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 in North Logan 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 still 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.
"I acknowledge your right to criticize the church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause," King writes. "But you do not have the right to remain a member of the church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that church teachings are in error."
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.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an email that the church might comment later. Church leaders have not publically discussed the specifics of Dehlin's case.
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.
Scholars say Kelly and Dehlin are the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993. That year, the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and kicking out a sixth temporarily.
To supporters, Dehlin is a hero who has risked his standing in the faith to create a much-needed forum where church members could openly discuss sensitive or controversial issues about the faith. About 200 supporters held a vigil for Dehlin on Sunday night outside the church building where his disciplinary hearing took place.
To his detractors, Dehlin is a Latter-day Saint who long stopped believing in the faith's core tenets and has orchestrated and manipulated his situation to be ousted and earn more attention.
"Dehlin's choices forced his local leaders to take steps to protect their adherents from one who not only ceased to believe, but who actively sought to have others embrace his disbelief," said Scott Gordon, co-founder of MormonVoices, an organization that supports the LDS church.
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.