Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drawing Circles. My Defense of John Dehlin

Outwitted by Edwin Markham

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

There might be reasons to excommunicate someone from a church, though I'm not sure what those reasons might be I will tell you what I believe they are not. Being honest and authentic by allowing others to tell about their Mormon experience is not a good reason. Believing that marriage between two adults is a civil right that should be extended to all is not a good reason. Believing that women should have full equality in a church is not a good reason. Earnestly seeking answers is not a good reason. Striving diligently to minister to the disenfranchised is not a good reason.

So those of you who don't know John Dehlin or what the hullabaloo is all about, I will share my own limited knowledge of John. But even with limited knowledge, I know enough to know that he does not deserve the dogged determination of leaders who are drawing a circle to shut him out. I met John about seven years ago. We've had lunch a few times and socialized in small groups. I've attended a six-week workshop designed to help those struggling with a faith transition or crisis. I've listened for years to his podcasts which deal with members of the church across the spectrum including very faithful, true believing Mormons such as Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens to gay Mormons to those who have left the church. Some of these have increased my faith while others have caused me to ponder more deeply the questions I already have. But what I have found from John is that he is extremely fair. He respects his listeners enough and his interviewees enough to let them draw their own conclusions. 

In the workshop I participated in, John was the discussion leader. He explained how normal it is to have various stages of faith and belief. He helped us to know that we could get through this and be better off for it. What he didn't do was advocate to anyone that they should leave their religion--nor did he do this even when I spoke with him individually. What I know of John is that he loves people. He loves them enough that when he saw so much suffering amongst some in the LDS community because of difficulties in the religion, he changed course and pursued his doctorate in psychology. 

I don't believe the church will gain anything from purging progressives. I know thousands of people who will feel less like participating if he is excommunicated, not because they idolize him, but because he reached out when they felt like they didn't belong. He has carved out a niche for many Mormons and given them reasons to stay. I would hope that the church which claims to have the complete truth would not be fearful of the scrutiny that comes from John and others like him. Can't we stretch our circle to draw him in?