Welcome to MormonVoices. Our volunteers respond to public discussions and comments from public figures that misrepresent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We encourage and direct Mormons to get involved in online discussions and thereby help shape the public understanding and perceptions of the Church. Please join your voice with ours, and become a member of MormonVoices.

MormonVoices is an independent organization that is supportive of, but not
controlled by or affiliated with, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Excommunication of John Dehlin

We could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.

~President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Background on Apostasy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to invite souls to “come unto Christ” through the ordinances of salvation (baptism, confirmation, etc.), which are administered by the Priesthood authority it holds. As such, the process of excommunication, which cancels the effects of Priesthood ordinances, is never taken lightly. Members at risk of excommunication are given clear counsel on how to conform their actions to church standards and are lovingly encouraged to do so. In some instances, that counsel is rejected, and in cases where a person’s behavior is inconsistent with continued membership in the Church, excommunication serves to recognize or ratify a process that has already taken place. Such is the case with John Dehlin.1

Because the Church takes the confidentiality of such proceedings very seriously, the Church usually does not reveal the details underlying the removal of an individual from membership. This sometimes leaves publicity-seeking individuals free to create a narrative that is seldom countered by the Church. However, Dehlin has provided a very public record of both his actions against the Church, and his interactions with his leaders that clearly identifies the actual reasons for his removal from membership.

A History of Patient and Timely Guidance

In the case of John Dehlin, his actions came to the attention of his local ecclesiastical leaders in 2007, when his Mormon Stories podcast increasingly featured interviews with openly hostile critics of the Church such as Grant Palmer and Anne Wilde. According to Dehlin, even though he was raising questions about the Church, his leaders took no action against him at that time.

As Dehlin’s influence grew, he initiated organizations around the United States and other parts of the world known as “chapters” of his Mormon Stories organization. “Mormon Stories Retreats” were also initiated. These chapters and retreats encouraged individuals who were in the process of leaving the Church and abandoning their faith to gather together for support as opposed to turning to Church leaders for spiritual counsel and support. Testimonials of disbelief were common in such meetings, and the organization served to provide a church-like setting so as to ease the social aspects of departure from the faith.

John Dehlin also co-founded a website that was originally designed to assist individuals who no longer believed in basic tenets of the LDS faith in maintaining their social ties to the Church through deceitful tactics, such as lying to Bishops about their commitment to the Church.

In 2011, Dehlin’s public and private actions again came to the attention of his local leaders. His stake president at the time (stake president is a position of ecclesiastical responsibility over several local congregations), Mark Jensen, took approximately one hour each week from his busy schedule as a businessman, father, and leader of several thousand local Latter-day Saints to personally counsel with Dehlin and to help him with personal struggles and his public actions. Dehlin at the time publicly expressed concern about his standing within the Church and he solicited testimonials from individuals he had helped remain socially in the Church to bolster an argument that he was not leading people out of the Church. This process continued into 2012 when Dehlin was permitted to perform the baptism of his own son who had reached the eligible age for baptism.

John Dehlin’s ambiguous relationship with the Church drew fire from its critics as well. Between 2012 and 2014, Dehlin responded to criticisms from vocal ex-members of the Church who had recently withdrawn public and financial support for his foundation, claiming that Dehlin had ceased to be true to himself. In response to these accusations, Dehlin resumed open criticism of the LDS Church by publishing recordings of sacred temple ordinances which members are instructed not to discuss outside the temple, renewed interviews with prominent Church critics such as Simon Southerton and Brent Metcalf, and provided publicity to organizations that undermined the Church or taught doctrine contrary to the doctrines of the Church.

In January 2014, Dehlin wrote a letter to his local congregational leader, Bishop Hunt, and expressed a desire to not be contacted by local members or leaders, and that he no longer be considered a member of the ward (congregation). In that same time period, a new stake president was appointed named Bryan C. King. President King reached out to Dehlin in an attempt to better understand his intent in light of: his request that he not be considered a member of his ward; his public statements of disbelief; and to express concern about the impact his actions and public statements were having on other members of the Church in his area. In a letter dated June 7, 2014, President King expressed love and concern for Dehlin, and offered to meet with him personally to discuss the intent of his email to Bishop Hunt.2 President King sought clarification regarding whether Dehlin had intended to voluntarily withdraw from membership in the Church, or if he would rather participate in a disciplinary council for apostasy (a hearing whose outcome is not pre-determined). Implied in the letter was the concern that, absent a voluntary withdrawal from membership, the disciplinary council would be necessary to protect the faith of Church members in the area who might be drawn away as a result of Dehlin’s public expressions of disbelief. The letter ended with the statement, “I have a deep love for you and your family. I am very willing to confer with you in person about these issues. I hope you will carefully consider your options. If you choose not to meet with me I want you to know my love for you and your family will remain.” Dehlin and Bryan King apparently had one direct meeting following this letter.

Immediately following receipt of this letter, Dehlin issued a press release and solicited public interviews claiming that he was being threatened with excommunication for apostasy as a result of his public positions on LGBT and gender issues. While nowhere mentioned in any communications by his leaders, Dehlin attempted to associate his long process of disaffection from the Church with the pending disciplinary action of a Bishop in Washington DC regarding a woman named Kate Kelly who had founded an organization whose stated purpose was to pressure the Church into changing its practice of giving priesthood leadership responsibility to males. By so doing, Dehlin associated his own seemingly inevitable apostasy with a social issue that was highly visible at the time in an apparent attempt to draw national media attention to himself.

In August of 2014, Bryan King sent another letter to John Dehlin again expressing love and concern for his spiritual welfare.3 He expressed his own personal, spiritual witness of key foundational beliefs of the Church and expressed the opinion that public statements by Dehlin on the internet and elsewhere were “in direct contradiction to the fundamental doctrines of the Church.” King also noted that Dehlin had widely disseminated these views and had provided a forum for others to express the same. He informed Dehlin that repentance required not merely a cessation of offending behavior, but an active attempt to correct the wrongs committed. As such, Dehlin was given four conditions for continued membership in the Church.

  1. He had to publicly renounce and apologize for the false concepts he had widely expressed regarding God, Jesus Christ, the atonement, the restoration of the Gospel, and the Book of Mormon.
  2. He had to cease providing a forum for any person who is critical of Church doctrine.
  3. He had to stop promoting groups or organizations that espouse doctrines contrary to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  4. He had to resign his status as an ordained minister of another faith. (Dehlin had signed up to be a minister with the Universal Life Church so he could perform marriages.)

Bryan King then pledged his support and guidance to work through this process. He then wrote, “I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member in good standing.” Barring acceptance of these conditions, Bryan King expressed that it would then be necessary to convene a disciplinary council.

By the close of 2014, Dehlin had not only refused to make any type of public apology, but he actively sought to increase publicity of his actions by seeking additional spotlight through press releases and public interviews where he attempted to reframe the issue as being solely about LGBT and gender issues . His only action in accordance with the conditions set out by Bryan King was that Dehlin resigned his status as an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.

As a result, a church disciplinary council was held on February 8 of this year, and John Dehlin was removed from the membership records of the Church.

Accordingly, a church disciplinary council was held on the evening of February 8, 2015. The next day, on the 9th of February, John Dehlin was removed from the membership records of the Church.4 In the letter announcing the council’s decision of apostasy, President King cited:

  1. “Your teachings disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ.”
  2. “Your statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction.”
  3. “Your statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being the true Church with power and authority from God.”

King noted also that Dehlin had spread these teachings widely via the Internet and had stated his intention to continue doing so. King also emphasized that action was not taken merely for Dehlin’s opinions or doubts:

I want you to know, Brother Dehlin, that this action was not taken against you because you have doubts or because you were asking questions about church doctrine. Rather, this decision has been reached because of your categorical statements opposing the doctrine of the Church, and their wide dissemination via your Internet presence, which has led others away from the Church.

I also want you to know that I acknowledge your right to criticize the Church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause. Our Heavenly Father has given us moral agency to decide how we will live our lives and cherished free speech rights in this country allow you to openly state your opinions. But 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.

More Than “Just Asking Questions”

Interested observers in and out of the Church should be aware that John Dehlin’s behavior extends far beyond simply “asking questions.” Rather, he has drawn certain conclusions, and then has for years publicly promoted those opinions and spread them within the Church and to the public. In so doing, he has actively undermined the Church and its leaders, and encouraged others to follow him to a state of disbelief. And rather than highlighting LGBT advocacy or support for the ordination of women to the priesthood, his stake president’s letter does not specifically mention these issues at all, and instead listed the following claims and actions by Dehlin:

  • Claims that God likely does not exist;
  • Criticism of the doctrines of the resurrection and Christ’s atonement;
  • Attacks upon the idea of a restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith;
  • Claims that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction;
  • Claims that Church leaders are motivated only by money and power;
  • Deciding to be an ordained minister of another faith;
  • Providing a forum for others to criticize the Church.5

Dehlin has also repeatedly made it clear that he remained in the Church in part so that he could more easily influence it and its members to his way of thinking.6 Dehlin seems to be aware of the predominantly critical and negative nature of his writings on the LDS Church. In 2010 he confided to an audience of hostile ex-members “I would guess that many more people have left the church than have stayed because of my Internet work – and I’m perfectly happy if they’re happy.”7 Much of his online activity adopts the role of “exit-counselor” as he moves members away from belief.8 John states in his 2014 Mormon Stories End-of-Year Update that his goal moving forward is to “serve/support those who those [sic] transitioning away from Mormon orthodoxy.”9 No organization can be expected to permit someone who claims membership to simultaneously seek to undermine the organization and its goals and disparage it.

What Is “Apostasy”?

As used in this context, apostasy consists of “repeatedly act[ing] in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”10

John Dehlin’s behavior clearly meets this standard. For example, he provided audio files regarding LDS temple ceremonies—which are regarded as both private and sacred—to an audience of hundreds, encouraging them to share them further.11 He later made such files public.12 He also applauded and encouraged the distribution of deceptive “pass-along cards” that used the Church’s logo and typeface, apparently intended to give the impression that the Church supported same-sex marriages.13 He refers readers to overtly anti-Mormon works,14 and declares that vintage anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner “were right. About pretty much everything.”15

Apostasy: More Than Just Having an Opposing View on Social Issues

Other members of the Church have opposed the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage or the ordination of women. However, John Dehlin has done far more than this about matters which the Church regards as foundational. He has publicly opposed many of the core doctrines of the Church.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, one of the twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the following on this topic.

We have members, individual members in The Church, with a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues…. In our view it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, if that’s a deliberate and a persistent effort, and trying to get others to follow them. Trying to draw others away. Trying to pull people, if you will, 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 particular action to support a group, Affirmation or any of the others that you have named.16

A small sample of Dehlin’s statements is provided below.

Opposing Church Doctrine: God and Jesus Christ

  • “I think the probability that Jesus actually really lived and was resurrected is actually really low. And I’m actually not invested in that.”17
  • “All I can say is… if God and Jesus really do exist… I believe that they have a lot of ‘splaining to do. Especially if they endorse the stories in the Bible, and the LDS Church as the one true church.”18

Opposing Church Scripture: Book of Mormon

  • “The Book of Mormon is fiction. There is no other plausible explanation (in my view). Joseph (along with whomever) simply made it up.”19
  • “What I can say for sure is that… [t]he Book of Mormon is not a translation of gold plates provided by an ancient American civilization via an angel (which it claims to be).”20
  • “[A]nyone willing to fairly review the evidence, with an open mind, will conclude that the Books of Mormon and Abraham are NOT what they claim to be. At all. They are not translated ancient records. They are fiction. Authored by Joseph Smith.”21
  • “[I]t’s incumbent upon all of us, when we speak of these books, to openly acknowledge that they are not translations of ancient records, as they claim. At their core, they are based on a deception.”22
  • “[T]he evidence against [the Book of Mormon] as [a] translation… of ancient documents is OVERWHELMING to anyone who is objective.”23

Opposing Other Core Church Truth Claims

  • “I… consider it to be a very low probability that the LDS church, Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon are exactly what they (the church) claim them to be.” 24
  • “I am not convinced that these LDS ordinances are required for salvation in heaven. I simply do not believe in the notion that LDS rituals are uniquely legitimate in God’s eyes.”25
  • “The church’s exclusive truth claims are not credible. At all. Not even a tiny bit. As in… there’s gravity… the earth revolves around the sun… and the BOM [is] not [a] translation… of ancient documents. It has become that clear/obvious to me.”26

Attacks on Joseph Smith

  • Joseph Smith demonstrates a “behavior pattern of claiming fraudulent translations.”27
  • “[I]t’s okay to look at Warren Jeffs and say what an evil person. What a bad, evil, despicable man. Or Jim Jones. Or pick some kind of cult leader that we all feel comfortable demonizing, right? David Koresh, right? Why is Joseph different than that?”28

Use of Church Membership to Gain an Audience

John Dehlin has long used his membership in the Church to assuage the concerns of his audience. For years, he used his status as a temple-recommend holder to deflect criticism.29 Temple recommends are issued to members of the Church who meet certain standards of worthiness and belief and declare such to their bishop. When no longer possessing a recommend, he continued to tell his audience that he was “temple worthy,”30 and that his local Church leaders did not disapprove of what he was doing, thereby engendering trust in his audience under false pretenses.31 Some of those hostile to the Church have publicly worried that Dehlin will be less effective at spreading doubt were he to lose his Church membership.32

Dehlin has also actively organized large groups of dissenters, some from within the Church. As he reports in a press release from 2012:

The Mormon Stories podcast audience has now grown to 10,000 – 70,000 downloads per episode. Over 50 Mormon Stories communities across the United States meet together for safe, authentic discussions of Mormonism. International communities include Germany, Sweden, the U.K., the Netherlands, Japan, Latin America, and Brazil.33

His recent statements indicate that he is going to increase these efforts: “I will be teaming… to provide additional information, comfort, and support to Mormons in transition. The goal will be to help provide information, community, resources, and support for those transitioning away from the current view of LDS orthodoxy and towards greater health and well-being.”34

Dehlin has clearly announced his intention to set up a counter-movement within the Church—which he blames for impairing “health and well-being”—and until now he has used his Church membership to do so.

Conclusion

The loss of any person’s membership is cause for regret. The evidence of John Dehlin’s deliberate apostasy is, however, extensive and long-standing. He will continue to be free to make whatever claims he wishes about the Church, but he will no longer be free to use his membership as a cover for his efforts to alter Church practices and doctrines with which he no longer agrees.

All voluntary organizations, such as clubs and churches, have a right to define who they will accept as members, and which actions render individuals ineligible for ongoing membership. The usual period of excommunication is one year – after which a person may seek membership again if genuine repentance and contrition can be demonstrated. Should John Dehlin’s behavior change, he would be welcome to again become a member of the Church.

Notes

[1] To learn more about Church disciplinary councils, see the FairMormon FAQ.

[2] Bryan King, letter to John Dehlin, 7 June 2014.

[3] Bryan King, letter to John Dehlin, 11 August 2014.

[4] “Church Responds to John Dehlin’s Public Comments”, Church Newsroom, 10 February 2014.

[5] Bryan C. King, letter to John Dehlin, 7 August 2015.

[6] “I stay [in the Church] because maintaining my membership increases my ability and influence to effect positive change within the church.” [John Dehlin, “Why I Stay,” Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium 2012.]

[7] John Dehlin, Exmormon Forum, post on Benson thread, 15 December 2010 (10:11 AM).

[8] See Gregory L. Smith, “Dubious Mormon Stories,” Mormon Interpreter Foundation (2012), 9, 64–66, 80–85.

[9] 2014 Mormon Stories End-of-Year Update, at the 40-minute mark.

[10] Discussed in James E. Faust, “Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign (November 1993). See also “Why would someone be disciplined by the Church?,” Church Newsroom (no date; accessed 16 December 2014).

[11] “Not ready to share it on a public site. I’m fine if folks share this with family or friends, or in private groups. I’d prefer it not be shared publicly.” Dehlin does not acknowledge that publishing links for hundreds of readers and allowing them to share with friends and family is making it public. [John Dehlin, post on Mormon Stories Facebook wall, 12 February 2014.]

[12] John Dehlin, “500: Tom Phillips and the Second Anointing,” post at MormonStories, 15 January 2015, 8:16 am.

[13] John Dehlin, Facebook post, 28 September 2014.

[14] John Dehlin on Runnells, Facebook post, 18 June 2014. For a review of these claims see “A FairMormon Analysis of “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony.” Dehlin also endorses hostile authors Fawn Brodie and Grant Palmer. [On Brodie, see Smith, “Dubious,” 50; on Palmer, 46–50.]

[15] https://www.facebook.com/johndehlin/posts/767299599519. For more on Dehlin’s praise of the Tanners, see Smith, “Dubious,” 14–16.

[16] D. Todd Christofferson, Trib Talk, January 28, 2015 http://www.sltrib.com/news/2112602-155/tomorrow-at-115-pm-lds-apostles at 9:15.

[17] John Larsen and Zilpa Larsen, “Episode 180: John Dehlin,” podcast interview with John Dehlin, 2 January 2012, http://www.mormonexpression.com, 16:10.

[18] John Dehlin, “Michael Otterson blows it,” Facebook post, 15 April 2011.

[19] John Dehlin, Mormon Stories Facebook post, 27 March 2014.

[20] John Dehlin, Facebook Post, 15 December 2014.

[21] John Dehlin, Facebook Post, 15 December 2014.

[22] John Dehlin, Facebook Post, 15 December 2014.

[23] John Dehlin, Facebook Post, 15 December 2014.

[24] John Dehlin, “My Facebook Comments Policy,” Facebook post, 2 April 2012.

[25] John Dehlin, “Questions and Answers,” 25 June 2014.

[26] John Dehlin, Facebook Post, 15 December 2014.

[27] John Dehlin, “Questions and Answers,” 25 June 2014.

[28] John Dehlin, “487: An Outsider’s View of Joseph Smith — Alex Beam’s ‘American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church,’,” (15 July 2014), approx. 59:00 mark.

[29] John Dehlin, “What Is Your Status Now In The Church?,” 14 April 2009, archived web snapshot as of 1 February 2010 (accessed 11 November 2011); johndehlin, comment on “John Dehlin,” 20 May 2010 (7:32 pm).

[30] Larsen and Larsen interview, 20:35

[31] John Dehlin, “What Is Your Status Now In The Church?,” 14 April 2009.

[32] See examples in Smith, “Dubious,” 58–63.

[33] Mormon Stories, Press release (8 June 2012) .

[34] John Dehlin, Press release, 15 January 2015.

Don't panic! You are in the right place!

MDL.org is now MormonVoices.org

Mormon Defense League is now “Mormon Voices” and our new URL is www.mormonvoices.org. You have automatically been forwarded to our new website. Our mission is the same, but our emphasis will be to help members become involved in critical conversations online.