A Response to Peggy Fletcher Stack about OSF Finances

John Dehlin Mormon Stories, Writings 37 Comments

PeggyFletcherStackI obviously cannot know what Peggy Fletcher Stack​’s intentions were in the writing and timing of her recent Salt Lake Tribune article about me entitled “Mormon facing excommunication makes his living off his podcasts.”  I will say at the outset that I consider Peggy to be both a longtime hero and a friend of sorts.  I was also very grateful for many positive things that Peggy mentioned in her article.

Overall I felt like the article was balanced, but I can also imagine how many active, faithful LDS Church members will respond to an article written primarily about my compensation(???) on the eve of my disciplinary council.  Within the active, believing LDS context (Peggy’s context, frankly), it could easily be interpreted as an attempt to elicit shame and ill-will, given our tendency as a church to condemn those who profit from religious endeavors (i.e., “priestcraft”).  Again, I do not necessarily believe that this was Peggy’s intent, only that this will likely be the reaction for many, which (again) raises questions about the timing of the article.

I only have a few responses to Peggy, all of which I would have appreciated mention in the article for a more balanced perspective within the LDS context:

1) I am very proud that, unlike the LDS Church, I have been transparent regarding OSF finances and my own compensation. This has been intentional.

2) I would very gladly swap my OSF compensation package with any member of the LDS First Presidency, Quorum of the 12 Apostles, or 1st Quorum of the Seventy. If Peggy wanted to do some groundbreaking reporting, this would be a fantastic opportunity.  Not to shame them…mind you…but to provide much needed transparency (which is one of my major concerns with the modern LDS Church).

3) Just like employees of any non-profit (e.g., NPR, PBS, Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America…whose CEO reportedly makes $1.6 million/year), I believe that the world benefits when those who spend their lives in the service of others are compensated for their work. In addition, physicians, teachers, politicians, corporate profiteers, LDS Church employees…and yes…even journalists like Peggy….are also compensated for their work.  I do not believe that non-profit employees should be publicly shamed for what they are paid (not that this was necessarily Peggy’s intention…only that it could appear this way to others).

4) Having given up six-figure-salaried and fully-benefited jobs at Microsoft​ and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)​ to do my work with Mormon Stories, I believe that it would have been worth mentioning in the article that I could have made (and still could make) much, much more money through other channels.  All in all, I do not believe it a stretch to estimate that I have forgone well over $1 Million in compensation over the last ten years as the result of my decision to go back to graduate school, and to start Mormon Stories (with a wife and four children courageously at my side).  Nonetheless, I have intentionally chosen to make much less money to try to alleviate suffering and promote health within Mormon culture through my work with the OSF.  I am proud of this decision, even though it has resulted in a significant financial sacrifice for me and my family.

5) Words cannot express how grateful I am for those who have financially supported Mormon Stories over the past six years. As the article graciously mentioned, I made a deal with listeners back in 2010 that if they would support me with the podcast, I would use the money to help pay for groceries, health insurance and medical bills (both of which we pay out of pocket), clothes, tuition, etc. I have used the money exactly as promised, and my family and I are forever indebted to you for your generous support. I literally could not have done it without you.

6) Peggy – My wife’s name is spelled “Margi.” A correction (at least online) would be very much appreciated. 🙂

Finally, I was so very grateful this morning to receive this email of support from a listener:

“Dear Ms. Stack:

Your recent article on John Dehlin me a bit bemused by its odd focus on how he is paid.

He is, after all, among other things a journalist just as you are. He produces high-quality podcasts, each one hours long, clearly preceded by even more prep time, just as you too must do for your professional writing, time which could be otherwise spent more profitably to yourselves, however much a loss to your respective readers.

Or am I wrong in presuming that the SLTrib compensates you for your reporting? Or that you imply that he is deceptive to his donors? That his motives are “tainted”? Or that you believe he’s just plain not worth the money?

I am one of those donors. Every month I get a disclosure notice with the OSF mission statement and link to a transparent financial statement. Please be reassured that I do not expect a highly impactful, hard-working, college-educated, computer- and media-savvy non-profit director with years of experience in IT to work for free.

For my money (and as a donor, it is my money), John Dehlin’s effectiveness is clear. As a podcast listener, I have been exposed to diverse perspectives. As a gay man, I am inspired by John’s tireless advocacy on behalf of LGBT youth.

The implication in your article that John Dehlin is “in it for the money” is unjustified and unjust.”

Again, while I don’t necessarily believe that it was Peggy’s intent to imply that I was “in it for the money,” and while I was grateful to read many positive things in the article, I did feel like the focus and the timing of the article was very odd, given my pending excommunication.  It is hard for me to imagine a similar article being written about any other non-profit professional in a reputable newspaper.

Comments 37

  1. Non profit has never implied working for free. Compensation is a necessity (and a budget line item) just as internet access and microphones are and it was very likely listed right there in any documents required when filing for federal 501(c) 3 non-profit status. Why is there an assumption that people pouring their hearts, souls, and most importantly, time into non profits should be doing it for free? And why does PFS write it in such a way to imply there is something shady about it, especially since John Dehlin has been open about it since it started?

  2. I discovered Mormon Stories last summer when the excommunication of Kate Kelly was being widely reported. Yesterday’s article in the Tribune revealed next to nothing that I hadn’t already discovered for myself since that time. While I too thought the headline and the articles initial focus on Mr. Dehlin getting paid for his work were rather odd and clumsy, for the most part, the article simply rehashed what anyone who is paying attention already knows. I can certainly see how those who aren’t paying attention, or those who have their own agenda, might use the article as fodder to say John is simply “in it for the money” but then, those of us who are paying attention will immediately recognize that for what it is, nonsense! I think the article is one of those filler pieces a journalist comes up with when an editor asks for a story prior to some significant event and there really isn’t anything new to report. The headline is just plain sensationalism.

    1. The piece reminded me more of a line from an old famous movie:

      “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”

      1. The opening of that film is movie history and I love that line, but who are you suggesting asked Stack to write that article? TSCC?

  3. I read the Tribune article and immediately thought that its timing was questionable. As a donor to Mormon Podcast, I have no issue with John Dehlin’s compensation, which has always been transparently disclosed…. The money he makes in this non-profit organization is a bargain when compared to the monies expended in support of the LDS church leadership from the highest levels to mission presidents. The Tribune needs to cease its subtle support of LDS positions when giving the Church ‘cover’ for actions toward members who support gender equality and LGBT rights. Peggy Fletcher Stack ought to give the same level of inquiry to the payments for the Quorum of 15 and the First Presidency to enlighten the LDS community.

  4. At the risk of quoting scripture,

    Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? (1 Cor 9:7)

    The scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim 5:18)

    Aren’t even CES employees compensated? Or is it “every man a janitor”?

  5. We make a donation out of our own free will and we do not have to attend a “settlement”. It is not tied to a promise of any “after life” products. On the other hand there are rumors that the GA’s are “given” $1,000,000 upfront, money coming from a widows mite and parents who let their children go without shoes so they can pay their tithes in case they “burn”. For many of us, our donation is a pittance compared to the 10% + that was extracted under dubious and false pretenses.

  6. John, is it possible that an editor for the paper picked the title and not Peggy? She is usually on your side so these just seemed odd to me…

      1. I agree. Particularly at newspapers, editors control the headlines. (I was an editor at Bloomberg News for 10 years.) In fact, it may have been the page editor who wrote the headline, and not even the same editor that worked on Peggy’s text.

  7. I was relieved to hear your listeners still donate and that more people have found your podcasts in recent months. When I started listening to the podcasts I felt very motivated to donate because I enjoyed them so much. I was very overcome with gratitude toward John and his work. I figured I pay money to go see a movie or buy a good book, why wouldn’t I pay tor the time spent to produce and deliver this fabulous library of information. I assume others have felt the same because the reality is that the podcasts are free and no one is forced to donate. I am actually amazed you found the time to make the podcasts as a student because clearly each podcast involved hours and hours of work.

    I didn’t think the article shed a bad light on John at all. The headline certainly caught my attention and could have been phrased better. John’s honesty continues to shine since he has always been transparent about the donations. I hope more people will discover the podcasts with this publicity. They have been a hidden treasure for too many years. And I hope the donations keep pouring in!

    1. The thing is..and we need to remember and critics of John should understand is, we are not “required” to donate to be a part of this community of people. John will listen, and provide and provide intelligent and studied information even in a spiritual way without any of us required to do anything for him. Our friendship with ideas and thoughts are listened to without judgement or any conditions.

      Amen!

  8. John, I know this is a highly emotional period for you–which may be causing you to overreact a bit to this article. Peggy certainly timed her article to have the most impact (that’s part of newspaper journalism), but other than that I don’t see the need to be defensive about it at all. I think most people, including the LDS faithful, will find this more interesting than damning. I’m confident that in the end, the publicity that Peggy has given you will be more beneficial than harmful.

    Ironically I think using the now-famous Oaks approach may be a propos: Don’t seek and apology and don’t give one!

    Best wishes tomorrow and in the next chapter of your life!

    1. Gary, I really got your perspective on “Don’t seek an apology and don’t give one” approach. However, I absolutely agree with John’s “swift” action in the way he just did.

      Even though I see the merits of the followings,
      “I won’t dignify the question with an answer.”
      “All PR is good PR”,

      …I do believe they both can also do enormous harm if not used/tweaked strategically.

      The history of the French Revolution is far more complex than we can simplify solely with Marie Antoinette’s excess. If she had had a gigantic well-oiled “PR machine” to advice her like the British Royal family today, she might have been spared that tragic moment at the guillotine. Therefore, all PR will be good PR only when you don’t ride under it passively. And if “I don’t dignify the question with an answer” really worked, why then many people today still ignorantly believe that Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake” (when she actually did not).

      Therefore, after reading so many very thoughtful responses in the previous section about why John Dehlin should not submit to the counsel’s demand on no recording/note-taking of any kinds allowed, I’m starting to see how troublesome/harmful it can become for John to agree with signing the paper to waive his right to take his own record/notes.

      Also, no matter how well-intended Peggy Fletcher may sound in that news article, by not failing to include positive things on the matter, (to be a good and thorough journalist) she is still not exempt from keeping her article “fair and balanced”. That means there is no excuse for her to not actively seek and include John’s side/defense of the story — all those excellent points he made above. After all, this is the story “about him”, and “balanced” means “both” (sides).

  9. Historically, headlines for stories are not written by the article writer. If this hullabaloo is about the acknowledged awkward headline, it is nothing but a momentary brain fart by an associate editor at the newspaper.
    I thought it was an interesting article and took no offense.
    Good luck, John!

  10. To encourage balance and fairness, let us have a church official representing the Q15, come forward and lay in full view before the public, verifiable and fully documented evidence of the complete financial remunerations annually received by the aforementioned executives.
    Let us have total transparency and fairness on both sides, for all to witness.
    Will the LDS leaders take this opportunity to step up to the plate, be honest and transparent in their dealings with their fellow men, and submit this information, in the interests of public confidence and fairness?
    Why doesn’t Miss Stack, through her informative article, pose this very question and make this opportunity available to the brethren in Salt Lake?

  11. Thank you John for all your work. Thank you Margi for your support.

    If my response to Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article is typical – as I hope it is – she has just accomplished on your behalf a very effective “pledge drive.”

    Best wishes,

    Eric

  12. I read it as a sort of informational thing. I may be prejudiced because of my regard for Peggy, but I am prejudiced toward your side, as well. I dunno. Just didn’t get the same vibe, but sometimes I’m also not the brightest bulb. Thank you for your work, and it’s likely you are not remunerated enough. And, since she is a woman in Utah, it’s unlikely that Peggy is compensated enough.

  13. I just think, the indication that you, John Dehlin derive some income lessens the value of what you do, is about as cheap as cheap gets and is despicable. It is exactly the type of thing that Mormon apologists love to pick up and run with. In their wishful thinking your entire body of work can now be wiped away because you are not subsisting on welfare. A huge percentage of those TBM’s would wet themselves in the presence of Glenn Beck who of course profits nothing from his work.

  14. John and Marji,

    Please do NOT take part in these ludicrous and undemocratic court proceedings, without your very own nominated representation and witness being present.

  15. When I first read Peggy’s article my reaction was that it was accurate and mostly fair, except that many (especially active Mormons thinking “priestcraft”) readers would/could easily infer (even if this was not Peggy’s intent) that John’s purposely controversial in order to profit. On rereading the article, and further thought, I think (except for a somewhat sensational headline, not necessarily worded by Peggy), it was fair and timely reporting, as I’ve come to expect from Peggy. I don’t like the timing (the eve of John’s “Court of Love”), but journalists are all about timing with covering certain subjects. John’s of interest to readers right now, so Peggy, as a journalist, has a reason to write about John. It’s not a hit piece. If read without prejudice, I think it places John in a mostly positive light, with his transparency and honesty. I think it’s a mistake to react to the article by attacking Peggy’s motives, or claiming it’s unfair unless she also does investigative journalism into the compensation of church authorities and employees (a possibly award-winning series of articles I hope she has in the works. Who knows?) She’s a respected, award-winning journalist writing a brief article for our local newspaper, not an in-depth New Yorker article. And John is a topnotch and influential podcaster, whose financial compensation doesn’t seem relevant to me at this point. Yet Peggy or her editors think the inquiring minds of Salt Lake Trib readers want to know about it, so let them, and let’s try to shrug it off. I’m sorry, John, that the article was hurtful. I don’t believe it harms your reputation. I think your response above is understandable, if somewhat over defensive and reactionary, especially in quoting the letter attacking Peggy’s motives. I believe neither you nor Peggy are compensated enough for your good work.

  16. If you want to get really mad, check out the tax info that the church MUST fill out publicly in Canada. Look at the huge donations over the years to BYU. Tithing just dumped into a private collage.

    http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/haip/srch/t3010form22quickview-eng.action?r=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cra-arc.gc.ca%3A80%2Febci%2Fhaip%2Fsrch%2Fadvancedsearchresult-eng.action%3Fn%3DChurch%2Bof%2BJesus%2Bchrist%26amp%3Bb%3D%26amp%3Bq%3D%26amp%3Bs%3Dregistered%26amp%3Bd%3D%26amp%3Be%3D%2B%26amp%3Bc%3D%26amp%3Bv%3D%2B%26amp%3Bo%3D%26amp%3Bz%3D%26amp%3Bg%3D%2B%26amp%3Bt%3D%2B%26amp%3By%3D%2B%26amp%3Bp%3D1&fpe=2013-12-31&b=826344632RR0001&n=CHURCHOFJESUSCHRISTOFLATTER-DAYSAINTSINCANADA

  17. John,

    I listen to your podcasts and have never doubted your sincerity. So I say this as a moral supporter. But I think the article raises a couple of fair questions. 1) Is John Dehlin financially motivated to keep up an active and public voice of dissent? 2) Does this disciplinary counsel go beyond threatening your private relationship with the church, and how should we feel about that?

    1) Clearly the answer to this is yes. I don’t mean that as an attack. But the article quotes you as saying, “The excommunication threat ‘has really motivated a lot of people to increase their support.'” Someone posted here that this article motivated them to make their first financial contribution to OSF. Assuming the quote is accurate, there is no question that you benefit financially from your public disclosure of doubt, concern, and by inviting others to do the same on your podcast. But that’s only one side of the coin. You also say much in support of the church and invite those who have unwavering testimonies of the truth claims of the church to share those testimonies, as well. But those looking for reasons to dismiss or discredit you can and will use the fact that your podcast earns you a living as reason to question your motivation for saying what you say and how that would influence your decision to accommodate Pres. King’s conditions for remaining a member of the church in good standing. Again, my personal judgment is that your motivations are pure and your intentions sincere. But bringing questions of financial motivation into the discussion of public figures fighting to advance moral causes is par for the course and worth discussion, in my opinion.

    2) If you were working for Microsoft or MIT during the day right now, excommunication wouldn’t “threaten your livelihood.” The fact that it could has the potential to make the secular stakes quite high–not necessarily the case for the many other folks who speak their doubts publicly. If John Dehlin is excommunicated from the church for apostasy and I then send him money to support his podcast, am I associating with groups that oppose the doctrines of the church? That’s a critical crossroads for most, if not all, faithful Mormons.

    I know the church claims that this doesn’t go higher than Pres. King and that he is acting on his own here. But a suspicious mind might see this as a strategic means to, of course, damage your credibility–but by doing so, to cut off your financial support. If the statements you make are apostate, and the church can make sure that the only funding you receive comes from people who are not Mormon, your voice will be more easily dismissed.

    Perhaps raising that point was also not Ms. Stack’s intent. I like that I don’t feel pressed by her article to pass judgment one way or another. But I think it’s important to give proper weight to those first two lines. Tthe consequences of excommunication might be that John Dehlin loses his livelihood. I think the membership should ask themselves if that’s justifiable.

  18. In full disclosure, the email cited in the post above was from me, sent directly to Peggy in critique of her reporting, and CC’ed to John out of courtesy (as is my usual practice when mentioning someone in an email).

    I am happy to stand behind those words in this forum and to publicly ally myself in support of John and the work of the OSF.

  19. Ever the nimble public personality, John. Good strength to you and your family tomorrow. Soon the madness will end. I’ve never donated to the podcast but I’ve listened to every episode and have recommended many of them to friends. Unlike the misguided cult of correlation, your work has broadened my perspective on our religious heritage and the inherent value of all of us. God has a work for you and I think you’re succeeding gloriously at it.

    I like the idea of someone ferreting out the millions of dollars paid to the Mormon Magisterium. Think of all the starving Mormon babies in Africa you could feed if the ‘modest stipends’ paid to those in the chief seats were to be whittled down to a mere’ $500,000 per year! For them to teach that they’re infallible (see lesson 6 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual and lesson 11 of the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson) just rubs me the wrong way. They will be held to account.

  20. Peggy Fletcher Hack is nothing but a hack journalist who couldn’t get a real job anywhere else. I don’t even read the trib cause of her. It’s ironic that she castigates you for making a living off a podcast when she herself makes a living off weakly researched half truth articles about religion. She is the epitome of hypocrite.

  21. I’m not a Mormon, but I have listened to Mormon Stories, Mormon Expression, My Book of Mormon, Infants on Thrones and other Mormon themed podcasts for the past 2-3 years with great enjoyment, simply for the entertainment value. They are very good. I have never paid a penny, nor have I felt pressured to do so. I wonder if I’d feel a similar lack of pressure to pay if I’d joined the LDS church.

  22. I think you are way out of line on this one; there was nothing in Peggy’s article that wasn’t true and it’s overall tone was very matter-of-fact. I am OK with you monetizing your activism. Not everyone can turn doing what they love into a profitable enterprise and the fact that you have been able to do so is to your credit. However, I find the idea that journalists should refrain from reporting basic facts merely because they are inconvenient to a particular social cause to be problematic. And very troubling.

  23. Looking at the comments on the local(Utah) news stories covering the disciplinary hearing, I would say that John’s concerns were completely founded. I was shocked at the number of people accusing him of doing this solely for the money. I can only assume they are unaware of the emotional toll these issues can take on a person, especially those who are/where so committed to their beliefs.

    Thank you John for being willing to face those emotional challenges while giving a voice to the stories of the many wonderful people who make the LDS religion what it is.

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