For the Record

For the record, this is the letter sent to John Dehlin by his Stake President Bryan C. King on August 7, 2014. In this letter, President King makes it clear why Dehlin was being placed on disciplinary probation and what Dehlin had to do to ensure he didn’t face a disciplinary council.

(Click to images to enlarge.)

Notice carefully why Dehlin was being placed on probation. Was it for questioning? Was it for having doubts? Was it even for disagreeing with the Brethren? No. It was because Dehlin had “broadly disseminated” views “not in harmony with the revealed doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Dehlin had also “provided a forum for others to criticize the Church and to disseminate their views.” There’s a word for what Dehlin has been up to. That word is “apostasy.”

But what views got Dehlin in trouble? Let’s see.

1. Promoting atheism/agnosticism.
2. Denying or doubting the divinity of Jesus and the reality of the Atonement.
3. Denying the Restoration of the Gospel.
4. Denying the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
5. Denying the inspired calling of Church leaders.
6. Being ordained a minister in another faith.

Notice too this: “I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member of the Church in good standing.”

This is the crux of the entire matter. No rational, sensible person could find this stance from President King objectionable. If you’re going to openly and repeatedly criticize a group or organization you belong to, you can claim no special protection or exemption from losing your membership with said group or organization. Contrary to the caricature I’m seeing online (mainly amongst Dehlin’s supporters), this issue is not about an oppressive hierarchy restricting freedom of expression or thought. Nobody is stopping Dehlin from expressing his criticisms of the Church. He’s free to do so as he pleases. It’s rather all about the fact that the Church has a right to disassociate itself from those whom it deems unfit for membership. It has the right to establish the terms on what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable for individuals who want to claim membership. Dehlin has been informed that his behavior, in the eyes of the Church (or at least his ecclesiastical leaders), is unacceptable, and constitutes apostasy, and has been given the opportunity to change his behavior. If Dehlin refuses the terms offered to him, which it appears he has, then he himself is responsible for the consequences.

So I don’t want to hear any indignant cries that Dehlin is being persecuted or punished for merely having questions. This is not about Dehlin’s doubts or concerns. It’s not even about Dehlin publicly announcing his doubts or concerns. Instead, it is all about Dehlin’s actions. He has been exhibiting apostate behavior and promoting apostate views for some time. He has been given the opportunity to recant and repent, and has refused that opportunity. President King’s actions are entirely reasonable and justified given the facts of Dehlin’s behavior. So I must ask: why all of the outrage over Dehlin’s disciplinary council? It is truly baffling to me.

Here now is President King’s letter from January 8, 2015.

(Click the image to enlarge.)

Notice carefully that President King based his decision to call a disciplinary council for Dehlin after he had observed Dehlin’s “activities” on his “social media sites,” his “response to my requests” in his previous letter, and his “recent public declarations.”
Again, this is not an issue of punishing Dehlin for having doubts or questions. It is a matter of preventing Dehlin from using his membership in the Church to in any way leverage his apostate views or actions. In short, President King, in summoning Dehlin to a disciplinary council, is merely following the Church’s teaching laid out in D&C 134.  

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. (D&C 134:10)

Can anyone with a straight face tell me that Dehlin is in “jeopardy of either life or limb” or at risk of “physical punishment”? Of course he isn’t. He is merely being called to account for his disorderly conduct and his opposition to the Church.
By the way, before anyone accuses me of using harsh language for calling Dehlin’s actions “apostate,” allow me to remind the reader of how the First Presidency recently defined “apostasy.”

Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

I honestly cannot think of anybody right now to whom this applies more than John Dehlin.
To conclude, the most succinct summary of why Dehlin is facing his disciplinary council comes from this part of President King’s August letter: “I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member of the Church in good standing.”
And to think that Dehlin was almost named “Mormon of the Year” at Times and Seasons. (Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the award went to some individuals truly worthy of the title.)

24 thoughts on “For the Record

  1. The practice of excommunication is harsh and outdated and unevenly administered. John’s current stake president thinks he should be disciplined while the previous did not. Who’s to say that the previous one wasn’t more inspired than the current, both are prone to error and human bias as they imperfectly attempt to execute their responsibilities. This is very sad.

    I know many people who have been helped by the work that John has done including myself. The church has institutionally done a very poor job of providing support and love to those struggling faith crisis. John and others fill in the gaps and provide validation and acceptance for those who transition from the black and white orthodox narrative.

    Unfortunately some members of this church, and I would venture to say his current stake president qualifies as one, are more concerned with trying to uphold a particular world view, than trying to administer relief to those struggling with faith challenges. I can’t help but feeling like this is not just directed towards John, but towards all of us who have doubts and challenges with faith in our lives. We are all being censured by John's stake president, and it is unkind and hurts, and the spirit of the Lord is grieved.

    • Cameron,

      Suffice it to say you and I have drastically different views on this, including the necessity of excommunication (at times) and the propriety of President King summoning a disciplinary council. But thank you for sharing your views nonetheless.

    • If John Dehlin is excommunicated or disfellowshipped, will that prevent him from continuing the work he has been doing? I presume that his stake president cannot prevent him from continuing to produce the mormon stories podcasts, or posting on social media and other outlets.
      Perhaps you are suggesting that if he is excommunicated, that will prevent or hamper his ability to "provide validation and acceptance for those who transition from the black and white orthodox narrative." Is that an accurate statement?

    • Clinton,

      Dehlin is free to go along his merry way with his podcasts if he's excommunicated. Nobody is stopping him. Despite what the Gentile world might think of us Mormons, the Church actually doesn't have cyber-Danites going around and shutting down blogs and websites that disagree with or criticize Mormonism. The point of excommunication would basically be to send a clear message about what the Church thinks of Dehlin's endeavors, as well as deny him of any street cred as a "Mormon therapist" he might otherwise have with unsuspecting members of the Church.

    • Define "helped". If a person's testimony of John Dehlin–an apparent agnostic who seems to have denied the divine sonship of Christ as well as the need for a redeemer at all–exceeds the person's testimony of the Church's truth claims, then I would say that in truth Dehlin has not helped that person at all. To the contrary, in such a case it would merely become apparent that Dehlin has in truth been building up a following unto himself, like countless priestcrafters and antichrists before him.

      1 John 2:19 seems apropos here.

    • JimD,

      I don’t imagine that you have done much study of the origins of the New Testament. There is a lot of evidence of the influence of man. I personally believe in Jesus, but that is a choice rooted in faith, but in all honesty I have to admit there is a whole lot of evidence that much of the story of Jesus we have is myth. Dehlin was being honest and public about his doubts, and I think that takes a lot of courage. We shouldn’t cast stones at those who share their struggles, we should be mature enough to allow for their disbelief without shunning them.

    • Dehlin wasn't "doubting" or "struggling", he was rejecting; while positioning himself to make money off of his offers to "help" others who genuinely were doubting or struggling. That's a heckuva difference.

      Dehlin says he wants to be left alone by the Church. The Church is now undertaking the formal administrative process whereby it designates the people who it will, in fact, leave alone. How is that "cast[ing] stones"?

  2. Thank you for posting the ecclesiastical correspondence. As I haven't been following this matter closely, I am curious how you came to have access to the correspondence. I'm assuming you obtained the images from some public posting Mr. Dehlin had made. As far as I am aware, it is not the policy of the Church to post its correspondence in matters such as this, select information published in response to John C. Bennett circa 1842 notwithstanding.

    • Meg,

      "I'm assuming you obtained the images from some public posting Mr. Dehlin had made"

      That is correct. I got the letters from President King off of Dehlin's website. Dehlin made the letters public, so they're fair game. I will keep them on my blog unless I hear from a representative of the Church asking me to take them down.

      Cheers!

  3. Thank you for posting these thoughts. I am on the other side of the coin as Cameron, who posted a comment above. I have seen nothing but bodies in the wake of John Dehlin, as he has helped many family members and friends leave the church and has fostered and encouraged their doubts. I have faith in the system, and whatever the outcome, that will be what our Heavenly Father wants for John Dehlin. My true sorrow in all of this, however, is that because the Church does not make public remarks regarding disciplinary matters, JD gets to spin the narrative. It's frustrating to say the least, but again, faith in the process here, is what is going to be key, at least for me. Thank you again.

    • "My true sorrow in all of this, however, is that because the Church does not make public remarks regarding disciplinary matters, JD gets to spin the narrative."

      Yep. We're already seeing this happen.

  4. "I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member of the Church in good standing."

    Why shouldn't we as members have the right to stay in good standing for localizing our doubts? Are we supposed to internalize them as a much larger percentage than you realize does? The church constantly tells US to search for truth but when we find historical facts that don't line up with their statements, it's all of a sudden anti-Mormon propaganda and we are apostates for believing facts?

    • Being honest or open about doubts or questions =/= openly criticizing and deriding the Church, its teachings, and its leaders. Dehlin has been way beyond the point of merely asking questions for a long time now.

      "The church constantly tells US to search for truth but when we find historical facts that don't line up with their statements, it's all of a sudden anti-Mormon propaganda and we are apostates for believing facts?"

      This is a straw man characterization if there ever was one.

    • Your average apologist(which is not a negative term in any form fyi) can drive a mack truck through John Dehlin's "facts". He gave a platform for people not know to care about the facts as long as it hurts the church(ie Sandra Tanner). It's what happens when you get together a bunch of people with an ax to grid. How credible can these facts that he has actually be?

      If you have this many problems with key doctrines, why would you want to be a member? If you find joy in a hashtag about president Monson having dementia, why would somebody want to be a member?
      There's only so many reasons why this man might be at all interested in being a member and all of them seem to be something unpleasant. Such as when he used that Kate Kelly was excommunicated but not himself to say that it was a sign of the patriarchy and male privilege or repeatedly bringing up that he's a member to get himself interviewed by the press as an expert on Mormonism.

  5. Because the Church respects the privacy of members even if it excommunicates them, leaving the door open for them to repent and return, apostates get to tell the story of their martyrdom without contradiction.

    The Church is a voluntary organization. That is not only true for individuals who wish to join or leave, it is true on the side of the Church as well, deciding to accept an applicant for baptism or deciding it no longer wants the person as a member to whom it has special obligations of sustenance and support.

  6. Good grief, Stephen. You're just as guilty of cherry picking facts as you accuse John of being.

    There is a letter on John's website which clearly outlines the conditions which John had to meet in order to not be disciplined. They were (contrary to your fabricated list above):

    1. Publicly renounce "false teachings" about core LDS beliefs (Jesus, BoM, JSJ, etc)
    2. Cease providing a public forum to anyone critical of the church
    3. Stop promoting groups or organizations that espouse doctrine contrary to the church
    4. Resign as an ordained online minister

    Well, let's take a look at these charges.

    1. Anyone accusing John of being a "teacher" or a "preacher" clearly hasn't listened to the podcast. He's always very clear to express that he's stating his own personal opinion about things. He never asks people to believe what he believes. This charge is spurious on its face.

    2. This one cracks me up, seeing as though the church just provided a forum (the pulpit at BYU's Marriott Center) last summer to an evangelical preacher who has been quite critical of the church.

    3. I honestly don't even know what Pres King is talking about here. Ordain Women? There are lots of active LDS women who are either a part of Ordain Women or have profiles up. This smacks of leadership roulette.

    4. John granted Pres King's request in this regard and said he would resign as an online ordained minister.

    I'd personally love, Stephen, if you could show me where in the temple recommend interview we are required to profess allegiance to the "authenticity of the Book of Mormon" or to profess that our leaders are "inspired." I see very specific language in the temple recommend interview asking us to profess some sort of testimony in the restoration and a willingness to sustain church leaders, but I think you're extrapolating a bit too much from the cultural interpretation of the temple recommend interview rather than examining it on its face. There are plenty of church members, active, temple recommend holding ones, who have non-literal beliefs in the Mormon truth claims and do just fine.

    It always strikes me as odd how Elder Uchtdorf, Elder Holland and others have been so vehement the last few years at encouraging us to make the tent bigger for people who believe differently, and yet to see so many members standing at the flaps yelling for certain people to get out.

    • "contrary to your fabricated list above"

      We're talking about two different lists. I was listing the reasons President King gave for his concerns with Dehlin, not what Dehlin had to do as part of his repentance.

      "1. Anyone accusing John of being a "teacher" or a "preacher" clearly hasn't listened to the podcast. He's always very clear to express that he's stating his own personal opinion about things. He never asks people to believe what he believes. This charge is spurious on its face."

      First of all, even if Dehlin is just "giving his opinion," the clear purpose of him sharing his opinion, like anyone else who shares an opinion, is to try and influence others to that opinion. Do you seriously mean to suggest that Dehlin just shares opinions for no other purpose than to merely share an opinion? That he hasn't been successful in influencing people to accept his opinion, or that he hasn't tried to persuade others to accept his opinions, or favored expressing some opinions (namely, his own and those of the people who agree with him) over others? But even if you're right, then it's still problematic for Dehlin. I mean, if this is the case, then why the heck would I or anyone else care if he's just giving his opinion with no expectation to agree with him? It's pointless. So either you have a Dehlin who shares his opinion in an attempt to influence others (which I think is clearly the case from listening to his podcasts and reading his Facebook posts), or a Dehlin who just mindlessly throws out his opinion for no reason.

      "3. I honestly don't even know what Pres King is talking about here. Ordain Women? There are lots of active LDS women who are either a part of Ordain Women or have profiles up. This smacks of leadership roulette."

      How about MormonThink for starters?

      "4. John granted Pres King's request in this regard and said he would resign as an online ordained minister."

      Yep. You're right. And I just found this out this morning reading the Deseret News and the SL Trib.

    • Cont.

      "I'd personally love, Stephen, if you could show me where in the temple recommend interview we are required to profess allegiance to the "authenticity of the Book of Mormon" or to profess that our leaders are "inspired.""

      Number 3. "Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?"

      Does Dehlin believe this?

      Number 4. "Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?"

      Does John Dehlin believe this?

      " but I think you're extrapolating a bit too much from the cultural interpretation of the temple recommend interview rather than examining it on its face."

      How am I extrapolating too much from number 4? Number 3, maybe. But number 4 seems pretty clear to me. Does Dehlin believe President Thomas S. Monson is "the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?" Does he believe the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are "prophets, seers, and revelators?"

      "It always strikes me as odd how Elder Uchtdorf, Elder Holland and others have been so vehement the last few years at encouraging us to make the tent bigger for people who believe differently, and yet to see so many members standing at the flaps yelling for certain people to get out."

      I don't have a problem with letting people who "believe differently" than I do stay in the Church. I welcome it, in fact. I do have a problem with people who exploit their membership in the Church to encourage others to accept views I think are fundamentally at odds with foundational Church teachings, to say nothing of dissuading others to follow the law of chastity and other commandments.

  7. LOL at MormonThink

    I'll believe that as a reason for excommunication when the church excommunicates Tom Phillips.

  8. John's work has always been about openness and honesty. His work is largely responsible for forcing the church to be honest about many inconvenient truths which they have either tried to either hide or flat out lie about. And as history proves, the church really hates when someone does that.

  9. I can see Utah is filled with apostates defending other apostates all under the umbrella that "they have a right to doubt and manifest those doubts publicly". I agree with President King, you can doubt all you want and manifest it publicly if you want, but you don't have the right to remain a member of the church while clearly fighting against it, denying the divinity of The Lord Jesus Christ, the fundamental doctrines of the church, even the existence of God. The church is voluntary and it saves the right to accept or keep as a member whoever it wishes. The Lord spoke through his servant, the Stake President, if they don't like you it, they need to stop their behavior. I'm so glad I'm at least physically far away from this mess. Where I live members are faithful people striving to live Christ like lives.

  10. We all kind of knew this was coming, there's only so many times you can suggest that the prophet has dementia so his views shouldn't be listened to before you get a call from your Bishop. Honestly I'm shocked this didn't happen earlier when things moved away from him telling people to redefine their Mormonism to starting an organization to help people leave the church.
    I'm not happy when any person leaves or is excommunicated but as someone who's lost friends to this man feeding people's insecurities and then covering for it by using that he's a member. It's about time a line in the sand was drawn and this will at least put a little bit of a stop to his advertising his organization to help others leave the church or move past "orthodoxy" a.k.a. key beliefs of the faith.

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