A Clarification about the Mormon Stories Regional Communities and Conferences

John Dehlin Community

In my recent interview entitled “John Dehlin and Faith Reconstruction” I made some comments about the Mormon Stories Regional Communities and Conferences that have apparently hurt many people, so I’d like to offer a few brief clarifications and a sincere apology.

To provide a tiny bit of background, about a year and a half ago we (at the Open Stories Foundation) were concerned/saddened by the very large number of struggling and/or disaffected Mormons that we were encountering across the globe, and felt motivated to create a number of Facebook support groups with the intent of seeding the formation of regional, face-to-face support communities for struggling Mormons.  Within a very short amount of time many of these communities started to gel, and uncorrelated Mormon book clubs, dinner groups, play groups, camp outs and other such events began taking place all over the world.  More importantly, hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of struggling Mormons began to receive the face-to-face support, friendship and fellowship that they were previously unable to receive in their LDS wards and stakes.

In addition to forming these communities, we decided to hold conferences in several of these cities including New York City, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Kansas City, Washington D.C., Houston, Boise, Phoenix, Seattle and Sweden — as well as Circling the Wagons conferences in Salt Lake City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco (to provide support for our LGBT friends).

I want to state very publicly and clearly that my personal experiences with these groups and conferences were overwhelmingly positive, beautiful and (to be very frank) somewhat sacred.  The people in these communities remain among my favorite people on the  planet, the conferences had delightful and uplifting presentations and musical performances, and the post-conference events were extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

In the interview referenced above (and online) I have been asked why the OSF discontinued its sponsorship of the conferences and communities.  While I now can see that I completely botched my explanation, allow me to briefly explain what I was trying to say.

While I want to (again) very strongly emphasize that my experiences with these communities and conferences were overwhelmingly positive and (dare I say) wholesome, throughout these interactions I became aware of (in some instances directly, and in some instances indirectly) a small degree of behaviors/activities that were very disturbing to me at the time.  To be specific, these behaviors included alcohol and drug use, adultery, and some experimentation with open marriages.

In relating this, I need to also state that:

  • NONE of this behavior was (to my knowledge) ever sponsored by the local Mormon Stories communities or their leaders
  • ALL of this behavior can be found both inside and outside of Mormonism (including amongst active LDS church participation), and
  • I completely reject and denounce any insinuation that these behaviors should be associated with disaffection from the LDS church. I tried to make this point very clear in my interview, and hopefully have made it very clear with this presentation.

I have been fighting for 8 years to dispel the myths that: 1) people leave the church in order to “sin,” or 2) leaving the church necessarily leads to unhappiness.  Consequently, to know that some have  interpreted my experiences in this way has made me very sad. 

What was difficult/problematic for me about these behaviors had NOTHING to do with my personal judgments of them, nor of the people involved in them.  These are fine, good, loving, moral people, and I do not judge them in any way.  To be honest, my own eye is so full of beams that I have literally no room to judge others.

What was difficult for me was the following:

  • I could not help but feel both saddened and at least partly responsible (as the leader of Mormon Stories and the OSF) as I watched some marriages dissolve in association with these conferences and communities.  To put it simply, it broke my heart.  Even though I know (in my logical brain) that divorce happens everywhere — when a spouse comes up to you and says, “My spouse met their lover at a Mormon Stories conference, and that was the beginning of the end of our marriage — so thanks a lot.” or “My spouse started drinking heavily once he started hanging around folks from the Mormon Stories community”….even though this was super rare for me…..it had an impact on me nonetheless.  It felt awful.
  • Even though these behaviors were relatively infrequent, I became fearful that Mormon Stories would become associated with some of these behaviors (since in life sometimes perception and/or reputation becomes reality — fair or not) — and the last thing I wanted to do was spoil the mission and impact of Mormon Stories (which is to build empathy for the plight of intellectuals, feminists, LGBT individuals and disaffected members from within the believing LDS community), and to SAVE families.
  • Frankly, I worried that some of these behaviors would lead to rumors that would only confirm the stereotypes I was trying to combat.
  • Many on the OSF board (myself included) became concerned that the conferences and communities would open the OSF up to potential law suits.
  • It was my perception that a number of these communities (especially on Facebook) started to gain the reputation (fair or not) as being post-Mormon communities, wherein believers sometimes felt unwelcome or even mocked.  As many of you know (again), our goal from the beginning has been to engage in projects wherein believers and non-believers both feel comfortable — and I did not feel like it would be good for Mormon Stories to be perceived as an organization that sponsored groups that were perceived to be hostile to belief.

All of these reasons, combined with the fact that…

  • Most of the OSF conferences lost money (after factoring in salaried labor)
  • My family relationships and personal health were suffering severely from the travel and stress of the conferences.  The conferences, and good relationships with my family, were simply not simultaneously sustainable.
  • I was SUPER uncomfortable with all the attention and adoration that I sometimes received from participants (I wasn’t at all interested in creating a personality cult or another church)
  • My Ph.D. clinical and research responsibilities increased dramatically during the 2012-2013 timeframe

…led to the decision to “spin off” the communities, and discontinue the conferences.

As I’ve received feedback from my recent interview, I have learned that many within these communities feel deeply hurt that I gave the impression that these communities were full of unsavory activities.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, and I feel very, very sad that I have given this impression.  Please accept my sincere apologies for this impression.

To close, I want to communicate that it remains my sincere hope that these beautiful and vibrant support communities continue to thrive.  Even though I felt it best to “spin them off” to local ownership, nothing would please me more than to see them grow, multiply, and continue to serve the large and growing number of struggling or disaffected LDS church members. It has been my position for 8 years (since starting Mormon Stories) that these beautiful, moral, and thoughtful people deserve love, respect and support, and they are certainly not getting it at present in their wards and stakes (for the most part…my ward/stake excluded).  🙂

Consequently, I want to offer my sincere support (and gratitude) to any responsible group of individuals who would like to establish and grow an organization committed to nurturing these support communities.  If I can help with such an endeavor (from a bit of a distance…for practical reasons), please do not hesitate to let me know.  Nothing would make me happier than to see this happen.

With sincere love, gratitude, and my deepest apologies,

John Dehlin