Don’t be a thorn. Just stay home.

Mormon church excommunicates popular podcaster

The Mormon church has excommunicated a popular podcaster, saying his public dissents from the religion’s core beliefs have led others away from the church.

John Dehlin, founder of the podcast “Mormon Stories,” describes himself as an “unorthodox” Mormon whose church roots reach back five generations. Under Tuesday’s penalty, however, Dehlin may not participate in church sacraments for at least one year. He has the right to appeal the decision.

Hrm, I wonder what he did?

[Local church leader Brian] King said that Dehlin was not excommunicated for criticizing the church, which he has openly admitted to, but for denying core Mormon doctrines. The church has concluded that Dehlin’s views on the following amount to apostasy:

— Questioning the nature of God and divinity of Christ;

— Calling the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, two central texts, fraudulent;

— Teaching that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church’s official name, is not the “true church with power and authority from God.”

So he believes (rightly so) that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent.  He also believes (again, rightly so) that the LDS isn’t the “true church.”  Why was he even still calling himself a Mormon in the first place?

I suspect this is another, albeit unorthodox (pun intended) case of one being a “Christian” in name only.  Rather than follow the tenets of his faith, however flawed, unBiblical, and made-up they might be, he chose to criticize them while retaining the label his faith brought.  He had already fled the flock in spirit, but chose to remain as a thorn instead of simply leaving.

I see this quite frequently in churches I’ve attended, visited, and ministered at.  The people there for the glam and show.  They like to get dressed up, play church for a couple of hours, then head home the same person they left the house as that morning.  No change, no growth, just checking off another day in attendance at the weekly Jesus Fan Club meeting.

Sure, they show up every week and tithe.  They volunteer at the potluck dinners.  But not out of a desire to serve.  They do it out of a sense of entitlement.  They somehow feel that, since their family has been going there for ages, they just deserve to be a part of that congregation.  And that congregation darn well better recognize it.

That new pastor that just came in?  He doesn’t need to be here.  I don’t like the way he preaches.  It makes me uncomfortable when he says that I need to change.  Who is he to say that I need to change?  Doesn’t he know how long my family has been going to church here?  Doesn’t he know that my great-grandfather helped build this building?  The nerve of him to accuse me of poor behavior in his sermons.  I was baptized here when I was five years old!  I’ll show him!

Then it begins.  The back-biting and infighting.  Cliques form within the congregation.  Sides begin to form.  Nobody knows that the body is splitting and at war, but they sense it is about to come.  Many churches stay at this point for decades.  These families set on the left, those families set on the right, and everybody checks to see if one of the others is going to be at a function before they agree to attend.

Occasionally though, you get a member like Mr. Dehlin.  Ignore, for a moment, Mr. Dehlin’s LDS membership.  Think of that “one person” in your congregation that’s always dour and irritable.  They don’t like the pastor.  They don’t like the music.  They don’t like the food at the pot lucks.  They just stick around and complain about everything.

Rather than just admit he’s become disillusioned with his faith, he becomes a thorn.  He doesn’t leave the congregation.  Oh no.  His family has been going there for eighty years.  He’d never do that.  That Church is a part of him, after all.  No, he doesn’t leave.  He just stirs the pot.  He makes everyone else there as unhappy as he is.  He sticks around to pluck people away one by one.  He drives them off until the Church is a bitter, unhappy mess.

“See?” he says.  “Look how bad of a job the Pastor is doing!  Look at all the division in our body!  Our hands and feet are at war!  Get the pastor out!”  Seeing what is eminent, the Pastor steps down.  He uses that oh-so-flowery phrase, “God has called me elsewhere.”

Those who liked the Pastor or even perhaps just didn’t have a problem with him are hurt.  They don’t understand why others within the congregation were so vocally outspoken.  “The Pastor did nothing wrong,” they say.  “I liked his sermons and they were all Biblical.  What brought this on?”

A selection and nomination committee is formed.  A collection of mostly well-intentioned people are set with the task of finding a new leader.  “We want dynamic energy!”  “We want youthful engagement!”  “We want community outreach!”  They find some fresh-from-seminary, bright-eyed man of God with a heart of gold and all the youthful naivety you can imagine.

Somewhere, deep in the back rows, someone is saying “I want someone who won’t try to control me.”  “I want someone who recognizes how important I am to this building.”  Or, in blunt terms, they don’t want a real Pastor.  No, they want a hollow puppet with a Bible.  They want someone with a gentle message and no condemnation.  They want someone to read the announcements, introduce the worship leader, give a brief speech on how everyone else is wrong but them, and above all else, have them out before the lunch buffet gets busy.

They don’t want spiritual growth.  They don’t want to be challenged and sharpened.  They’re just there for the show, and the show better be good. That pastor better recognize how important they are to that congregation, smile at them every Sunday, and remember every detail about the oh-so-important things they did for the Church the past week.

If not, well, I guess that new guy just isn’t cutting it.  Maybe we didn’t pick the right guy.  After all, if we picked the right guy, I’d be getting along with him.  The right guy would recognize how important I am.  This guy, well, this guy just sees us all as equal.  He pays as much attention to that new family as he does mine.  They’ve only been going here a year!  They haven’t put in the same amount of time that I have!  I’m going to have a talk with the deacons.  Maybe we need to start questioning the Pastor’s abilities.  If they don’t agree with me… well… I’ll just have to talk to people myself and see who’s with me on this.  And I’m sure not going to set with those people who like him.  They obviously aren’t as faithful as I am.

Are you one of those people?  If so, stop being a thorn.  Your Church is not about you and your family.  It is about God, and what you and your family can do to serve him with other families and individuals.  And if you can’t deal with that?  If you don’t like being told when you may be wrong?  If you don’t like being challenged?  If you can’t accept what your church teaches you?  If you think Church is about you and how important you are to it?  Feel free to just stay home.

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