John Dehlin and media manipulation

Some readers will know that John Dehlin, an LDS member who has long argued against core LDS doctrines, has announced that he is on trial for his membership.

Dehlin has demonstrated his usual skill at manipulating the media, aided perhaps by reporters who are too sympathetic and not inquisitive enough. Recent events give us another glimpse into his tactics. Dehlin announced his council and provided a copy of the normally-confidential documents exchanged by him and his local leader, the stake president. These are linked to here, and are apparently up to version 4. (They were version 3 yesterday). [I link to them here on my site, in case later changes by Dehlin obscure this evidence.]

Ad hominem to start off

One reporter was savvy enough to get a quote from Steve Evans, who suggested that it was unlikely that Dehlin’s support for gay marriage and the Ordain Women movement were behind his discipline.

(It’s also funny to see him resort, as he always does, to using “Mormon apologist” as a smear. I know Evans and consider him a good friend, but I also know Mormon apologetics–and that just isn’t an area that Evans has been much involved in. But, for Dehlin, “apologist” is an all-purpose ad hominem smear–see here on pp. 8-11 for numerous examples. The “apologist” serves as Dehlin’s sociological folk devil. Ironically, he too is an apologist for his own views, and has followers that are apologists for him too. To reason is to apologize, in this sense.)

Trying to rebut Evans’ view

Since this is the narrative which Dehlin has been keen to play up, it is not surprising that he would wish to rebut Evans. Today, he wrote:

In the letter I received on August 7, 2014 from Dr. Bryan King, it lists as #3 on his list of conditions for continued membership:

“Stop promoting groups or organizations that espouse doctrines contrary to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In my August meeting with Bryan King, I asked him to clarify specifically which groups or organizations were problematic. In that interview (with my wife, Margi, present), he explicitly mentioned both Ordain Women, and my public support of same-sex marriage as being problematic. When asked directly if my public support of same-sex marriage was a problem, he answered, “Yes.”

While it is impossible for anyone to accurately weigh the various factors that contributed to the decision to hold a disciplinary council, it is very accurate to say that my support for same-sex marriage and Ordain Women was a main factor (#3 of 4 specifically listed).[1]

Dehlin includes a hotlink on the text letter I received on August 7, 2014 from Dr. Bryan King. This link goes to a slightly different package of letters. It is available here.

A significant omission

The package appears the same, and it is—with one addition. In the package is an 11 August 2014 letter from Dr. King, Dehlin’s stake president. Dehlin nowhere draws attention to this sudden addition to his packet of materials. He does not even mention it in his rebuttal to Evans. This is unfortunate, because it speaks directly to the issue he wishes to rebut. President King’s August 11 was written in response to Dehlin’s 10 August letter. He writes:

Thank you for sending the [August 10] letter from you and Margi. I fear that in my willingness to engage in a discussion on all of the issues that you chose to address during our lengthy conversations, the direction of my true concerns may have not been clear.[2]

Thus, President King writes to correct what he sees as a misperception on Dehlin’s part. What is that misperception? Unsurprisingly, it is precisely the narrative that Dehlin is now trying to sell to the media. President King continued:

I am focused on five core doctrines of the Church: (1) The existence and nature of God; (2) Christ being the literal Savior of the World and his Atonement being absolutely necessary to our salvation; 3) the exclusive priesthood authority restored through the Church; (4) The Book of Mormon as scripture and the revealed word of God; and (5) the governance of the Church by doctrine and revelation through inspired leaders. As you know, and as my letter outlined, in the past you have written and spoken out against these core doctrines on numerous occasions and in numerous public contexts…. If you are prepared to renounce your previous statements we can move forward together.

Note that it is these statements which King believes Dehlin must renounce. He says nothing–in this clarifying letter–about the other matters that Dehlin wants to make the focus of his narrative. President King seems aware that Dehlin is preparing his letters with an eye to shaping the narrative that he will eventually wish to spread to his followers and the media:

…as I read your response, it reinforced my concern that your letter is an attempt to produce an official document of what occurred during our meetings. I feel that it is impossible to fully recount the spirit and context of our discussions in a written document.

Thus, President King has seen Dehlin’s document, and does not agree with Dehlin’s slant on things. President King has even written this letter to correct the written record. Yet, Dehlin tells the media none of this, does not include this letter in the packet he has released, and has quietly slipped it into this second collection of documents without noting his previous omission, and without citing it. President King concludes:

I hope that in the spirit of confidentiality, you will not be releasing it to the media and posting it on your web site. I hope that I am mistaken about this, because I believe it would undermine the trust we need to have in order to move forward. But if you nevertheless decide to post your letter, I hope that you will have the fairness to post mine along with it, making it clear that I presented my letter to you at the beginning of our meeting and that it contains the true focus of my concerns about your conduct.

Conclusion

President King is certainly not naïve—he predicted Dehlin’s course exactly. He is quite right that in the interest of fairness, Dehlin ought to provide all the data to allow easy comparison. I suppose that by putting the highly significant August 11 letter somewhere on his website, buried in a file that appears to be a duplicate of something he has already released, Dehlin has technically made the material available. (A search of “August 11,” however, turns up nothing. If you don’t know the letter is there, buried in what you have already seen, you will miss it.)

So, I don’t know if I’d really call his treatment of the matter open, honest, or fair. And, the initial rush of media stories has been written without access to this significant and telling piece of information.

Here’s hoping someone in the media is paying attention.

Dehlin has misrepresented matters to them using precisely the same tactics that he has used toward and about members and doctrines of the Church—spin, significant omission, and an avoidance of anything that challenges his narrative.

It seems, according to his stake president, that it is Dehlin’s repeated and open attacks on foundational LDS doctrines that is the key issue.

And, such tactics are not new for Dehlin–as I demonstrated at length years ago. Dehlin likewise tried to censor and hide my report–as I detailed here. Many others have had the same experience (this blog is collecting such examples, to which readers can add if they wish).

He certainly doesn’t want anyone to see data which challenges his version of matters.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


 Endnotes

[1] John Dehlin, “Reasons for Disciplinary Council,” Mormon Stories (17 January 2015, as of 20h01 MST).

[2] Bryan King, letter to John Dehlin, 11 August 2014.

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