Who says there’s no money in podcasting? Apparently, there’s an entire livelihood to be had by starting an umbrella non-profit and then living off of listener donations. We at This Week in Mormons have taken note, and we would like you all to donate $10 per month to support us. And by us I mean me. I’ll only give Al a cut if we reach a certain threshold. Find me on Venmo. We’ll work out the legalese later.
Peggy Fletcher Stack, in an article that reads more like a press release, states that John Dehlin, the founder of the Open Stories Foundation, reportedly grossed over $90,000 in 2013. After taxes and insurance, he netted somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000. Not bad for living in Logan, where the median income in Cache Valley is $49,506 and one can live comfortably with a mortgage of $800/mo. Either way, we hardly think he’s raking it in hand over fist and living it up in the 435.
Dehlin’s podcasts, including “Mormon Stories,” “A Thoughtful Faith,” Gay Mormon Stories,” “Straight Mormon Stories,” “By the Hand of Nephi,” and “Aggie Fever,” (guess which ones we made up), have won him a legion of followers, and their donations keep the embattled perennial PhD candidate afloat.
Recent run-ins with local Church leaders haven’t hurt his bottom line, either. Since Dehlin started publicly discussing his likely excommunication nearly a year ago, he says that, “For every donor that withdrew, four or five more have been added.” Like a Hydra.
Now, depending on one’s support or lack thereof for Brother Dehlin, one can read into this a few ways.
Option 1: The Supporter
John Dehlin has done a lot of good for a lot of people, and you can find ample evidence across the interwebs of people stating they have been comfortable remaining in the Church due to their experience with Dehlin-produced podcasts.
This is John’s livelihood. “Mormon Stories,” of course, won’t stop in the event of John’s likely excommunication, but taking the rug out from under him could very well destabilize his ability to provide for his family. Or the Church could even sue him for the use of “Mormon” in his podcast title. Are we going to ruin a family financially and turn them into pariahs in their community?
As missionaries or other, did any of you know former priests who joined the Church but then struggled to remain active because their previous faith was also their livelihood? These great people became destitute because they had no other marketable skills.
Option 2: The Critic
It’s evident that John Dehlin’s unabating support for his podcast network is rooted in financial gain. Of course he won’t stop. This is his job, and he’s drinking from the sweet teat of success. His constant courtship of the media has resulted in a windfall of donations.
Take a look at the Open Stories Foundation’s finances from 2013. John’s personal pay is one thing, but like any employee of an organization, the Foundation covered plenty of his other expenses when needed.
What job is he going to get if he’s forced to close up shop at “Mormon Stories”? Considering he’s completing this PhD, there are countless teaching and publication opportunities available to him.
John Dehlin is not professional clergy, and he’ll land on his feet, though based on his purported promise to create “Cyber Wards,” apparently he’ll be the world’s first Cyber Bishop. (Don’t even think about it, Kurt Hale.)
The truth, as it often is, is likely somewhere in the middle. Is John Dehlin evil? Certainly not. We could argue back and forth whether he has been misguided.
Still, it’s easy to ask whether propping up John Dehlin’s apparently cozy lifestyle is in the best interest of everyone. Clearly, gone are the days of the scrappy Cache Valley idealist, utilizing precious donations to make ends meet.
It’s also easy (and completely fair) to feel that John has made a career out of slamming the Church, and he’s done much more harm than good. Dehlin does this as a labor of love, and he’s on record saying as much. Even if he’s earning above the median wage for his area, we’re not arguing that he’s a simple charlatan.
But we must always remember that there are many who have derived benefits from their exposure to Mormon Stories, and if because of it those people are inside the flock instead of outside, then that’s a good thing. Yes, disciplinary councils are a difficult, but important part of our faith, but there is room enough for all. There aren’t perfect solutions, but a “good riddance” attitude is hardly going to be constructive in the long run.