John Dehlin’s disciplinary hearing, scheduled for February 8, 2015 will be accompanied by a vigil put on by one of his followers according to an article on the Herald Journal’s site HJNews.com, but that was not, to me, the most interesting fact that came out of the article. There are a few particular gems in this piece, and I will highlight and comment on each of them.
“John Dehlin’s work has been an essential part of our experience in Mormonism and our own personal faith journey,” Nickolaisen said. “He has enriched our lives and made us better people, so we really want to show support for him. We are Mormons like John Dehlin, and between all of us, we all have the same issues and concerns John has expressed (about the church) and we don’t think it warrants a church discipline.”
The fact that those who have worked with John in his podcast all have the same issues and concerns as he does is much more telling about the cause of his disciplinary hearing than almost anything else that comes from him or those associated with him. When a number of students sitting next to one another manage to all get something wrong in the same really unique way it often isn’t the teacher’s fault. His followers very much end up with the same issues and misinformation that he has embraced, and his deliberate propagation of it is a central reason that he is on trial based on the documents released by him in connection with his hearing.
The LDS Church has told The Herald Journal directly that Dehlin is being charged with apostasy for his “publicly stated disbelief in foundational Church doctrines including the existence of God, the Atonement of Jesus Christ or the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” They’ve declined to comment specifically on his case, leaving it up to local church officials instead.
This is the Church’s perspective. John is one trial for apostasy—read the disciplinary council summons and the documents that the Stake President wrote leading up to it if you doubt that this is the case. He is particularly on trial for his public opposition and mockery of core LDS doctrines. In the Stake President’s words in a letter to Dehlin: “As the letter I gave you states, I am focused on five core doctrines of the Church: (1) The existence and nature of God; (2) Christ being the literal Savior of the World and his Atonement being absolutely necessary to our salvation;(3) the exclusive priesthood authority restored through the Church; (4) The Book of Mormon as scripture and the revealed word of God; and (5) the governance of the Church by doctrine and revelation through inspired leaders.” He attempted to suppress his Stake President’s perspective in the narrative surrounding his disciplinary hearing by carefully timing the release of the information as highlighted in a previous post, but the fact remains that this is what the Stake President has consistently, documentably represented as his concerns.
In his press release, which is 11 pages and contains detailed information on his views of the church and upcoming hearing, Dehlin claims that this is not the case and the LDS Church is spreading “mischaracterizations” about the reasons for the hearing. Dehlin adds that he is concerned that the LDS Church will “continue distorting the main questions at issue” in the disciplinary council.
Dehlin has been attempting to promote the idea that his disciplinary hearing is primarily a consequence of his actions relating to LGBT issues, and advocating for women’s ordination. A number of individuals including at least one gay right advocate have challenged that narrative, as well as a number of bloggers have challenged that narrative. He is now accusing the Church of deliberately ‘mischaracterizing’ the reasons for the hearing. This is definitely an escalation in his rhetoric, and frankly a risky choice. In the previous post, I also highlight his attempts to blame the media for focusing on the LGBT and women’s ordination issues while simultaneously promoting them, and indicating that he never said they were the main reason for his hearing, and a paragraph later contradicting himself. It gets a little bit hard to keep track of after a while, but such is the life of someone writing about Dehlin.
“Since my January 15, 2015 press release, the LDS Church has attempted to spread misinformation regarding the central reasons for my disciplinary council — with a focus on denying that my public support of Ordain Women and same-sex marriage were parts of the apostasy charges,” Dehlin says in the press release. “This included an unnamed LDS Church spokesman requesting a correction to the Herald Journal (my hometown newspaper) on January 30, 2015, wherein he or she attempted to correct my assertion that my public support for Ordain Women was an impetus for the disciplinary council. I was deeply saddened when I realized that the LDS Church would directly seek to spread misinformation about my disciplinary council, especially when I have records which disprove the church’s claims.”
The records which Dehlin alludes to are most likely ones that he wrote himself and that his Stake President stated his disagreement with, as you can read here (August 10 and August 11 letters respectively). There are several other fascinating features of this article. One is that apparently a Church spokesman contacted the Herald Journal to correct Dehlin’s misrepresentation of the reasons for his disciplinary hearing. This is certainly a more assertive step in dealing with his misrepresentations. Another is that the claim he is making is fundamentally illogical and may even damage the causes that he is claiming to promote. If the Church were interested in removing from membership those who support Ordain Women or various LGBT causes they wouldn’t have anything to gain from saying otherwise. Why? Because if you say that one can support them then those who feel an inclination to support them will do so, and if you then discipline them for that you end up with a bunch of hurt and confused people who make a public spectacle, and it ultimately provides much more negative publicity than if you simply stated your policy and then enforced it. Having a different stated policy than enforced policy benefits exactly no one, and especially not the Church. To do so would be to engage in an execrable example of short term thinking.
There is also this—Elder Christofferson was asked at the recent press conference about whether it is acceptable to support various groups, and in what manner:
I want to understand whether publicly supporting gay marriage or groups like Ordain Women could cause me to lose my recommend. If I privately believe in these ideas would I still be temple-worthy, and if so, then why would the act of public expression make me unworthy if a privately held belief does not. What is the difference between a belief and its expression?”
Elder Christofferson responded, “We have members in the Church with a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues…but…in our view it doesn’t become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, trying to get others to follow them, to draw others away, trying to pull people out of the church, or away from its teachings and doctrines. That’s very different for us, than someone who feels one way or another on a political stance or a particular action to support a group, Affirmation or any others that you named.”
Having an apostle say that this is not an issue provided that the person is not engaging in denigrating Church leaders and doctrine does not make sense unless the Church actually means it. In fact, if any Church leaders had understood the policy differently before, after this public statement they will most likely recognize that this is the policy. If Dehlin’s disciplinary hearing had been about the issues he claims, rather than apostasy Elder Christofferson’s remarks might very well have cancelled it, but because the issues are instead his multiple repeated attacks on core Church doctrines as I suspect he understands, I don’t expect any particular change in course at this stage.