Wanted: Greener Grass

800px-Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851People leave the church because…well, I don’t know. I’ve had a few acquaintances who’ve decided to be done with it, but I’ve never sat down and talked with them about why. If I were to guess, it’s because they discovered things they didn’t like about the church and decided to head out to where things are better. That’s why this article on gender stereotypes and science caught my eye—it’s easy to think that the cultural difficulties we try to navigate in the church are specific to the church. I wonder how many people leave the church thinking, “I’m done with these folks—I’m heading out there where [gays/women/intellectuals/artists] are treated with respect!” only to discover that our cultural biases within the church are largely just reflections of the cultural biases of the world at large.

In the ‘80s, China performed an “Anti–Spiritual-Pollution Campaign”. The nation’s leaders were concerned that the world outside of China was having too much influence on the people inside of China.  The campaign used the term “spiritual pollution” as a catch-all term for a variety of media and beliefs that were feared to be harmful, including modern views on sexuality, philosophy, modern art, and individualism. As is often the case in these sorts of hysterical cultural retrenchments, accusations were leveled, deviants were executed, and then, after the hysteria had passed, the campaign became a taboo topic, not to be discussed inside China and quickly forgotten outside of China.

What I found interesting in this Anti–Spiritual-Pollution Campaign is how closely the cultural concerns of the conservative atheist Chinese government match the cultural concerns of the conservative religious Mormon populace. It surprised me to see that science fiction literature was on the list of “spiritual pollutions”—I had always thought that our evangelical anti-fantasy sentiment was a weird anomaly, specific to conservative American Christians.

My point is that the intellectuals, artists, and libertines who feel chafed by cultural strictures in the church may discover that intellectuals, artists, and libertines aren’t necessarily highly appreciated outside of the church either. By the way, what is it with stereotypical associations between sexuality, philosophy, and art? The three are really pretty unrelated, but somehow they all get lumped together as a sort of three-fold path to apostasy—things that right-minded, feet-on-the-ground sorts of people would do better to ignore or avoid, and certainly never discuss. Oh, and haircuts & fashion — that’s a fourth one for the list. But it’s okay, Iran has that one covered.

I still don’t feel that I’m expressing myself very well here, so let me try another example. In high school, I listened to a debate between a fellow student and a teacher over the sinlessness of Jesus. The student (a devout Christian) said that Jesus couldn’t have been sinless, since when He was a baby, He would have cried for milk—and selfish desires (even for milk) are sinful. I remember thinking, “That’s the dumbest definition of sin I’ve ever heard.” My point with this story is that, while I sometimes get frustrated with official doctrinal expositions that I feel are unenlightened or even harmful, when I get into doctrinal discussions with people of other faiths, I come realize that the problem isn’t so much with how the church approaches doctrine and religion—it’s with how humanity today approaches doctrine and religion.

I don’t mean to write any of this as a way for us to excuse ourselves for our failings. To say that we’re not any more oppressive or reactionary than China and Iran certainly isn’t high praise for us. We have plenty of work to do if we plan to build the kingdom of God in a way that is truly representative of God’s love, intelligence, and joy, and of His expansive, inclusive, compassionate approach to His children.

95 comments for “Wanted: Greener Grass

  1. I think the issue for some people isn’t that “the grass will be greener” outside, but rather, for a church that claims divine revelation, the true gospel, inspired leaders, it’s surprising that the lawn *is* just the same as everyone else’s, if not quirkier in some areas (while other lawns are have quirks in other areas.) I know it’s popular to say, “The gospel is perfect but the people are not,” or “The church is perfect but the people are not,” but our lived experience every day is with people. We only know the church through people.

  2. “… only to discover that our cultural biases within the church are largely just reflections of the cultural biases of the world at large.”

    Except often magnified a hundred-fold.

    There is a vast difference in degree and kind of the sexism, homophobia, and censorship that exists in the church compared to that which exists in the far more pluralistic outside society. Which is why we leave. For many, there is never going to be acceptance or equal treatment in the church, but there are many communities and groups outside the church where we are accepted. If the church wants to stop people from leaving, they need to address those problems, not tighten the chains even more, as they seem to be doing lately.

  3. Thank you both for weighing in. I know that communication between the bloggernacle and ex-Mormon communities is a sensitive issue, but this is sort of a post that calls for it. I don’t know if there’s any way to make that dialogue happen in a way that’s non-threatening to both sides, but I appreciate your willingness to share your sincere observations and experiences.

  4. Dane, I want to say, in case you might have gotten the wrong impression: I DON’T think this is threatening. This is a good article.

  5. Hmmm… Dane, you have put out a provocative post and I feel I should address it.

    The first question before I do so is, have I left the church?

    On one of the last visits that I received from home teachers – not the one who was the regular at that time but a couple of gentleman who filled in – I was asked if I wanted my name removed from the church rolls. The question surprised me. I said “no.”

    Yet, other than for funerals I have not been inside a Mormon chapel in about 25 years and I no longer feel bound by church strictures. Even so, I descend from peers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and I grew up so intensely Mormon and that in some ways I feel like a secular Jew, who does not follow the dogma but still sees himself as a Jew because that is his heritage and his heritage is so ingrained into his identity.

    I tend to wake up to the internal sound of Mormon hymns playing inside my head. They visit me frequently throughout every single day.

    I just returned from a doctor appointment and she marveled at how it is that one who travels so much as I do has stayed away from alcohol and she wondered how I did it. I said nothing to her about the church.

    Well, anyway, I am not addressing your basic question, even though I have a great many thoughts about it.

    My doctor also said that I am way down on Vitamin D and B-12. Maybe when I get caught back up, I will have a clear enough head to throw in some thoughts.

    Not right now, I’m afraid.

    Plus, I am still terribly jet-lagged from Greenland and I just don’t have the energy to take this question on at the momnt.

    I thought about you while I was there. I saw no sign of the church, but I did find myself wishing that your wish had been granted and that you had served in Greenland.

    Well, I ramble to no purpose.

    I’ll come back at some point and address your question. I promise.

  6. Thanks Bill. I still hope to see Greenland someday, or the Aleutians. Or both. Which is kind of funny, since I don’t really like the cold.

  7. Dane, I don’t sense any threat, from either community. It’s an important issue to address, and I think you approach it well.

    While I have no intentions of leaving the church, either for another church or some other “greener pasture,” I do feel in a quandry about my own five daughters as they approach adulthood–how do I best prepare them for what they’ll be asked to promise in the temple, for example? Perhaps my issues with the lopsided covenants won’t be their issues; perhaps my angst over initiating them into a system I had hoped would become less rather than more rigid gender-wise by the time they are raised (eldest is 17)is misplaced, in light of their own agency.

    My own testimony convinces my heart that a greener pasture doesn’t currently exist on Earth, but I do yearn for a little richer nutrition from the one I–and my children who trust me–occupy now.

  8. Idahospud, I remember the day before I received my endowment my mom took me aside to talk with me about it. I was half expecting her to tell me that all the crazy stories I’d heard in high school were true, but no, instead she just gave me some good motherly advice about what to expect while I was there. If I had any disappointment in my first temple session, it’s that there really was nothing lurid or occult about it at all.

  9. I agree with the theme of Andrew’s first comment, but the language stops short.

    It’s not just “surprising” that the Church shares cultural biases with other or broader communities. Rather it’s *disappointing* and, for many, contradicts divinely-inspired leadership. For example, the 1978 priesthood revelation. Some LDS apologists say we shouldn’t be surprised–the nation was still processing the civil rights revolution. But the timing of the solution is a secondary concern at best; the primary concern is why racism was even inserted into Church policy by purportedly divinely inspired leaders. Yes, I know, we never claimed an infallible Pope, but it’s disappointing (at best) to have to believe that god would take a passive stance on a mistake so fundamental–a mistake that implicates eternal families.

    Additionally, when Church leaders are persistently passive in the face of false but majority-held member beliefs the leaders have ceded the definition of the church, and the notion of “the church is perfect but the people are not” becomes an amusingly false dichotomy.

  10. A well done article. My perspective is a bit different than Andrew’s, etc. at least to the extent I’m still an active, recommend holding member. I do think that the point that cultural bias exists in the broader society is true, but kind of misses the point. Yes, society has its problems but society is not monolithic and there are many communities and subcultures in which one can find a happy home, without day to day hindrance by generalized social expectations, bias and attitudes.

    The Church as an institution, and often the membership too, simply isn’t that good at exceptions handling. There are lots of ways people can fall outside of the norm and may feel uncomfortable or that they just don’t fit in, and we usually operate with the expectation that people change themselves to fit in. That’s easier said than done sometimes – it’s not by accident the “Lord’s University” is mockingly referred to with transposed letters “YBU”.

    My friend Mauro Properzi presented a paper a while back (a version of which is in the Fall 2009 Dialogue) about believing and belonging, and more and more I come to appreciate his points. We say we belong to the Church because we believe, but often it’s equally true that we believe because we belong. Lots of people might have issues or questions about doctrine, policy, history, or myriad other things but they are able to set them aside so they don’t become obstacles in the bigger picture of finding value in church membership or participation. Without a sense of belonging, without the feeling of acceptance, it’s a lot easier for things to come down off the shelf.

    Yes, we have high expectations of people and the people aren’t true, but it’s the people who choose whether to foster an accepting, spiritually nurturing environment. There’s a lot of variability and some wards and stakes do better than others, but overall I don’t think many people sense there’s much appreciation for diversity in the higher echelons of leadership.

  11. Scott, I can’t deny that it was disappointing for me to come to those realizations. I would have loved for the concepts of “prophet”, “revelation”, and “true church” to have lived up to the sensational expectations I had grown up with. Of course, it’s not worth it to me to close my eyes to the historical record in order to make them be that for me.

    Fortunately, I find that, in working to understand and accept them for what they are, they continue to bless my life — to serve a useful purpose in my eyes. And, as a result, my relationship with them has become more dynamic and engaging, and I am happier now as a member of church (while simultaneously more critical on specific issues) than I ever have been.

  12. surakmn, one thing that I’ve enjoyed as my perspective on the church has developed is that it encourages me to engage as an active participant in the institution of the church. By viewing the church authorities as good and inspired men doing their best (and they are! for any concerns I may have with church policies, my interactions with church leaders has left me with no doubt that they are sincere, selfless people, and worthy of respect and, perhaps, admiration or emulation) rather than as God-drones, with personality and voice entirely subsumed by divine direction, I am compelled to action rather than sitting idly by. One side effect is, as you pointed out, variability in the wards and stakes. I think this is a good thing.

  13. FWIW, when I was in a bishopric in the 1980s, the Church released the results of a study of why people actually leave. The results were, in general terms, 90% because someone had offended them and 10% for doctrinal issues.
    This thread seems to be more about whether or not someone relies upon the Holy Ghost/LDS scripture/LDS prophets to guide them in their development, beliefs, and social behavior. In this light, the connection among the items in your list — sexuality, philosophy, art, and haircuts & fashion —- is that these, except philosophy, depend upon the physical nature of them for their effectiveness and so may elevate the physical’s importance in itself instead of using the physical to emphasize the spiritual as we do in our ordinances.
    Philosophy also frequently leads away from spiritual emphasis by seeking truths independently of the Holy Spirit. This also is antithetical to the Christian path (Jn 16:13, 1 Co 2:14, Mni 10:5).
    This disconnect from a greater spiritual source in search of independent truth ironically may lead to none at all. In The Closing Of The American Mind – How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy And Impoverished The Souls Of Today’s Students, Allan Bloom noted that liberal education’s search for the best among different cultures, religions, and philosophies was threatening because by considering all of them, it opened the door to the native ones not being the one true way. He also noted that from this we developed the current idea that if all are may be considered possible sources of the truth and the best then none is better than another. And so we have denial of an absolute moral/spiritual truth masquerading as tolerance for any belief.
    From this sprang my observation that we seem to be moving from denial of any moral/spiritual truth — there is no inherent wrong — to only valuing physical reality and what pleases us in this realm; that religious barriers to this are wrong because they block the pleasures that we now substitute for joy.

  14. I agree 100% with surakmn @10.

    Dane, I think you’re right to point out that Mormonism is far from unique in requiring conformity. Every human community expects a certain amount of conformity — it’s largely a question of degree, and of which traits and behaviors are expected. And there are a lot of societies that have gone way beyond Mormonism in restrictiveness.

    That said, there are a lot of random traits that have nothing to do with righteousness that will help you succeed in Mormonism. Take the mission experience, for example. Being good at socializing with strangers, public speaking, getting along with a companion in close quarters, feeling comfortable navigating the leadership hierarchy — these qualities don’t make you inherently more righteous; but if you have a different set of strengths, you’ll feel like you’re less righteous. That’s essentially the point of the story Bordeaux Mission.

    Naturally, the restrictions are even worse for gay people and many women. If you’re a woman and you don’t happen to be demure, good with kids, willing to take orders on personal aspects of your life from people whose leadership qualifications are gender-based — then as long as you believe in Mormonism, you’ll be asking yourself “What’s wrong with me?” It can be a revelation to step outside the Mormon mindset and realize that, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with you.

  15. 90% left because they were offended, huh? Wonder where the church got those statistics? I don’t recall being asked why I left when I got my name removed, and I certainly didn’t put “being offended” in my letter to Greg Dodge.

    I think if I were an organization that wanted to keep my best face forward, I would blame defections on the defects of the defector, rather than any sort of doctrinal issues. But I’d throw in the ten percent to make it look true and put the bishops at ease.

    Hint: we don’t leave for “greener-but-not-really” pastures. It would be nice if that were the case, though, because it’s a comforting thought to the people that stay behind when one of their group leaves. They think, probably with a degree of satisfaction, that what’s on the other side of the fence is just as rife with problems as their side.

    Dane, if you had asked me why I left the church, I would have told you that it was because I discovered that what I was taught was not the whole truth, and since we’re big on making up stats here, I’ll wager that what I was taught on Sunday wasn’t even 10 percent of the truth. And yes, almost any pasture I could have hopped the fence for has the same problems.

    Except I found one that didn’t have the same problems. I left the church and found a community of people that aren’t so intellectually prideful as to believe they have the infallible truth about god and the universe. I found a community of people that are more interested in the welfare and happiness of people now than they are in the state of someone’s soul or status of their eternal marriage. I’m with people that use reason (not burning bosoms), consistency (polygamy is cool but man on man love isn’t), and have an honest world view (when I die that’s probably it; no hieing to Kolob for me).

    Guess I did find a greener pasture after all.

  16. As someone who left the church, stayed away for many years, and came back, I can possibly offer some anecdotal comment.

    First, there are so many reasons I left and a few reasons I came back – I can talk about this endlessly. So, just a few things.

    When I left the church my (first!) divorce had just been finalized. People were not awful to me, but I was surprised at the people who were noticeably less warm. However I was treated, I felt everything cutting at me. It seemed like every gesture made by anyone was designed to hurt. I had a “strong testimony”, developed in the first couple years of my marriage – and a version of it survived throughout my years away. (There was nothing in my experience that I saw as invalidating what were the strongest aspects of my testimony – a deep appreciation of the nature of the LDS God, and for Joseph Smith as a human.) Feeling on the outside of Mormons doing their Mormon thing was nothing new to me. But it became a constant emotional burden to deal with Mormons.

    I also used to say that I never really had an angry feelings towards the church or towards God. But it would be more true to say that I was not often conscious of them. When discussions around keeping the commandments were hears, though, I often became very angry. I felt that I had done my very best to ‘live the commandments.’ I paid full tithe, did my home teaching, spoke in church regularly, attended the temple frequently. And I thought I’d been taught that if I did those things life would get better. But life got progressively worse. My marriage was very hurtful, and rather than the improvement I expected as a result of having the Spirit, things became pretty much unbearable, and emotionally and spiritually, I just began to give out. I carried resentment for all the times I heard that if I kept the commandments I’d be on the path of safety.

    At a point, I felt the best thing to do was to distance myself from the church. I felt, and still believe, that this is what God wanted for me. For many years I believed that this was so I would be exposed to things I’d never have seen as an active Mormon, and I think there may be some truth to that. But lately as I’ve listened to a close friend having a similar time in her life, I’ve thought that had I remained in the church longer I may have reached a point of confusion and bitterness that would have been much more difficult to recover from.

    I used to like to say that my first two years away from the church were the best two years of my life. That is an exaggeration, but they were happy years. I felt very free, and began experiencing myself intellectually and emotionally in ways I previously had not done. They were growth years. This eventually caved in on me, though, and as the years went by I grew increasingly alienated from myself – I really came to feel I’d lost myself – and I see many of those years away as dark times.

    I fully expected to find more tolerant people once out of the church. I certainly did find people who talk more about tolerance. But it is easy to be tolerant of one’s own; it is far more difficult for a group of people, when they identify as a group, to be tolerant of people who look and believe differently. Mormons have _some_ problems with tolerance, but I think you can find analogous problems in most or all groups. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone finding a community of people where they themselves are tolerated. But I never found any group of people I ‘fit’ with any more than my difficult fit with the LDS.

    I won’t bother talking much about coming back. All the things that bothered me about the church – pretty much all my life – still bother me. But I’m very changed. I feel I can be much more candid. I feel very little personal pressure to conform. The pressures still emerge, but now I just think … whatever … its your neurosis, friends. I find it easier to bear people’s opinions when they seem wrong-headed, to me. I still get frustrated, but it doesn’t last. Since I see myself as at a place on a path which has a general direction towards the accumulation of truth and light,- a place that is temporary – it is easier to let other people be where they are on that path. Of course, a lot of people are not on that path, at all, but that is their business, and unless I’m invited in, none of mine. ~

  17. when I was in a bishopric in the 1980s, the Church released the results of a study of why people actually leave. The results were, in general terms, 90% because someone had offended them and 10% for doctrinal issues.

    Yeah, this is a bit of a tangent, but this illustrates how ill-suited the CoJC0L-dS is to the Internet era, where they can’t control the flow of information to the members. Apparently (in the 80’s) the COB had the idea that they could say anything — no matter how absurd or obviously self-serving — and expect the members to say “Well, if the church said it, it must be true!” And now it’s hard to turn things around and adapt to the current situation.

  18. I appreciate the openness of your post. You did not begin with the assumption that people leave because they did not want to live the standards. I find that people leave for many reasons: they no longer find church uplifting, they don’t relate to those around them, they are offended by all the nasty emails members send them attacking gays, muslims, illegal immigrants or democrats (take your pick) or — perhaps the most serious of all — they feel their children were not treated well as they grew up in the church. Those in the latter group don’t just leave, they leave and stay angry the rest of their lives. I’m still around, but I carry a few scars.

  19. I’m going to put another voice in here about words.

    What does offended mean?

    Is the person who was physically/spritually/verball abused ‘offended’?

    I guess you can characterize it that way.

    However, it does do an excellent job of obscuring the subtleties behind that 90% offended statement.

  20. I left the church for a great many reasons, including

    1. I realized it was not what it claimed to be: the “only true and living church on the face of the earth.” Putting up with the difficulties it created when it couldn’t follow through on its central promise–providing me with eternal life–just wasn’t worth it any more, especially in light of the huge sense of betrayal I felt when I realized that I’d been lied to my whole life.

    2. I grew tired of the way that truth and information threatened those who remained in the church. As Andrew and others have said, this conversation in no way threatens those of us who have left. But as you acknowledge in your response to him, it does threaten you. It’s spiritually and morally unsatisfying to be around people who are so threatened. It’s very difficult to explore ideas meaningfully or learn anything about truth when people are so afraid even to ask questions, not just of their leaders but of other human beings, though I do applaud you for finally doing it now.

    3. In other words, the church ceased to provided worthwhile or even adequate means for arriving at sound judgments about the world, how to interact with the people on it, or the nature of the universe beyond us.

    I second climbedthefence @15: I didn’t leave looking for greener pastures, but I certainly found them.

  21. I enjoyed this post very much. But I feel compelled to weigh in in response to this:

    “…they discovered things they didn’t like about the church and decided to head out to where things are better.”

    In my case, it was something quite different: I discovered something about myself that the church didn’t like. I didn’t so much leave Zion as be exiled from it. And Bill of Wasilla could have been describing me here, as well as himself:

    I descend from peers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and I grew up so intensely Mormon and that in some ways I feel like a secular Jew, who does not follow the dogma but still sees himself as a Jew because that is his heritage and his heritage is so ingrained into his identity.

    I tend to wake up to the internal sound of Mormon hymns playing inside my head. They visit me frequently throughout every single day.

    Anyway. Thanks (both to you, Dane, and to all who have replied) for getting me thinking this early in the morning. :-)


  22. it’s easy to think that the cultural difficulties we try to navigate in the church are specific to the church . . . our cultural biases within the church are largely just reflections of the cultural biases of the world at large.

    Yes, I think this is exactly right.

  23. Interesting things by manaen @13. A few things come to mind.

    First off, I would suggest the contrast between physical vs. spiritual is a bit much. Indeed a main attraction and feature of Mormonism is the historical openness to “truth” wherever it’s found. We are taught phrases like, “Out of the best books” and “prove me herewith” and “all truth is circumscribed into one great whole.”

    Personally I wouldn’t place too much stock in the 90/10 numbers, not because they come off as self serving but because they are 30 years old. Traditionally having been offended or otherwise having a bad experience is a common reason for switching churches and isn’t unique to LDS.

    I think the dynamics have changed today. As I look at people I know personally who have left the Church, where offense is involved it’s more a catalyst than cause. Decades of a “not everything true is useful” approach to correlation has left a fair number of minefields out there for the willfully naive and in this day and age dirty laundry is but a google search away. Acting as if it’s just people taking their marbles and going home does nothing to address the issues.

  24. I think that there are extremely diverse reasons why people “leave” the church. And as Bill of Wasilla #5 pointed out, what constitutes “leaving the church” or ceasing to be Mormon is also quite vague. There are probably many people who no longer go to church, but who continue to consider themselves Mormon. But it is unfortunate that there is a strong trend among the church-going Mormon community and even among the Mormon leadership of giving blanket answers for why people leave, such as “pride,” “sin,” “offense,” etc. These types of answers often exhibit a failure, if not an intentional refusal, to understand those that no longer participate in the church. I would especially hope for the leadership to be more cognizant of, or at least broadcast, structure-related issues and their relations to participation rates.

    That said I believe that the church is best-viewed as a social experiment that has certain goals that it tries to accomplish. Its message works for some and does not work for others. But I generally agree with what Dane is trying to say. For many intellectual church-going Mormons, like myself, the grass does sometimes appear to be greener on the other side. To assume that people outside the church are inherently more reasonable, tolerant, unbiased, etc. is to misconstrue how much influence the LDS church authority actually has on its culture. Sometimes people are unreasonable, intolerant, and biased simply as a result of human nature and not social/religious organizations.

  25. Wow, this is a lot of information. I guess the first thing I didn’t realize is how many ex-Mormons frequent T&S. (And please, nobody make any cracks about, “You can leave the bloggernacle, but you can’t leave it alone.” I mean, regardless where you come from, it makes sense that you would continue to find community with the people who speak your language.)

    As for the “90% offended vs. 10% doctrinal” explanation, I think surakmn makes a good point that it was probably more accurate 30 years ago than it is today. I think back to my mission in Japan 10 years ago, and 100% of the less-active and ex-members I met gave their reasons as either being offended, having sinned and feeling unworthy to return, or just having lost interest. But I also agree that as the flow of information increases, more people will leave for the reasons given by ClimbedTheFence and apollo.

    manaen, you state that “if all may be considered possible sources of the truth…then none is better than another.” I don’t think that’s true. If I were willing to consider that surgery, herbal, and chiropractic are all “possible sources of the truth” when it comes to addressing, say, carpal tunnel syndrome, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily believe that “none is better than another.” It means that I don’t know which is best, and I mean to find out by trying them rather than picking one a priori and saying that it’s true by virtue of my having decided that it’s true. The nice thing about truth is that it stands on its own merits. As a youth, my parents encouraged me to attend church services with my friends of other faiths. This helped me gain an appreciation for the teachings distinctive to our church, not because I was told their value, but because I saw their value.

  26. I guess the first thing I didn’t realize is how many ex-Mormons frequent T&S

    I think it would be more accurate to say that plenty of ex-mos frequent ex-mo blogs, and occasionally follow relevant links to places like T&S. I certainly don’t hang out here, but a discussion elsewhere of the post you’d written, Dane, made me curious enough that I clicked on through.

  27. I would be curious if there is a source of the 90%-10% statistic, because it does not square with other published data. The best source of information about why people leave the LDS Church, in judgment, is a study published in 1988, Stan L. Albrecht, Marie Cornwall and Perry H. Cunningham, “Religious Leave-Taking: Disengagement and Disaffiliation among Mormons,” which is chapter 4 in David G. Bromley, Falling from the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy (Newberry Park, California: SAGE Publications, 1988). Cunningham has been the head of the Church’s social science research division for many years (not sure if he still is).

    Many of the finding of the article are reported at that other blog: http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/03/15/why-do-people-leave-the-church/
    Life style reasons was the number one reasons listed for departing from Church activity, with people wanting to spend their limited time in other endeavors.

    The findings are fascinating. One that sticks out in my mind is that the majority of people who stop believing and participating return to Church activity and belief. That is, just as Church activity and belief is not a static thing, neither is nonparticipation or disbelief.

  28. DavidH, I’m reasonably certain that there’s no source for the 90%-10% statistic — it’s likely just a convenient distillation of anecdotal observations.

    As ClimbedTheFence and Brett point out, there is an institutional tendency to blame the ones who leave rather than consider whether we had any fault in causing them to leave. I know that I have been told informally on several occasions that, “Whenever anyone leaves the church, it’s because they were engaged in sin.” That’s not a very effective attitude for identifying and addressing issues within the church so that the church itself can become a more useful, welcoming place.

  29. There are obvious self-interested reasons in asserting that many people leave because they took offense. The Thomas B. Marsh story (which, as various bloggernacle folks have noted, does not have contemporaneous documentation) is a classic example. It offers currently attending members a chance to pat themselves on the back – Marsh is morally inferior in his overreaction, and clearly the rest of us aren’t like that. It also downplays any of Marsh’s legitimate concerns (which mostly had to do with church member conduct during the Mormon wars in Missouri).

  30. Thanks for a very good post and discussion, Dane.

    I think that discrediting exit is a natural community reaction. If our community is good and offers something good and important, why would anyone ever choose to leave? Clearly, because something is wrong with *them.* It’s a natural but unfortunate response.

    As you note in the OP, the exit narrative is itself idealized in many instances — “I left the church, I can finally be FREEEEE!” Seth Payne has a fascinating article about how LDS exit narratives have a very similar narrative arc to LDS *conversion* narratives. “I used to be a worthless drunk, then I discovered the missionaries, and now I am finally happy” is a fundamentally similar arc to “I used to be a mindless sheep, then I read Southerton, and now I am finally happy.” This illustrates, I think, that much of the LDS community experience (including some of its support, exit, and shaming interactions) is not unique, but is rather a function of many different community groups.

  31. re 24,

    it’s because some ‘Nacle sites are friendlier than others. :D

    Also, a link from another site (which apollo is referring to re 25) couldn’t have hurt either…

  32. @26: the information presented here does not square at all with what I have found from decades of non-belief and countless conversations with non-believers both in and out of the church. (Yes, there are lots of non-believers–flat-out atheists–among the active, teaching your SS lessons, presiding over your relief societies, even serving in your bishoprics, because it’s too impractical or awkward or whatever to leave.) I have yet to track down the chapter mentioned in the bcc post, but I did note this paragraph:

    This part of the study was based on two state-wide surveys of general religious practice. 59 respondents were found to be former Mormons, which led to 28 in-depth interviews, which became the source for this part of the study.

    I realize that studies generalize from samples–that’s how it works. I also realize that people who read and comment on sites like ex-mormon or FLAK are a self-selecting group. Still, if you do read them, you’ll find that a very frequently sited–if not the most frequent–reason for leaving the church is figuring out that it’s just not true. And it seems like that deserves a little more consideration than a 30-year-old study based on a grand total of 28 in-depth interviews.

    As for the statement that “the majority of people who stop believing and participating return to Church activity and belief,” well, it’s well known in the religious community outside Mormonism that when Mormons leave their church, they not only don’t usually return to activity in the LDS church, they tend to give up religion entirely. It’s s source of confusion and consternation to the rest of christendom that they can’t convert us ex-mos to their brand of religiosity just because we figured out that Mormonism ain’t what it was cracked up to be.

  33. In the October of 1999 GC Elder Ben B. Banks of the 70 gave a talk about this,


    He said that,
    If we are to succeed in the prophetic mandate to perfect the Saints, we must also succeed in our efforts to strengthen those who have grown cold in their faith. To begin this endeavor, it would be well for us to know the feelings and reasons why they do not attend meetings and participate in the fellowship of the Saints.

    Most active members believe that less-active members behave differently because they don’t believe the Church’s doctrine. A study by the Church’s Research Information Division does not support this assumption. It shows that almost all less-active members interviewed believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Church is true.

    As part of another study, a group of active members who previously had been less active were asked why they did not attend church. The most common reasons given were:

    • Feelings of unworthiness.

    • Personal or family problems.

    • Parents or spouse were less active.

    • Teenage rebelliousness or laziness.

    • Conflicts with work schedules.

    • Church too far away, lacked transportation.

    They were then asked what had influenced them to return to activity in the Church. The most common answers were:

    • Faced with crisis in life.

    • Overcame personal problems.

    • The example of a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend.

    • Influence of family members.

    • Wanted the gospel influence for family.

    • Fellowshipping from ward members, moved to a new ward where people cared about them.

    (See Research Information Division comparison, Sept. 1999.)

  34. I think 1 of the most important things i’ve learned in the church as an active, but often frustrated member, is that above all else our individual free agency is 1 of, if not the most important thing Heavenly Father has ever given us. This agency will never be interfered w/ by Him – no matter how wrong &/or influential we may be in our community. This includes the First Presidency, my local leaders, my parents, me, everyone. I am a white woman – lifetime mbr, married to a black man who converted after we married. Though my husband never had any ?s re: the PH issue, i had always had a problem w/ it. My husband’s approach is to live & let live. He taught me (through this issue) that the only thing that matters is how we live the gospel as individuals & not what anyone else is doing. We are accountable for our own actions & will answer to Him accordingly. When fellow ward mbrs have intentionally & unintentionally said racist things to us or when we were cheated by a ward mbr or when we are told we are not as important to the mbrship b/c we don’t plan to have children or when I have to tell my gay friends that not all mbrs support Prop. 8 – I have to constantly remind myself that they have their agency to use as they see fit. The Gospel is interpreted through very imperfect beings. I also like to look @ it like the game of ‘Gossip’. 1 person whispers something to someone & passes it on, until the last person tells everyone what he heard which is never what was 1st whispered. I know these are incredibly simple concepts but they have helped me to only roll my eyes & move on when someone says something insane in a mtg, rather than let it fester. The hardest part is to remember that Heavenly Father loves that mistaken person the same as he loves me b/c He is perfect & I am no better or worse than my fellow mbrs & non-mbrs. (sorry so long-winded, something I feel strongly about).

  35. “….a very frequently sited–if not the most frequent–reason for leaving the church is figuring out that it’s just not true”

    That was it for me. It took me 9 months as a teenager to believe it was true and 35 years as an adult to come to grips with the disbelief that started to grow as I learned the “rest of the story”.

    I am the same moral man I have been my entire adult life. I simply don’t believe the stories any more.

  36. Craig nailed it in #2.

    Yes, LDS positions on race, gender, and sexuality are informed by social views (Victorian social views, at that). But in the church, there are very strict policies that enforce those rules. The outside world still suffers from sexism, racism, and bigotry, but Western cultures have recognised that these things are bad and have created laws banning discrimination. I’ll take my chances with an imperfect world that is trying to obliterate discrimination, rather than a religion that actively tries to maintain the status quo.

  37. re 35,

    An important point to note, Cameron, is that “less active members” or “inactive members” are a different thing than ex-members, former members, disaffected members, etc.,

    I’m sure people could also say that the sample of exmormons who blog is also particular and shouldn’t be generalized the whole (but then again, if we go that route, we might open up a whole can of distinctions…”internet Mormons” vs “chapel Mormons,” etc.,), but definitely, to just refer to “less active members” captures a wide swath of people but may not drill down to the idea of “those who leave the church.”

  38. A study by the Church’s Research Information Division….

    Ha! Among the non-believers I know are people who now work or have worked for the church. Particularly frustrating for them is the fact that studies are rejected more often than not if they don’t say exactly what the first presidency wants them to say. I know of someone who left church employment and the church precisely because of the suppression of studies he produced showing data very different from that put forth in #35.

  39. I grew up in another church and I can assure you, things are definitely better inside the LDS church. It’s hard for people to realize how good things are in the church since they haven’t experienced anything different. And even after leaving, the perspective is still from one who grew up in the LDS church. Does the LDS church have difficulties? Sure it does. But everyone has problems.

  40. Apollo,

    There is a difference between a nonbelieving nonparticipating Latter-day Saint and a disaffiliated LDS. I agree that very few who disaffiliate (i.e., resign or join another church) return.

    The portion of the study that only involved 28 in depth interviews only related to former Mormons. (The “this portion of the study” relates to disaffiliation).

    The sample size for the conclusion that “For instance, of the 55 who will become disengaged nonbelievers, 31 will return to active engagement status at some point” was based on final sample size of 1,800, the first portion of the study.

    One may quarrel with the methodology, and one may challenge the conclusions because it has been 22 years since they were published, and one may disagree because of anecdotal information.

    To my knowledge this is the only published in depth peer-reviewed study on the subject. If there are more recent, peer reviewed studies on the subject, I would be interested in learning of them.

    There is a recent study that touches on Mormons converting to other religions or to no religion is the Pew study, which included some data based on a smaller sample size. It showed that of those born Mormon, 14% convert to no religion and 15% to another religion and 70% in total remain Mormon. This suggests that it may not be true that the majority of Mormons who lose faith in its truth claims drop out of all religion. http://pewforum.org/Christian/Mormon/A-Portrait-of-Mormons-in-the-US–Religious-Beliefs-and-Practices.aspx (see “patterns of conversion”).

    Anecdotal experience may differ. Again, I would welcome information on other studies.

  41. Does anyone leave because they’re tired of all the work? This primary president gig is wearing me out and I haven’t even had the calling for a year yet. As it is, I look forward to stake general conferences, because those are Sundays I actually get to rest and reflect.

  42. Thanks a lot, Dave. I had blissfully forgotten — until I read your post — that tomorrow I have to deal with the stupid women and sacrament meeting prayers issue tomorrow. Ack.

    Sam and I were asked to say the prayers tomorrow. This means Sam will open and I will close. Who knows why. I haven’t made my way around to being labeled a heretic in this ward yet by asking the question. But in two years here, women have only given the opening prayer twice. They don’t even give it in Sunday School. (Yes, somehow we manage in Relief Society without inviting men in to help us out.)

    When Sam said we were asked, I told him I wouldn’t do it. I intended to tell the bishop, but forgot until a few minutes ago. Now that it’s nearly midnight, I’m not really inclined to call and make a fuss. So now I’ll just get up and say a prayer while totally ticked off. That will be great, won’t it.

    Truth is, I’m not entirely sure I want to hear the reason that I’ll get in this ward. I love the ward and just don’t want to hear any fool ideas.

    Recently had a discussion (actually about scouts) with a guy in my last stake — that also enforced the “women aren’t worthy to pray” thing. He’s a high counselor and I asked him if they still did it. He said they did. I asked him if he knew it wasn’t church policy. He said he did. I asked him why — as a high counselor — he didn’t address the problem of women being disallowed from praying. He said it was out of respect for the past [!!!] stake president — who doesn’t even live in the stake anymore — who had outlined the rule. Seriously?


    Andrew S. in #1 said what I would have said. I would add that the “disappointment” comes from the idea that either (1) God doesn’t care enough about women to correct the problems in the church administration or (2) God really does see us as less capable, less spiritual, less good, less worthy, less important, less something.

    Yes, I hope it’s culture. But that doesn’t resolve the entire issue.

  43. Alison, I’m looking at the “About” section on your blog, and it kills me that “Financial and Career” doesn’t get an ampersand like all the others. What did it do to tick off the generally jovial and easygoing ampersand?

  44. On exit patterns, in my anecdotal observation, there are two distinct arcs out of the church, with not much overlap between them. One subset, typified by the Tanners, leaves the LDS church to become Evangelical. They tend to keep much of the same framework for approaching scripture (such as literal interpretations of the Bible) and simply remove LDS-specific doctrines from their beliefs. A different group moves into atheist, agnostic, or various forms of softer edged organized religion including neopaganism, unitarianism, and some of the softer-edged protestant denominations. The distinction may relate to what parts of Mormonism the person found unacceptable — was it just the details (Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon) or was it the whole framework of religiosity?

  45. Scott — on the priesthood revelation, now that we have prior presidents of the Church, their record, how they prayed on the issue and were told that it would happen, ‘but not now and quit bothering me about it’ (to paraphrase), I think your comments miss the point. What does it say to you when you discover that God told David O McKay no when he wanted to change the policy?

    manaen — interesting observations.

    ClimbedtheFence — I remember going over a list of inactives in our part of the stake and the number of people that one man had managed to offend was very impressive. Sure, there were others, like the lady I home taught who decided to quit coming to church when she decided to attempt to steal someone else’s husband, that sort of thing. It was impressive just how many people were inactive because they had been offended, something that was eye opening. The people who had lifestyle choices (i.e. they were just too busy right now) were also a large group.

    But you’ve seen the link to the numbers that are actually reported as well. Too often one will hear someone else’s memory of a conclusion and then blame the church for being wrong on that and telling lies when the truth is published out there ;)

    The Thomas B. Marsh story which, as I’ve noted, squares with the story Thomas B. Marsh told about himself and how he left the faith after he returned. I know Kaimi, we disagree on how much respect Marsh’s own story deserves. You feel that it is a narrative that should be devalued in favor of your reconstruction, I think the man deserves some respect for his own insights and comments about himself.

    So, I just wanted, as one Marsh, to stand up for another Marsh.

    H. Ross — nicely said.

    DavidH — thanks for the context comments.

    I’ve written about the value our apostates give the Church. One thing that the current Church lacks, because of the way our society has so much flux, is a lack of apostates with the apostate narrative that I grew up with. That is, in most wards for my first 20-30 years in the Church, we had people who had left the Church and then returned.

    They provided useful narratives of people losing faith and regaining it. Part of what made their narratives possible was that everyone in their community knew them when they lost faith and knew them when they returned, so that the “I lost faith” part of the story was well known — and not something that they had to breach with strangers (imagine moving to a place where no one knows you. Your comfort level in disclosing that you lost faith and then returned would be less).

    My last ward I knew people who had lost faith due to alcoholism and other issues, but had returned, but it was not a part of their public narrative. Too bad really. I think that narrative creates strength.

  46. reader Rachel — yes, that is a common reason people go inactive for a time.

    Alison But in two years here, women have only given the opening prayer twice — it used to be that women always gave the opening prayer and men the closing. Now I’ve been seeing, recently, complaints that the trend has reversed (men open, women close).

    Seems bizaare to me. Why don’t you just switch places? If you just get up and give the opening prayer, I doubt they will tell your husband he has to let you give the closing prayer too?

    But, as the United States slowly slides over (like Europe) to being a post-Christian nation-state, I think that the exit stories will change as a group.

    All — In places where you have the LDS Church and Mormon Culture as dominant, the reason people tend to drop out of the culture (if you remember when Church culture was the entire social culture of communities) was because they were offended at someone. That is the general reason for cultural estrangement.

    As things change, there is a lot of reaction to “facts” without nuance. E.g. “discovered that Blacks and the priesthood was a policy, not a doctrine, why didn’t God tell anyone sooner?!” — even though it is now well documented that at least one other Prophet had a long endeavor to understand and change the will of God until God told him to quit. It wasn’t time for a change, though there would be a change.

    That creates an entirely different perspective, a sense that there was more going on than just some cultural artifact that crept into the Church.

    Or, I’m sure there is someone out there who said “Hey, the Thomas Marsh story of his having too much pride, taking offense and leaving the Church is false, he really left because the Church had gone off the rails and his concerns were not addressed.” That is a ‘fact’ isn’t it? I’ve seen people use that to say “see, the Church lies to us.”

    I’ve also read Thomas Marsh in his own words, after he returned to Utah. On the one hand, Brigham Young was incredibly harsh on him. It is tempting to take umbrage for Thomas. But then I read what Thomas Marsh had to say. I found it interesting.

    First he ascribed his leaving the saints to his pride being injured.

    Second he agreed with Brigham Young’s assessment of him. He did not see it as harsh, unfair or improper. He rather saw it as accurate and told people so, that they should heed it and avoid his sins.

    Third he talked about how he had had a stroke, thought he was going to die and realized that he needed to repent, return to the Saints and to the Church, that it was true and that in spite of faults, his and its, it was where God wanted him to be.

    He had to humble himself, and he realized that was important, that he had to find acceptance.

    It is a dramatic narrative in its own way.

    Did Thomas Marsh have a chance to see just about anything you could find critical of the Church up front, with his own eyes? Yes.

    Could he have given just about any reason for why he did what he did? Yes.

    But, in the last analysis, when talking to people about what happened, he said it was injured pride, but that when he prayed and he felt the will and Spirit of God, he returned, even though it meant walking away from everything and traveling west to join the Saints in Utah in their poverty and affliction.

    Anyway, interesting discussions.

  47. Stephen, as one Marsh to another, where does your “Marsh-ness” come from? My grandfather was a Marsh from southern Michigan — does your family come from that area?

  48. …even though it is now well documented that at least one other Prophet had a long endeavor to understand and change the will of God until God told him to quit. It wasn’t time for a change, though there would be a change.

    That creates an entirely different perspective, a sense that there was more going on than just some cultural artifact that crept into the Church.

    Stephen, I appreciate that you brought this up and acknowledge that you may well be 100% correct, but I would like to offer a different perspective.

    We know that David O. McKay’s prayers about the lifting of the ban came back negative and that Spencer W. Kimball’s prayers were answered affirmatively and then conclude, logically, that it was all a matter of timing. I suggest that it might also be a matter of the determination and intensity of prayerful efforts. We don’t have much detail about Pres. McKay except that he prayed on several occasions over a period of years. We know that Pres. Kimball prayed continuously for months, and that it occupied his mind more than anything else. He recounts that he spent hours in the temple, often late into the night. Camilla reported that she could tell something was on her husband’s mind for an extended period of time, and that he was under so much strain for so long that she became worried about his health.

    We know from the D&C that God does not respond affirmatively to our prayers when we “take no thought save to ask”. I offer the possible explanation that the difference in the way these prayers were answered might be because of the difference in effort.

  49. @43: There is a difference between a nonbelieving nonparticipating Latter-day Saint and a disaffiliated LDS. I agree that very few who disaffiliate (i.e., resign or join another church) return.

    Yes. For one thing, they have different names.

    I am technically a “nonbelieving nonparticipating Latter-day Saint,” in that I am still listed on the roles of the church. I am therefore not disaffiliated. But I would no more return to activity than I would become pope.

    And as I said, I also know people who are active who don’t believe.

    The sample size for the conclusion that “For instance, of the 55 who will become disengaged nonbelievers, 31 will return to active engagement status at some point” was based on final sample size of 1,800, the first portion of the study.

    Yes, I understood that. I noticed that there were different sets of numbers.

    One may quarrel with the methodology, and one may challenge the conclusions because it has been 22 years since they were published, and one may disagree because of anecdotal information.

    Yes, one may. That’s pretty much what I was doing, but thanks for acknowledging my right to do so.

    re: the Pew study–I would fit into the 70% who still identify as Mormon, because that’s my primary religious identity. I just don’t believe it or practice it.

    And you have to take people like me–because as I say, there are lots of us (see Bill of Wasilla above)–into account when considering what information is really conveyed by the statistic that “70% in total remain Mormon.”

  50. I imagine that 70% would also include my gay son who would like to burn down every LDS chapel in existence.

  51. @Holden Caulfield: I’m gay and don’t feel that way at all — but I absolutely get where that feeling is coming from, and in some ways can identify with it. I just don’t think that kind of thinking actually solves anything. Not for me, anyway.

  52. #56-Agreed. I used him as an example of how meaningless the 70% is. Butts in the seats begin to show who believes and church-wide that number surely less than 40%.

  53. @57#56-Agreed. I used him as an example of how meaningless the 70% is. Butts in the seats begin to show who believes and church-wide that number surely less than 40%.

    yes. Considering how many people I know who attend church and hold callings and somehow get temple recommends despite the fact they’ve given up entirely on obeying the word of wisdom and admit to those of us who don’t mind being called apostates that they’re with us ideologically, I think it’s really foolish to believe that the 70% number means much.

    @35: And if those people can lie about all that stuff in temple recommend interviews, what makes you think they’re going to tell the truth about why they stopped going to church for a year or two, then started attending again just in time to baptize their oldest kid?

  54. apollo, here’s the response I was going to give:

    How many people do you know in that category? Is it like dozens or is it more like six? I don’t doubt that there are people in the church who match that description, but I have a hard time believing that more than 2% or 3% of the church-attending, calling-holding membership are living secret double lives.

    but then I thought back to the times when I’ve held leadership positions where I worked closely with many different families. People are active in the church for many different reasons — some because they believe it’s the one true church, some because they believe it’s a good environment to raise kids in, some because they don’t want to disappoint loved ones or lose their social support network, and some just out of habit. And I’m sure there are dozens more reasons.

    So I guess I’m not sure what your point is in pointing out that there are members whose inward faith doesn’t line up with their outward practice. The 70% number is just what it is — those who maintain a self-identity of Mormon-ness. That fact that you or Holden’s son are included in that number doesn’t dilute it. It just expands the tent of what it means to be Mormon.

  55. As someone who loves the church and struggles to stay, and who knows the grass probably isn’t greener – I found it odd that the reason I consider leaving doesn’t seem all too common – at least according to your discussion here. Someone who had “a testimony” based on restorational “facts” learned in the church, and then grew to realize that many of those facts weren’t really true (or highly footnoted), or there was much, much more to the story than the church, for what ever reason, felt comfortable sharing in the “official” restorational/historical narrative seems like it would be in the top 3 or so reasons? I don’t know what to call this departure narrative without violating T&S comment policy, but it seems to have a lot to do with expectations.

    In the age of the internet and information revolution, me thinks the study ya’ll referenced needs to be redone.

    Exhibit A – BOA
    Exhibit B – Credibility of witnesses to the BOM
    Exhibit C – Polyandry (Nauvoo era “polygamy”)

  56. @58It just expands the tent of what it means to be Mormon.

    Wow. Many of us who no longer “believe” the church have been arguing for decades for the right to call ourselves Mormons, and have often been told explicitly that unless we do in fact “believe,” we have no right to claim the identity. Consider this discussion
    –one of many similar discussions–about whether Brady Udall is really a Mormon writer. This is a discussion that would happen only on a faith mo blog; those of us who consider ourselves Mormon although completely and irreversibly inactive would never ask such a question, mostly because we’ve already answered it to our own satisfaction.

    So what I would say to you, Dane, is this: Why did it take you so long to expand your tent? And how are you going to get those solidly inside the tent to be more tolerant and accepting of those on the fringes–since many on the inside would do and have done everything they could to expel the less orthodox? (See the Strengthening the members committee.) And why up to now have you and others like you needed to know why people left the church, badly enough that you’ll guess as to our reasons, but not badly enough to ask us straight out? And why has there been a need to assure those both inside and outside the church as in #35, that even inactive Mormons still “believe” it, since, according to your most recent statement, neither the inactivity or the level of belief really matter–it’s all just part of what’s under the tent?

  57. Mark, you have some points, but we know President McKay prayed enough to get answers, including “it will change” and “not now” and “quit pestering me.” That is the part of the record that got my attention.

    Alison But in two years here, women have only given the opening prayer twice — it used to be that women always gave the opening prayer and men the closing. Now I’ve been seeing, recently, complaints that the trend has reversed (men open, women close).

    You know, we talked about that at Church today, and how silly the people making those rules up were (especially since it is all founded on known false doctrine). Sheesh.

    Dane Laverty — before WWII, almost all the Marsh families in the United States came from John Marsh, who was a bond servant/slave with the William and Mary Company. I’m one of those Marshes.

    My great grandfather Fred LeRoy Marsh was one of three men in Anaheim (with 5000 people then) with the same name. They played cards, the winner got Fred, ggfather got LeRoy and the loser had to find a new name. Grandfather was Robert Henry Marsh, my Dad was LeRoy Robert Marsh. My mother’s family came from Greece/Asia Minor (they were expelled from Asia Minor in the WWI pogroms).

    Aaron, the Pearl of Great Price includes an authentic Book of Enoch (down to the story of the guy with the tents and names we have in sources Joseph Smith did not have absent revelation — though it is named The Book of Moses) and a temple text (the Book of Abraham).

    Compare the LDS Book of Moses to things like the R.H. Charles translation (published 1917) just to get a comparison (I picked up my copy of the Charles translation thirty years ago, still have it). The Charles text is drowning in glosses and psuedographa and such.

    Much like a typical Book of Breathings drowns in similar things, even though it is, at its heart, the text guideline for the Egyptian Endowment (and if you seem the Masonic equivalents, it will make more sense to you).

    The Book of Abraham is the same thing, stripped down to its core, the same way.

    apollo — so are they smoking? drinking coffee or wine? or eating too much meat?

  58. @62: Most substances are pretty pedestrian and thoroughly legal–alcohol and coffee on a frequent basis, a cigarette here and there–but I also know a few souls who smoke pot or pop ecstasy when they get the chance.

  59. Stephen, facsimile’s #1, #2 and #3 make prima facia cases against authenticity of the BOA. No need to threadjack, but the evidence is overwhelming.

  60. apollo, re: your #61, I started putting together a response, and then realized it would make a better post than a comment. So if you don’t mind waiting a little bit, I hope to come through with something useful.

  61. Just having got back from vacation and missing this one and not reading any responses (late at night EST) I want to thank Dane for presenting this one. Else this is bait to get me in the conversation (just kidding) or it seems to flow with some of my own frustration. I’ve been in the church for 29 years and have gone through changes and I guess I can consider the changes are good, but the trials get more complex. We have a culture in the church, a culture that develops when a large populace gather for a very long time. Those of us who join the church are sometimes very different from those who have a generations of membership. I’ve seen wonderful things in those long line members, things I wish I had, but I’m the pioneer. It’s my work to help my kids develop and grow into the kind of people that will emulate the Savior. On the other hand there are attitudes developed after generations of membership where culture becomes indiscernible from doctrine, being guilty of judging by the traditions of men.

  62. Dane, what the heck?

    Stephen M. #50

    it used to be that women always gave the opening prayer and men the closing.

    Actually, it used to be that women gave none at all. I remember that. Have never seen your variation, though. Why any gender distinction on prayer order? To me it’s the suggested REASONING that is problematic. And offensive. (Such as that “only priesthood holders can invite the spirit.”)

    Why don’t you just switch places?

    Because doing so would be an intentional in-your-face statement. The program in our ward is written out. The prayers are determined at least two weeks ahead. As I said, I’m not sure I’m ready to make an issue of it here. Women “fussing” is rarely taken well in church.

    BTW, I said the closing prayer dutifully today without spitting audibly into the microphone. But I couldn’t muster the civility to smile sweetly at the bishopric as I left the stand.

    I agree (#62) that making up rules is silly, but I also think it’s harmful. I just wish it was really rare. In my really unscientific analysis, it seems that about a third of US wards do this prayer segregation thing. Most people only realize it happens when they look for it, kind of like my experience.

  63. Alison, I’m honored to get a “what the heck?” from you, but I’m not sure what I did to deserve it.

  64. Thanks, Andrew. I didn’t think I was hallucinating that one…wait a second, now it’s got an ampersand, just like all the others! (Did it do a good deed? Is that kind of like an angel getting its wings?)

  65. The Church forces its members to associate with each other and to accept each other as fellows. Outside the Church, I can avoid the yahoos or at least dismiss them as ‘not one of us.’ So even if yahooism is endemic everywhere, like you think, there still might be pride value to looking for “greener” pastures.

    If you’re right, and if I’m right, it suggests that very few Mormons are leaving the Church to become Catholics, e.g.

  66. It’s just sad to hear all the excuses why someone decides the church is no longer “for them.” If you get offended, get over it, if you have a problem with the way things are done, pray until you do understand. The ways of the church are God’s ways and aren’t open to debate. While there is always persecutions and one wanting to have their cake and eat it to, the work of the church will continue to go on with or without you.

  67. People leave the church because…well, I don’t know. I’ve had a few acquaintances who’ve decided to be done with it, but I’ve never sat down and talked with them about why.

    Dane, why haven’t you asked them? Why guess when I’m sure they would tell you if you asked. When I left the church the only person to ask me why was my father. For everyone else, including my mother, siblings, bishop, EQP, RSP, and other mormon friends it has been a topic to be avoided. My non-mormon friends and acquaintances have no qualms about asking why. Why is that? Are active members afraid of the answer, or that the answer will lead them to apostasy as well?

    I agree with all the previous comments — that until more definitive studies are performed, we will never know why most people become disaffected/disaffiliated. I know why I did, but would not generalize my experience to the whole of the church.

  68. Kari, good question. Apollo asked a similar question earlier: “why up to now have you and others like you needed to know why people left the church, badly enough that you’ll guess as to our reasons, but not badly enough to ask us straight out?” I didn’t respond to his earlier, so I’ll answer you both.

    The reason I’ve never asked is that it’s never really come up for me before. I not that I’ve avoided asking as some kind of defense mechanism. In fact, even in writing this article, I used the “why do people leave the church” introductory question more as a means to segue into my intended discussion topic of whether the environment inside the church is really so different from the environment outside the church. I never expected the conversation to take the shape that it has, with so much participation from ex-members. I think it’s great, and has given me plenty to consider. The sad truth, in answer to your question, is that I’ve never asked because the ex-Mormon sphere just hasn’t been part of my worldview. Now it is, and I hope you’ll forgive me if it takes some time for me to figure out what to do with that insight.

  69. Adam (#72), I think your statement is profound. Perhaps the church is the Microsoft of religions. It’s easy to build Zion when you get to choose who participates — it’s harder when you want everyone to be there.

  70. @73: for those of us who have moved beyond the narrowness of church doctrine, it’s sad to encounter people so blind to the weaknesses in their own world view that they can’t even consider the possibility that their beliefs in no way reflect the will of god. A great many people DO debate–and in fact vehemently deny–the assertion that “The ways of the church are God’s ways.” In fact, more people deny it than affirm it. That’s why, even at best estimates, there are, what, 13 million Mormons, and 6 billion of everything else.

    If that proposition weren’t open to debate, the entire world would be Mormon.

    Oh, and we’d have followed the plan Satan set forth in the preexistence.

    This is one of those “duh” moments that are so wearying. It IS open to debate. Whether you like it or not, it just IS. Maybe we’ll all have to stand in the hereafter and admit that you were right all along. But today, in this world, it just IS open to debate (of necessity, as per Mormon doctrine about the war in heaven), so please adjust your world view and your rhetoric to accommodate that fact.

    @77: The sad truth, in answer to your question, is that I’ve never asked because the ex-Mormon sphere just hasn’t been part of my worldview.

    That about sums it up, and it could be said of much of the world: it just hasn’t been a part of the faithful mo worldview. It’s one reason that we who have left sometimes engage in the narrative Kaimi mentions in @30: “I left the church, I can finally be FREEEEE!”
    Eventually you become aware of just how much you missed as a Mormon, and it truly is a freeing (though also scary) revelation.

    But I am glad you have seen something of what you missed before, Dane, and look forward to what you have to say about your worldview as it expands to include us.

  71. @72: The Church forces its members to associate with each other and to accept each other as fellows. Outside the Church, I can avoid the yahoos or at least dismiss them as ‘not one of us.’

    Unless those members are feminists who want the priesthood, gays who want to get married, or intellectuals who think the study of church history should be more open and subject to criticism. In those cases, the rest of the membership is encouraged to rat them out, after which the offending members are given the choice of shutting up or hitting the road.

    So don’t kid yourself. Plenty of people have had it made clear to them that they will not be accepted or even tolerated as “fellows” (or even “fellowettes”).

  72. Thanks Dane.

    So much of human action is based on perception and much of perception is based on cliche. Your noting that the conjoining of art, philosophy and sexuality is a construct is very refreshing if only for the fact that this intellectually obvious truth is rarely acknowledged. It reminds me of politics: no one has figured out what being for guns and against abortion (or for abortion and against guns) have to do with each other, and yet millions of people share those views…and not coincidentally (not to mention a few smart people in the ivory towers who drive cars with all the same bumper stickers).

  73. I should have said, “not a few”, rather than “a few people in ivory towers”.

  74. Since, as far as I can tell, I know as much about LDS church history, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, polygamy, and the denial of priesthood to blacks before 1978 as people who say that they left the Church over these topics, there must be something beyond the simple facts that accounts for the reason I am a committed and believing member.

    May I suggest that there is a difference in personal attitude? If I feel confident about, say, five things that support the unusual claims of Mormonism, I am willing to withhold judgment on others, since I know I am not the final authority on any issue involving scholarship, and that new facts and new understandings of facts are developing all the time.

    On the other hand, my perception is that many of our brothers and sisters who are disaffected from the Church have decided that if there are five things they find questionable, in their own minds, about the assertions of the church, they are willing to reject the rest even if they have no specific evidence that they are incorrect.

    I am looking for reasons to have confidence in the Church, while the second category of folks are looking for reasons to not have confidence in it. We may have about the same level of knowledge about these topics, but what we want, and how much trust we are willing to give about the remainder, are different.

    I suggest that these kinds of attitudinal differences come about whether we grow up in the church or not, and that no matter what your relationship to the Church when we are born, over time we have the opportunity to sort ourselves into these (and other) groups, and determine what our relationship will be to the Church by the ends of our lives.

    I don’t have a problem with someone leaving the Church for such reasons any more than with the fact that many people will never join the Church for those reasons. At the same time, many people WILL join the Church for reasons like mine. That’s OK. The Church does not set out to be an environment that overrides our free will. Every person has to decide for his or her self, even if born into the Church.

    I don’t, in the meantime, have a lot of patience for people who reject the Church because of the imperfections of its members. There isn’t any human iimperfection you encounter in the Church that you aren’t going to find in every other human institution you deal with. Indeed, may I suggest that our own intolerance of the less than perfect is itself culpable? Frankly, I have never seen a group of Mormons expressing the levels of personal hatred, denigration and intolerance toward non-Mormons and even apostate Mormons as I have seen among many of those who criticize Mormons. It may well be that leaving the Church may make an individual more loving and Christian in his or her behavior than if he had tried to live within the roles expected of Latter-day Saints and found himself constantly rebelling. But I have not seen any evidence that this is the broad, more general result.

  75. Raymond, I don’t think your approach is totally unreasonable. However, my question would be how far do you take that logic? If the five things disaffected members/ex-members find “objectionable” are judged to be extremely objectionable (like JS’s Nauvoo era marriage practices), are we expected to simply go along to get along? If the evidence on the BOA is crystal clear, are we supposed to simply forget about it? On the scales of questionable things/eternal truth when is the ratio no longer simply a matter of attitude? Based on your comments, you have a pretty high threshold….maybe that’s good. But if someone claiming to be a prophet of God came to you to ask your wife’s hand in marriage…..would it still be a matter of perspective?

    What about the implications of those five or so “objectionable” historical claims?

    Furthermore, it’s not simply the objectionable five or so issues that make for a rough ride. It’s the constant extolling of a perfected version of JS in Sunday School. The fakeness and airbrushed facade/bronze statue Joseph I feel is pushed by the church. The continued obfuscation and quasi-dishonest representations about the BOA being “the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt…..written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” Why do I hear five times as many proclamations relative to JS’s mission on fast sunday, than I do heart felt sentiments regarding Jesus Christ?

    Trust me when I say that I “wanted” nothing more than for a continued connection with the restoration/restorational history I thought I had….for me, I don’t think it’s a matter of attitude – but who knows. I’ve been absolutely certain of things in the past that turned out to be something completely different.

  76. Isn’t encouraging people to switch to a church that seems “more true” the whole point of tracting? It seems inconsistent to ask non-LDS to subject their religious views to rigorous inquiry, yet LDS people must take the opposite approach.

  77. re 82


    I am looking for reasons to have confidence in the Church, while the second category of folks are looking for reasons to not have confidence in it. We may have about the same level of knowledge about these topics, but what we want, and how much trust we are willing to give about the remainder, are different.

    Don’t you think someone could look for reasons to have confidence in the church but not find them (and vice versa)?

    I think that if we have any kind of exit narrative, it should take note of the frequency that people report that they WANTED the church to work for them. They did NOT want everything that they had known and been kept secure within to fall apart. They didn’t want the “problems” they had found to hold up, be verified, or glossed over.

  78. @I don’t have a problem with someone leaving the Church for such reasons any more than with the fact that many people will never join the Church for those reasons.

    The condescension and arrogance of that kind of statement drives me nuts, though it is very revelatory: what other people do with regards to religion is something that Raymond Takashi Swenson has to decide whether or not to have a problem with, despite his lip service to “free will.” Hence his professed impatience with OTHER reasons why people might leave the church. Those he does have a problem with–and he feels perfectly entitled to do so.

    It’s because Mormonism assumes such proprietary interest in everyone else’s beliefs. The idea that religion is a private, personal matter? Not so much. It’s something that so many Mormons do or don’t “have a problem with.”

    I suggest, RTS, that one reason you “have never seen a group of Mormons expressing the levels of personal hatred, denigration and intolerance toward non-Mormons and even apostate Mormons” is because you are tone-deaf to the denigration and intolerance of your own rhetoric and anything from someone else that sounds just like it.

    I second the comments of Aaron @83 and Andrew @85: I WANTED the church to be true–wanted it desperately, tried everything I could to make it true, convince myself that it was. And when I realized that I couldn’t do that, that it was NOT true, I stopped attending–but I didn’t stop being Mormon in so many ways. That’s why I still call myself Mormon: because even though I don’t believe or attend, Mormonism is one of the primary forces to make me who I am.

  79. @Raymond Takashi Swenson:

    I suggest you check out this talk from Russell M. Nelson, which the church proudly promotes on its website:


    A salient quote:

    “These forces are, in fact, conflicting religious systems of belief. They are theistic (godly) forces and atheistic (ungodly or satanic) forces.

    Calling someone’s beliefs “satanic,” , in all serious, and with the full weight of actually believing in Satan as the author of all evil, is pretty darn hateful, denigrating and intolerant.

    It’s really, really BAD, and offensive to most of the world. Most of the world thinks it’s hateful, denigrating and intolerant to call someone else’s beliefs “Satanic.”

    But it’s almost impossible for believers to admit that, because a large portion of their spiritual lives is built on hating, denigrating and failing to tolerate the beliefs of others. It’s something they do when they want to bond with each other and feel uplifted: they go to a building and listen to a man in a suit say hateful, denigrating and intolerant things about the beliefs of others.

    There’s a huge psychic cost to recognizing and admitting this, RTS, and I am not at all surprised that you are completely unable to do it. But I admit I’d like to be around if you’re ever up to it.

    Keep us posted.

  80. In the years we’ve lived here, we’ve met 8 different people who were born and raised in the church and have left. Four are returned missionaries; 2 were in bishoprics, and one in a stake high council. We met them at unexpected times and places but became relatively good friends. I brazenly took it upon myself to querry why they left the church. The main reason they left the church was that the history of the church had caught up with them and they no longer believed. One said that he tired of the general expectation that he vote republican when that was to him un Christ like. One left because of the millions the church spent on anti gay rights in Hawaii and Alaska then topped by Prop 8. How perfect is a study of 8? Don’t really sure, but it was large enough to make an imprint on me.

  81. The anecdotes seem to favor heavily in local issues and relationships than the doctrine as a whole.

  82. Local like the BOA, polyandry, and other correlated church material…..oh wait.

  83. Aaron, facsimile’s #1, #2 and #3 make prima facia cases — I can see someone saying that thirty years ago, before there were scores of examples of the same illustrations being used for alternatives. A mother and child may be a Madonna, but they may also be the same image used for something else.

    I had a long talk with my dad about some experiences that occurred a relatively long time ago, and similar things he had been through. When I was a young child in Newfoundland, Elder Kimball and his wife came through. After some discussion, the AFB decided he would have the same protocol as a visiting cardinal (he had asked for a room to meet with the local branch).

    After a late meeting, as everyone went outside, my Dad remarked that he had never seen the northern lights act so strangely. The light focused on one person and instead of sounding like static, it sounded like music. Sister Kimball nudged her husband, and then stated that it was a witness that her husband had received that he would become the next president of the Church, something he was having trouble accepting.

    That was part of a series of events during the visit.

    My dad noticed that over the years, as he met people who had been bystanders, so to speak, about half of them retained a clear memory of the events, and were active and committed members of the Church, a number had completely blocked them out and forgotten them and had fallen away.

    It made me think of where Mary saw things and “treasured them up in her heart.”

    I think if you treasure up spiritual things that happen and reflect on them, they lead you to places that are different than if you spend your time on doubts.

    Part of my perspective comes from coming to the German perspective on scripture (actually, a school of German thinkers on Biblical History). I remember reading such things as pseudo archeologists (my grandfather was a real one) who stated that there was no Joshua because there was no Jericho. Thus huge swaths of the Bilbe were obvious frauds.

    Sure. But I read them about the time Jericho was discovered. I gained a very healthy lack of confidence in definitive proofs that scriptural accounts and histories are all merely metaphor and all false constructions.

    On the other hand, I know that some things are purely figurative. I accept that many things involve fragile and fallible human beings. But I also have experienced the Spirit of God.

    Anyway, that creates my perspective.

  84. “I can see someone saying that thirty years ago, before there were scores of examples of the same illustrations being used for alternatives.”

    Where? Can you cite some examples?

    And even if your assertion is correct, how does that change the fact that the BOA is not what it claims to be – “A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith….. containing writings of the patriarch Abraham.” All your defense does, even if true, is prove that the BOA and the “alternatives” are BOTH not what they claim to be; still doesn’t change the fact that the BOA is not a “translation” at all.

    John Gee recently said:

    “The Document of Breathings made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham, and most Latter-day Saints have never claimed it was.”


    Really. So the source material for the BOA isn’t the BOA at all. My bad. I should have known that…..since the scripture itself says that it is a “translation” of the papyri – which is the Document of Breathings made by Isis. Is this the type of reading, reasoning, and logic I’m apparently 30 years behind on?

  85. It’s been a good, and, for the most part, respectful discussion. I appreciate the participation from all sides, and give my thanks to you all. Now it seems that we’ve reached the usual hashings out, so I think we’ll call this a wrap.

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