Today, It’s a Wonderful Life

John Dehlin Mormon 37 Comments

I have so many reasons to count my blessings this week…so bear with me as I mention a few….

  • The very generous and supportive letters I received last week (both as comments to the post, and in private) in response to my call for help were more than I coud have ever hoped for. Thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart. To me, this was my Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra moment — and it will remain with me always. Rest assured that these letters were put to very good use, and that they made a huge difference.
  • A few dear friends (you know who you are) took the time to counsel me on how I might approach things today, and their counsel was dead-on. I do have a tendency to get all defensive, paranoid and apocolyptic (which can often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies) and your temporing advice was exactly what I needed to ensure that things stayed productive.
  • A few dear ones even offered to fast and/or pray/meditate on my behalf. Given all the suffering and pain in the world — I scarcely feel worthy. Nonetheless — I was very grateful for this, and I do believe it helped.

How did it go? It was wonderfully splendid. It feels a bit inappropriate to go into detail here, but I will write up an account and send it privately to all those who either commented, or sent me email. Give me a day or so to do this, if it’s ok.

If I have one thing to leave you all with — it’s this: I did not go in there alone. In my mind, and in my heart — as insignificant as this all all may seem and likely is — I felt that each of you was in there with me. In some small way I felt that you were behind me, and that I was trying my best to represent you — and in the end, love, understanding and support (with a small measure of caution) appear to have prevailed.

Thanks so much for your letters, thoughts, prayers, and support. Sometimes there’s sun. Other times, there’s rain. But today — it was a wonderful life. And I felt you there with me. I hope you can, in some strange and miraculous way, feel it too. There really is hope, and if the stars align — hearts can unite in Christlike understanding and even support.

Comments 37

  1. and its also categorized under – testimonty. well duh, what life isnt wonderful with a testimonty, full or otherwise?

    glad things went well for ya. now, when you gonna make this place pink?

  2. I’m happy to hear this, John. I hope to get more details later (email me any juicy stuff ;-)).

    Now that it’s over I can say what I wanted to say before: although this turned out well in the sense that it looks like the church is not going to intitiate “discipline” against you, I see a big problem just from the fact that you were “summoned” to the Bishop’s office to talk about this in the first place. It is good to know that, upon interviewing you, the “authorities” apparently determined that “your papers appear to be in order,” (spoken in indeterminate eastern European accent) but the fact that the church acts in a manner reminiscent of an eastern bloc country circa 1985 is disturbing to me. A couple who you don’t even know resigns from the church and tells their Bishop that if he wants to understand more about their decision, he can go to a church-friendly site (this one) that facilitates understanding among members and former members. He does, and in a fit of incomparable ignorance, determines that you are some kind of threat to the church. So he contacts your local leaders who, instead of just telling the guy to go jump in a lake (the appropriate response, IMO), call you in for an interrogation. That the interview went well is gratifying, but the fact that it took place in the first place is illustrative of a church culture that is, in my estimation, toxic.

    I applaud you for your ability to continue to see the glass as at least half-full when it comes to your evaluation of the LDS church. Obviously, I don’t see it quite the same way. Nevertheless, I am one of your biggest fans, and I hope that you will continue your great work here at Mormon Stories. I think you are one of the best friends the church has and the church would be foolish to do anything to try to put a damper on your activities here. I look forward to your upcoming podcasts and will join you in the chorus of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

  3. I am happy that you are happy John. The part that concerns me is, as you phrased it, “the small measure of caution” they gave you. I fear that as you go forward and do your best to abide by their caution, someone will think that you have disregarded it and you will get called back in and potentially disciplined. I also would hate to see your podcasts suffer due to fear of upsetting your leaders.

  4. I’m glad it went OK John. I’m hoping that the ‘small caution’ just like the ‘small situation’ does not affect the boldness that you approach this with. Some of us are not so bold or so lucky.

    Please keep it up
    AML

  5. John, I’m glad that you were pleased with the outcome. I was skeptical about it being a fair, balanced meeting, then again that really depends on the attitudes of your local leaders. Keep it going and I’ll send more money 😉 I’d appreciate being a receipient of that e-mail.

  6. John, I’m happy to say that I was wrong. I did fear the worst, or at least “worse.” I will remain guardedly optimistic, as I’m still concerned that a humane outcome here is the exception that too often proves the rule. Given the exceptional nature of your work here (is there anywhere else that bridges the chasm between believers and non-believers as well?), your current situation vis-a-vis your local leaders is really wonderful.

  7. I applaud, “love, understanding, and support (with a small measure of caution).” I suppose some would have rather John receive, “love, understanding, and support (with a license for recklessness),” but I know of no religious, political, educational, or other organizations that would be in favor of what it seems TO ME some here wish the CoJCoLDS would favor.
    I am happy to be part of a church in which some folks have a simple belief and other folks have more complex beliefs. I strongly suspect I would find the more dogmatic versions of Christianity, non-Christian religion, atheism, and … to be stifling and perhaps somewhat boring. But at the same time there is something that separates members of the church and non-members of the church. It is more than what our parents believed, where we place out butt on Sundays, or other radically superficial things. Such is the case for all organizations and none are perfect. I think some folks need to re-listen to J. Bonner Ritchie.

    About John’s extraordinary Bishop:
    I suspect there may be some truth to this, but I find John extraordinary and instead would suggest that we look at him. I have no doubt that there are Bishops who feel they are the protectors of orthodoxy, even an orthodoxy that they themselves define. But I have never met one and expect that they are quite rare. I think it quite possible that the contrast between John’s meeting and the expectation (presumably derived from past experience or anecdotal reports) of others here is much attributed to John. I think that would be reasonable and positive message to take from John’s “wonderfully splendid” meeting.

    Anyway, I cheer for John like I did in my previous post. But, I also cheer for the church in which John and his Bishop met and expressed “love, understanding, and support.”

    Charity, TOm

  8. John,
    I am relieved that things turned out positively (I was a little worried for you). I’m glad that your Bishop was understanding and not reactionary. I look forward to reading your email.

  9. “but I know of no religious, political, educational, or other organizations that would be in favor of what it seems TO ME some here wish the CoJCoLDS would favor.”

    TOm, perhaps you should cast a wider net, then. I think there are many churches whose ecclesiastical and administrative leaders would never even THINK about “checking up” on what their members are posting on personal blogs, and would never even THINK about calling in one of their parishioners for a talking-to about their personal activities. That you think Mormon autocracy is the norm rather than a malignant exception in the religious universe is a bit troubling.

  10. Equality,
    I wasn’t trying to trouble you. I tried to address your thoughts on other “organizations” by saying that “It is more than what our parents believed, where we place out butt on Sundays, or other radically superficial things.” To be honest, I see “organization” as more than that. While some person may attend the local Protestant church every Sunday, and for the rest of the week proclaim how deluded and stupid are his co-attendees and
    Pastor, I would not consider him part of an organization associated with said Protestant church.
    Admittedly, I see structure in organization and would be a Catholic in a heartbeat if I ever found Mormonism something unembraceable. I view organizations as tools to achieve desirable ends. When organizations have absolutely no boundaries, I think they cease to be “organizations” and loose some of their ability to “achieve desirable ends.” Perhaps I am a minion and a mushroom. I can’t fully embrace libertarianism either despite my affinity for some of its ideas.
    Charity, TOm

  11. TOm, I am for the life of me trying to understand under what other conditions most of us would be willing to be second-guessed by the hierarchy in a volunteer organization. The non-profits I support are delighted to have me care enough to take “uncorrelated” action *all the time*.

    By any reasonable standard, John clearly groks what the desirable ends are that he and the church share, and he has actually done more in the spirit of D&C 58:26-29 than (dare I say…yes, I do) *most* church members.

    If “uncorrelated” proactive, anxious engagement is no longer desired, then it would be in the best interests of the church to clarify that and decanonize this passage. Certainly, members should not feel that a bishop over another flock can chime in whenever he personally disagrees with such helpful (and doctrinally supported) effort – if it’s clear that such ex-jurisdictional meddling is just fine, then, as the Greatest Management Principle teaches us, “what gets rewarded gets done” and, by extension, “what gets discouraged or punished quits happening.” Which way is it going to be, folks?

  12. ok. I’ve tried to respond to everyone who emailed me for more details about the conversation. Some I know I’ve missed. Others I know I’ve sent multiple emails to.

    If you were one of the “missed,” please email me directly and I’ll send you the summary.

    Thanks again for everyone’s kind support.

  13. Adam,
    Everything I posted on this thread until this post was before I received John’s email so I was unaware of some of the specifics. I agree this should be between John and his Bishop, and I think it was ultimately. I may not even totally understand you post and/or you may not totally understand mine, but I will press on anyway.
    If you volunteer for Planned Parenthood and distribute anti-abortion literature your welcome will be withdrawn. If you volunteer for the Susan B. Anthony list and write pro-choice literature your welcome will be withdrawn.
    Organizations have purposes. In my opinion, John not only supports the purposes of the church by what he does, but he also helps those who have left the church feel better understood by members and other non-members. I believe this should be encouraged by an organization such as the church, and I believe it was.
    To me those who found “a small measure of caution” to be evidence of some overblown control, don’t recognize what organizations (the church included) are trying to do.

    The church gave Ravi Zacharias the pulpit to speak to numerous LDS and non-LDS. This I find to be a great and open thing. To give the same pulpit to someone whose purpose was solely to tear down faith in the restored gospel would be silly. What organization behaves like that?

    Again, I may just be too brainwashed to understand this, but I see it as appropriate for an organization whose unity is based upon more than just butts in a seats to softly gauge what its members are doing for or against the goals of the organization.

    Charity, TOm

  14. “Again, I may just be too brainwashed to understand this, but I see it as appropriate for an organization whose unity is based upon more than just butts in a seats to softly gauge what its members are doing for or against the goals of the organization. ”

    And, IMHO, TOm, even a cursory review of what John has been up to would confirm how congruent his work has been with the goals of the church. Is it your opinion that it’s reasonable for the church to “softly gauge” *any* bottom-up activity, or is top-down now the *only* valid approach given what I and many others would see as Correlation run amok?

    TOm, even if you would have no problem with any church leader/s (even one acting outside his obvious bounds of stewardship – what the heck’s *that* all about?) “softly gauging” whatever they desire, can you see how others might view this as potentially creepy? Do you see any potential for unhealthy power dynamics here?

  15. John-
    It is a wondeful life!
    It sounds like both you and your Bishop grew from this experience–that’s what it all about.
    Your email was an example of the Gospel in action.
    Faith, Hope, Charity,

    Props to you and your Bishop! (and your wife)

  16. Adam,
    You said, “And, IMHO, TOm, even a cursory review of what John has been up to would confirm how congruent his work has been with the goals of the church.”

    This is precisely the conclusion that was arrived at by all those involved it would seem. Perhaps if they were more informed about the issues, it would have taken them less time. I am quite comfortable with concluding that many church leaders are unaware of some of the more troubling aspects of church history.

    You said, “Is it your opinion that it’s reasonable for the church to “softly gauge” *any* bottom-up activity, or is top-down now the *only* valid approach given what I and many others would see as Correlation run amok?”

    I would certainly not say that “top-down” is the “*only* valid approach.” All I said was that those who thought “a small measure of caution” was somehow quite problematic were seeing this in a radically different way than I was AND I thought such a way was evidence of not seeing how organizations work. In J. Bonner Ritchie’s podcast you get to hear about how organizations and individuals always exist in some tension.
    In his blog and on his podcasts John speaks candidly and provides a forum for others to speak candidly about the most difficult issues within Mormonism. You will not find such candid and open engagement of the strong points of the critics during the Republican or Democrat national convention or in your local Planned Parenthood office. And apparently, such candid and open engagement of ones critics is to be found (and supported) within the CoJCoLDS.

    You said, “TOm, even if you would have no problem with any church leader/s (even one acting outside his obvious bounds of stewardship – what the heck’s *that* all about?) “softly gauging” whatever they desire, can you see how others might view this as potentially creepy?”

    First, as I stated above, I had no knowledge of any particulars when I initially responded. Now that I know some of the particulars, I would still couch the actions much differently than you have, but I will not include specifics here as John himself chose not to.
    Next, I do not think we have any indication that church leaders are engaging individual actions in the arena of “whatever they desire” as if some arbitrary activity was engaged. John’s site attracts a great deal of attention and it speaks of the issues that populate the websites of those who wish to tear down faith in the church. It would seem concern from the church would be natural and appropriate. I might find it creepy if the church was concerned about my interest in psychometrics, but if I claimed to be a LDS and attracted significant attention through discussing the most difficult aspects of our history, I would find their interest appropriate.

    You said, “Do you see any potential for unhealthy power dynamics here?”

    Absolutely! I do not think there is any reason in this case to believe such a thing occurred. (Not in the very generally pre-specifics case or in the specifics case). Joseph Smith and/or God were quite aware that abuse of power would be part of the church. And it is. No individual will be perfectly aligned with any group with which they may chose to associate. This will create tension for the individual and the group. Sometimes authorities in these organizations will inappropriately address individuals who may or may not be evidencing this tension. Other times authorities when addressing potential tensions will offer, “love, understanding, and support (with a small measure of caution).” When this happens we should cheer for the church and the authorities not express our concern about “a small measure of caution.”
    As I pointed out above, I suspect the concerns over “a small measure of caution” were a result of past experiences where individuals felt that the authorities had acted inappropriately. This has surely occurred. However, I would like to suggest that one of the main reasons this did not happen here is because of John and who he is. I think this will be one of the most important things I take away from my time exploring this issue.

    Charity, TOm

  17. TOm,

    I think we actually agree in principle and perhaps disagree over degrees. That is, I agree that all social organizations have to have some boundaries and exercise some discrimination with respect to their membership; otherwise, there would be nothing to distinguish the organization from the rest of the world. The question is not whether the LDS church can set standards for membership that help distinguish the church from the rest of society and from other churches and organizations. Certainly, it can do this. And I agree that there is always some tension between the individual and the organization. The question is the degree to which it is appropriate for the organization to exert power over an individual’s personal activities. I think the church is way too overbearing and authoritarian in the way it deals with its individual members and seeks to exert control over individual thought, belief, expression, and action. I think the church could dial way back on this front and still maintain appropriate, healthy boundaries that define it and give it a unique purpose and mission. There is a continuum between absolute control and anarchy. I think the church is in no danger of approaching the anarchical side of the spectrum and is much closer to the authoritarian side.

    I agree that John’s experience is gratifying. I applaud his Bishop. And I agree that a lot of the positive result here can be attributed to John and his personality. I am not so sanguine about what may happen when John gets a new Bishop (which will happen eventually). I would also point out that it is one thing for his local leaders to deal with a complaint from a local leader far away. I am not so sure it would turn out the same if Elder Packer or Elder Bednar were the ones lodging the complaint with John’s local leaders.

    You said “Joseph Smith and/or God were quite aware that abuse of power would be part of the church.” Another point of total, wholehearted agreement. Yes, Joseph Smith was indeed quite familiar with abuse of power in the church.

  18. I am a regular on John’s websites and also listen to his podcasts. These discussions have helped me come to terms with my own beliefs and how to reconcile them with remaining active in the LDS Church.

  19. oops, I thought this was the space to write a note supporting John. I guess it was too late anyway! I am glad that things went well for you.

  20. John, I am sorry to say that I just checked back to see that you were up and running. I am also afraid I was the source of your troubles. On my exit letter, I gave them your website in an attempt to get them to address the needs of answering the questions regarding the inconsistencies of the church regarding history and doctrine. I praised the site as being one interested in discussing it. I CHOSE to leave the church due to my hitting a brick wall when I attempted to find answers to my questions. YOU did not influence my leaving. My mentioning your website was to show them that there are TBM’s that are willing to tackle these questions head on. All though I do not agree that the LDS church is the only TRUE church, I do respect your project and it’s ability to help people comfortably stay within the church if that is their desire.
    Again, I am sorry if I have caused you or your family any hurt or harm.

  21. Equality,
    I agree that we largely agree. Also there may be some difference in the degree to which we see such things present in the CoJCoLDS. However, hopefully we can both recognize that in this recent incident where we have some fairly thorough knowledge, the authorities behaved how one might expect God’s authorities to behave.

    I also thought that your final comment was cute (even clever).
    I of course MOSTLY meant D&C 121:39
    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    That being said, Joseph Smith could become harsh towards folks who challenged his authority. Very quickly afterwards, Joseph often would repent and/or forgive. I suspect the reports we have indicate a combination of repentance and forgiveness (sometimes more of one and sometime more of the other). Anyway, I would agree that Joseph Smith was “familiar with abuse of power.”

    Charity, TOm

  22. It must be John’s native cheery temperament that auses folks who interact on Mormon Stories to get all warm and fuzzy with each other. Yes, I agree that John’s local leaders acted with warmth and compassion and restraint. Not so sure about the guy who stirred up the hornet’s nest in the first place, though it sounds like he eventually came around.

    Yeah, I knew what you were referring to. I was just being snarky.

    Peace, EQuality

  23. John,

    I am very happy to hear the news. i would love to hear any more if you wouldn’t mind shooting me an email as well.

    Mike

  24. I am also glad that it all worked out for you. In truth, if you would have been disciplined I do believe that the ramifications would have been severe for your supporters who by and large would have become somewhat disillusioned with such an outcome.

    And it would have given the enemies of the church ammunition to focus on their target…the lds church. Take care, John.

  25. I just discovered Mormon Stories and I really appreciate it. I am not surprised to hear you were called in to talk with the bishop, but I am glad it went well. I did have one thought in response to the previous comment by Equality:

    “That the interview went well is gratifying, but the fact that it took place in the first place is illustrative of a church culture that is, in my estimation, toxic.”

    I agree. But I hope this isn’t a deterant to anyone involved in this blog. A church culture that is toxic NEEDS people (peaceful revolutionaries?) like John and others to stick around and stand up for their beliefs. If all of us who value you the church despite our struggles leave, who will be there to help others better understand their own struggles? Thank you John and everyone else here who is committed to finding value in the church despite the many warts.

  26. Hi Tom,

    Just want to let you know that you are breaking the standards of capitalization that have been so clearly set with your nonstandard usage.

    We will need to call you in if this continues.

    Also, it has already infected Equality at least once. For that reason alone, it is important that it stop.

    Thank you.

  27. EQuality,
    I have been meaning to respond to you. I agree that John does valuable things. If we could clone him and have him to Christmas dinners around the world were apostates and non-standard believers eat with fundamentalist LDS, I suspect much indigestion would be avoided.
    As one who wonders about fundamentalism within Mormonism, I would not need the above service. My Catholic parents and my LDS family eat dinner regularly. When religion comes up it is usually a discussion of Catholicism because I am more interested in that than they are in Mormonism. It is even more interesting when my agnostic/atheist sister comes over (especially when she was married to her pagan husband).
    That being said, I think it was through John and his site that I began to understand how one could reject to the practice of BftD. Other such things have surely also been integrated into my thinking.
    Now here comes my response to Ryan (I should apologize for accusing you of not being a LDS. I am glad you corrected me).
    Charity, TOm

  28. Ryan,

    I hope to infect EQuality and others. I am a missionary.
    I find within the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the authorities of the CoJCoLDS freedom, even encouragement to believe “ALL Truth.” Upon searching the scriptures and engaging the church, I have come to some conclusions on what is right and true. I think a LDS who believes that black people were less valiant in the pre-existence is missing something very important and should embrace my view (and the view of so many other thoughtful LDS). LDS need to stand up and say, “I believe XYZ.” It is not enough IMO to say, “As a LDS our scriptures command us to believe ABC, I believe XYZ because I am liberated from that such LDS thinking.”
    So I boldly declare that I do in fact capitalize the first TWo letters of my name. I do this on almost all of my communications (even at work). I boldly say, “I believe it is acceptable to capitalize in this way in all but the most formal of settings. LDS can and should feel free to do such things. The religion that came through Joseph Smith would support this and God is with me when I do it. This freedom is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the authorities of the CoJCoLDS.” I will be part of the church by following my leaders and believing all truth rather than begrudgingly embracing something that I know is wrong just because some past leader expressed his view. This is the freedom of the member of the church as I see it. I do not expect to be disciplined for my views on capitalization (or God’s foreknowledge). If it happens, the first thing that will be evident is that I am a LDS; and I expect all will be ok.

    Charity, TOm

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