstated in the church, the Stake President will get authorization from the First Presidency a year after John is reinstated to restore the potential eternal blessings his temple sealing and covenants offer. Even the dates on his membership record will reflect the dates he first entered the temple to get sealed and make his covenants. The dates will not be when his restoration of blessings occurred. This ordinance isn’t performed for his wife and his kids. This ordinance is not done in the temple. The stake president holds no sealing keys. The sealing, therefore, was never “canceled” and John is not “re-sealed” by the stake president. Cancelation of sealing can only be done by submitting a whole other set of paperwork via the bishop and stake president to the First Presidency. This typically happens when a couple gets a divorce. The divorce doesn’t do it though. The paperwork has to be submitted to the First Presidency.

    The children retain their active sealing to both parents regardless if one or both gets excommunicated. That is because the “potential” for this eternal family is still there! That information is found in the actual letter the excommunicated member receives. How this works itself out in eternity will entirely depend on everyone’s individual agency in this life.

  • GP

    Irina, thank you for your kind words. I trust your sincerity.

    As for throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I wanted to let you know that I’m really the same person as I was before. I am actually grateful for my Mormon upbringing and the overall principles of love, goodness, and serving my fellow man are retained.

    The problem that I have is the church’s whitewashing (misrepresentation) of its own history and the *contiguous* scientific evidence across multiple disciplines that does not support the BoM (or BoA). The apologetic arguments grab bits and pieces and attempt to improperly connect them in a way that is tantamount to sloppy science. This is not “John’s ‘truth'”, but how the study of science and history works. I had no idea who John Dehlin was until 6 months after I came to my own conclusion that the church was not “true” from the faithful research I did myself. I did not set out to leave, but to strengthen my testimony and better understand the prophet Joseph Smith. The evidence was so complete and overwhelming against the church’s truth claims (much/most of which was acknowledged by LDS authors) that I could not deny it or replace the evidence with faith unless I approached blind faith… which does not work for me. In short, no amount of belief can replace so much real tangible evidence. So John didn’t help me in any way at all to come to my conclusion, but he helped me deal with it once I found him after the fact.

    If you are interested in seeing what I am talking about, then the 80-page “CES Letter” (cesletter.com) is fairly comprehensive on the issues in one location. Although the content is technically correct (aside from the author’s conclusions), you may see this as being “anti-Mormon” and may not want to read it. If that is the case, then continue with how you are now. For me, I believe that God would not require hiding scientific and historical evidence – the truth sets us free. Do what is right, let the consequence follow.

    Again, thanks for your kind words and understanding. I wish you the very best on your faith journey wherever that may lead.

  • Irina

    I am familiar with the CES letter, which I see a lot of people using as a defense for their own misgivings. But I am also familiar with the opposing viewpoint, which I also find compelling. Neither is definitive, in my view, because we weren’t there to be a witness as all these events unfolded. And, really, why must we look at yesterday through the lens of today?

    My general philosophy is that when there are two opposing viewpoints, the truth is usually somewhere in between. People use “science” to make the case that best suits them — deeming the rest of us ignorant for putting our faith in the Lord — but science has been known to be wrong. In other words, if I desire to remain active in the Church (which I do), then I am naturally going to gravitate to a “pro-LDS” point of view. People that want to justify their leaving the Church will gravitate to the CES Letter or John Dehlin. There is comfort in aligning yourself with a group of people who think like you do.

    I could never trust a John Dehlin-type of person, who seems to have an ax to grind. Some of the things he has said — questioning the divinity of Christ and equating our spiritual experiences with pure emotion, for example — render his opinions completely invalid to me, for I have received a personal witness that the Savior lives. I can tell you that my testimony of His life, mission, and divinity is unshakable. All the John Dehlins and the CES Letters in the world can’t take that away from me.

    I know the Church isn’t perfect, but I don’t require it to be. I don’t worry about the same things that worry you, which is not to say that you don’t have a right to worry, but my focus is elsewhere. “By their fruits ye shall know them” and all that. I love the Church and I see a lot of good fruit — more than I have seen anywhere else. Perhaps if you permitted yourself to focus on the beauties of the gospel instead of some of these other things, you could find your way back. Certainly there is room in the Church for doubters. Who knows? You may even find your testimony again. I sincerely hope that you do.

  • GP

    Thanks for your response Irina. I think we’re at a difference of perception and will have to leave it at that.

    In my case, I am unable to return to church. Having to listen and bear testimony of things like Joseph Smith as a prophet, BoM/BoA historicity, an incorrect BoM translation method story, etc. is untenable. It would be akin to telling someone that they would be happier if they stared at the sky and repeatedly listened to others (and encouraged to they themselves) repeat that the sky is not blue, but it is in fact red. Maybe this analogy can help you see how it would be unproductive and unhealthy to be in such an environment.

    I don’t think that you would believe actually in all of this if it was attached to another religion. I think that you believe in it because it is comfortable and resonates with you personally (likely because of upbringing) – confirmation bias. I think that you will find the same resonance in other faiths like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.

    I do not intend to be offensive, but rather direct and honest, when I say that feeling good is not a substitute for establishing physically tangible (and falsifiable) scientific or historical fact.

  • Irina

    Your analogy doesn’t quite ring true to me, but I respect your right to have it. As for my not believing it if it were attached to another religion — well, it’s not, now is it? And you are wrong that I only believe it because it is “comfortable and resonates….” It’s not always comfortable, and not everything resonates, but, as a whole, I believe it to be true — imperfect, yes, but true nonetheless. I’m sorry it doesn’t work for you, but I have a feeling if you spent less time listening to John Dehlin, you might find your heart softening a bit. There are a lot of people in the Church who would be happy to talk to you about aspects of the gospel that you COULD believe in, including me. I wish you well.

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  • Heid

    I live in lake elsinore ca and have noticed a group of hateful mormon women who live in alberhill and spend a lot of time spreading gossip, hate and drinking during the day. The two ringleaders are. Heather A. AND NICKI McD. I read their hate on facebook and feel the church should take a look at their actions. I stopped reading their facebook posts and I stay away from them and now the mormon church.