MormonStories, the site that hosted dozens of audio and video podcast interviews, was retired this weekend. John Dehlin announced he is taking the opportunity to focus his energizes on his family and pursue new opportunities in life. It sounds like it was a complex and difficult decision for him. Many people involved in Mormonism on the internet are familiar with his work. He interviewed prominent Mormon scholars, activist Mormons on the internet, and just everyday members about their beliefs. The result was a sampling of the colorful rainbow of faith, doubts and hopes in the world of Mormon religion. He was also noted for his candid treatment of historical topics and issues. This last part is what a lot of people appreciated — the liberating sense of openness.
I wanted to write a post thanking John for his years of tireless sacrifice and effort. His work was good, and it helped thousands of people deal with their faith tradition in a positive way. What I would specially like to do is have people leave comments letting John know how his podcasts helped them keep their faith in the Church, in Christ or in God, even if it was different afterward. It is an opportunity to say something nice to John and wish him well on his journey. I want John to know he made a positive difference in the world.
There are two things that I appreciated a lot. The first was a simple email John sent me. I was at a peak in crisis with my overall faith at the time. John responded to a comment I emailed with a simple, quick note that said I was not alone, and that many others out there before had these doubts and questions. He also included his telephone number in case I wanted to talk. I had never met him before, and I was just another anonymous stranger on the internet. This small act, a brief email, a personal connection, made a big difference. I had indeed thought I was alone. Nobody in my normal support network was safe to talk to: not family, not priesthood leaders, and not Mormon friends that I knew. I don’t want to exaggerate and say this “saved” me. It helped a lot though. It made a difference to me at the time.
The second thing was the interviews, most of all the long series with Richard Bushman. I’m not here to debate that Richard Bushman’s version is the totally right or wrong version of various parts of Joseph Smith’s history, but I had not been exposed before to the existence of various possibilities. I suffered from an ignorance of history. Before listening to Richard Bushman, I only knew the overly whitewashed official Church version I had grown up with (and lost faith in), or the worst of the worst possibilities I found in “anti-Mormon” books and websites. It was only one or the other, and I was not comfortable being caged in by either extreme. It was important for my faith to hear someone as knowledgeable and educated as Mr. Bushman explain his positive views about the Church while also knowing so much about the history. Again, I don’t want to debate the views. The thing that helped me was simply having my mind opened to the fact there are many possibilities in between the extremes. It was an “ah-ha!!!” moment for me at the time. I doubt I would have gotten around to reading Rough Stone Rolling if I had not heard the interviews. The interview made the difference, and it sent me on a journey to educate myself better and form my own opinions.
So thank you John for the work you did with MormonStories! It was one of several things that helped me decide to stay in the Church.