Are you guilty of “speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed”?

John Dehlin Blog, Q&A, Writings

A few years ago, Elder Dallin H. Oaks was quoted as saying: “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”

I have worked very hard in my work with Mormon Stories to not criticize LDS church leaders.  That said, I believe that it is generally unhealthy for organizations to shield themselves from constructive, well-intended criticism.  I, myself, am extremely sensitive to criticism — so I am not necessarily a model in this regard…but I still believe that constructive criticism is very healthy….and I actively seek it from people who I do not believe wish me harm.

In my own Facebook postings over the past year, I have been complimentary of many LDS apostles (including Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk “Come, Join with Us” and Jeffrey Holland’s talk “Like a Broken Vessel“) — but I have also been occasionally critical of talks by leaders such as Elder Dallin H. Oaks (“No Other Gods“) and Boyd K. Packer (“Cleansing the Inner Vessel“) — specifically when I fear that their talks regarding same-sex sexuality could contribute to the epidemic of suicidality of LGBT youth and young adults in the LDS/Utah community.

I am also very concerned about the rumors I have heard for many years, from many, many sources that President Thomas S. Monson is currently experiencing dementia.  I absolutely believe that one’s struggles with medical or psychological conditions deserve privacy and sensitivity.  However, given that Thomas S. Monson is a public figure, the LDS church is a global church, a great deal is at stake regarding current events and the church, and given the fact that the LDS church has the capacity to cause incredible benefit or harm to its members — I believe that it is a fair question to ask if there is a current leadership vacuum within the LDS church.

It is common knowledge that during the later years of LDS church president Ezra Taft Benson (my cousin) — that President Benson was ailing to the point of not being capable of leading the church (additional stuff written here).  It was also during this time that Elder Boyd K. Packer felt emboldened to begin excommunicating scholars (see September Six) — a very dark period for the LDS Church…resulting directly from a leadership vacuum.

Many reporters have asked me over the past few weeks if the present leadership vacuum caused by President Monson’s alleged dementia has created an environment that would allow for the current actions to be taken against myself, Kate Kelly and others — which many believe to be incredibly damaging to the church’s worldwide image.  I believe that these are important questions that merit consideration, given all that is at stake for the LDS church, its members, and for folks like me and Kate Kelly.

So to answer the questions….

  • Do I take delight in criticizing LDS Church leaders?  Not at all.
  • Do I believe that constructive criticism is healthy — even essential — for a healthy, well-functioning organization?  Absolutely.
  • Do I believe that LDS Church leaders should be guarded from constructive criticism?  No.  In fact, I believe that constructive criticism and open dialogue are essential to the future health of this church and its members/former members.  As I’ve said many times before, I believe that our inability to speak openly and candidly about difficult issues, without the fear of punishment, is perhaps our biggest problem as a church, and as a culture.