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On Unrighteous Dominion, or the Unethical Wielding of Personal Power

As of yesterday, John Dehlin has officially been excommunicated. While I had intended to just let this fiasco pass with no further comment from me, something has come to my attention which I feel compelled to comment on, namely because I just don’t think a person should get away with such sheer abuse of power without at least undergoing some kind of public scrutiny.

It is well recognized that public figures wield power, what I will call “personal power.” It is a power to influence and affect the thinking of others. While it is odd to think about for me, this includes me and that (limited) power I wield with this little blog, and I try to keep this in mind whenever I write something. In a lot of ways, the issue for Dehlin had more to do with how he wielded his personal power more than anything else. Now, we all know that quote from the first Spider-Man series—“with great power comes great responsibility.” The fact is responsibility always comes with power, and it has been my observation that while Dehlin often wishes to take credit for the good his power yields (or perceived good), he is not too keen on taking responsibility for the harms (despite his constantly wanting to hold the Church responsible for various things). But you are not off the hook just because you want to be.

The anonymous author at Dear John Dehlin has recently noticed what is potentially a gross abuse of personal power. In a nutshell, Dehlin—who is, or at least aspires to be a mental health professional—while fully aware of the harassment his Stake President was receiving on a daily basis from Dehlin supporters, directly linked to President King’s profile on a platform designed for rating his professional performance as a physician, thus opening him up to further potential harassment, the kind that could potentially affect his livelihood.

While the intent of doing so is unclear, the act of linking to President King’s profile must be deliberate—one does not provide links by accident. Thus, this is at best, a serious, serious lapse in judgment on Dehlin’s part, and at worst, a major violation of professional ethics. Neither case would reflect particularly well on Dehlin, but I sincerely hope that it was merely a major lapse in judgment. If not, then it would be, in my view, a clear cut case of “unrighteous dominion,” a charge that has been leveled unfairly (and I would add, under the circumstances, perhaps ironically) at President King


  1. Mental health professionals have the obligation of confidentiality when it comes to their interactions with clients or people they supervise and in research that they conduct. It does not to apply when the person is acting in a role other than mental health professional or researcher. The SP was not his client, nor his supervisee. On the contrary, he was the one who was in a position over John. The whole reason for this is the power differential and in this case, it was the SP with the power and the SP who has the obligation of confidentiality, not John Dehlin. In Utah, one party taping is legal and since he never agreed in that session to keep things confidential, he had no obligation to comply with the SP's request.

    If someone behaves in such a way that others perceive as abuse of authority, yes, there will be natural consequences in the court of public opinion. John is not responsible for hiding that. I tend to agree with John that the SP is not the real culprit here because he was just carrying out what he believed to be right, but still, his behavior had impacts that ought not to be kept secret. That goes with the job and if a person is sensitive about having the process made transparent, they should think twice about accepting such a calling

    1. So when President King said "I appreciate our confidentiality" and Dehlin replied "I appreciate it" at their meetings at which Dehlin was surreptitiously recording him, that's not John's fault either, right? Let's take your pint to its logical conclusion- I'm sure he wouldn't mind his clients receiving emails telling them how he secretly records meetings without one's knowledge or receiving updates to tell them what John says to his wife since that isn't protected under professional confidentiality either. Surely you must see there is no palatable defense for John's actions neither in linking to a professional site to inform clientele nor in recording their conversations.

  2. Any member of the LDS Church knows - or at least SHOULD know - that courts like that in which John Dehlin was excommunicated are confidential. While it may be true that legally (according to Utah laws) it was okay for him to record the trial, what he did was morally and ethically wrong in light of the understood confidentiality of a Bishop's Court.


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