Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another "Tare" Plucks Itself: Mormon Stories Editor John Dehlin Excommunicated From The LDS Church, LDS Church Issues Official Statement

In the Parable of the Sower presented in Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus Christ discusses wheat and tares. He cautioned against prematurely gathering up the tares, since there is a danger of gathering up wheat also. From Matthew 13:28-30:

28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Nevertheless, there is no constraint against the tares plucking themselves before the appointed time. And just as both Denver Snuffer and Kate Kelly revealed themselves to be tares, so they have now been joined by John Dehlin, the editor of Mormon Stories. On February 10th, 2015, Dehlin reported that he had received written notification of his excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The decision grew out of his disciplinary council held on Sunday, February 8th, triggered by his public support of same-sex marriage, the LGBT community and the Ordain Women movement, as well as his decade-long website and podcast, Mormon Stories. He had been given a number of preliminary warnings by his priesthood chain of command over the past decade, so the disciplinary council was not a surprise.

-- Read the text of the official excommunication letter published by the Deseret News.

Dehlin's Mormon Stories website was specifically tailored to reach out to LDS members who had doubts regarding doctrine and practices of the LDS Church. One of the outcomes Dehlin frequently cited in his defense was that his outreach prevented many of these doubters from leaving the Church altogether. Nevertheless, the disciplinary council felt this had become outweighed by Dehlin's belief that the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are fraudulent and by his rejection of the LDS Church being the true church with power and authority from God. Dehlin also took some heat over the financial compensation he receives from the Mormon Stories website; for his work, Dehlin received nearly $90,000 in 2013, according to his foundation's public financial records. A detailed response by Dehlin was published by the Salt Lake Tribune on February 9th in which he points out that his work was supported by voluntary contributions, that had pledged he would use the money to help pay for groceries, health insurance and medical bills (both of which he pays out of pocket), employment taxes, clothing for my children, tuition, etc., and believes he has used the money exactly as promised

When Dehlin arrived at the North Logan Stake Center on February 8th, he was greeted by up to a maximum of 200 supporters. Dehlin gave a brief address to his supporters, but counseled them against behaving abusively, asking a few who were displaying uncomplimentary posters about Stake President Bryan King to put them away. The Cache Valley Daily reports that the hearing, which began at 6 P.M. MST, lasted four hours, and that Dehlin characterized it as difficult, sad and at times heart-wrenching. Dehlin also said that five people — three family members and two friends -- were permitted to speak on his behalf before the council consisting of 15 regional LDS church leaders. Most commonly this includes the Stake Presidency and the 12-member Stake High Council. Dehlin opined that evidence presented by church leaders seemed to paint him in the worst possible light, making it hard for him to imagine an outcome other than excommunication.

Nevertheless, President King decided to pray and wait a day or two before making a decision regarding John Dehlin to ensure that he was not merely reacting to the heat of the moment. But the council concluded that although they acknowledge Dehlin's right to criticize the Church and to share his opinions, they cannot allow him to continue as a member in good standing. BYU Professor Daniel Peterson served on disciplinary councils as a bishop and notes that they are always sad occasions; he believes excommunication should always be a last resort.

After being notified of his excommunication, Dehlin gave a short statement to the Salt Lake Tribune:

"My wife, Margi, and I are proud to stand in support of both free expression and gender/marriage equality within Mormonism...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."

Another statement attributed to Dehlin was published by KSL Channel 5:

“Margi and I would like to express our appreciation to President Bryan King and others who assisted in this very difficult process. Our observation is that President King worked very hard to comply with church policies and direction, during what we know was a very difficult time personally for him and his family. We respectfully request that President King be shown respect for his professionalism and commitment to LDS Church leadership and policies, and we express our preference that any frustrations be constructively directed at examining LDS Church disciplinary policies, and not at President King personally."

The LDS Church does not customarily comment on the outcome of disciplinary councils. But because John Dehlin has commented publicly and because the case has stirred up such a media frenzy across the country, the Church chose to release the following official statement (here's the most applicable portion):

Such councils are always far better when all involved respect the principle of confidentiality. At the very least, this principle helps those members who wish to return to full fellowship at a later date. When the member has chosen to air their grievances in public, the Church reserves the right to correct the public record. In this case, attempts have been made to create the impression that the disciplinary council convened on Sunday, February 8, 2015, and 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. 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 delivered to Mr. Dehlin on February 9, which spelled out the reasons for the local council’s unanimous decision, as follows:

-- Disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
-- Statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction.
-- 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.

The Church also points out that excommunication is not necessarily the end, but can be the beginning of a new journey back to full fellowship. Dehlin is welcome to attend weekly worship services and is always welcome to return to Church membership through the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ. He has 30 days to appeal the decision to the First Presidency.

Reaction: Despite the dignified way in which John Dehlin reacted to his excommunication, his refusal to consider repentance ensures that most LDS members approve to the council's decision. Some maintain that Dehlin left the Church spiritually quite a while ago. Even some who are supportive of Dehlin concede that he might be better off outside the Church. One KSL commenter, FlaCougar, wrote "He's lucky it's the LDS with excommunication and NOT ISIS with execution by beheading".

-- LDS Freedom Forum: Surprisingly, Dehlin gets more support in this venue even though it is billed as pro-LDS. This thread is about three weeks old and provides some perspective on the evolution of opinion by rank-and-file LDS membership.

-- Mormon Voices: Endorses the excommunication of John Dehlin; points out that this drama has been going on since 2007. Thus the Church bent over backwards to avoid going this far. Mormon Voices explains succinctly why Dehlin's conduct constituted apostasy:

As used in this context, apostasy consists of “repeatedly act[ing] in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”

John Dehlin’s behavior clearly meets this standard. For example, he provided audio files regarding LDS temple ceremonies—which are regarded as both private and sacred—to an audience of hundreds, encouraging them to share them further. He later made such files public. He also applauded and encouraged the distribution of deceptive “pass-along cards” that used the Church’s logo and typeface, apparently intended to give the impression that the Church supported same-sex marriages. He refers readers to overtly anti-Mormon works, and declares that vintage anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner “were right. About pretty much everything.”

The LDS Church really didn't have much choice left, since John Dehlin refused to meet them part way.

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