Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
019-021: Reflection and Reconstruction – The Journey of John Dehlin

019-021: Reflection and Reconstruction – The Journey of John Dehlin

JohnRecently I had the opportunity to sit down with John Dehlin, creator and founder of and the Open Stories Foundation, and talk about his own evolving faith and his Mormon Stories experience.  In this riveting interview John shares what was occurring in his personal life behind the scenes of Mormon Stories, how his role as it’s founder effected him both emotionally and spiritually, and how he is still evolving today.

[UPDATE 1/28/2013] We realized early this morning that the audio from Part 2 cut out a few seconds too early. We have fixed the problem, and encourage our listeners to re-download the mp3.


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  2. Joseph_P

    Good stuff, Sarah and John. But why so coy about naming names, John? You’ve said nothing that could reflect badly on “the apostle” or “the general authority,” so why not say who they are?

    1. Matt D

      It was Jeffrey R. Holland. If I remember correctly it was he who was stationed in Chile when Elder Oaks was sent to the Phillippines. This was referenced many times in the podcast. Also, Elder Holland’s recent talks were of the type that it seemed John was talking about. I could be wrong, but I believe that was the apostle.

    2. Brian Kissell

      I believe I heard John once say that he asked the apostle if he could share his name, and the apostle asked that he did not. As far as everyone else, I feel he is just being respectful to those leaders by leaving there names out.

  3. Fred

    What a great interview!
    I applaud at how you try to stay even handed in your interviews.
    My relationship with God is very important and the Church is the vehicle that helps create that relationship. But the Church has all kinds of people in it. I’ve loved the dialog you created. Admittedly I like you interviewing the faithful more so, but there have been great insights in all of them.

  4. Christina

    I haven’t finished the podcast and I will have more comments later, but there is something that I just have to express. There is a part in the first hour where John describes his meeting with a church leader and talks about how the church leader is a hard spot about telling people not to leave their spouse because of disaffection. He talks about how hard it is to write that talk because then he is responsible for whatever happens in marriages. This really bothers to me and I think it gets to a big problem with the church. I disagree that the talk would be hard to write in a way that would leave him without responsibility or in way that would really help people. The problem is that writing that talk would mean the church would have to give up some power. The Church is set up so that the brethren are supposed to have all the answers for everyone, which is absolutely impossible. There are two fundamental lessons that the institution needs to learn to grow. First, people can be empowered to make their own decisions, but that means giving up some power. It may also mean some people might rebel, but it is the right way to operate. Second, making mistakes is unavoidable for any leader or institution, and how you deal with them is what makes or breaks you. And sometimes the first step in correcting mistakes is acknowledging them. I think these lessons make great leaders and great people. Saying that it is hard for the leaders of the church really bothers me. Of course its hard, but that’s leadership. I would argue that not addressing the issues does not take from the leaders’ responsibility. I am enjoying the podcast and can’t wait to hear the rest.

    1. admin


      I agree. And, my experience tells me that it’s virtually impossible to do anything good in the world without accumulating power. And so accumulating and dispersing power is difficult work that anyone who attempts good in the world will have to figure out how to balance and manage. Not just church leaders. But in my mind, just cuz they have power and struggle with how to let some go…doesn’t meant that they aren’t trying to do good….and aren’t concerned about minimizing the pain that they cause. I believe that they do, and that they are.

  5. jon

    I didn’t think the interview with Richard Bushman was antagonistic. If you can’t ask hard questions then you can’t have a good and honest relationship. I really appreciated that interview.

    I thought it was interesting how you talked about people not living good moral virtues after losing their faith. I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my faith entirely (logically I probably have, but emotional I still like to stay connected). But I also have been listening to the voluntaryist Stefan Molyneux which probably had more influence on me questioning the existence of God. But it is quite fascinating listening to an anarchist talk about what would be considered Christian values. I actually think his values that he teaches tend to be more consistent and life changing than I have found in the church. I suppose that is why I have a hard time believing in the “one true church.” But more in a plethora that John talks about.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed the interview. I only wish he could have shared how he could listen to the guy that talked about manifestations from a psychological point of view and the gay man that lost his faith after dying from cancer. I’ve found those two podcasts very eye opening and I think those two made me question the existence of God too.

    I’m glad John decided to come back to his family. It is sad that it took so long but I guess life is messy. I think regardless of everything else the family is most important. I think as men we tend to get into our projects and we need the constant reminder to come back to that which matters most, the family. I really think that is where our contribution to this world is most important – raising our children with peaceful parenting. If there is no God then life eternal is raising loving and caring children. If there is a God, it is the icing on the cake to live eternally.

    Anyways, I’m rambling.

  6. Kevin

    Thank you for being there with John for us, Sarah. Every time you asked clarifying questions I thought, “Wow, she had the presence of mind to help us understand the story better.” There is good evidence that you and Micah will are already carrying on John’s legacy.

    Given the spiritual turn in your path, John, I can understand the shift from the rebel revealer that you once were. Still, it’s tempting to regret what sounds like a restlessness about the future of Mormon Stories. I like your challenge for us all to work together and somehow continue the spirit of the project.

  7. Sherry

    John, YOU kept me in the church. I listened to your podcast
    Why I Stay?” several times as well as keeping up with may of your other podcasts. I am grieved that you’ve gone thru your own dark valley,, yet those journeys are precisely what made you a better man, husband, father and indeed “brother.” I too, have been let down by p-hood holders during my divorce to a “righteous” Mormon man who was abusive and they did not want to believe me. Plus I’ve spoken to a TP with my heart full of anguish only to be told I was “one of those women” and that I was wrong. To top it off, I’m treated as the “bad” one in my ward because I married a NOMO and my X married in the temple. It HURTS to be lied to and misunderstood. My take-away is that we’re ALL imperfect and that LISTENING TO THE SPIRIT is the most important thing to do…period. Please know that your family IS what’s most important, as you continue to be true to yourself. I’m convinced Mother and Father will welcome my NOMO and bless him forever, even tho he’s not LDS and we’re not sealed. I believe THEY are more loving than we know. I sometimes feel sorry for the GA’s and other leaders because I think they are caught in a vicious cycle of having to toe the party line or else get kicked out, be disgraced, etc. The church is their LIFE and it’s almost impossible for them to speak on their own. ALtho I wish they would – but that would be the end for them. I’m rambling – but John – THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for your honesty and your light. You have blessed me with both.

  8. Laura

    Thank you so much for that interview, John and Sarah. I appreciate it more than words can express and could relate so much with you John. After listening to the interview, I feel extremely uplifted and hopeful.

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  10. I’m still listening to the first hour, but I have to take issue with the assertion by Elder Holland and other authorities (which John talks about in his two lunches) that the prophets can’t take specific stances on things or repudiate certain things because it will cause more problems than it solves.

    The main problem I have with it is that the leadership is already the beneficiary of a culture that actively polices itself, sometimes using very brutal methods that do more harm than good. By not saying anything, the leadership is therefore consenting to the status quo, which perpetuates a number of problems. So, for example, in the case of a spouse who is threatening divorce because her companion no longer believes, the culture (including often local leadership) already actively encourages such persons to get a divorce. But not counteracting this cultural trend, the general leadership is effectively putting its stamp of approval on it. It can’t have it both ways.

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  12. B-Happy

    When meeting with the GA, discussing the results of the study, the GA got all teary-eyed about the ‘best and brightest’ that were leaving.

    I got teary eyed when I saw that the ‘best and brightest’ were described as Bishops, Mission Presidents, Stake Presidents. I was reminded, once again, that will never be considered a ‘best and brightest’ as I am female. My questions, my hurt will never be taken as seriously as the same positions held by men who have filled ‘high ranking’ callings.

    Sad but true.

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  14. Excellent interview. My favorite thoughts:

    1) The same attitudes, judgements, negative stereotypes John was seeing or expecting from others were mirroring what he already had within himself. That also means that John is now seeing and experiencing love, acceptance, friendship and support from church leaders and others so that means that he is mirroring what he already has within himself.

    2) The advice to get out of your head/intellect and stay connected to the heart, love, service, grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ – not matter what religion. The joy of life is found in relationship with people, not in thinking, analyzing, theorizing about history or scripture.

    3) Hm – how did his wife put it? Something about life is wise and it will keep feeding us the lessons we need.

  15. Lost in Provo

    I feel somewhat duped by John; all this time believing that he was the voice, the champion of all us who do not have a forum or a voice to express ourselves and who are sitting on the fence.

    I do not want to simplify his reasons for returning to full status in the church, but it appears that he succumbed to the pressures by the church or groups supported by it, and of course to be at peace and harmony with his own family. For that, I do not reproach John.

    However, I do not understand how he has gone back and forth believing or not believing and now believing and somewhat endorsing Joseph Smith, although he avoided a direct answer about the man, and John simply testified about the Restoration.

    I truly hope John can be happy with himself and wherever he may be emotionally and spiritually and time will tell whether he stays with his newly-found re-conversion.

  16. Tasha Adams

    I am an LCSW and for a time worked for LDSFS. I will be very interested in Mormon Mental Health. I hope that comes to pass.

    And Former Mormon Stories, I find no comfort being angry. It was my whole life, I was sad. I’d like to see how people have moved on or moved to.

    I wish you peace John. And I would hate for Mormon Stories to go.

    I miss my community, I really do, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I can take the good and keep shelving the bad, but I guess I can’t take my intellectual hat of. I can’t unlearned what I learned, and this was BEFORE I started listening to Mormon Stories. But I am a woman, in a man’s church. Just a couple of weeks ago a high ranking female member of the church in a yellow suit, gave a devotional at BYU and basically said that women are to be virtuous and teach that to their daughters, and if they are involved in that cause, they will have no need, or feel no need (I can’t remember exactaly) to LOBBY FOR THEIR RIGHTS. Some of the first suffragettes were Mormons! I am a women in a man’s church. And I have two daughters. I believe it is not a healthy place for girls, for a lot of reasons. Beehive activities are wedding planning activities… It’s true, I did it when I was 12, got married when I was 20.

    And when our girls get older, they will have the ultimate say in their spirituality.I am happy, really happy for people who are happy in the Church, I am. They know some of our concerns, but they are young, as they get older, we will share more of them, and if we need to share all of them we will.

    Thank you most for that power point. My in-laws think this is a phase, and it comes up almost every phone call. And my friends get ward newsletters, that say, the only reason people leave the church is because they are sinning or have been offended. I think it will help a lot of people.

  17. Scott

    Wonderful podcast and I have something to say concerning the topic it points to.

    I am a convert from back in the mid 80’s.
    I’ve read so many writings and posts from members who leave the church and find they cannot believe in anything anymore. So they choose some degree of atheism. This is understandable yet so sad to me.

    I too no longer believe in the restoration myth of the LDS church but remain mildly involved at least for sacrament meeting (for now). But I see that for those raised in the church the organization is so monolithic and controlling that it becomes (and in a way demands to be) both the object of devotion and worship and well as the reason for believing that God and Jesus Christ exist. This creates the dilemma that if the church ceases to exist or becomes “untrue” then God and Jesus cease to exist and become “false” deities. This creates a strange twisting of reality that is a ticking time bomb for many members.

    To me, the foundational belief that God exists and Jesus is real would lend someone to say “well, maybe the LDS church has something. Let me look”. But the church sets itself up (in my opinion) literally as the idol to worship that proves the existence of God. This is a VERY unstable foundation to base ones spiritual practice on. The words the Church uses stake the claim that Christ is the foundation but in reality the message imprinted upon the subconscious of the members is “God exists because the church is true”. Take away the truthfulness of the church and God disappears.

    That is why we spend such an inordinate amount of time “testifying” to the truthfulness of the church first and secondarily to the reality of God and Jesus. Because again, if the Church is true then God and Jesus are real but if the first fails then fall the other two.

    Is it any wonder then that members find leaving the church so soulfully traumatic and spend so much mental energy to avoid it? They lose their religion and their God in one fell swoop.

    Remember, if you are about to jump off the LDS church train, your faith in and relationship with the Savior is portable. It is and has always been just between you and Him. No church should ever cast a shadow so large as to block the view of the very God it professes to represent.

  18. Fashion

    I absolutely loved listening to this pod cast. Sarah, I think you are so good at interviewing. Many times, on other amateur podcasts, I find myself annoyed at the interviewer for not letting the the person’s answers stand as valid or for having to wait while the interviewer makes these belabored summaries of the person’s responses. At times a succinct summary is in order and I feel you navigate that well.

    Now about the interview with John. I didn’t know what to expect because for a long time I had sensed the hostility of John toward the church and for that reason had drifted away from Mormon Stories. I was thrilled that A Thoughtful Faith was developed because it provides consistantly what I was only able to find occasionally at Mormon Stories: intellectually stimulating conversations that are often faith promoting as well. This interview was very faith affirming. John was so honest, humble and real. It was a John I had never heard before but had sensed was there all along. My husband had a hard time listening to Mormon Stories because he sensed John’s hostility from one of the first podcasts he listened to. I always gave John the benefit of the doubt and stuck with Mormon Stories because I really did learn a lot. However, as I mentioned I drifted away in the last year because of the overwhelming hostility. I began to only check in from time to time and to pick and choose what I’d listen to. So I was intrigued to find out how this interview with John “fit in” with A Thoughtful Faith. And it did fit in. It was a beutiful story of a faith journey.

    I just loved everything that John had to say and I really appreciate the interview. I felt the same peace, love and Spirit that I’d felt after listening to the Michael Quinn interview. Thanks to you both.

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