The Real Reason Why One Mormon Is On Trial

The Real Reason Why One Mormon Is On Trial
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Prominent Mormon critic John Dehlin recently announced that his stake president has scheduled a disciplinary council to consider Dehlin's excommunication.

Dehlin prominently listed his support of same-sex marriage and Ordain Women among the reasons for this charge and by the next day media coverage begun to promulgate Dehlin's narrative. Laurie Goodstein's coverage in the New York Times was typical: "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."

But according to an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune, liberal Mormon blogger Steve Evans "questions whether Dehlin's support of gay marriage and Ordain Women was the main reason for the move against the podcaster."

Evans should know. He wrote an open letter to Apostle Dallin H. Oaks in 2013 stating that "If we oppose same-sex marriage because homosexual relations are a sin before God...we are bigots" and reaffirmed the position in October 2014. Evans even criticized the Church's response to Ordain Women. 

Liberal Mormon blogger Chris Henrichsen, who like Steve Evans supports gay marriage and is sympathetic to Ordain Women, explained that "by emphasizing his gay rights stances and his support of Ordain Women, Dehlin elevates his own case to the level of Kate Kelly's." Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, had just been excommunicated when Henrichsen published his analysis in June 2014. Her excommunication created, as Henrichsen put it "a media storm." Henrichsen reposted his piece, noting that "it still applies to the developments of this week."

Henrichsen's motive for questioning Dehlin is simple: He fears that Dehlin's narrative is causing a "chilling effect" that undermines the cause of LDS liberals who favor gay marriage. Henrichsen wants more liberal Mormons to speak out, and so he thinks it's important for them to know that "advocating on public issues, even when disagreeing with the Church, is not something that puts one at risk of excommunication." He believes, quite simply, that "gay rights is too important to become a public relations football."

The examples of Evans and Henrichsen (who are not known to have faced any Church discipline) suggest that Dehlin's support for gay marriage or women's ordination are not central to his pending disciplinary council.

The issue is Dehlin's attacks on fundamental doctrinal claims such as the existence of God, the role of Jesus as Savior, and status of the Book of Mormon. Dehlin stated on a "post-Mormon" site in a thread titled "Yes, John Dehlin has left the Church" that he and his wife "no longer are willing to act or appear as though we believe the fundamental truth claims [of the LDS Church]." John Dehlin's opposition to Mormonism, by his own account, extends well beyond the politics of gender and sexual orientation and his private doubts have become public pronouncements.

At one time Dehlin urged Mormons to stay in the Church, but in a discussion at ExMormon.org in 2010 he repudiated his former position: "This was my position for a time...but the StayLDS position is no longer something that I push...I now believe that people should follow their joy...period. In or out of the church. That said, I would guess that many more people have left the church than have stayed because of my Internet work -- and I'm perfectly happy if they're happy."

Dehlin has openly repudiated core teachings of the Mormon faith, been instrumental (in his own estimation) in leading "many more people" to leave than to stay, and has garnered a reputation among the post- and ex-Mormon community for his deliberate work to do just that.

The Church does not comment on disciplinary matters as a matter of policy, but for those curious to understand what is going on, it will help to consider Dehlin's actions in relation to the Church's public teaching about disciplinary procedures in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Out of three possible reasons for excommunication two are:

2. To identify unrepentant predators and hostile apostates and thereby protect innocent persons from harm they might inflict.
3. To safeguard the integrity of the Church.

An objective observer could guess that Dehlin's stake president may have decided that Dehlin is using his position of prominence in order to undermine the Church and its mission, and in so doing he has placed his affiliation with the Church in jeopardy.

Nathaniel Givens operates a blog, Difficult Run.

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