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Mormon critic John Dehlin is excommunicated

Published March 12, 2015 9:33 am

Podcaster insists he still considers himself LDS, says he was punished for expressing doubts.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mormon critic John Dehlin no longer is a member of the Utah-based faith he has known all of his life — he got word this week he has been excommunicated — but the podcaster still considers himself a Latter-day Saint.

"Mormonism is my heritage, culture, tribe and identity," Dehlin told KUER's RadioWest on Tuesday. "I don't believe it can be taken from me in a process like this."

The LDS Church disciplinary council held Sunday in northern Utah, he said, was "a troubling and sad process, very emotional."



After the three-hour-plus hearing, Dehlin and his regional lay leader, North Logan Stake President Bryan King, emerged with differing views about the reasons for the church's sanctions.

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."

King further notes that the Cache Valley-based podcaster has "spread these teachings widely via the Internet to hundreds of people in the past" and that Dehlin has said he plans to "continue to do so."

The action was not taken because Dehlin had doubts about the faith or its history, the LDS leader wrote, but "because of your categorical statements opposing the doctrines of the church, and their wide dissemination via your Internet presence, which has led others away from the church."

Dehlin is free to criticize the church and to share his opinions, King wrote, but not "as a member in good standing."

Dehlin, who expected to be ousted, maintains the apostasy charges stem from his "unwillingness" to censor his podcast, his public expression of his doubts about the religion and his visible advocacy for civil same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the all-male LDS priesthood.

"My wife, Margi, and I are proud to stand in support of both free expression and gender/marriage equality within Mormonism," Dehlin said in a statement. "While we are saddened that the LDS Church has chosen to excommunicate me for publicly supporting these values, we support the church's right to make this decision."

LDS Church headquarters noted in a statement Tuesday that the decision to hold disciplinary councils "rests with the local leader who knows the individual best. Local leaders operate under general principles and guidelines of the church."

Citing Dehlin's public pronouncements, the statement goes on to dispute the reasons the podcaster gave for his excommunication.

"Attempts have been made to create the impression that the disciplinary council ... which has resulted in a loss of church membership, or excommunication, of Mr. Dehlin, arose largely because of his views on same-sex marriage and priesthood ordination for women," the statement said. "Although his stated positions on those subjects are not consistent with the church's teachings, they were not cited in the local leader's letter."

In a recent Trib Talk, Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson said members are free to disagree with the faith's stance on same-sex marriage and ordination of women without jeopardizing their LDS memberships or temple privileges.

"We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues," Christofferson said. " ... In our view, it doesn't really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that's a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines."

Despite his excommunication — detailed in King's letter, sent Monday — Dehlin and his wife expressed "appreciation" for their local lay leaders.

"Our observation is that President King worked very hard to comply with church policies and direction," Dehlin said in a statement. " ... We express our preference that any frustrations be constructively directed at examining LDS Church disciplinary policies, and not at President King personally."

Scott Gordon, leader of the LDS apologist group FairMormon, called Dehlin's excommunication "an unfortunate but fully predictable outcome."

The podcaster's religious leaders "have worked with him for over a decade to help him find a place in the Mormon community," Gordon said in a statement, "but John has turned his own departure from the faith into a sociopolitical issue, and himself into a self-made martyr."

Tuesday's news comes nearly eight months after Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly, who also advocates female inclusion in the Mormon priesthood, was booted from the church for "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church." That later was termed apostasy.

Ordain Women said it was "deeply disappointed" with the Dehlin decision.

"We have the utmost respect for John's effort to create a space for church members with thoughtful questions and believe that his presence is a strength and help to our faith community."

Debra Jenson, chairwoman of the group's executive board, pointed to "what appears to be an effort to silence members of the Mormon church for asking questions and confronting difficult aspects of our faith" and noted "thousands of Mormons around the world who will be heartbroken to hear this news."

For his part, Dehlin is relieved, he told RadioWest host Doug Fabrizio, that he no longer will have to "pay attention" to what Mormon higher-ups say in the faith's semiannual General Conferences.

He urged supporters not to "follow me off the cliff or ... resign [from the church] because of me," said Dehlin, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Utah State University. "Everyone should do what feels authentic and right for them."

Going forward, Dehlin plans to provide services, mental-health care and communities of support for "post-Mormons," or those reared in the faith who have abandoned orthodox beliefs.

"We want to help promote healing and growth within this population," the podcaster told KUER. "I don't think our influence is going to shrink."

Personally, Dehlin doesn't believe his life will change much, since he hasn't attended an LDS service in more than eight months.

He has no plans to drink coffee and doesn't know if he will try alcohol — both barred in the Mormon health code, known as the "Word of Wisdom."

Dehlin told KUER he doubts he will join another church because when he has attended non-Mormon services in the past, "it felt like cheating on my wife."

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal

 

 

 

 

 

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