In Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. John Dehlin of the Mormon Stories podcast, we’ll get into his criticism of the LDS Church. Is he a constructive or destructive Mormon critic? Is his podcast neutral towards the Church? Does he want people to Stay LDS? We’ll get into his tussels with both apologists and neo-apologists, and of course we can’t miss his role in the Swedish Rescue. Check out our conversation….
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Around the year 2015, Dr. John Dehlin was excommunicated from the LDS Church. We’ll learn about his run-ins with apologists, and how he dealt with Church leaders who wanted him out. Check out our conversation….
GT 00:54 I used to listen to your podcasts all the time. I probably started in about 2006. So, I was a pretty early listener. I remember you would say on your podcast that you got messages from people, emails or whatever, that you were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I know that really bothered you. Can you talk about that? I mean, was that a fair term? I don’t know what to say.
John 01:28 So, speaking of fair, one of the first things I did in 2004-2005, was I joined the FAIR Mormon, back then, yeah, I joined the FAIR Board. I learned about Lou Midgley and Daniel Peterson and all the apologists. I thought, “Oh, these are people defending the faith. “They’re worth engaging with. I was even on their email lists for a while. But I also learned about Grant Palmer, and I had read An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. So, I was trying to decide how aggressive I wanted to be on the podcast. I remember interviewing Richard Bushman. I was so grateful that he let me interview him. That was one of my first you know, along with Greg Prince, that was one of my first really big gets.
GT 02:14 Right. It took me six years to get Richard Bushman. It was hard.
John 02:20 Yeah, yeah. He probably didn’t love my experience with him and didn’t want to do another podcast for a long time. I don’t know.
GT 02:29 Yes, that’s what he told me.
John 02:30 Yeah. Well, I’d love to hear that story. But here’s what happened. So, I wanted to cover like the main [topics on Joseph Smith.] Think about the Gospel Topics Essays now. I was just really curious how such a believing, intelligent man dealt with polyandry, dealt with polygamy, dealt with the Book of Abraham, dealt with the martyrdom, dealt with the stone in the hat. You know what I mean? So, I said, Richard Bushman, “Would you come on Mormon Stories? We’ll cover 10 topics.”
John 03:07 He’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” We’ll cover 10 topics. So, he agreed. I was thrilled. I brought him on, and we covered, like, three topics. I haven’t ever gone back to really listen to the episode. I know he was sick during part of it, coughed a lot. But I’m sure we covered like the First Vision and maybe some of the treasure digging stuff. You might remember more than me what we covered on that episode, but I was trying to go kind of chronological. All I know is that after three of the 10 topics, he quit.
GT 03:35 Well, that was like six hours, though. Wasn’t it? It was a long interview.
John 03:39 Yeah. But I was trying to go in depth. I was trying to be substantive. We had talking points that were shallow. I wanted to cover his story. But then I also wanted to cover the topics in enough depth that they would be meaningful.
GT 03:55 My guess is he wasn’t expecting a 10 hour interview.
John 03:59 Probably, yeah, probably. So, I don’t hate the guy. I still really respect him. But he quit. He didn’t keep his word. He quit, three of the 10 topics in and I was really disappointed in that. I still loved him. I still, you know, brought Claudia Bushman on later to Mormon Stories and to this day, I have a ton of respect for him. But that was a bummer. I was trying to decide, like, do I tell everybody that he quit? Or do I just kind of awkwardly finesse the ending of the series, and I chose the latter. So, I didn’t really make a big deal about him quitting. But it was disappointment. Because I…
GT 04:48 We can tell you were disappointed. I will say that. I remember that.
John 04:51 But he told me why he quit. He said, “When I interview with you, it feels like I’m being stung by bees, and you swat one bee and then another bee stings you.” The way I interpreted it. He didn’t say it was too long. He said, “I feel like I’m being swatted by bees.” I don’t think I was hostile. This is before I created StayLDS. I was trying to be a faithful member. But I also believed you should talk directly and openly about the hard stuff. I wasn’t a fan of finesse. I wasn’t a fan of soft pedaling the hard stuff. And that’s what apologists, in my view, too often did. So, I wanted to go in depth and really ask, “How do you stay a member with these really serious problems,” without finesse and I felt like he was uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny that I was putting him under, frankly, and I think that’s why he quit. I don’t think it was because of the time commitment, personally. I think he was surprised by the length. I don’t think he was probably expecting that length. But I think the reason he quit is because he knew he couldn’t really control the message. I did lose some respect for him at that point, honestly.
John 06:15 Later when he gives that fireside, in the basement, where he says, “The predominant historical narrative isn’t sustainable, because it isn’t true.” But then when it’s made public that he says that, he backpedals again. I don’t fault him for managing his political capital within the Church. Everybody who’s successful has to do that, including Terryl and Fiona Givens and Patrick Mason, and Spencer Fleming and others. I get it, I was doing it. But I lost respect, because I got this really clear sense that it’s like, “Well, what we say privately is going to be different than what we say publicly.” I feel like that’s that was the problem. The problem was that we weren’t being open, and whether it was my parents’ divorce and the secrets that led to that divorce, or mental illness that I saw my family where everything was kept quiet and wasn’t talked about. In my view, it was the silence that was the killer. It was the silence that was harming the Church, and I was tired of it. So, I did lose respect for Richard Bushman. And I lost respect for Terryl and Fiona Givens when I found out that they were doing these private firesides where they would say one thing in private, but that in public, they would say different things. I was never really a big fan of that kind of doublespeak. Because I think it’s what got us into that problem.
John 07:41 Anyway, back to your question about apologists and critics and everything. After I interviewed Bushman, I felt like it wasn’t, I knew I couldn’t interview Grant Palmer until I had interviewed Bushman. My memory is that a viewed Bushman before Palmer.
GT 07:06 I believe that’s right.
John 08:00 Yeah. But then I interviewed Grant Palmer, because I felt like let’s get both sides. We’ve got to do both sides. We’ve got to stop with the apologetics only. We’ve got to hear what critics have to say. So, I went to Grant Palmer’s house. What a freakin’ legend. He was willing to talk about the hard stuff, honestly and openly to the point of getting disfellowshipped for it. Eventually, he was threatened with excommunication. But he talked about the hard stuff in depth. His book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins was legendary. But it really pissed off Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgley, and all those apologists that I would even give a platform to Grant Palmer. But that’s a commitment I made on Mormon Stories that I’ve tried to live to this day. I’ll bring on faithful people. But I’m also going to bring on apostates and critics. It’ll be a dialectic where we’ll arrive at the truth and at wisdom, by interviewing all sides of the spectrum. I still think to this day–maybe your podcast is up there. It probably is. But I don’t think anybody has worked harder to do more interviews from all sides of the spectrum. That’s one of the things I really value about Gospel Tangents is because if anybody were to kind of challenge Mormon Stories in that regard, it would probably be you.
GT 09:26 Wow.
John 09:27 Yeah, and I respect that.
GT 09:28 Can I turn that into a commercial?
John 08:36 Yeah, you can. Yeah. Because you’ve had Sandra on, right?
GT 09:29 Yeah.
John 09:33 You’ve had…
GT 09:34 Will Bagley.
John 09:35 Yeah, and Steven Pynakker is following in that tradition as well. So, Mormon Book Reviews, thumbs up. Gospel Tangents, thumbs up. That’s the way I think it should be. But the Church does have a Strengthening the Church Member Committee. I learned about that while I was a BYU. Eugene England was a part of the discovery of that. Like the KGB or the CIA, the Church keeps files on people. Then, when the time is right–Church headquarters–and it’s often FAIR Mormon apologist types that were used as labor to track the internet writings and publishings of the members. Then, when the time is right, FAIR Mormon, Maxwell Institute people, FARMS people would contact local bishops and stake presidents, send them the file, inform them about what was being said and done, and then say, “Well, you know what to do,” all the while the Church would say, “We don’t get involved in local matters,” because they found out that was problematic.
GT 10:44 Well, it’s problematic in their scripture, right?
John 10:46 What do you mean?
GT 10:47 The apostles aren’t supposed to get involved in local matters.
John 10:49 Yeah.
GT 10:50 I mean, it’s in the Doctrine and Covenants.
John 10:52 But they were, and they do, and they did. As the Christine Jeppson Clark episode told, General Authorities were telling stake presidents to excommunicate members of the September 6, but then trying to claim that they weren’t. And that was dishonest, right?
GT 11:06 That’s why I asked you the question, because you said you’d had your bishop call you in twice. Was it the Strengthening the Church Members committee?
John 11:12 Well, he clearly wouldn’t tell me that. So I don’t know for sure. I know, for sure, the third time they were involved. But, the first couple times was with a different bishop. I don’t know. I don’t know, because he wouldn’t tell me. But I suspect they might have been.
GT 11:30 Okay.
John 11:31 Yeah. But I got on FAIR Mormon’s–they were called FAIR at the time. I got on FAIR’s bad side, as soon as I interviewed Grant Palmer. From then on, eventually they kicked [me out.] For that, and probably for asking hard questions, they kicked me off their email list. From then on, they viewed me as an enemy. I kind of viewed them as an enemy to truth, and to honest, open discourse. I’ve had a battle with apologists, ever since then. But, still, from 2005, until 2014, there were two years where I went inactive for a year each. Both times were really bad. I just felt empty. I felt dark. I missed the Church. I missed the spirituality. I missed the hymns. I worried about how I would raise my kids, I felt like my family wasn’t doing as well. So, from 2006 to 2007, I went inactive for a year.
John 12:36 I just felt like I need the Church. Because like, I’m getting lost without it, and this anger isn’t taking me anywhere. So, from 2012 to 2014, we were back in church again. What really, I think, was the beginning of the end was I was completing my LGBT research. I’d researched scrupulosity/OCD for my Ph.D. in psychology. I’d started my Ph.D. in psychology, because by that time, over 10,000 listeners had reached out to me for support for their marriage, for their mental health, they’re gay, like, a million reasons. I didn’t feel capable of helping them in so many ways. So, I figured, I’ll get my Ph.D. in psychology. It’ll help me help them when they come to me for support. And if I can end up being a therapist or a coach for people in faith crisis, I can stop working for MIT and just do this full time. I didn’t know if I could ever sustain that financially, but it was this big leap of faith.
John 13:51 So, I started my Ph.D. in 2009, studied OCD/religious scrupulosity, for the first two years of my Ph.D. Then, [I] switched to the LGBTQ Mormon experience for the last four years of my Ph.D. I was invited to give a TED talk at Utah State in 2013. I had reconciled with Margi, back in church, faithful, but non-believing, but progressive. I gave a TED Talk. This is 2008, with Prop Eight. [That] really bothered me. Then, Mitt Romney is running again in 2012, and the Church LGBT stuff is really bugging me. Reparative therapy is still a thing. The Church is still promoting conversion therapy by 2011-2012-2013. So, I decided to give a TED talk on the results of my LGBTQ research, saying that you can be an LGBTQ Mormon and an ally. And that, along with Kate Kelly’s Ordain Women movement and me supporting Kate Kelly, and Ordain Women, and writing an essay for the Ordain Women website, where I express my public support for the ordination of women. Those two things happened in the fall of 2013. By that time, the church had fired my Stake President, put in a stake president, Brian King, who they knew was going to take care of business. [They] replaced my bishop, and the Church was ready to take me out.
GT 15:30 So, do you think your first, was at one or two bishops, advocated on your behalf?
John 15:36 I do, and my stake president. I think his name is Mark Nelson. I can’t believe I’m spacing on his name. But, my first stake president, I think his name was Mark Nelson. We went through a year of counseling after this 2012-2013 time period. I also wanted to baptize my son Winston. He’s like, “I don’t think you’re worthy because of your beliefs.” So, we did like a year of counseling, sometimes weekly. He worked with me every year, to the point where he allowed me to baptize Winston, as a progressive believer, around 2012-2013ish. Winston was nine, so I had to wait a year to baptize my son. But then the Church got rid of him, [my stake president,] because I think he just decided he wasn’t willing to excommunicate me. So, I do my Ted Talk…
GT 16:33 So, he served, like nine years, because usually they serve about nine years.
John 16:38 Yeah, like nine years. Yeah, that’s my that’s my understanding.
GT 16:40 I mean, that’s about the time they would release him anyway. Right?
John 16:43 Right. Yeah. But my understanding is that is that L. Whitney Clayton and Elder Ballard decided that I needed to be excommunicated. So, they came. They did two stake conferences in my stake, within a very short time period. That bubble chart was created, where my name was on it, as one of the enemies of the Church. They showed that to the local Ward leadership in training, and said, “If you have anyone in your stake that meets these criteria, or that appears on this bubble chart, there are things that should be done.” I don’t know. But they replaced Mark Nelson, who had been a supporter of me. They replaced my bishop. They replaced the stake president, after I gave my TED Talk and by–and supported Ordain Women.
John 19:22 By January-ish of 2014, I was called in to my bishops office, by Brian Hunt, and he said, “I’m starting an investigation on you because of your support of progressive movements within the Church. This is all audio recorded. You can listen to this audio recording. But what I remember is him basically saying it was my support of same-sex marriage, and my support of the ordination of women–progressive initiatives.
GT 18:14 So Bryan King was your bishop. Is that right?
GT 18:15 Bryan King was my stake president. This is Brian Hunt, who was my bishop. So, Brian Hunt said that he started the investigation. That was in January or February and then it wasn’t until the summer that Kate Kelly– and at that point, my daughter Maya was Laurel president. I think my daughter, Clara, was Beehive president. So, we were in. We were still attending. My kids are being raised in the Church. I was worthy and faithful, but progressive and angry about the LGBT stuff, all the LGBT suicides. I was just getting more and more angry, and more and more conflicted about the ethics of staying in the Church as an non-believer, as a semi-believer, knowing that the Church was harming so many people and unwilling to change. Denver Snuffer gets excommunicated. It’s like the 20-year anniversary of the September Six. Denver Snuffer’s excommunication, that was the first shoe to drop. It was like, uh oh. They’re starting to excommunicate for apostasy again. Then, in mid-2014, Kate Kelly and I were…
GT 19:31 Denver Snuffer is the anti-John Dehlin. Right? He’s on the other end of the pole.
John 19:35 But just like…
GT 19:36 He was too much of a believer.
John 19:37 Just like Avraham Gileadi, for the September Six was on the conservative fundamentalist, side.
GT 19:44 They need to have one to balance the other. Is that right? You’ve got to get a right-leaning or left-leaning person to balance.
John 19:50 Yeah, we get them all. The bubble chart had some guy with the last name of Norman, and Denver Snuffer on one side of the bubble chart, then me and Ordain Women. They didn’t name Kate Kelly. And like support for LGBT stuff. And, porn, like on the other side of the spectrum.
GT 20:11 Support for porn? (Chuckling}
John 20:12 Something like that. So, Kate Kelly and I received our letters, summoning us to a disciplinary council, within a week of each other. That happened, I believe, in the summer of 2014. They did Kate Kelly’s excommunication pretty quickly, but I had worked with Marlin. I raised a stink. I had worked with Marlin Jensen, on studying people in faith crisis. We haven’t told this story.
GT 20:43 You need to tell that story. But we’ll save that for later.
John 20:44 I’d worked with Marlin Jensen, I had worked with the Church. I had met with Elder Holland twice. I had done my part to help the Church make progress. I think the Church felt like there was a real risk in excommunicating me. So, it was the longest drawn-out disciplinary council ever, but it wasn’t until like February of the following year, where they ended up actually holding the disciplinary council.
GT 21:14 Kate got excommunicated. Because you were both going to get excommunicated about the same time.
John 21:18 Yeah.
GT 21:19 Yours got delayed for a while. I don’t know why.
John 21:21 Yeah.
GT 21:22 Then, they excommunicated Kate, and then you were like six months later, if I remember right.
John 21:25 Yeah. One of the reasons why it was ridiculous is I received the letter about the excommunication, having never met with my stake president. So, the new stake president, Bryan King, had never actually met me. I didn’t even know his name, I don’t think. All of a sudden I’m getting a letter saying he wants to excommunicate me, and I was attending church. So, it’s not like I was inactive. So, I made a big stink about that. Then, he like, “Okay, well, let’s meet, then.”
Because I’m like, “Oh, you’re going to excommunicate me and we’ve never met. That’s interesting. My former stake president was fine with everything I was doing. What changed?” So, we ended up with…
GT 22:08 So, that’s what caused the six month delay?
John 22:11 I think so. The Church had to make it look like they were working with me and counseling with me. So, I met with him three times. All those recordings, I made audio recordings of. They’re on Mormon Stories. They’re ridiculous, and everyone who listens to them gets sick to their stomach because of the way I was treated. I’ve actually almost had nobody, even believers say that I misbehaved in those interviews. But they were just going through the motions. We tried to have a dialogue. He was a man on a mission. He had been told to excommunicate me. He didn’t really ever want to listen. We never had genuine dialogue. Long story short is they pulled the trigger I think that next February 2015.
Mormon Matters: Does John People Endorse StayLDS?
Two of John’s early websites were called Mormon Matters, and StayLDS. We’ll talk about why he started those websites, and whether he still wants people to Stay LDS. Check out our conversation….
GT 23:03 Well, yeah, and so, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about a couple of other projects. You’ve already mentioned StayLDS, and I kind of want to talk about Mormon Matters a little bit.
John 23:17 Yeah.
GT 23:18 Can you talk about why you started those two sites, specifically?
John 23:21 StayLDS was started to help keep people in the Church. I had left the Church for a year. I felt dark, lost. Then, I saw a lot of people leave the Church and mess up their lives: divorce, infidelity, drug, alcohol addiction. I view things differently now, but at the time, I just felt like, people were better off staying if they could stay. But they didn’t know how to stay. They didn’t think they could stay as a nuanced or non-believer. So, I’d write the manual for it. So, StayLDS was, literally–and it’s still up, as I understand it, staylds.com.
GT 23:57 You should sell me the domain.
John 23:59 Okay. I’ll sell the domain name. I don’t know. I kind of like owning it. How about I lease it? I don’t need money. But I’ll let you take it over.
GT 24:06 I actually own staylds.org.
John 24:11 Okay, we’ll talk. I’d love people to do something better with it. Anyway, I started that, put out that ebook on how to stay in the Church. [I] worked with Brian Johnston. He passed away recently.
GT 24:25 I know. I’m sad about that.
John 24:26 Super tragic.
GT 24:27 He was a friend of mine.
John 24:28 Good guy. Yeah. So, that’s why I did StayLDS is literally to help people stay in the Church. Even, there’s a temple recommend guide of how to answer the temple recommend questions, keeping your integrity, but also being able to get your recommend. You know, how to nuance tithing, it was all in there. It’s still there. It’s a fun essay. Look it up. So that’s what was behind StayLDS. We also created a forum where people could talk to each other and get to know each other.
GT 24:58 Yeah, that forum is still pretty popular.
John 25:00 It is?
GT 25:01 Yeah. So, my question is, do you really want people to stay LDS anymore?
John 25:02 Oh, okay. So one thing about StayLDS that’s really important is, even though I was able to stay with the nuanced progressive testimony, I would have person after person tell me that they couldn’t do it. They would tell me, “I tried. I followed what you said. It wasn’t good for my mental health. It wasn’t good for my well-being. It became a matter of conscience.” I realized that I was propping up a set of recommendations that were only viable for a subset of people. But by putting the website up, it would allow other people to say, “Hey husband, all these other people are staying Mormon. Why can’t you?” You know, what I’m saying; a believing wife to a non-believing husband or believing husband and unbelieving wife. “Look, stay LDS.” Even bishops were starting to use it. Bishops were using my ebook, from StayLDS, to help members stay in the Church. I was excited about that. I was proud of that.
John 26:21 But, then there would be the people that said it was literally damaging their health and well-being to stay. I started to feel this conflict of like, am I setting people up for false expectations? Am I setting up a standard that people could be judged by or pushed towards that wasn’t actually healthy or sustainable for many, many people? Because I found that many, many, many people could stay for a while. But, then they couldn’t do it anymore. At some point, I lost my confidence in being able to really say [that] this is a path that I recommend. It wasn’t a path that I, even to this day, have denounced. But it’s a path I could no longer recommend as being viable for most people. So, you can go read the most recent versions of that e-doc that I created with Brian, where I had to put a disclaimer on there: John no longer advocates for this way, because it’s not sustainable for many. But I kept the website up, and I let other people manage it. I still wanted it to be there as a resource for those who found it useful. I still feel that way to this day, which is why I’ve never taken it down and why I still refer people to it, occasionally.
GT 27:46 You still do refer people to it?
John 27:47 Oh yeah for sure. I’ve had, when I used to coach, I don’t coach much these days. I’ve kind of mothballed my coaching practice for now, because Mormon Stories is way busy. But all the time when I was a coach, and people would say, “My wife or husband believe, I don’t believe anymore, but it’s going to wreck our family if I if I leave. My spouse isn’t ready for me to leave. Or my job, I’m a Church employee. I’m a seminary and institute teacher. I’m a CES director. I’m a bishop. How can I stay?” To this day, I’ll point them to StayLDS, that manual. Absolutely.
GT 28:28 Okay. Well interesting. So, the other project that I thought was really interesting that you started was Mormon Matters.
John 28:39 Did you blog for Mormon Matters?
GT 28:41 A little bit.
John 28:42 Okay. So, there are all these cool blogs, but none of them would let me blog for them. I blogged for BCC for just a little bit and that just didn’t work out, because they were more neo-apologist types and finessing the problems. I just never had a taste for that. I felt like that was a form of dishonesty.
GT 29:10 When you say they, are you referring to By Common Consent?
John 29:11 Yeah.
GT 29:12 Okay.
John 29:13 Yeah, and the Millennial Star crowd and the Times and Seasons crowd. My form of progressive Mormonism was too bold, probably too controversial, too sharp-elbowed for them. So, there was never a fit, and they always suspected that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, too, many of them.
GT 29:35 Are you?
John 29:37 Do you want to talk about that now, or do you want to finish talking about Mormon Matters?
GT 29:39 Well, I mean, I think we can get both.
John 29:42 So, I started Mormon Matters as just a blog to do cool blogging, but more honest, more open, talk about the hard stuff, talk about the controversies, talk about the truth claims, talk about nuanced Mormonism explicitly. So, it was it was a super popular blog, probably one of the most popular blogs in its heyday. Then, there was just like, I would just say there was kind of conflict between me and some of the bloggers. There was some dissent within the perma-bloggers. I remember Cheryl Bruno being a part of that. I don’t remember the details of the conflict. All I remember was that it got to a head. I felt overwhelmed and stressed. I didn’t want to blow up what was happening. Maybe a lot of the bloggers weren’t comfortable working with me anymore. But it ended up, we ended up basically allowing Wheat and Tares to be created. We allowed them to migrate all the content to a new blog. Then, they continued as Wheat and Tares, and then I kept the domain and then later allowed Dan Witherspoon to take it over as a podcast. Dan Witherspoon did Mormon Matters podcast for a long time.
GT 31:00 Okay, because as I remember with Mormon Matters, one of the things, one of your goals was to bring together everybody: ex-Mormons, faithful Mormons, and just have everybody talk. But it sounds kind of like with StayLDS? Is that a sustainable model?
John 31:22 Well, you’re doing it and Steven Pynakker’s doing it.
GT 31:25 Well, Steve Pynakker is not LDS.
John 31:28 Right. Well, yeah. Well, you are.
GT 31:32 I am.
John 31:33 Yeah, and Sunstone does it. It’s doable, and I still try and do it. So, yeah, it’s sustainable. You just have to be super careful, and you have to not cross certain lines. My mistakes were, once I started studying the LGBT issues in-depth and found out about the suicide statistics in Utah for LGBT youth and LGBT Mormon adults, and the mixed orientation marriage fiasco that I gathered data about, and the high divorce rate, double the average divorce rate, sometimes for first marriages with mixed orientation marriages, super low quality of life, the suicidality. Between the celibacy, mixed orientation marriages, and LGBT suicides and depression, that radicalized me, along with my stake president, along with Ordain Women, and them excommunicating of Kate Kelly, and then my stake president asking me… Because when I met back with my stake president, Bryan King, he gave me an ultimatum. I said, “What do I have to do to stay a member?”
John 32:47 He said, “Take down Mormon Stories,” basically. There was a little bit of nuance to that, but it’s basically, “Take down every episode that would ever cause anyone to question anything.”
John 32:56 I’m like, “No, I’m not going to take down Mormon Stories.” Even though I told him how many people, and again, I had everybody reach out to him and email him and tell him how many people were active in the Church because of Mormon Stories. He didn’t care. He was fingered with a job to do. So, none of that mattered to him.
John 33:17 So, if I had to choose being censored about advocating for LGBT people, advocating for same sex marriage, because it was a matter of voting, advocating for honesty and openness versus censorship, homophobia, misogyny and sexism, I’m not going to roll back. So, that radicalized me, just along with all the pain and suffering of all the people in faith crisis, when the Church just didn’t seem to want to really do anything meaningful. So, that radicalized me, and my refusal to take everything down, led to my excommunication, which then made a lot of faithful scholars, apologists, believing people, just unwilling to come on the podcast. A lot of people blame my tone for some of the more liberal or progressive, believing people not being willing to come on Mormon Stories. But people’s started declining to come on Mormon Stories because of my excommunication, before my tone got more harsh.
John 34:27 Once people like Bushman refused to come on, Fiona and Terryl Givens, who had come on twice before, declined to come on. Fluhman declined to come on. Once the Church excommunicated me, that put the scarlet letter on me and Mormon Stories, which then made people who were previously willing to come on Mormon Stories, no longer willing to come on Mormon Stories. That’s when I started getting angry, and my tone got kind of more and more harsh and severe. But, to this day, I’ve had Jim Bennett on. I had Joe Tippetts recently.
John 35:09 I have believers on whenever they’ll come on, whenever they have something interesting to say. A lot of faithful people just won’t come on anymore. That’s probably partly me, but it’s partly the Church. I mean, they know what they’re doing when they excommunicate people, and then have a temple recommend question that says, “Do you support any apostate groups?” They know what they’re doing there. Plus, if you’re Pat Mason, and rich donors support your Endowed Chair, are you going to come on Mormon Stories? Maybe not. You’re Richard Bushman. You’re working. If you’re Phil Barlow, if you’re Terryl Givens working at the Maxwell Institute, can you keep your job at the Maxwell Institute and come on Mormon Stories? Probably not. So, I blame the Church as much as my tone for the way Mormon Stories is skewed towards more aggressive discourse, along with just my impatience at all the pain and suffering and death and divorce, and destructions of families that I’ve witnessed over the past 20 years. At some point, the Church becomes complicit in the deaths, and the divorce, and the depression and the anxiety, the carnage that is the way the Church handles all of these issues.
John 36:31 You know, one year, five years, 10 years, but really 20 years, 50 years in, the Church still can’t figure this stuff out how to be honest? How to handle faith crisis stuff, how to handle LGBT people, how to apologize for its racism, how to incorporate women? Like 100-200 years into it. It can’t learn how to be honest and upright about its history and apologize. At some point, you just, you lose your patience, and you feel like the Church has blood on their hands. So, back to your original question, do I believe there can be an open forum of balanced discussion between believers and unbelievers? Yes, it’s super hard. And at some point, they excommunicate you for it, if you are willing to criticize the leaders who deserve to be criticized, honestly, and if you’re willing to talk about the truth claims, in ways that are honest, but that lead people to look at the Church with intellectual scrutiny. And then the other thing is, you have to get popular. Like, someone can say, “Well, Rick Bennett still does Gospel Tangents.” But, as unknown as I am, you’re probably less known than me. But if you ever got as popular as Mormon Matters.
GT 37:51 Well, you’re the man, the myth, and the legend, right?
John 37:52 No, that’s you. Didn’t you hear how I started this episode? But part of it is you have to get popular enough. They’re not going to excommunicate you if you’re flying under the radar. But, once you really get traction, and start becoming known by, let’s just say 5% of the Church membership, and you’re willing to criticize Church leaders or talk about the truth claims in a very explicit way that allows people to kind of see a more honest, realistic context for the problems of the Church’s truth claims, which I’d love to have a conversation with you about. That’s when you get put on the radar. That’s when you face Church discipline. That’s happened to Jeremy Runnells, September 6, Grant Palmer, Bill Reel. That’s what happens.
GT 38:45 So, there are a bunch of different ways I want to go.
John 38:49 All right! This is good stuff.
Difference Between Apologists & Neo-apologists
If you’ve listened to Mormon Stories, Dr. John Dehlin has used a term called neo-apologists, which is different that apologist. What’s the difference? John’s going to tell us the difference, and how he views apologetic answers to tough church questions. Check out our conversation….
GT 38:49 I’m trying to decide which way to go.
John 38:50 Now we’re getting to the good stuff.
GT 38:51 We’re at a big fork in the road with like three choices. So, after you got excommunicated, you became more harsh towards apologists. Is that a fair word? I know you use the term neo-apologists. What’s the difference between an apologist and a neo-apologist?
John 39:18 So, I think of classic Mormon apologetics as Hugh Nibley, Daniel C. Peterson, Louis Midgley style, where your number one tool is ad hominem smearing the reputation of the critic, or of the honest question or calling them gay, accusing them of adultery, calling them a wolf in sheep’s clothing and an apostate. Ever since Hugh Nibley published, No, Ma’am, That’s Not History, without ever really dealing with any of the merits of Fawn Brodie’s concerns in her book, he set the tone. Daniel C. Peterson has been super happy to pick up that baton. FAIR Mormon continued with it all the way to Kwaku and Cardon Ellis and the This is the Show videos that were taken down. [There’s] this whole rich, multi-decade tradition of smearing critics or smearing on us questioners and then offering disingenuous science, specious, invalid science and ridiculous, illogical knowingly dishonest answers to the problems with the Church’s truth claims. And that’s what Hugh Nibley did. That’s what FARMS did. That’s what FAIR Mormon does and did.
John 40:14 It’s an embarrassing blight on the Church, in my opinion. I think those people have done way more harm than good, not just to the Church, but to people doubting. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve interacted with over the past two decades who say it was FAIR Mormon, or the Maxwell Institute or FARMS that caused their faith crisis, because their answers were so horrible, or they misbehaved so badly in their apologetic ad hominem, that the Church lost additional credibility, knowing that the Church was bankrolling all of these efforts, right? So that’s classic apologists.
John 41:26 Then, once the internet really got up to speed starting in the 2000s, we started calling out Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgley and others. In fact, there was a point where I learned from an employee of the Maxwell Institute, that Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgley, and–who is the Canadian apologist doctor guy who wrote the two hit pieces on me? Greg Smith was his name.
John 42:02 Anyway, I caught wind from within the Maxwell Institute, that another part of the Maxwell Institute, that another member of the Maxwell Institute or group of them, were writing two hit pieces on me back in in 2012, while I was working with Marlin Jensen directly, to help solve the Church’s problem with its faith crisis stuff. So, here I am. I conduct a study with my friend Travis Stratford and Greg Prince, in response to Hans Mattsson, Swedish Mormon area authority, who had lost his faith. We collaborate on doing a study of why people are leaving the Church. We get like 3000 people to fill out the survey. We compile the results with a dozen Ph.D.’s, compile that into a study and then literally share that with Church headquarters, share with Marlin Jensen. Travis Stratford goes to Church headquarters to present the findings of the study, to the missionary committee, to Church PR, to the correlation committee, to the priesthood committee, curriculum, CES, all of them. [We] say, “Hey, Mormon Church. There’s a problem. People are losing their faith. And this is why. You need to start being honest with your history and stop deceiving people.” I, along with Greg Prince and Travis Stratford, we were the creators of that study, and this is the history. This has been covered a bit in Matthew Harris’s book on the Gospel Topics.
GT 43:40 Yeah, it’s the introduction.
John 43:41 Yeah. But there are other places where we’ve talked about this. But I met with Elder Holland twice, personally, to try and counsel him on how to deal with people in faith crisis. The Church is doing nothing, and with Mormon Stories, StayLDS, that’s literally how I’m spending all my time, is trying to keep people in the Church. So, that’s what I was doing. Then, you’ve got the Maxwell Institute writing a hit piece against me, a 100-page hit piece trying to smear me and call me a wolf in sheep’s clothing, while I’m helping the Church for free. It was ridiculous. So, as soon as I found out about that hit piece from a Maxwell Institute employee, I notified Marlin Jensen, and Elder Holland, and everyone that I knew. [I’m] like, “Can you help me understand why I’m helping you and you’re funding hit pieces being written about me.”
John 44:41 That was when Daniel Peterson was removed from the Maxwell Institute. He was removed from his position as the leader of the Maxwell Institute. I have it on good authority that Marlin Jensen and Elder Holland were both involved in the removal of Daniel Peterson, from the Maxwell Institute, directly for his unwillingness to back down. So, that’s my side of the story. Other people may have their sides of the story, but I was, again, I had a source from within the Maxwell Institute that was telling me what was going on behind the scenes. That was a classic instance of classic ad hominem Mormon apologetics. Once Daniel Peterson was dethroned from the Maxwell Institute, and Gerry Bradford dethroned him from direction from the BYU president and Elder Holland. Eventually, Spencer Fluhman was put in. A lot of people contributed to this. But the decision was, that was not an effective way to deal with doubters, to deal with critics, to deal with people who question.
John 45:56 So they migrated their apologetic approach was Spencer Fluhman of the Maxwell Institute towards what’s called pastoral apologetics, which is not to engage in ad hominem anymore, not to engage in specious ridiculous pseudoscience, non-peer reviewed pseudoscience with ridiculous answers like, maybe when Joseph Smith wrote horse in the Book of Mormon, he meant tapir. Maybe there’s two Hill Cumorah’s instead of one. Instead of all that garbage, we’re going to show support to people who are doubting. We’re going to love people who question and we’re going to just try and provide a more nuanced and progressive path for staying in the Church ala Terryl and Fiona Givens, ala, Patrick Mason, in his book, Planted. We’re going to show a more loving pastoral approach. [We’re going to] stop trying to address the scientific criticisms of the Church’s truth claims, because we know we have nothing there. We know that science wins, every time we try and argue with science on any of the problems with the Church’s truth claims. So, we’re going to stop trying to provide those types of answers. [We’re going to] love people and stop with the ad hominem.
John 47:12 So, I named that neo-apologetics. They hate it. None of them like that term. I don’t even know how well it’s known, but that’s what I mean when I say a neo-apologist. And that’s Richard Bushman. That’s Terryl and Fiona Givens. That’s Patrick Mason. That Spencer Fluhman. That’s Adam Miller. [These are] good people, smart people, lovely people trying to do, institutionally, within the Church, frankly, what I was trying to do with Mormon Matters with Dan Witherspoon, with StayLDS, try to create a progressive, faithful Mormonism that’s more liberal and non-literal, within Mormonism.
GT 47:57 Okay, so, apologetics are ad hominems, and neo-apologetics are nicer, but still lacking. Is that what I’m hearing?
John 48:09 Well, okay. I think it’s un-Christ like to engage in ad hominem attacks. So, that’s definitely improvement. Mormon neo-apologetics, for me, is an improvement on pretty much every level. I’m not aware of any way where it’s not an improvement. So, getting rid of ad hominem: improvement. Getting rid of stupid, pseudo-scientific, non-peer reviewed garbage responses to challenges to the Church’s truth claims: improvement. Showing love and empathy: improvement. All that’s an improvement. Are you asking why I’ve been critical of neo-apologists?
GT 48:51 Well, that’s where I was going.
John 48:52 Yeah. do you want to ask the question, or however you want to ask it?
GT 48:56 I mean, well, I wanted to make sure I understood the difference first.
John 48:59 Does that make sense to you? Do you want to push back on that in any way?
GT 49:03 No. Well, I mean, it does lead into the question of, if it’s such an improvement, because I know it seems like last year you were really going after Patrick Mason really hard. Because he had given a fireside and you put a rebuttal video out there. I know you’re frustrated with Patrick. He won’t come on your show. Richard Bushman won’t come on, Terryl Givens, etc., etc.
John 49:33 Before my tone changed, that was true. I just want to make that clear. Part of what people want to do is revisionist history that it’s because my tone changed. But they stopped being willing to come on my show before my tone changed.
GT 49:46 So, because they quit coming on, was the beast unleashed? Were you like, “I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to hold Patrick Mason to account for bad apologetics,” or whatever you want to say. I’m just asking. Is that why?
John 50:01 So first of all, I love and respect every single person that I mentioned in that group. I love and respect Phil Barlow, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Richard Bushman, Patrick Mason, Spencer Fluhman. They’re bright, Adam Miller. [They’re] brilliant, good-hearted, honest, bright people. I’ve felt really conflicted in how I’ve talked about them. I regret whenever I’ve been harsh or unfair or mean-spirited. I regret that. So, I’m happy to apologize to all of them and say, “I’m sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt any of you, if I’ve ever hurt any of you.” So, there’s that. Patrick and I wrote a column together once, after I was excommunicated, where we were trying to dialogue back and forth about truth claims and stuff, and Patrick quit the column because he didn’t like my expression of anger and frustration and concern. That was frustrating. In some sense, I felt relieved. But, in some sense, I felt frustrated by that. But we stayed on good terms.
John 51:27 Why have I been critical of the neo-apologists? There’s a couple pf reasons why. One [reason] is the private versus the public dichotomy. I started hearing about Terryl and Fiona Givens traveling around the world, doing these special private firesides, where rich Mormons would pay for them to travel around the world, and give these firesides. Only people who were questioning were invited. Then, they would give their best apologetic responses, but it could never be recorded. They would never publish what was said. It was all just their spin, but never shared publicly and never adopted by the Church. That sort of private, secret, elite treatment is a thing of privilege. It’s back to the doublespeak. It’s back to the two-faced kind of approach. When I started Mormon Stories, it was always about transparency. So, number one, are these people spokespeople? Are they prophets, seers and revelators? Are they apostles? Are they even sanctioned by the Church to be giving these, “Maybe the Book of Mormon isn’t historical? Maybe the Book of Abraham wasn’t a translation? Maybe it was inspired through, what’s it called?
GT 53:00 Revelation.
John 53:01 Revelation or whatever. Like, maybe Joseph Smith went off the hinge a little bit and polygamy was never–they’re giving all these answers to pacify people privately, that is not endorsed by the Church, is not shared Church-wide. It felt two-faced. It felt elitist. It felt disingenuous. Because number one, it’s only shared in private. They would never say those things in public that they would share in private, like when Richard Bushman backtracks on, “The historical narrative is unsustainable.” People say that I mischaracterized him. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But he was uncomfortable that what he shared in private was made public. I think that’s duplicitous. I do. I think it’s duplicitous when they say things in private, that they won’t say in public. That’s dishonesty to me. So, it’s dishonest is my first concern.
John 54:05 It’s elitist, that’s my second concern. It’s unofficial. That’s my third concern, which leads to my fourth concern, which is that the brethren are never held to account and the broader Church never has–as long as neo-apologists can be carted out to deal with people in the super-secret, private, elitist engagements, the brethren never have to apologize. They never have to say they’re sorry. They never have to actually correct the record.
John 54:43 It is reminiscent of how the Church handled the Gospel Topics Essays, which were probably primarily, likely, legally motivated, and not motivated from a sense of true desire for openness and honesty and transparency. The way you know that is when Snow acknowledges that they were buried on the website, not known by the Church public at large. But they were published on the website for plausible deniability. Those weren’t his words, but they were mine. Then, they weren’t advertised broadly. To this day, most bishops and stake presidents don’t know about them, let alone have read them. Most members of the Church don’t know about them, let alone have read them. They’re buried in many ways. Then they’re only brought out when somebody’s having a faith crisis, so the Church can point to the buried Gospel Topics Essays and say, “See, we’re transparent. We’ve resolved it.” Not to mention that the substance of the essays themselves are highly incomplete or disingenuous or misleading. That’s a problem in and of itself. But aside from that, they’re hidden. They’re not advertised. There’s never been, as far as I know, a General Conference talk, where the members are encouraged to read them and to get to know them, to become familiar with them. There might be a talk here and there at a BYU thing or some random fireside that Ballard gave.
John 56:15 But to this day, my understanding is that the Church, general public has never been made aware of the Gospel Topics Essays. To me, that’s not the type of full honesty that the Church taught me to emulate and to show. To me, neo-apologists enable that duplicity, and they enable the Church never having to actually be accountable for not just deceiving a couple hundred years’ worth of members on its history, knowingly deceiving a couple hundred years’ worth of members on its history. But also punishing its truth tellers like the September Six, like Maxine Hanks, like Eugene England, silencing him, like Lowell Bennion, like so many. So, the neo-apologists are enablers of duplicity, and they’re enablers of the Church leadership, not having to be fully accountable and fully transparent. I’m torn.
John 57:24 I talked to David Bokovoy about this once. David Bokovoy said, and this is not a new thought. I knew this before, but David Bokovoy said, “They’re a bridge. They’re a way station, like all of this stuff, neo-apologetics, the Gospel Topics Essays. They’re like a soft-landing ramp, when people are in faith crisis, even if they’re going to leave the Church, they provide people this soft landing in a faith crisis, to then let them get their bearings, not blow up their lives, and then in a more peaceful way decide whether they’re going to stay or leave. And he’s right. So, I’ve been too harsh with neo-apologists, and I regret that. It takes all kinds. It took Malcolm X and it took Martin Luther King.
John 58:18 Richard Bushman has contributed more to historical transparency than almost anyone. I know Patrick Mason and Spencer Fluhman and the Givens are good people, trying to do good, trying to move the Church in progressive and healthy directions. So, long story short is I regret how hard I’ve been on them, but when I’ve been hard on them, that’s why. But I will also say, part of why it was hard on them was just like sour grapes that they used to support Mormon Stories, and then stopped. That forces Mormon Stories to shift to the less faithful when faithful people will no longer come on. It feels like rejection. Because I helped. When Terryl and Fiona Givens first came on Mormon Stories, many of their books weren’t even offered at Deseret Book. I think I helped resuscitate, I think I helped make Terryl and Fiona Givens prominent, as prominent as they are, within Mormonism, my first Mormon Stories interview did. And that led to their book deal with the Crucible of Doubt, as I understand it.
John 59:30 They came on the second time, and I promoted Crucible of Doubt. So, you would think if we had that relationship, if we had that good faith, even if I had been excommunicated, even if I was a little bit salty, that they would say, “Hey, John has been good to us. We still support the mission of what John’s trying to do. Yeah, we’ll come back on Mormon Stories to promote our new book.” But no, they wouldn’t. And Patrick Mason, part of what made me super angry at him was that he agreed that we would cover one of his new books on Mormon Stories and then he backed out. That’s childish, and petty of me to be angry at them for that. But I was childish and petty. I struggle with that. I’m just going to keep trying to work on it. But I do regret it. I love you, Patrick. I’ve never really met–I mean, I’ve met Spencer, but we’ve never hung out. Terryl and Fiona, I respect you. Richard Bushman, I doubt you care, but I respect you. If I’ve ever caused you grief, I’m sorry.
John’s Addresses Critics
It should come as no surprise to state Dr. John Dehlin is a bit of a lightning rod. I asked if he wanted to discuss his up-and-down relationship with Elder Holland. Check out our conversation….
GT 1:00:38 Very good. Well done. Another issue I wanted to talk about was, you had a good relationship with Elder Holland, and you had mentioned that you had broken a confidence. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?
John 1:00:58 Well, my memory is going to be fuzzy on this. But here’s what I know. On the one hand, when I met with him twice, he literally said to me, “You can tell anybody anything that I said here.” There was a point where he even encouraged me to make a particular statement to people un-attributed to him. But he certainly never said to me, “Never tell anyone what we talked about.” It’d be stupid for him to say that, because that would be an apostle of Jesus basically saying, “Don’t quote me.” I mean, they’re supposed to be bold and testify. So, I hope that makes sense to people. But I think there’s a code where if you meet with an apostle, you don’t talk about it. You know people that have met with apostles, and were like, “I’m not going to say who.” You know what I mean? Like there’s that code within Mormonism, where when you meet with a high-level church leader, you don’t say who it was, and you don’t really give any specificity, because they get in trouble. Even amongst themselves, when Jeffrey Holland speaks out, or Boyd K Packer says something dumb, the others, clearly, behind the scenes express concern and they get in trouble.
John 1:02:14 They don’t want dissent in the quorum. They certainly don’t want public dissent. And they’re all managing their political capital just like Richard Bushman, or Patrick Mason are. So, if they’re more progressive, they don’t want to be quoted in a way where the more hardliners who have more seniority might call them out or punish them in some way, just like when Marlin Jensen apologized to the saints of Oakland about the LGBT stuff. And then Packer found out. Marlin Jensen told me the story of how he was called onto the carpet by Boyd K. Packer, for apologizing to the saints in Oakland. I’ve got that on audio tape, by the way. But there’s an unwritten understanding that you just don’t talk about what was shared. So, after all this stuff at the Maxwell Institute went down, when Daniel Peterson was coming at me, and the hit piece was being written…
GT 1:03:08 That was when he was at the Interpreter, now. Is that right?
John 1:03:11 This is before The Interpreter was created. He created The Interpreter immediately after getting booted from his position that he was in at the Maxwell Institute. He stayed at the Maxwell Institute, but it was just with Arab stuff. He was no longer head of apologetics. He created the Interpreter right after and the hit pieces that he published about me, were going to go in, like, the Journal of the Book of Mormon Studies, whatever it was. Those were some of the first articles in The Interpreter. That’s how they were published. But, prior to that, while he was still in, and all this stuff with Gerald Bradford and the Maxwell Institute and the president of BYU, was it Merrill Bateman? I forget who it was at the time, and Holland and Marlin Jensen. When all that was going on, I’m sure that I said somewhere that either I had met with Elder Holland, or Elder Holland had supported me or whatever. It may have been related to other issues. But yeah, at some point, I made it known that Elder Holland and I had corresponded, that we had favorable correspondence.
John 1:04:29 I think he didn’t like that. It was from then on, that he would never return my emails, or be willing to meet with me again. Oh, and I know that I told my stake president at some point that I had met with Elder Holland. Maybe during the second anointing, when I had interviewed Tom Phillips, about the second anointing, I went to my previous stake president, Mark Jensen, and I had asked him, if I could release–I knew that someone who received the second anointing was sworn not to talk about it. What I wasn’t sure is that if I published someone talking about their second anointing experience, if I could face church discipline for that. Because, by this point, I was back active again and wanted to stay in the Church. So I did mention to my state president, that I’d had interactions with Elder Holland. I was like, “Can you please find out from somebody, whether I’m going to get in trouble for publishing the Tom Phillips interview, about the second anointing?” At some point, the message came back through my stake president, Elder Holland doesn’t like being quoted in any of this context, and he doesn’t want you to ever mention his name again. That’s when I kind of got the sense that…
GT 1:05:52 Is that because Tom Phillips had mentioned Elder Holland in the interview?
John 1:05:56 Yeah, that that might have been part of it. Because yeah, that’s a good connection. I’m fuzzy on what pissed Elder Holland off. Of course, he would have never told me, so I’m left to guess.
GT 1:06:07 I thought it had something to do with Daniel Peterson, but maybe not.
John 1:06:10 It’s all a jumble in my mind. All of this may have happened around a similar time period. So, it’s fuzzy. But, what I’m sure of is, I did ether let my stake president or Daniel Peterson, or, in that dialogue, I mentioned interactions with Elder Holland. Elder Holland, I got the sense he didn’t appreciate it. He sent a message to me not to mention his name again. From then on, he wouldn’t respond to any of my correspondence, and I don’t blame him. I think a certain amount of confidentiality is just required to operate at that level. So yeah, around then, we never communicated again.
John 1:06:54 But Tom Phillips did talk in depth about his attempts to reconcile his faith crisis with Elder Holland. I’m sure that wasn’t fun for Elder Holland. Because there were some writings about Tom Phillips and the second anointing before my Mormon Stories episode, but once I released that Mormon Stories episode about Tom Phillips’ second anointing that really blew up. That’s one of my top, most important and most listened to episodes of all time.
John’s Role in Swedish Rescue
Dr. John Dehlin discusses his role in the Swedish Rescue, and the events after that which led up to the creation of the Gospel Topics Essays. He details meetings he had with former Church historian Elder Marlin Jensen. Check out our conversation….
GT 1:07:27 Okay. One thing that we’ve kind of danced around a little bit and I want to do a little bit more depth on is your study at Utah State that you did on why people leave the church. I know Matthew Harris cited that in Gospel Topics Essays [The Gospel Topics Series]. Can you talk about more details about how you started that study, and the results of that?
John 1:07:48 Yeah. So early on, in my Mormon Stories career, I started seeing a lot of Swedish listeners and commenters. I even made friends with a few of them. I’m like, “Wow, we’ve got a Swedish contingency that’s kind of significant. I wonder what’s going on in Sweden.” Then, I started getting word that there was like a group of Swedish doubters that was starting to meet and communicate. I’m like, “Whoa, this is getting serious.” Then I found out that a former area authority named Hans Mattsson had lost his faith, possibly, and was a part of this Swedish group that was having doubts and questions. Part of that was from him commenting on my Mormon Stories or signing up to follow me or something. Then part of it was just back-channel communications I got from some of my Swedish listeners. But it started to boil, Swedish stuff started to boil.
John 1:08:51 Then, I don’t remember exactly when. My friend Travis Stratford, who designed the Mormon Stories logo–he’s a top-notch graphic designer, brand manager in New York City, owns a firm with a couple of other friends. He’s done a lot of consulting with the Church. Travis served a mission in Sweden, and he’s like, “Hey, man, I’ve been in touch with Hans Mattsson. He’s a former area authority and he’s lost his faith, and he’s really upset about it.” At some point during this time, the Swedish rescue happened. This is one of the things that’s most fun about the history is that all these Swedish people and Hans Mattsson raise a big enough ruckus to where Marlin Jensen, while he’s Church historian and Richard Turley go to Sweden, and hold one of these private firesides and try and resolve the doubts and questions of all these Swedish members. This was recorded, and you can find the audio recording on Mormon Stories. And it’s just a pathetic attempt at getting lame answers to doubts about people’s questions around the truth claims. Then, like, all these barrages of questions from the Swedish members, showing that they weren’t satisfied with the dumb answers that were being given by Jensen and Turley. It was called the Swedish Rescue. It was recorded, we ended up releasing the audio of the recording, and it was a real watershed moment for the Church.
John 1:10:24 In addition, Hans Mattsson reached out to me and Travis Stratford and Greg Prince and others and said, “I want to hold a meeting.” It was almost like kind of a high noon kind of thing. Basically, what they said is, “Marlin Jensen, this is Hans Matstson. You’re Church historian.” They said, “Meet me in New York City, and we’re going to talk to you about the problems with the Church’s truth claims and its history.
John 1:11:10 We’re going to have kind of like a high noon showdown. That meeting gets scheduled in New York City. Greg Prince convinced Travis to disinvite me from that meeting for diplomatic, political reasons. So, Greg Prince, Hans Mattsson, Marlin Jensen and probably [Richard] Turley and Travis Stratford met in New York City.
GT 1:11:38 Why do you think you were disinvited?
John 1:11:40 I get the sense that Greg convinced Travis to disinvite me, because I had a public platform. I had the podcast, and they were worried that maybe Marlin Jensen didn’t want me to be there. Or maybe they were worried that I might disclose on the podcast, things that were discussed in the private meeting. Maybe they didn’t like me. I don’t know.
GT 1:12:01 This is like 2009 time period, roughly?
John 1:12:03 Maybe 2010, maybe 2011 kind of thing. Definitely before the Gospel Topics Essays were released. I’ll tell you why I remember it that way. So, we all meet. Well, they meet. But we wanted to prepare data, so that it wouldn’t just be anecdotal. We had data. So, I designed a survey for that meeting. I designed it. Travis reviewed it. But I put up a bunch of questions about why I thought people were leaving. I put them into a survey. We used Lime Survey, which was some open-source PHP-based software to run the survey. We threw it out to all my followers and listeners and like 3000 people filled out the survey. They checked all the boxes for why they lost their faith and whether they were still active and that sort of thing.
GT 1:12:52 This is what’s called a snowball sample. Right? It’s not a random sample.
John 1:12:56 It’s not a random sample. I didn’t do this as a part of Utah State University. They wished I had. My advisor was like, “Why didn’t we do an IRB with this, and then we could have used the data.” But I didn’t. It was an individual initiative with these other people, not supported by Utah State. I did on the side while I was getting my Ph.D. So, we did it. 3000 plus people filled it out. Then I got a dozen Ph.D.’s to all help me crunch and analyze the data. Morgan McCune and my friend, Scott. I’m blanking on names. But lots of really brilliant social scientists and scholars were involved. We crunched the numbers and put together a presentation and put some PowerPoint slides together, some graphics and some visual stuff. That was used in that New York meeting with Travis and Hans and Marlin Jensen.
John 1:14:05 My understanding from the meeting was that Marlin Jensen was shaken by the data, especially the demographic data, the education level of the people in faith crisis was higher than the average education level for people in the Church. The income levels of the people losing their faith was higher on average than the average member. The appearance of former bishops, former stake presidents, former mission presidents, former stake high councilmen was off the charts. Marlin Jensen’s response to that was, “We’re losing our best and brightest.” He was shocked. So, he said, “Can you not publish these data? Can you not publish this report? Can I take that back to Church headquarters and argue for some sort of program or initiative that would help the Church become more transparent in its history, to avoid this hemorrhaging of members of our best and brightest of some of the top members?”
John 1:15:12 So, we didn’t release the data at the time. We sat on it, and we waited, and we waited and we waited. It just felt like nothing was happening. So, I got impatient. At some point, I reached out and I just said, “Hey, talk to Marlin. Please let them know, either release the data or tell us what’s going on, or I’m going to release the data.”
John 1:15:40 At some point, Marlin Jensen reached out to me and through Phil Barlow, and we had a private lunch at Phil Barlow’s house. I recorded the audio from that meeting. It was just like a get to know you. I explained to Marlin what I did and why. He thanked me for my research. He asked me what I would do to kind of fix the problems in the Church. This is when he told me the story about Boyd K. Packer calling him on the carpet for apologizing to the Oakland Saints about the LGBT fiasco. It was a lovely meeting. He’s brilliant. He cried. He told me he wondered what he had done to be passed over as an apostle. He felt sad about that. He blamed himself but didn’t know why he was passed over.
John 1:16:33 And, yeah, he expressed real regret and sadness for all the pain and suffering that not only LGBT members, but also people with faith crisis were having. At some point in the whole process, he said, “Before you release the data, can I have one more chance to make my case?” My sense was that he was trying to convince the apostles to do the Gospel Topics Essays or some sort of transparency initiative. At some point, they flew Travis to Church headquarters, where he presented to the correlation committee, CES, missionary department, PR, probably others, priesthood committee, and he presented to them a refined version of the study that Marlin Jensen had received in New York with Hans Mattsson. Apparently, Marlin Jensen, that was his attempt to persuade the brethren to support the Gospel Topics Essays initiative. Apparently, that was instrumental in Marlin Jensen convincing the brethren to approve the Gospel Topics Essays, which as I hear, they begrudgingly approved. I think Uchtdorf was a big part of that. I think Quentin Cook was a big part of that.
GT 1:17:48 Wasn’t the New York Times article a big part of that?
John: 1:17:51 Then, yeah, eventually, Hans Mattson spilled his tea with the New York Times. Also, a big part of that was when Marlin Jensen came to BYU to give a private speech. I asked a student to record the audio from that presentation, where in that audio recording, Marlin Jensen was quoted as saying, “This is the biggest apostasy we’ve seen in the Church since Kirtland.” Of course, once that got published, he backtracked and said he was misquoted and the Church wheeled out its apologists, because I think the UPI or one of the press–you can still find that that story. It got picked up in the press that Marlin Jensen, Church Historian and general authority was acknowledging the defections and the hemorrhaging. That was a disaster. I was the one that commissioned the audio recording of that, which I’m proud of. All of that led to Hans Mattsson speaking to Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times, a whole profile on Hans Mattson coming out in the New York Times about the faith crisis problem. I interviewed Hans and Birgitta Mattsson on Mormon Stories. All of that was just a really mind-blowing explosive time.
John 1:19:13 Eventually, I released the findings of that report at a Mormon Studies academic conference at Utah Valley University. This is around the 2011-2012 timeframe. I debated Scott Gordon of FAIR Mormon on stage. It was kind of poop show, a crap show. I’ll say, to not swear on your show. It led to a lot of tension between me and the apologists that led to the hit piece that was released. But it also led to my anger at the hit piece, that I’d spent a couple of years of my life trying to help the Church, help Marlin Jensen, help get the Gospel Topics Essays released, help the Church solve the faith crisis problem to then have the Church pay people to malign me. That, again, led to the falling out with Holland and eventually my excommunication. So, that’s that story. Any questions about that?
GT 1:20:14 (Chuckling) I’m trying to remember if there’s anything else. Was there a second study? Or did you just do the one study? I thought there were two.
John 1:20:20 Well, okay, yeah. There was a second and maybe a third study where Travis wanted to get more qualitative, anecdotal kind of stories to supplement the data from the original study. So, he did that.
GT 1:20:40 You weren’t involved in that.
John 1:20:41 I probably helped him advertise it.
GT 1:20:43 Okay.
John 1:20:44 I wasn’t involved in the processing of the crunching of the numbers. Then, he compiled all of that with the data into this massive, incredible Madison Avenue presentation/book that he put together into a bound book, and personally delivered to Elder President Uchtdorf by then, I think. I think he was in the First Presidency by that point. He delivered it. President Uchtdorf was supposed to meet him in person. For some reason, President Uchtdorf had a thing and couldn’t meet Travis in person. But Travis had that book personally delivered to Uchtdorf. It was the very next fall, from that summer, as I recall, that Uchtdorf gave his famous first talk, expressing empathy for people who doubt. We believe that the study not only was instrumental in the Gospel Topics Essays being released, and we’ve been told that by numerous people on the inside, but that that’s what led to Uchtdorf giving more public addresses, showing empathy for people in faith crisis in General Conference, which then he got punished for and kicked out of the First Presidency for, according to people, as well.
John 1:22:04 So that’s all stuff that along with a lot of other really smart, good people like Travis Stratford, Hans Mattsson, Marlin Jensen, that was an effort that I spent multiple years trying to positively and constructively engage the Church from within, only to be excommunicated as a thank you and to have the Church pay people to write hit pieces to smear me as a thank you. So, yeah, when I get angry and salty, maybe those are some of the things that led to me feeling a little bit betrayed by the Church I loved and tried to be a constructive force for good from within.
GT 1:22:46 Well, not that they’ll listen, but do you have any advice for the Church now, if they are listening?
John 1:22:57 When I met with Elder Holland, I almost declined to meet with him, because my brother was working for Church headquarters at the time. He was the head of IT, for all the Church. He was on a first name basis with the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve. Joel ushered in the internet, ushered the Church into the modern internet age. All the social media stuff that the church started doing, whether it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or YouTube, my brother would have either built the foundation for that, made the arguments to the Church leaders, or literally managed that migration. I’m really proud of my brother for all the efforts that he did there. He did that in the Church while I’m doing Mormon Stories. There was a real firewall between us. He was faithful, progressive, believing. I was where I was. He was trying to help from within. I was working from without, still within a little bit. Then, he would never ever disclose any, violate any confidentiality, or disclose anything. But I sensed that he always wished I wasn’t doing what I was doing, because I think it was embarrassing for him, because we shared a last name. His family didn’t like it. I’m sure he got questions from the brethren.
John 1:24:13 But he was literally the head of IT and computers for the Mormon Church, while I am the most prominent, you can say, critic of the Church, that was all happening. We paralleled five- seven years in that sort of strained, but loving, connected relationship. So, because he was friends with Bednar and Holland and everybody, and because I had a relationship with Holland from–you know, we had played tennis, I had dated his daughter. At some point, Holland is like, “Let me meet with John.” So, Joel set up two lunches with Elder Holland. It was at a private restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith building. There’s those two restaurants one outdoors and one indoors. It was at the indoors one and it was lunch.
GT 1:25:02 On the on the top of the 10th Floor.
John 1:25:03 Yes, and it was for lunch. The whole restaurant was empty. It’s almost like a godfather moment. The whole restaurant was empty, except for me, and my brother and Elder Holland with a private server. Both times we met, it was there. When Joel reached out to me at first about meeting with Elder Holland, I was excited. I’m like, “Wow, this is a dream come true. Like I can actually meet with a prophet, seer and revelator, express my needs, give him some ideas and help him.” But there was one huge problem. I didn’t want to embarrass my brother–two huge problems. I didn’t want to embarrass my brother by being too hard on Holland, and I only wanted to meet with him if I had good ideas, because I didn’t want to just be a complainer. So, I spent weeks and weeks and weeks thinking about– I know Holland is going to say, “What should I do?” I’m pretty sure Hollins not going to know what to do, because I don’t even know how much he knows about the problems at the church. Because at that point, there were big questions about whether the brethren even knew about the challenges to the truth claims or the historical problems.
John 1:26:18 The general consensus was they are as old and dumb and as clueless as anybody in the Church, other than maybe a few exceptions. So, I didn’t even though if he knew the problems. So, the challenge I set for myself was, I only want to go if I can provide constructive suggestions that wouldn’t harm the Church. Because that would be dumb for me to go, “Apologize for your past racism, Elder Holland, and give women the priesthood and come clean with all your historical problems and be honest about it.” Like, no. They’re never going to do that, and they’re going to think you’re dumb, and maybe even questioning your integrity, or your loyalty if you’re going to make recommendations like that.
John 1:27:09 So, I’m sitting there thinking, “Well, what’s a recommendation that I can make, that won’t reduce tithing and won’t reduce the butts in seats, and that is, in any way feasible? To this day, Rick Bennett, I don’t know that I ever have been able to come up with a good recommendation. How to fix the racism problem, how to fix the sexism, misogyny problem, how to fix the LGBT problem, how to fix the transparency and the truth claims problem without meaningfully harming the Church. Because all of those things, all of those things, the bedrock and the foundation of all those problems was laid by prophets, seers, and revelators who claim to speak to God, whether it’s the priesthood ban, or the women not having the priesthood, or homosexuality according to Spencer W. Kimball being an abomination. Or all the September Six excommunications or the disbanding of the Leonard Arrington administration. All that was done by prophets, seers and revelators.
John 1:28:18 So as soon as they apologize for, or backtrack on any of that stuff, they’re undermining their own prophetic authority as being led by God. So, how do they walk any of that back without the Church members saying, “Either you’re an apostasy,” which is the whole Denver Snuffer crowd, right? Either, if you make changes, you’re in apostasy and we’re going to go fundamentalist, and start FLDS branches. Or you’re just making all this up. This is not really the one true church. You’re not really speaking for God. You are making this up. We’re going to leave. It’s a lose/lose. They lose in every direction if they make any of these meaningful changes.
John 1:29:13 So, I was paralyzed, not knowing what recommendations I would give to Elder Holland. I’d been somewhat stunned trying to talk to Marlin Jensen. He kept asking me, “What should we do? What should we do?” I stuttered, because I wanted to give a recommendation in good faith. I could not think of a solution that would not lead to a mass defection of membership, and a mass decrease of tithing, which I knew those are going to be the three or four things that are most sacred to the Church: tithing, membership, attendance, priesthood authority, and PR. For sure those are the most sacred things to the Church. So, I did meet with Elder Holland. All I said, all I asked him in that first meeting, is listen to him talk about the problems in Chile with the missionary program. We talked about evolution, and he said, “You can believe in evolution and still be a faithful member. You didn’t have to choose.”
John 1:30:15 We talked about conversion therapy and how he wasn’t sure what Dean Byrd was doing was very good. But, at the very end, he talked about how hard it was to be an apostle, how hard it was to lead the Church. How hard it was with the mid-level management bureaucracy to keep them all in line. He talked about how when you’re a junior apostle, how limited you are, and how everything’s run by unanimity anyway, so it takes forever to make a change. He acknowledged all that stuff.
GT 1:30:44 President Nelson’s making changes, pretty quickly.
John 1:30:47 By Fiat. But I think he broke tradition, by acting without consensus. I mean, that whole November 15 policy, by all accounts was a move without unanimity in the quorum. It caused a lot of problems. So you were kidding, but I get serious way too quick. So, like all I asked Elder Holland, in that first meeting was, “Do you want people like us in the Church?” That’s the best I could offer? I didn’t even give a suggestion. I just said, “Do you want people like me in the Church.”
John 1:31:24 He was just so emphatic. It’s almost like he was lifted out of his chair, and he like, pounded on the table. We want people like you in the Church. We need people like you in this Church. He actually said, “I want 100,000 John and Joel Dehlin’s in this church.” It’s what he said, and that made me feel great. It made me feel amazing. Like, “Wow. He listened to me, and he cares. He’s going to do something about this.”
John 1:30:47 Then, the very next General Conference, he gives his famous Book of Mormon talk, by my memory, which was “If you have to leave the church, you have to crawl under, over, around the Book of Mormon.”
John 1:32:01 I’m just like, “Were you just punking me? Were you just like glad-handing me? Like, how can you give that talk after telling me you want people in this church.” Because he was basically mocking and trivializing people’s concerns about the Book of Mormon and its historicity.
John 1:32:21 I still met with him a second time. The only recommendation I had was to make a statement in General Conference telling, believing spouses not to divorce their unbelieving spouses, when they lost their faith. Long story short, when I asked him to make a statement like that in General Conference, he said, “We can’t tell people what to do in their marriage,” is what he said.
John 1:32:45 Then, I said, “Well, so like, marriages are blowing up, families are blowing up. Can you do something?”
John 1:32:53 He was like, “Here’s what I’ll tell you. Tell people, I’ll give you permission to tell people that you’ve traversed the headquarters of the Church, and from the many conversations you’ve had, with people, unnamed people, I’ve gleaned that….” And then you can tell them that, that within Church headquarters, their support for not divorcing your spouse, just for leaving their faith.
GT 1:33:19 But don’t use my name.
John 1:33:20 Yeah, don’t use my name. I was like, “But Elder Holland, nobody’s going to listen to me. I’m just a podcaster, like they need they need like an apostle to say that over the pulpit.”
John 1:33:31 That’s when he said to me, and this makes my mixed faith marriage friends really angry, he said, “Maybe when the Church is a little more mature, we’ll be able to make statements like that over the pulpit, but not now.”
John 1:33:45 That was the last time I met with him. Of course, I left really disappointed. Because I’m like, “You’re a prophet of God. You know marriages are blowing up. And you’re saying that you have to wait until the time is right, to give a talk that needs to be given.” Boyd K. Packer was still alive at that point. So, I get why he would have been afraid to give a talk like that. I mean, they’ve tried to make amends since then. But I was just not impressed with his lack of courage.
John 1:34:16 It just seemed like another– it seemed like Congress. You remember how I got disillusioned with Congress, when I worked for Congress? It felt like a just a religious version of the Senate, where you are really working with humans in a secular way, backroom deals, coalition building, not led by God, not led by courageous people who follow the Spirit and their conviction, just more managing your capital. It was then that I knew that no one’s going to save us. Uchtdorf’s not going to save u., Holland is not going to save us. None of them are going to save us. I remember when we thought, “When Boyd K. Packer dies, the Church is going to have a renaissance?” And then freaking Oaks became the bad guy, and Holland became the bad guy and Bednar became the bad guy. Of course, Holland with his muskets talk at BYU, and they’ve all been a massive disappointment. So, that was a real moment of disillusionment. It was really a Dorothy going to Oz, seeing behind the curtain, meeting the wizard kind of moment, where you just realize these dudes are just saying whatever they can say to make you feel good. They don’t have real integrity. They don’t have real honesty. If there’s a God, they’re not led by Him, because they’re kind of cowards. They have blood on their hands, allowing the deaths and the marital destructions and the family disillusions and, just the deception of generations of members. They know. They know, and they’re just choosing not to really act in a way that shows integrity, and the character that, frankly, the Church taught me. Sorry, Elder Holland. I’m sure you mean well.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Several times during John’s career with Mormon Stories, he has been accused of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What does John think about the allegation? Does it have merit? I’m also going to ask John if he thinks he would ever come back to the LDS Church. Check out our conversation….
GT 1:36:17 All right, well, I think I’m running out of questions. Last one, I kind of wanted to run by you. Do you ever see yourself–I know Maxine Hanks has come back. Avraham Gileadi has come back. Do you ever see yourself ever coming back into the LDS Church?
John 1:36:44 There’s the theoretical answer and the practical answer. The practical answer is probably no, definitely no, only because I don’t think what I’m about to say is ever possible. But the truth is, people think that–you know, I’ve been called a wolf in sheep’s clothing from the very beginning.
GT 1:37:05 And we never did answer that question, by the way. Are you?
John 1:37:07 Ok, Ask it.
GT 1:37:08 Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
John 1:37:09 Okay, so…
GT 1:37:11 Or were you, especially in the early days of Mormon Stories?
John 1:37:13 No, thanks for asking. So, there was an ethical dilemma that I was navigating, because I had concluded by 2001, that the Church was not what it claimed to be. That it was not the one true church with exclusive authority, that the Book of Mormon wasn’t historical, that the Book of Abraham wasn’t historical. I’ve already told you and people know. I’ve been public about my faith crisis in 2001, from the start. So, I don’t think I’ve been deceiving anybody about how I felt about the Church’s truth claims. I think you’d have a hard time ever finding me saying, “I know the Book of Mormon is like a historical document.” [You won’t find me saying,] “I know God lives. I know that Jesus…” You’ll never hear me say that from Mormon Stories inception until now. You’ll never hear me say it’s the one true Church with exclusive authority. So, I would be deceptive if I were saying those things, but not believing them, and then trying to take people out of the Church. That would be unethical, that would be dishonest. But I’ve never done that.
John 1:38:21 Now, what I did do is I started Mormon Stories as a leap of faith, inspired by Lowell Bennion, Eugene England, T. Edgar Lyon, Phil Barlow, Richard Bushman, A Thoughtful Faith, and frankly, inspired by a progressive Judaism, Reformed Judaism, where you could have a form of Judaism, where you didn’t have to believe that the founder of your Church, Moses necessarily even existed. You could still have the rituals, still have the tradition, still have the spirituality, but take the scriptures more as myth. That’s how most world religions are these days in the developed world. So, I just thought maybe we could help Mormonism move in that direction without a schism.
John 1:39:09 But I didn’t see that is deceptive to try and build a progressive, like Elder Holland that told me, we want a big tent. We want a big umbrella. He had told me that. He told me that. So, I didn’t think it was deceptive to start a podcast, to try and build a big tent within Mormonism that was tolerant of all shades of belief and non-belief, and all shades of orthodoxy. It had been done in other churches. I had been inspired by all the progressive Mormons from Sunstone and Dialogue that meant well, and that was my intention. Absolutely my intention for many, many years was to keep people in the Church. That’s why I started staylds.com. That’s why I supported it, and that’s why I still support it to this day. Because I do believe to this day, I don’t think you will ever be able to find anyone I’ve ever counseled. And by now, I’ve counseled over 20,000 people, for sure. I’ve interacted with over 20,000 people, whether through chats, comments, email, phone calls, coaching, conferences, retreats, well over 20,000 people. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to find anyone who’s ever said that I’ve told them to leave the Church, or even recommended that they leave the Church. I don’t think you’ll ever find it. If you can find it, I welcome you finding anyone. You can find anyone to say anything these days.
John 1:40:38 But I, literally, don’t think I’ve ever told anyone to leave the Church. I don’t think I’ve ever recommended it. And I don’t think I’ve ever desired it for people with maybe one big exception. Once I realized that gay, lesbian, and transgender people were killing themselves in the Church. Once I saw the data, I realized that for many people, being LGBT just wasn’t safe. So, I would never outright tell an LGBTQ person to leave the Church. But I would show my research that it was deadly for a lot of people. I would say, “You know what? Leaving the Church is a viable option for many. Two-thirds of the LGBT people I surveyed had left the Church. Trying to stay celibate, trying to be in a mixed orientation marriage, trying to stay faithful in the Church was, literally, deadly to many, many people. So, I would certainly explore that as an option with people when I knew that their lives were on the line. Right? But even then, I wouldn’t say leave the Church, because that’s unethical. It’s unethical, and it’s counterproductive to tell someone to leave the Church. That’s what, again, like apologists, and critics of mine will say, “Well, John’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, wanting to take people out of the Church.” I don’t believe that’s ethical or possible. So, ethical, why do I not think it’s ethical to intentionally try and force people to leave the Church? Because you don’t know what’s going to happen in their lives when they do.
John 1:42:14 Sometimes their marriage explodes. Sometimes they get addicted to alcohol. Sometimes their life is worse leaving the Church then when they’re in it. I experienced that the two times I left before I was kicked out. I’ve seen friends develop alcoholism or drug addiction or get divorced or experiment in ways that were unhealthy. And to this day, I don’t think secularism has figured out how to create community and identity and meaning and purpose and spirituality in a secular way, in a way that religion has been so successful. So, I don’t want people to ruin their lives. So, in that sense, I think it’s unethical to actively try and persuade people to leave the Church. Also, from my psychology training, as a psychologist, you don’t tell people what to do, ever. Psychologists are trained to never tell people what to do. You’re trained to ask questions, to develop insight, and to help people figure out what’s right for them. But it’s literally unethical to impose your values on other people, as a psychologist.
John 1:43:37 So, for all those reasons, I’ve never been motivated to take people out of the Church. And to this day, I think that’s true. And I stand by that, and I invite you or anyone to make a substantive claim, provide an email, provide a text, where I’ve said, “You should leave the Church.” Now, having said that, I have become angry and frustrated with the way the Church leaders have harmed vulnerable minorities, and have been dishonest about its history and have punished truth tellers. So, you will find many instances where I express that frustration or anger. So, you’ll find stuff like that, although I’ve tried to moderate my tone as much as possible. But, yeah, I’ve lost my patience with the Church and its leadership sometimes. Maybe I’ve even been– I’m never, like, happy when the Church makes mistakes, or causes problems or harms people. But, at some point, you laugh instead of cry. And you kind of just say, “Yeah, this is what they do.” At some point, you come to expect it, and then you just kind of make a joke out of it. Because, what else are you going to do, but just get depressed and cry all the time. So, I had Carah Burrell on for a while and her comedic tone of sarcasm was off putting. I’ve strayed in my tone and gone back and forth. I have John Larsen on now that swears, but generally speaking, I don’t think it’s moral or ethical to intentionally try and take people out of the Church.
John 1:45:23 But the second thing is I don’t think it’s effective. There’s something called the backfire effect, which is that when you when you try and persuade someone with evidence against their closely held religious or political beliefs or identity, you actually literally create in them the opposite effect, like a ricochet effect where they actually hold tighter to their beliefs once you’re challenging them directly. So, in that sense, I don’t think it’s even effective to say your church is dumb. Your beliefs are dumb. You’re evil. Your church is evil. Get out of it. Now, I think that actually strengthens beliefs, not weakens them. So, what has been my motivation of Mormon Stories? The best way to summarize it is in two words, well, four words: informed consent and social justice.
John 1:46:18 Social justice: Church, stop hurting LGBT people. I’m going to do whatever I can to show you that you’re killing LGBT people, harming LGBT people and the straight spouses that marry LGBT people, and kids, all the suicides. That’s what my dissertation was about. That’s why for so many years, I interviewed LGBT people on Mormon Stories and still do.
John 1:46:41 Racism. The Church has got to fix that. Fix the Book of Mormon, and its racist teachings about black skin being a curse for wickedness, to make Lamanites loathsome so that the Nephites who are white won’t be enticed to intermarry with them. Racism, stop it. Get rid of that. Book of Abraham, Book of Moses, dark skin curse going back to Adam, Cain, get rid of that. Denounce it. That’s evil, right?
John 1:47:08 Misogyny, sexism, give women the priesthood. Let them be full members. Yeah, that’s obviously wrong, by all standards. And people who doubt and question, stop stigmatizing them. Stop the false judgments. Stop the false stereotypes. Let’s get rid of the destruction of families that have marriages just because someone loses their faith. So, like, social justice, all that stuff has been really important to me. I think you can see that from 2005 on, in everything I’ve ever done is stop the harm and the bigotry. That’s been a big motivation. Is that a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Yes and No. No, because none of that has anything to do with me trying to take people out of the Church.
John 1:47:59 I can see why people would call me wolf in sheep’s clothing, because if the Church gave women the priesthood, apologized for its racism, changed the scriptures to take out the racism, gave LGBT people the priesthood, let them marry in the temple, accepted same sex love, supported same sex marriage, apologized for its lies with its history, and openly taught the Church’s history to all members in an overt way, the Church will become Community of Christ and lose two-thirds of their members. So, yes, the things I’ve been advocating for would harm the Church, probably. Not financially, because the church has more money than God at this point and can live off the interest. It doesn’t need tithing anymore, like Scientology.
John 1:48:48 But it would certainly harm the Church. So, yes, all the things I’ve been advocating for, would harm the Church. And in that way, if someone wanted to claim as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they could. It’s true that the things I’ve been advocating for would be harmful for the Church in that way. They could say I was trying to destroy the Church. But that’s not on me. I didn’t marry 14-year-olds. I didn’t lie about Joseph Smith’s history. I didn’t lie about the translation of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. I didn’t say the racist things Brigham Young said. I didn’t propose that women do not receive the priesthood. I didn’t create a Masonic ceremony that stole the Masonic rituals, and then changed it later. I didn’t excommunicate all the dissidents. That’s all on Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and the Church.
John 1:49:45 So any people leaving over any of the recommendations that I’ve made to change, or any changes that the Church makes, in response to the things I and others have done, that’s on Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Abraham, and the Journal of Discourses and Brigham Young, and all the Church leaders from then to now that have lied consciously, and hidden things and punished the truth tellers. That’s not on me. Okay. So, no, I don’t think I qualify for a wolf in sheep’s clothing for that. The other is, did I know that people’s exposure to the history and the social justice stuff, did I know that that would probably cause some to lose their faith? And I had to confront that really early on. Because as I told you, the two times I stopped Mormon Stories, it was because I realized that exposure to the truth, truthful history and the social justice issues did lead to people leaving.
John 1:50:51 For a long time, after I quit, people were like, “John, that’s not on you. If people learn about polyandry, or peep stones are the stone in the hat or the Mason stuff and Pay Lay El, and the throat slitting in the temple ceremony. If people learn about that through you, that’s the Church being dishonest. That’s not your fault for just speaking openly about the facts. It’s the Church’s fault for not being transparent and [for] punishing the truth tellers. And it’s not your fault for the consequences of people learning the truth about the Church and thinking more critically about it.”
John 1:51:37 In addition to social justice, the other two words that have always driven my work is informed consent, which is the people deserve to know what they’re joining or giving their lives to. Because of the stakes of a high demand religion like Mormonism, you give 10% of your income for life. You give two-year mission service. You get indoctrinated. You pledge eternal devotion to the Church. The Church determines when you get married, how you get married, who you’re married to, how many children you have, what careers you pursue or don’t pursue, and this is way more severe for women than for men in the Church. Given the massive stakes of active devout orthodox Mormonism, you deserve to know the accurate Church history and the way the Church has harmed people.
John 1:52:41 It’s fundamentally unethical, and deceptive and dishonest and harmful to hide that information from people given the stakes of membership, the claims of absolute truth and of exclusive authority and the stakes and the cost of full orthodox, active, devout membership. People deserve to know. So, yes, I have always been and am about informed consent. But does that make me a wolf in sheep’s clothing? No. If I had a magic wand, and I’ve told people this, since the beginning. If I had a magic wand, what I would do is I would wave it, and for everyone who wanted to know the truth about the Church, or would be irreparably harmed from membership, they would learn about Mormon Stories. They would read Rough Stone Rolling. They would find out about the CES Letter. And for those who wanted to know, who would be benefited from either becoming more progressive or liberal, or from leaving, I would want them to know. Right?
John 1:53:57 But if I can wave a magic wand, and anyone who wouldn’t want to know, because it would harm them to know. Right? Or if I even knew that they would have an inferior life by losing their faith and leaving, why would I want them to leave? Yes, I’d rather people have a life built on a false understanding of the world and of truth, I’d rather them have a happier, healthier life, living within a false belief system, then have an inferior life outside of it. The problem is, I can’t control who listens to my podcast, who stumbles on it. I can’t do that. So, the best I can do is speak the truth on the podcast, interview believers and non-believers, try and discuss the issues as fair as possible. And then let people use their free agency to figure stuff out. So, I don’t know. I don’t think that makes me a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But I can see why people would claim that because simply learning the truth about the Church, or becoming gay or becoming a feminist, or becoming sensitive to racial issues, or becoming super educated–just exposure to those things, in my view is highly correlated with disaffection.
John 1:55:19 And the Church continues to resist change in those areas. So, I don’t think I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s never been my desire to take people out of the Church. But I’ve known from the beginning, that there was that risk, and in effect, that’s what’s happened for hundreds of thousands at this point. But I don’t think that’s on me. I think that’s on Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and all the leaders from then to now that have encouraged and supported the bigotry, and have deceived the members knowingly and openly about the Church’s history and about the Church’s truth claims. I think it’s on them. I think they’re the wolves in sheep’s clothing, for people’s health and for the truth. I think I’ve been a thousand times more honest and open about the Church’s history than the Church has been. And I think, for the social justice causes I care about, I think I’ve helped move the needle much more than the Church has.
John 1:56:22 And honestly, I think me, along with Sunstone, Dialogue, the Mormon History Association, The Journal of Mormon History, all the other podcasts: Bill Reel, Radio Free Mormon, John Larson, Mormon Expression, Gospel Tangents, Mormon Book Reviews, Year of Polygamy. I think all of us together have really helped change the Church over time. And you wouldn’t see the progress that the Church has made without the Tanners and Eugene England and Dialogue, and Leonard Arrington and Lowell Bennion, and the September Six, and Feminist Mormon Housewives. So, I’m proud to stand with all those heroes, including Juanita Brooks and Fawn Brodie and the Tanners and others. I’m proud to stand with them as people who helped the Church improve.
John 1:57:20 There was some point where I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I just realized that the main thing that I do is help the Church realize where it’s in error and help the Church change. As I’ve watched the Church change in response to the efforts of me and many other people. I mean, whether it’s Sam Young stuff, or the Gospel Topics Essays, or the Church’s progression on LGBT issues, or even supporting people in faith crisis, it’s all happened in the past 15, 17 years. The Church knew all these things before. What’s different? The internet. You know what I mean? So, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, in effect, what I’m doing is helping the Church change, as they punish me and malign me and smear me, and in some sense, try and harm me and my family. But I still love the Mormon people. And ironically, I still love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m grateful for the influence that it’s had in my life. I think it’s a net positive influence. I feel fortunate to have been born into this Church, and to have been raised in the Church. I feel like it’s been good for me. I feel like it’s helped a lot of people. I may even believe that it’s done more good than harm in the world. I want it to be happy, healthy and successful. And I want it to just get better and do better. So, I still love Mormons. I still love the Church. I just want to see it improve and harm less people. And that is my Heavenly Father’s honest truth. I say, raising my right hand to the square. Forever and ever. Amen.
Mormon Stories Neutral? Ex-Mormons Angry?
Is Mormon Stories podcast a neutral source of information for the LDS Church? I asked that question to Dr. John Dehlin, host of the podcast. You’ll love his answer. I also asked about the stereotype of angry, bitter ex-Mormons. What does John have to say about that? Check out our conversation….
GT 1:59:01 Do you think, especially since 2015, that Mormon Stories is a fair representation of Mormonism? Is it neutral?
John 1:59:16 No, no, not neutral. I think you and Steve Pynakker do a better job at neutrality than I do. I worked really hard to be neutral for a long time. I’ve already told you that I think the skewing of Mormon Stories is more at the hands of the Church excommunicating me and the Church with Proposition 8, harming and spiking, tripling the suicide rates of LGBT youth in Utah. And punishing the Ordain Women movement and excommunicating me and others. And, you know, refusing to be honest and open. Then excommunicating me, which then made more faithful people afraid, or unwilling to come on the podcast.
John 2:00:05 I lay the skewing of Mormon Stories primarily to that, and to the uncourageous neo-apologists, who stopped being willing to be courageous and stopped being willing to come on Mormon Stories out of fear, out of a desire to manage their capital or out of a fear of what might happen if they do come on Mormon Stories. I lay the skewing of Mormon Stories primarily on those two groups of people. But yeah, when you see so much divorce, so much destroyed families, so much LGBT suicide, so many people’s lives be controlled with undue influence under false pretenses, you get angry after a while and it’s hard to bite your tongue forever, unless you’re just truly unempathetic. Like, if you lack empathy, then you could just be calloused and never get angry and upset. Or if you have extraordinary character and discipline, and maybe that’s you. Or maybe you just haven’t been doing this long enough, or maybe you just haven’t talked to enough [people.] Maybe you just haven’t seen enough suffering. Maybe you, Rick Bennett, have cocooned yourself from the suffering that I’ve seen, or people don’t reach out to you like they did to me. But I don’t know how anybody can face the carnage that the Mormon Church has wreaked in the lives of its members, in addition to the good stuff, how they can face that for 10 or 20 years and not get angry. I think angry is the healthy, mature, rational response.
John 2:01:39 I appreciate how academics has to remain neutral and that that’s an important part of the discipline. So, I respect you and the Bushmans and Thomas Murphy, and all the academics who are able to remain neutral. I have deep respect for the discipline and the character that sometimes is required to do that. But, even them, I don’t know how they can see the deception and see the carnage and remain neutral, emotionally. So, no Mormon Stories–well, Mormon Stories, pre-2015, I think has been one of the most neutral outlets ever.
GT 2:02:24 I will agree.
John 2:02:26 For discussing these sorts of issues. I think Dialogue and Sunstone have done some amazing work in that area. I think the Journal of Mormon History has done some good work, John Whitmer [Association.] There are others that I look to as inspirations. But, as far as podcasts go, I’m really proud, even to this day, of the neutrality because I’ll still have believers on. And I’ll interview people from all–I would love to sit down with you for four hours and ask you how you still believe and help provide you as a model for belief. But I still have Christians on believers on, non-believers on. I try to be as neutral and as balanced as I can. I still have many, many, many people tell me, “Thank you for your neutrality, John Dehlin, for your balanced approach with Mormon Stories,” in 2022. “Because that neutrality helped me.” I still have bishops and stake presidents and CES employees who listen to Mormon Stories regularly and faithfully. So, I must be doing something right in terms of my tone, to have believing members still tuning in. But, no, it’s not, what did you say? Neutral?
John 2:03:41 I don’t know how anyone can be neutral, in face of all the dishonesty and suffering that there has been out there, but I still try my best. I’ve fallen a lot. I admire you, Gospel Tangents. So, everyone should watch everything Rick Bennett has ever produced and donate to him. By the way. How do people donate to you? I don’t want to sidetrack us, but how do they donate?
GT 2:04:04 Just go to my website. I’ve actually upgraded my website.
John 2:04:07 GospelTangents what?
GT 2:04:08 Dot com.
John 2:04:09 Okay. I don’t want to end the interview yet, but go to gospeltangents.com and donate. Also, support Steven Pynakker and Mormon Book Reviews. But I admire your neutrality. I strive for neutrality, and I fail often. So, that’s a long, long way of saying no. But, I’m still proud of what I’ve done, and I’m still trying.
GT 2:04:29 Well, I just I hate to bring this up, because it brings up the stereotype. But I would like you to address the stereotype. There’s the stereotype of the bitter, angry ex-Mormon. I am trying to break down those walls. But, there was a discussion recently on Facebook, I know you saw, about whether the Mormon Stories Facebook group is accepting of believers, and I know there are many believers that feel it is not. And I know you took issue with that. Can you address that issue?
John 2:05:17 Yeah. So, the Mormon Stories podcast Facebook group does have like 17,000 people in it. It’s massive. Just as Jerilee Renshaw of the A Thoughtful Faith group, which is now Waters of Mormon, which I started, you know. It is impossible. It is nearly impossible to create an internet forum where believers and non-believers all feel welcome and respected. I mean, it’s literally up there with like, harder than…
GT 2:05:47 Well, it’s kind of what you did with Mormon Matters. And it seems like that kind of blew up, too.
John 2:05:52 Yeah, it’s literally harder than landing on the moon, to create an internet forum, where believers and non-believers all feel welcome. So, for a gazillion years, I tried to moderate the Mormon Stories podcast Facebook community to be safe for all. And you couldn’t do it. Because when people are in faith crisis, they’re angry. They’re emotional, and they need a place to vent. So, if you just do that, then believers are uncomfortable. Or sometimes just talking about the truth claims, in a balanced way, causes believers to feel uncomfortable. But then if you tell all the people in trauma, all the people that are in faith crisis, “Chill out. Be careful. Be calm. Be kind. Be nice.” They feel shut up. They feel muzzled. They’re triggered. “That’s how the Church treated me.” So, they want to leave, or feel silenced and uncomfortable. So, you can’t tone police the disaffected.
John 2:06:53 But then when believers come on, and they’re preachy, and try and bear their testimonies, or they advance the stereotypes and launch criticisms of the people. “Oh, you just wanted to sin,” or “You’re just bitter and angry. You just leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone,” or they bear their testimony. “Just have more faith.” That’s super triggering and offensive to the non-believers. But, if you try and tone police them, then they say, “Well, you’re not safe and hospitable to belief.”
John 2:07:26 So I gave up on that a long, long time ago. I created both StayLDS and A Thoughtful Faith, which is a podcast I supported with Micah Nickolaisen, and…
GT 2:07:41 Gina Colvin.
John 2:07:42 Before Gina Colvin, there was another person that helped with that. But I created A Thoughtful Faith and said, “Okay, I’ve lost the battle of trying to tone police Mormon Stories podcast community. So I’ll create A Thoughtful Faith podcast, staylds.com and A Thoughtful Faith Facebook group, which is more for faithful. And then, it’s like if you couldn’t do Mormon Stories, go to A Thoughtful Faith. When you lost your faith after being in A Thoughtful Faith, you come to Mormon Stories. I did that for many, many years until Jerilee Renshaw kicked me out, basically, and kicked me out of that group that I helped start.
GT 2:08:13 That’s interesting.
John 2:08:14 It made me sad. I get why, I was excommunicated by that point. People didn’t feel comfortable being in there with me in there. But it’s just impossible. So, I have a bunch of volunteer moderators who moderate the Mormon Stories podcast community. They don’t get paid. They just do the best job that they can. We put up a bunch of guidelines. I’ve banned way more angry ex-Mormons from that Facebook group than I have insufferable believers. But it’s just impossible, and I’ve given up and I just try and support my mods. We just do the best that we can. But I’ve had parents and other people say, “Man, John, Mormon Stories is fine, but your Facebook commenters or your Facebook group is awful. It’s toxic.” All I can say is, it’s traumatic to be raised in a high demand religion, and it’s traumatic to leave it. And the Church has made that worse. So, that causes trauma responses, that are just very difficult to manage, and that are understandable, and probably healthy on some level. So, we just need to have lots of spaces. That’s why I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing.
GT 2:09:27 Well, thanks. All right. Well, we started this with will John ever come back to the Church? Then we got on to the wolf in sheep’s clothing. So, let’s go back to that question. Would you ever come back?
John 2:09:38 I am sorry, I ramble.
GT 2:09:41 That’s fine. This is Gospel Tangents, and we do tangents, so it’s fine.
John 2:09:45 Okay. So, probably not, because I don’t think the Church would ever change in the ways that [I would like.] I don’t think the Church is capable of changing in the ways I would want it or need it to change. Do you want me to list all the things that Church would need to change?
GT 2:09:58 Well, you already did.
John 2:09:59 Okay.
GT 2:10:00 We went through that.
John 2:10:01 So, short of that, then no, I wouldn’t feel like the Church would be [hospitable.] I have several LGBT children. Margi identifies as non-heteronormative in some ways. Just that alone, as long as the Church is homophobic, I would be betraying my own spouse and children to be a part of a Church that’s homophobic. I know people may not like me saying that. But, if the Church is excommunicating people for getting legally same sex married, what do you call that? If the Church teaches that who you love is evil and wrong, or sinful? I don’t know what else to call that than homophobic. So, just that alone, transgender issues: being opposed to social gender transitions, and discriminating against people for transitioning in ways where the medical community is in full support of those transitions, just that alone. That’s going to make it so I can’t be a member, but I miss it. I love it.
GT 2:11:11 Really?
John 2:11:12 Oh, yeah, I mean, I miss a lot about it.
GT 2:11:14 Because I’ve seen you post about “there’s life after excommunication. It’s great. I love my life.”
John 2:11:21 Yeah, let me explain that. So, first of all, a lot of my unwillingness to leave the Church turned out to be learned helplessness or conditioning. Why was I fearful that I couldn’t raise healthy kids outside of Mormonism? Because I was taught by the Mormon Church that you can’t raise healthy, happy kids outside of Mormonism. I was taught that non-Mormons are inferior, spiritually and righteously, compared to orthodox, believing Mormons. We always look down on non-members, always.
John 2:11:54 And we always looked at it–as a Mormon, it was always the wrong decision to leave the Church, and you most likely would fall prey to sin. So, that’s how Mormons are conditioned. That’s how I was conditioned. That’s why, for so long, I was afraid to ever leave. That’s why I was afraid, both for myself and for my kids, that I couldn’t be moral, that I couldn’t be faithful to my spouse, with leaving the church. Ironically, I feel like I’m more honest and faithful to Margi now than I was when I was in. I feel like my kids are healthier now than they were when they were in. But it’s been a struggle. And, most importantly, for people who have been taught to fear leaving, and that they will only trade down and experience misery when they leave, they need reasons to believe that they can find healing and growth afterwards.
John 2:12:57 So, a big part of the Thrive initiative, and a big part of what I’ve tried to do with all the faith crisis interviews that I do, is to show people through stories, that you can have a healthier marriage, better mental health, be a better parent, be happier and healthier than when you were in the Church. I do believe that. I do believe that for many, their happiness and health, their deep depression decreases, their anxiety decreases, their marriage improves, and their parenting improves after they leave the Church. Sometimes their integrity improves after they leave the Church. That’s not everybody. But that’s the majority of the people that I have interacted with. By this point, it’s tens of thousands. That’s the majority of the people that I’ve interacted with after they’ve left. Almost no one has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t left,” almost no one in tens of thousands of people that I’ve interacted with. Now, do they sometimes become alcoholic, or addicted to drugs, or cheat on their spouse, or have kids die by suicide or themselves die by suicide, or… No, leaving the Church is not a magic bullet? They’re suffering. Buddhism teaches us that there’s suffering everywhere. But guess what? There’s divorce in the Church. There’s suicide in the Church. There’s depression and anxiety and eating disorders in the Church. So, you can’t really judge by an unfair standard.
John 2:14:23 We all know that Utah, by many reports, leads in many national indicators in things like depression, anxiety, suicidality, prescription drug abuse, and even drug abuse and pornography abuse. So, what I want people to know is they aren’t trapped. They aren’t helpless and there is hope. That’s why I created the podcast, The Gift of the Mormon Faith Crisis. There is hope after Mormon orthodoxy. There is healing and growth. The majority of people who leave the Mormon Church, particularly over issues of truth claims or social justice, the vast majority of them report being healthier and happier afterwards. But, before me, who said that?
GT 2:15:16 Sandra Tanner.
John 2:15:17 No, no, no. Like, maybe. But even Sandra and Jerald Tanner, they focused on the truth claims. They weren’t talking about faith crisis. They weren’t talking about how hard it is to go through a faith crisis. They weren’t trying to provide support for marriages in faith crisis. You know what I mean, before 2005, I don’t know that that was really a thing, talking about faith crisis, talking about the difficulties of a faith crisis, and trying to be a solution to people with faith crisis. Frankly, that’s why I started doing what I was doing, because I found nothing out there that was really trying to address that. In Sunstone, you don’t see a ton of articles about, prior to 2015, you wouldn’t see a bunch of [articles] in Dialogue or Sunstone, articles about, “Man, I’m having a hard time with my faith. Man, my marriage is hard. Oh, I’m gay celibate in a mixed orientation marriage. How do we fix this marriage?” There wasn’t much in the Mormon discourse, academic or not, about that sort of stuff.
John 2:16:18 That’s literally why I left Microsoft, and $200,000 a year with stock options to try and help solve that problem. So, why do I try and help Mormons know that there’s healing and growth after Mormon orthodoxy? Well, one, because there is. Two, because they’ve been conditioned to believe that they should fear leaving, but that–you know what causes–I had a psychiatry friend. I won’t really reveal his name. But you know what he said to me once? He said, “You know, what leads to suicide, John.”
John 2:16:51 I’m like, “I don’t know, I have a Ph.D. in psychology. But tell me what you know.”
John 2:16:55 He said something to me, that I had never really fully grasped before. He said, “You know, what causes suicide?” Do you know, Rick?
GT 2:17:03 No.
John 2:17:04 Do you know what causes suicide?
GT 2:17:06 Depression.
John 2:17:07 But lots of people are depressed? What causes people to kill themselves?
GT 2:17:13 I’m not a psychologist. I have no idea.
John 2:17:16 The answer is feeling trapped, feeling like there’s no way out. You’re sandwiched between two things, like your marriage and your kids and your wife, or being authentically gay. Right? Your membership in the Church, and you’re standing in the community, and your marriage and your kids and your reputation, or your integrity, where you’ve discovered that it isn’t true. Your job that provides an income for everyone, your kids, your wife, everyone, and your integrity that no longer is the Church true. And you’re dying, because the Church is killing you, and you can’t be honest about it. It’s being trapped with no options that makes people want to die. I want my parents to love and respect me. But I’ve lost my faith or I’m gay. And if I come out, if I leave the Church, say I don’t believe, quit my mission, leave the Church, my parents won’t love me anymore. They’ll disinherit me, and I’ll be socially ostracized. It’s being trapped that makes you want to die. So, why do I advocate for healing and growth outside of Mormon orthodoxy or Mormonism? So that people know they have a choice.
GT 2:18:39 But you still miss it.
John 2:18:41 I miss parts of it. I don’t miss the temple ceremony. I don’t miss the patriarchy. I don’t miss how boring and tedious it can be. And I don’t miss the close mindedness of the exclusivity of it all. But I miss a community. For all the stuff we’ve done with Thrive and Oasis, we haven’t figured out secular community in a way that feels as good as—frickin’ ex-Mormonism can be toxic, where it’s just like crabs pulling each other into a boiling vat of water, just like cannibalizing each other. Ex-Mormonism can be beautiful and amazing, and super toxic and awful. We’ve never been able to create anything to approximate the type of loving, supportive affirming community. I mean, there’s small instances of that. I went and helped a friend move last weekend, and I love that. We’ve delivered casseroles or raised money for people who are sick, but not in an organized way that religion, and particularly Mormonism has been able to do.
John 2:19:43 Yeah, I miss knowing everyone in my community where I live and being able to go to–once a week, meet with them and serve them and have them serve me and that fellowship of getting to know people in your neighborhood and loving them and having them love you and suffering through things with them. So yeah, I miss that. Yeah. We haven’t figured out–and that’s another reason I don’t want to try, I’m not trying to destroy the Church or explicitly take people out of it. Because I don’t know that we as ex-Mormons or as secular people have figured out for sure, a better way. Is there healing and growth and happiness? Yes.
John 2:20:24 Is there a system that is packaged to provide people with identity, meaning, purpose, spirituality, community friendships, resolution about the afterlife? Is there a package that you could just drop into, live it, raise your kids in it and have a community and blossom from it? No. And that’s why I’m not eager for the Church to die. So, I’m not eager to pull people out of it. Because I don’t know of a sure bet, better way yet. Other than I know hundreds of thousands of people now who are happier. But that doesn’t mean that the people who are in it now would be happier if they left. Maybe the people who are in it now know what would make them healthiest and happiest. And they stay in because they know themselves. None of us have any job at telling them, what’s best for them. If somebody feels like staying in is best for them, or their family, they should stay. I tell people that every day. Stay. Why don’t you stay? If you can stay and make it work, why would you leave? I feel that way to this day. I counsel people every day to stay in the Church, if they can, if they can do it in a way that isn’t toxic to their own mental health, or to their situation that doesn’t betray their integrity. Like you.
GT 2:21:55 Well, thanks. Well, it’s been four hours. Is there anything we missed, John?
John 2:22:00 That’s it, we got it all.
GT 2:22:01 Is there anything you want to talk about?
John 2:22:02 I can die now. I’ve said it all. This will be the definitive interview that I point people to, for everything about me.
GT 2:22:10 Really?
John 2:22:11 Anything they want to know about me. But I may share it on Mormon Stories, too.
GT 2:22:14 That’s fine.
John 2:22:15 But freaking support Gospel Tangents. Donate to Rick. Support his work. He’s able to get people I will never be able to get, and he does neutrality in ways that I don’t. And he’s smart. He’s a great guy. Even though Rick doesn’t like me very much, he’s a great guy.
GT 2:22:36 (Chuckling.)
John 2:22:37 Even though sometimes he says things about me that hurt my feelings, he means well. And he’s a good guy, and support Rick Bennett and Gospel Tangents.
GT 2:22:45 Let me just say, I’ll do a little disclaimer, because I am not a big tent guy. I don’t try to get non-believers and believers together. And if you are an annoying orthodox person, this is not the podcast for you. If you’re an annoying ex-Mormon, my podcast is not for you. I like to be academic. I will say, John, I have referred people to Mormon Stories, especially if they’re angry, because I’m like, you know, I’m not a counselor. I don’t know how to keep people in the Church. But go see John at Mormon Stories. He’s a counselor, and that’s what he does. But I’m definitely trying to stay in the middle. I’m open to believers. I’m open to polygamists, ex-Mormons, I run the gamut. I try to do it very broadly. But I don’t put up with a lot of negative comments on either side. I’ve banned as many orthodox people as I do ex-Mormons. I will just give that disclaimer.
John 2:23:57 Yeah, well, I respect you and the work you’ve done. I’ve prepared for episodes on Mormon Stories by watching some of your episodes. I just respect what you do and who you’ve got on and your intelligence and your ability to conduct great interviews. So, it’s an honor that you would bring me on your podcast. I think you’re a great guy. I’m sorry, we’ve had conflicts in the past, personally, but let’s bury the hatchet. Let’s be friends.
GT 2:24:24 I would love to bury the hatchet. Let’s do it.
John 2:24:26 Is that all right?
GT 2:24:28 I’m totally cool with that.
John 2:24:30 We will release this episode, and this will not be held back.
GT 2:24:33 Okay. (Chuckling.) All right. Well, thanks, John Dehlin.
John 2:24:37 And support Steven Pynnaker and Mormon Book Reviews.
GT 2:24:39 Of course, yeah. Steve’s a really good friend of mine. We talk all the time. Mormon Book Reviews is awesome.
John 2:24:48 All right.
GT 2:24:49 Well, Dr. John Dehlin, I thank you for this wonderful time you spent here on Gospel Tangents. I really appreciate it.
John 2:24:55 And I would love to have you back and let me grill you about how you stay in the Church, and know all this stuff and still be a believer.
GT 2:25:02 I’m not an open book like you, John. That’s going to be a lot harder for me. I like asking questions. I don’t like answering.
John 2:25:08 Again, Rick is smarter than John Dehlin, basically, is what you just said. You’re smarter than me, because you know that full disclosure is problematic.
GT 2:25:27 It sure is.
John 2:25:29 Alright, Thanks, Rick. Thank you. Take care. And thanks, everyone, for joining us on Mormon Stories. We’ll see you all again soon.
Check out our other interviews we discussed in this interview.
Steve Pynakker Evangelical Host of Mormon Book Reviews Interviews GT
Rick Bennett with Steve Pynakker, host of Mormon Book Reviews.
560: Mormon Doctrine in Battlestar Gallactica?
559: Gutting Pioneer Temple History
558: Mormon Historians’ Community
557: Future of Mormon History
556: Are Faith & Intellect Compatible?
555: Why Start Gospel Tangents?
554: Difference between Evangelicals & Protestants
553: Background on Rick
Terryl Givens – Author of The Stretching the Heavens
Terryl Givens is biographer of Eugene England biography, “Stretching the Heavens.”
683: Crossing the Brethren’s Line
682: Explaining Atonement Theories
681: Is it ok to ask Hard Questions in LDS Church?
680: England at BYU, Dialogue
679: Turning Down, Accepting Eugene England
Talking History with the Bushmans
Dr. Richard & Claudia Bushman discuss Mormon History.
656: Is LDS Art Getting Better? (Bushmans)
655: Why Do Some Scholars Get in Trouble? (Bushmans)
654: Claudia’s Focus on Women in History (Claudia Bushman)
653: Scuttled Church History (Richard Bushman)
652: Exponent II (Claudia Bushman)
651: Mormon History with the Bushmans
 A BYU Studies article by Ronald Esplin and Sharon Nielsen states the calling of the high council in 1835 states, “The twelve Apostles have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes where there is a regular high council established. See https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/the-record-of-the-twelve-1835-the-quorum-of-the-twelve-apostles-call-and-1835-mission/
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