Questions surround podcaster John Dehlin and the quest to build an ex-LDS community


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As an increasing number of Latter-day Saints extricate themselves from the Mormon cocoon that bred, raised, nurtured, taught and embraced them — and a church they now imagine has betrayed, stifled or harmed them — numerous digital and in-person communities have sprung as much as welcome these displaced souls.

Equally themed Fb teams, web sites, blogs, e mail lists, podcasts, hashtags, meetups, cyber wards and on-line videographers utilizing YouTube and TikTok now attain huge audiences worldwide.

Lots of them supply alternate and, some say, important lifesaving views to what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught from childhood, together with protected areas to assist lively, questioning and former members navigate what therapists name “religion transitions.”

Common and prolific Holladay-based podcaster John Dehlin has emerged in recent times as an influential but polarizing presence on the middle of this loose-knit motion.

The 52-year-old psychologist was an early pioneer in utilizing the web for Mormon-related content material and describes his life’s mission as selling “therapeutic, development and neighborhood for these experiencing a spiritual transition.”

After almost 17 years as an outspoken on-line dissector of Latter-day Saint orthodoxy — and 7 years after his high-profile excommunication from the church for “apostasy” — the previous Microsoft government and his co-producers and collaborators at his “Mormon Tales” nonprofit join with tens of 1000’s of individuals each day.

And because the nonprofit expands its attain on newer social media platforms, interesting to youthful individuals, these audiences are mushrooming and, some say, shifting in tone.

“The whole lot’s gone viral,” Dehlin extolled to his viewers lately after a collection of segments on latest remarks by church chief Brad Wilcox exploded on-line. “TikTok, Reddit, Twitter — it’s all lit up.”

Now — whereas the podcaster helps to deliver in-person gatherings to former Latter-day Saints by means of a nonprofit referred to as THRIVE — he’s drawing questions over the suitability of his sharp-elbowed model.

“I personally don’t observe John Dehlin or THRIVE,” mentioned Ane Axford, a former Latter-day Saint and therapist residing in New York. “It’s not a neighborhood that’s totally inclusive of everybody that leaves Mormonism.”

Jacob Newman, who’s homosexual, mentioned former believers “create communities that thrive on disbelief, ignoring that there are LGBTQ+ Mormons who select to remain.”

Such communities, Newman mentioned, replicate “the very same kind of poisonous behaviors that many people tried to depart behind in Mormonism: No accountability for management, poisonous obsession and fixation on an ‘identification’ as an ex-Mormon (versus a believing Latter-day Saint).”

From some previous staff and associates, Dehlin additionally faces open criticism over his group’s funds, his therapy of girls and his perceived function as a dogged antagonist to Utah’s dominant religion.

[Read more about John Dehlin’s compensation and his nonprofit’s finances here.]

The query additionally turns into: Can an engaged on-line viewers be remodeled right into a profitable in-person neighborhood? And, even when Dehlin had been absent, is it doable to construct a neighborhood on a shared adverse, even traumatic expertise?

‘Open dialogue’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)
John Dehlin speaks to supporters along with his spouse, Margi, by his aspect after his disciplinary council on the North Logan LDS Stake Middle in North Logan in 2015. He later was excommunicated.

Dehlin launched the inaugural “Mormon Tales” podcast in 2005, reflecting his personal brewing private doubts concerning the religion, and ran it intermittently till 2010. He then based the Open Tales Basis and relaunched the podcast whereas based mostly in Logan as he started work on a doctorate in psychology at Utah State College, with the mission of making “on-line and in-person environments that permit for genuine self-expression and the open dialogue of Mormonism.”

His 2015 excommunication, Dehlin mentioned, was doubtless prompted by a TED Discuss he gave in late 2013 titled “The ally inside.” In it, he recounted overcoming his conservative Latter-day Saint upbringing in Texas and deep-seated homophobic attitudes to turn out to be an LGBTQ advocate.

His bishop later blamed his exile on “public assist of social points,” Dehlin mentioned, “and he named, particularly, same-sex marriage and ordination of girls.”

The muse’s podcasts have developed significantly since then, whereas retaining one key system: interviews with well-known Latter-day Saint figures throughout a spectrum of Mormon tradition, typically keying off new developments within the religion’s tenets and programming or statements by its high leaders, whereas highlighting Mormonism’s controversies over historical past, doctrine, tradition, race, ladies and LGBTQ teachings.

The 5 common podcasts — “Mormon Tales,” “Mormon Issues,” “A Considerate Religion,” “Mormon Psychological Well being,” and “Mormon Transitions” — drew a complete of 6.6 million downloads and YouTube and Fb views in 2018, in response to the most recent accessible studies at openstoriesfoundation.org. “Mormon Tales,” the marquee present, amassed almost 5.8 million views and downloads alone and reached a milestone of 1,000 episodes that very same yr.

As we speak, the “Mormon Tales” podcast neighborhood on Fb boasts 16,800 members, whereas its YouTube account has greater than 54,000 followers. With the latest addition of a youthful and extra social media-savvy co-host, Carah Burrell, and a concerted push onto the video-focused social media channel TikTok, Dehlin mentioned, “Mormon Tales” has a following approaching 122,000.

A big share of Dehlin’s viewers development, he mentioned, is drawn from torrents of Latter-day Saints now falling away from the religion, which he insists is seeing huge waves of attrition in its worldwide membership.

Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins disputes that assertion.

The Utah-based religion “continues to develop not simply in quantity, however in indicators of member engagement equivalent to temple work, household historical past efforts and the tithes and choices contributed,” Hawkins wrote in an e mail. “Those that depart typically accomplish that in a extra public approach by means of social media, however the share of members who resign their membership stays very small (lower than two-tenths of 1%) and has not elevated in recent times.”

Leaders don’t need “to see anybody depart the church,” he mentioned, “which exists to deliver individuals nearer to Jesus Christ as they reside by the restored teachings, covenants and ordinances of the gospel.”

Mormonism’s ‘Voldemort’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)
John Dehlin and his spouse, Margi, on the pink carpet for the premiere of “Believer,” a documentary about Think about Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds making an attempt to reconcile his Latter-day Saint beliefs along with his assist for LGBTQ neighborhood in Park Metropolis on the Sundance Movie Competition in 2018.

To lots of his devotees, Dehlin is a godsend.

He’s revered as a savior of kinds by some. One in contrast him lately to Jesus, saying each critiqued the spiritual authorities of their day. His writings, public speeches and what he says are almost 1,700 hours of podcasting over time elicit adulation, gratitude and an ardent core of followers and donors amongst these departing Mormonism.

“You all have modified my life and gave me what I wanted in a time when it felt like there have been no solutions or assist,” a follower named Hailey mentioned in a testimonial featured on one among Dehlin’s web sites. “As my husband and I’ve transitioned … out of the LDS Church, the knowledge shared from these podcasts have pushed important dialog and helped us keep our dignity and charm all through the method with our household and buddies.”

Many religious Latter-day Saints blame Dehlin for drawing individuals away from the church along with his critiques, and various, he acknowledges, see him as “evil.”

He has taken to calling himself Mormonism’s “Voldemort,” a reference to the “he-who-must-not-be-named” archvillain within the “Harry Potter” books. Some right-wing #DezNat church defenders have leveled threats towards him.

It’d shock some that Dehlin views his a whole bunch of hours of podcasts as serving to church leaders, nudging them within the course of constructive change. He says his personal Mormonism “won’t ever wash off.”

“I’m technically ex-Mormon, as a result of they kicked me out, proper?” he mentioned. “However I don’t consider myself that approach. I truly consider myself as a guide to the church. They need assistance. And I’m serving to them. They’re altering.

“In the end, I nonetheless do love the church,” Dehlin mentioned, “like an abusive father.”

Outstanding former members acknowledge the advantages and understanding he’s delivered to Latter-day Saints, mixed-faith {couples}, LGBTQ people and their households, and people in battle with the church

Some, although, have points with Dehlin.

“Individuals are uncooked emotionally and misplaced in loads of methods, with their worldview flipped the wrong way up,” mentioned Ethan Gregory Dodge, co-founder of the Reality & Transparency Basis (previously MormonLeaks). “He comes throughout as somebody who has all of the solutions after which begins asking for cash. Folks will give John cash out of gratitude, however ultimately fall out of affection with him.”

His “enterprise mannequin thrives on drama,” Dodge mentioned. “The extra drama he can drum up, the extra podcast downloads and YouTube hits he’ll get.”

Many former believers will state that Dehlin has performed a lot good “he doesn’t deserve any criticism,” Dodge added. “However that’s precisely the identical tactic the LDS Church applies to normal authorities.”

What about ladies?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Kate Kelly speaks in 2014 about her excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dehlin’s interactions with ladies by means of the years have introduced out a number of the hardest criticism towards him.

Kate Kelly, a feminist and founding father of Ordain Girls, which helps ladies coming into the all-male Latter-day Saint priesthood, has given public voice to long-simmering considerations from greater than a dozen ladies who say they’ve been demeaned of their private {and professional} dealings with Dehlin.

Kelly, who was excommunicated for “conduct opposite to the legal guidelines and order of the church” a yr earlier than Dehlin, lately posted a letter-turned-petition, saying the podcaster “takes benefit of susceptible individuals in disaster, who’re in respectable want of assist and neighborhood.”

“John has used our skills, time, actions and fame to bolster his model and enrich himself,” Kelly wrote within the on-line publish. “When ladies come ahead with critiques of his habits or allegations of wrongdoing, he retaliates by lashing out at them and trying to publicly discredit them.

“…Many people have labored with him previously, and need to clarify that we now not do and don’t encourage another ladies to take action,” Kelly acknowledged. “It’s not protected. We refuse for use as a masks for abuse.”

Those that want remedy, she added, “ought to hunt down an expert who is definitely licensed by the state to supply these providers.”

(Dehlin has a doctorate in psychology however shouldn’t be a licensed therapist.)

Kelly’s one-page assertion was signed by greater than a dozen ex-Mormon feminists, together with two of his former staff on the Open Tales Basis.

“Any girl who challenged him as a lady, he would come unglued,” mentioned an individual who labored with Dehlin however requested not be named for worry of reprisal, “whereas if a man podcaster or worker requested the identical query, he could be extra open and listening.”

Although Dehlin calls the allegations towards him “false” and “utterly baseless,” he mentioned he “was and am heartbroken that [these women] had unhealthy experiences with me and the OSF. I completely take accountability for my function within the variations and conflicts we had.”

As we speak, he feels “very dedicated to listening to and studying from every interplay I’ve with workers, board members, volunteers, interviewees and listeners,” he mentioned, “and I hope that I’m bettering day-after-day as a colleague and as a supervisor.”

Natasha Helfer — a therapist who was ousted from the church final yr after repeatedly opposing its doctrines, insurance policies and leaders on sexuality points — describes Dehlin as half of what’s “type of a scientific challenge.”

“What’s fascinating about that is that I might say one thing about each single firm or company or nonprofit or for-profit group on this nation that has patriarchal points,” mentioned Helfer, who serves with Dehlin on the THRIVE board and is a former member of the Open Tales Basis board. “Does John one way or the other magically not match into that? In all probability not.

“What I’ve seen John do over time is be open to that suggestions and critique and attempt to study from it,” she added. “And he’s performed extra work than I’ve seen loads of CEOs or leaders, particularly in our church, be keen to do.”

Dehlin mentioned he has “labored exhausting to try to do higher in these areas. However I feel it’s triggering for a white, straight, heterosexual, cisgender male to now be outstanding on this house.”

‘First entry level’

(Courtesy photograph)
Intercourse therapist Natasha Helfer.

By most accounts, Dehlin’s “Mormon Tales” podcasts have helped many former Latter-day Saints who’ve misplaced their religion within the 16.6 million-member church, however some say that isn’t sufficient for long-term involvement.

Latter-day Saint writer-researcher Jana Riess, creator of “The Subsequent Mormons: How Millennials Are Altering the LDS Church,” has had a longtime curiosity within the sentiments of younger Mormon adults and now’s trying particularly at former believers. “Mormon Tales” podcasts have come up typically in her interviews.

“For a lot of, it’s the first entry level into the ex-Mormon world,” Riess mentioned, however that want “goes away after the primary yr or two after which [they] are likely to cycle out of these communities.”

That mannequin is distinctly totally different from creating an organized, supportive and enduring neighborhood for former church members, which Ryan McKnight, Dodge’s associate on the Las Vegas-based Reality & Transparency Basis, calls “a tall order.”

That’s “all tremendous and dandy when you’re first processing your approach by means of leaving the religion, however in brief order it turns into boring and redundant,” McKnight mentioned. “I don’t see that as a setup for long-term success, and I feel the ethics of it are nebulous at greatest.”

Dehlin appeals to a sure type of former Latter-day Saint, those that had pretty literal beliefs after which really feel betrayed, mentioned Dan Wotherspoon, an unbiased podcaster who moderated the “Mormon Issues” podcast.

“In John’s work, he principally emphasizes the adverse results of Mormon orthodoxy and the way to overcome them,” mentioned Wotherspoon, whose podcast is “Latter-day Religion.” “However Mormonism, and faith normally, is about a lot greater than its perception system.”

Plus, some former Latter-day Saints deliver all the identical features that appalled them whereas within the church, mentioned Mette Ivie Harrison, a Utah novelist, poet and blogger — together with adulation of leaders, male-dominated conversations and self-righteousness.

“There’s nothing incorrect with throwing off outdated shackles and deciding to reconfigure your life based mostly on new data, however ex-Mormon get-togethers resemble anti-testimony conferences,” Harrison wrote in a 2020 commentary, “individuals sitting round and bearing witness to the ache of Mormonism in ways in which appear similar to the outdated testimonies I’d hear on quick Sunday about how fantastic Mormonism was.”

When Latter-day Saints depart such an intense religion neighborhood, there may be an urge to “discover some various model of the ‘proper’ method to reside, whereas additionally now seeing Mormonism because the ‘incorrect’ method to reside,” mentioned Axford, the previous Latter-day Saint and New York-based therapist. A part of the motivation is a want “for psychological security with all of the unknowns of life.”

Cults of character, patriarchy and judgmentalism “can and do exist in ex-Mormon communities and people, as these persons are nonetheless human,” Axford mentioned, “and are additionally doubtless extra vulnerable to those issues since they’ve been closely imprinted from Mormon expertise.”

It’s wholesome and essential for ex-Mormons “to talk with and interact with others to validate [their] expertise and actually perceive it,” Axford mentioned. However merely being a former member is “not a long-term helpful neighborhood or main identification to give attention to.”

For a lot of questioning Latter-day Saints, nonetheless, the expertise is extra uncooked and quick. Lots of of attendees have flocked to latest THRIVE occasions because it resumed face-to-face gatherings in October — with as much as 1,000 anticipated at its women-only occasion in Salt Lake Metropolis in April — testomony, co-organizer Clint Martin mentioned, to the deep want for neighborhood in post-Mormonism.

“When the individuals cease displaying up and so they don’t come anymore,” Martin mentioned, “that’s when [wife] Jeni and I are going to cease.”

‘Mormon Stories’ podcaster John Dehlin makes $236K a year from his nonprofit. Is that too much?


Editor’s observe This story is out there to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers solely. Thanks for supporting native journalism.

The viewers and donors for John Dehlin’s “Mormon Tales” and different podcasts have grown exponentially by the years, and so has his wage.

To effectively above $200,000.

And that has raised considerations from some insiders and outsiders concerning the funds and oversight of the nonprofit umbrella group, Open Tales Basis.

Tax disclosures present the muse’s revenues from podcast contributions, occasions and direct donations shot up virtually eightfold in a decade, from $58,580 in 2010 to $464,339 in 2019, the latest 12 months for which IRS paperwork can be found.

Yearly revenues jumped by 67% within the aftermath of Dehlin’s extensively publicized 2015 excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tax varieties present, from $198,136 in 2015 to $332,678 the next 12 months.

On the similar time, as the muse’s attain and output rose, Dehlin’s annual compensation ballooned by greater than 700%, based on nonprofit tax stories, swelling from $27,429 in 2010 to $236,021 in 2019. That six-figure wage made up 60% of the group’s complete earnings from donors and podcast revenues.

[Read more about John Dehlin’s growing influence and the questions emerging from followers-turned-critics here.]

A number of workers who left the muse in 2018 have complained he “curated” its board membership to spice up his compensation and blur traces between donations and private bills amid what they assert was lax supervision.

“This proof means that Dehlin sees the Open Tales Basis as his and his alone,” a former affiliate producer, James Patterson, wrote in a 2021 grievance filed with the IRS, “with an unbiased board of administrators merely a roadblock to him reaching his private monetary objectives.”

In his whistleblower claims, Patterson additionally stated the muse maintained insufficient boundaries between donations to the podcast and Dehlin’s personal life-coaching enterprise, which the podcaster says he has since discontinued.

Dehlin, an avid fundraiser as a part of his podcasts, has strenuously denied the monetary allegations towards him and touts his group’s monetary transparency. And as he takes an more and more seen position within the nonprofit THRIVE and its in-person gatherings for former Latter-day Saints, Dehlin insists his efforts are about serving to others, not monetary acquire.

Burgeoning viewers numbers, donor assist and income development for the podcasts, Dehlin instructed a THRIVE viewers in St. George, “are solely proxies for influence.

“In my thoughts, we’re serving to extra folks,” he stated. “We’re reaching extra folks.”

In response to Patterson’s grievance, Dehlin stated the Utah lawyer common’s workplace audited three years of the nonprofit’s financials — and its investigators, he stated, issued a letter saying it discovered no wrongdoing. Dehlin even famous in a number of podcasts he had feared bias from Legal professional Normal Sean Reyes when the audit was initiated, given a few of his critiques of Utah’s high prosecutor.

We had been audited by the theocracy,” he quipped about Reyes and state authorities in a December podcast. “We willingly gave three years [of] monetary data and actually the reply got here again, ‘We discover no wrongdoing.’”

Clint Martin, a fellow board member on the nonprofit THRIVE with Dehlin, stated he had additionally seen the audit letter and confirmed Dehlin’s description of it.

After months of inquiries by The Salt Lake Tribune and an open-records request, the Utah lawyer common stated it had no report of such an audit.

In response to related requests, the Utah Division of Commerce, which oversees nonprofits, would neither verify nor deny it had audited the Open Tales Basis. If it had, a spokesperson stated, any ensuing data wouldn’t be public — they usually added that it was not unusual for division investigators to hunt anonymity in these circumstances.

Natasha Helfer, a intercourse therapist and motivational speaker who works with Dehlin and is a former member of the Open Tales Basis board, stated Dehlin’s compensation has been based mostly on market evaluation and comparisons with different nonprofits.

“I’m comfy,” Helfer stated, “that the board has made choices which are truthful based on market worth.”

Dehlin stated the Open Tales board had “generously set my wage at a hard and fast stage” — one matching what he earned when he left his job as a Microsoft government 17 years in the past.

“I instructed my board I’d by no means want one other elevate, ever,” he stated. “That’s how I really feel now.”