News this past week included the excommunication of LDS church member John Dehlin, whose greatest crime, it appears, was voicing his questions in a snarky way.
If you want to read a very interesting read, you can view the press release here.
Most of the following is based on this release.
On the face of it, based on the letters Mr. Dehlin received from his leaders within the LDS church, it would appear that Mr. Dehlin was verbally bashing the teachings with phrases such as “would rather roll around in thumb tacks than ever teach or support that notion”, and “the probability that God exists is quite low.”
Another mentioned folly of Mr. Dehlin was that he was ordained over the internet to perform a marriage, which according to his accounts, he never did perform. He also offered to resign his ordination.
As I’ve thought this over, in the days since his excommunication, my personal thoughts are that he was really excommunicated because he was an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, and he also was a supporter of the ordain women movement. Both of which have left the LDS church with black eyes.
While I’m sure some people think that his phrasing could have been better, he still maintained membership, still attended church, and still wanted to believe in God. Personally, with the questions that he’s had, of which I’ve shared many, I’m incredibly surprised that he still wished to maintain membership, and to a greater extent that he wanted to believe in God.
The LDS church, at this point, had a great opportunity to embrace Mr. Dehlin. They had the opportunity to nurture his desire to believe in God, and to attempt to answer, or at least help him come to terms. They did not do this. They acted instead as a bitter child would and punished him.
When he asked what he needed to do to maintain membership, he was not given clear answers.
Bryan King: I think you just need to go home and just need to really and sincerely search your heart and think and feel and discuss if this is a direction that you think you can do. If membership in this church is important to you, then I think you will feel the direction you need to go. And I think you’ll know. I really honestly think you’ll know. I don’t think it’s a matter of “oh well should I do this?”, “should I do that?” I honestly think that you will know.
What does that even mean? This in a conversation between Mr. Dehlin and his leadership in the church concerning putting him on ‘probation.’ How is that even fair? Would you say to your child, “among these 20 things you did, there were a handful of things that were wrong, I’m going to sort of touch on what was wrong, but when you ask specifics, I’m not going to give you an answer, BUT, you’d better not do it again! I honestly think that you will know.”?
The mind boggles. Wait, no it doesn’t. In the world of religion, there is nothing if not contradictions in what to do, and what is right and wrong.
One particular gem, Mr. Dehlin, who is asking for clarification, and reaching out to his leadership, is getting non-answers, and in the following particular case, specifically given an answer because the stake president knows he’ll be called out:
John Dehlin: Right. And do you understand why someone would, would struggle with the historicity of the Book of Mormon?
Bryan King: Yes… yes. I do.
John Dehlin: Do you have any sympathies or empathies for someone in that position?
Bryan King: I do, in the sense that I hope that they would, they would try to gain a stronger association or testimony of it.
John Dehlin: That’s not sympathy or empathy with a position. That is a desire for them to change their position. But do you have sympathy or empathy for people who feel like there are serious historical problems with the Book of Mormon?
Bryan King: I do. Because if I don’t say that I do, then you’ll say that I’m not—so…
How can a leader give such non-answers, yet claim any sort of ability to discipline?
So, at the end of the day, leadership decided to excommunicate him from the church, stripping him of any of the benefits of membership. Sure, he can still attend church, but when it comes to participation, he simply cannot. And in a year or so, he can attempt to reapply, I’m sure with the caveat that he’s towed the line.
I believe this is a PR nightmare for the LDS church. His voice, which was previously viewed as a member who had some serious doubts, and may have been poorly phrased, has now been validated. The church, which claims to be a humanitarian organization, has shown its true colors. If you aren’t in line, we won’t work with you. We won’t take you in, in your time of spiritual distress. We’ll kick you out. They claim multiple times in the transcript that he has a ‘forum’, well, he certainly will now.
This comes on the heels of all the controversy over Prop 8 in California, and the excommunication of Ms. Kelly representing the Ordain Women movement, who wasn’t even given the honor of going to the stake level, but was excommunicated by her local bishop, simply because she’s a woman. These events become much more public when the LDS church takes the ‘hard stance.’
Of course, it also could be that Mr. Dehlin was asking questions that there aren’t any good answers to. In the information age, it’s hard to say that the Native Americans are the lost tribe of Israel when it is demonstrably false. It’s hard to talk about steel weapons in a time when forging steel didn’t exist. It’s hard to talk about horses on the North American continent before they were brought over from Europe. All churches are at a point where they must adapt to survive, lest they lose people to evidence that is easily validated, thanks to readily available information.
Something that’s been interesting to me, among the people I know, those that are outraged the most by such this event are the atheists or non-religious. Strange that we are upset by someone being forced from a religion.
You know, for a religion that claims so heavily that Joseph Smith was a martyr, it sure doesn’t seem to remember what that means anymore.