SALT LAKE CITY — A Mormon man well-known for advocating for gay rights and questioning some church policies said no immediate decision was made Sunday by a Utah church leader considering whether he’ll be excommunicated.
John Dehlin, of Logan, Utah, said regional church leader Bryan King told him at a meeting that he needed time to think and pray on whether to send Dehlin’s case to a disciplinary panel.
Another meeting or deadline wasn’t set, and Dehlin said he agreed not to talk with the media any more about his case.
Dehlin, 44, a married father of four, has operated a website for years that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith. He was told in June to resign from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or face a disciplinary committee.
This is the third time in the last decade that Dehlin has faced possible discipline from the church. He has been allowed to remain a church member each time.
“Nothing has changed in my beliefs or behavior since then. It’s really frustrating that these inquiries continue to happen,” Dehlin said this week. “It feels a little bit like harassment, although I believe they are well-intended.”
The meeting with King came six days after Kate Kelly, the founder of a prominent Mormon women’s group, was excommunicated – sending ripples through the country. Kelly is appealing that ruling.
Scholars say Kelly and Dehlin are the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993. That year, the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and kicking out a sixth temporarily.
Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is a non-Mormon expert on the church, said church leaders were practicing “boundary maintenance,” using Dehlin and Kelly as an example to show dissenters how far they can go.
Mormon officials haven’t discussed Dehlin or Kelly’s cases specifically, but they have said the church welcomes questions and sincere conversations about the faith.
In a new message posted Saturday online, the church’s highest leaders said members were “always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding.”
“We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them,” the church leaders said.
They clarified that apostasy, of which Kelly was accused, is “repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.”
Dehlin 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.
Dehlin, a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high-tech industry, said his desire to stay in the faith is a demonstration of his love for the religion he had belonged to his entire life.
“I stay in the church as an expression of faith and hope that the church can mature to the point of being able to accept doubt, criticism and the open discussion of difficult matters,” Dehlin said. “So many people are suffering in silence in the Mormon church, it’s a fight worth fighting.”
Excommunication is reserved usually for cases where Mormons violate the religion’s moral code by having affairs, being charged criminally or committing sexual abuse, said Patrick Mason, chairman of the religion department and professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.
Excommunication is not a lifelong ban, and there are other, lesser forms of punishment that allow people to remain members but limit forms of participation.
Nobody has solid numbers on how many church members are ousted each year, but it is probably between 10,000 and 20,000, said Matt Martinich, a church member who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation. The church has some 15 million members worldwide.