A Mormon was excommunicated earlier this month for refusing to shut down a popular website that offers doubting church members a safe haven to chat. On February 10, John Dehlin, who launched Mormonstories.org a decade ago, was unanimously ousted by regional church members, after they found him guilty of apostasy or repeatedly rebelling against the faith in public.
Dehlin has publicly rejected his faith in the Book of Abraham as well as the Book of Mormon, calling them fraudulent and refuting the notion that Mormonism is the one true church with power and authority from God. He has also attacked the church’s unflattering history, including its polygamous past under the authority of Joseph Smith, who not only had a teenage bride but also married several wives of other men. According to Dehlin, the church warned him of being excommunicated for apostasy after it discovered his support for same-sex marriage.
The 45-year-old podcaster, who has been a Mormon since birth, was sent a letter from the church informing him of his excommunication, which is considered the most stringent punishment that can be meted out to members of the congregation. The letter, signed by regional church leader Bryan King, said Dehlin was being ousted not because he was a skeptic and had questions about Mormonism but because he had been found guilty of making categorical statements opposing the faith that were eventually shared with other skeptics on his website. King accused Dehlin of being responsible for several other church members having left the congregation, referring to Dehlin’s claims that the sacred texts of the Latter-day Saints were deceitful as well as his outright denunciation of Mormonism being the sole religion with authority from God.
“You do not have the right to remain a member of the church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that church teachings are in error,” he wrote.
The church’s decision came two days after Dehlin, who is a resident of North Logan, Utah, met with concerned authorities for a four-hour-long disciplinary hearing. While Dehlin told his superiors that he did not wish to be excommunicated, he also told them that he would not be able to shut down his website.
“We're going to keep telling stories and keep providing support and community for Mormons who are unorthodox,” he said in a statement following his removal on Tuesday.
Dehlin is the second high-profile Mormon to have been ousted by his church members in the past year. Kate Kelly, leader of a group that pushed for women to be included in the lay clergy, was excommunicated in June 2014. Reportedly, Dehlin’s and Kelly’s are the most prominent excommunication proceedings since 1993, when six Mormon writers were disciplined for questioning church doctrine.
Fellow Mormon Mike Huband said the church was trying to send out a strong message with Dehlin’s and Kelly’s excommunications.
“Don't express your doubts or concerns publicly, or you risk excommunication. They are saying to those people on the fringes, "We don't want you in the church. It's very disappointing,” he said.
Approximately 200 supporters gathered before the church building where Dehlin’s hearing took place for a weekend vigil. For them, Dehlin continues to be a hero who risked his own position in the church to create a much-required forum for doubting Mormons that wanted to openly discuss controversial or sensitive issues about the religion.
For his detractors however, Dehlin is a Latter-day Saint who lost faith in the religion’s core tenets long ago and has since been trying to paint himself a martyr. Scott Gordon, co-founder of MormonVoices, a pro-Latter-day Saints organization, said Dehlin had to be excommunicated so the church could protect its members from his influence.
“Dehlin's choices forced his local leaders to take steps to protect their adherents from one who not only ceased to believe, but who actively sought to have others embrace his disbelief,” he said.
Eric Hawkins, spokesperson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said members who are ousted from the church could return through the grace and atonement of Christ. He also referred to the process of excommunication as the start of the road back to complete fellowship.
Dehlin and his family, who stopped attending church services in June last year, said they have no intention of going back to the organization and are happy that they can now use their Sundays to bond as a family. Dehlin also clarified that he has no regrets for trying to help fellow Mormons deal with their doubts, despite being pulled up several times for doing so over the last ten years.
Photo Credits: NBC News