A Clarification about the Mormon Stories Regional Communities and Conferences

January 27, 2013
By

In my recent interview entitled “John Dehlin and Faith Reconstruction” I made some comments about the Mormon Stories Regional Communities and Conferences that have apparently hurt many people, so I’d like to offer a few brief clarifications and a sincere apology.

To provide a tiny bit of background, about a year and a half ago we (at the Open Stories Foundation) were concerned/saddened by the very large number of struggling and/or disaffected Mormons that we were encountering across the globe, and felt motivated to create a number of Facebook support groups with the intent of seeding the formation of regional, face-to-face support communities for struggling Mormons.  Within a very short amount of time many of these communities started to gel, and uncorrelated Mormon book clubs, dinner groups, play groups, camp outs and other such events began taking place all over the world.  More importantly, hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of struggling Mormons began to receive the face-to-face support, friendship and fellowship that they were previously unable to receive in their LDS wards and stakes.

In addition to forming these communities, we decided to hold conferences in several of these cities including New York City, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Kansas City, Washington D.C., Houston, Boise, Phoenix, Seattle and Sweden — as well as Circling the Wagons conferences in Salt Lake City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco (to provide support for our LGBT friends).

I want to state very publicly and clearly that my personal experiences with these groups and conferences were overwhelmingly positive, beautiful and (to be very frank) somewhat sacred.  The people in these communities remain among my favorite people on the  planet, the conferences had delightful and uplifting presentations and musical performances, and the post-conference events were extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

In the interview referenced above (and online) I have been asked why the OSF discontinued its sponsorship of the conferences and communities.  While I now can see that I completely botched my explanation, allow me to briefly explain what I was trying to say.

While I want to (again) very strongly emphasize that my experiences with these communities and conferences were overwhelmingly positive and (dare I say) wholesome, throughout these interactions I became aware of (in some instances directly, and in some instances indirectly) a small degree of behaviors/activities that were very disturbing to me at the time.  To be specific, these behaviors included alcohol and drug use, adultery, and some experimentation with open marriages.

In relating this, I need to also state that:

  • NONE of this behavior was (to my knowledge) ever sponsored by the local Mormon Stories communities or their leaders
  • ALL of this behavior can be found both inside and outside of Mormonism (including amongst active LDS church participation), and
  • I completely reject and denounce any insinuation that these behaviors should be associated with disaffection from the LDS church. I tried to make this point very clear in my interview, and hopefully have made it very clear with this presentation.

I have been fighting for 8 years to dispel the myths that: 1) people leave the church in order to “sin,” or 2) leaving the church necessarily leads to unhappiness.  Consequently, to know that some have  interpreted my experiences in this way has made me very sad. 

What was difficult/problematic for me about these behaviors had NOTHING to do with my personal judgments of them, nor of the people involved in them.  These are fine, good, loving, moral people, and I do not judge them in any way.  To be honest, my own eye is so full of beams that I have literally no room to judge others.

What was difficult for me was the following:

  • I could not help but feel both saddened and at least partly responsible (as the leader of Mormon Stories and the OSF) as I watched some marriages dissolve in association with these conferences and communities.  To put it simply, it broke my heart.  Even though I know (in my logical brain) that divorce happens everywhere — when a spouse comes up to you and says, “My spouse met their lover at a Mormon Stories conference, and that was the beginning of the end of our marriage — so thanks a lot.” or “My spouse started drinking heavily once he started hanging around folks from the Mormon Stories community”….even though this was super rare for me…..it had an impact on me nonetheless.  It felt awful.
  • Even though these behaviors were relatively infrequent, I became fearful that Mormon Stories would become associated with some of these behaviors (since in life sometimes perception and/or reputation becomes reality — fair or not) — and the last thing I wanted to do was spoil the mission and impact of Mormon Stories (which is to build empathy for the plight of intellectuals, feminists, LGBT individuals and disaffected members from within the believing LDS community), and to SAVE families.
  • Frankly, I worried that some of these behaviors would lead to rumors that would only confirm the stereotypes I was trying to combat.
  • Many on the OSF board (myself included) became concerned that the conferences and communities would open the OSF up to potential law suits.
  • It was my perception that a number of these communities (especially on Facebook) started to gain the reputation (fair or not) as being post-Mormon communities, wherein believers sometimes felt unwelcome or even mocked.  As many of you know (again), our goal from the beginning has been to engage in projects wherein believers and non-believers both feel comfortable — and I did not feel like it would be good for Mormon Stories to be perceived as an organization that sponsored groups that were perceived to be hostile to belief.

All of these reasons, combined with the fact that…

  • Most of the OSF conferences lost money (after factoring in salaried labor)
  • My family relationships and personal health were suffering severely from the travel and stress of the conferences.  The conferences, and good relationships with my family, were simply not simultaneously sustainable.
  • I was SUPER uncomfortable with all the attention and adoration that I sometimes received from participants (I wasn’t at all interested in creating a personality cult or another church)
  • My Ph.D. clinical and research responsibilities increased dramatically during the 2012-2013 timeframe

…led to the decision to “spin off” the communities, and discontinue the conferences.

As I’ve received feedback from my recent interview, I have learned that many within these communities feel deeply hurt that I gave the impression that these communities were full of unsavory activities.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, and I feel very, very sad that I have given this impression.  Please accept my sincere apologies for this impression.

To close, I want to communicate that it remains my sincere hope that these beautiful and vibrant support communities continue to thrive.  Even though I felt it best to “spin them off” to local ownership, nothing would please me more than to see them grow, multiply, and continue to serve the large and growing number of struggling or disaffected LDS church members. It has been my position for 8 years (since starting Mormon Stories) that these beautiful, moral, and thoughtful people deserve love, respect and support, and they are certainly not getting it at present in their wards and stakes (for the most part…my ward/stake excluded).  :)

Consequently, I want to offer my sincere support (and gratitude) to any responsible group of individuals who would like to establish and grow an organization committed to nurturing these support communities.  If I can help with such an endeavor (from a bit of a distance…for practical reasons), please do not hesitate to let me know.  Nothing would make me happier than to see this happen.

With sincere love, gratitude, and my deepest apologies,

John Dehlin

25 Responses to A Clarification about the Mormon Stories Regional Communities and Conferences

  1. eric
    February 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    well done John. From beginning to end. Thanks.

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks, Eric!

  2. Verlyne
    February 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks, John. Maybe you can join us sometime for Pie (for the -not- pious)!

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Verlyne – Yes!!! One of these days I’ve got to join you all!!!

  3. Maria Petrova
    February 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Makes every bit of sense, John. Way too much for one person to oversee. It is unfortunate how small and isolated incidents like this can mar the reputation of the regional communities, Mormon Stories, and thus you. Though I have no judgment for drinkers or people who explore sexually; it’s just not what we want the local groups to be known for, and spicy news like this, unfortunately, travels quickly. Way too much for one person to take on and try to shepherd. Well done! Relishing the thought that your family gets to see more of you this way, too.

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks, Maria!!!

  4. why me
    February 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Having been around since the beginning of the podcasts I have seen John go this way and that way. But that is a human experience especially when it comes to faith. Unfortunately for John, he branched out into conferences and chapters picking up many people along the way. And like any organization that is loosely organized, it suffered from diversity. People were joining who no longer had the goals of the MS brand. And down it went. Not easy to hold a ship together when hurricanes exist.

    It would have been much better just to stick to podcasts and nothing more.

  5. George
    February 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    John, I meet monthly with a PostMormon group. Perhaps it is my California location, but I will suggest a still believing LDS member would be welcomed and feel loved within our fellowship. Is has happened and continues to happen. Those who have known pain and separation, are very intuitive toward the feeling of those who come to visit. Thanks you for the Podcast and for this clarification. It was needed and much appreciated.

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks, George.

  6. Ozpoof
    February 12, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    John, it appears that you are no longer “concerned/saddened by the very large number of struggling and/or disaffected Mormons”. There are a lot of people being damaged by the Church right now who will see your return and think again that they should do likewise, if only the many flaws in their pitiful characters were gone so they could slap on the fake smile and sit through the pablum once more.

    Your rejection of truth and embrace of dishonesty and control of the narrative by a corporation is disheartening. That’s what you should apologize for. I can’t understand how you could see how hurt and ruined so many people were because of the church and then return. You know better.

    I would have thought integrity and honesty were characteristics you would wish others to see in you.

    It seems you shut down the groups because a few members were behaving like adult free agents, i.e., they made some bad decisions. That’s life and that’s being a grown-up. You could have protected the groups by ensuring attendees signed a waiver stating they would not engage in illegal activities during the conferences. That would protect the brand. As far as the alcohol and sex goes, that’s really only the business of those adults who choose to engage in those legal activities. You’re not a prophet and you aren’t there to judge other people. They have been emotionally stunted by a controlling “church”, especially those who were born into it. Their actions should not be seen in the same light as the actions of another group of adults who had a normal young adulthood where they were allowed to choose their own path with a level of independence and made some mistakes along the way which they learnt by. Mormons aren’t allowed to make mistakes John. These people are damaged, and if they have a few drinks and maybe experiment, they will learn from it and grow.

    In the real world, we can’t control other people. It’s what being free is about. If marriages broke down, they couldn’t have been strong to start with. Perhaps the spouse that left was miserable. We don’t know. It’s not our business. It’s absolutely not your responsibility to police grown-ups and take the blame if they CHOOSE to participate in what grown-up people do who are free to choose.

    LDS members can believe anything they want about so-called apostates. If we drink alcohol, Mormons think we sin and believe that’s why they left. It’s difficult to have any type of rational dialogue with regards to sinning with people who believe a grandmother who has a cup of tea in the morning is evil. Quite frankly, it’s pointless trying to make MS communities look squeaky clean for the finger pointing “saints”. They already believe these fine exMormons are going to spend a very long time in outer darkness because they refused to nod their heads and agree with demonstrable lies. You can’t rationalize with people like that. Why bother?

    John, I loved the podcasts where you inquired and allowed the truth to emerge. That was almost all of them. I realized something had changed when you began allowing guests to state things you knew were false, and when you censored a podcast. Something happened to you John. I’m sorry.

    I hope you find the truth once more.

    • ktd
      February 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      Ozpoof said:

      1. John, it appears that you are no longer “concerned/saddened by the very large number of struggling and/or disaffected Mormons”

      2. Your rejection of truth and embrace of dishonesty and control of the narrative by a corporation is disheartening.

      3. You’re not a prophet and you aren’t there to judge other people. They have been emotionally stunted by a controlling “church”, especially those who were born into it.

      4. I would have thought integrity and honesty were characteristics you would wish others to see in you.

      5. …these fine exMormons are going to spend a very long time in outer darkness because they refused to nod their heads and agree with demonstrable lies.

      6. I realized something had changed when you began allowing guests to state things you knew were false, and when you censored a podcast. Something happened to you John.

      ——————

      1. I’m sure that’s just plain false.
      2. Truth is relative to where you’re sitting. How can you be a judge as to what the motivations of the “Corporation” are? How can you judge another in their “truth”? Can you not allow for someone else, even a John Dehlin, to mature in their own faith journey…even if he ends up in a different place than you? How can you even lay claim to be able to get inside his head?
      3. First sentence…I’m sure he knows that. So why even make that accusation? Second sentence…that’s just plain silly. How would you know this to be the case, even if it was so? You’re playing judge and executioner.
      4. I think you’re right. And that is what we’re observing.
      5. You’ve got the doctrine wrong there buddy.
      6. Again, how can you get inside of John’s head and decide for him what he believes and any given moment in time?

      One thing where I would agree with you. You’re angry and disgruntled. What do you hope to make better through gross generalizations and character assassination? Let’s support people in their own journey, not ridicule…

  7. Gail K
    February 12, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Apology accepted. Our Boise group is doing great. We have a great facebook group and regular in person get togethers. So much hope and support here for the disaffected. We loved the conference. It was so good and wonderful. I was NEVER involved or in earshot of any of the things that concerned you so much. I do know that some people use alcohol but in my family that was “normal” (I was not raised Mormon) I have never seen any of the folks on our group drunk at any function or get together I have attended. Thank you for this article. May all go well in the future for all the groups.

    • February 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks, Gail.

  8. Tom B
    February 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    John, looking for help setting up a group in NW Arkansas. New to your site. Can you help from a distance or is there someone that you can refer me to. Much happening in this area and people need support.
    Thanks Tom

  9. OmaMel
    February 12, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    John,

    Thank-you so much for the clarification. I must admit that I was a bit puzzled by that part of the podcast and I feel that I have a much better understanding of what you said now.

    I appreciate everything that you have done for those of us who are looking for our footing as we evaluate what, if any, continuing relationship we may have with the LDS Church. While I don’t think I want to take the path you have currently embarked on, I certainly respect and understand the reasons you shared with us for your decision. It is tough when our decisions have consequences beyond ourselves. Your family certainly must be your priority.

    After listening to the podcast I was a little anxious wondering if there was something wrong with me that I could not do what you are doing. Then I remembered a bit of wisdom that tumbled out of my mouth when I was having a very emotional “discussion” with my husband regarding my lack of belief. I told him I didn’t have answers, only questions and that for right now being a part of the church did not feel right for my life. “40 years ago no one could have convinced me that one day I would no longer have the faith I had then. I will not speculate on where I might be in that regard in the future.”

    I really am grateful for all of the good you have done and wish you only the best going forward.

    • February 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      OmaMe – DEFINITELY nothing wrong with you. Every path is different. FWIW, yours is sincerely sacred to me. Thanks for respecting mine as well.

  10. Liesel
    February 13, 2013 at 12:59 am

    It concerned me that there would be misinterpretation of what you were trying to portray about these small communities, John. I figured you did not mean your explanantion to come across the way that it did to some of the listeners. I’m glad you clarified your thoughts here for those who needed to hear it. It makes sense to me and I truly applaud your efforts. Your podcasts have been very helpful to me in my transition and I respect your path. Much luck and love to you, Brother.

  11. RSC
    February 13, 2013 at 8:16 am

    As a non-believing, non-practicing, born-in-the-covenant Mormon married to an active, very-much believing Mormon, I have to say that we greatly appreciated the fact that the Mormon Stories conference we attended gave us a public venue where we could celebrate our shared religious background and feel other people’s understanding of our decision to be together despite our differences in matters of faith. I can’t imagine the headache involved in putting these conferences together, but I think it’s fair to say that they were important experiences for a lot us in attendance.

  12. Brian
    February 13, 2013 at 10:18 am

    John, you have always impressed me as a very sincere person who cares deeply for the feelings of those who have had varied experiences within the LDS Church. Your efforts to bring people together and help them through difficult times is admirable. God bless you.

  13. February 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    To John Dehlin and the rest of the Mormon Stories Community:

    On behalf of the Society for Humanistic Mormonism, we would just like to say that we honor the work you do and wish to continue it in our own Mormon way. That is as Humanistic Mormons.

    We have received much inspiration from you and what Mormon Stories has done. We intend also to hold like Mormon Stories Conferences and indeed these types of conferences will be funded in the future.

    We believe that Mormon Humanists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc., have a right at the table of Mormonism even if excluded from traditional Mormonism. We feel it is important to have a place for those that traditionally do not fit within the mainstream of the LDS Church or the other LDS denominations that exclude non-theists Mormons from their organization and a place for LGBT and women in leadership roles. I am afraid that for some of us we can’t wait for Reformation to occur on these issues for the next 100-1000 years. We have lives to live now.

    We also like Mormon Stories as a Society allow open membership to Mormon theists of any kind. We are not in the business of excluding what type of Mormon you happen to be. We believe this is possible to include all labels or no label at all to your theological beliefs.

    A great example of this actually being done is Unitarian Universalism and the Society for Humanistic Judaism, as well as Ethical Culture. Humanistic Mormonism joins in this group of religious humanists. While we respect the right of Mormons to return to the LDS Church, if that is where they feel most comfortable we are also trying to create a new faith based on reason, science, compassion, and our Mormon cultural identities, that is exclusive and takes the good of Mormonism while leaving out as much as the bad as we see it.

    The Society for Humanistic Mormonism as a denomination within Mormonism may never be as large, powerful, or well funded as the LDS Church. But we have the truth of history on our side. We have no history of censorship, cover-ups, the blood of hundreds of gay Mormon suicides on our hands, nor the sexism, racism, anti-science, anti-reason, history of the LDS Church, not to mention the superstitions currently being taught as the “truth.” Ultimately we brave few Humanistic Mormons will shoulder the burden and the mission placed on us at this period of time in the history and evolution of Mormonism as a culture, not merely a religion; as well as the evolution of the Mormon people themselves. With compassion and reason as our guides we move forward in our work towards a New Enlightenment.

    Ray Condorcet
    Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency
    Society for Humanistic Mormonism
    http://societyforhumanistic.wix.com/sfhm#!humanisticmormonwards/c1xu8

  14. February 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Apology accepted, BUT it seems to me that everything you wrote could also be used as a reason to no longer actively associate oneself with the LDS faith so I’m still left confused…
    *Saddened that marriages dissolve in association with the church.
    *Unsavory, even if infrequent, behaviors that you no longer want to be unwittingly linked to.
    *Fear that such behaviors confirm a stereotype
    *Fear that unbelievers are unwelcome and mocked even though the policy is that all are welcome.
    *Don’t want to be perceived as hostile to unbelief
    *Family and personal relationships suffer due to extreme time commitments
    *Uncomfortable with all the attention and adoration of the leaders.
    *The time commitment takes away from career and other personal pursuits

    If those sorts of things make you quit something, why the activity with the Mormon Church?

  15. Rude Dog
    February 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I had a great time in college. I rushed the frat, experimented with not necessarily hard drugs, I was promiscuous, and I had the time of my life. I remember getting a designated driver coming home from the typical toga party, and being pulled over cause half my toga was hanging out the door. The cop was complementing both me and my best amigo who was driving, for doing the right thing. I was having non of it and was bawling out this poor policeman for having the audacity for not knowing in the first place that I had done the right thing. Must of been a hell of a sight, me in my toga with a finger in his face saying yoooou half nnnnoo right…pp..p..pulling us over. It was hilarious. Thankfully the policeman was good, tucked me back in my seat, bubbles coming up from my nose and all, and let us pass. It was what it was. It was also a growing up period, a period where one learns about what works and what doesn’t. You’d be surprised how many young people, probably the vast majority, learn that risky behaviors do indeed need close attention, extreme caution, and proper rationing.

    I would think John, at some of your conferences although you may of had 30, 40, even 50 somethings, you also had at the same time a bunch of teen-agers so to speak, when it comes to behaviors you were describing. It doesn’t matter how old you are, some things are only learned by experience. I would imagine that this is even more profound for Mormons, newly away from their religion and for good reasons, find themselves and their naivete experiment with things they’ve only heard about. Cut these folks some slack, let them grow up, lest they return to the church with their naivity in tact, ready to act as “Judges in Isreal”.

  16. Zara
    February 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, John! It is very appreciated.

    While I don’t agree with Ozpoof’s assessment of your character, I do think he/she has an extremely valid point re: the tendency for those of us raised in the church to cross boundaries and be responsible for the choices made by other *adults.* I always found this exhausting and intrusive, having been (and continuing to be) on the receiving end, and having previously been on the giving end. Adults are adults, and should be allowed to make their own adult choices. Providing adults a place to be around like-minded people after leaving the church doesn’t make you an enabler, nor does it make you responsible for their spiritual choices or their life choices. I also second the idea that OSF could provide waivers for attendants to sign. But I do get that these things are expensive, time is precious, etc. I just hope you’ll think about the idea that you, even as a leader in the community, don’t have to in any way own the choices of your listeners. It’d be different if you were telling people to experiment with swinging on your podcasts every week. ;-)

    Thank you for continuing to rally for the understanding of the disaffected. It really makes a difference.

  17. seeinglight
    February 14, 2013 at 5:09 am

    John, the work you have done has been inspiring to me in the past and incredibly helpful. Someone else has already coined the phrase focus on your family. My only regret is it seems like the church wins again. When do they come clean??

  18. Truthophile
    February 16, 2013 at 1:07 am

    Thanks, John! “Thy friends do stand by thee”. You’re learning who your true friends are, and they are many. Take to heart that scriptural injunction to “be of good cheer”.

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