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Bob Crockett

The New Passive Dissent -- "Mormonstories"

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My commentary on the new style of passive dissent, and John Dehlin ("mormonstories") as an example of it, follow. In summary, I admire John and find him an interesting source of new and timely information, but do not endorse passive dissent in the church as particularly compelling way to criticize or bring change.

Some of you may know that I am a lawyer. I once represented one of California's largest landowners who was in the process, as the California Department of Fish & Game was requiring it do do, of trapping and exterminating a colony of red foxes (not native to California) that a former fur operation on neighboring land had let loose 20 years before. The red foxes were killing local birds which were otherwise skilled in fending off the native grey fox.

Local animal activists engaged in a number of terrorist tactics to stop the trapping, such as firing guns into the offices and homes of my client's executives. I took the deposition of one of them, who had been previously arrested for a firebombing incident at UCLA's medical school where animal experiments were taking place. He testified that whereas he'd never endorse firing guns into occupied structures as a means of dissent and protest, he knew plenty others and had friends who did and would.

I style this as "passive dissent;" not really taking a stand but passively endorsing and providing the means for others to do to the point that passivity seems a little disingenuous.

"Mormonstories" is quite a bit like that, at least to me. I listened to many interviews. I was particularly entertained by Brant Gardner's interview and of the McLays. The Gardner inteview was one mild challenge to another of basic beliefs in Mormon history and doctrine; either the interviewer (Dehlin) lacked an in-depth knowledge of things or he was pretending to do so. But the feeling that came from that interview, and it was very long, was the Dehlin wanted to expose the flaws of Mormon doctrine merely by asking questions that "others" might be raising. And then there was the McLays, with the rather offensive pressure to get them to bear testimony to something that was true when they knew it was false.

It seems to me that if one wants to be a critic of the Church, then dagnabbit, just be a critic. What's the big deal?

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"Mormonstories" is quite a bit like that, at least to me. I listened to many interviews. I was particularly entertained by Brant Gardner's interview and of the McLays. The Gardner inteview was one mild challenge to another of basic beliefs in Mormon history and doctrine; either the interviewer (Dehlin) lacked an in-depth knowledge of things or he was pretending to do so. But the feeling that came from that interview, and it was very long, was the Dehlin wanted to expose the flaws of Mormon doctrine merely by asking questions that "others" might be raising. And then there was the McLays, with the rather offensive pressure to get them to bear testimony to something that was true when they knew it was false.

It seems to me that if one wants to be a critic of the Church, then dagnabbit, just be a critic. What's the big deal?

With all due respect to Dehlin, if you listen to his interview with Michael Coe, you will see that he isn't pretending when it comes to lacking an in-depth knowledge of things. :unsure:

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And then there was the McLays, with the rather offensive pressure to get them to bear testimony to something that was true when they knew it was false.

I listened to that interview (and thought it was very poignant)...I'm not sure what you are referring to, about "bearing testimony" of something they knew was false?

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I listened to that interview (and thought it was very poignant)...I'm not sure what you are referring to, about "bearing testimony" of something they knew was false?

Ahh, he edited that part out after receiving numerous criticisms from anti-Mormons. Check the comments.

Edited by Bob Crockett

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I think there are many things John Dehlin does that are very good and helpful with his sites and podcasts, and others that are missteps. I think the studies he has been presenting concerning why individuals have left the Church are - or at least should be - extremely helpful for Church leadership, and get clear and specific answers in a way that they would not otherwise generally have received sitting in a Bishop's Office.

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I listened to that interview (and thought it was very poignant)...I'm not sure what you are referring to, about "bearing testimony" of something they knew was false?

If I recall, they were talking about how the Mclays were sincere, testimony-bearing believers, and Dehlin prompted them to "bear their testimonies" in the interview, acting as if they still believed. So the words, tone and inflection are all done correctly, but you know they no longer believe, so it's a little disconcerting.

Although it does raise the question of whether or not someone would feel the spirit if you just played the "fake" testimony for them and they didn't know the context. I'm guessing that the answer is "yes", because they are still testifying of something that is true, even though they don't believe it.

Edited by cinepro

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I think there are many things John Dehlin does that are very good and helpful with his sites and podcasts, and others that are missteps. I think the studies he has been presenting concerning why individuals have left the Church are - or at least should be - extremely helpful for Church leadership, and get clear and specific answers in a way that they would not otherwise generally have received sitting in a Bishop's Office.

I agree with you here David T. I like John Dehlin as an individual, and I've enjoyed the few podcasts that I've actually listened to. Perhaps I'm just being selective, but I'm not a faithful Mormon Stories listener. I tend to listen to podcasts where I know the author/scholar being interviewed. I simply lack the time necessary to listen on a consistent basis. However, I've followed John's links on Facebook as well as the ongoing dialogue within the Mormon Stories 2.0 (for people who are still semi-active in the Church), and get the impression that there's a lot of discontent with contemporary Mormonism.

But I also agree with Bob Crockett's original criticism that there is a good amount of passive dissent going on. In my opinion, it's a much less academic version of Sunstone symposia that by-and-large favors one side (dissent) over the other (staying). I'm all for having lay people explore Mormonism from an intellectual standpoint (which is in theory, what John is trying to do), I'm just wary of the one-dimensional pseudo-academic responses that often come out of it. I can't speak for John - and won't pretend to - but I am convinced that a large portion of the Mormon Stories community really isn't concerned with what the Maxwell Institute or FAIR has to say. I just wish people would do a little more research and get a more balanced perspective. I probably have as many Signature Books titles as I have books from FARMS. There are times when I'll largely agree with a "revisionist" perspective, and other times when I'll favor an apologetic one. I try to keep an open mind and try to best understand the secondary resources before attempting to understand primary work. So while I enjoyed Michael Coe's interview with John, I found that both of them really didn't appear to be well-acquainted with apologetic arguments for the Book of Mormon's historicity. Likewise, there have been plenty of times when I've encountered active members who aren't familiar with some alternative explanations for things like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Joseph Smith's polygamy, or the Book of Abraham Papyri.

I think John facilitates an important (and necessary) dialogue, I just wish there'd be more participation among active, faithful members of the Church. Perhaps they don't feel welcome (and after reading the comments section after several podcasts, it isn't hard to understand why), but there's a lot of disrespect coming from both sides. I'm glad that John has somewhat cracked down on disrespectful comments (at least that's what he's been trying to do on his Facebook page), I just wish the cultural study of Mormonism wasn't always so partisan.

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I liked the interviews with Ed Kimball and Ted Lyon. I am no fan of John Dehlin's approach (I too am stumped when it comes to what is his angle or agenda is) but to me anyways a good interview includes asking questions that others may want to know the answer to so I can say as they say in the East Coast of Canada, "goodonya!"

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The first Mormonstories were good. And then he left the podcast. But now he brought the podcasts back and perhaps this second time around the podcasts are more tainted with an agenda. And I think that this is the problem with John's podcasts. He now has a different belief system and it shows in the podcasts.

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Ahh, he edited that part out after receiving numerous criticisms from anti-Mormons. Check the comments.

Ah, okay, thank you. I wasn't aware of that and possibly I saw the edited version.

He received criticisms from anti-Mormons? Not active Mormons? Seems likes active LDS would have more of a problem with a "faked testimony", than anti-Mormons (who would see it as just an example of what Mormons do....kinda of like acting out and mocking the Temple ceremonies)..

Edited by Libs

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If I recall, they were talking about how the Mclays were sincere, testimony-bearing believers, and Dehlin prompted them to "bear their testimonies" in the interview, acting as if they still believed. So the words, tone and inflection are all done correctly, but you know they no longer believe, so it's a little disconcerting.

Disconcerting to active Mormons...right? I can see why John edited that out. It seems almost like mocking...although, I do not believe that is where the McLays were coming from. I do think they were very sincere believers and I could relate to so very many of their experiences, especially the leaving and then wanting to come back..and leaving again. The whole process of leaving can be very confusing and disorienting. At their level of involvement, it had to be especially difficult.

Although it does raise the question of whether or not someone would feel the spirit if you just played the "fake" testimony for them and they didn't know the context. I'm guessing that the answer is "yes", because they are still testifying of something that is true, even though they don't believe it.

Which is, perhaps, why LDS were not the one's complaining? Or were they? I'm not clear on that.

Edited by Libs

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What kolipoki said.

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Reading this OP has made me a little uncomfortable. Nobody (except the Savior) is even remotely qualified to be passing judgement on someone's testimony/commitment to the Church. I know for an absolute certainty, the Savior would not want us doing so.

Moving on..........

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We have been warned about this:

http://www.latterdayconservative.com/ezra-taft-benson/be-not-deceived/

Ezra T. Benson said,

“The Church,” says President McKay, “is little, if at all, injured by persecution and calumnies from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies.” (The Instructor, February 1956, p. 33.)

"It is from within the Church that the greatest hindrance comes. And so, it seems, it has been. Now the question arises, will we stick with the kingdom and can we avoid being deceived? Certainly this is an important question, for the Lord has said that in the last days the devil will “rage in the hearts of . . . men,” (2 Nephi 28:20) and if it were possible he shall “deceive the very elect.” (See Joseph Smith 1:5-37.)

“The adversary,” said Brigham Young, “presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind, uniting himself with popular parties, floating into offices of trust and emolument by pandering to popular feeling, though it should seriously wrong and oppress the innocent. Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can, to deceive the innocent and the unwary. The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose upon the good and honest followers of Jesus Christ.” (JD 11, 238-239.)

"Those of us who think “. . . all is well in Zion . . .” (2 Nephi 28:21) in spite of Book of Mormon warning might ponder the words of Heber C. Kimball when he said, “Yes, we think we are secure here in the chambers of these everlasting hills . . . but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy against the people of God. Then is the time to look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall. For I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming.” (Heber C. Kimball, 1856. Quoted by J. Golden Kimball, Conference Report, October 1930, pp. 59-60.)"

Edited by Bernard Gui

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It seems to me that if one wants to be a critic of the Church, then dagnabbit, just be a critic. What's the big deal?

It's the disingenuous desire to be a kind of 'loyal opposition' while being disloyal.

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But....all of these warnings about the "adversary" can sound an awfully lot like trying to shut people up. :sad:

I don't see John Dehlin as the "loyal opposition" and I doubt he sees himself like that (now). Perhaps, when he first started all of this, he thought of himself that way, but I think he has moved a little beyond that.

I don't know John personally, but I certainly did and do relate to his struggle with the church. Unfortunately, there are a lot of LDS out there who do relate (which is why he has such a large following, at this point). From what I have seen, he has practically bent over backwards trying to be fair, both to the church, and to the very sensitive issues with which he and others try to deal...sort through...bring to light for consideration and discussion. He never tries to lead anyone and is completely non-judgmental about where a person is, in regards to church activity.

Edited by Libs

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I ... get the impression that there's a lot of discontent with contemporary Mormonism.

I may be wrong, but I suspect the constructing of that impression is not incidental.

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Libs, it is the struggle for faith and the struggle to maintain faith that sets you apart from John. His fan base are no longer in any struggle for faith; they have left the building. He is not interested in "faith" so much as finding comfort when faith is abandoned.

I don't know John personally, but his agenda of presenting himself as a bridge between the faithful and those of no faith is disingenuous. He needs to pick the hat he has chosen, take it out of the closet, and wear it without attempting to say he is not wearing the hat of a critic; a critic that is outside and looking in. The mere fact that he was once inside does not empower his position or give him any more legitimacy than is found in other person of no faith.

If you have lost your faith then you are one thing, but the moment you pick up that stone at start throwing it at those that have faith you have become something else entirely. For me, if I lose my faith in the LDS Church and join the Catholic Church and then invite others to appreciate the fruit of my new tree of faith, I am still a person of faith and I am trying to bring others to what I have found, a new faith. However, to lose your faith and then attempt to bring others into a world without faith, this is the work of the evil one. It does not matter that you wear a smile, appear to be honest and kind while speaking with the honeyed voice of gentleness; you would still be an instrument of the evil one.

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I don't see John Dehlin as the "loyal opposition" and I doubt he sees himself like that (now). Perhaps, when he first started all of this, he thought of himself that way, but I think he has moved a little beyond that.

That was my point with my first post on this thread. He has changed from when he first started his podcast. He stopped making the podcasts for awhile and then, when he began again, he had a different belief pattern and his podcasts now show it.

Maybe he can be called a 'gentle critic'. :mellow:

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I don't know John personally, but his agenda of presenting himself as a bridge between the faithful and those of no faith is disingenuous.

I think that he attempted to do this with his first podcasts before his leave of absence. But now, I can't say that this is his agenda. I think that in his first podcasts (before his leave of absence) he also attempted to answer his own questions. The Blacks and the Priesthood podcast is an example of that. Also, his interview with Bushman among others. It shows a member who needed answers to his questions for the sake of their own testimony.

I think that his podcasts are different now.

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I think that he attempted to do this with his first podcasts before his leave of absence. But now, I can't say that this is his agenda. I think that in his first podcasts (before his leave of absence) he also attempted to answer his own questions. The Blacks and the Priesthood podcast is an example of that. Also, his interview with Bushman among others. It shows a member who needed answers to his questions for the sake of their own testimony.

I think that his podcasts are different now.

You're probably right. When Mormon Stories was in its infancy, John regularly promoted ideas later formulated in his website, StayLDS.com. It should be noted that StayLDS also got some flak at a FAIR Conference a few years back, but I digress.

But some time in 2010 or possibly even earlier, John made the decision that "staying" in the Church isn't always the best option for some people. That's the impression he left me when volgadon and I had lunch with him that summer. So there's been a gradual moving away from the "why I stay" Mormonism to the "why I leave" kind of Mormonism. Some time last year, if I recall correctly, John was called in for a meeting with his Stake President (which caused quite a stir in the Mormon Stories community). As far as I am aware, no disciplinary action was taken (and I'm not going to claim there should be). What happens between John and his ecclesiastical leaders is something personal to him. I think the Church is likely aware of the potential backlash associated with disciplinary action being taken against (somewhat) public figures, so that might be a reason why there hasn't been a crack down on self-described "Middle-Way" Mormons in a while.

Though I really have no formal affiliation with John, he's certainly helped many people understand how faith is often a journey of sorts. I don't feel judged by him personally for being an active, believing Latter-day Saint, and in some ways he's helped me be more personally tolerant of others in their respective faith journeys. Obviously I'd rather see more people return to full fellowship, but that doesn't seem to be the case most of the time. It isn't uncommon for two people to approach the same piece of literature or scholarship and come away with two competing perspectives.

I can't say my faith is intact as it was when I was a missionary. Arrington, Bushman, Barney, Ostler, Faulconer, and several others have certainly molded that faith into something else - likely a much more postmodern view of things. I'm happy with that change. Others don't always make the transition as smoothly. For some, that turns into disbelief all together. After subbing a Primary class a few weeks ago with my wife, I'm still convinced that Mormonism is the right path for me. The little things that rang true to me as a child still ring true now. I'll readily admit that I haven't always been the best example. I've tripped up, stumbled, and even fallen on my face more than a few times. I wish Mormon Stories (as a community) was more welcoming of people who - when recognizing their imperfections with regard to faith - still happily stick around.

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Reading this OP has made me a little uncomfortable. Nobody (except the Savior) is even remotely qualified to be passing judgement on someone's testimony/commitment to the Church. I know for an absolute certainty, the Savior would not want us doing so.

Moving on..........

Well, Storm Rider is qualified.

And his assessment is.........that Dehlin is a tool of the Devil.

So, get comfortable with it.

Senator has left the building.

Edited by Minos

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Four or five years ago John Dehlin and I engaged in a brief, but quite spirited discussion with each other on the predecessor to this message board. He had objected to my having included his name in a group of individuals whom I characterized as "apostate evangelists".

At that time I argued that Dehlin (and his ideological cohorts) were what I termed "vegetarian wolves in sheep's clothing". They don't want to actually rend flesh and sup blood themselves, but they're more than willing to guide unwitting sheep to the ambush.

Since that time, I have become increasingly convinced of the accuracy of my original characterization.

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What I really don't like about Dehlin is that his revamped website doesn't work with the IPad Safari browser. I thought he was a computer science geek.

Edited by Bob Crockett

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Bob, I'm guessing that'd be a problem with the Safari browser, and not with his website.

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