Questions surround podcaster John Dehlin and the quest to build an ex-LDS community

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As increasingly more Latter-day Saints extricate themselves from the Mormon cocoon that bred, raised, nurtured, taught and embraced them — and a church they now imagine has betrayed, stifled or harmed them — numerous digital and in-person communities have sprung as much as welcome these displaced souls.

Equally themed Fb teams, web sites, blogs, e-mail lists, podcasts, hashtags, meetups, cyber wards and on-line videographers utilizing YouTube and TikTok now attain huge audiences worldwide.

Lots of them supply alternate and, some say, important lifesaving views to what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught from childhood, together with protected areas to assist energetic, questioning and former members navigate what therapists name “religion transitions.”

Standard and prolific Holladay-based podcaster John Dehlin has emerged in recent times as an influential but polarizing presence on the heart of this loose-knit motion.

The 52-year-old psychologist was an early pioneer in utilizing the web for Mormon-related content material and describes his life’s mission as selling “therapeutic, progress and group for these experiencing a spiritual transition.”

After practically 17 years as an outspoken on-line dissector of Latter-day Saint orthodoxy — and 7 years after his high-profile excommunication from the church for “apostasy” — the previous Microsoft govt and his co-producers and collaborators at his “Mormon Tales” nonprofit join with tens of 1000’s of individuals day by day.

And because the nonprofit expands its attain on newer social media platforms, interesting to youthful individuals, these audiences are mushrooming and, some say, shifting in tone.

“Every part’s gone viral,” Dehlin extolled to his viewers lately after a sequence of segments on current remarks by church chief Brad Wilcox exploded on-line. “TikTok, Reddit, Twitter — it’s all lit up.”

Now — whereas the podcaster helps to convey in-person gatherings to former Latter-day Saints via a nonprofit known as THRIVE — he’s drawing questions over the suitability of his sharp-elbowed fashion.

“I personally don’t observe John Dehlin or THRIVE,” mentioned Ane Axford, a former Latter-day Saint and therapist residing in New York. “It isn’t a group that’s totally inclusive of everybody that leaves Mormonism.”

Jacob Newman, who’s homosexual, mentioned former believers “create communities that thrive on disbelief, ignoring that there are LGBTQ+ Mormons who select to remain.”

Such communities, Newman mentioned, replicate “the very same kind of poisonous behaviors that many people tried to depart behind in Mormonism: No accountability for management, poisonous obsession and fixation on an ‘identification’ as an ex-Mormon (versus a believing Latter-day Saint).”

From some previous staff and associates, Dehlin additionally faces open criticism over his group’s funds, his remedy of girls and his perceived function as a dogged antagonist to Utah’s dominant religion.

[Read more about John Dehlin’s compensation and his nonprofit’s finances here.]

The query additionally turns into: Can an engaged on-line viewers be reworked right into a profitable in-person group? And, even when Dehlin had been absent, is it doable to construct a group on a shared unfavourable, even traumatic expertise?

‘Open dialogue’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)
John Dehlin speaks to supporters along with his spouse, Margi, by his aspect after his disciplinary council on the North Logan LDS Stake Heart in North Logan in 2015. He later was excommunicated.

Dehlin launched the inaugural “Mormon Tales” podcast in 2005, reflecting his personal brewing private doubts concerning the religion, and ran it intermittently till 2010. He then based the Open Tales Basis and relaunched the podcast whereas based mostly in Logan as he started work on a doctorate in psychology at Utah State College, with the mission of making “on-line and in-person environments that permit for genuine self-expression and the open dialogue of Mormonism.”

His 2015 excommunication, Dehlin mentioned, was probably prompted by a TED Speak he gave in late 2013 titled “The ally inside.” In it, he recounted overcoming his conservative Latter-day Saint upbringing in Texas and deep-seated homophobic attitudes to grow to be an LGBTQ advocate.

His bishop later blamed his exile on “public help of social points,” Dehlin mentioned, “and he named, particularly, same-sex marriage and ordination of girls.”

The muse’s podcasts have advanced significantly since then, whereas retaining one key method: interviews with well-known Latter-day Saint figures throughout a spectrum of Mormon tradition, usually keying off new developments within the religion’s tenets and programming or statements by its prime leaders, whereas highlighting Mormonism’s controversies over historical past, doctrine, tradition, race, ladies and LGBTQ teachings.

The 5 common podcasts — “Mormon Tales,” “Mormon Issues,” “A Considerate Religion,” “Mormon Psychological Well being,” and “Mormon Transitions” — drew a complete of 6.6 million downloads and YouTube and Fb views in 2018, based on the most recent out there studies at “Mormon Tales,” the marquee present, amassed practically 5.8 million views and downloads alone and reached a milestone of 1,000 episodes that very same 12 months.

At this time, the “Mormon Tales” podcast group on Fb boasts 16,800 members, whereas its YouTube account has greater than 54,000 followers. With the current addition of a youthful and extra social media-savvy co-host, Carah Burrell, and a concerted push onto the video-focused social media channel TikTok, Dehlin mentioned, “Mormon Tales” has a following approaching 122,000.

A big share of Dehlin’s viewers progress, he mentioned, is drawn from torrents of Latter-day Saints now falling away from the religion, which he insists is seeing large waves of attrition in its worldwide membership.

Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins disputes that assertion.

The Utah-based religion “continues to develop not simply in quantity, however in indicators of member engagement similar to temple work, household historical past efforts and the tithes and choices contributed,” Hawkins wrote in an e-mail. “Those that go away usually achieve this in a extra public method via social media, however the share of members who resign their membership stays very small (lower than two-tenths of 1%) and has not elevated in recent times.”

Leaders don’t need “to see anybody go away the church,” he mentioned, “which exists to convey individuals nearer to Jesus Christ as they dwell by the restored teachings, covenants and ordinances of the gospel.”

Mormonism’s ‘Voldemort’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)
John Dehlin and his spouse, Margi, on the pink carpet for the premiere of “Believer,” a documentary about Think about Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds attempting to reconcile his Latter-day Saint beliefs along with his help for LGBTQ group in Park Metropolis on the Sundance Movie Pageant in 2018.

To lots of his devotees, Dehlin is a godsend.

He’s revered as a savior of types by some. One in contrast him lately to Jesus, saying each critiqued the non secular authorities of their day. His writings, public speeches and what he says are practically 1,700 hours of podcasting over time elicit adulation, gratitude and an ardent core of followers and donors amongst these departing Mormonism.

“You all have modified my life and gave me what I wanted in a time when it felt like there have been no solutions or assist,” a follower named Hailey mentioned in a testimonial featured on one in all Dehlin’s web sites. “As my husband and I’ve transitioned … out of the LDS Church, the knowledge shared from these podcasts have pushed important dialog and helped us preserve our dignity and beauty all through the method with our household and buddies.”

Many religious Latter-day Saints blame Dehlin for drawing individuals away from the church along with his critiques, and various, he acknowledges, see him as “evil.”

He has taken to calling himself Mormonism’s “Voldemort,” a reference to the “he-who-must-not-be-named” archvillain within the “Harry Potter” books. Some right-wing #DezNat church defenders have leveled threats towards him.

It’d shock some that Dehlin views his tons of of hours of podcasts as serving to church leaders, nudging them within the route of constructive change. He says his personal Mormonism “won’t ever wash off.”

“I’m technically ex-Mormon, as a result of they kicked me out, proper?” he mentioned. “However I don’t consider myself that method. I truly consider myself as a guide to the church. They need assistance. And I’m serving to them. They’re altering.

“In the end, I nonetheless do love the church,” Dehlin mentioned, “like an abusive father.”

Distinguished former members acknowledge the advantages and understanding he’s dropped at Latter-day Saints, mixed-faith {couples}, LGBTQ people and their households, and people in battle with the church

Some, although, have points with Dehlin.

“Persons are uncooked emotionally and misplaced in lots of methods, with their worldview flipped the wrong way up,” mentioned Ethan Gregory Dodge, co-founder of the Reality & Transparency Basis (previously MormonLeaks). “He comes throughout as somebody who has all of the solutions after which begins asking for cash. Individuals will give John cash out of gratitude, however finally fall out of affection with him.”

His “enterprise mannequin thrives on drama,” Dodge mentioned. “The extra drama he can drum up, the extra podcast downloads and YouTube hits he’ll get.”

Many former believers will state that Dehlin has finished a lot good “he doesn’t deserve any criticism,” Dodge added. “However that’s precisely the identical tactic the LDS Church applies to basic authorities.”

What about ladies?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Kate Kelly speaks in 2014 about her excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dehlin’s interactions with ladies via the years have introduced out a few of the hardest criticism towards him.

Kate Kelly, a feminist and founding father of Ordain Girls, which helps ladies getting into the all-male Latter-day Saint priesthood, has given public voice to long-simmering issues from greater than a dozen ladies who say they’ve been demeaned of their private {and professional} dealings with Dehlin.

Kelly, who was excommunicated for “conduct opposite to the legal guidelines and order of the church” a 12 months earlier than Dehlin, lately posted a letter-turned-petition, saying the podcaster “takes benefit of weak individuals in disaster, who’re in legit want of assist and group.”

“John has used our skills, time, actions and popularity to bolster his model and enrich himself,” Kelly wrote within the on-line submit. “When ladies come ahead with critiques of his conduct or allegations of wrongdoing, he retaliates by lashing out at them and trying to publicly discredit them.

“…Many people have labored with him prior to now, and wish to clarify that we not do and don’t encourage some other ladies to take action,” Kelly acknowledged. “It’s not protected. We refuse for use as a masks for abuse.”

Those that want remedy, she added, “ought to search out knowledgeable who is definitely licensed by the state to offer these providers.”

(Dehlin has a doctorate in psychology however will not be a licensed therapist.)

Kelly’s one-page assertion was signed by greater than a dozen ex-Mormon feminists, together with two of his former staff on the Open Tales Basis.

“Any girl who challenged him as a lady, he would come unglued,” mentioned an individual who labored with Dehlin however requested not be named for worry of reprisal, “whereas if a man podcaster or worker requested the identical query, he can be extra open and listening.”

Although Dehlin calls the allegations towards him “false” and “fully baseless,” he mentioned he “was and am heartbroken that [these women] had unhealthy experiences with me and the OSF. I completely take duty for my function within the variations and conflicts we had.”

At this time, he feels “very dedicated to listening to and studying from every interplay I’ve with workers, board members, volunteers, interviewees and listeners,” he mentioned, “and I hope that I’m enhancing daily as a colleague and as a supervisor.”

Natasha Helfer — a therapist who was ousted from the church final 12 months after repeatedly opposing its doctrines, insurance policies and leaders on sexuality points — describes Dehlin as half of what’s “type of a scientific challenge.”

“What’s attention-grabbing about that is that I may say one thing about each single firm or company or nonprofit or for-profit group on this nation that has patriarchal points,” mentioned Helfer, who serves with Dehlin on the THRIVE board and is a former member of the Open Tales Basis board. “Does John in some way magically not match into that? Most likely not.

“What I’ve seen John do over time is be open to that suggestions and critique and attempt to study from it,” she added. “And he’s finished extra work than I’ve seen lots of CEOs or leaders, particularly in our church, be keen to do.”

Dehlin mentioned he has “labored arduous to try to do higher in these areas. However I feel it’s triggering for a white, straight, heterosexual, cisgender male to now be outstanding on this area.”

‘First entry level’

(Courtesy picture)
Intercourse therapist Natasha Helfer.

By most accounts, Dehlin’s “Mormon Tales” podcasts have helped many former Latter-day Saints who’ve misplaced their religion within the 16.6 million-member church, however some say that isn’t sufficient for long-term involvement.

Latter-day Saint writer-researcher Jana Riess, writer of “The Subsequent Mormons: How Millennials Are Altering the LDS Church,” has had a longtime curiosity within the sentiments of younger Mormon adults and now’s wanting particularly at former believers. “Mormon Tales” podcasts have come up usually in her interviews.

“For a lot of, it’s the first entry level into the ex-Mormon world,” Riess mentioned, however that want “goes away after the primary 12 months or two after which [they] are likely to cycle out of these communities.”

That mannequin is distinctly totally different from creating an organized, supportive and enduring group for former church members, which Ryan McKnight, Dodge’s companion on the Las Vegas-based Reality & Transparency Basis, calls “a tall order.”

That’s “all nice and dandy when you find yourself first processing your method via leaving the religion, however briefly order it turns into boring and redundant,” McKnight mentioned. “I don’t see that as a setup for long-term success, and I feel the ethics of it are nebulous at greatest.”

Dehlin appeals to a sure type of former Latter-day Saint, those that had pretty literal beliefs after which really feel betrayed, mentioned Dan Wotherspoon, an unbiased podcaster who moderated the “Mormon Issues” podcast.

“In John’s work, he principally emphasizes the unfavourable results of Mormon orthodoxy and the right way to overcome them,” mentioned Wotherspoon, whose podcast is “Latter-day Religion.” “However Mormonism, and faith typically, is about a lot greater than its perception system.”

Plus, some former Latter-day Saints convey all the identical points that appalled them whereas within the church, mentioned Mette Ivie Harrison, a Utah novelist, poet and blogger — together with adulation of leaders, male-dominated conversations and self-righteousness.

“There’s nothing fallacious with throwing off outdated shackles and deciding to reconfigure your life based mostly on new data, however ex-Mormon get-togethers resemble anti-testimony conferences,” Harrison wrote in a 2020 commentary, “individuals sitting round and bearing witness to the ache of Mormonism in ways in which appear similar to the outdated testimonies I’d hear on quick Sunday about how fantastic Mormonism was.”

When Latter-day Saints go away such an intense religion group, there may be an urge to “discover some various model of the ‘proper’ technique to dwell, whereas additionally now seeing Mormonism because the ‘fallacious’ technique to dwell,” mentioned Axford, the previous Latter-day Saint and New York-based therapist. A part of the motivation is a want “for psychological security with all of the unknowns of life.”

Cults of persona, patriarchy and judgmentalism “can and do exist in ex-Mormon communities and people, as these persons are nonetheless human,” Axford mentioned, “and are additionally probably extra vulnerable to those issues since they’ve been closely imprinted from Mormon expertise.”

It’s wholesome and vital for ex-Mormons “to talk with and have interaction with others to validate [their] expertise and actually perceive it,” Axford mentioned. However merely being a former member is “not a long-term helpful group or main identification to concentrate on.”

For a lot of questioning Latter-day Saints, nevertheless, the expertise is extra uncooked and instant. Lots of of attendees have flocked to current THRIVE occasions because it resumed face-to-face gatherings in October — with as much as 1,000 anticipated at its women-only occasion in Salt Lake Metropolis in April — testomony, co-organizer Clint Martin mentioned, to the deep want for group in post-Mormonism.

“When the individuals cease displaying up they usually don’t come anymore,” Martin mentioned, “that’s when [wife] Jeni and I are going to cease.”

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