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Mormon who runs website for doubting members ousted

February 10, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Mormon man who gained notoriety over the past decade for running a website that offers doubting Latter-day Saints a forum to chat has been kicked out of the religion.

John Dehlin announced the decision from regional church leaders Tuesday. He becomes the second high-profile church member to be excommunicated in the past year in what Mormon scholars consider to be the Utah-based faith’s way of keeping dissenters in line.

A regional church leader told Dehlin in a letter that Mormon officials made a unanimous decision to excommunicate him for apostasy, defined by the church as repeatedly acting in clear public opposition to the faith.

While not a lifelong ban, excommunication is a rare move that amounts to the harshest punishment available for a church member.

The letter from Bryan King says Dehlin is being kicked out not because he doubted and asked questions about church doctrine, but because he made categorical statements opposing the faith that were disseminated on his website. King wrote that Dehlin’s actions have led others to leave the faith.

The decision comes two days after Dehlin met with church leaders in a four-hour disciplinary hearing.

Dehlin, 45, hoped he wouldn’t be excommunicated but told church leaders he could not in good conscience stop operating his website, Mormonstories.org.

Dehlin said he was told last year that his website and his public support of same-sex marriage were reasons he was being accused of apostasy.

But Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that while Dehlin’s views on gay marriage go against church teachings, they were not the reasons for his discipline.

The letter cites three key issues, including Dehlin’s belief that the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are fraudulent and his rejection of the religion being the “true church with power and authority from God.”

Hawkins said excommunication is not the end, but rather the “beginning of the road back to full fellowship.”

People who are kicked out or leave the church are welcome to return “through the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Hawkins said.

The move is likely to send ripples through the Mormon community. It comes on the heels of the June ouster of Kate Kelly, founder of a group pushing for women to be allowed in the religion’s lay clergy.

“The church is sending a message with this: ‘Don’t express your doubts or concerns publicly, or you risk excommunication,’” said Mike Huband, a Dehlin supporter and active Mormon. “They are saying to those people on the fringes, ‘We don’t want you in the church.’ It’s very disappointing.”

Dehlin is a married father of four who has been a Latter-day Saint his entire life. He is a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high-tech industry.

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