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 Post subject: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:44 pm 
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In the aftermath of the release of the two hit pieces Greg L. Smith wrote about John Dehlin, I have given a lot of thought to the motivations and methods of the apologists, as well as the motivations and methods of John Dehlin himself. In the end, I have concluded that no matter how shallow John Dehlin's understanding of Church history and doctrine might be, and how unsteady his testimony was, he has effectively shown that he is twice the scholar any one of the apologists who attacked him is, and has probably done more good for the LDS Church than any single one of them.

"Wait," you say, "didn't John Dehlin have a real shaky understanding of the atonement? Didn't he openly doubt the truth claims of the gospel and gather fellow discontent and wavering saints together so they could all leave Mormonism in a mass exodus to a life of wife-swapping and pot smoking?" Well, not, not exactly, but I understand why you think that. All you have to do to arrive there is exactly what Greg Smith has done, which is cobble together a bunch of cherry-picked quotes to make John what you need him to be in order to make your point.

The trouble is, this is not what real scholarship is about. Real scholarship, even scholarship from a particular viewpoint, should take account of a fair sample of all of the evidence. What Greg Smith did was selectively pick out certain snippets of John Dehlin's oeuvre that almost anyone could have predicted would yield the kind of negative information Greg Smith went looking for in order to pursue his agenda, which was to delegitimize Dehlin's voice. Unlike a scholar, who seeks to understand and describe accurately a set of data, albeit from a certain bias, Greg Smith has not so much understood Mormon Stories and John Dehlin as found a narrative that met his preconceived bias against John Dehlin and Mormon Stories and made his John Dehlin fit that.

What drove that narrative? Interestingly, it seems that apologists are central to the story. Greg Smith opines that John Dehlin turned apologists into "folk devils" so that he would have an opponent to focus his group's anger on and thus strengthen his own ranks. In other words, if one were to read Smith uncritically, she or he could very easily come away with the impression that John Dehlin had deliberately lit upon this nifty new strategy to lead people away from Mormonism, as though the apologists themselves were central to the LDS Church.

Of course, we know that the antagonism between apologists and liberal or doubting Mormons goes back decades. At times the disagreement was expressed more civilly, as when Nibley debated Sterling McMurrin. At times it has heated up considerably, as it did when the FARMS crew over-reviewed the hell out of Michael Quinn's book Early Mormonism and the Magic World View and Quinn shot back with a terribly over-bloated second edition in which he called FARMS' scholars "polemicists." So, Dehlin did not come up with a brilliant strategy to lead members out of the Church. Rather, he a prominent member of a new generation of liberal or doubting Mormons who squared off with more conservative or fundamentalist members of the faith in a rather predictable pattern.

So, there are big questions about Greg Smith's methodology and choice of theories. Since he freely admits that he was only exposed to a small set of data that was deliberately chosen to yield the kind of evidence that would back up his preconceived ideas about Dehlin, there was no way that he could hope to understand the Mormon Stories phenomenon. There was no way he could hope to represent accurately the man who was so central to the movement's existence. Anyone with access to John Dehlin's full oeuvre can find the positive interviews and positive statements about the LDS Church that Greg Smith neglected or omitted. They didn't serve his purpose.

In the fall of 2011, John Dehlin created a survey to try to figure out why people were leaving the LDS Church. The people he surveyed were people who considered themselves disillusioned or who had left altogether. This is of course natural if you are trying to figure out why those who leave leave, rather than the speculations of others who have not gone through the experience. Let me emphasize this point again: JOHN PRODUCED A SURVEY TO GATHER DATA. As the data rolled in, one thing became apparent--a fair number of the 3000+ people surveyed said that LDS apologetics had an adverse affect on their belief and desire to stay members of the LDS Church. They even discussed this on Facebook.

Now, we can criticize John's methods, criticize his survey. We can argue that his survey was flawed, that it came from a large echo chamber of Dehlinites, etc., but such an argument only goes so far. What such an argument does not prevail against is the fact that John Dehlin, a PhD student in Psychology, surveyed 3000+ people to find out why they were leaving or why they left the LDS Church. He did so because he cared why. He did so because he wanted to do something about it. He wanted others, including the leaders of the LDS Church, to understand why and do something about it.

However accurate his results ultimately were, I think it is fair to say that he conducted exactly the kind of research that one ought to conduct in the social sciences to find out why people do what they do. In the case of Greg Smith, and other former members of the editorial staff of the Mormon Studies Review, however, we have a group that responded to John Dehlin and Mormon Stories with a methodological approach that was a caricature of the social sciences, properly speaking. We can imagine that, had these apologists really desired to do credible research on the Mormon Stories phenomenon, they might have done what John Dehlin did. They might have conducted a survey of Mormon Stories followers. Evidently, the Mormon Stories folks aren't averse to participating in such things. They might have even been flattered that someone connected with a Church institution cared enough to conduct a survey to get their perspective.

But what these apologists did instead was send out their friends and helpers to gather every negative statement by or factoid about Dehlin they could find, including one emeritus BYU professor's attempt to goad Dehlin into saying something he could then report to Greg Smith via email after a confrontation at a UVU conference on Mormonism, and various other apologists collecting damning quotes from Dehlin on Facebook. They had concluded, without any statistical research, that Mormon Stories was a bad thing, and they were determined to prove that John Dehlin was an apostate to discredit him and end that bad thing.

What prompted them to act when they did? Mormon Stories, after all, had been around for some time. Well, remember, the survey was taken beginning the middle of October of 2011. As the results started to roll in, and as people started to discuss those results, one thing started to become clear: disillusioned and former members of the LDS Church were not saying good things about the impact of LDS apologetics in their lives. Greg Smith claims that he began his research on Mormon Stories in September of 2011, over a full month before the survey. If this is accurate, then there may be no relationship between the hit piece and the growing evidence that disillusioned Mormons were negatively impacted by apologetics. Greg Smith also claims that the first draft was submitted November 9, three weeks after the Dehlin survey had begun. Is it possible that the Dehlin survey added urgency to the production of a hit piece on Dehlin, not so much to protect the LDS Church, as to protect apologetics?

John Dehlin's survey was delivered to the leaders of the LDS Church. Whether they use his study or not, Dehlin provided the Church what may be the first systematically collected data regarding the causes of disaffection from Mormonism. Simply by setting the example or blazing a new trail, he has done the LDS Church an invaluable service. Now, the LDS Church may commission similar studies, with its own scholars and statisticians. They may come to different conclusions than John did, but John's work will not have been in vain. In any case, what the LDS Church discovers through these scientific methods may save the memberships of thousands upon thousands of Mormons and their descendants. When you compare that to the legacy of Greg Smith, who can only claim to have produced the latest and most self-indulgent in a long line of apologetic hit pieces with a veneer of scholarship sloppily applied, I would rather have John Dehlin's record, with all its warts, any day.

Thus I pronounce John Dehlin the winner in a contest with no peers. His opponents never even entered the race.

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Last edited by Kishkumen on Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:11 pm 
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One of the best OPs that I've read.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:17 pm 
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Everybody Wang Chung wrote:
One of the best OPs that I've read.


Yep.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:21 pm 
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Thanks, guys.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:30 pm 
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Everybody Wang Chung wrote:
One of the best OPs that I've read.


+1

This was spot on.


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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:35 pm 
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Cicero wrote:
+1

This was spot on.


Thanks, Cicero!

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:46 pm 
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He was definitely a trailblazer in a way that might actually bring reform we all talk about. Apologists are a defense mechanism. The survey and work JD did is a feedback mechanism. They'll always be at odds.

Trailblazing always means parting ways and going at it alone at every turn, but if he DOES succeed in FINALLY bringing some of the most talked about concerns to their attention and effecting change, it'll be phenomenal. Heck if JD can be a voice for our concerns that changes the culture from the top to welcome doubt and varying degrees of belief, there'll be that much more of a reason for many of us on the fence to go back.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:48 pm 
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Harold Lee wrote:
He was definitely a trailblazer in a way that might actually bring reform we all talk about. Apologists are a defense mechanism. The survey and work JD did is a feedback mechanism. They'll always be at odds.

Trailblazing always means parting ways and going at it alone at every turn, but if he DOES succeed in bringing some of the most talked about concerns to their attention and effecting change, it'll be phenomenal. Heck if JD can be a voice for our concerns that changes the culture from the top to welcome doubt and varying degrees of belief, there'll be that much more of a reason for many of us on the fence to go back.


I appreciate your thoughts, Harold Lee. At the very least, John's example in conducting this survey may prompt Church leaders to seek real answers regarding disaffection from the LDS Church, rather than relying on the unscientific folk narratives and prejudices that are driving apologetic responses to the problem.

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Last edited by Kishkumen on Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:52 pm 
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Kishkumen wrote:
In any case, what the LDS Church discovers through these scientific methods may save the memberships of thousands upon thousands of Mormons and their descendants.


And save their marrages and extended family relationships and save them from overwelming pain and lonely struggle.

yes we may only dream and hope that the church will follow JD's lead.

good post Kish


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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:53 pm 
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RockSlider wrote:
And save their marrages and extended family relationships and save them from overwelming pain and lonely struggle.

yes we may only dream and hope that the church will follow JD's lead.

good post Kish


Excellent points. Thanks, Rockslider.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:00 am 
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RockSlider wrote:
Kishkumen wrote:
In any case, what the LDS Church discovers through these scientific methods may save the memberships of thousands upon thousands of Mormons and their descendants.


And save their marrages and extended family relationships and save them from overwelming pain and lonely struggle.

yes we may only dream and hope that the church will follow JD's lead.

good post Kish


99% chance of it working the other way around. We can always dream they listen to him instead of them dismissing his findings, beating his inquisitive spirit back into the standard submission, and sticking their flag in the ground.

Here's to hoping in this transition we lost a leader and gained an advocate.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:01 am 
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Harold Lee wrote:
Here's to hoping in this transition we lost a leader and gained an advocate.


What a lovely thought.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:16 am 
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I agree Kish.

Reading the two pieces left me with a sickening gut feeling of what poor state some of the driving forces of mormon apologetica is in. It is only through repeated observation that I accept that the actions and written thoughts of the so called mopologists are REAL, and not some lunatic joke made to put the LDS church in a bad light.

I am sure that even the weakest of reasoners over in the mopologist group must have pondered some time upon WHY it is that the church, which is SUPER organised, does NOT include them, or support them. They are a self appointed religious border police.

Atm they are doing a fine job over on MAD destroying whatever credibility they had left with the more radical mormon defenders. The anger, hatred, maliciousness, lack of empathy, religious fervor, lack of perspective, and apparent total disability to learn from feedback, is appalling. I have a feeling that the current drama has a possibility of ending with actions not foreseen by any participants.

In my eyes John "won", but I am very unsure how the strain of the latest developments are affecting him.
It is quite exceptional to observe a whole group of dedicated religious defenders cyberstalking and methodiously maligning a person in real time. I believe the core motivation of said stalkers are not concern over the welfare of the kingdom, but hurt pride from being told their methods and works are dubious at best.

They have observed someone else recieve the praise they are seeking for.
Truth hurts.

Uther

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:31 am 
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Uther wrote:
Reading the two pieces left me with a sickening gut feeling of what poor state some of the driving forces of mormon apologetica is in. It is only through repeated observation that I accept that the actions and written thoughts of the so called mopologists are REAL, and not some lunatic joke made to put the LDS church in a bad light.


It might surprise them just how many people would not smile upon some of their activities, particularly when they pick on individual LDS folk.

Uther wrote:
I am sure that even the weakest of reasoners over in the mopologist group must have pondered some time upon WHY it is that the church, which is SUPER organised, does NOT include them, or support them. They are a self appointed religious border police.


Well, they are still members of the Church. What I suppose you are getting at is how odd it is that they do not seem to have derived any wisdom from the experience of being pushed out of MI.

Uther wrote:
Atm they are doing a fine job over on MAD destroying whatever credibility they had left with the more radical mormon defenders. The anger, hatred, maliciousness, lack of empathy, religious fervor, lack of perspective, and apparent total disability to learn from feedback, is appalling. I have a feeling that the current drama has a possibility of ending with actions not foreseen by any participants.


They really ought to settle down. It's not healthy to rage on about it. What is done is done. We can try to learn from the events of the past year and a half, starting when John organized his survey. Man, they have to be kicking themselves for not thinking of doing something like that. Talk about credibility! Anyway, hopefully in the future, thanks to John's first efforts, future defenders of the faith will adopt more scientific methods and will not resort to character assassination.

Uther wrote:
In my eyes John "won", but I am very unsure how the strain of the latest developments are affecting him.


I don't know either. But, here's the thing, the real winner in all of this is the LDS Church, which now has the tools necessary to find out what is really ailing the disillusioned member and address those issues, rather than relying on the yellow journalism and character assassination that the apologists have continued to employ against individual members.

Here's the thing: in the end, Church researchers may find out why Mormon Stories is bad. Hey, it could be that it is, but the methods used to demonstrate that will be legitimate, and it will be harder to say that personal hatred was behind the science. Anyone could test their results. Anyone could come up with their own surveys and experiments. Hopefully, the result would be closer to the truth, and thus truly useful.

Character assassination has a very limited effectiveness. It is very shortsighted, and, in some ways, it simply backfires. The people who engage in it run the risk of looking pretty bad themselves. The Church does not want to look bad to the very people who are hurting and disillusioned. They want to find a way to appeal to those people and bring them back. So, one might say that these character assassination tactics are even self-defeating.

John Dehlin pointed to the road out of this dead-end alley. For that he deserves major kudos. Maybe BYU should consider hiring him after he receives his PhD. He may not know Arabic or Coptic, but he does understand the basics of the scientific method, which is far more valuable to the LDS Church than hit pieces and character assassination.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:41 am 
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Kishkumen wrote:
I don't know either. But, here's the thing, the real winner in all of this is the LDS Church, which now has the tools necessary to find out what is really ailing the disillusioned member and address those issues, rather than relying on the yellow journalism and character assassination that the apologists have continued to employ against individual members.


Seriously?
The LDS Church, God's one true Church with a latter day Prophet at its head who communicates with Jesus on a regular basis needs John Dehlin's 'research' to find out why members are leaving?

The Church already had the tool of divine inspiration and leadership.
The Church did not go out and research why members were leaving because it wanted to know.
It had Dehlin's 'research' thrust at it unrequested.

The Church has known the issues for a long time, what makes you think that Dehlin will be the catalyst for them to finally actually do something about it?

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:57 am 
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No offense, but very few people care about "real scholarship".


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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:08 am 
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Bazooka wrote:
Seriously?
The LDS Church, God's one true Church with a latter day Prophet at its head who communicates with Jesus on a regular basis needs John Dehlin's 'research' to find out why members are leaving?

The Church already had the tool of divine inspiration and leadership.
The Church did not go out and research why members were leaving because it wanted to know.
It had Dehlin's 'research' thrust at it unrequested.

The Church has known the issues for a long time, what makes you think that Dehlin will be the catalyst for them to finally actually do something about it?


Huh. Well, I hadn't thought of it that way, and I really don't agree.

It could be that John Dehlin was inspired to conduct this survey. Not everything in the LDS Church occurs from the top down. Some of it happens from the bottom up. There are a number of instances where this has been the case. So, you don't know but that future research will be conducted because the leaders of the Church feel inspired that John was onto something here. It may also be the case that John's research was one catalyst to getting the classic-FARMS apologists tossed out of MI. What kind of data did they have to turn to when they were confronted with the question of the hard statistics speaking to the value of LDS apologetics?

The apologists themselves never thought to research that using the scientific method. John did.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:10 am 
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robuchan wrote:
No offense, but very few people care about "real scholarship".


Well, corporations generally do, robuchan. Indeed, when there were concerns about the popularity of the endowment, the Church sent out a survey to over 3000 endowed members.

It seems like John was actually taking a page from the Church's own book. Their research resulted partly in changes to the endowment. The Church knew to look at the hard data and adjust accordingly. You could view that as a very inspired thing to do.

John did the same with disillusioned and former Mormons. Regardless of the actual results, he was on the right track, and now the LDS Church just may continue to work on this problem using the same methods that proved effective in connection with the temple.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:28 am 
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Bazooka wrote:
The Church has known the issues for a long time, what makes you think that Dehlin will be the catalyst for them to finally actually do something about it?


Money. Sorry to be negative and nasty, but their God is The Corporation of the First President, and retention of even long time TBM's is becoming a problem under their current paradigms.

I believe the new missionary ages is also an attempt at retention of TBM youth. However in this internet information age, this well may backfire on them.


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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:39 am 
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RockSlider wrote:
Money. Sorry to be negative and nasty, but their God is The Corporation of the First President, and retention of even long time TBM's is becoming a problem under their current paradigms.

I believe the new missionary ages is also an attempt at retention of TBM youth. However in this internet information age, this well may backfire on them.


I can't forecast what will happen, but I choose to be optimistic about this. I think the Church, as a corporation, can see the value of using tools like surveys and statistics where hit pieces and character assassination as carried out by cold-warrior apologists from the ideological fringe have failed them.

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 Post subject: Re: Why John Dehlin Wins
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:46 am 
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Kish, I think I can agree with what you are saying if I view the Church as a corporation with members its customers.
Customers are stopping buying so let's survey them and find out what the issue is, on the assumption that if we correct it we can get them buying again.
I get that.

But the Church (despite its name) isn't a Corporation with a mere Executive at its head.
It's Gods one true Church led by Christ Himself. Complete with a Prophet, Seer and Revelator who is supposed to lead the Church based on inspiration and revelation from above. As opposed to reacting to member activism, societal change and emptying pews.

That's the issue as I see it.
Why is Christ letting John Dehlin (apostate? NOM? anti-mormon? flip flopper?) tell Church leaders what He himself should be telling them?

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