Why John Dehlin Faces Church Discipline

John Dehlin applauds for a performance of “The Book of Mormon” musical, as covered in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/us/31mormon.html

Real Clear Religion is running a post I wrote about the probable reasons behind John Dehlin’s upcoming disciplinary council:  The Real Reason Why One Mormon Is On Trial. Dehlin promulgated a heroic narrative in which he will face down Church discipline because he refuses to abandon his support of same-sex marriage and Ordain Women. The narrative is attractive to a secular audience, which has picked it up and run with it. Examples so far include:

  • New York Times
    First paragraph: Mormon leaders have moved to excommunicate the prominent founder of an online forum for questioning Mormons, charging him with apostasy for publicly supporting same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, and for challenging church teaching.
  • Daily Beast
    Headline: The Coming Crackdown on Mormon Liberals
  • Slate
    In the first paragraph: Dehlin… said his regional church leader scheduled a hearing for Jan. 25, and that if he didn’t take down podcasts that are critical of the church and disavow his support for the organization Ordain Women as well as gay marriage, he would likely be excommunicated.

The narrative initiated by Dehlin and echoed by these sources is not accurate. My article at RCR explains why by relying on two of Dehlin’s fellow liberal Mormons: Steve Evans and Chris Henrichsen. Both openly support same-sex marriage and sympathize with Ordain Women. Neither have (as far as we know) faced discipline. And both doubt that gay marriage and Ordain Women are central to Dehlin’s disciplinary council.

You should read the article, of course, but there are a couple of points that got left out of my RCR piece (mostly for length constraints). I want to point those out here, and then make a final observation that wasn’t in the original RCR piece.

Letter from Stake President Bryan King

First and most importantly, Byran King (Dehlin’s stake president) sent Dehlin a letter dated August 11th, 2014 in which he specifically said that gay marriage and Ordain Women were not the primary concerns:

I fear that in my willingness to engage in a discussion on all of the issues that you chose to address during our lengthy conversations, the direction of my true concerns may have not been clear… I am focused on five core doctrines of the Church: (1) The existence and nature of God; (2) Christ being the literal Savior of the World and his Atonement being absolutely necessary to our salvation; (3) the exclusive priesthood authority restored through the Church; (4) The Book of Mormon as scripture and the revealed word of God; and (5) the governance of the Church by doctrine and revelation through inspired leaders. As you know, and as my letter outlined, in the past you have written and spoken out against these core doctrines on numerous occasions and in numerous public contexts.

When Dehlin provided a document dump with his initial press release about the disciplinary council on January 17 he left that letter out. In a January 19th follow-up in which he repudiated Steve Evans’ assertion that gay marriage and Ordain Women were probably not central issues, he provided a different version of the document dump that included the August 11th letter. But he only quoted from an August 7th letter that seemed to bolster his case. (Hat tip to Angels in the Architecture for alerting me to the Aug 11th letter and the two different document dumps.)

The letter shows that Dehlin’s Stake President clarified his real concerns to Dehlin back in August of 2014, and that same-sex marriage and Ordain Women were not on the list.1

Changing Stories

Yesterday Dehlin revised his January 17th statement in which he had repudiated Steve Evans’ assertion2 that gay marriage and Ordain Women were not central issues. He now claims that:

Even though the media have chosen to focus on SSM and OW in many of their stories, I don’t believe that I have ever claimed that SSM and/or OW were the only causes for the disciplinary council, or even necessarily the main causes (if I have done so, I’m more than willing to apologize/clarify).

Logically, this makes no sense. Steve Evans said SSM and OW were not the “main causes.” If Dehlin didn’t feel differently, why would he have written a response solely to contradict Steve Evans?3

Pragmatically, however, it makes all the sense in the world. Dehlin fed a dishonest narrative to the media on January 15th. Now that they have taken the ball and run with it (see articles above) he can disavow the narrative and still reap the benefits.

Final Thoughts

I read a lot of comments, Facebook posts, and other quotes from John Dehlin as I researched my piece this weekend. Through it all there was one unexpected feeling: empathy.

Dehlin is a man who has spent the last 10 years straddling two diametrically opposed worlds. He has ardent fans within the Mormon and post/ex-Mormon communities, and both sets of fans are sure that he is really one of them. One of the quote that RCR trimmed from my piece came from a post-Mormon commenter who wrote of Dehlin4 that “he does not make it crystal clear he isn’t a Mormon… [but] everyone knows Dehlin is a mole in the Mormon church.” Within the post/ex-Mormon community, there is a belief that if Dehlin is excommunicated they will lose their best undercover agent.

It’s easy for someone who is a Mormon to be angry about that. The first thing to point out, however, is that as far as I could learn the post/ex-Mormon community is just as much in the dark as the Mormon community. Just as some Mormons are convinced Dehlin isn’t a “real” Mormon, some of them are convinced that he isn’t a “real” post/ex-Mormon. So my point is not that we should just take the word of an anonymous post-Mormon commenter as final.

I sort of recognized some of what Dehlin has been trying to navigate from my own similar (but not identical) experiences. I’ve never made any effort to hide the fact that if you’re going to put me in a bucket, I pick the conservative bucket over the liberal bucket. But I have also worked pretty hard to keep minds and channels of communication open. And this means that some of the conservatives I tend to admire the most for their forthright and bold positions view me as a kind of untrustworthy, counterfeit conservative. Meanwhile, some of the liberals who might actually have a lot in common with me in terms of values even if not policies view me as a kind of dangerous alien who wraps sinister right-wing dogma in moderate-sounding rhetoric. Building bridges can be thankless work.5

And so when I say that I have no desire to judge or demean Dehlin I mean it sincerely. I don’t think he started out a decade ago with an aspiration to become an undercover anti-Mormon. That’s not because I’m unwilling to believe that anyone could be so evil. People are capable of great evil. They just aren’t, in my experience, capable of great long-run planning. Who has a plan that works out like clockwork over a 10-year period? So I think it’s much more likely that Dehlin’s roller-coaster ride in and out and in and out of the Church reflected a lot of genuine turmoil on his part.

But, as important as bridge-building can be, so is being honest. Trying to relate to widely different viewpoints shouldn’t ultimately come down to masking your own intentions and beliefs. It’s one thing to refuse to choose sides because you’re sitting this one out. It’s another to be actively involved in the game, but playing for both teams.

And so my analysis stands. His initial post did plant the SSM / OW seed in the media. It is a false narrative. The most probable reasons for the disciplinary council are his public repudiation of core Mormon beliefs and his work–in consequence even if not in intent–to drive Mormons in faith crisis out of the Church. We can’t know how the disciplinary council will go, and it’s not really our business. But as long as Dehlin chooses to make this part of his story public we should at least have the facts.

34 thoughts on “Why John Dehlin Faces Church Discipline”

  1. I agree that nobody sets out a 10-year plan for excommunication. I’m sure that Dehlin started with noble intents. However, the fact of the matter is that he is very clearly and publicly no longer a believer. He may have started with doubts, but his non-belief is now explicit.

    The church is really not a place for firm non-believers. It would be problematic for them to either hold callings or not. It is doctrinally better for them not to be accountable to the covenants of membership than it is for them to be ignoring them. Dehlin’s excommunication is the most likely way he might eventually be saved, from a faithful perspective.

  2. Tyler,

    I didn’t have time to get into the theology behind excommunication in my RCR post (and, frankly, I forgot to bring it up in my own post), but I do think your analysis is correct.

    There may be some doubt around the “very clearly” aspect, but that is (thankfully) not my problem. All I am trying to say is that, based on public statements and actions, it certainly does appear that John has rejected many or even all of the core principles of Mormonism in any recognizable fashion, and that it is his public stances on these issues that most likely triggered the disciplinary council (for the reasons you gave).

    We will never know for sure, of course. But that seems the most reasonable assessment.

  3. “At the most, female ordination is implied tangentially by point #3 (although that is far from certain). Same sex marriage isn’t on the map.”

    The reason that female ordination and same-sex marriage are a problem is because John Dehlin’s position directly opposes church leadership. Point #5, “the governance of the Church by doctrine and revelation through inspired leaders,” appears to strongly implicate John’s position on these issues.

  4. Nathaniel, I think you need to distinguish between the explanation of why John’s current LDS leaders are moving ahead with a formal church court (almost certainly because of his vocal support of same sex marriage and other gender issues) and the justifications given by John’s current LDS leaders (the letter from the stake president essentially states he is being called into a church court for being weak in the faith and publicly admitting his faith is weak). Kate Kelly expressed none of the faith weakness that the stake president states as the reason for holding a court on John and publicly encouraged those who sympathized with OW’s goals to keep going to church — yet she was still subject to a court and exed.

  5. ok, but this feels a little bit to me like someone who gets upset when people say that the civil war was about slavery. That may not be all its about but he certainly is one of the loudest voices in the room talking about these things and its not like NYT or Dehlin are claiming that its the only thing.

    “charging him with apostasy for publicly supporting same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, and for challenging church teaching.

    The more acurate version of this would be something like “Dehlin, a prominent supporter of gay marriage and ordain women is being charged with apostasy for challenging a wide variety of church teachings.”

    Ignoring these parts of what have made him a prominent questioning mormon would be at least as biased in its lack of context.

  6. Thank you for this well thought out and researched article. You mentioned building bridges. and as worthwhile as that can be, many of our critics don’t seem to appreciate that the burden on our church leaders is to act as shepherds of the flock. And often shepherds must build fences and not bridges.

  7. I’m not as sympathetic to Dehlin as you are – and not because I don’t think that he is right about some things, but because I think he is using the causes of marginalized people for his own self-promotion.

    As someone who very much mourned the excommunication of Kate Kelly, I find myself very irritated by this narrative that John is spinning. Not only to I think it’s not true, I think it is an insult to those who are actually working to make things better for marginalized populations in the church.

    I think part of it is that I have always found John a bit… disingenuous? He seems to be the kind of guy who will say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear, and his podcasts reflect that.

    (also, his production values are TERRIBLE – seriously, learn how to tell a story/conduct a compelling interview/EDIT, man!. Not that that has anything to do with church discipline, but still – I can’t take him terribly seriously because of this. I’ve listed to a number of his interviews when I was interested in the subject, and found myself terribly frustrated with his format and lack of skill).

    Although I definitely have always had a slightly icky feeling about Dehlin, my biggest problem is with him appropriating causes that aren’t his to appropriate. He paints himself as an advocate for the LGBT population and women within the church, and I think he just isn’t a very good one. Not for current Mormons, and not for former Mormons.

    I very much appreciate what Ordain Women has done for moving the conversation about women forward in the church. I feel like Dehlin has done more to hurt those causes than to help.

    I welcome the voices of all those who are marginalized in the church – and I am grateful for allies. I just wish allies – like John Dehlin claims to be – would realize their place in the conversation. Him claiming that his support for OW and gay Mormons is why he is being excommunicated is an insult to all those in the church who marginalized and are real allies, trying to actually make the lives better for women and gay members.

  8. Nathaniel, thanks for the article. I think you’re being honest and objective and kind. I appreciate that, especially when I’m seeing that a lot of voices out there that seem to be struggling to have a clear head about this.

    This one is complicated to me for a few reasons. I have been a faithful, conservative but open-minded member of the church my whole life (I’m middle aged now). A few years ago, when I had a few issues (more the theological/intellectual kind) that caused me to have to reevaluate what I believe, why I believe it, and, based on that, reconstruct, to some extent, my own framework for belief/testimony, etc., I stumbled on to Dehlin’s podcasts. I listened to a ton of them, and those lead me to several others that I found helpful. Some of them really resonated with me, and I have listened to them several times. Some I just didn’t enjoy at all, whether because of the content or the tone or the guest, etc..

    Sometimes (maybe often), I sensed Dehlin was ultra sincere in his desire to “believe” in a way that helped him to like being a Mormon and be able to put up with the things he didn’t like or simply didn’t agree with. Other times, he just seemed cynical, negative. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the nature of life and especially with the nature of nearly any faith crisis that I’ve ever heard anecdotally (and for myself). So I would expect this kind of fluctuation, and in a way, I even appreciated it because it seemed to me emblematic of some desire to simply be transparent.

    For people like me, though, in general, all of these podcasts, positive and negative (to me), were an incredible tool for helping me to reconstruct my faith and come up with what I considered a rational, faithful and honest way to be what I personally consider a “true believer” (subjective term, I know) and also a “faithful member” while still being able to, for example, deal honestly with any and all of the “problems” that I encountered.

    It was a miraculous process (sometimes painful, but mostly positive and extraordinary) for me, one that has lead to a situation in which I’m living the richest life as an active, faithful Mormon that I ever have (and I’ve always loved being a Mormon, but I now realize that I’m much happier now than I ever was before). And I attribute this largely to the following: Dehlin was one of the few that I found who was willing to create a conversation or forum (using that loosely) in which so many of these hard questions, complicated and controversial issues could not only be discussed very openly but could be challenged, and the challenges could, in turn, be challenged by the next guest, and so on. All of this enabled me to gain some tools for searching out what worked for me, what “seemed” right for me, and ultimately, what I believed.

    Many other things helped me through this journey, especially the Book of Mormon and my personal communion with God (prayer). But what Dehlin created was as critical a piece for me as anything else, and I’ll be forever grateful.

    Now, I know you’re not claiming above that any of what I’ve said you disagree with (you may claim that after reading this, but I’m just saying I realize that’s not what you’re claiming in your piece above or your related piece). I’m just trying to speak to the complexity of the issue at hand for me.

    While on the one hand I lament, for a number of reasons, that Dehlin will likely be excommunicated (for example, because in my estimation, he’ll ultimately progress better inside the church than out, but I concede I may be exactly 100% wrong about that. Or, for example, I lament because it may have some impact on his ability to have certain guests on his program or that other people struggling will be less likely to listen to his podcasts because he may be lumped in a group of “apostates” that makes listening to his podcasts sacrilegious, etc.), it seems clear to me why he is being excommunicated (so, I’m agreeing with you here).

    However, I see John Dehlin like I see all of us, as very much an evolving creature, and, if you’ve listened to enough of his podcasts, he seems just as likely to me to change his position on any specific belief (even the most serious ones, like Christ’s divinity, etc.) if his current guest is able to convert him to any given idea by a rational, convincing argument. He not only seems “willing” to believe in so many cases, but he seems literally “seeking” to find reasons to believe. And, of course, at the same time, he can seem pretty cynical and appear to be looking for reasons to NOT believe. Again, to me, a reflection of the nature of this journey.

    So my concern is not the fact that he’ll likely be excommunicated and why, but it’s more to do with the fact that I’m concerned with the church’s seeming inability to figure out how to more effectively deal with people like Dehlin. Granted, there aren’t a lot of people like Dehlin in the sense that not many people have created a community of podcast listeners to the level he has who then go on to make harsh claims against the church, but I suspect there are plenty of people very much like him in their struggle to come to grips with all this stuff, and I fear that nixing Dehlin, while he very well may deserve it on the basis of the denying of core beliefs publicly, is more of an unfortunate symptom of an institution that, on one hand does seem to be clearly acknowledging some important issues and trying to deal with them, but still hasn’t been able to figure out an effective way to deal with the issues as they specifically relate to the people they’re affecting.

  9. Ann Palmieri says
    January 20, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you for this well thought out and researched article. You mentioned building bridges. and as worthwhile as that can be, many of our critics don’t seem to appreciate that the burden on our church leaders is to act as shepherds of the flock. And often shepherds must build fences and not bridges.

    I agree that any exclusive community must be able to control its borders or it risks dilution and disorder. However most of the 3rd party criticisms leveled at Dehlin’s local leaders are based on the inability of of the church to accommodate public criticism without recourse to the nuclear option, thereby incurring perhaps apt comparisons to dictators and their thugs. If and when the brethren ever find ways to deal with dissent openly and less authoritarianisticly, then perhaps the shepherd role will be more obvious.

  10. If we were talking about any other type of non-religious organization wherein a member of that organization…

    1) Criticized the leadership in the meanest of ways.
    2) Openly repudiated beliefs in the virtually all of the core tenants of the organization.
    3) Has worked pro actively to lead other members out of that organization.
    4) Has joined a counter-organization that seeks to undermine the former.

    …This would not be a controversy. The question I ask is why he hasn’t exercised enough of a backbone to simply leave on his own accord. But hey, an excommunication makes for better publicity than to simply choose to have your records removed.

  11. Just wanted to leave my personal thank you for your work building bridges. We need more blogs and articles like yours.

  12. Nathaniel,
    The August 7th letter and JD’S follow up letter, in his own words, describe in no uncertain terms, the FULL case against JD – apostasy issues and all the rest. With or without the King Aug 11th letter, that fact remains.

    The Aug 11th letter really does nothing to amend the gay marriage/ ordain woman related material in JD’S follow up letter. It does nothing aside from refusing to comment, then restate his Aug 7th letter, but only in more vague and weasely laguage. The August 7th and August 11th letter can each easily be construed to be addressing John’s LGBT/OW advocacy. John’s record makes clear that they are. If the phrase” governance of the church by doctrine and revelation by inspired leaders” in the Aug 11th letter is not related to John’s advocacy of LGBT and women’s ordination, perhaps he shouldn’t have acted so put out for having to discuss all the issues that “you choose to address in our lengthy discussion.” As in, “How dare you want to discuss and clarify my vague terms! ”

    That’s pretty ridiculous considering that John’s follow up record of the the meeting tracks pretty succinctly with Kings Aug 7th letter. But he has the nerve to suggest that John was out of line to want to discuss those issues in a meeting about his potential excommunication regarding THOSE ISSUES. Are you kidding? And the fact that John didn’t post it is what you choose to focus on? Really?

    Nathaniel, I’m just so touched by your sensitive and nuanced handling of this topic.

  13. Nathaniel,
    Why is only JD’s honesty questioned here? Do you think Pres. King is not communicating in a manipulative and misleading way? Have you noticed how Pres. King’s in Aug 7th letter spells out a number of specific issues and details specific terms for John? However, following meeting with John, in which they discuss, according to John’s written record, the very issues that King outlined in his August 7th letter, he sends a response saying that the excommunication is “only” about the same basic issues from the Aug 7th, but rendered in much more vauge language, with no specific stipulations from the Aug 7th letter, and none of the specific things John records from the meeting. Magically, the terms downgraded to mere generalities.? Do you find that to be likely an honest form of communication?

    Further, it is not at all clear that John’s LGBT/OW advocacy is not encompassed by the item #5 that he lists in the Aug11th letter – but how can we know that? Isn’t that the point of making his requirements seems so vague? This doesn’t seem like someone playing a game to you?

    Also, does it not come across as manipulative that he chides John for wanting to have a lengthy discussion on the issues that “you(John) chose to discuss”, which if you consult John’s record, are the issues that Pres. King outlined in his Aug 7th letter?

    That you are unwilling to use the same critical eye in examining King’s correspondence strongly undermines your criticism of John Delhin in this post.

  14. Nathaniel,

    You related to Terryl and Fiona Givens? Blogger at Times and Seasons? That would explain certain bias. If you are going to hold Dehlin accountable for certain comments, you should also hold the stake president accountable as well.


  15. Just to answer your question, Sara, I am the (proud!) son of Terryl and Fiona Givens, and I do blog at Times and Seasons regularly.

    As for bias: we’re all a little biased, but in this case I’m not sure what you think either one of those things has to do with bias against John Dehlin. My parents have been interviewed by John on multiple occasions. I thought the interviews were great:

    Interview 1

    Interview 2

    Interview 3

    Interview 4

    I thought John did a great job, and I really enjoyed listening to them.

    I’m honestly not aware what the opinion of the other T&S bloggers is on this, nor why it would matter for me even if I did know.

  16. Some folks twist themselves into pretzels in order to make an ex-communication make sense. But you really don’t have to – as a Mormon, we believe that whatever the prophets say and do is correct. No explanation needed. If you don’t toe the line, you are out, end of story. No rational thought needed. The prophets are always right.

  17. Barth-

    as a Mormon, we believe that whatever the prophets say and do is correct… The prophets are always right.

    Mormons do not believe in prophetic infallibility. We also do not believe that prophets are just guessing, or that their opinions are only as good as any body else’s. We believe something in the middle, which is harder and more productive. We believe that prophets do have unique access to special revelation, but that they continue to be humans who make mistakes. This allows us to listen to divine council through the prophets while resisting the option of falling into lazy and complacent obedience. It’s up to us to be mindfully obedient in social relationships of trust. Not blindly obedient in an autocratic hierarchy. They might look similar from the outside, but from within are very different.

    I’ve written about that on several occasions in posts like these:

    Leaders are Fallible. No, Really.

    Are Prophets Superheroes?

    When to Disobey

    Faithful Obedience or Malicious Compliance?

  18. I agree with you. The only thing I’m cautious about is dehlin’s claim that the leaders mentioned ssm verbally but not in writing

    Here’s what I don’t like about dehlin

    1. He’s not original and his belief system is so “safe” and boring
    1a. He acts like he invented the scrupulosity diagnosis
    2. He implies that believers are unenlightened to history, reason and psychology.
    3. He won’t let me post on his website.

    I will give him that he introduced me to the givens and for that I’m extremely grateful. I believe he evolved to where he is at – as you say.

  19. @ryan I don’t see dehlin currently even having any desire to believe in any proprietary belief of Mormonism whatsoever.

    I’m interested in people who at least acknowledge that understanding human existence seems complicated.

    I’m not impressed in people like dehlin who seem to have no grasp of nuance.

  20. I struggle with comments that paint excommunication as either (i)” something horrible that will happen to this wonderful man” or (ii) “this apostate getting what he deserves.”

    What if excommunication is the process by which the obligations one agrees to at baptism are removed and no longer binding on the individual? These covenants require faith in god and jesus christ and the belief in the restoration of the church through joseph smith, and a belief that Thomas Monson is God’s prophet today. If an individual does not have the faith in these prerequisites, then why is excommunication a bad thing? Its giving Mr. Dehlin a respite from the covenants (covenants that will damn him for quite some time if not kept honestly) while he figures out what he wants to believe.

  21. I just don’t understand why the LDS church feels the need to excommunicate critics who publicly challenge the doctrine and leadership. What other church does that anymore? The Catholic church, for example, stopped excommunicating dissenters some 200 (or more ) years ago.

    Just look at all the Catholic activists who run VERY public lobby efforts to change doctrine on things like birth control, female ordination, same sex marriage, etc. True, all their efforts seem to fall on deaf ears but at least they aren’t being excommunicated.

    I don’t even think the Baptists excommunicate fellow Baptists who disagree with doctrine.

    I get the point that Dehlin is a heretic who clearly doesn’t believe in the LDS doctrine or it’s leaders. I just don’t see the point of excommunicating him.

  22. Michael-

    I just don’t understand why the LDS church feels the need to excommunicate critics who publicly challenge the doctrine and leadership. What other church does that anymore?

    Actually, quite a lot of churches still use excommunication as a reaction to apostasy, and they do it for the same reason that (I believe) is primary in Dehlin’s case: public opposition to core doctrines. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia article on just this topic: Christian heresy in the modern era. It includes a section on excommunications in Protestant denominations since 1893 with the most recent being in the 1990s and 2000s. The Catholic Church also continues to use formal discipline against apostasy including cases in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Thus: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually does not seem to be out of step with out Christian denominations on this point at all. This is standard operating procedure throughout much of Christianity.

    Which raises the really important question: if excommunication for apostasy continues to be a standard reaction to heretical teachings from prominent individuals, why does the Mormon case seem so unusual? That could be a whole other blog topic, but I’ll just point out that it has to do with the way that Mormons are covered in the media. We stick out. We’re weird. And that is one reason that the mainstream press glommed on to Dehlin’s narrative so quickly: it fit into pre-existing assumptions about the Church that are inaccurate but widespread. And that, in turn, is why I felt it was something important to write about.

  23. @Nathan – I read through the wiki article you cited and it seems as if excommunication is not only rare in other Christian denominations (far rarer than in the LDS church) but it is almost exclusively limited to leadership (e.g. ministers, theology professors, etc). The layity (i.e. normal members) are hardly ever excommunicated. Also, when I look over the individual cases cited very few of them are complete excommunications. Most of the actions tend to be to eliminate someone’s right to speak at church congresses, functions, etc (i.e. a prohibition from using church venues or publications to communicate). It almost seems like most of the actions result in censorship rather than out and out expulsion.

    The LDS church is both exceptional for the volume of excommunications and the types of people to whom it is applied.

    I also found this quote in the wiki article interesting:
    “Some denominations have increasingly taken the view that actions against clergy should be taken only in the most extreme circumstances. The reasons may be partly doctrinal and partly tactical. From a tactical point of view, “heresy trials” have almost invariably resulted in unflattering media coverage, portraying the churches as obsessed with doctrinal questions that have little relevance or meaning in the modern world”

    Good advice.

  24. Michael-

    Two things.

    First, yes: the LDS Church is a something of an outlier. It’s not as much as you had originally suggested, however. Other churches do essentially the same thing, even if they do it a little less.

    Second, it’s only good advice to the extent that you’re worried about conforming with what the world expects. Obviously it makes sense to be somewhat concerned, but the question is how much the world’s standards should be allowed to dictate a Church’s policies and doctrine. And this is where I think the Church is an outlier in a way that is good. Mormons are much, much more consistent in our doctrine and in our practices than most other Christian denominations, and this has very beneficial results for us both objectively (lower divorce rates, higher education rates, better health outcomes) and also subjectively (greater retention of members). Being distinctive is an important part of being a part of a religious community, and Mormons are very good at that. But it has a cost. Negative perception in the media is definitely high on the list of costs.

    Figuring out how to balance that cost with the benefits is tricky, and I don’t pretend to have the one right answer. I am happy, however, to see that my faith generally chooses to risk public disapproval in favor of being true to its principles. I think it goes a very, very long way towards explaining the relative vitality of Mormonism compared to other denominations which take a far more assimilatory approach. The more a faith community assimilates, the less point there it so being a part of it.

  25. Cam-

    The biggest problem with that article is that it assumes that just because Church public affairs had a press release on standby this proves that the entire disciplinary process was “managed from the top.” That’s not a reasonable conclusion. President King obviously had to inform SLC of his decision, and I assume he did so as soon as the decision was reached and before the letter had reached Dehlin. Why wouldn’t Church public affairs draft a press release to keep on hand at that point? That’s their job.

    All the evidence shows is that Church public affairs had inside information (which is obvious) and that they used it to write a standby press release (which is their job).

    Trying to draw nefarious conclusions from absolutely ordinary events is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking, and that’s really all this looks like to me: a classic conspiracy theory.

    There are many other allegations, but they followed this basic pattern.

Comments are closed.