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Utahn John Dehlin, founder of a popular podcast for Mormon doubters and dissenters, has spent the past six months chronicling his critiques of the LDS Church and waiting to hear if those might cost him his membership.
On Monday, he moved a step close to knowing. Dehlin's LDS leaders in North Logan summoned the host of "Mormon Stories" to a Jan. 25 disciplinary hearing to answer allegations of apostasy.
"I have been informed that the likely outcome of the disciplinary council will be either disfellowshipment (i.e., official censure) or excommunication (i.e., termination of my membership)," Dehlin said in a news release Thursday.
Dehlin said his LDS stake president, Bryan King, who oversees a number of Mormon congregations in the Cache Valley, outlined reasons for the charges. They included: the podcast, which explores "difficult historical and cultural issues" within the religion; Dehlin's public support for same-sex marriage and the Ordain Women movement; his "publicly expressed doubts regarding key elements of orthodox LDS history and theology;" and his criticism of the Utah-based faith's approach to gays, feminists and intellectuals.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discipline typically is handled by local lay clergy, not directed from LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City. It is considered a matter between members and their immediate ecclesiastical leaders.
When asked to comment on Dehlin's impending hearing, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said, "We respect the privacy of individuals, and don't publicly discuss the reasons why a member faces church discipline. Those reasons are provided to a member by their local church leaders."
Hawkins added that it was his "understanding" that the reasons for the charge had been "clearly spelled out in letters to John Dehlin."
"In the interest of honesty and transparency," Hawkins said, "he may choose to make those letters public."
Dehlin did, in fact, release three of King's letters, including one from Aug. 7, explaining that, to remain in the fold, he would have to:
• "Publicly renounce and apologize for the false concepts you have widely expressed regarding God, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the restoration of the gospel and the Book of Mormon.
• "Cease providing a public forum for any person who is critical of church doctrine.
• "Stop promoting groups or organizations that espouse doctrines contrary to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
• "Resign your status as an ordained minister of another faith."
Dehlin had signed up to be a minister with the Universal Life Church, a website that allowed him to perform marriages; he has since resigned from it.
In June, Virginia LDS leaders excommunicated Kate Kelly, who founded Ordain Women to push for female inclusion in Mormonism's all-male priesthood, for "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church."
At that time, Dehlin's North Logan leader threatened him with church discipline, too, but delayed any action to continue talks with the podcaster.
"Ordain Women stands in solidarity with John Dehlin while he faces excommunication," Kelly wrote on the group's website Thursday, "as he has long been a staunch ally to and supporter of women seeking priesthood ordination."
The Cache County researcher and blogger has faced possible church sanctions on and off for 10 years.
"In my heart and spirit, I do not think God or Jesus if he lives and exists would do this," Dehlin said on Trib Talk in June of his then-looming disciplinary council. "I don't think the heavens will register this as anything but a terrible event."
Besides addressing historical questions, Dehlin, a doctoral candidate at Utah State University, has conducted groundbreaking research on gay and lesbian Mormons. Just this week, he released the results of a massive self-selected study on the topic, including more than 1,600 participants.
Many Mormons on Facebook and in the so-called "bloggernacle" reacted with dismay to the news of action against Dehlin.
"Let's take a guy respected by tens of thousands of on-the-fence Mormons and toss him out," one woman wrote. "Let's just push them all right over the edge of that fence, instead of reaching out a hand to pull them back."
Steve Evans, who created the LDS blog, By Common Consent, said he is "not a fan of witch hunts or apostasy charges in the church generally [because] they have the potential to be sort of a blunt instrument to stamp down any social behavior local leaders don't like."
Dehlin's case, though, "doesn't seem like bullying by some renegade power-hungry leader," the Salt Lake City attorney said.
"John's stated goal is to show compassion and ease suffering of members who question, which is terrific except as often as not this means helping them to not be members anymore," Evans wrote in an email. "It's legitimate for a church leader to look into a member who is setting up an apparatus to lead people out of the church."
Evans questions whether Dehlin's support of gay marriage and Ordain Women was the main reason for the move against the podcaster.
"Mormons have all kinds of personal views on these topics, without reprisals from their leaders," he said. "I've never encountered any church discipline out of my support for women's rights or for LGBT rights."
For his part, Dehlin would prefer the church leave him alone. Still, he said, "I would much rather face excommunication than disavow my moral convictions."
No matter what LDS leaders decide, he added, he plans to "provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy."