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John Dehlin recently took to his Facebook page expressing outrage at an Ensign article entitled “Answering the Hard Questions.” In this post he condemns the article’s author for suggesting that the key question when dealing with serious questions of faith is “Do I trust God above everyone else?” He suggests that what the author really means (even though it is not what he says) is “Do I trust LDS priesthood authority above everyone else?” After placing his own words in the writers mouth he then proceeds to argue that “(when we have been given all the information) — so many of us have been disappointed time, and time again by LDS priesthood authority. For about 184 years now (and counting). But they act as if their record is spotless.” His argument throughout is against priesthood authority. This isn’t really news if you have followed Dehlin’s online activities for any length of time, but I think he actually goes farther in this post than in most of his more carefully worded and strategic statements. He does not, however, do it immediately. It takes him a few edits to optimize his post in terms of density of apostate notions. Looking at the evolution of the last little bit of his post is a mildly interesting exercise.

Here is the first version of it:

To me, this is perhaps the most insidious and damaging thing about 21st century LDS authority. After almost two centuries of often egregiously disappointing behaviors, LDS church leaders still expect church members to equate the church’s will with God’s will. So damaging. And so disappointing. We deserve better. You deserve better.

This would have probably been relatively difficult to really criticize if one ignores his setting up and abuse of a strawman, but two edits later, he has expanded the final paragraph to read thus:

    To me, this is perhaps the most insidious and damaging thing about 21st century LDS authority. After almost two centuries of often egregiously disappointing behaviors, LDS church leaders still expect church members to equate the church’s will with God’s will. So damaging. And so disappointing. We deserve better. You deserve better. Advice is fun. Suggestions…ok. But please stop insulting (and damaging) us by perpetuating the idea that you speak for God. You don’t. You do your best…and sometimes your best is helpful, and sometimes it is very, very damaging.

Now instead of attacking the notion that the church’s will is God’s will, which already is his words and not theirs, he has made a significantly more aggressive statement that the church leaders don’t speak for God. He probably should have opted for a weaker form of this argument. He could have insinuated as much, as is his usual habit, but instead he states categorically his conviction that “LDS church leaders… …[don’t] speak for God.” This isn’t ‘sometimes don’t’ or ‘sometimes speak as men’, but his statement is “stop insulting (and damaging) us by perpetuating the idea that you speak for God. You don’t.” This is completely contrary to LDS doctrine. This as a public statement may be enough to constitute apostasy by itself [1]. D&C 1:20 states as one of several purposes of the restoration, “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;” indicating that all who would qualify themselves would ultimately speak by the spirit of inspiration, and that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38), but instead Dehlin contends that not even the presiding Brethren are in a position to do so, which would de facto suggest that the entire program of the restoration has been a complete failure. He is entitled to his opinion, and to express it as he sees fit, but openly and persistently teaching against the doctrines of the church is considered grounds for excommunication in the absence of repentance.

Subsequently, he changes the whimsical “advice is fun” to the more blaw “advice is fine”, and adds emphasis to his statement that they don’t speak for God by breaking it out into its own paragraph for emphasis so that no one could accidentally miss it:

    To me, this is perhaps the most insidious and damaging thing about 21st century LDS authority. After almost two centuries of often egregiously disappointing behaviors, LDS church leaders still expect church members to equate the church’s will with God’s will. So damaging. And so disappointing. We deserve better. You deserve better.

Advice is fine. Suggestions…ok. But please stop insulting (and damaging) us by perpetuating the idea that you speak for God. You don’t. You do your best…and sometimes your best is helpful, and sometimes it is very, very damaging.

Next, he curiously adds an afterthought about the importance of discernment in church members. He also suggests that instead of the article, which was published in the Ensign, they should publish articles apologizing for unspecified misdeeds:

    To me, this is perhaps the most insidious and damaging thing about 21st century LDS authority. After almost two centuries of often egregiously disappointing behaviors, LDS church leaders still expect church members to equate the church’s will with God’s will. So damaging. And so disappointing. We deserve better. You deserve better.

Advice is fine. Suggestions…ok. But please stop insulting (and damaging) us by perpetuating the idea that you speak for God. You don’t. You do your best…and sometimes your best is helpful, and sometimes it is very, very damaging. And so it is more important than ever that we learn to discern for ourselves.

What we need is an article that says, “We’re really, really sorry. And we’ll try to do better. And we can learn from you as much as you can learn from us.” What we need less of, is articles like this.

His emphasis on discernment is a curious one because if you look at other parts of his post it is clear that while he is using “Mormon words” his meaning might not line up with what these words typically mean in a Mormon context. Here is the relevant text, notice the curious dichotomy between still and don’t. Still implies that there is a steady flux from belief to disbelief, while don’t, the term he uses for disbelief, is static. Notice also the two uses of discern:

* (For those who still believe in God) — “Do I trust my own ability to discern God’s will for me and my family?”
* (For those who don’t believe in God) — “Do I trust my own reason/instincts/intuition/inspiration/emotion, along with those whom I love and trust, to discern what is right/best for me and my family?”

He applies the term discern to both those who have some degree of belief in God and those who have no such belief, so any of the interpretations of discernment that entail some notion of ‘discerning of spirits’ or discerning through the spirit or really even discerning God’s will if this is something that he is recommending for both theists and atheists would have to be ruled out if he is trying for some sort of global meaning for the term. What then can the term mean? It would seem in context to mean “decide”, and the implication would seem to be that he thinks people should make their own decision based on their own opinions and ignore counsel from the church leaders unless it agrees with their opinions. He does an interesting job of cloaking that in a religious term though, which I thought was a notable touch. Of course I could be misreading him, and he could just be using the term in a logically inconsistent way. He is welcome to correct me if I’ve misunderstood any part of this.

That having been said, I think it would be very beneficial to his relationships with others, including the author who he is abusing, if he were to accurately represent what others say, and not argue against his own notions as if they were the other person’s. Also, I think if he wants to actively teach and even militate against the church’s doctrine, it makes sense to be morally consistent enough to not attempt to be on the outside and on the inside simultaneously of that organization. After a certain point, it makes him seem a touch hypocritical.

[1] The textbook definition of apostasy for those interested is “Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.”

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