We have members in the church with a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues, but … in our view it doesn’t become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, trying to get others to follow them, to draw others away, trying to pull people out of the church, or away from its teachings and doctrines. —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
SALT LAKE CITY — The founder of the Mormon Stories podcasts announced Tuesday that he has been excommunicated from the LDS Church for apostasy.
John Dehlin, who had criticized senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and spread what his local church leader called "false concepts" about the faith, made the announcement in a press release Tuesday morning and on the KUER radio program, "RadioWest."
North Logan Utah Stake President Bryan King convened a church disciplinary council for Dehlin on Sunday night after eight months of correspondence and meetings with Dehlin. King delivered a letter to Dehlin late Monday with the council's decision, and Dehlin distributed it to the media.
"The council concluded," King wrote, "that you were in apostasy on the following issues — your teachings disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ; your statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction; your statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints as being the true church with power and authority from God."
King noted that doubts and questions were not the reason for the decision, but that Dehlin crossed a line when he spread what King characterized as "teachings" widely via the Internet, and that Dehlin had told King he would not stop.
Dehlin didn't respond to requests for an interview with the Deseret News. He told KUER that he will continue to consider himself a Mormon though separated from certain church activity.
"This is a very troubling and sad process. It's very emotional," he said, adding, "I see this as a sort of procedural and bureaucratic decision that doesn't have much effect other than some very specific things related to my direct relationship to the church at this time. I'm still very much a Mormon in my view."
Dehlin said that ever since he purchased the microphone to start Mormon Stories 10 years ago — before Prop 8 and Ordain Women — he felt excommunication was a possibility if not an inevitability.
"I'm more surprised it's taken this long, frankly," he told KUER.
In the past month, however, Dehlin and some LDS bloggers jousted over the real reasons for his disciplinary council. He issued a press release in January contending his support and advocacy for civil same-sex marriages and priesthood ordination for women played a major part in King's decisions to convene the council. He praised newspaper headlines that focused on those issues.
Some LDS bloggers cried foul over Dehlin's characterization, saying he was misrepresenting King. Dehlin then seemed to backtrack, saying he had never claimed gay marriage and female ordination were the main causes for the discipline.
The conflict centered on Dehlin's Aug. 7 meeting with King. Dehlin released 37 pages of notes Tuesday from that meeting.
Bloggers like Nathaniel Givens argued Dehlin was using marriage and ordination to angle for greater publicity. Givens pointed out that, in an Aug. 11 letter also released by Dehlin, King wrote, "I fear that in my willingness to engage in a discussion on all of the issues that you chose to address during our lengthy conversations, the direction of my true concerns may have not been clear."
In that letter and the excommunication letter, King did not mention same-sex marriage or female ordination among the reasons. Dehlin's press release Tuesday insisting that they were factors prompted a statement from the LDS Church.
The statement said that church discipline is a local issue, but the church reserves the right to respond when a person decides to make the process public.
"In this case," the statement said, "attempts have been made to create the impression that the disciplinary council convened on Sunday which has resulted in a loss of church membership or excommunication of Mr. Dehlin arose largely because of his views on same-sex marriage and priesthood ordination for women. Although his stated positions on those subjects are not consistent with the church’s teachings, they were not cited in the local leader’s letter delivered to Mr. Dehlin on February 9."
The church's statement also quoted King's letter that the excommunication was not a result of Dehlin's doubts. King acknowledged Dehlin's free-speech right to openly state his opinions and "criticize the church and its doctrine and persuade others to his cause."
"But you do not have the right," King added, "to remain a member of the church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that church teachings are in error."
Senior general authorities of the church repeatedly have said questions or expressions of doubt are normal in a journey of faith, as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency did during an address at the church's October 2013 general conference.
Apostasy doesn't arise unless questioning leads to criticism of church leaders and efforts to draw others away from the church.
In late January, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made a similar statement during an appearance on the Trib Talk webcast sponsored by The Salt Lake Tribune.
“We have members in the church with a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues," Elder Christofferson said, "but in our view it doesn’t become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, trying to get others to follow them, to draw others away, trying to pull people 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 a particular action to support a group.”
In a Facebook post, Dehlin said he appreciated Elder Christofferson's statement but said it didn't provide him protection because, "I have criticized church leadership publicly."
King drew a similar line in his letter to Dehlin.
"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."
Dehlin said he now has been through three formal church investigations in the past 10 years, during which time he has published recordings of sacred LDS temple ordinances and created Mormon Stories chapters around the world as support organizations for people leaving the church, according to MormonVoices, an independent group that responds to misrepresentations about the LDS Church.
Dehlin's excommunication began with events early last year.
At that time, according to Dehlin, he asked the bishop of his LDS ward to no longer consider him a part of the congregation. King was the new president of the North Logan Utah Stake to which Dehlin's former ward belongs. A stake president oversees multiple congregations, known as wards, in a geographical area, similar to a Catholic diocese.
In June, King sent Dehlin a letter saying he was aware of Dehlin's request and also saying he had seen Dehlin's updated bio on his website, where he said he no longer believed "many of the fundamental LDS Church truth claims."
Those two actions, King said in the letter, prompted him to seek information from Dehlin about whether he wanted to remain a member of the church. If he did, King wrote, then a disciplinary council was warranted.
Disciplinary councils in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are called for various reasons. When used to address apostasy, they follow counseling by a local church leader who asks the member to stop. Councils can result in no action, probation, disfellowshipment or excommunication.
Also in June, a bishop in Virginia excommunicated Kate Kelly, a founder of Ordain Women, for her efforts to recruit others to her belief women should be ordained to the priesthood.
Dehlin, a doctoral student in psychology at Utah State University, said he did not wish to rescind his membership but continued to disseminate his views about what he calls LDS Church "truth claims" on his Mormon Stories podcasts and website and through the Open Stories Foundation, which he created as open forums about "Mormon-related faith crises."
In an August 2014 letter Dehlin posted on Facebook, King told Dehlin he needed to renounce those specific "false concepts" and stop providing a forum for people critical of the church and promoting groups that espouse doctrines contrary to the church.
Dehlin declined. Tuesday, he told KUER he wants the LDS Church to create safe spaces he said exist in other faith traditions for people who don't accept "many of the literalistic and absolutist claims" like the historicity of scripture or the stories of the resurrection or Noah.
Dehlin also expressed appreciation for King and asked supporters to respect King for his "professionalism and commitment to LDS Church leadership and policies."
Dehlin can appeal the decision to the First Presidency of the church within 30 days. If he does not, or if the appeal is denied, excommunication generally lasts at least one year, but King said to return to the church Dehlin would need to renounce his claims about God, Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon and the church's priesthood authority, and express sorrow for those impacted by them.
King invited Dehlin and his family to continue to attend church meetings, but he may not give a talk, offer a public prayer, participate in sustaining church officers or partake of the sacrament.
Dehlin spoke to supporters and media for 13 minutes on Sunday night after the disciplinary council, which lasted more than three hours.
Dehlin called for civil discussion, and he asked supporters to take down signs critical of his church leaders. He also expressed gratitude to the church, saying it had provided a community that had been important to him.
"I feel like Mormonism is my heritage," he told KUER Tuesday. "It's my culture, it's my tribe, it's my identity. I don't believe my Mormonism can be taken from me by a process like this. Mormonism is bigger than the LDS Church... I still claim the title 'Mormon.'"
Still, he said Sunday, he must now must find "new truth, new community, new growth, new joy."
"That is the task that is ahead of us," he added, "not to continue fighting the church or its leadership. Not to continue discussing and complaining about the same old, tired scripts. Even though that is an important part of the process. But at some point it becomes time to move on."
Dehlin said he will continue his Mormon Stories podcasts. He also is developing a nonprofit organization that he said would support Mormons and people of other religious traditions through their journeys, either to find ways to remain in their faith or to leave and find meaning outside.
On KUER, Dehlin told people not to leave the church for him, said his goal is to be 100 percent positive and expressed a feeling of freedom that he no longer needs to listen to church leaders at general conference or care about steps taken by the church.