Mormon who runs website for faith questions faces discipline
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A lifelong Mormon well-known for running a website that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith said Thursday he is set to be kicked out of the religion.
John Dehlin of Logan said a regional church leader informed him Wednesday night that a disciplinary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25, at which Dehlin is likely to be censured or excommunicated.
Excommunication is rare and amounts to the harshest punishment available for a church member.
Dehlin said he was told last year that his website Mormonstories.org and his public support of same-sex marriage were reasons he is being accused of apostasy, defined by the church as "repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine."
Dehlin has released letters from the church leader that were given to him in August and this month. The letters focus on Dehlin's questioning of key church doctrine, the forum he provides via the website for doubters, and him becoming an ordained minister in another faith.
The documents do not mention his support for gay marriage.
Dehlin says he would like to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but won't give up the website or pull back his support for gays and lesbians. He has faced church discipline multiple times over the past decade.
"I still love the church, I still love Mormonism," Dehlin said. "But I would certainly rather be excommunicated than violate my conscience."
Officials with the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement they won't discuss Dehlin's case out of privacy concerns.
Spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that church leaders have clearly spelled out the reasons for the discipline in letters to Dehlin, leaving it up to Dehlin to release the documents.
The latest letter, dated Jan. 8 from regional church leader Bryan King, is only three paragraphs long and says that after carefully weighing activity on Dehlin's social media sites, King decided to convene the upcoming disciplinary council. He invited Dehlin to participate and bring witnesses and other evidence for his case.
A previous letter from August shows King calling on Dehlin to apologize for false statements he has made about God, Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. It also asks him to stop running the forum for people to criticize the church and refrain from promoting groups that push doctrines contrary to Mormon beliefs.
Dehlin said King and another church leader have verbally mentioned his support of gay rights and the group Ordain Women as reasons for concern, even though they are not in the letters.
Dehlin's hearing comes seven months after the church excommunicated Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, a prominent Mormon women's group that staged demonstrations in a push for women to be allowed to join the faith's lay clergy.
That move sent ripples throughout Mormon communities around the country and was described by scholars as boundary maintenance and a warning to others.
Scholars say Kelly and Dehlin are the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993, when the church disciplined Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and temporarily kicking out a sixth person.
Dehlin, 45, is a married father of four who has been a Latter-day Saint his entire life. He is a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high-tech industry.
Dehlin said he has no regrets, especially about the website he launched in 2005 to help Latter-day Saints suffering in silence. He called excommunication a century-old solution to a modern problem.
"The church is losing a lot of members because they discover these difficult issues," Dehlin said. "The church has reached a breaking point: they don't know what else to do other than cut off the sources of information. It's a desperate move."