Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thoughts on John Dehlin's Upcoming Disciplinary Council

My thoughts on Dehlin himself:

I have never understood John. My own way of thinking is very different from his. He always came across to me as somewhat overly emotional, indecisive, not particularly good at interviewing (talks far too much about himself and asks leading questions), and I never understood his desire to stick with the LDS church given how many problems he obviously had with it.

However, John is a man with a ton of energy. My own journey had me wanting to distance myself from the LDS church and invest less and less time there as I became more and more disillusioned, but John seemed to really like being in the church despite his problems with it. John somehow had his faith shaken to the core and yet found the energy to invest countless hours seeking out interview subjects and performing interviews. As a result, he amassed an unprecedented pile of easy-to-access information. So when I read Todd Compton's book and I wondered who Compton was, I went and listened to Compton talk with Dehlin for hours and came out feeling like I knew the man. Same for Simon Southerton, Terryl/Fiona Givens, Richard Bushman, and many, many others. This was incredibly valuable to me at that point in my life and for that I will always be grateful to John.

My impression of Dehlin has been that he has vacillated between trying to steer people into staying in the church and stating that people should do whatever they think is right. I have never gotten the impression that he has tried to get them to leave. Now certainly many of the issues he discusses are disturbing to many people and cause some (many?) to leave the church but that is hardly John's fault, that is the fault of Joseph Smith et al. or God, depending on your point of view, or in other words, those who made the 'history' in the first place.

The Church's place in this conflict:

When I was suddenly thrust into my "dark night of the soul" after reading the Wikipedia article on Joseph Smith in late July 2012, I desperately wanted official answers to my questions from the LDS church. The information that I found was extremely sparse. It was clear that the only way to learn about the details about the origins of polygamy was from sources outside the church. I went to my bishop to discuss my concerns and was told that Joseph only ever had one wife and was told to go think about what I was doing to my family, pretty unhelpful advice given the nature of my issues. I had precious little official information from the LDS church with which to rebut my bishop's mistaken beliefs about Joseph's monogamy. All I could find was a little one-liner in the Gospel Topics section of that said something to the effect of Joseph having cautiously taught and practiced polygamy. I could find absolutely no discussion of the details that I was concerned about. Even after the release of the new essays, there is no discussion of the vast majority of the details that concern me.

So while John Dehlin and many others have been discussing these issues in detail and this has caused many to leave the LDS church, this is in my view not their fault. The disturbing issues are disturbing because they are in fact disturbing and confusing. This is not the fault of the critics. The church seemingly cannot offer answers that are satisfactory to people like me, otherwise they would have charged into the discussion and offered them long ago. For a church that warns so much about the arguments of the critics, the LDS church spends precious little effort discussing the issues that concern the people who are listening to the critics.

I will never forget that when I desperately needed frank discussion and validation of my concerns, the helping hand of the LDS church was nowhere to be found. There was no official discussion of my concerns. My bishop lacked even the most basic historical literacy on these thorny issues. So where did I go? Unofficial internet apologists, critics, books written by historians, and everything in between. Where else could I have gone?

I find it ironic that one of these voices will be on trial for weighing in on subjects that the LDS church was so late to the game to weigh in on themselves. While the LDS church has addressed some issues in the years since, these responses still largely sidestep the real questions and concerns that I have, things that Dehlin has discussed in detail with various experts in the fields they represent. The church doesn't seem to have the courage to weigh in themselves, but they seem to have the courage to kick someone out who does.

Also, Dehlin has expressed his desire to have someone attend his trial to take notes or to tape-record the proceedings. The church has responded by denying his requests to have a note-taker and requiring the signing of a form that says that he will not record the trial (even though Utah law allows recording conversations, even without the consent of others present).

There is something just not right to me about an organization holding a trial for somebody and insisting that it be done in secret when that person wants it done in the open, especially when that person is concerned about abuses of power by that organization. I mean, I understand protecting confidentiality if that is what the person wants but the insistence of keeping things secret when the person on trial does not wish it does not seem right.

Where do I stand?

I don't believe the foundational truth claims of the LDS church. I also believe in an inalienable right to total authenticity for all people. I don't ever expect someone to hide their true thoughts and feelings from me and I reserve the right to share mine whenever I want to, in public or not.

It has been difficult to get clear information on exactly what John did that is considered "apostasy". From what I can tell, though, I am guilty of all of the same things that John is, just on a smaller scale, since I just have fewer people reading my thoughts. I don't agree with the church is many areas and don't believe it's truth claims, and I express myself publicly on my blog. Am I guilty of apostasy?

When I listened to Elder Uchtdorf's talk, "Come, Join with Us," I honestly thought I was still welcome despite my disbelief and speaking my honest thoughts but recent excommunications have me thinking that I am not. For the first time, I am actually thinking of writing a letter to have my name removed from the membership records of the church. I'm not sure I believe in Jesus anymore but I am pretty familiar with the New Testament and I just can't see Jesus handling things the way things are being handled by LDS church leaders these days. In fact, wasn't there a story in the New Testament of a trial being held in the middle of the night to avoid scrutiny? I wouldn't be surprised if there was a request for a note-taker that was denied for that one as well.

Edit: My wife pointed out that while I stated above that "the helping hand of the LDS church was nowhere to be found," that actually isn't true. There were some kind LDS friends who did reach out to me and I am very grateful for that. The LDS church is full of very kind people and I need to acknowledge that.

What I was trying to express with that statement was my frustration to a lack of official answers for difficult questions. For example, if D&C 132 speaks of polygamy only in the context of men marrying multiple virgins, what in the Hell was Joseph Smith doing marrying Orson Hyde's wife while Hyde was on a mission to Palestine? That is the type of question I don't expect the brethren to try and tackle any time soon because I don't think there is any possible good answer. The mere fact that it needs to be asked is incredibly troubling. Add to this the fact that many people find out about this stuff from somewhere other than the church (usually critics) and you get many people who feel basically that the church purposely withheld information to keep them in, and there is a very strong feeling of betrayal.

So I recognize that John is attempting to shame the church publicly and that they have every right to kick him out of the church, but I have this pipe dream where Thomas S. Monson gets up next conference and says, "Folks, there are lots of people out there who find out some of our historical quirks at a late age, things like Joseph marrying his friend's wives, his own teen foster daughters, Brigham Young endorsing slavery, etc. etc. and they are kind of angry that they only found this out after decades of dedicated service to the church. Frankly, we as leaders could have done a better job of preparing people for the digital age. Please be understanding and kind to people who lose their faith in Joseph Smith." Why haven't they already done this? Do they deserve some shame for not doing something like this? Instead we get Elder Andersen's backhand slap comparing us to Judas. I hope that the church can improve on this some day but I have grown weary of waiting.

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