The Story John Told You

Jacob Z. Hess

This is the third of a seven-part series, “Recruiting Alma the Younger” (see earlier essays on attachment injury and the pain of separation from the Saints).

When a dear friend stepped away from the Church a few years back, she cited what she called “historicity” concerns laid bare after listening to a podcast called Mormon Stories hosted by John Dehlin.

I was surprised (and not surprised) that she had taken John’s insights as uniquely trustworthy and objective, including in his challenge to core teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the beginning, many found John’s casual, ball-cap-wearing style disarming – with large numbers over the years placing confidence in him as a reliable guide in more carefully investigating some of the central claims of their faith.

One interview at a time, John’s podcast gained popularity for parsing through little-discussed historical moments with keen interest, like a brave archeologist sifting through the fragments of the past in search of the full truth.  That ongoing examination was positioned as a free-thinking, but fair-minded inquiry – independent of any other agenda but knowing the facts.[1] 

As a result, people came to relate to the podcast as a way to really scrutinize the evidence – beyond the positive prejudice that infected those of us not-so-affectionately called “True Believing Mormons.”   

Putting it on the shelf. With each passing interview John conducted, the worrisome evidence piled up. Taking up a metaphor once used by Camilla Kimball in the context of preserving faith,[2] John and his followers would subsequently, dutifully try to put certain historical wonderings “on the shelf.” But after so many explorations over time, and so many concerns arising, many ultimately described a substantial internal shift taking place:   

  1. At some point, the evidence of concern became so compelling that the shelf would “break” under the sheer empirical weight.
  2. In that moment,they would often simultaneously conclude it must all be false, and Church leaders must have been lying to them.   

That dual motif, so often recounted on the Mormon Stories podcast, is the central part of what I’m calling John’s Story – the narrative he’s personally shared with the world over the last decade.[3]

But is this “John’s story” or that of hundreds he has interviewed?  Of course, people bring their own experiences and personal stories to an interview.  What I’m suggesting here is that inevitably, inescapably, those raw experiences get “framed up” in a particular way during the course of the conversation. 

And in this case, a certain narrative theme is very apparent across interviews:  the troubling evidence is discussed in the interview as (a) objective and clear and (b) simply too much – requiring one with integrity to do something.  In this way, the Heavy Shelf-Breaking Evidence Forcing Me to Walk Away message has been amplified to the world a thousand times over. 

So dominant has this theme become online that it shows up everywhere now.  One man, for instance, recently commented online:

The real issue is that the common body of evidence – when explored honestly and seriously…fully justifies negative conclusions about Mormonism at virtually every turn – including about common, routine religious/spiritual experiences that are interpreted as the “Holy Ghost” and “testimony.”

Many thousands of similar comments can be found in various groups online, full of similar assertions:  it’s pretty simple – just follow the evidence!   

That damning evidence, from this vantage point, “fully justifies” painful conclusions about what had previously been precious.  Once someone has managed to wrap his or her head around this evidence, the argument goes, the only question left is whether one has enough “integrity” to embrace “science” or “history.”

As if it were only this simple. 

What scholars believe about history and science today. Although John does faithfully represent a more classical view of empirical and historical reality, it’s not one widely embraced anymore among philosophers of science and history. 

Why not? 

Because few scholars actually believe history or science are so simple, linear and clean. That is, of course, still an impression many in the general public retain – seeing science as a simple amassing of evidence that points one way or another.  Historians are also typically understood as aggregating primary historical sources until the truth becomes unmistakably clear. 

According to this account, the actual truth about Jesus, or Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon (for better or worse), is clearly laid out in the historical record for any honest-hearted person reviewing the evidence. 

But consider this:  After literally thousands of pages of grand jury testimony and evidence compiled about Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri by a white policeman (prompting riots in 2014), there are still wide disagreements on what actually happened.  But with the scant evidence available on early polygamy in the Church, voices on both sides sometimes assert the historical truth on Joseph Smith or Brigham Young’s marriages is crystal clear.

Is it?  

Let’s be honest with ourselves:  even with abundant evidence, the truth of a matter can be difficult to discern.  And while repeated patterns of evidence should obviously be compelling to any honest science or historian, there’s also a lot more going on in historical or empirical scholarship – at least when it involves a human being!

And what is that?  Human interpretation and values. 

While people generally assume this kind of human element is “controlled for” in rigorous scholarship, that only applies to the most blatant of value interference.  In reality, human interpretation and value permeate every level of scholarship.  As paleontologist writer Brian Switek recently told Doug Fabrizio on RadioWest, “Science isn’t ‘we found a fact, and we’re going to put it on the shelf, and now we know this, and now we’ll move on’ – it’s this dance between fact and theory constantly going on. And the expectations you have going into something will influence the data you collect, how you interpret that data, how you think about that.”

Compared to the image of a scientist leaning in carefully, trying to intently “listen to the data” – this contrasting understanding points towards more of a dialogue with the data.  Rather than “speaking for itself,” data must be interpreted – by a human interpreter (with his or her own distinctive values and standpoint). 

This is what foils the simplistic accounting of an “obvious” historical or scientific report-out. Instead of a linear, mechanistic process of accumulating evidence, research is appreciated as a human endeavor involving human interpretation, evaluation and judgment (constantly + at every level). 

And that means when it comes to research commentary (a la Mormon Stories, et al.), it’s not just evidence we’re consuming, but a particular interpretation of that evidence. 

An alternative to the shelf narrative:  Conditions of authentic choice. According to John’s story described above, the gradual accumulation of clear evidence is so compelling that it eventually reaches a point of undeniability (at least to souls with integrity).

Don’t members of the Church sometimes talk this way in the reverse direction? – aka, the evidence of God’s hand in the world or of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness are so undeniable that any thoughtful person paying attention should be able to see them!

Is that something you’ve believed? 

In response to this perception, Terryl and Fiona Givens write, “An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads”—with the genuine freedom to choose whether to believe (or not) requiring a space “perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension.”[4]

This isn’t an argument for relativism or a denial of the possibility of strong conviction about truth.  It’s simply a reminder of what Latter-day Saints have been taught since the beginning: that God set up this Big Beautiful (and Often Terrifying) Plan of Progression with human agency wholly sacrosanct.  As one of the original songs from the first Latter-day Saint hymnal says, God will “never force the human mind.”[5]

What the Givens are suggesting here is that God preserves our freedom by holding back!  Remarkably, even though He could be more clear and perfectly persuasive, He intentionally, lovingly does not. As one commentator nicely elaborated:

God has set up this marvelous place of tension between competing perspectives of reality. There are reasons and facts that point us in one direction or another, but in the end we choose a story that resonates with us, we choose a prophet to follow (Pres Nelson, John Dehlin, Sam Harris, Sean Hannity, etc.), and we construct a story for ourselves that agrees. “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.”

In a world explicitly designed for conditions of authentic choice, the Givens go on to argue that “one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial.” Rather than the sheer weight of evidence on one side or the other tipping the scale, they go on to suggest that the thing that “tip[s] the scale” is the fact that each individual is “truly free to choose belief or skepticism, faith or faithlessness.”

Instead of a choice about whether to follow the “undeniable evidence” confirming that either the Church is true or false, the central choice from this vantage point is something else entirely:  what do we really want the most? The Givens elaborate:

The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we ‘get it right.’ It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. The content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe…When freely chosen, faith expresses something essential about the self.

Such a freely-made, transformative space of ongoing choosing is made possible, the Givens’ argue, by being “confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for a Divinity that is a childish projection, for prophets as scheming or deluded imposters, and for scriptures as so much fabulous fiction.” Simultaneously, however, they point out:  “But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious Divinity presides over the cosmos, that His angels are strangers we have entertained unaware, and that His word and will are made manifest through a scriptural canon that is never definitively closed.”[6]

Seeing John’s influence clearly. Okay, so where does this all leave us?  From the vantage point of this second story (wherein conditions of authentic choice are paramount, and God will not force the human mind), the influence of someone like John Dehlin comes to be understood quite differently. 

Rather than primarily a discloser of facts or a revealer of uncomfortable realities,[7] we come to understand John as a missionary like the rest of us: someone raising a certain perspective and offering it to the world. Interview by interview, John drew out a certain framing of other people’s insights and experiences (as we all would, if we were conducting the interviews).     

Subsequently, those listening in to this conversation took away modifications and sometimes whole-sale renovations of their own assumptions and narratives. Compared with the way in which my friend described the influence of this podcast, then (forcing her to confront painful challenges represented in a more comprehensive historical picture), I would argue a more accurate description of what is happening goes something like this: 

John’s wide audience over the years has consumed more than simply other people’s stories. They have also partaken (over and over) of his own vision of things – adopting this man’s distinctive interpretations on precious questions of deep import. Many listeners, then, have embraced many of John’s personal perspectives as their own – influencing a new, difficult, painful “reality” in their own lives.  

Upon embracing such a troubling new narrative, these people do what we all do: perk up to any further pieces of evidence that might justify this aching suspicion and frustration (cue up the Salt Lake Tribune). Consequently, any perceived mis-steps by Church leaders (or some Bishop, or some seminary teacher somewhere) – whether now or in the past – add further incontrovertible evidence confirming the truth of this new understanding.

The longer people consume a growing aggregation of disconcerting evidence (especially when framed up as incontrovertible and damning), the more shock sets into the system. From this place, virtually everything seems to confirm the truth of what has already been embraced as reality![8] Even when concerning evidence could be understood in new ways (as in the remarkable new Saints history or gospel topics essays), it’s almost universal to hear former members dismissing it all, while referencing their own critical historical narrative as plainly, patently true. 

Throughout this process, it’s remarkable the degree to which human fallibility can be selectively overlooked. It was Jordan Peterson who once called “the capacity of the rational mind to deceive, manipulate, scheme, trick, falsify, minimize, mislead, betray, prevaricate, deny, omit, rationalize, bias, exaggerate and obscure” both “endless” and “remarkable.”

While the possibilities of such failings in the leadership of the church are endlessly dissected and scrutinized with remarkably little trust (and strikingly little generosity), much of what John has concluded has been embraced by my dear friend and many others with a great deal of trust (and strikingly little critical scrutiny). 

The imbalance is pronounced. And the effects over time are perhaps predictable. 

People are changed fundamentally, along with their lives as a whole.   

We don’t just tell stories, after all, we live them. And we’ve all been watching John’s narrative at work in people’s lives over the last decade. 

We’ve witnessed its fruits. 

Maybe it’s time to rethink how we’ve come to understand the etiology of this new epidemic of faith crisis. Rather than shockingly clear evidence “breaking” a shelf, I’ve argued here we consider the possibility that we are, in fact, seeing a particularly accusing and suspicion-drenched narrative at work – eroding faith over time, to the point where someone’s precious confidence and trust in prophetic leadership itself breaks. 

What we might be seeing is the extent to which John’s Story shreds faith.

An invitation. If the above analysis is true, it suggests a revision in how to understand the major decision John Dehlin’s work lays before us. The idea that one must choose between having integrity to follow the full truth of the evidence (or not) is misleading. The choice is not between simply between following the evidence or not, but rather whose interpretation of the evidence you decide to be most trustworthy. That’s the inescapable choice in front of all of us: who do we have confidence to help guide us in these important conclusions and their inevitable, associated influence in our lives?

To my dear friend and others who have adopted this new way of seeing the world (unwittingly or not), I plead for you to reconsider. 

Do what meditators do, and push back against the thoughts and stories in your head. You did this once with the gospel narrative. Now, do this again with John’s Mormon Story, seeing it for what it is:  a particular perspective and narrative, and a uniquely accusing one at that. 

Once you do that, ask yourself:  Do I trust the mind and heart of John Dehlin to direct my paths and have such a profound influence on my life and family? 

Or are you looking for someone of greater humility, faith and joy?  Sit at the feet of President Russell M. Nelson once again – perhaps this coming general conference, and ask yourself:  Is there light in this man? 

Look into his eyes and countenance.  Then look into John’s. 

And make your choice. 


Notes: 

Special thanks to Rock Hudson and Michael Taylor for thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Although not taken up extensively here, as part of this conversation it’s also important to look more carefully at the widespread, and poisonous accusation that Church leaders have been lying about history. For a generation that came home from war and didn’t talk about it, typically didn’t talk about painful situations such as abuse, and wrote American history with (yes) a uniquely positive focus on the affirming pieces – I suppose we could accuse them all of lying in every respect. OR we could acknowledge that there was a different way of approaching history and a different way of dealing with uncomfortable things in that generation. While appreciating the advances we’ve made in telling a more comprehensive history, it would be good to pay attention to our tendency to insist (with remarkable ethnocentrism) that previous generations think like our Tell-All, Share-All generation today. This was explored in more depth in an earlier piece, Did the Church Lie to Me?

[1] Over time, even John’s devout followers have acknowledged the extent to which his work has come to feel like less of an archeology expedition – and more driven by his own passions, like a dissection or autopsy of an institution preemptively declared (by the chief investigator) dead of any credibility and trust. 

[2]From, Lavina Fielding, Camilla Kimball: Lady of Constant Learning (Ensign, 1975). Sister Kimball shared this in 1975, in the context of exercising faith over things we don’t understand: “I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I’m not satisfied just to accept things. I like to follow through and study things out. I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I couldn’t answer. I had a shelf of things I didn’t understand, but as I’ve grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I’ve been able to better understand them.” She twinkles, “I still have some questions on that shelf, but I’ve come to understand so many other things in my life that I’m willing to bide my time for the rest of the answers.”

[3] John has clearly gone through many evolutions of his own in his story-telling over the years, as acknowledged by one long-time listener:  “John’s gone through his own story. He’s been, at times, angry, sad, conciliatory, open minded, close minded, frustrated, grateful, happy, helpful. He wanted to stay, he wanted to help others stay, he wanted to get others to leave, he wanted to leave, he didn’t want to be excommunicated, but he practically dared the church to do so.”

[4] Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012), 4.

[5] Know This, That Every Soul Is Free.

[6] Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012), 4–5. In an interview after the book’s publication, the Givens pointed out they weren’t intending to suggest in these passages that the evidence was always 50/50 so someone must flip a coin – clarifying that they believe there is stronger collective intellectual and spiritual evidence for the restored gospel than not, while pointing out simply that God makes space for plausible explanations on both sides. 

[7] One helpful reviewer cautioned at this description as a potential strawman, noting “I think you’d be really hard pressed to find anyone who sees John as a mere discloser of facts.”  To that, I would point out that my friend (and many others) definitely see him as having disclosed facts and revealed a hard reality.  Although many of my friends would likely agree on a philosophical level with my more nuanced portrayal, this accurately describes how John’s work has practically functioned in many people’s lives.

[8] To be clear, followers of John are not unique in doing this. All of us – once settling on a narrative we embrace as reality, move forward assembling evidence to support the story of our choosing. That’s not necessarily bad, and more of a feature of human experience.  The problem arises when we stop being aware that we’re doing that! (Most members aren’t aware of this either.  It can feel like a threat on both sides – and a potentially terrifying realization. But it doesn’t have to be!  What this means practically is added scrutiny to truth claims to really consider whether we believe them or not).

49 thoughts on “The Story John Told You

  1. Similar discussion to other posts from the past.

    To My Dear Friend, John Dehlin

    A Privileged Mormon Woman Defects

    For my part, I found Mr. Dehlin’s amateur use of English off-putting.

    One problem is that there are many who are getting an aftertaste of John’s stories without even knowing the source of the skepticism they are being fed.

    Sometimes we get a metaphorical burp of disbelief in the oddest places. My approach, to aggressively point out that the skeptic is being delusional, isn’t always the most effective.

  2. Thank you.

    Nothing is really new, is it? As the Preacher wrote, there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes ch. 1).

    Didn’t Koran, Dathan, and Abiram do much the same thing with Moses? The story is in Numbers ch. 16. Given a choice to stand with (1) Moses, or (2) Koran, Dathan, and Abiram, I hope I would have chosen the first. I recommend a close reading of the scripture story — it is telling.

  3. Great post! God has set up this marvelous place of tension between competing perspectives of reality. There are reasons and facts that point us in one direction or another, but in the end we choose a story that resonates with us, we choose a prophet to follow (Pres Nelson, John Dehlin, Sam Harris, Sean Hannity, etc.), and we construct a story for ourselves that agrees. “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.”

  4. Have there been any real _new_ challenges to the foundational claims of the church in the last 35 – 40 years?

    I’ve seen responses to Runnels’ list that were basically “asked and answered” from pre-existing material. Runnels chose to conveniently ignore or dismiss all pre-exsiting rejoinders to his “discoveries.”

    This has been going on since the 1830’s, hasn’t it?

    Everything has been either answered, or had a plausible explanation put to it. So it really does come down to “which side do you believe?”

    Those who claim there are no answers to the antis’ faith quenching claims are purposely ignoring the answers. Every claim has a counter-claim, if you are willing to do at least a little research.

    And the antis just keep recycling the same old stuff, repackaging it, and pretending it’s new.

    It’s just like Joseph Smith and every prophet since has said… you can spend your whole life researching (it’s all been answered, but you can spend forever rehashing the minutia), and trying to figure out for yourself which faction is right, who’s telling the truth or most of the truth, or you can seek spiritual direction.

    And if you don’t do _all_ the research or review of all the research yourself, you still have to TRUST one side or the other as being more fair and accurate.

    So is that how spiritual truth is found? Intense study of all the available histories? Analyzing which faction is more honest and true? Do you go by people’s IQ or scholarly credentials in deciding to trust them?

    What is the vast portion of humanity, who can’t do their own research, to do?

    That’s why spiritual truth is spiriutally discerned. Sure, you can do the scholarly research, it’s all been answered, but it takes you right back to square one, you have to pray about which faction to trust.

  5. Who’s “we?” You go ahead and be all those ridiculous things, Geoff-Aus. Leave me out of your collectivist foolishness.

  6. Geoff-Aus: for history, I went to the seven volume set of church history, and other books published by Deseret Book, Bookcraft, and some older Signature books.

    it’s not reasonable to expect books designed for Sunday lessons (PH/RS), such as the Teachings of the Prophets series, to be comprehensive histories or apologetic treatises. Teaching doctrine and how to live the faith is more important.

    You’ll likely never find the “Culture of Critical Discourse” (CCD) coming from official church publications. That’s not how the gospel works. You can find CCD among apologists if that’s what you’re looking for.

    But when you go down the road of CCD, you’re looking at multiple book-length treatments of every individual topic. Is that how we get to heaven? Reading and analyzing dozens of competing scholarly books? Who has time for that? Sunday School scripture-reading assignments, at least a chapter of the Book of Mormon every day, Ensign, Conference talks, are more than enough for most of us.

    Developing a testimony of Christ, the Restoration, and the continuation of the keys of authority in our prophets and apostles is not found in historical details or apologetic arguments. Neither the bulk of church members, nor the public at large, are academics looking to be “argued” into Heaven.

    Yes, the faithful/correct “arguments” are there for those with intellectual curiosity and have time to go down that road. But that _cannot_ be the main pathway; because the enemies of the gospel and the restoration just keep on throwing out more and more things to stumble on.

    After I researched a few things early on, I learned to just not trust the “antis”. It all boiled down to 1) outright lies, 2) twisted/misrepresented/partial truths, 3) true things presented as “bad” which were in effect “good” (they were calling good evil). That’s the same playbook today, over and over again. All “new” accusations fall under one of those three headings.

    And then there is just plain personal/human errors/failings of individuals, but does that even need to be defended? People failing? Human failings go all the way back to Genesis.

    There’s a good book out called “WHO is truth?” I think it was reviewed here on M*. It’s inexpensive in ebook/Kindle format. That might help you break out of the CCD/apologetic rut.

    God bless you, Geoff-Aus. The church is amazingly, astoundingly, miraculously true/authorized/official.

  7. Geoff-Aus, I choose to stand with the sons of Moses and of Aaron (cf. D&C 84:34), rather than standing with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (cf. Numbers ch. 16). It is a choice that I freely make. I take comfort from Matthew 10:40, D&C 84:36, and so forth. You can also make that choice, if you want to. See D&C 112:20. It is a choice.

  8. Jacob, thanks for the thoughtful post. I agree with a lot of your observations. I take issue with many of the commenters who I feel, in rejecting John Dehlin, will be similarly dismissive of others who are in faith transition/crisis. I don’t defend his position, his beliefs nor his later motives, but I think it’s important to empathize with and respect the many good sincere people who have made a good effort trying to connect all the dots and come up with unbelief.

  9. A few years ago when I first came acrossed it I loved the Givens’ paradigm that belief is a choice and that God won’t make belief irresistible-that God will provide evidence on both sides. I still hold to this to a large degree. But, in further thought, the paradigm makes this all look kind of like a game. How can we be judged for eternity in that paradigm? It’s like we are standing in front of two doors and we are given a little bit of information about what is behind each door, but conflicting information makes it difficult to determine what information is accurate or not. Both doors look good; both have some disturbing characteristics as well. But, we are forced to choose with, “Good luck, I hope you pick the right door because it’s for eternity.”

    In our real lives we gather data on both sides. We pray as part of that data gathering. Out of the searching, one person comes up with unbelief, one person LDS, one person Muslim, another Baptist. The Baptist says the Muslim is wrong. The LDS says the others didn’t pray hard enough. Why do we think they are wrong unless they get our answer? In a way I think that judgment isn’t really fair unless at some point before final judgment we are each shown the choices and consequences in the light of day to our minds and hearts / spirits so we “know” what they are without question. And, then we are given the choice to choose in or not and then evaluated on how well we are able to follow the prescriptions of the choice. Isn’t this all about loving Parents wanting us to progress? Yes, it is called a test, but the challenge is two-fold–what text book to use and whether we can follow our chosen text. But, then I believe that faith must be involved somehow because that is a basic tenant of our faith. However, I’m having trouble fitting faith into this latter paradigm. I’m probably over thinking this, but still working on it.

  10. I appreciate KarlS’s comments above. I would like to add that some of the problems come from faithful scholars who have perspectives that differ significantly from what I learned in my youth. For example, the Givens’ view of what makes the Church desirable is a not what I was taught. I suspect that it would still meet with resistance from some if I tried to share it in my current ward.

  11. Geoff-Aus,

    Your biases and schema are showing:

    “No mention of JS being unfaithful etc.”

    There is scant *evidence* suggesting Joseph necessarily engaged in sexual activity with anyone other than Emma Hale Smith. For those cases where it could be credible that sexual activity may have occurred, there is no evidence that Emma considered this to constitute a breach of Joseph’s marriage vows to her. The strum und drang to which you subscribe is hot wind.

    “Or polygamy even BY I think.”

    That was a choice by the Teachings of the Prophets editors.

    “…we are sexist, we are homophobes, we are racist (less but), and we are climate deniers, and we are individually morally deficient(vote for Trump).”

    Sorry you live in a place where that is your perception. You should visit Annandale. By the way, members of the Church were significantly less likely to vote for Mr. Trump than their ideological peers in other faith (or lack of faith) traditions. So by extension it appears you are operating from some mental space that doesn’t hold itself to factual information.

  12. Hi KarlS,

    I think a better thought (from a restoration perspective) is that we each have already covenanted to remain true to Christ as a pre-requisite for entering mortality.

    Therefore we will stand before God and Christ at that last day as we three (God, Christ, and the individual) determine where we go from that judgement. Each of us came into an uncontrolled reality, the kind of total freedom of action and choice that would face a god.

    I think for most the member of the divine triumvirate who will most object to the individual’s accession to the highest glory will be the individual child of God. In rare cases I can imagine an unrepentant and arrogant individual asserting a right to that which they can’t legitimately aspire, but per Isaiah and restoration thought, such individuals typically “fell” and therefore never covenanted to enter into mortality in the first place.

    It’s open book exam time, but the exam is freakishly hard and there are multiple open books…

  13. Is Jacob Hess, the author of this post, the same Jacob Hess who did a podcast with Ty Mansfield on All In recently? I enjoyed that episode so much!

  14. KarlS, your questions/concerns are typical of investigators: they’ve been asked and answered a zillion times already. So I’m a bit confused why a long time regular like you continues that line of questions in a pro-church forum like this.

    I assume you’re sincere, so I’m glad you are still seeking.

    you’ve been around for a while. I assume you’ve read the scriptures (all the standard works), Gospel Principles, and maybe Preach My Gospel (the missionary lessons).

    The rejoinders to your above questions/concerns are in those resources.

    If you really did read them, but didn’t recognize the answers to your questions, maybe you could sit down with a seminary/institute/GospelDoctrine instructor, someone who knows the scriptures, and the other two books I mentioned, with the list of your questions, and ask them to suggest specific scripture passages, or Gospel Principles chapters, or PMG chapters that address your questions.

    I think you would benefit more from the quicker back-and-forth interaction with an in-person helper/teacher, than once or twice a day blog comments.

  15. DD: I believe the gospel and the church can be desirable for more than one reason and from more than one viewpoint.

    And if a person’s main reasons and main viewpoints are fully satisfying to them:

    a) they may not even consider the possibility of other reasons and viewpoints,

    and b) they may not understand how others can _not_ see their main reasons/viewpoints as primary.

    I see it as an extension of why many devout Christians of other faiths don’t consider the Restoration of prophetic/apostolic authority. They have the Bible, the basics of faith, repentance, the Atonement, the Resurrection, etc., and they feel _full_. They can’t conceive of there being more, as they are fully satisfied, and feel so blessed that they can’t imagine greater blessings. “Authority? Why do we need authority? We have everything we could possibly want or need.”

    if someone’s glass is full, you can’t add anything to it.

  16. I think the Church fails in a number of ways to build up it’s members spiritually and this is the reason why people fall away over seemingly small issues. I feel like it is getting better, but the feeling you get from modern church thinking is “all you have to do to be a better human is know the church is true.” This “one true church thing” is a burden for those who really just want to get closer to God, and this puts an enormous burden for all aspects of the church to be “true” from horses in America to Quakers on the moon. It’s all 100 percent historically, spiritually, and scientifically verifiable or it’s garbage. Spiritual truth is not the same thing as historical truth or scientific truth. I think it’s noble that the church wants to circumscribe all truth as a whole, but us humans need to recognize our limits to do this.

  17. …I think the Church fails in a number of ways to build up it’s [sic] members spiritually…

    You may choose to think this way, but I think this is an unfair characterization.

    …the feeling you get from modern church thinking is “all you have to do to be a better human is know the church is true”…

    This is not modern church thinking, or old church thinking, either — this has never been church thinking.

    But even so, isn’t it wonderful to know that our Savior has put forth His hand in these latter days and restored His gospel in its fulness, with priesthood authority. I take comfort in D&C 112:20: Whosoever receiveth my word receiveth me, and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent, whom I have made counselors for my name’s sake unto you.

    I hope to be one who builds up, rather than one who tears down.

  18. I find this response from you, Bookslinger, super powerful – for this reason: It runs so orthogonal to the dissident narrative – “wow, the awful revelations JUST KEEP PILING UP.” Makes me think there could be another essay comparing those two, broadly speaking – and sharing examples. Let me know if interested in co-authoring something?

  19. James R: As I mentioned to Geoff-Aus, the model of CCD (culture of Critical Discourse) is not a valid model for discerning spiritual truth.

    “Jeff G” wrote an excellent piece here at M * about CCD:
    https://www.millennialstar.org/the-mormon-intellectuals-trojan-horses/

    which explains how the intellectual (as opposed to spiritual) model got him off track.

    If the problem with CCD doesn’t totally sink in after reading that, Meg wrote a recap post, that has further explanatory comments from Jeff G:
    https://www.millennialstar.org/trojan-horses-and-mormon-intellectuals/

    BTW, I’ve read two plausible (good, actually) apologetic rejoinders to the horses issue (and one silly rejoinder.) I assume you know how to research such things on apologetic web sites. And I would remind you of the “barley issue”, in which some people disbelieved the Book of Mormon because it mentions barley, and at the time there was no evidence that barley was ever cultivated in the Western hemisphere …… until later, when archeologists discovered some ancient barley.

    Once you see that pattern of anachronism – disbelief – new discovery – re-evaluation, you see how it could apply to anything. Hence, anachronisms (which eventually turn out to not be anachronisms) do not trump spirit-based testimony. I mean, really, once I received a testimony of the Savior’s visit in 3 Nephi, why should I care about piddling details like barley and horses?

    “Breastworks of timbers” was another such issue, until they were found, and described as “palisades.”

    If you (James, or Geoff-Aus) still don’t quite get what CCD is, why it’s not a useful tool for finding spiritual truth, or what it’s opposite is, then this book might help, “Who is Truth?” reviewed here:
    https://www.millennialstar.org/new-book-who-is-truth/
    Very inexpensive in Kindle format.
    THe book upends the question “What is truth?” I think it describes a good way of thinking to help break out of the “academic investigation” mindset.

  20. Doesn’t seem as if you’ve read the piece, Geoff-Aus. One thing I argue is that statements like “the church has sanitised/lied about the history” and we are “still are not completely honest, even the essays” are reflecting a particular point of view and narrative that John Dehlin has widely promoted over the years. You speak of it here as a simple reality, which I take it means you have accepted this perspective as an unquestioned truth. But why?

    So much of history was told in that generation with a positive bias – American history, for instance. Were we just lying? Or have we learned how to do history better now?

    Your comments about sexism, homophobia and racism also reflect a narrative I will focus on in November. Suffice it to say, once you’ve embraced a progressive narrative of identity, it seems pretty difficult to be a happy member of the Church. From one brother to another, I encourage and invite you with warmth to consider another perspective on both cases! Here’s more of my thinking on the latter topic – http://unthinkable.cc/does-taking-a-progressive-view-of-identity-make-it-difficult-to-be-happily-mormon/

  21. Beautifully said, KarlS! I heartily agree with all this:

    I don’t defend his position, his beliefs nor his later motives, but I think it’s important to empathize with and respect the many good sincere people who have made a good effort trying to connect all the dots and come up with unbelief.

    Rock Hymus provided amazing feedback on this piece – and he fits in this category. So thoughtful, and reaching a different conclusion (at this point) in his own journey. I did warn him, though, I’m working on him! He’s on the top of my list for a future Alma the Younger. (:

  22. (Jacob/Meg, I have a comment in moderation due to 3 links.)

    Jacob, I’m just throwing out tidbits I’ve picked up from Jeff G, Meg, Rameumptom, and Jeff Lindsay. I think Jeff G or Ram would be a better collaborator.

    Geoff-Aus’ comment also had me look up my copies of four books by Robert and Rosemary Brown called “They Lie in Wait to Deceive” originally published in 1984. (FAIR had them reprinted.) It had responses to the famous antis of the day, Ed Decker, Walter Martin, Tanners, and others.

    And I remembered why I couldn’t finish the books: it was too boring. It was the same story over and over again, either a) a lie, b) twisted/partial truth, or c) calling good evil.

    The Browns gave answers, or at least plausible rejoinders, to every single thing.

    Hence, I had to conclude, that while many well-meaning people merely _repeat_ the antis’ talking points without doing their own research, the antis who _originate_ the talking points are not operating with good faith nor with good intentions.

    And that brings it around to “_Who_ is/has truth?” If you don’t research primary sources yourself, you have to trust someone or some faction. And the antis who _originate_ the false accusations, and ignore the plausible rejoinders, have demonstrated they can’t be trusted.

    It really ends up just like Joseph Smith tiring of the war of words “Lo here. Lo there.” And you finally realize you can’t rely on human argument to discern spiritual truth. Also illustrated by 1 Cor 2:14, James 1:5, 2 Tim 3:7. So right there, the Bible speaks against Culture of Critical Discourse as a way to spiritual truth.

  23. Having been exposed to American history as early as grade school in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, it is clear in retrospect that a lot of the negative aspects of the Founding Fathers and founding institutions were ignored or deemphasized. That Washington and Jefferson were prodigious slaveholders was hardly addressed, if at all. The presentation style was one of veneration, emphasizing the great things they did to found the country. Were the school districts trying to hide the ugly flaws?

    Likewise, when I took French history at university in the 1980s, the textbook “La France et Sa Civilisation” (Jacques Hardre, 1969) was lavish in its praise of French historical figures (courageous! astute! benevolent!). The author clearly intended to underscore the highlights of French history and culture.

    The Church’s mission is not to write history. The advent of the historical series “Saints” is the first attempt to write its history since BH Roberts. It should be no surprise that the various historical articles, book chapters, and stories produced by the Church in the meantime emphasized the positive and faith-building elements of past events.

    As seen by many American and French history textbooks of the 1960s and 1970s, this was the popular story-telling style in those days and was considered good history.

    The Church inherited that style; it didn’t invent it.

    Cheers.

  24. Bookslinger, In your last post you state that all ‘anti’ data is “either a) a lie, b) twisted/partial truth, or c) calling good evil.” Lest you be advocating for leader infallibility I’d add d) it is true, but the implications are misinterpreted (maybe that’s what you meant by (b), but calling it “twisted” I think allows one to gloss over the potential challenge the twisted or partial truth might present to a seeker.
    Relative to your direct response to me: I’m used to your style, so I’m not offended. And, I’ll take your suggestion and reread some of the more basic material on agency and faith, etc. Maybe it will jog a connection.

    Meg, Thanks for taking the time to respond. I like the interesting concept of tying things to our belief and commitment from the pre-earth realm. Your post is not completely clear to me, but it sounds universalistic in some ways in theology, which I can resonate with, even though it’s not broadly taught or discussed in the Church and as I see it isn’t easily supported in light of the many harsh and ‘worlds without end’ statements about judgment.

  25. Hi KarlS,

    You wrote: “Meg, Thanks for taking the time to respond. I like the interesting concept of tying things to our belief and commitment from the pre-earth realm. Your post is not completely clear to me, but it sounds universalistic in some ways in theology, which I can resonate with, even though it’s not broadly taught or discussed in the Church and as I see it isn’t easily supported in light of the many harsh and ‘worlds without end’ statements about judgment.”

    You just have to come to Annandale to find it broadly discussed (and sometimes taught) in Church. And I constantly see it being taught in General Conference.

    In Annandale we spend the Sundays between General Conferences discussing the advocated program of Study (the New Testament this year) and addresses from General Conference. I visit enough congregations other than my own to know that in other places folks use materials other than the program of Study and General Conference addresses to fill their worship services. If you attend Church in a place that tends to avoid General Conference and the advocated program of study, then who knows what personal gospels you get taught.

  26. This article is all Over the map. My thumbs may have trouble with keeping up. Also being on a mobile I don’t have the ease of scrolling to perfectly quote or reference you. Please forgive me. You mentioned being evenly critical weighing both sides like I did with my faith earlier in my life. Bold statement considering you nothing of my life and act like all information was available. It wasn’t and it’s still not. We have to fight to find and learn things. My wife still believes as taught the earth is 6,000 years old and god put dinosaurs bone here from somewhere else. My parents are dead and no longer a source for me. I went to five people to confirm temple penalties before I felt I had adequately confirmed. I had to dig it out of them. A factually true thing may soon go down the memory hole with no one living to confirm. You speak of spiritual confirmation of truth. How come that truth doesn’t give a warm and fuzzy feeling.
    You speak as if JD has started a new church seeking followers. That is such a weak deflection and attack. I’ve learned more from the scholars on his podcast and the books they recommend and sources they site then I ever did Mormonism in fact I feel like I’ve earned a minor in religion. Why am I 43 learning about polygamy. I was told on my mission it was a lie by my MP. I was taught to not question church leaders and I took that lie pill and swallowed and testified about something I knew nothing about and that was false.
    You issue a challenge at the end. You’re asking me to look in the eyes of the prophet and John and compare. Ok I get to met John this month and have lunch. What would you have me ask him. Could you in turn set me up a lunch with RN? So I can have that fairness comparison apples to apples.

  27. “Why am I 43 learning about polygamy” might be the most hilarious thing I’ve read this week. Well done, Richard.

  28. Geoff-Aus, I get you. I think you’re rather clearly communicating some ideas worthy of consideration, and unfortunately some here are dismissing them with a handwave.

    Anyway, FWIW, I’m not a fan of Dehlin’s approach (at least, not the one he’s taken over the last several years), and I may be wrong on my perception here, but my sense is that very few people take a casual, direct, short route out of the church after listening to a few podcasts. Those may simply be the noisiest, most prominent listeners.

    Although I haven’t listened to any of his podcasts for many years, I was actually introduced to Richard Bushman’s scholarship on Dehlin’s podcast a loooong time ago, and from there I found scholars/thinkers like the Givenses, Adam Miller, Neylan McBaine, Margaret Young, etc. that have been highly influential to me. Despite Dehlin and I walking very different paths, I’ll always reserve a piece of gratitude for that introduction.

  29. Dan Hoen,
    What religious claims are you trying to prove or disprove via the scientific method?

    Eric Kuhni,
    There is no such thing as “simple historical evidence.” The historical evidence must be interpreted. “Framing” means highlighting some points at the exclusion of others. That is a form of interpretation and reveals the worldview of the interpreter. Anyone who thinks John presents “simple historical evidence” has likely failed to examine their own worldview and biases.

  30. Let’s break down what “Helen Mar Kimball” wrote:

    First, President Nelson does not claim to be “God’s ONLY REAL chosen mouthpiece on the Earth today.” LDS teachings reveal that revelation is open to all.

    Second, never has there been an LDS claim that the President is “the most important human alive.”

    Third, it is tradition to rise to one’s feet when a courtroom judge enters the courtroom, as well as numerous political and religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama. It is called respect for an office.

    Fourth, admit it, the “dig up the gold Bible in their backyard and would kill you if you looked at it” is particularly hilarious.

    Fifth, I think stalking religious blogs when you do not believe in that religion shows…. well… that someone has far too much time on their hands. They need a life.

  31. To repeat myself, I lost my childhood testimony in the 1970s. For better or worse, I still communed with God, and He told me to stop kicking against the pricks. Therefore having been commanded to remain, I was active for decades despite strong intellectual reservations.

    Then I realized that the God I had experienced was the God Joseph Smith had taught, and that Joseph Smith is somewhat unique in preaching that God. This is a reason I like the writings of the Givenses, because it clarifies how the restoration gospel returns to the gospel taught in the New Testament and by the original Church fathers. Given how early Traditional Christianity went off the rails, pretty much all Christian traditions that aren’t restoration traditions have remained off the rails in important ways. These traditional Christian faiths have many good elements, but in key ways “their hearts are far from” the God of the New Testament.

    In 2001 God asked me to write about my female forebears who were involved in plural marriage. I argued with Him. A lot. He insisted more than I argued. And so I spent my spare time for nearly two decades now digging around into what had happened. Wow – so different from what any of the prominent schools of thought want to tell you is the absolute truth.

    As to the impact John Dehlin has had, it is important to realize that surveys suggest the major reasons people cite for leaving the Church align with what John said were problems. Specifically, the #1 “problem” cited by one group of former Church members appears to have been Book of Abraham historicity. These former members may not even know that John Dehlin beat that particular drum ad nauseum, but he did. While I am not omniscient, I truly am not aware of anyone else who made a federal case about the Book of Abraham. So while someone who has become disaffected may not realize they have been influenced by John Dehlin, it does not follow that they were not influenced by others who were initially influenced by John Dehlin.

    As to the plural marriage quibble, I repeat that I’ve written a book about that (Reluctant Polygamist). Talk about bringing things out into the open air…! The awesome thing is that I can talk about all the things with anyone. And I do.

    On Brigham, he was an amazing person who was operating in a particular time and place and culture. I would probably have disagreed with Briaghm, given that Brigham disagreed with my ancestor, John Taylor. It is easy to claim that Brigham was a terrible racist, but that neglects his milieu and the position he was placed in by the US Federal government. For many years it was presumed that Brigham directed the territorial legislature to pass the Act in Relation to Servitude. But recent scholoarship clarifies that the famous speech that has been cited as proof of Brigham’s heinous racist agenda was delivered after the legislature had already passed the Act in Relation to Servitude. Brigham was therefore responding to a fait accompli, rather than directing what the legislature should do, as the old timeline had asserted.

    Suffice it to say that the situation is not as simple as either side might wish to portray it. To those of us who have experienced God, we don’t have the luxury of asserting that God is not.

  32. BTW, K,

    A few years ago one of the more prominent artists who illustrates things for Church faithful was speaking at a symposium in Nauvoo. I specifically asked if he would be willing to produce an illustration that depicts the seer stone translation process.

    Perhaps if we were having the discussion today, his answer would be different. But a few years ago, he said he would not create such an illustration.

    It is worth recalling why you are so angry that the illustrations we do have don’t align with your current understanding. I don’t know why that is for you, but it seems for many they are angry because they first learned this was even an question when South Park mocked the seer stone process. And then they learned that the snarky South Park folks were (in their way) more “correct” than the accepted cultural history.

    I personally find that the seer stone version of events (which was the only version of events suggested by eye witness accounts) makes many other things fall into place. For example, it doesn’t matter if the papyri didn’t contain the Book of Abraham if the seer stones were being used to receive the Book of Abraham in the presence of the papyri.

  33. Adding my voice to many who have commented here, I was uneasy about many aspects of church culture, doctrine and history long before I found John Dehlin. John’s podcasts (along with many others) simply gave voice to the things I was already feeling but could not discuss openly. It wasn’t until I found Mormon Stories and other podcasts that I realized I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy. I’m still attending and holding out hope that the church will be more open and honest. The Saints book and gospel topics essays are progress. Culture and doctrine are a bigger challenge and will take time and patience.

  34. I left the Church, and listened to exactly 0 of John Dehlin’s podcasts. I can’t stand him actually. But I also don’t like Elder Nelson. It’s possible to conclude there are issues (or truth) without the input from any men, whether it’s John, Elder Nelson or you. 🙂

  35. NOTE TO COMMENTERS: The Millennial Star is a small religious blog with a few hundred readers. We support and sustain the prophets and apostles in the Church. Only comments that build up the Church will be permitted. If you don’t like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, guess what: You don’t have to read this blog! That is the great thing about free will. And you can sleep at ease tonight knowing that this post was only read by a few hundred — maybe 1000 — people.

    Again: only comments that build up and support the Church will be approved from this point on. All other comments will be moderated and deleted.

  36. Perhaps it is just me but the early history of the restored church has never troubled me. I’ve also read the entire Old Testament and everything I’ve heard about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young is rather tame compared to what the OT prophets got up to.

  37. A+++

    Very important perspective, and frankly, I think very forgiving of John and his potential motives at this point in his career (eh journey).

    I have made mildly unfavorable comments about John on a friend’s FB feed and I was attacked by many people I didn’t know. It was bazaar and very telling. They defend him much the same way we would defend our church leaders.

    He’s got a church going. And based on the most recent Open Stories financial disclosure, a pretty successful church. He know he has to cultivate his flock or he’s out of a lucrative job.

    I hope others continue to respectfully challenge people like him. Thanks for putting your work out there for all to see. I imagine you will be getting some hate mail 🙁

  38. It ultimately all comes down to the Book of Mormon. If it’s true, then you have to grapple with the implications of that. If it’s not, then no problem–do what you want. Finding out that it’s true is a function of personal revelation: experiencing an encounter with the divine. If you don’t have that, no amount of logic, science, proof, historical records, or other such minutiae will suffice. If you’re putting your faith in the works of men to create or sustain your testimony, you don’t have one yet.

  39. Lattertarian, If only it were that simple. Yes, experiencing something divine, when strong enough, can counter empirical data. But, normally the divine experience and the empirical evidence for a proposition both come with some uncertainty. Your paradigm breaks down when someone with a spiritual witness at some level accompanied with some level of intellectual testimony combined with some level of lived experience then comes across what they deem is empirical evidence that is so strong in their view that it calls into question the veracity or accuracy of their previous spiritual witness. Yes, doubt your doubts. Yes, don’t let go of what you formerly “knew.” But, if new spiritual or empirical evidence is found that we sincerely feel is more reliable than previous evidence, we would be foolish and violating our integrity if we didn’t take is seriously. One, then would weigh all the evidence and the implications of the current and any future directions the new information might lead and make a decision. It might mean shelving things or adjusting our former beliefs or neither. That is the prerogative of the individual which we believers, of all people, should respect.

  40. KarlS, I agree with both your and Lattertarian’s comments, but I might add another dimension: if we accept the Church paradigm that we were in some kind of spiritual premortal existence and we came here to obtain a body and progress, and that we would be tested along the way, it makes perfect logical sense that part of the test would include how we respond after we have received a spiritual prompting that provides certainty. It makes perfect logical sense that the Gospel plan would allow us to continue to be tested. Almost nobody is converted to the Church through logic and reason alone. There must be a spiritual, other-worldly component, and that component must be so clear as to be undeniable (at least at the time). So it makes perfect sense that if God respects free agency he would allow us to be tested after we receive that confirmation. Part of the test will be a process of denying the undeniable, ie, a questioning of the spiritual confirmation you received. The world will tell you to question that confirmation. Again and again and again. And then dishonest people like John Dehlin and others will attempt to pick at your faith piece by piece, raising questions that have been answered hundreds of times before. Heavenly Father will allow this testing process to take place. So, if you know this is the process, the key question is: how will you respond to the test? There really are only two directions to go. Either you will go to the Father in prayer, sincerely asking for help and guidance through this process (I personally did that, and the results were amazing). For many people, one thing to concentrate on is a reconfirmation of the undeniable spiritual witness. Or you will concentrate on your doubts and continue to question your spiritual witness, and the result will be that you go in the other direction. The “empirical evidence” you cite is simply part of the testing process. There is no such thing as definitive proof. There is evidence, and people are given the choice of how to interpret that evidence and whether or not to go down the rabbit hole of examining the evidence in the first place. That is what doubting your doubts means. The best possible course in my opinion is to simply avoid the “evidence.” You have already received a spiritual confirmation. What could be greater than that? Everybody who has dealt with history and social media and the internet knows that “evidence” is very often falsified or spun the wrong way or exaggerated. Because information is so easy to find on the internet these days, this is more true than ever.

    So to sum up: Church members are continually being tested to see how they will respond to the many people who will trying to convince them to leave or become less active or to “examine the evidence.” Once you recognize that the test is an inevitable part of the process, you should have greater strength to overcome the test. But you have to recognize that the test is taking place.

  41. “But, if new spiritual or empirical evidence is found that we sincerely feel is more reliable than previous evidence, we would be foolish and violating our integrity if we didn’t take is seriously.”

    This sounds good on the surface, but seems to me to be sophistry. For example, I respect the work of historians who unanimously say Herod the Great was dead before Jesus was born — I cannot argue with their credentials or their research methodology, and I do not disagree with them — but still, as a matter of faith, I still choose to believe the biblical story. Am I a fool, without integrity? Well, I don’t think so, and others I know don’t think of me that way.

  42. JI makes a good point. Evidence is not proof, and evidence is very often wrong/tainted by ideology/exaggerated — even by the best scholars. And of course I have found that new evidence always comes along as the years go by, and it always seems to contradict the “settled” evidence of 10 years earlier. This is why, in my opinion, the spiritual confirmation is so much more important than the “factual” confirmation.

  43. Geoff B, thanks for the response. That is a good perspective (except I don’t believe John D is dishonest, just mistaken in some conclusions). In your statement “ it makes perfect logical sense that part of the test would include how we respond after we have received a spiritual prompting that provides certainty,” I don’t think everyone is necessarily provided “certainty” in this life even when they have sincerely worked at it. And, that is what I was talking about in an earlier post that at some point (no time limitations here, even in light of Alma) it seems everyone would be provided the certainty from which to make a fully informed choice. But, in the meantime, as Jacob Hess in this original post talked about from the Givens.’ with limited certainty and reasonable choices for both sides one may just have to choose. Thanks again for the dialogue!

  44. A note on Herod and the birth of Christ.

    Calendars have gotten twisted over time. So it is silly to get too upset about the fact that 0 AD occurred after Herod’s death or the idea that Lehi left Jerusalem 600 years (aka 6 centuries) before the birth of Christ.

    As I wrote in “The Star in the East, it appears the star that marked Christ’s birth did appear during the lifetime of Herod.

    On the other hand, the Book of Mormon text itself belies the idea that it was exactly 600 years between Lehi’s departure and the birth of Christ, as when the sons of Lehi return to gather the family of Ishmael, a factor in Ishmael’s decision to leave is the recent imprisonment of Jeremiah, an event that modern calendars date to a few years after 600 BC (though you have to spend a while with the chronology of the final Kings of Judah to piece this together).

    Since I am an engineer, I constantly have to deal with situations where some of my more rigid compatriots are being very literal about every possible interpretation, even when these interpretations don’t make sense. Anyone who will discard believe in a God they have experienced over any of a series of issues too rigidly adhered to is to be pitied rather than coddled.

  45. I’m not a normal or regular poster at all, but I would absolutely characterize myself as both a seeker of truth and also an active and faithful member of the church. Both the article and the commentary are thought-provoking and insightful.

    It’s hard to read or listen to many things from John Dehlin and not pick up on the self-serving nature of his comments. I personally find it appalling that he uses words like “integrity” to encourage an individual pursuit of truth, yet makes his biases so clearly known to even a casual eye. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and am grateful that I don’t have to interpret his actions or his heart.

    I personally think a great many of our challenges with faith come from the culture of the church, and that the culture actually has a great deal to do with the local membership and leaders of the church. I sometimes forget that not every ward or stake functions the same as mine, nor focuses on the same principles or truths notwithstanding the standsrdized curriculum. A ward or stake that embraced some of the principles discussed here would certainly be further ahead than one that did not. And has the internet and social media not made this a bigger challenge today than ever before?

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