Is John Dehlin like unto King Saul?: Reflections on orthodoxy and dissent

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by Nick Galieti

“The worth of souls is great in the sight of God (D&C 18:10).”

Greatness is woven through the DNA of every soul that qualifies for a place in mortality. While some individuals challenge this notion from time to time, seeing that every soul is of great worth is one of those eternal truths that occasionally slips our minds. This is especially true when it comes to good examples of bad examples. Examples of these types of individuals found in the scriptures can be people like Laman and Lemuel, and to a certain extent, Jonah; men who’s fates are ambiguous but most likely fell short of their divine appraisal.

Another example can be that of King Saul in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 8-15). A man anointed to be king over the covenant people of the Lord. His was a position and power quite unlike anything we read in the proceeding record. While not the spiritual leader of the people, he was considered by the people to be someone who “may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” Prior to coming to his position of influence over the people, the Lord had given Saul “another heart” signifying a covenant relationship, a spiritual rebirth or sorts. While starting out showing signs of a man with promise, a man who was dedicated to completing the tasks given him with full obedience, as power and influence came to him Saul lost that willingness and replaced it, with incomplete and selfish devotion.

While not a prophet, Saul took upon himself the role of a prophet by re-interpreting his role and adding unto it; he went beyond the mark (Jacob 4:14). In one such example in 1 Samuel 13, there came some Philistines that began to make preparations for war against Saul’s people, the people of Israel. At some point prior to this, Samuel the prophet had given Saul some instruction to meet him at Gilgal in seven days. When the time for Samuel’s arrival didn’t come, Saul decided to take upon himself the mantle of prophet and offered sacrifice—under the assumption that this was presumed to be a righteous act—a sacrifice meant as a peace offering for the sake of his people.

As soon as Saul had done this, Samuel did arrive, and corrected Saul for his misstep, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee.” To assume that the power and order of God was something man could control or manipulate, even a powerful king, is a misunderstanding of the way God operates. This also showed Saul’s impatience, which can also be interpreted as a lack of faith in the Lord and in His timing. Additionally, it would seem that there was an element of societal pressure when in 1 Samuel 13:7 it reads, “As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.”

On the surface it would seem that Saul was a well intentioned leader—and he may well have been at one point. All combined, Saul’s mistakes included not trusting in the Lord, or his servants, making a mockery of sacred rites and rituals, and for basing decisions on the popular mindset of their time as opposed to the counsel of a prophet.

If this example from the scriptures were not enough to fill out a full character analysis of Saul, a further test was laid out from Samuel to Saul, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)

While I am not fully able to comment on the cultural response someone in Saul’s day would have given to such a directive, a modern reading gives me pause. Does this sound like a Christ-like commandment from the Lord’s prophet? In some ways the directive doesn’t seem to fit the type of thinking that would take place today—or even if it was given today, it would be highly unpopular. However, to Saul’s credit, he accepts the charge and moves forward.

By this time, Saul has been given multiple opportunities to show the Lord and the prophet Samuel that Saul is the king he was anointed to be, and can fill the measure of his opportunity for good in the world. With this task, he was given yet another chance. While a seemingly strange task to a modern reading, Saul ventured forth to fulfill the directive to kill everything, including animals, women and children. While some may postulate on the reasoning for such a directive it would all be for opinion as no such reasoning is made clear. And if there is injustice in such an act, the Lord is full capable of making restitution in the hereafter.

Saul, again using what sounds like a well intentioned rationale in some regards reserved, “the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.” (1 Samuel 15:9) In explaining his plausible reasoning for retaining animals he was otherwise instructed to destroy Saul stated “I have performed the commandment of the Lord. Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” (1 Samuel 13,15:15) Upon first look it would seem that Saul may have been well intentioned. However, this was not Saul’s first lesson in obedience.

When Samuel the prophet further inquired into the actions of King Saul, other narratives were offered by Saul all designed to shelter him from the responsibility that he was anointed, “And Saul said unto Samuel…the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” In one manner of speaking, it became the people’s fault, not Saul.

Regardless of the excuse, or the discourse Saul hoped Samuel would follow, Samuel knew the voice of the Lord on the matter, and gave the well known counsel, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

It would seem from the record that Saul fell prey to several temptations during his time as king. Pride, peer or social pressure, and to a certain extent, Saul forgot the Lord and how he operates. Samuel reminded Saul of this by saying, “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17) When he became big in his own sight, Saul lost all he had been given. What changed was that Saul went from a person who loved orthodoxy, to a person that spent more effort dissenting from that which he was commanded to do.

Is John Dehlin like unto King Saul?

The question can be asked, but not answered with an unalterable yes or no. While many similarities exist between John Dehlin and King Saul, John’s future is his to write. Brother Dehlin’s soul is great in the sight of God. As a public figure, a podcast host, and a blogger, John Dehlin has publicly taken what is otherwise a faith crisis, and moved into producing material that is a steady stream of criticisms of the Church and the leaders. He has been successful at gathering a group of followers/listeners that have turned more to John Dehlin for answers, than Church leaders. While some may see this as a problem, others do. In comparison to King Saul, John Dehlin is also great in his own sight. While John Dehlin’s efforts started out as a way for people who struggle with faith, or to find answers to certain elements of the LDS Church and the acts of its leadership, his works have turned into a misguided effort that causes destruction of faith, and allegiances to the wrong king. It is one thing to have questions, and to seek for answers to those questions; it is another thing entirely to promote doubt–a conscious decision to recognize a conclusion and disagree with said conclusion with the intent of proving that conclusion wrong. A cursory study of John Dehlin’s public discourse shows more honor for discord than harmony with gospel teachings. And more interest in pursuing the proof of his gospel rather than the one revealed by prophets.

While people make petitions and cry out to local leaders to allow John to stay LDS (an irony given the fact that one John Dehlin’s websites operates under that name—staylds—yet he now finds himself almost unable to remain so himself) the one thing that remains equal between Saul of old, and the public declarations of John Dehlin himself, is an ownership of all that is good within their own eyes, and condemnation, or disassociation with all that comes of the Lord and His servants. John Dehlin’s bishop and stake president are no more at fault for John’s disobedience than were the lambs, and the sheep, and the oxen, that Saul did not slaughter resulting in his disobedience. Yet, in all of this, these are they ones being sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, not those who must take ownership for the things they have said and how they have acted accordingly.

Excommunication is not a forgone conclusion when one is summoned to a disciplinary counsel. Nor is necessarily a permanent condition. It was never meant to be such, but rather a step in repentant progression. But when one considers the growing effort by John and by others who support him to disparage the faith that he claims to want to be a part of, one has to wonder, to what end is there a benefit or injury for continuing the charade? How can one reconcile the continual insults of church leaders and open disassociation with church teachings, yet make a public case for staying a member of such an organization? How does that benefit John, and how would it benefit the church?

John Dehlin is a PhD candidate studying Clinical and Counseling Psychology at Utah State University. As such, it is safe to assume through his course study, and in consideration of some of the assertions made on his various public outlets, that he is aware of issues surrounding abuse, both verbal, sexual, emotional, etc. Given the history of behavior over the course of the last 8 years John Dehlin has continually entered into attacks on the LDS Church, its leaders, sweeping generalizations about its members, and its teachings; in short, everything that makes up the identities and teachings of the LDS Church; only to follow those attacks by stating how he loves the faith, and owes much of his identity to the church and its culture–a simple analysis could help to make sense of the apparent contradictions.

 

As a student of psychology and clinical counseling practices, as John claims to be, if one was to hear such duplicitous language, the almost inevitable diagnosis would be that if John Dehlin were a spouse and the church were the other spouse, John would be guilty of emotional spousal abuse.

As did King Saul, John now faces his spiritual authority to answer for his choices. The great potential with which both men stood to inherit has been smothered by the pride and power of their positions, and made worse by a desire to follow the dictates of their own gospel, rather than the standards and counsel of the Lord and his Servants. When a person enters into a covenant with the Lord, particularly the Oath and Covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood, one must receive the Lord’s servants in order to receive the Lord’s power and blessings. When one ventures to reject the Lord’s servants (as John has done publicly several times) then one in turn rejects the Lord. Even as John has done this unto one of the least of these brethren, he has done it unto the Lord.

Is John like King Saul, that is still up to John to decide. However, going on national/international news outlets to insult the church, belittle the leaders, and to state your continual displeasure and lack of belief in the church’s teachings, only to then turn around and say you love it and don’t want to leave it, is similar to the act of either a delusional individual, a schizophrenic, or an emotionally abusive person who deserves very little pity.

There is no room for triumphant celebration by faithful members who have disagreed with John Dehlin (as such behavior would be easily judged to be as un-Christlike and hypocritical). However, after years of taking the emotional abuse, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has finally had it and is filing for divorce. With God as the Judge, the dissolution of the bride from the bridegroom is still to be determined.

7 Responses to Is John Dehlin like unto King Saul?: Reflections on orthodoxy and dissent

  1. Excellent write up.

    And

    YAY! RI isn’t dead!

  2. Kevin Rex says:

    I disagree with your analogy. Giving John Dehlin the grace that Pres. Uchtdorf has asked us to would be better in tune with “the Lord’s will”, which I hope you’ll admit is not always easy to figure out given the many contradictions we get from the scriptures, and that is “don’t judge me because I sin differently than you”. If John is sinning in what he is doing, and even if we were able to tell whether or not it was a sin, why are you judging him just because his sin is different than yours? We Mormons sometimes think we know it all, then we often get humbled by something in our lives and realize we don’t know very much at all. I believe there are many good things we can learn from John, and I believe he is sincere in his faith crisis and in his asking questions. He has helped me immensely in my own faith journey, and I feel lucky to still believe in God now.

  3. Amos says:

    Saul was a murderously corrupted political ruler. His crime was, essentially, to merge church and state and assume religious authority by virtue of his political office for corrupt intentions.
    John Dehlin, apparently, like myself, is an unbeliever in the religious claims of Mormonism, but who still bears a Mormon ethnicity as some call it. This ethnicity is a lifelong psychosocial state that requires reconciliation. I have even resigned from the church in order to “leave it alone”…but it doesn’t leave me. For five years I have tried to do what the main body of the church apparently wants all us dissidents to do…leave. But the pull of Mormon culture is not just shaken off. It stays in our lives and minds. So we explore it. We study it as a natural phenomenon, NOT as “the true church” or not. We already decided it isn’t.

  4. Bonnie says:

    I’ve been reading with new eyes the prelude to the Golden Age, the once and future king, and thinking a lot about Saul and Samuel and Joab and of course David. I have learned to appreciate that the sons of Eber formed a culture that is far different from our own, with a far different value system and a far different set of expectations. I will probably stand alone when I say that the blood and gore and throwing heads over the wall to save a city doesn’t bother me anymore – they were a courageous people and far from our lukewarm tolerance of nearly anything. Pros and cons.

    Thinking as close as I can apples to apples, I don’t see Dehlin (or Kelly) as Saul. 1) Dehlin has gifts and resources but no anointing, which makes him an upstart in both cultures (were he in a position of priesthood leadership this would be different); 2) He has not taken a courageous stand but has lurked in the shadows (that’s not entirely meant as slander – I would assume he hasn’t presumed to be the anointed sent to correct erring prophets and much of his ruminations must be assumed to be free speech); and 3) He doesn’t stand head and shoulders above all of Israel and he doesn’t command respect, so he really isn’t a threat.

    I don’t imagine he’s a bad sort. I don’t imagine he’s done as much damage as easily riled people think he might have. I hope there is reconciliation with his local leaders. I doubt too much of Israel will be led to worship false gods because of him. I suppose he’s more like Saul in that – there might be a plague that comes because he was allowed to dally so long and hurt whom he did, but the stone rolls on. And I think there is a shared emotional imbalance, but I guess who of us wouldn’t benefit from some therapy and gentle music.

  5. Nick Galieti says:

    All good responses so far. I do feel the need to reiterate that I don’t believe that John is currently just like Saul. I stop short of saying that–deliberately. But John is traveling a path that in some ways mirrors the principles that King Saul fostered.

    Kevin Rex, I will say that it appears that you are perverting the intent of Elder Ucthdorf’s words. His is an invitation for people to feel that they are welcome to be in church with the rest of us sinners. He is not praising people for their sins and encouraging us to find their own ways to sin, then allow everyone a place to continue in sin. Taken in the totality of his other teachings, Elder Uchtdorf is wanting people to feel that the church is a place where people are welcome to come and improve themselves. Not a place to fester in sin, and destroy the faith of others in the process. I believe John has done some good, and as I stated in the article (above), I do believe that the worth of his soul is great in the sight of God.

    Amos, yes, Saul was a murderous ruler. But he wasn’t always that way. He started out with God’s anointing and then descended to being possessed of an evil spirit that caused him to stray from his greatness. I don’t believe that they are exactly the same, but there are striking similarities that should give us some kind of indication as to what is happening in the future for someone like John. Consider this comparison. Where Saul sought control and was willing to murder the lives of his people and even him who would be his son-in-law, John seeks to control the dialogue, church doctrine, and wishes to do so through a very redacted narrative online. If the worth of souls is great in the sight of God, then the worth of a soul that Saul sought to kill, or the faith of a soul that John has killed, it is still a great loss.

    While I appreciate you feeling that you have left the church alone, your comment on this blog would seem to be evidence that is not the case. I hope John changes his mind, I hope he chooses to stop annihilating the faith of members of the Church, but his behavior shows all signs to the contrary. Some of the people who are his Facebook followers have said that they would rather go to outer darkness than stay in the church, a comment to which John and several other’s “liked” and supported in the ensuing discourse. This is not a healthy position when it comes to preserving or fertilizing faith. The problem I have is that people like John (as there have been others before him) feel that they must appear the victim so that they can continue without recourse–no one likes to blame the victim, right? I can appreciate that there are cultural aspects of one’s life that they carry with them, yet how does someone with so much deep seated venom for a church wish to cling to something they consider so ugly? Is that a commentary on the church? John would have you believe that. But I consider it more a commentary on the individual. Why does John wish to cling to something he hates so much that he is willing to turn his life over to the cause of exposing, embarrassing, and dismantling. People don’t post what he posts on Facebook or his blog, or his podcast, by accident. Make no mistake about it, it is not that the Church doesn’t want John, it is John who has for years not wanted the church. This is not rhetoric, it is a simple analysis of what he has himself said for years….YEARS.

    Bonnie, I don’t feel it is an apples to apples comparison,you are right–especially considering John and Saul’s cultures and position in their respective societies. However, let me be clear, John embodies more of the characteristics that Saul puts forth in the ancient record (maybe not his societal position) than we may always wish to recognize. It is uncomfortable to think of someone living in our time that is capable of such deception, duplicity, and contradiction. There is a duality to John that says more about who he really is as opposed to who he wants us to think of him as being. For example, I was recently unfriended by John on Facebook, why? (Not this article ironically.) The day Kate Kelly was excommunicated, John Dehlin posted about every five minutes some attack against the church, its members, bishops whom he had never met, and made constant insinuations about some grand conspiracy to silence people who had questions in the faith. On a post where John implied that the Church saw a fire starting with the social pressure (partially his own making) surrounding the excommunication of Kate Kelly, and that the church was putting gasoline on the fire, I simply asked the question, “I am curious John Dehlin how posting something inflammatory every five minutes is “smothering” the fire?” John then responded, “Nick Galieti – I don’t expect you to understand. This is painful for us. But I’ll do my best to be responsible. But I’m sad about this, and many others are as well.” I then said (a comment that was later deleted by John–who is silencing who), “I got that you were sad about ten posts ago. I think this is certainly not a time to celebrate. But to fight fire with fire is to be guilty of the very persecution you claim to be victim of.”

    Why do I mention this? Because John Dehlin and Kate Kelly have made a campaign over the last couple years stating that they are not allowed to speak their mind, that excommunication is the silencing of those with dissenting opinions, etc. So what then was the treatment that I received? I was silenced, edited, excommunicated from his Facebook page. I find this to be a hypocritical position.

    To tie back in the comparison, Saul was, among other things, duplicitous. He didn’t start out that way, and neither did John. He started out with, from all public accounts, to be a sincere individual. But I find his behavior towards me, even in that little exchange on Facebook, to be indefensible in light of his public agenda. While John is not an official king, he commands the loyalties of ten’s of thousands, and like Saul, believes that he is outside the Lord’s command for how God wishes his church and kingdom to be run. The principle similarities are more in accord than where they depart from each other.

    With all that being said (and I am sorry that there is a lot of it), John has the ability to change. As a therapist and doctoral candidate, John should be a champion of the ability of an individual to change and take charge of their lives. Which means, unless John wishes to disclose some mental health issue that would prevent him from doing such, John has the ability to bring his life within the clearly defined rules of the Church he claims to love and hate at the same time.

    Look up this link discussing the signs of spousal abuse. Read through the qualifications and see if John is not displaying signs of treating the church as would a spouse emotionally abusing the other spouse. When you see the striking similarities, ask yourself who you defend, and why?
    http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/self-help-brochures/relationship-problems/emotional-abuse/

  6. Bonnie says:

    Oh, I wouldn’t call my mild disagreement with your premise a defense of John. The stone rolls on. The kingdom will leave anyone who chooses not to build it.

  7. While I have a heart that wants to embrace all mankind, I do not have the capacity to do so. While I have a mind that craves only what is true, I do not have the resources to discern it unquestionably.

    Faith is not one of my spiritual gifts. My faith is hard-earned, hard-study and continually growing, morphing and re accessing. What I do have is a willingness to listen, a hope in eternal things and a grasp on the limitations of our perceived (and unperceived) reality.

    We are all inconsistent. We change our minds, we unwittingly and sometimes purposefully, condemn others while making the same mistakes and choices ourselves. We are human.

    I love David. I always have identified with his anxiety to be forgiven, his remorse as his bowing to temptation and his sheer humanness. Saul on the other hand has never resonated with me. He is too jealous, too unsure of himself and too willing to be rash and act without thought.

    I had no idea who John Dehlin was. So I looked him up. I read a bit, I read the responses to his comments. However I have a cousin who is Dehlinisque. His conversations and books have long been curious to me.

    Brother Dehlin seems to have his own metamorphasis. I have friends going through similar things. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps we are here to find out who we are, what we are capable of doing and believing and what we are not.

    I was reading just this morning about a woman (I’d have to go and look up her name) who began as a devout Catholic, and then through the years questioned and then eventually abandoned her faith, all the while lauding the upbringing as having saved her life. She still loved the liturgy, the beauty and grace of ritual and the general honesty and candor of the clergy, yet she was no longer a believer in anything her senses could not discern.

    Faith is not knowing. Faith is a power beyond it. Knowing something has little power to propel anyone to action, but faith has. As faith is questioned, fought against, scrutinized and dissected, it ceases to be faith, it becomes an experiment in rationalization. It is like taking out a fluff of clean bleached cotton, pulling on the strands, stretching it this way and that to examine every corner of it, sharing it amongst others to do the same with, and then being surprised that it no longer holds that pure delightful softness.

    Questioning is important. Researching can be helpful, the intent however is what will determine what any of it will result in. If the intent is to strengthen faith, some information will necessarily needs be filed into the ‘we don’t know everything yet’ column. Some into the ‘truth’ column. Likewise if the intent is to prove something false. The catch is, what information one files into which column.

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