(RNS1-June 12) John Dehlin. For use with RNS-MORMON-COUNCILS transmitted on June 12, 2014, Creative Commons image by Tom Caswell

John Dehlin’s excommunication highlights Mormon hypocrisy on ‘religious freedom’

(RNS1-June 12) John Dehlin. For use with RNS-MORMON-COUNCILS transmitted on June 12, 2014, Creative Commons image by Tom Caswell

(RNS1-June 12) John Dehlin. For use with RNS-MORMON-COUNCILS transmitted on June 12, 2014, Creative Commons image by Tom Caswell

In 2013 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a web portal on the “importance of protecting religious freedom.”

Text on the site states:

religious freedom — akin to “freedom of conscience” — is the human right to think and believe and also to express and act upon what one deeply believes according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. This freedom applies to those who adhere to religious beliefs and those who do not.

It just doesn’t apply to Mormons, apparently.

On Sunday, the church excommunicated “Mormon Stories” podcast founder John Dehlin.

The official charge against the founder of the “Mormon Stories” podcast was “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,” but a letter from King called it “apostasy” and cited evidence for the unanimous decision:

  • Dehlin’s teachings disputing the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
  • His statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham — part of the LDS canon — are fraudulent and works of fiction.
  • His statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being “the true church with power and authority from God.”

Dehlin maintains that the church excommunicated him for refusing to censor his podcast and for championing same-sex marriage and the ordination of women as priests.

When Kate Kelly, international human rights lawyer and advocate for women clergy, was booted on apostasy charges last June, I argued that the church’s obsession with controlling its image amounted to short-sighted censorship. I still think that’s true. I also think the church needs to seriously consider how its actions affect  its advocacy efforts on international freedom of religion or belief.

I can't help but think of countries that still have blasphemy laws on the books, like Ireland. If Ireland tells Pakistan to drop its blasphemy laws, which regularly result in score-settling arrests and vigilante murders, Pakistan will inevitably point and laugh at the Irish constitution. To criticize Pakistan with any degree of legitimacy, Ireland needs to have its own house in order.

The same logic applies to the Mormon Church. You can’t pretend to champion Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which includes freedom of thought and conscience), deny your own members those freedoms, and still expect people to take you seriously.

A regional church leader told Dehlin, “I acknowledge your right to criticize the church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause...but you do not have the right to remain a member of the church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that church teachings are in error.”

Fair enough. LDS Church, I acknowledge your right to excommunicate members, but you can’t remain a member of the Freedom of Religion or Belief community in good standing while openly and publicly denying your members the full range of freedoms enshrined in Articles 18 and 19 of the UDHR.

Comments

  1. Religious freedom is not the right to be associated with a faith that does not want to be associated with you. Should the Catholics be forced to let a believer in Islam take their communion? Or be baptized? No.

    In contrasts, should catholics be able to exclude Muslims from basic civil liberties? again, of course not.

    This post mistakenly views religious freedom as exclusively an individual right, when it is also a right to associate– or not associate– with other believers.

    This post’s theory of religious freedom has been rejected by the Supreme Court 9-0 in Hosana-Tabor v. EEOC. RNS should publish a response to this post clarifying the dual nature of religious freedom– protection for individuals and for religious institutions.

  2. While the post does acknowledge the “right” to excommunicate, it claims that right is contrary to core principles of religious freedom. There is no right to be a member of a group or faith that won’t have you, and standing up for those rights does not violate religious freedom.

  3. Michael Worley:

    I agree. This, from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, seems apropos:

    “We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.”

    The LDS Church did not put Dehlin to death. They did not steal his property. They did not inflict physical punishment on him. In fact, he is welcome to still attend LDS worship services any time. It’s just (hopefully only temporarily) that he can’t do so as a member of the LDS Church.

  4. This article displays a very juvenile and uninformed point of view. It is amazing that someone of such limited insight and understanding could be employed as the “director of global strategy” for any organization.

    In what way, Mr. Pellot, was Mr. Dehlin’s freedom restricted? (Please, be very specific.) He is free to continue to believe what he wants, teach and preach what he wants, meet with whomever he wants, attend church meetings if he wants. He is simply no longer able to claim that he is a member in good standing with this organization.

    Your article is simply stunning in its ignorance and lack of rational, reasoned thinking. Come back when you have matured a bit.

  5. Author

    I haven’t argued that Dehlin’s religious freedom has been restricted. I have argued that the church looks hypocritical, which diminishes its FoRB legitimacy, when it publicly endorses “the human right to think and believe and also to express and act upon what one deeply believes according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience” and then kicks out members who do just that, which I make clear it has the right to do, obviously.

  6. John,

    Let’s consider an analogous situation: Is it hypocritical for me to assert my support for the First Amendment and then disinvite you to my garden party after you have repeatedly–and very publicly–accused me of sexism, deception, and lying?

    Your argument is based on a fallacy wherein you conflate respect for freedom with a mandate of fellowship.

  7. Mr. Pellot apparently has trouble understanding what an organized religion is. It is (at least in theory and ideally) a voluntary association of people brought and held together by similar beliefs and values. That association’s purpose is to teach, maintain and propagate those beliefs and values. When a member no longer shares those beliefs and values, he or she is no longer existentially a member of that organized religion. The member has de facto left the religion voluntarily. When that fact becomes a public matter because the member actively and openly attacks the tenets of that faith, the faithful members of the religion have not only a right but duty to make it clear that the member in question does not speak for the religion, and further to recognize publicly that that member is no longer a member by his or her own actions and statements. That is not hypocrisy. That is honesty. It accurately describes the relationship between the former member and the religion. By Mr. Pellot’s standard, to defend freedom of (or from) religion means to erase the boundaries that define a system of religious belief. THAT is the end of religious freedom. But, judging from the often snide comments that accompany intros to some RNS postings, it is a common attitude at RNS. BTW, I agree with much of what Mr. Dehlin says about LDS, but that does not mean that the LDS community has to go along with the fiction that Mr. Dehlin still holds the beliefs that make one a Mormon.

  8. I am grateful you have begun to clarify. I am glad you agree that the LDS church has the obvious right to do what it did. For much of the same reasons I stated above, the LDS Church doing what it did does not make it hypocritical.

    The LDS Church and numerous other faiths always distinguish between human rights of all irrespective of faith and the privilege to be associated with a specific group or religion. This distinction is also present in Supreme Court precedent.

    To be simple: A right to religious freedom does not contradict the freedom to not associate those with those who disagree with you. As a commentator below pointed out: “Let’s consider an analogous situation: Is it hypocritical for me to assert my support for the First Amendment and then disinvite you to my garden party after you have repeatedly–and very publicly–accused me of sexism, deception, and lying?”

  9. The LDS Church can only take away privileges of memberships. If they were to say, imprison Dehlin, that would be a deprivation of rights. Not being a member in good standing is not a right; Dehlin has every Human Right that Thomas S. Monson does.

  10. Sophomoric. Saying that freedom of religion requires you to embrace within your faith even those who don’t believe in it is like saying that if I believe in freedom of speech I am obliged to publish your repellant thoughts in my own publication. As a wise man once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  11. Everyone is free to choose to believe or not believe.

    Every church or religion is free to allow or not allow anyone to worship with them, or belong to their fold.

    Freedom works both ways.

    Like Mr. Dehlin’s stake president said, he is free to believe as he wants and complain or whatever, but he is not free to complain about the church as a member of the church.

    We are not taking any of his freedoms away, that would take any of our freedoms away.

    It’s like I always say, your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

  12. Thank you, very well said. I am a faithful member in good standing of the LDS church, and what Mr. Pellot says here makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

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