I’ve had the unique privilege of spending over an hour on the phone with John Dehlin a few weeks ago. I found him articulate, unassuming, charming and best of all, completely honest. You know, it’s such a blast to talk to other bloggers on the phone. I truly enjoy it.

Let me begin by addressing those who think John Dehlin is all about stirring up controversy. Think again. As with most of us, there is much more to John than meets the eye.

Let’s dispense with controversy first. I told John that I had been to Mormon Stories (he amazed me by remembering a thread I’d commented on and sending the link to me as we spoke:) and found his views reasonable. I wondered what I’d missed that emotions ran so strong when his name was mentioned.

His reply: The way I came onto the Bloggernacle was probably insensitive and foolish. I didn’t understand that it was a community based on relationships. Instead of slowly developing relationships, and working my way into affiliation, I dropped in doing loud, bold, and controversial posts without showing proper deference to established personalities (mostly at Times & Seasons”. I was a shameless self promoter of my own cause (Mormon Stories). My motives were pure–I wasn’t trying to make friends or promote ego, I just wanted to promote my mission. I think I may have been obnoxious to others involved without realizing how rude I was. I was just so excited! I didn’t understand the etiquette and violated it egregiously.

(I believe I understand what John is saying here. I also was excited to have found Mormon blogging and was often indelicate in my exuberance. I’ve seen that happen with others, also, and I try to be very patient. In these instances, I think the burden should be on the establishment to err on the side of mercy and assume we newcomers will settle down after awhile.)

Enough about my opinions, on to John’s life. John was born in Boise, Idaho in 1971, but his family moved to Texas, where he attended Katy High School with Renee Zellwegger. She and John were very good friends all through high school, but have lost touch since Renee went big time. when Renee decided to become an actress, she called John at BYU to tell him her decision (1993). He says she was a cute, sweet, and smart girl, but he was dubious about her decision to act–thinking maybe she couldn’t perform the deeper roles. He’s thrilled at her success and was glad to be proven wrong.

John was an honors student at BYU and graduated summa cum laude in political science. He, like many on the bloggernacle, served a mission Guatemala. His mission was the second highest baptizing mission in the world, but many converts were baptized when the missionaries took kids to play soccer and then baptized them afterwords (no discussion, no parental consent, etc.)

John shares this story in more detail here: http://www.mormonstories.org/Oaksletter.html

Now that strikes me funny. It’s like saying “I went to Wal-Mart to learn meditation.” However, John explained to me that some missions developed a strategy for converting locals called “baseball baptisms.” The mission presidents would build a field next to the church and only allowe baptized members to play. This happened in England and Japan, eventually resulting in mass excommunication because the baptisms were corrupt and not viable. Elder Holland, for example, had to close thirty stakes when he was in Chile because of horrible retention due to bogus baptisms.

After his mission, John served a political internship in Washington, DC for Texas congressman Jack Fields. he met his wife while attending BYU. She was from a family of converts and had been raised in Washington, DC. An English major, she was also a cross country NCAA athlete. John was what my daughter calls a “player.” He dated lots of girls, but, (he told me in response to my rather rude question) “didn’t screw around.” He finally settled down, popped the question and they were were married in the Washington, DC temple in December 1993. They have three daughters and a son, ages 3-11.

After their marriage, the couple moved to Dallas, where John worked for Mitt Romney’s company, BAIN, which is a management consulting firm. They lived there for one year, then moved to Chicago for two years, where John worked for Artheur Andersen doing “computer stuff.”

They then traveled to Salt Lake where John was employed by the LDS Chruch as a computer consultant on the 2000 initiative re-writing databases. His coolest project was working on the “General Authority Candidate Tracking System”–which tracked Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Temple Presidents as the “farm system” for futer GA’s. It was an Access database, btw) :).

Ever the wanders, the couple then moved to Seattle, where John worked for Microsoft. He met Bill Gates a couple of times and attended company meetings where Bill spoke to his employees. He describes Gates as a nice guy, “wickedly intelligent” and very focsed and driven. John’s coolest job was working as Speech Writer to the Head of Worldwide Sales (Orlando Ayala), where he traveled to over 15 countries in one year. John eventually became tired of the pace of Microsoft. Competition is very fierce at the company and despite Bill Gates’ dedication to his marriage and family, the Microsoft culture was very hard on families. After 7 years at Microsoft, John left the company and moved to Logan, where he now resides.

John is in the process of completeing his master’s in Instructional Technology at USU and works for MIT from his home, coordinating a world wide program in OpenCourseWare. John spearheads this effort for MIT, which encourages universities to share course materials on the internet for free. Those who can’t afford a formal education benefit from the knowledg with paying for the course or receiving credit. Everybody wins.

John travels all over the world in his job–he was recently in Spain and Taiwan coordinating OpenCourseWare. He travels to Boston once a month to consult with MIT, but otherwise is fortunate to be at home with his family more than most breadwinners.

I asked John a few “Ba-Ba” questions. I think it’s fun to find out this kind of stuff about people. He paused carefully before answering each one:):

Pet Peeve: um…certainty

Favorite Food: um…Asian fusion

Color: um…orange

Book: um…I will say…I, um…I will probably say…East of Eden

Movie: um…A Man for All Seasons

Thing to do with time: I love to meet people from the Bloggernacle and I enjoy interviewing people. (I thought this was too canned and polite, so I asked him to try again) thus:

Other favorite thing to do with time: German board games, ping-pong, tennis

Guilty pleasure: Watching “So You Think You Can Dance” religiously, and Karoake

Loveable Idiocyncrasy: He chews really loudly (mouth closed, of course) and loves to sing Beatles songs at the top of his lungs while driving in the car

Funniest thing he ever saw in his life: DKL at dinner with 4 other mouth-frothing feminists

John’s extended family is very active in the church; in fact, his brother, Joel, is the chief information officer of the church. You can check him out at LDSCIO.org.

He tells us:

“When John was in 3rd grade, his teacher got so tired of him getting out of his chair that she took a permanent magic marker and drew a huge “J” on the chair and said to John, “This is your chair. SIT IN IT.” That chair with a “J” remained a permanent fixture and joke in the elementary school until John went to 6th grade. Also, once John went down to a local empty field by tghe grocery store, and started throwing lit fire crackers into the dry brush. Before he knew it the entire field caught on fire, and 3 fire engines had to come and put out the brush fire before the grocery store was destroyed.”

John’s next door neighbor told me that he is possession of a video tape, left with his lawyer in case he should mysteriously be murrdered, involving John and a mirror. He also said John pees off his front porch in the morning.
Then he added that John is the best neighbor he ever had and that he is a light in his life. Although John was standing right beside him when he said that :).

John’s future goals are to complete his master’s degree and he hopes to stay in Logan and continue his work for MIT. He is committed to his podcasts and Mormon stories.

He also intends to continue sympathy and support for those who have become disaffected with the church. John’s devotion to those who struggle at times with their testimonies orginates from his own struggle. A combination of his mission experience with faulty baptisms and deep study of church history led to a period in John’s life of doubt and exploration–although untimately, to renewed dedication and faith.

I amde the off-hand comment that perhaps he got mired in details and John rebutted that the church can’t say our history is crucial, and then say details don’t matter. After some consideration, I think he makes an important point. He also shared with me a quote from Richard Bushman “the churchdoes itself a great disservice when it portrays facts inaccurately.” I agree.

Because John struggled, overcame and rededicated himself to the church, he has a deep and abiding sympathy for those who are unable to reconcile their doubts. One of his orginal purposes in blogging was to keep people from leaving the church but not by being an apolgist. His personal experience and that of others seems to lead to the conclusion that the apologists often do more harm than good when attempting to solve the problem of disaffect members.

I (annegb) feel this is true because the message comes through as “No, you are flawed. The church is not flawed and if you find fault, you are not acceptable as a member” It reminds me of that quote Ardis–Margaret? made awhile back: “Catholic doctrine is that the Pope is infallible, but secretly they don’t believe it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but secretly they don’t believe it.”

John’s purpose is to validate concerns and to encourage them to stay. He wants to give them a reason to find reconciliation within the organization of the church, a reason to stay. He has achieved a great deal of success in this goal and is convinced that people have stayed in the church (at least in part)because of his podcasts. He shares some of their testimonials here: http://mormonstories.org/?p=242

I read these testimonials and am more a believer than ever. I looked over his post to disaffected members. I read the letters and I spoke to John at length. If his goal is to put down the church, he’s not succeeding. The criticisms I’ve heard in passing do not pass muster when one studies the matter. We could all say the same thing about many criticisms of the church.

John feels his testimony is now stronger than ever because, for him, it’s grounded in reality. He doesn’t need perfection in the church so he’s more at peace with his faith than ever before. His perception of God has also changed dramatically. Deity, in John’s eyes, has evolved from an exalted man to a personal God. He has less expectations fo God in the small day-to-day details of his life, but more faith in His power, acceptance, inspiration, and unconditional love. “My love for God isn’t based on His fulfilling some bargain to bless me if I obey. It’s based more in marveling at the wonders of His/Her creation. I see God’s beauty and influence everywhere, and in everyone–in all faith traditons and in all cultures (the Snark being one very large exception to this rule. No goodness there.) :)

But seriously, his views of God and religion can be summed up in one of his favorite songs: “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer.

What a wonderful way to look at the Lord!

We are lucky to have a person of John’s intellect and heart and honesty on the bloggernacle. Thanks, John, for your time. I wish you much success in your goals in the future.