by Pete Busche:
I’m sure much will be said in the coming days about the pending disciplinary action of John Dehlin. I believe it is unwise to take either side, or even allow for the division of opinions to take place (many will claim he is an apostate heretic, others that he is a martyr, these should both be disregarded). At the end of the day, John is just a man. He made an honest choice based on his own experiences and knowledge, as we all must do. He’s not without flaws: I’m wary of all the media attention he has garnered, he has turned much more negatively-biased in his podcasts and I’m sure (as all do) has other imperfections. However, I wish to view him in much the same way I believe the LDS Church would have us view someone like Joseph Smith Jr. or other church historical figures: very imperfect men that have done great things, especially when you consider the complete body of work (and of course I’m not insinuating Dehlin is in anyway prophetic).
I would like to share a part of my personal journey of faith and how people like John Dehlin and dozens like him have helped me (and several thousands of others, I’m sure) come to a more honest, authentic belief system. This is not a chance to harp on mistakes by the church, point fingers, etc., only to spread open, positive dialogue on matters of great importance. #ShareGoodness if you will.
The Start of a Faith Crisis
I grew up in a typical Utah Mormon household. We went to church every week, had Family Home Evening, scout camp, mutual—the whole “eternal round.” It was a very blessed and happy upbringing, but i was obviously sheltered in Davis County, Utah (I didn’t know what “Latino” meant until I was almost 16). All my friends were LDS, and I was completely ignorant to the experience of the few non-Mormons around me. Although I would call myself inquisitive, I rarely questioned anything about the church and wanted to fit the perfect mold for what I believed a “good Mormon” was. The only items that baffled me before my mission were: 1. What in the world happened to Oliver Cowdery? and 2. Why in the world was my BYU Singles’ Ward Council meeting dedicating a good half hour to promoting Prop 8 in California?
It was about the time I served my mission (2008-2009) that the internet began to explode, and people’s worlds expanded and morphed for better or for worse. It was previously thought that any information online that seemed to contradict the LDS church’s party-line was anti, inflammatory, and easily dismissed. Thanks to people like John Dehlin, a forum was created in Mormon Stories and elsewhere, for active (and now, everything along the spectrum) Mormons, to grow beyond the narrow view that was prescribed for us. I don’t see John Dehlin as groundbreaking in his ideas or positions, but certainly influential through his introducing me and hundreds of thousands to brilliant thinkers, historians, and sociologists: Richard Bushman, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Joanna Brooks—the list is endless.
The process of coming into contact with so much information (negative things in church history, doctrine, etc.) has been difficult. Many have fallen away completely from the faith, others remain tied somewhere in the middle, but I believe many have found a beauty in their new-found faith perspectives. As Derrick Clements and McKay Coppins have so eloquently stated: the information age has forced us to confront the uglies, the uncomfortables, and even the atrocities of Mormonism’s past. But due to the access to so much information—largely brought about by movers and shakers like John Dehlin—members can be better informed about their faith decisions. Even the LDS church has increased its focus on transparency, and seems to be opening up more about its past and addressing some historical/doctrinal issues.
The information explosion does not mean that everyone or everything online should be believed. Every historian, sociologist, feminist, and institution (including the church) has an agenda. The role for members now will be to weed through the immense amount of murky data to find glimpses of truth, hope, and resonance. In a post-correlation era of Mormonism, we now enjoy a greater responsibility of discernment. As the oft-quoted saying by Brigham Young goes:
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.On LGBT Mormons
Through John Dehlin and the launching pad he helped establish, I’ve learned about so many different branches and channels among Mormon thought: Feminists, Apologists, New-Order, etc., each with their own value. Of all the perspectives, I have most appreciated learning about LGBT Mormons’ experience and their struggle to gain acceptance among the Mormon community. Although some will continue to promote the church’s official positions, I have found a profound moral conviction in fighting for the rights of Gay Mormons. This moral conviction drives me to advocate not only for their civil liberties such as housing, employment, and marriage rights; but for their acceptance into Mormon families as healthy, happy members of the community. We don’t have all the answers as to eternal significance on such issues, but I believe Christ would advocate for such attitudes. This video greatly helps illustrate the great need for change for the future of LGBT individuals within Mormon communities:
As Nathaniel Givens and others have postulated, John Dehlin is most likely not undergoing church discipline because of his open support for marriage equality (or it’s likely not a “primary reason”). My estimate is that tens of thousands of Mormons have come to see the significance in supporting the long-term happiness of gay and lesbian couples through full marriage rights. Thousands of LGBT people will probably benefit greatly from John Dehlin’s advocacy, and perhaps just as much from active members who lovingly support them in the future.
The Choice to Believe
This last point (supporting marriage equality) illustrates my new perspective on faith: I very rarely claim to be “right” and in full possession of truth. It’s hard to “KNOW” very much in this life, especially when it comes to such a complex conception such as God. But just because all the facts aren’t in, or because the facts are muddy and hard to decipher (What exactly IS doctrine vs. policy? I’m sure people far smarter than I will continue to battle those issues for millennia), doesn’t mean we all have to give up on our faith entirely. For me personally, there is still so much beauty to be found in the divine concepts of the preexistence, of repentance and forgiveness, and the teachings of selflessness and love from Christ. And even when I find it hard to believe fully, I find joy and meaning in the simple acts of worship and ritual.
For the future: I hope Mormons can better bridge the gap between Mormons of all kinds, regardless of belief or activity. Millions of Mormons will remain very orthodox, and I fully support them in their activity and know well of the great joy in their faith. My current personal stance? Just count me as an “Oliver Cowdery,” wanting to rekindle that glimmer of hope at the end of his life:
"Brethren (And Sisters), I wish to come humble and be one in your midst. I seek no station. I only wish to be identified with you.”
Pete Busche is a long-time Utah resident who studied at both BYU and currently at the University of Utah. He loves politics, anthropology, Wilco, and playing Goldeneye 007 with his wife Jessica on their N64. Twitter: @petebusche.
Image credit: Simon Law, modified by Scott Heffernan (used with permission).