Friday, January 23, 2015

"How in the world in the 21st century is a church asking people not to talk openly about things?"

I struggle to always express things gracefully and diplomatically; regardless, along with Thomas Jefferson "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." So this quote from John Dehlin on the Salt Lake Tribune's "Trib Talk" really resonated with me:

"How in the world in the 21st century is a church asking people not to talk openly about things? And I want to be really clear about something. People say that I'm talking openly about my doubts and disbelief and giving voice to doubters because I'm trying to tear people away from the church. That is so wrong. I'm a mental health professional. I'm a few months away from getting my PhD in clinical and counseling psychology. I counsel Mormons everyday. And what I can tell you is that, by far, probably one of the most damaging aspects of Mormon culture is the fact that they need to keep things hidden, they keep things secret, and they can't openly discuss what they think and what they feel. I think this leads to depression, I think it leads to anxiety, I think it leads ostracization and marginalization, and I think it can even lead to suicide and things more serious. And so it is totally unacceptable for a church leader to say to me "you can support same-sex marriage but you can't speak openly about your support", "you can support Ordain Women but don't ever tell anybody", "you can have doubts, but you can't speak openly about those doubts." I think that's a recipe for mental illness and sadness, and frankly, it doesn't engender a community that's meaningful where people are able to share their heart and their soul with each other. It's not going to be a backbone for the church culturally that's going to lead to vibrance and vitality when an organization like the church starts to use sort of Stalinist techniques or Maoist techniques to clamp down on information, to prevent people from talking, to punish people if they speak openly. That leads to the death of community, to conscience, to people's mental health and well-being, and I would much rather be disciplined than violate my conscience."

29:05--30:31 minute mark

*Also relevant is the story of Sterling McMurrin and David O. McKay: See "Heretical Beliefs and Feeling Welcome in the Church"


Anonymous said...

If we recast the context from religion to employment, then name me one corporation in any modern democracy that would tolerate any employee who consistently and publicly criticized senior management about their values and practices, who actively fostered a forum for dissatisfied customers to counterclaim the product marketing efforts of his or her employer, and even worked part time on the side for a direct competitor (read Universal Life Church minister). No one would think twice about the company that fired that guy. So why does a church get a social black eye for doing likewise?

Anonymous said...

What a great point!
The Church IS a corporation and should be run like one and fire anyone who is insubordinate! Exactly what Christ would do. What an inspired analogy. What a great way to run a religious organization that supposedly follows the teachings of the meek and gentle Lamb.

Anonymous said...

Meek and gentle lamb is at best a caricature of the Christ. He cleansed the temple and spoke of Pharasees with contempt. He stated that only his followers were worthy of being family. He warned those he called to leave family for him and not look back, or be unworthy of him. He refused to preach to Gentiles. He declared that he came to divide asunder and set families against each other. He laid out several conditions for salvation like humility, repentance, baptism, and clean thoughts that only cherry-pickers can see a Jesus of unconditional love. Oh, and let's not forget exactly who the God of the Old Testament really is: there is much too much there to cover comprehensively showing a less than lamb-like exemplar. Sure, he taught us to love one another, too, but casting Christ as only meek is a straw man that fails to serve your best argument.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Jesus was also not above making a rebuke personal by referring to Peter as the Devil. I think a church who revokes the welcome mat from someone who acts the way John Dehlin has is a church well within it's right to claim itself Christian.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been following your blog for many years now. I appreciate your honesty because I have been going through a lot of the same things you have been in regards to the church. If you weren't honest with your feelings then I wouldn't be able to come here and be honest about mine. Seems to me that closing the flow of honest communication stops communication. And why would a church in this day and age want to do that? What's the benefit when nobody speaks and everybody just pretends to agree? I follow your wife's blog too and I haven't seem anything in awhile. Does she feel the same as you?

Kristine A said...

I've been following your blog myself for a while. Thanks for your voice and for sharing it. I agree with this quote - staying silent for 9 months in Rexburg gave me anxiety and depression; I don't have to stuff my views in anyone's face, but they should not be hidden out of fear, either.

Anonymous said...

To the poster who wanted to make an employment/corporation analogy. It doesn't work. The church doesn't pay John a salary, in fact, it's the reverse - members pay the church. If anything, members are the employers, choosing the Church as their employee... that analogy stinks too, but I like the idea of church leaders cast in a servant role instead of CEO's (as government officials should be as well. If you've seen the somewhat recent movie Abraham Lincoln, you've seen what a true public servant he was, not an entitled King-type - which was what Christ was all about as well.)

Our Deification of church leaders has really messed up our views about what it means to be an independent intelligence with a soul and a responsibility for personal revelation and critical, independent thinking and decision making.

Anonymous said...

Making the comparison that the LDS church is the employee of the members who pay the salary of the leaders with tithing carries the implicit presumption that theauthority to call the shots lies with those footing the bill. To me, that sounds as valid as the silly idea that a speeding motorist bears no responsibility for his infraction because he pay the salary of the cop who ticketed him.

CEO said...

In theory, at least, senior management of corporations are responsible to the little guys, the shareholders. CEOs can be fired and often are. Directors can be replaced. At least in theory, they are accountable and replaceable.

The Brethren are not.

The Corp. Argument is a bad one.

Anonymous said...

No, senior executives are not accountable to the little guys -- they are accountable to other senior executives and large shareholders, often the same people. When a vote of no confidence is taken on the leadership of a CEO, or when a proxy fight results in a shift of chairmanship, or any of the other sundry way whereby corporate leadership changes hands, it is done where the large shareholders meet in quorum. You may hold stock in the company through your 401.k, but I assure you that you are not invited to that party. Half of Joseph's original 12 were ousted, as have been various other apostles and seventies since the restoration, but none were excommunicated by the people at large. All were tossed by those with commission to do so dispensed by senior executive management of the church. In other words, the corporation model fits fairly well after all.

Jettboy said...

God is a King, not a President. He appoints people to do His bidding, who then leads His church. They are by revelation the judges of the Church membership. We are a Royal priesthood, and the members His subjects. Democracy is a secular institution, religion is a dictatorship. That is why a church in the 21st C is able to do what someone like John thinks is wrong. I would like ONE scripture where a plebeian member questioned an authority of the church (and Peter and Paul doesn't count because they were both leading authorities) and got away with it. Some of them were struck down by God and died.

CEO said...

Annual shareholder meeting is open to all who own voting class stock, smarty!

Michael said...

This post is very accurate and truthful. Now you have an idea of how it feels to be a gay man in the closet.

Anonymous said...

CEO: Granted your point, annual shareholder meetings are open to those with voting class stock. However if you carefully parse the development of the corporate analogy sub-thread, the counterpoint to senior management being held accountable to the little guys is that little guys do not commonly own voting class stock. In fact, those that do hold voting class stock are often, again, large shareholders and senior management -- which again -- are often the same individuals, whom I would compare to General Authorities. The little guy, or common church member, with stock in his 401.k will rarely own voting class stock (i.e. priesthood keys) in any corporation of respectable size that has already made its IPO and been publicly traded for years, so the applicability of my original corporate analogy seems to stand unrefuted.

Anonymous said...

Would you advise your clients to publicly blog about their marital and family problems? After all according to you they need to let it all hang out in order to avoid mental illness.

Anonymous said...

That this is coming from John Dehlin, who pulled every string he could to get Gregory Smith "not to talk openly about things", is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

The point remains that John would rather speak his mind, than have it closed, and from his perspective professionally it leads to mental illness and depression. The Prophet Joseph D&C 134: 4, 10 explicitly states that "we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men." He has his God given rights of expression, V: 10: "religious societies have a right to deal with their members …they can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship."
Brother Dehlin has made a choice: "I would much rather be disciplined than violate my conscience."
The action taken by his local authorities to hold a disciplinary court rather it be excommunication or disfellowship; will not silence Brother Dehlin. This is his God given right. It seems to me that the church feels it will diminish Bro. Dehlins influence by excommunicating him, and will discredit him as an authority in the eyes of members. It will not be so.

Anonymous said...

The number of "Anonymous" commenters on this thread 12/17 - (and nearly all of us, if you note there are no last names and only one "Jettboy" that links to his blog) speaks volumes to the OP's point. There's a real fear of church discipline if speaking one's mind does not align with current church policy.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe it speaks to the fact that Blogger blogs are quicker to post to anonymously.

Clean Cut said...

For the record, it's just as easy to make up a pseudonym as it is to post as "anonymous". It would also make it a lot easier to follow the conversation to respond to specific comments.

All I can think to say is that I'm sad that people are willing to smear a good man in order to prop up the image of the institutional Church. Love will always be greater than fear. John understands that. Many in the church still fear more than love. This witch hunt is evidence of that.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut: I am surprised to see you taken in my Dehlin. Really, when a person makes it his or her mission to assist as many people to leave the church as he can and states very clearly that he does not believe in its basic tenants and openly teaches against what the church teaches, what do you think should happen? No church ought to put up with such betrayal and open opposition.

Anonymous said...

The better analogy is not a corporation but a political action organization like the ACLU. How long do you think the ACLU would allow one of its members to openly teach that she is committed to assist as many people as possible to leave ACLU membership and does not believe the basic values that the ACLU seeks to engender in communities?

Clean Cut said...

Did you watch the full "Trib talk" interview?

It's dishonest to say he has made it his "mission to assist as many people to leave the church as he can."

Each individual is their own moral agent here, and if they choose for themselves to stay in the church he supports them. If people choose for themselves to leave he will support them. He's about helping people make the best and healthiest decision for themselves--and that decision may be different than you or me.

When people turn to Mormon Stories in moments of crisis of faith, the podcast sometimes helps them find their way to a new kind of faith. It promotes understanding and showing love and respect for all people wherever they may be on the belief spectrum. And because I believe in Big Tent Mormonism I believe the Church is strong enough to let people talk freely and openly.

Clean Cut said...

My friend, Marc B, has summarized my thoughts here:

Based on what is publicly known about the situation (which is a lot considering Dehlin released several of the letters from his Stake President), I'm troubled by the developments. While I disagree with Dehlin on a lot, I'm in favor of "big tent" Mormonism and think excommunication should be very rare, particularly for something like "apostasy." Where someone is teaching ideas that diverge from Church orthodoxy, I think it would be better to confront the ideas than try and silence the speaker. I can't see how Dehlin's excommunication here will serve to help him or his family or protect the Church.

Clean Cut said...

Another thoughtful perspective from Jacob B:

"Instead of severing him in all possible ways from the fold, why not rather insist that he should remain, not just because people “like” him can be included and accepted in a broad definition of fellowship, but because it is crucial that we speak about what makes his views so attractive to so many people, why the tradition itself is suffering, and that we can only really work through this as a family, because within a family certain familial obligations hold us together when mutual affection cannot. Hold his feet up to the fire, make him articulate his position more clearly, persuasively, and create spaces for others to do the same. If there is something shallow or repugnant about his views, do the hard work of exposing them as such and continue on in works of love, the fruits of which are the only truly valuable returns for fully living one’s religion. Be confident that the body of Christ is broad enough and deep enough to allow space for such hard work to take place. Excommunication for apostasy is the ultimate ad hominem–we sever the person, but the person’s ideas continue to travel and expand, virtually untouched, and probably given even more momentum if the person is reborn as a martyr.

"In the present age, an age where every nook and cranny is exposed and ideas seep through the cracks like water, excommunication for apostasy is a practice whose time has expired, if nothing else than because of its ineffectiveness. We lost an opportunity to do this work of love with Kate Kelly. We lost the opportunity to speak together, argue together, weep together, listen together. Instead, only pain and polarization were the results, and her work did anything but fade away and die. What if, instead of trying to remove them from our sight, (which with the aforementioned access to modern communication technology is truly not possible) we insist that there is no place they can hide, because this house is too expansive, there is too much light, and where they go we will follow? Here is my heart, there is yours. We will argue and sometimes scream at one another, but at the end of the day we sleep in the same house, and the issues that cause you to seem wholly different from me will continue to be present no matter where we exile you to.

"Excommunication for apostasy, in this sense, is the deceptively easy way out. It is a temporary reprieve, a distraction from what is truly at stake. For the Church, it provides the false security of assuming the problem is removed, the Church is safe, the “innocent” are not longer in danger. For the excommunicant, it removes the incentive to continue to do the hard work of working within the family, of having to listen to others who disagree, of having to revise and negotiate and compromise and tolerate, because that’s what you do in a family. Instead, both entities can now feel free to dig in, put up walls, retreat to pure partisanship. And the work of love, already enormously difficult in the family context, no longer is front and center, but a demolished hope of the past."

Clean Cut said...

Thank you-totally agree.

Clean Cut said...

I've definitely come to appreciate vulnerability. The world would be a better place if we could be more vulnerable with each other.

As for my wife, she's amazing. She's the most sympathetic, wise, and compassionate human being I know. Certainly by virtue of being married to me she's been on a journey of her own and has had her eyes opened quite a bit. She doesn't get seasick like I do on the church boat, and she's a lot more tactful and diplomatic than I am and therefore makes a big difference in everyone's life no matter who she comes in contact with.

She hasn't updated her blog as much since Facebook has kind of become more of that forum. However she has gotten the bug lately to be writing more (she has a gift) and is thinking of starting a new blog.

Now and then she worries that I express too much negativity, but I suppose that's to be expected when she's much more of an optimist than I am.

Clean Cut said...

Michael, I have in the last few years become an outspoken LGBT ally. My heart aches because of the fact that this church is such an unsafe place right now for LGBT Saints. We need so much more support, compassion, and a desire to spread better understanding of the sexuality spectrum. There is still way too much ignorance in this church and I look forward to the day when committed and faithful gay couples are welcome to actively participate in our wards and stakes.

I'll throw out a couple things I wrote:

On showing compassion and ceasing judgement:

On marriage equality:

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's quote here has a lot of applications, including our assumptions about biblical teachings or God's feelings about homosexuality:

"As good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?"

Regardless of what people believe about homosexuality, I think we can all agree that family is important, and especially at risk here are LDS youth who are struggling to reconcile what they feel about their own sexual orientation and what they hear loud and clear from the Church. The Family Acceptance Project has put together a best practices manual for LDS families with LGBT children. It's free and definitely worth downloading. Wish the Church would adopt it as a manual:

Jack of Hearts said...

This point seems apt to me.

“Analogies between the church and institutions such as the secular state and the independent university are helpful only to a limited extent, because the church, while it has the features of a human society, is very different in its purpose, origins, and means. Neither the state nor the independent university, at least as conceived in our American tradition, is committed to any substantive set of beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. The state is a community of people willing to live together under the same laws, even though they may vehemently disagree in their philosophies and theologies. The academy is a community of scholars committed to adhere to certain methods of investigation and communication without necessarily sharing any common convictions about the way things are. The church, however, is by nature a society of faith and witness. It exists only to the extent that it continues to adhere to a specific vision of the world—one centered on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Unlike any secular organization, the church has a deposit of faith that must be maintained intact and transmitted to new members. Thus the church cannot accommodate the same kind of ideological pluralism that is acceptable in the secular state or university.”- Avery Dulles, Catholic theologian

Clean Cut said...

I appreciate all the comments, folks. I can see both arguments. I also understand the limitations of comparing a church with a corporation. A church is a faith community. But in reality, the Church ™ behaves exactly like a corporation. Sometimes keeping the bureaucracy humming can get in the way of doing what's best individuals.

The bottom line, to me at least, is that Christ never formed a bureacracy Church ™. His was a church/community that ministered to the needs of individuals--especially those most marginalized in society. It's true that he could get angry at times, but keep in mind that he only got angry when the religious establishment began to act like a bureaucracy. So yes, it's true that Jesus wasn't accepting of everyone and everything. He especially had trouble with bureaucratically-inculcated hypocrites.

Nobody can stretch this case and say that this kind of excommunication is love, Christ-like, and inclusive. "Excommunication in a Mormon setting is the nuclear bomb of Christian excommunications in that it cancels the saving power of the sacraments. When you have the beating of the Catholics in the severity of your censures, it should give you pause. Second, excommunication for heresy is a rare thing in Christianity today. I do not mean to suggest that Mormonism needs to follow Catholicism in its modes of discipline, just that we should recognise the incredible significance of what is being proposed when we speak of excommunication."

Because it's the "nuclear option", I wonder if this is a power we should even allow individual bishops to use. The President of the United States can't even launch a nuclear bomb without multiple codes/authorizations. Depending on the character of the individual stake presidencies and high councils, the decision to use the nuclear option of excommunication is still very subjective, and it worries me. The LDS Church doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to excommunications. (Remember, Helmuth Hübener was excommunicated for risking his life and opposing the Nazi's.)

Clean Cut said...

One great record of aborting plans to excommunicate a heretic deserves praise here, and perhaps should serve as an example to ecclesiastical leaders in the 21st century.

This story is recorded on pages 55-56 in “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.” Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee were moving to excommunicate Sterling McMurrin for his unorthodox beliefs. When President McKay heard about it, he phoned McMurrin and asked for a private meeting. In that meeting, McKay was never critical nor disapproving. He told McMurrin: “They cannot do this to you! They cannot put you on trial!” and that if they did, he (the President of the Church) would be McMurrin’s “first witness”.

McMurrin said: “I should have been censured for being such a heretic, and here President McKay wasn’t even interested in raising a single question about my beliefs, but simply insisted that a man in this Church had a right to believe as he pleased. And he stressed that in several ways… It was really a quite remarkable experience, to have the President of the Church talking in such genuinely liberal terms.”

I love that story. It makes me really love and respect President McKay. Would that we could have more members like him today. And honestly, I don't see why John Dehlin should be treated any differently than Sterling McMurrin. McMurrin was especially critical (and publicly) of the Church's civil rights record. And privately, he didn't believe the Book of Mormon was a historical record and even disbelieved in the divinity of Christ.

Author Greg Prince later elaborated on that McKay/McMurrin experience on a Mormon Stories podcast. He said that during that same visit with Sterling McMurrin, President McKay asked a series of rhetorical questions such as “What is it that a man must believe to be a member of the church? Or what is it that a man is not allowed to believe to stay a member of the Church?”

He didn’t answer either question, but they’re good rhetorical questions. This was in 1954 when McMurrin told McKay that it looked like they were going to try to throw him out of the Church. McKay said that if they do “I will be the first witness in your defense”, and when word of this got out the excommunication charges were dropped. That’s some serious compassion from the President of the Church. And apparently he was as tolerant of those on the far conservative side as he was of those, like McMurrin, on the liberal side. Very cool example of pitching a big tent and welcoming everyone in.

Anonymous said...

There are significant differences between the cases you cite and Dehlin. Dehlin is openly critical of church leaders on multiple issues, and has PUBLICLY stated that he does not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon or any of the faith claims of the LDS Church. McMurrin did not encourage other Latter-day Saints to leave the Church. Dehlin has also misled the media in regards to what the council is actually about.

Dehlin is not LDS by any rational definition and if he had any integrity at all would not portray himself as a Latter-day Saint. There is nothing in Dehlin's philosophy or teachings which are uniquely Latter-day Saint.

The LDS Church does have an interest in who claims membership in their organization and the type of theological and philosophical claims they are making as a member. They have an obligation towards all members to correct and teach. If the alleged member is making claims which are completely in conflict with the organization's aims, and that member has refused to receive and heed the counsel of the Church, the organization has the right to disavow or remove the membership of that individual.

It is ridiculous to argue that the removal of Dehlin's name from the membership records of the LDS Church will cause him any harm whatsoever, because Dehlin has stated repeatedly that he does not believe in ANY of the faith claims of sacral or priesthood authority being held by LDS leadership.

I speculate that the only reasons that Dehlin continues to communicate with his Stake President is either to continue his notoriety or a zeal to challenge the LDS Church. In either case, the LDS Church has no obligation to sustain him in his efforts.

Clean Cut said...

Anonymous, John acknowledged that they're well within their "right" to do it. I just wish they wouldn't.

I once wrote a post about how I wish we'd apply the "Let them worship how, where, or what they may" clause of our Articles of Faith to our own people as well as those outside the faith.

Obviously there will be boundaries, and I don't get to set those boundaries, but I think people who love Mormonism and define their Mormonism on their own terms shouldn't be pushed out for living according to the dictates of their own conscience when on the whole it's helpful to people rather than harmful to them. Naturally, if someone has a fragile testimony then they'll feel harmed. But my testimony is like a jackhammer wanting to dig down and find bedrock truth. I don't really care if I have to shed some of the superficial cultural ideas.

So all in all this just feels so pharisaical to me.

Clean Cut said...

Gina Colvin really summed it up well in her post "How loving the church can get you hated by the church":

"Lets be clear, in the main those who speak out about the church and sometimes criticise either the culture, the actions or the stance of the organisation largely don’t do so because they are apostate, or are anti-Mormon, anti-Christs, or are seeking to lead people astray. In the main, these are people who love the church and ache for it to be better, and standing up against the LDS behemoth can be heart-breaking. Expelling, shunning and villifying those who ache for the church to better fulfil its promise of goodness and kindness, justice and grace, community amidst diversity, inclusivity, tolerance and charity, honesty and transparency – is nothing short of Orwellian.

"Excommunication is a crude and medieval response to heresy and dissidence. The exasperation that thousands and thousands will be feeling as a result of John Dehlin’s imminent expulsion from the church will have few, if any healthy consequences for the church. The spiritual immaturity of an organisation that is unable to respond with understanding to the discontent of its own is profoundly saddening. I eschew church discipline except for the most grotesque of human evils. Church discipline as a consequence of activism, questioning, and critique is futile because it will only lead to an explosion of dissatisfaction and yet another wave of our friends and family choosing to leave.

"I could not have designed a more successful bad publicity campaign for the church myself. A witch hunt that tracks down and silences popular LDS voices who speak up for a better religious experience runs counter to all natural human feeling and in the long run (as has been the case time after time after time) the LDS institution will find themselves on the bad side of history. They will not find themselves heroes, the church won’t be better for having lost those who can think critically, the faith will not be elevated by John’s expulsion or April’s censuring. Rather we will all find ourselves with years and years – even decades of bad public, and agonised internal feeling to manage.

"A word to LDS Inc. You don’t have enough public credibility or moral authority to win in the competition for hearts and minds writ large. Yes, you might have the silence and the support of the conforming majority within the church who believe the organisation needs no alteration. But if your calculations are made by measuring the feelings of the internal majority your formula is off. In the case of John Dehlin over 160 media organisations have taken John’s story off the wire in the last few days- some of them major news services – and the church comes off in this affair to millions and millions of people (all potential converts) as little other than petty, fearful, and insecure.

"Is this really how Zion is to be established?"

I think you and I simply prefer different answers to that question.

Clean Cut said...

I'm unequivically in favor of giving people space and the freedom to be honest to themselves about their faith and convictions, trusting and empowering them to follow the dictates of their own conscience.

Is there a double standard to the saying "do what is right let the consequence follow" if one trusts their own moral compass about what is "right" more than LDS leaders/authority?

In the interest of full disclosure, I met John Dehlin in person and found him to be a very good man. I was impressed and the whole conference left a lasting impression of goodness on me. It was a genuine Zion experience, which I wrote about here:

But instead of making this specifically about John, maybe we can steer the dialogue towards the questions in the OP.

Brad K (from BCC) also raised some good questions that get to the heart of what I'm most interested in here:

"Should a modern church be excommunicating people for heresy at all? How much of a religion can one disavow with a reasonable expectation of retaining good standing in said religion? How much criticism of the church is too much to remain in communion?"

Anonymous said...

If John Dehlin has a close friend who is a current apostle, he could get away with sexual abuse, apostacy, or anything else. They are great at protecting their friends but quick to destroy those whom they perceive to be enemies.