Richard Dutcher Explains Why He Left the LDS Church

John Dehlin Mormon

UPDATE! – Watch our interview with Richard Dutcher (10/03/2010)

It’s no secret — I’m a huge Richard Dutcher fan. Of course I’m sad that he’s taking some time off from the LDS Church, perhaps permanently. But he’s still very Mormon. And he still will be making Mormon movies (as I define them) — just, perhaps, no longer geared towards an LDS audience specifically.

Anyway, Richard has written a follow-up to his “Parting words” essay, explaining why he left the LDS Church (Full text included below). He has posted it as a comment to my good friend Serenity Valley’s post on By Common Consent.

Please check it out, and if you feel so inclined, give Richard your love and appreciation.

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Taryn,

Thanks so much for your beautiful essay. I was very moved by it. As you can imagine, I’ve been dropping in on various internet sites and reading the discussions. Perhaps it would be in my best interest to simply disappear without another word, but out of respect and affection for my friends and for those who have been generous in their support (including yourself), I’ve decided to address a few of the statements that have been made about me and my decision to leave the Church. I’d appreciate it if those who read this message would send it along to other internet sites. I’d like it to be read.


Also, the ghost of Thomas Marsh keeps pestering me. He’s been following me around for the past few days saying, “Don’t let them do to you what they did to me!”

What did they do to him? They turned him into a Sunday school lesson. (A note for all the literalists out there: No, Marsh’s ghost has not actually been visiting me. I’m just trying to make a point.)

FAREWELL – PART II

Thomas Marsh was one of the leaders in the early Church. Most of us know him only as that silly man who left the Church because his wife cheated another sister out of some “milk strippings.” The matter ended up with local Church leaders who determined that Sister Marsh had, indeed, acted dishonestly. As the story goes, Thomas was so offended and angry that he left the Church and didn’t come back until he was an old man, dead broke and half-senile.

But there’s so much more to the story.

Although the “milk stripping” incident is factual, it is not the reason Thomas Marsh left the Church. He left in those chaotic days in Far West, shortly before Joseph was arrested and taken to Liberty Jail. These were the days of Sidney Rigdon’s reach for power and his “Salt Sermon.” They were the days of the Danites (Yes, Virginia, there were Danites), and the days when Oliver Cowdery left the Church. Oliver’s complex and difficult decision was made at a time when his life was being threatened by other Church leaders. It was a crazy, dangerous time and Thomas was right in the middle of it. I’m sure those old milk strippings were the last things on Thomas Marsh’s mind when he mounted up and got his family the hell out of town.

Yet this man’s complex life, and his difficult decision, has been reduced to an inaccurate Sunday school lesson in Pride. I believe this “lesson” is a slander, and a violation of a very complex human being.

Although it may be out of my hands, I do not intend for something similar to happen to me. At least not without a fight.

It’s unpleasant to acknowledge, but the LDS community has a history of character assassination. It is an ugly truth, but it is the truth. I have often joked (darkly, and among friends only) that when wandering sheep stray from the fold, Mormons don’t go looking for them. What happens is: somebody climbs up on a really tall tower, takes out a high-powered rifle, gets the poor straying soul in the cross-hairs, and then blows his wandering brain out.

When individuals leave the fold, why do we find it necessary to blacken their names? This has been the case since the earliest days. Back then, a church member or leader could be in full fellowship one day and considered a wonderful, decent, loveable human being. The next day, if that individual chose to make an exit, he was the “blackest, basest of scoundrels,” an “adulterer” and a “counterfeiter,” etc.

Today, we’re a little less melodramatic. But still, when a scholar, artist, intellectual, or even a rank and file member of the Church decides to leave, his character is instantly under attack: “I think he’s gay” or “I bet she’s having an affair” or “I’ve heard he’s a drug addict,” etc.

Just for the record: I’m not having an affair. I’m not gay. I’m not a drug addict. I’ve never tried to illegally reproduce hundred dollar bills and I haven’t killed anyone. Sadly, I can’t even claim to have beaten anyone up, not since the 9th grade anyway. (Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t win that particular fight. A neanderthalic 12th grader beat the snot out of me.)

However, I’m far from perfect: I do like to swear sometimes (seldom in anger, mostly for fun), and I’ve recently grown fond of really expensive dark Irish beer (enjoyed in moderation, of course). On occasion I’ve even been known to swear while drinking a beer. I’ve always been good at multi-tasking.

I tried smoking cigars, but didn’t care for them. Cigarettes I hate. Coffee’s not for me, but I have found some great dark teas that I really like. There’s one in particular, Lapsang Souchong, that I highly recommend.

Also, sometimes I daydream that Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie are both madly in love with me and I have to become a polygamist so that I can keep them both and not lose Gwen (my equally gorgeous wife).

There you go. Not very juicy. Downright silly in fact. On to more serious matters.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that I left because I’m angry that LDS audiences didn’t line up for my movies. If such was the case, I would be a truly shallow human being.

First of all, LDS audiences did line up for my movies. Even my lowest-grossing film, STATES OF GRACE, made $200,000.00 at the box office. True, that’s less than 1/10 of what GOD’S ARMY grossed, but still…most independent filmmakers would kill (or, at least, maim) for a $200,000.00 theatrical gross.

Some have very pointedly claimed that if my films had been more financially successful, I wouldn’t be leaving. Believe me, it has nothing to do with money. I didn’t make GOD’S ARMY because I thought it would make me rich, and I haven’t left Mormon Cinema because I’m afraid it’s going to make me poor. If STATES OF GRACE had made 20 million dollars, I’d still have made the same choice.

Others have said that I’m angry because Mormons didn’t “get” my movies. I think the majority of those who saw them “got” them. I’ve tried not to pay too much attention to the very vocal minority who didn’t.

Some have speculated that I may have been offended by a church leader or member. That’s not the case. Church leadership has never been anything but supportive, and I’ve never lost any sleep over disapproval from individual church members. I would never let a personal offense from a fellow traveler detour me from the path.

Also, so many people out there think that I have been angry at other LDS filmmakers for dumping poor quality movies into the marketplace and ruining the reputation of Mormon Cinema.

Okay…you got me. That one’s true. But it is not the reason for my departure.

To conclude, it’s not necessary for anyone to jump to any conclusions. Please refer back to my letter and re-read the last several paragraphs. I shared my reasons. If you want me to be more specific, I’m sorry. I will not do that.

Out of respect for the feelings and beliefs of so many of my closest friends and family members, and those who have appreciated my films, I choose to leave my reasons clear, although not explicit.

Many have expressed concerns for my wife, Gwen, and our children. I’m grateful for your concern. We’re all fine, and happy. Gwen didn’t learn of my struggles and my decision in the morning paper, of course. We’ve been talking about it, and dealing with the ramifications, for over two years now. I can’t tell you how grateful I feel to have such an understanding, supportive and loving wife. I hope to be equally supportive of her and of our children as they continue to be active in the church.

Again, I’m not angry at the Church. I’m not angry at Joseph Smith. I’m not angry at Gordon B. Hinckley. I don’t have any axe to grind whatsoever.

My time as an active Latter-Day Saint has been a beautiful, wonderful, life-changing adventure. I’m not rejecting it.

The best way for me to describe my situation is to share a metaphor. Buddha once compared his teaching to a boat that helps us cross a river. But, once we get to the other side, no one would think of carrying the boat around on his shoulders. Although grateful for its service, no one would say, “Oh, this boat helped me to cross over the river, so I’m now going to carry it on my back.”

The wise traveler would, obviously, leave the boat at the side of the river and continue on the journey.

I now feel the need to–with respect and gratitude–lay down the boat and continue on.

The past few years have been very difficult for me. I’ve been trying to continue my journey toward God while carrying a boat on my back. I hope no one will take offense at this metaphor. I’m not saying that all of us have to leave the boat of Mormonism behind. Many of you will arrive Home in these boats, I’m sure. But, for some unknown reason, our mutual Father in Heaven requires that I take another route. A large part of me would rather stay in the boat. I like the boat. But, my brothers and sisters, it’s time for me to start walking.

I have not, as I’ve been accused, abandoned God or truth. I believe I am being loyal to truth and reality (as best as I can perceive it), and that I am still reaching up, in my life and in my film work, to my Father in Heaven.

I leave with love, and I promise to do my best not to take offense at those who currently have me in the cross-hairs. I’ll dodge their bullets, and continue on my way.

Richard Dutcher

P.S. I’m sure many of you are as confused by my decisions as you were before you started reading. I apologize, but these words are as much as I want to share, publicly, at this time. I hope to meet many of you, individually, in the coming years. If circumstances allow, we can sit down quietly and privately—maybe even over a dark Irish beer—and I can tell the story in more detail. Until then.

Comment by Richard Dutcher — April 18, 2007 @ 6:19 pm