Editor’s Note: This post originally ran on June 29, 2014. It still applies to the developments of this week. — Chris H.
An Associated Press article about John Dehlin titled “Mormon gay-rights advocate faces excommunication meeting with area church leader in Utah” has popped up in newspapers all over the country today. Here is the AP’s follow-up. The Associated Press originally reported the following about John Dehlin’s meeting with his local LDS leaders:
A Mormon man who is well-known for advocating for gay rights and questioning some church policies was set to meet Sunday with a regional church leader in northern Utah to discuss whether he still faces excommunication. John Dehlin, of Logan, Utah, enters the meeting fearful that church leaders have already made their decision to oust him. He expects to find out if he’ll face a disciplinary hearing or be exonerated.
While this is partially accurate, it is highly unlikely that gay rights is why Dehlin is in hot water with LDS officials. While Dehlin’s graduate research is on the experiences of gay Mormons and he did deliver a recent TEDx talk about being a Mormon gay ally, he is far from the most prominent Mormon gay rights advocate. While Dehlin is a well known figure because of his podcast, Mormon Stories support groups, and his regular appearances in print and broadcast media on LDS Church issues, I do not think “gay rights advocate” is the first label most would use for John. This is not to say that Dehlin is not a gay rights advocate or that he has not worked to make Mormonism more friendly toward LGBT individuals, especially LBGT Mormons. However, the portrayal of John as primarily a gay rights voice is a very new and odd phenomena. Maybe it is just sensational headline writing, but it does seem that this is the narrative that Dehlin himself is advancing. More from the Associated Press:
Dehlin’s letter informed him that he needed to resign as a church member or face a disciplinary committee. It said church leaders were deeply concerned about Dehlin’s recent comments about no longer believing fundamental teachings of the faith.
And further down the article:
Dehlin’s believes he’s being targeted not only for the website he started nine years ago, Mormonstories.org, but also for his outspoken support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community and his support of Kelly’s group, Ordain Women. That group is pushing for gender equality with the goal of women being allowed into the faith’s lay clergy.
This is one the most Mormon aspects of John Dehlin. Like the LDS Church, he likes to be active in controlling his own narrative. Oddly enough, I say this at a time when the LDS Church struggles to manage their own image in the social media age. But I think that Dehlin believes he is being targeted for “his outspoken support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community” not because that is the case but because it makes for a much better story. By emphasizing his gay rights stances and his support of Ordain Women, Dehlin elevates his own case to the level of Kate Kelly’s, one that resonates more outside of Mormon circles. Given the attention given to the LDS Church efforts against gay-marriage, gay rights seems to be an easy way to connect with the national narrative about Mormonism and social issues. It is more likely that Dehlin is in trouble with Church officials because of his recent gushing interview with Sandra Tanner, an anti-Mormon Evangelical preacher who has spent decades advocating and preaching that the LDS Church is fraudulent and that Mormonism is not Christian. While this podcast episode itself is not why he is facing possible church discipline, it is symbolic of his move toward an even more antagonistic portrayal of the LDS Church as a sinister organization. The recent excommunication of Kate Kelly of Ordain Women created a media storm which is still on-going. While claims made by the Church should be scrutinized, so should the claims made by others. These events are creating a chilling effect amongst Mormon liberals and Mormon feminists, but I do not think Mormons should hesitate to advocate for gay rights. Doing so will make one a minority with the LDS Church, but that is not why anyone advocates for gay rights. The LDS Church has insisted in recent statements that advocating on public issues, even when disagreeing with the Church, is not something that puts one at risk of excommunication. For many of us liberal Mormons, we are now more nervous to discuss those thoughts in public. As a candidate for the United States House of Representatives, I proudly proclaimed my Mormonism and my support for gay-marriage. Many Mormons did not vote for me because of my stance of gay marriage. Many liberals refused to support me because I was Mormon. There are Mormons who think Mormons like me should be excommunicated, but I see no evidence of the Church taking steps against Mormon advocates of gay rights, even advocates of gay marriage. I hope this does not change. Now this does not mean that liberals and other gay rights advocates do not feel lonely within the LDS Church. Many feel a significant amount of cognitive dissonance. Many leave because of cognitive dissonance over gay rights, feminism, and gender. Gay rights is too important to become a public relations football. I oppose the efforts of anti-gay marriage advocates who seek to malign the loving and productive relationships of my gay friends in their attempts to advance their agenda. In the past, I have also called out gay right advocates when they have used shady methods. While Dehlin’s case raises some very interesting issues about Mormonism and the boundaries of LDS Church community, gay rights and LBGT issues are separate (though very important) issues.