Mormon squabble goes public

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

LOGAN, Utah (Christian Examiner) – A lifetime member of the Mormon religion who says he appreciates the church's culture but not its teachings says he is being summoned to a disciplinary council during which he could be excommunicated.

It is the third time in 10 years that John Dehlin, 45, has been the subject of investigation for his vocal and written critique of Mormon teachings. The first two times he was exonerated.

"While I acknowledge that LDS church leaders are in a very difficult situation as they attempt to retain membership during very difficult times, I consider it a matter of conscience to continue to advocate publicly," Dehlin wrote yesterday on his podcast, "[W]hile my family and I would prefer to be left alone by LDS church leadership at this point, I would much rather face excommunication than disavow my moral convictions."

Dehlin listed five reasons for what he said church leaders call his "apostasy:" the podcast he's had for 10 years, in which "difficult historical and cultural issues are discussed," theological doubts, support for same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, and criticism of the religion's "lack of transparency regarding finances" and its treatment of members with aberrant lifestyles and views.

He wants to belong to the culture, to the community, but he doesn't believe in the faith.

According to a brief history of his last 10 years that was part of Dehlin's Jan. 15 "Disciplinary Council (Updated!)" column, "In 2001 I was called to serve as an early morning seminary teacher for the LDS church while working for Microsoft in Washington state. During that time, I began to study LDS church history in depth with the intent of strengthening my beliefs about the church, and becoming a better teacher. While studying, I discovered many very troubling and hard-to-find historical facts regarding the church," which included six Mormon teachings he found troubling.

Among them, three related to the religion's founder and his propensity for young women, the fallacies and fabrications Dehlin said he found in the "Book of Abraham" and in the "Book of Mormon," and the religion's treatment of members who expressed serious doubts.

"When I discovered that many of my LDS colleagues at Microsoft were also experiencing severe depression and distress over these issues, and that many of their marriages were in jeopardy because of their doubt or disbelief, my wife (Margi) and I made the very difficult decision to leave Microsoft in 2004 to try to be a part of the solution," Dehlin wrote.

He "has posted hundreds of lengthy interviews with Mormon scholars, historians and key figures in church culture," according to a Jan. 15 article in The New York Times. "Many of the podcasts have been downloaded as many as 50,000 times, and others twice that amount."

Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a group that defends the church, said the likely reason Dehlin was facing excommunication is that he is a nonbeliever who advocates nonbelief.

" Gordon said.


Correspondence between Dehlin and various stake presidents is posted after the end of Dehlin's summary of the last 10 years of conflict with local officials. In the Mormon religion, people attend meetings at "wards," and many wards come together under "stakes," organizationally similar in concept to Baptist churches and associations, and Methodist local churches and districts.

An Aug. 7, 2014, letter from Bryan King, stake president in Logan, Utah, follows a meeting King had with Dehlin. In it, King writes, "I have carefully studied the materials that you provided to me about your current beliefs. ... You have taught that 'the probability that God exists is quite low' and that 'if God and Jesus really do exist' .... You have expressed your belief that the odds are very low that Christ was the Son of God and that He was actually resurrected. ... You do not believe -- and actively teach against -- the concept that God restored His true Church to the earth with exclusive priesthood authority through the Prophet Joseph Smith."

Dehlin responded Aug. 10 with his version of a reiteration of the conversation with King:

"We discussed various specific doctrinal and historical issues including: a. My doubts about the existence of God. b. My doubts about Jesus (e.g., literal resurrection), and my concerns about the requirement by God that an innocent person (Christ) be brutally and inhumanely punished to atone for the sins of other people. [and] c. My concerns about the idea of 'one true church with exclusive authority,' along with the accompanying implication that other beautiful churches are in any way either false or inferior to the LDS church (See Joseph Smith History 1: 19)."

While Dehlin's interest started in 2005 as purely intellectual, in October 2013 he added support for people inclined to a same-sex attraction, and later to the ordination of women, a more recent point of controversy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as "LDS." "Mormon" refers to the religion's guiding document, the Book of Mormon.

"The last year has brought a wave of excommunications [from the Mormon religion], including that of Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded Ordain Women, a group that promotes women joining the [Mormon] priesthood," according to The New York Times article. "She was excommunicated in June, and Mr. Dehlin was warned then of the charges against him."

Dehlin concluded his Jan. 15 column announcing his intentions to continue to help questioning Mormons move away from traditional LDS teachings.

"Over the coming months and years I will be teaming with my wife (Margi) and others to provide additional information, comfort, and support to Mormons in transition. The goal will be to help provide information, community, resources, and support for those transitioning away from the current view of LDS orthodoxy and towards greater health and well-being -- whether they remain in or leave the LDS church."