Wednesday, July 4, 2012

John Dehlin Of Mormon Stories Did Contact A General Authority To Complain About Daniel Peterson, But Did Not Ask For Peterson To Be Fired

The controversy over the firing of Daniel Peterson from the Maxwell Institute continues to simmer in the Bloggernacle. Two recent posts on Patheos and on Mormon Mentality best personify the contrasting viewpoints, although the common subject is John Dehlin, the proprietor of Mormon Stories.

In a Patheos post entitled "The Odd Couple: Story and Community", Rosalynde Welch claims that John Dehlin's Mormon Stories project has a contradiction at its center. She explains that Mormon Stories defines itself on two axes: Both as a supportive social ecosystem, and as a purveyor of what it calls "authentic self-expression", and suggests these two goals are in direct conflict with one another. While she finds nothing sinister about Dehlin or his project, in the end Welch concludes that Mormon Stories seems like little more than a textbook liberal mini-institution, similar to a high school gay-straight alliance, and about as important. But her piece was a civil and principled critique.

In a Mormon Mentality post entitled "Don’t Trust Rosalynde Welch’s Investigation of Mormon Stories", DKL takes Welch's assessment way too personally and overreacts. DKL characterizes Welch’s report as lacking maturity and perspective in its own right, accusing her of misrepresenting Mormon Stories at every turn, and pans Welch's discussion of the issues surrounding Mormon Stories as both confused and confusing.

But what about the man at the center of the debate? Rumors have swirled about John Dehlin's role, if any, in the firing of Daniel Peterson. Some say Dehlin consulted a Seventy, others say he cried on an Apostle's shoulder, and still others say that Dehlin is an innocent little lamb who would never harm a fly. But what has escaped many is that Dehlin himself actually addressed this issue, but back in early May of this year, when the dispute first broached.

It turns out that on May 10th, 2012, John Dehlin owned up to contacting a General Authority (GA) to complain about Peterson, but contrary to some misconception, did not recommend that Peterson actually be fired. Dehlin addressed the issue on Mormon Discussions; here's the applicable part of his post:

6) I decided to contact a GA friend of mine to let him know about the piece, and to ask him to intervene. Given Midgley's verbal allegations, I was not about to be slandered in that way, and I honestly felt like such an article would sully Neil A. Maxwell's good name, and would be damaging to BYU, the church, and to many members of the church who value what we do with Mormon Stories. The GA told me that he would contact a few people in high places, and that he would do his best to intervene.

7) A few days later I was informed by a very, very reliable source that some very clear communication was given to the Maxwell Institute that publishing this article about me was ill advised, and that an apostle was involved in that communication. I was informed that the decision was made to no longer publish the article via the Maxwell Institute, and that it would be returned to its author, Greg Smith. I was also told to not be surprised if the article ended up being published by FAIR.

Dehlin did not disclose the identity of the GA, although Daniel Peterson says it was a member of the Seventy. But this account clearly shows that it was the GA in question who brought a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles into the mix, and NOT Dehlin.

Why did Dehlin react so strongly and go to a GA, considering that Dehlin never actually saw the proposed article? Not just because of the reasons listed in the excerpt. During a conference at Utah Valley University, several people who are faithful members of the Church told him that they were aware of the article written about him, and were sickened by it -- including people who had read it. In addition, a person by the name of Lou Midgley threatened Dehlin during the same conference, attempting to tie him to the death of a missionary (Brian Bartholomew) during his mission. But Dehlin said that he believes the "old school, disingenuous, ad hominem-style apologetics a la Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgley" are damaging to the church, to its members, to its former members, and to its targets.

This shows that John Dehlin did want to stop publication of the article, which can be construed as a form of censorship. But nowhere is there evidence that Dehlin actually wanted Daniel Peterson to be fired. The distinction is important for the sake of integrity, if nothing else.

Even though I'm a hard line defender of LDS doctrine and practices, I have periodically visited Mormon Stories and have never considered John Dehlin to be an apostate or a promoter of apostasy. As a matter of fact, it doesn't fit either the pro-Mormon or anti-Mormon category; it's basically an informational clearinghouse and exchange. According to their mission statement, Mormon Stories seeks to create online and in-person environments that allow for authentic self-expression and the open discussion of Mormonism. While they acknowledge the richness of Mormon heritage, teachings, and community, they recognize the confusion, distress, emotional trauma, and social ostracism that people on faith journeys often experience, looking for constructive ways of helping and supporting people, regardless of their ultimate decisions regarding church affiliation or activity.

This is important because the three-hour Sunday worship block does not lend itself to the discussion of doubts, and rightfully so. This is because the purpose of the worship service is for people to have their faith uplifted, NOT challenged. Most people who attend services simply do not want to hear about whether or not Joseph Smith was a moneydigger, or may have beta-tested plural marriage before announcing it to the membership, or about the multiple versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision. Most members prefer their prophets portrayed without the warts. In addition, those who have doubts may sometimes have their worthiness called into question, even if they are observant in every other way. What Mormon Stories strives to do is to provide a constructive outlet for those who want to air those doubts and resolve them in the best way possible, whether it leads to renewed commitment to the Church or an ultimate exit with a softer landing.

And numerous testimonials show that interaction with Mormon Stories has caused those who thought about leaving the Church to change their minds and remain members. Is that such a bad thing? Here are some examples which were appended to the Patheos post:

Chelsi July 2nd:
Mormon Stories saved my marriage and helps me stay a member of the LDS faith. It has helped me meet amazing people that I've been helped by and have been able to help that I otherwise would never have had communication with.

Humanist101 July 2nd:
John Dehlin's Mormon Stories was the only resource around that helped preserve a mix faith marraige. I could have used more than one article from a Church magazine telling the believer to love me and me respect me. For a Church or Institution that is all about family I would like to see you help preserve families that are of mix faith.

Pollz05 July 2nd:
If anyone has listened to Mormon Stories, they would see Dehlin and co are just trying to be there for people going through a faith crisis. I've found MS very helpful in connecting with people who are understanding and are nonjudgmental to support me as I go through this.

PAL July 2nd:
I'd like to address a couple of points: First, you question the need for a community like Mormon stories citing other Mormon journals as pre-existing sources of information. When I had my faith crisis 3 years ago at age 26 I had no idea any of those things existed and by far the easiest stuff for a questioning Mormon to find on the internet are the post-Mormon and ex-Mormon communities. Those communities were much too vitriolic and disrespectful for me. I had no need or desire to tear down the church and it's teachings, I only needed to find some people who were also questioning. For me, Mormon Stories provides a fairly vitriol-free environment where members with questions ask questions.

Second, I think it is irresponsible and self-serving of you to decide how best to define the stated goals of the Mormon Stories community. People don't join the Mormon Stories community because they're sure everyone else in the community uses the same definition of "authentic self-expression." In my opinion, they join a Mormon Stories community because they want to be able to express themselves without feeling judged or looked down on, which, unfortunately, is quite common in the church. One's personal definition of "authentic self-expression" is irrelevant.

For me, Mormon Stories is a place, perhaps one of many, where questioning individuals (who are not interested in simply bad-mouthing the church) can share their thoughts without fear of reprisal. That seems valuable to me. I think for a lot of people like me, the purpose Mormon Stories serves is much, much simpler than its critics suppose.

DrewCage July 2nd:
I'm not sure I'd call Rosalynde a scholar. Especially when she didn't even think to research her topic enough to find the real value in Mormon Stories. An interview of just two of Mormon Stories listeners would have given her much more insight into her topic.

I'm a MS listener and have been ever since I started questioning the Mormon Church after I discovered that James Talmage had plagiarized in his book The Great Apostasy which led me to do much primary research on my own. I almost left the church after realizing it wasn't "true" and the only reason I didn't is because MS introduced me to many people in my same situation who stayed active because they still found value in the church. MS provided role models for me which in turn has allowed me to keep peace in my family.

Had I left the church, I can almost certainly say I would have lost my marriage and with 3 kids, that would not have been pretty.

Rosalynde would not know of this value that MS provides because she never thought to interview a single listener.

Sorry Rosalynde, you are a far cry from a scholar. Scholars do research and you hardly did any.

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