John Dehlin recently asked for help from redditors in responding to a video recording of a talk by Scott Gordon, the president of FairMormon, a group supportive of the LDS Church. “Need help reviewing this new FAIR presentation in Sweden by Scott Gordon. It has been upsetting to many progressive and post-Mormons in Sweden. Would like to prepare a response with your help for Mormon Stories.”
Similar, perhaps, to the time that he asked redditors to defend his wikipedia page against an attack that didn’t actually happen and the time that he asked Facebook friends to find examples of FairMormon engaging in ad hominem that they couldn’t actually find (an amusing but regrettably not sufficiently available read), it is not surprising that he has once again turned to Reddit and Facebook as instruments of problem solving.
So where should I start in discussing this particular happening. Perhaps, by naming it GordonGate or something extravagant like that because nothing is as scandalous as referencing John Dehlin (without ever actually using his name….) in an unfavorable way, or at all really if he doesn’t like you. Let’s start with his Facebook post
Complete current Facebook post as of whenever I copied it:
Scott Gordon (President of FairMormon),
I just watched the youtube video where in a seemingly sneering way you attempt to mock and discredit me as someone who doesn’t believe in God. (15:55 minutes in)
While it is true that I do not claim to know if there is a God….I am unaware of ever denying that there is a God, or stating that I outright disbelieve in God. I certainly have expressed doubts or outright disbelief about the existence of an anthropomorphic God…but that position is not worthy or ridicule, is it? My guess is that most of the Christian world shares this sort of doubt/disbelief.
At present, I remain unsure (but at times hopeful?) that there is some sort of God and/or an afterlife – but regardless, I have found a way to be at peace with this uncertainty, and with the idea that this may be the only life we have. To summarize – my position is one of not being sure about God or the afterlife. It’s certainly not one of denial that God exists — and I have never really felt comfortable with the agnostic or atheist labels.
If you and your friends at FAIR were trying to be objective, you would find many, many statements from me over the past 11 years wherein I describe myself as a believer/hoper of sorts…just not in orthodox Mormon theology. I have also had my moments of doubt…but is it FAIR’s position that it is appropriate to mock/sneer at people who doubt?
Most importantly, I want you to know that I am saddened and find it quite distasteful that you and FAIR would mischaracterize my beliefs in such a calloused way in a clear attempt to smear and malign me (and Mormon Stories Podcast). I feel like you misrepresented me in your public presentation, and it is hurtful. I would respectfully ask you to edit that misrepresentation of me out of your presentation, and to cease mischaracterizing me in the future.
Finally, I was under the impression that FAIR had made changes, and had moved beyond relying upon ad hominem attacks to defend the church. Apparently I am mistaken. Very sad.
(I find your criticisms of Jeremy Runnells and the CES Letter to be even more misleading and distasteful, but I will let Jeremy defend himself).
Please respond at your earliest convenience about my request to edit the video, and please cease mischaracterizing me in the future.
To begin my comments, I couldn’t help noticing that his second paragraph sounded really familiar:
“While it is true that I do not claim to know if there is a God….I am unaware of ever denying that there is a God, or stating that I outright disbelieve in God. I certainly have expressed doubts or outright disbelief about the existence of an anthropomorphic God…”
After some searching I figured out why, Alma 30:48 “Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.”
Is this mocking of me to notice? You know what: we notice what we notice. I frankly wonder if this was deliberate on his part, though I am trying to avoid getting all black-helicopterish here. I personally would have had a hard time constructing something that matched Korihor’s sentence patterns so well, but John’s a talented guy. Now as a point of clarification, if I were to argue that you should disregard him because his speech pattern sounded like Korihor that would be ad hominem. As it stands, it is just a really strange observation that I thought some others would find amusing (though I am confident some will also object to it and that is their right—no one likes seeing their sacred cow maligned) and you ought to evaluate his claims based on their factuality. I would be happy to take you through them:
His main assertion is probably worth addressing right off. He claims, “I just watched the youtube video where in a seemingly sneering way you attempt to mock and discredit me as someone who doesn’t believe in God. (15:55 minutes in)”. I suggest anyone who actually cares about this issue watch the video. I don’t find that Dehlin’s description of events matches the video. Let it speak for itself. For those of you who hate videos, I’ve taken the time to transcribe the portion that described Mormon Stories. Dehlin is never mentioned by name, unlike all of the people John seems intent on maligning or tagging in his posts in order to harass them. To give context for the video excerpt, it looks like Scott Gordon, in this section of the speech, is describing a number of websites that contain viewpoints antagonistic to Mormon truth claims while possibly masking themselves as faithful. This will take you to about the right spot: https://youtu.be/s4ee4Cfp9sE?t=15m55s
15:58 Scott Gordon: “This second example here is called Mormon Stories. It was established by another member. He was counseled by his stake president many many times but he was finally excommunicated this past year. This website mostly focuses on the Church’s stance on social issues such as gay marriage and women in the church. I know this man personally and have had many conversations with him. His sister is a member of FairMormon. He has long believed there is no God. The Church is [a] nice social organization and he’s been attempting to fix it for a long time. So he hasn’t wanted to leave because it’s such a nice group of people. But God doesn’t exist.” (16:40)
Frankly, I don’t see any examples of sneering or mocking, and having watched the video the tone does not convey either. I am apparently not the only one who thinks so.
cinepro, commenting on the ex-Mormon subreddit writes:
For those who haven’t listened to the talk, it should be noted that out of the 42 minutes, Gordon devotes all of 40 seconds to discussing Dehlin. The CES letter gets 4 minutes, Denver Snuffer gets 50 seconds, and Rod Meldrum gets 2 minutes.
It reminds me of the old canard about there not being any bad publicity; just spell the name right. The next step for Mormon Stories won’t be for Gordon to parse his words in a way that makes Dehlin more comfortable with the precision; it will be to just cut out that 40 seconds and relegate the website/podcast to the unfortunate category of “not worth mentioning.”
Dehlin also claims that Gordon’s statements about him not believing in God “mischaracterize my beliefs in such a calloused way in a clear attempt to smear and malign me”. At least one party who worked closely with Dehlin disagreed with Dehlin’s claim
Rosebud: In the linked post John starts out by publicly getting after Gordon for falsely claiming that Gordon knows John well enough to know that John has long believed there is no God. I can’t tell you how many times the two of them have interacted personally as Gordon claims. I can tell you that Gordon was accurately representing John’s beliefs. John likes to play false victim. Does it a lot.
cinepro also found Dehlin’s claim of misrepresentation unconvincing based on John’s self-description of his beliefs:
Believing that something could exist is not the same as believing something does exist.
For example, I fully acknowledge that Bigfoot could exist. But I do not believe that Bigfoot does exist. If someone were to say “Cinepro has long believed that there is no Bigfoot”, would they be right?
Dehlin is simply delineating between agnostic acknowledgment of a possibility, and atheistic certitude. Neither are a statement of positive belief. Only theoretical and unknowable possibilities. Gordon may have overstepped and failed to couch his paraphrase of Dehlin’s expressed disbelief with the humble waffling of the friendly agnostic, but it’s hardly libelous or demanding of a response.
On his Facebook, even some of his friends thought that he had gone a little over the top in objecting to Scott Gordon’s characterization
Carl Youngblood: John Parkinson Dehlin I think you protest too much. Scott Gordon’s characterization, while clearly designed to promote his own views, seemed to me way less inaccurate and inflammatory in regards to you than you made it out to be. If I had only gone by your description, I would have assumed that it was a bald-faced lie. What I actually heard sounded much more benign. The most he ever stretched the truth was in implying that he knew you better than he actually did, although even this exaggeration really did nothing to bolster or hinder his argument.
You give too much power to his position by trying to refute it. By seeming to care so much about his characterization of you as an atheist/agnostic, you make it seem as though it is bad to be an atheist/agnostic. You lend too much credence to his assertions.
From my vantage point it honestly seems like you are engaging in oneupmanship with the likes of FAIR. Yes, FAIR is limited and biased, but when you engage in these kinds of petty quarrels, you end up seeming no better. Frankly, I don’t think you should really care about Scott’s opinion of you. And I feel like an honest assessment of his statements is that they are far less inflammatory or inaccurate than you make them out to be, and that your reaction to them reflects poorly on you.
John Parkinson Dehlin: Carl Youngblood – You speak far too easily about things you know far too little about. Walk a mile in my moccasins before you feel comfortable to judge. K brother?
Carl Youngblood: John, what makes you think I know very little? I have followed your podcasts from the beginning. I’ve sat down and spoken with you personally on more than one occasion. I have donated significant amounts of money to you. I have followed FAIR as well. What aspects of my message make it seem like I am uninformed?
John Parkinson Dehlin Carl Youngblood – You may know some things about me, but I’m guessing you don’t know much about what it’s like to be me, or in my position. For my taste, your advice and criticism come across way too glibly for my taste. And they come across as unempathetic.
Carl Youngblood: John I never claimed to know “what it’s like to be [you].” I only told you how your behavior looks to me. You seem to care way to much about what Scott Gordon is saying about you. Given your frequent characterization of the likes of FAIR as deceptive and unhelpful, why would you expect anything different? What does it matter if he thinks you’re an agnostic or atheist? What is wrong with being an agnostic or atheist? As I said, you bolster his position by refuting his claims so vehemently.
John Parkinson Dehlin: Carl Youngblood – When you’ve been publicly maligned across multiple continents on Youtube, and when you’ve become a close friend with me….perhaps you can feel free to speak with me in such a way. But since we’re not close friends, and since I have no sense that you have experienced anything like what is happening here…your advice/perspective comes across to me as glib. And insensitive. And un-empathetic. Just being honest.
John comes strangely close to saying, “How dare you speak to me in such a manner”, which is kind of weird. But hay, no likes being criticized when they are wrong and can’t reasonably defend themselves.
In a conversation on Dan Peterson’s Facebook wall, another individual said, “I did have lunch with Dehlin in 2010. He flat out said that he could not believe that God exists *because* evil also exists.”
So to sum up: it looks like Dehlin’s objection to Scott Gordon wasn’t particularly well-founded. Why then might he want to misrepresent Scott’s comments as being 1. Unkind and mocking, when they really weren’t, and 2. about John, when around 1/60th of the talk referenced John’s products without ever mentioning his name (not a favor John is willing to extend to his opponents)? Clearly, on some level he and FairMormon are two competing solutions to the problem of doubt and disbelief. They differ somewhat, though, because while John’s Mormon Stories organization tends to encourage unbelief and his counseling business is well-situated to profit from it, FairMormon actively seeks to remedy it and help people resolve their concerns. John appears to be engaging in an effort to position himself more favorably against a competing organization, and seems to overstate Scott Gordon’s level of animus and the content of his talk in order to create outrage and consolidate his base: an understandable if not exactly noble goal.