Q: Dear John – What are your motives in hosting Mormon Stories podcast, and in all of the “faith crisis” coaching, workshops, and retreats that you are involved in?
A: A few weeks ago a dear family member said to me something to the effect of, “I love you John. I only wish you weren’t dedicating your life to destroying the church that I love.”
I have to admit that I was quite stunned. I’ve known this family member for all of my adult life. I know that they love and even respect me. I see them yearly. And yet – 15 years after the creation of my podcast – they still fundamentally misunderstand why I host Mormon Stories Podcast.
This made me want to express my motives for Mormon Stories Podcast very, very clearly, so that everyone who is open to actually understanding my motives will have an explicit opportunity to do so.
I run Mormon Stories Podcast for the following reasons:
- I believe that far too many Mormons and Mormon investigators (even in 2020) do not understand the basic, accurate historical facts surrounding Mormonism. They believe that Joseph Smith told a single, consistent account of the first vision. They believe that Joseph Smith used the “urim and thummim” to translate the Book of Mormon from golden plates. They do not know that the Mormon temple ceremony was mostly derived from the masonic lodge temple ceremony, and that it has undergone dramatic revisions over time. They do not know that Joseph Smith married over 30 women, that many of these women were under the age of 17, and that many others were already married to other men when he married them. They do not know that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are NOT translations of ancient records, as we were taught. They do not know the historicity problems with the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They do not know about the Second Anointing ritual. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I fundamentally believe that anyone who is in Mormonism, or who is investigating Mormonism, deserves to know all of these details before dedicating their entire lives, 10% of their income, their children, etc. to the church. To me, this is purely a matter of “full disclosure” and “full consent.” If someone knows all of these facts, and chooses to remain a Mormon, I am 100% supportive of that decision. Assuming that they also understand #2-3 below.
- I believe that Mormonism does both good things, and harmful things. I think we can all agree that the Mormon church does a great job at highlighting its own strengths – but not so much its weaknesses – and specifically the harm that it causes certain subgroups of people.
I believe that Mormonism can cause harm in certain instances, such as by:
- Shaming youth and adults for natural acts around sexuality (e.g., masturbation, pornography viewing, normal sexual exploration).
- Sometimes encouraging racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-intellectual beliefs and behaviors.
- Causing Mormons to believe that they are better than other people, or that the Mormon church is superior to other churches, or to secular people and groups.
- Protecting abusers at the expense of abuse victims, and instilling very harmful leadership policies and practices that continue to put children, youth, and vulnerable adults at continued risk.
- Causing LGBTQ youth and adults to hate their natural selves, leading sometimes to depression and suicidality.
- Dividing/harming families by striking fear into the hearts of Mormons that if any family member leaves Mormonism, the family will no longer be together in heaven. This teaching leads to unnecessary strife and even divorce when certain family members stop believing in the church.
- Teaching members to blindly follow/obey and sometimes even venerate highly imperfect, and sometimes deeply flawed leaders – based on the false and deeply destructive teaching that these leaders speak directly to and for God.
- Punishing and excommunicating honest, sincere conscientious objectors who speak out against the harm that the church sometimes causes people.
- Withholding or hiding problematic information such as its troubling church history or problematic civil rights record.
- I believe that the Mormon church makes it WAY too hard for people to leave the church with their dignity intact. Ex-Mormons are far too often shamed, belittled, marginalized and even cut off by family members and friends for simply losing their Mormon beliefs, and ceasing their church participation.
To me, these things are unacceptable. Consequently…..I continue to host Mormon Stories Podcast because I want to see the Mormon church harm fewer people, and ultimately make changes that will improve on these significant problems.
- After personally interacting with tens of thousands of questioning, doubting, transitioning, and post-Mormons over the past 18 years, it has become incredibly clear to me that leaving Mormon orthodoxy and/or Mormonism is far too painful and difficult for those who cannot remain. I’ve seen the loss of Mormon faith cause untold levels of anxiety, depression, family conflict, divorce, and even suicidality in its doubting and former members. I believe that this level of pain and difficulty – simply for losing one’s faith/devotion to a religion – is deeply damaging and totally unacceptable in the modern world. I also believe that Mormonism does NOT prepare its members to thrive outside of the Mormon context. Many of those who leave Mormonism become completely lost, at least for a time, as their identities, sense of spirituality, friendships, community, sense of morality, family relationships, marriages, and existential beliefs evaporate before their very eyes.
In the end, post-Mormons deserve health and happiness as much as Mormons do.
To conclude – if you peruse the back catalog of Mormon Stories, you will see several themes emerge over and over again.
- I interview historians and scientists to allow them to relate the accurate, factual history/science that heretofore has been hidden by church leaders, and denounced as “anti-Mormon.”
- I interview marginalized groups within Mormonism, such as women/feminists, LGBTQ individuals, racial minorities, and “intellectuals” to help explore the harm that is being caused to these sub-populations.
- I interview victims of abuse within the church.
- I interview church dissidents who are often excommunicated simply for shining a light on problems within the church.
- I interview individuals and families who have left Mormonism, or who have become more “liberal” or “progressive” within Mormonism, to help model healthy ways to transition away from Mormonism, or from Mormon orthodoxy.
- I also interview mental health professionals and wise friends who help to provide wisdom and guidance for those who either want or need to leave Mormonism behind.
For the record – I DO NOT AND NEVER HAVE wished to destroy or even harm the Mormon church. I do not consider myself an enemy of Mormonism, any more than knowledge of “the truth” and principles of health and well-being are enemies to Mormonism.
Instead, I have ALWAYS wanted to:
- Help Mormon church members and Mormon investigators learn the truth about Mormonism.
- Help the Mormon church harm fewer people, and
- Help post-Mormons find healing, growth, and community (i.e. joy) beyond Mormonism.
I hope this explanation proves helpful.
And I am now SUPER excited to share this essay with the particular family member who still thinks that I am out to destroy Mormonism.
Feel free to share with anyone you wish.
And please let me know if I’ve forgotten anything important in my lists above.
Upward, and onward.
John P. Dehlin, Ph.D.