“Come Back” — with some thoughts on why they left in the first place

A couple of weeks ago I taught Lesson #12 in the Howard W. Hunter manual, titled Come Back and Feast at the Table of the Lord. The title comes from Pres. Hunter’s remarks at the press conference given the day after he became President of the Church in 1994. I want to point out that he was well ahead of his time. He gave these remarks years before “faith crisis” became a thing in the Church and years before Pres. Monson’s theme of The Rescue became emphasized. As he is quoted in the manual:

To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ.

The tone of the message is remarkably positive: come back, stand with us, be believing, have hope, receive charity. But it is hard to talk about reactivation or bringing people back without some actual understanding of why people pull away from full activity or exit the Church entirely. Pres. Hunter identifies in passing several factors: transgression, offense, hurt, struggling, afraid, confused, assailed by error. That’s actually a fairly broad set of factors. Sometimes Mormons talk as if transgression and offense are the only relevant explanations.

To help with the discussion about why people question or simply exit the Church, I pulled some ideas from Patrick Mason’s Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (2016; Deseret Book and NAMI). He borrowed terms from Richard Bushman, suggesting people get “switched off” or “squeezed out.” The switched off folks, says Mason, are Mormons who “encounter troubling information … usually regarding our history or doctrine,” then become increasingly skeptical of LDS claims as they dig deeper into those issues. Some withdraw from activity at some point in that process.

Those who are squeezed out get stuck on issues that are, says Mason, not essential aspects of the Church and gospel.

But sometimes they feel alienated by things like the dominant political conservatism among the members (at least in the United States), or the sense that church membership is an all-or-nothing proposition … or heartfelt questions about whether girls and women have all the opportunities for spiritual growth and recognition in the church that boys and men do, or how the church ministers to our LGBT brothers and sisters. (p. 3)

Mason adds that these two categories do not exhaust the list. I might add people who get burned out and people who get kicked out.

Here’s the thing that strikes me about these categories: they are all largely self-inflicted. If people are switched off by encountering troubling information, that is partly because over the past generation or two the Church has done a poor job of teaching its history to the membership. If people are squeezed out, it’s because LDS leadership has allowed political conservatism, even extremism, to become entangled with the LDS gospel and because the Church has adopted a harsh stance toward feminism, homosexuality, and the whole range of LGBT issues. If people get burned out, it’s because they are overworked. And people who get kicked out — well, sometimes excommunication is justified, but a wide range of anecdotal reports make it clear that some local leaders, some of the time, see LDS discipline as a solution to faith issues, progressive political views, or simple personality clashes (some bishops don’t deal well with strong personalities).

The bottom line: The Church is good at causing problems for itself. It would be a lot easier for me to have warm feelings about “the Rescue” and various reactivation schemes if the some segment of leadership would acknowledge that they have at least in part caused the problem to start with, then also display some initiative to change the culture and stop switching off, squeezing out, burning out, or kicking out members who, years later, we are then asked to go find and reactivate. I think we need to clean our own house first.

Let me try to wind up on a positive note. Too much talk and effort is directed at reactivation; some thought and action needs to be directed to avoiding deactivation, which requires first that we understand deactivation. Here is what President Hinckley said in General Conference in April 1997:

With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way. Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with “the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4). It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things.

This is a good place to start — friendship and being engaged in a productive calling are important. But many of the people who are being squeezed out or switched off have many friends in their wards, have callings they enjoy, and do plenty of scriptural self-nurturing. We need to think harder about how not to lose converts and lifers, and how to keep those who, heeding Pres. Hunter’s plea, do actually come back.

48 comments for ““Come Back” — with some thoughts on why they left in the first place

  1. Bamball
    July 4, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    David Barack, seriously, did you carefully read Thomas’ original blog post?!? I’m not sure that three or four wards later and two states, anyone is trying to help wipe tears away. That’s Thomas’ position, he’s tried, he’s cried, he’s putting his family first. No one is reaching out, from SLC, from local leadership, only in-the-trenches friends, who are as equally frustrated. Words don’t do it, Christ chastised those with lips and no deeds. Fruits, where are the fruits?!? PR doesn’t cut it, sorry Thomas, I know that’s what you do, lol. It takes actions. Crickets, that’s what the Montgomery’s have heard, and not like those other crickets in the nineteenth century.

  2. ji
    July 4, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    When I read things like this, I think of the last part of John chapter 6 — John 6:60-61 and 66-69. It’s all choice and agency, isn’t it? Some people chose to leave even when Jesus himself was teaching — hopefully, some of them came back later.

  3. July 4, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    No, Bamball (#1), I have not read the post you are referring to, I’m not familiar with Thomas, and I can’t really tell what your complaint is. Try again.

  4. Northern Virginia
    July 5, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Dave, thank you for the post. The one category I would add is people who simply aren’t interested in what the Church has to offer; the kind of people who, if they weren’t already members, would politely say “No thanks” if the missionaries knocked on their door.

    I’ll grant that perhaps they fall into one of the other categories you enumerated above and I’m just not aware of the real reason for their disaffection, but I feel fairly sure there are a fair number of people on the rolls of the Church who just don’t care about “Church stuff.” (Read “Church stuff” as broadly as you like.) They’re not angry at the Church or its members; they just aren’t into it in the same way that I harbor no ill will against hockey, I just don’t care about it – and yes, I’ve been to multiple hockey games.

    Of all of the types of inactive people I’ve met, these are the most frustrating because I feel that I don’t have much in the way of a toolkit to reach them. Bearing testimony and quoting scripture feels like pouring water on a duck’s back, and finding meaningful ways to serve is difficult (especially when they don’t really want you in the house to begin with). Yes, I can and do invite them to ward activities, but I’ve rarely found ward activities to be panacea that we in the Church hold them out to be.

    I’d love to hear what others have to say on this.

  5. OTC
    July 5, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Amen and amen. I’ve busted my butt in my callings. So has my wife. Scripture and prayer are important in our family. We have family night. We do service. We home teach and visiting teach.

    And we’re exhausted. We’re exhausted, but also alienated, because we’re in a political minority, we’re not gun nuts, we’re not culture warriors, we’re not end-timers, we’re not bunker dwellers, we’re aware of warts-and-all history, we’re wary of general-authority worship, and we ask hard questions in classes–and not only do we not get sufficient, honest answers, we’re treated as apostates for bringing up difficult stuff.

    Oh, and the handbook change punched us right in the stomach. And if the brethren are telling me that what that felt like was the wrong thing to feel, I don’t know where that leaves me, because the feeling that tells me the handbook change is utterly wrong is the exact same feeling that told me the Book of Mormon is true.

    I increasingly feel like, despite my long history in the church, despite all my prayers and talks and lessons and elders quorum moves and blood and sweat and tears, I and my honest questions and my political perspectives and my organizational concerns are not welcomed in the Church. I feel like I’m being told, over and over again, that until I shut my mouth about polygamy or race or LGBT issues and vote Republican and freak out about everything in “The World” and buy Lindsey Stirling CDs from Deseret Book, I’ll never be wheat. I’ll always be chaff.

  6. July 5, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Why they left in the first place? — It’s been my experience and observation that some of us lose the “one and only” conviction, and then any number of offenses (push) or alternatives (pull) can occur that precipitate a leaving, but the underlying ‘problem’ is the loss of that overwhelming reason to stay. Also, it seems to me that every time the Church does something ‘dumb’ (eye of the beholder dumb), whether it’s an awkward or misguided statement or policy, a bad investment of time or money or energy, or a boundary maintenance excommunication, another group of us are set to wonder and question the exclusivity claims. I’d like to see the Church never make mistakes, but in lieu of any reasonable expectation of that happening in this life, I think anyone who cares should be working on the case for the LDS church as a good among many rather than the one and only.

  7. AuntM
    July 5, 2016 at 11:38 am

    I think Bambell is referring to Thomas Montgomery’s post “Clarity” on the No More Strangers blog. I’m not sure why Bambell assumed this post from Dave is in response to Thomas’s post, although I think Thomas’s post is an important description of why some folks leave.

  8. David
    July 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Dave, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think the key problem is a culture of “othering” that has grown among the Saints. OTC touched on it in their comment, and I will “give it a name” so to speak. Othering is when a culture creates unequal statuses among human beings, and sliding some of them to the side as “not one of us”. This article covers the psychology of the concept very well and in a way that is not specific to LDS culture and is not critical of anything specific besides the concept of othering: https://therearenoothers.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/othering-101-what-is-othering/

    I applaud you for recognizing that there is one or more problems in LDS culture that is contributing to deactivation, and I hope that my insight helps center in on one or more root causes. If it gives you thoughts for a future blog post, that may be helpful as well.

  9. Mortimer
    July 5, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Right on Dave. Amen brother. Frankly, I find it interesting that our leaders ignore what the BoM says about these times. Remember? According to the BoM, Mormon prophesied that there would be massive corruption WITHIN OUR latter-day church.

    Mormon 8:34 (emphasis added)

    “these things shall come forth AMONG YOU”.
    . . . YOUR CHURCHES, YEA, EVEN EVERY ONE, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
    v. 37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. . . .

    Can we face the prophesy of the BoM and admit to ourselves that we have massive problems INSIDE OUR PRECIOUS church? That the humble, the poor, the sick and afflicted are chased out by greed, pride, and a love of things above people? Can we just be honest about that for a second? It’s not the victims’ fault. It’s our fault. Perhaps if we were to scripturally align ourselves with this concept, we’d be a step closer to stopping the bleeding.

  10. July 5, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Outstanding post, Dave. Great point about how so often people exit because of unforced errors on the part of the Church and its leaders.

    Also, I love your comment, OTC. “I’ll always be chaff.” Sad, but I can totally see how it’s true. If you (any of us) don’t exhibit loyalty to tribe norms like political conservatism (in the US, anyway) and shutting up about issues like polygamy or homophobia or sexism in the Church, you/we won’t ever fit that well.

  11. Bro. Jones
    July 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    #5 OTC – hugs and fist bumps to you, I could have written the exact same words. And this starts to put me in the group that #4 Northern Virginia describes: yes I have a testimony, but my testimony doesn’t include things like Ward picnics, the handbook policy, prophet worship, and others. And so I increasingly feel like my testimony is of a church that doesn’t quite match up with the church I belong to, regardless of what Eugene England wrote. (And because my membership seems to expect that I *do* accept all that the church is offering right now.)

    The primary reason that my family is active right now is because we’re in a remarkable ward that is loving, kind, and non-judgmental. Enough so that despite my family having several tangible needs to move to a different area, we’ve hesitated because we don’t want to leave our ward. There’s a very real chance that we’d stop attending if we found ourselves in a “typical” ward.

  12. Lily
    July 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Northern Virginia, I find your comment very interesting. I am a life-long active member but I don’t have the Leave-it-to-Beaver family and I am tired of hearing about nothing else. I have made a happy, peaceful life without a family and I’m not sure I want that after I’m dead, so yes, I am getting to the point of “even if this is true, I’m not interested in what you are selling.”

  13. Caryn
    July 5, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Great post, Dave. I think Mortimer’s comment is very important. Are the poor, the humble, the sick and afflicted welcome in our wards? Would a homeless or destitute person feel comfortable worshiping with us? With the emphasis on apparel, I doubt many would. In many wards men are required to look like business professionals and women as well are expected to wear “fine apparel.” Perhaps you have already heard the account of the bishop who dressed up one Sunday like a homeless man and sat outside the building. Some asked him to leave the premises. Others ignored him. You can read about it here: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865591437/Mormon-bishop-disguises-himself-as-homeless-man-to-teach-congregation-about-compassion.html?pg=all

  14. Angela C
    July 5, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Fantastic post, Dave. Well said indeed.

  15. el oso
    July 5, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    OTC & others,
    I have seen many complain about the political leanings of most ward members being discussed in church, and this is somewhat unfortunate. I am confident that my ward is made up primarily of very political conservative individuals, although I am not sure about many of the members because I do not know them well enough to have discussed politics at length. I may be in one of those ‘good’ wards that is cited by Bro. Jones, I noticed that the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election, that I did not hear one word about it during official church meetings. After the grind of the political season, that was a huge relief.
    We have 3 people in wheelchairs come to church frequently, two are frequently escorted by the highest priesthood leaders in the congregation. Everyone seems to be accepted. There are still some that do not want to attend, or get tired, offended etc, but not that many.

  16. Daniel
    July 5, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    I left for none of the reasons in the article. The words of the prophets is one reason I left: Joseph Smith and his belief that people were living on the moon without any evidence whatsoever, Brigham Young and his “inhabitants of the Sun” (and again without any evidence whatsoever) and the nasty, nasty things Brigham Young said about the blacks, to name just a few of the factors causing me to leave. Joseph Fielding Smith (or Joseph F. Smith, I forget which) claiming humans will never go to the moon (I remember personally reading this one in a priesthood manual before the first moon landing, and because I was a believing Mormon and a prophet said it, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, to excuse the cliche).

    The illogical beliefs, such as all children dying under age eight going to the Celestial Kingdom, is another reason.

    The Book of Mormon changed from the American Indians will become “pure and delightsome” rather than “white and delightsome.” Other reasons are the blatant racism in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.

    The new policy of the church to not let anyone under 18 be baptized if they have gay parents (however, this one happened after I became an ex-Mormon).

    The total lack of credible evidence for anything in the Book of Mormon, is a big factor.

    I didn’t leave the church because of offense taken because of church members, because I realize that any group of people will have their bad apples. I didn’t leave because I wanted to sin, or smoke, or drink (I still don’t smoke and drink, but I no longer see drinking coffee as a Celestial Kingdom destroying drink). The closest thing to me taking an offense is my Patriarchal Blessing that said I would die before I reached my “mature years” if I ever left the Mormon church. At age 16, I assumed “mature” was around age 18 or 20. At about age 40, I discovered the Mormon church wasn’t true. I completely left the Mormon church and I am still waiting to die *before* my mature years at age 62. It is totally offensive to me that I was almost scared to death at age 16, thinking I had to be almost perfect to keep from dying. I’m no longer afraid of a premature death, even though I could die at any time and even though I have totally rejected the Mormon church.

    The total inability of the Mormon missionaries to rationally refute my arguments, is one reason I still find many of the church teachings baloney.

    I still find most Mormons are generally excellent people, but that is no excuse for me to fall for the delusion of Mormonism.

    For me, none of the touchy-feely (for example bearing a testimony or missionaries mowing my lawn for me) or PR tactics would get me back. Good evidence, however, would do the trick to make me “re-believe.”

    Thanks for listening.

  17. Old Man
    July 5, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    OTC #5:

    I appreciate your honesty. I love your dedication. I am in the political minority in my ward. I do like guns, but it doesn’t help because my ward members know that I don’t vote Republican very often. I did register as a Republican for about a week this year so I could join my ward members in voting against Trump. I am a culture warrior, but let’s call the culture I want a “Zion culture.” I am not an end-timer, I just believe we should all live less dependent on infrastructure and more in touch with the natural world. And my garden is better than anything those preparedness folks can grow. And my wife can out cook there wives… I still teach high school history and I am very aware of the many issues people are bothered about in church history. I am not that bothered, and I try educate the Saints as best I can. I love the rough and tumble world of 19th and early 20th century church history and I share it when possible. I do empathize with you because I have been treated as an apostate off and on through my life. And it is painful. Please hang on. I am the ward’s oldest active Elder, which is a role I have accepted. I home teach widows like an HP but I attend the Elders because sitting in the High Priests class is like joining a John Birch Society. Yes, it is that bad! I plan on dying with my boots on in EQ. I’ve learned to remain silent at times, and at others I have to speak up, but I have learned to choose those times carefully. The Elders, being from a younger generation, appreciate me.

    The handbook change did not bother me. Because it is identical to the policy on polygamous families and we made it work (I live in Utah near several enclaves of polygamists). I never “othered” polygamists and I don’t plan on “othering” families with forms of marriage that the Church has imposed these restrictions on. Their children will always be welcomed by me.

    In fact, I knew a polygamous family that wanted to participate in the church. The husband and his two wives (who were sisters) approached the Bishop and expressed a desire to raise their children in the ward. For obvious reasons, the husband could not abandon one of his wives. That Bishop carefully outlined the church policy and the parents agreed to attend church and accept the condition that the children would be taught that the proper form of plural marriage had ended nearly a century ago.

    They came to Church. The children matured and were baptized at 18 after answering a question or two about polygamy. The boys served missions. I believe that all of the children eventually married in the temple. Those children were not turned away, and now that family has a HUGE third generation in the church. We helped hold onto those children with love and friendship.

    I doubt the church will ever change the handbook policy. The Brethren have their reasons and they are possibly accountable to God for holding the line. There is no line in that policy which states that we have to deny a child of God love, there is only a restriction on baptism until they turn 18. And we are accountable for the children. We still gave those children I mentioned above priesthood blessings, the children attended seminary, and the ward members made enormous efforts to embrace that family. Also, the Bishop was the most conservative, rule-bound, uptight, ultra-orthodox conservative Republican I have ever argued with. But the man did know the power of love.

  18. anon (again)
    July 5, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Yes, OTC, everything you said. Absolutely spot on. I feel the same way completely.

    With that as the springboard: for me, all of those concerns have begun to change the calculus of whether it’s all worth it. The church asks so much of us. Three hours every Sunday, more time for callings and home teaching, and then the lifestyle rules. That all seemed ok to me, it seemed noble even, back when everything made perfect sense. But it doesn’t make perfect sense anymore. Joseph’s polyandry, and a belated realization about the pervasive gender inequality in the church, and then the absolute spiritual gut punch of the November policy change–those things in particular have left me deeply conflicted about the church as an institution.

    So here’s the thing: if I’m this deeply unsettled about the church right now, then why would I want to spend all that time serving it or pay all that money supporting it?

    I keep wishing there were a way to passively ride out this storm until my soul and doubts can calm down. If I were a member of a normal protestant church, for example, this would be easy–even if I disagreed with something, I could still show up for an hour long sermon on Sunday and focus on whatever uplifting message about Jesus was there and leave better.

    But our church structure isn’t really built to allow for passive membership. The message we constantly get is an all or nothing one. Well, if my two choices are (A) “all” or (B) “nothing,” then as my list of doubts or unresolved issues grows, then I’m increasingly pushed towards Option B. But in the meantime, the only approved model of acceptable church activity is one that involves all kinds of time, money, and energy. I was ok with giving all of that to the church back when I believed without reservation. But I don’t anymore. And since that’s the case, I am increasingly doubtful that all of the church’s demands are really worth the cost.

  19. Brother Sky
    July 5, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    As others have said, OTC, I’m right there with you. It’s easy to complain about what the church isn’t doing as a way to sort of grumble one’s way out the door, but OTC isn’t doing that and neither, it sounds like, are most folks on this thread. I think anon (post 18) kind of hits on something that makes it difficult to stay for any kind of doubter or, frankly, anyone with a more complex approach to questions of faith than the mainstream church seems to be comfortable with: Our rhetoric and our practice are very much aimed at boundary maintenance, making it feel that believing in everything the community is selling hook, line and sinker is actually more important than having faith in Jesus and trying to be like him. Gordon B. Hinckley’s (and many others’) statements about “It’s either true or it’s not” tend to lead to sharply black and white thinking on all matters, even obviously ambiguous ones. This means that anyone who either expresses doubts or even proposes an alternate reason for various inconsistencies, etc. is immediately othered and, in both subtle and obvious ways, is ostracized.

    I’ve had people write letters to my bishop telling him to advise me to stop attending church because of my beliefs about gender and marriage equality. Another “well meaning” ward member advised my wife not to be sealed to me because I didn’t believe in “all of the church’s doctrine.” It’s this kind of stuff that makes one want to just throw in the towel. What keeps me going personally is how much I love Jesus and what he taught and what we teach about him and a few things about the temple and the priesthood, though there are other things about each of those that trouble me as well.

    I’m also with christiankimball about the whole “one good among many” idea. To my ears, this whole “only true church” and “we have all the truth” stuff is astonishingly arrogant. Truth is, only about a third of our members are what we’d call fully active, meaning we’re about like any other Christian congregation. If what we have is so great, you’d think our numbers would be much better than other churches.

  20. July 5, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    There is such a broad spectrum of experience on this issue. Plainly, the “all or nothing” position has become counterproductive if the goal is to keep people actively attending church. But it is hard to think of a specific alternative that would not make the problem worse (“Yes, bishop, we’d like to downgrade to the bronze membership this year, with 4% tithing and one meeting per month”). Better to just stop using that phrase and instead give general encouragement to remain involved at whatever level one can muster.

  21. orangganjil
    July 5, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I agree with the assessments of Brother Sky, OTC, anon (post 18), etc. and would add another comment.

    I believe I can offer a few things to my children that I did not have: a healthy view of the church, an understanding of the limitations of its leaders, and a desire to avoid worshiping the church’s twin idols: a 1950’s era family and our leaders. When I look at our Sunday curriculum in Primary, YW, and YM, I see indoctrination that undoes what I am trying to teach at home, all while claiming to be God’s will, pitting my wife and I against a straw man of God created by our church leaders.

    When I see the new Gospel Mastery material, it scares me. We can offer our youth something so much better, leading to a healthier spiritual life, and we waste it away for indoctrination.

    I am deeply suspicious of the church’s approach to our youth. The take-it-or-leave-it-all mentality extends most pervasively to our children and youth, in environments least likely to contain a spiritually mature discussion of very sticky issues (and I’m not just talking about simply historical problems, as difficult as those are, but about our misunderstanding of priesthood, prophets, etc. as well).

    Frankly, I really wonder whether the church is an environment conducive to the spiritual welfare of my children, especially with so many other options available. I want my children to be good Christians, not good Brethrenites, so I am forced to keep the church at arm’s length.

  22. Brad L
    July 6, 2016 at 12:30 am

    Of all of the people who leave the LDS church (including those who showed up only once after being baptized), I think that it is actually a relatively rare occurrence for someone to leave because they stumble on troubling history about the LDS church’s history. People do leave for that reason, but much like church activity is complex and cannot be explained simply by belief, church inactivity is also complex. People leave for a lot of reasons. It could be that they don’t get along well with a particular member, feel left out and unimportant, do not feel that the LDS church is terribly important or worth their time and money, or feel inadequate to carry out a calling. They also leave because the stumble upon uncomfortable information. However, I think that what often happens is that people use the uncomfortable information as an excuse to remain inactive and non-participant.

  23. July 6, 2016 at 12:36 am

    I think the church’s biggest hurdle is the fact that if you skip out on church for a few Sundays in a row, your world doesn’t fall apart. If it did, people would be more likely to stay. So it’s hard to experiment with church affecting your life, when it seems like it only affects it in such broad strokes, it’s hard to know how it’s helped you.
    A few months back my wife asked me what I wish was different about the church. My response was that I wish it was more supernatural. And I’m saying this as a science loving, very rational guy. But I think it would make a whole lot more sense if the President of the church would occasionally say something like “In my last PPI with Jesus Christ he mentioned ….”.
    My responded with (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I know what you mean. I really bothers me, every time someone gets up, mentions how they’ve lost their keys, prays, and then finds their keys. I’ve prayed to find my keys lots of times. As it ever happened? Nope. I would love it, if I could find my keys after I pray to find them.”
    We talk about how we wouldn’t develop faith if we occasionally interacted with angels (see Laman and Lemual). But seriously, if I had the memory of something as undeniable as that, I don’t think I could waiver.
    So my best guess is that infrequent spiritual experiences, which we desperately try to remember, must develop something in us, which is really important for the next life.

  24. Mark L
    July 6, 2016 at 2:58 am

    The main reason people leave the church is pride. People develop enmity towards leaders and to God. They almost always know a better way. They can’t or won’t see how radical their own views are in relation to God’s plan.

    There is nothing radical or extreme that Lord’s anointed are teaching. They have always taught the plain and precious things of the kingdom. Lucifer, the great deceiver, is raging in the hearts of men. Beguiling and luring even the elect to wicked choices.

  25. Northern Virginia
    July 6, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Bro. Jones and Lily, thank you for your insight. I hadn’t really thought of about the application of my comment to people with testimonies (my apologies if that isn’t a perfect descriptor). When I set up my scenario, I had in mind people who had joined the Church for reasons having little to do with true conversion: joining for a spouse, born or baptized as a child into a family that was already inactive or soon became inactive, etc. However, I agree that the scenario fits those who believe yet find the reality of their Church environment incongruous with their testimony.

    Mark, I understand where you’re coming from, but I’ve interacted with many, many people hanging out in the great and spacious building and many of them aren’t pointing and mocking. Too busy admiring the architecture, I guess.

  26. RMM
    July 6, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Since you brought up pride, Mark L, might I humbly suggest that your comment might have plenty of it, itself? Could you rewrite your statement without using the pronoun “they”? Put 1 Corinthians 12 to the test?

  27. Mortimer
    July 6, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Jader3rd, I suggest reading pioneer accounts of miraculous events, of faith in action. Try “Temple Manifestations”. There are such rare events taking place today, but unfortunately people don’t talk about them as much anymore. I’m not talking about finding keys, but of the gifts of the spirit, the manifesting of angels, and encounters with the veil and the divine.

    I think GAs have ceased talking about these things, b/c the necessary intimate environments don’t exist anymore. Anytime they talk, they know they are addressing the entire world, friends and enemies both. Also, sometimes they are overly focused on administration, and less so on matters intangible. Joseph Fielding Smith used to sincerely pray that he could translate the sealed portion of the BoM. Today, I suspect our leaders pray for much more practical things dealing with day-to-day administration. I agree, living in the “maintenance” phase of the church is dull and faithless.

    Mark L., I have to disagree with you. Sure, some people leave due to pride, but as I cited above and as Mormon prophesied, there are all manner of iniquities within our LDS wards, pushing the sincere, humble, thirsty people away. Queen Bee social bullying among LDS women is common. Social ostracism along class lines happens (as the “homeless” bishop described above proved.) Cliques, polititical divides, and other manner of “ites” exist among us creating hostile atmospheres. Yes, pride can be found in many places including our own wards.

    When you point a finger only at those who leave, you are not telling the entire story. Victims shouldn’t be blamed. There are prideful perpetrators hurting innicent people. And let’s not delude ourselves about the degree of sin we are talking about. We read about child molesters, murderers, affinity fraud scammers who take the entire life savings of lds people totaling multiple wards. I could go on and on. These sins occur crushing the innocent. An intolerable amount of permissiveness and denial exists among us. Heart-breakingly, victims leave for safety and survival!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t want to paint an overly dramatic picture of lds wards. For the most part they are loving and safe places, but wolves prey on sheep and we have to be alert and use common sense. Importantly, to watch out for each other. There is no room for victim-blaming or shouting, “all is well in Zion, yea Zion prospereth”.

  28. anon (again)
    July 6, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Mark L.: Speaking of our church leaders in comment #24, you said “They almost always know a better way.”

    The word “almost” there is incredibly important. Forgive me for thin-slicing you, but I suspect from your comments that you’re an active, believing member. You’re a defender of the faith. But even you still acknowledge that, sometimes, the church leaders don’t actually know the better way (otherwise, no need to inject the qualifer “almost” into your comment). And to be fair, you kind of have to acknowledge that they sometimes don’t–if nothing else, the church’s own essay on race and the priesthood makes it clear that, sometimes, the church can get it wrong, even on big issues of theological importance. That’s no longer disputable.

    But if that’s now possible, what are members supposed to do when the church takes a stand on something, and that stand feels fundamentally wrong to them? To use the readiest example–the November policy. I’ll echo again how OTC described his reaction to it. Mine was the same. When I heard about that policy, everything in me screamed that this was immoral and unjust. And the spiritual sensitivities telling me that were the very same ones that had earlier told me things like Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon was true, and I should go on a mission. So I prayed, fasted, went to temple. And after all that, the spirit still tells me that this is absolutely infernal. Quite literally nothing about it feels light, or good, or kind, or anything that I associate with the spirit approving something. Instead, I feel almost physically ill thinking about how wrong it is.

    So what now? Your response is basically: trust the leaders, b/c they won’t lead you astray. My response to that is: but they have led us all astray in the past. They kept several generations of people from going to the temple for themselves or even to be sealed to their families, only to later say that they were not justified in doing so. So why isn’t it possible that the same kind of “oops” is happening here–and why should I feel otherwise when, on a personal level, I can’t feel anything spiritually but absolute, soul-crushing darkness when I think of this policy?

    So what now?

    And let’s repeat that same dynamic for the church’s treatment of gays. And women. And its justifications for Joseph extra-marital conduct. Those, for me anyway, are the issues I’m struggling to get past right now.

    So no, for me anyway, this has nothing to do with trying to find “an excuse to remain inactive,” as you put it. I can’t tell you how hard I have been trying to find “an excuse to stay active.” I have done so at great personal cost, beyond that which I have talked about in my comments. But when you add all those issues up…it’s really a lot to keep ignoring week after week, particularly when this same church that is causing my soul so much angst is also asking me for so much time and money. If my soul was being fed by the church and I felt the spirit when I thought about its direction? Sure. But it’s not right now, not at all.

    So what now?

  29. Mark L
    July 6, 2016 at 9:21 am

    The main reason people leave the church is pride. People develop enmity towards leaders and to God. The people who leave always know a better way. People who leave can’t or won’t see how radical their own views are in relation to God’s plan.

    There is nothing radical or extreme that Lord’s anointed are teaching. They have always taught the plain and precious things of the kingdom. Lucifer, the great deceiver, is raging in the hearts of men. Beguiling and luring even the elect to wicked choices.

    There have been many who have disagreed with prophets and apostles throughout the years, Marion G Romney spoke of his struggle to accept the decision of church leaders to oppose FDR and his new deal policies, but Brother talked about fasting and prayer learning to see what he couldn’t. If after trying all these things, try and simply forgive. Leave it to the Lord. You know He will make the correct choice no matter what men decide.

  30. Tim
    July 6, 2016 at 9:32 am

    “Marion G Romney spoke of his struggle to accept the decision of church leaders to oppose FDR and his new deal policies…” I just finished a biography on President Hugh B. Brown, and I can tell you that not only did President Brown support New Deal policies, but prior to his call to the First Presidency he was heavily involved in politics. President Brown was so firmly behind New Deal policies that he ran for Senator in the Democrat primaries as the more liberal Democrat candidate in 1932, the same year FDR was running for his first term; both FDR and President Brown were pushing New Deal policies. President Brown did not change his political opinion as he got older.

    Sometimes the reason people leave the church is because of pride–but often that pride is the pride that exists in current members and leaders, and not in the individuals leaving.

  31. RMM
    July 6, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for trying, Mark L. How about instead of “they” or “people” or other “othering” language, consider “we.” If we substitute “we” for “they” in your original statement, it emphasizes the lesson in Corinthians.

  32. FarSide
    July 6, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Excellent post, Dave. Thanks.

  33. Steve
    July 7, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    This is good. Let me tell you that I am a member who is as you said “switched off”. I read troubling things and would prefer to leave the church as a result. I am a 20 year member and adult convert who served a mission and has served in many callings including very recently in a Bishopric. I have no real enmity towards the faith. I do however feel duped. I didn’t join this church because I thought it was just a nice church or because I liked a certain ward community. I joined because I thought it was the Lord’s church on the earth. I almost felt I had no choice BUT to join. I loved the church with a true passion for 20 years. But the historical truths people often cite are real and they are extremely damaging to a literal believer. Could I come back and be a social member? Maybe. As much as that is possible. But do I want to raise my children in a faith that I feel makes provably false claims? No. It is not because I feel I have found some better way or some greater answer. It is because I can see no other way of squaring the facts before me besides, “it just ain’t true and never was.”

  34. wowbagger
    July 8, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I am one of the people who have left the LDS church, and let me assure you; pride had nothing to do with this difficult decision. I am a third generation Mormon, returned missionary, BYU graduate, Ph.D., and up until about 5 years ago, a practicing member of the LDS faith.

    So why did I leave? The answer is not very complicated; being LDS is very costly in terms of time, talent, energy and finances, and based on a variety of factors, I have concluded that this is not the one true church and accordingly, the cost of staying was simply too high.

    If you name a commandment or suggestion given over the pulpit, I followed it religiously. I am not lazy, prideful, desirous of sin, nor possessing hurt feelings; quite simply, I just don’t believe the foundational narrative nor do I see any evidence that it is God’s one true church. On this point, I am confident, we simply disagree.

    I have no enmity toward any church leader nor towards God; I am not sure I am necessarily on a better path, just a different one that is more intellectually honest for me, and I don’t think that my views or journey are particularly radical when compared to those of God.

    I don’t feel beguiled, nor do I think my choices are wicked, just different than they were a few years ago but I do think that reasonable people should be able to disagree, without their choices being framed as morally inferior or satanically motivated.

    To address the OP, I don’t think there is anything that the LDS church could do to bring me back to the fold. While I agree, in some measure, that there are many self-inflicted wounds, it is no single issue that has made me decide to leave. The historical issues, the changing doctrines, the nepotism, and Utah-centric nature of the LDS church all contributed, but not one more than the others.

    At the end of the day, the LDS answers to life’s big questions and living the LDS gospel just seemed too convoluted and complicated for something that should be simple and able to reach all of humanity. I applied Occam’s razor and concluded the LDS church came up short.

    I understand that others will apply different tests and remain LDS, but for me, my children, and my grandchildren, it did not work. So what would it take to bring me back? That vast majority of us who leave will probably not be interested in coming back, but you can almost surely bet that it was not for trivial reasons such as pride or sin or taking offense that we left in the first place.

    I wish there were a way to be a cafeteria/social Mormon, but it is truly an all-or-nothing religion, so I am left with nothing.

  35. July 8, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Great post. And interesting comments. I live in Utah County. This is its own trial in some respects. And it has its rewards. There certainly is a culture of “othering” here. And that is very problematic. I would say it is prideful, but very many people seem to do it subconsciously because it is cultural. Therein lies the problem.

    The other problematic aspect of my culture here is it has been “correlated.” Correlated culture is group think within the corral of historical and providential authoritarianism. (The pun here is the culture has been corralated.) It goes like this: follow the prophet and brethren “no matter what.” Teach from the manual and only the manual “no matter what.” Teach by the Spirit “no matter what,” and by that we mean follow the prophet and the manual; or tell us something to make us feel good. Under such auspicious methodological purism (puritanism), people drop from their vision any contrary ideas, difficult history, or nuance of any kind. Black and white. Right and wrong. Mormon manifest destiny. No more thought required.

    There are certain aspects of these propositions that are true. And there are certain aspects of these propositions that are not true. And many seem not to have thought that through. The end result is a sort of theological blandness (can you imagine that in Mormonism? It’s truly paradoxical!) The counterfeit of conversion is conformity, an old professor once told me many years ago. That has not changed.

    I would like to add a caution. Every culture does this in some way. The political left and right have been so thoroughly correlated (corralated) that political activists tend to be ideological automatons. Groups, secular and religious, eventually fall into the trap of “othering” and “correlating” no matter where your belief system is. What I am describing here is simply human nature.

    Unfortunately, the gospel teaches against it in many ways whereas our culture is all for it in many ways. This tension ranges from problematic to hypocritical to simply unendurable, depending on the issues.

    So what to do? Well, if people like OTC leave the church I understand why. And in fact, and contrary to what I sometimes hear, OTC might very well be better off by leaving. I want you to stay. I want you to stay because the only real corrective to “othering” and “correlating” is standing for what you believe in. Pushing back. Making who you are known. And saying it is my church too. So here I am. Here I am going to stay. Ask the difficult questions. Bring up the paradoxical. Present the uncomfortable. Just do it.

    But do it with compassion. If you do it with love and understanding you will be able to look past a lot of the ignorance and cultural truisms that are not true. I understand fully how hard this can be. I very often want to leave myself. So I certainly here where you are coming from. I know it. Also, it is hard work. It is spiritually taxing. My suggestion is make sure you are worshiping at the temple and not the ward house. The church is where I work. The temple is where I worship. If you need to, cut back church time and increase temple time. I freely admit that without the Book of Mormon and the temple I would have already left a long time ago.

  36. Mike H
    July 9, 2016 at 11:09 am

    OTC, Steve, Wowbagger, and others who have left the Church,
    I’m not sure if this site allows links to be posted in comments but I think all of you might be helped by the following sites:

    The importance of one’s assumptions and presuppositions (Scriptural Mormonism site)


    How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray? (FairMormon)


    Both of these sites highlight how our false assumptions set us up for disillusionment and a crisis of faith.

    I hope all who have commented here will read these articles.

  37. Chet
    July 9, 2016 at 11:43 am

    John (35) thank you for some helpful suggestions.

  38. July 10, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    I hesitate to sometimes comment when all I have to say is Read And Enjoyed But No [substantive] Comment (RAEBNC). But I really enjoyed both the original post and the comments.

    Thank you.

  39. July 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    #16 Err “Brigham Young and his “inhabitants of the Sun” ” — you know that when he was questioned about that he was pleased to state it was all kenning or logic and not revelation. It was his personal conclusion — and he was very clear on that.

    The rest of that laundry list struck me the same way — the other reason people get derailed and leave has to do with black and white thinking.

    There is too much of that.

  40. Daniel
    July 11, 2016 at 2:49 am

    Was Brigham Young speaking his personal opinion with his awful racism against blacks? Let’s see now, how many decades did this “speaking as a man” copout last to keep blacks from holding the priesthood? Was he speaking as a man when he said Adam was God?

    It’s like the slavery in the Bible. Jesus (Yahweh) should have said, “all you Israelites, just knock off the slavery, starting now.” Jesus could have told Brigham Young to “knock off the racism, starting now, for thou art a prophet of God, and it maketh you look bad.” Is it the Journal of Discources” or is it the “Journal of Myths and Personal Opinions, Including Discources From God Too.”

    Brigham Young sure did a lot of preaching his personal opinion. How convenient. When a prophet gets caught saying something racist or inconsistent, or just plain ridiculous such as Joseph Smith claiming people living on the moon dress like Quakers, he was speaking as a man. The only basis for such a claim is magical woo woo.

    This speaking as a man cop-out is just a way to make claims unfalsifible.

  41. Mark L
    July 11, 2016 at 10:53 am

    “And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.”
    -Alma 24:30

  42. Clark Goble
    July 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I’m not going to wade through all the comments. Just a few of my own briefly.

    First I’m not sure anyone knows fully why they do or think anything. I’ve said it again but often what we take to be our reasons are post hoc justifications our brains come up with. The actual reasoning is often hidden. That’s as true for believers as non-believers. So I’m not somehow saying I have some hidden knowledge of why people really leave. Just acknowledging that it’s complicated and often our motives are hidden from us.

    With regards to statements by Brigham Young or others. God works with very fallible people. Because he has to work with humans. Sometimes what is or isn’t inspired is only discernible in hindsight. Sometimes it’s very clear at the time. We err to assume it’s always just one way. Clearly leaders have made mistakes. But let’s be clear that to see this as problematic requires a de facto doctrine of infallibility that the church just doesn’t teach. (No matter how often critics try to make it a doctrine of the church)

    A more atheistic perspective of “why didn’t God reveal these things were wrong” is a bit more defensible. But again it’s bringing in an assumption that the religions themselves don’t make: the idea that God is going to drag us out of our cultures. God gives commands, tells us to love everyone, and then leaves it up to us to figure out how to do that. We can question why he does that. But it’s unfair to judge religion as inherently contradictory simply because God doesn’t act the way you think he should.

    I should add that this problem is probably the strongest attack against religion. But once you make that move you pretty well have to move to an atheist, agnostic or more deist oriented position. Traditionally these critiques end up part of the debate over the problem of evil. i.e. why doesn’t god remove the evils we encounter. While Mormonism doesn’t give a full answer here, I like the direction it moves. That is life isn’t to be judged purely in terms of what happens here. Rather life is a kind of test we need to develop our eternal character. Further we each chose to come here knowing what it would be like. So coming into a world of evil and ignorance isn’t a bug but a feature. It’s up to us on our own as we exercise our freedom to change the world. It’s not up to God to change it.

  43. wowbagger
    July 17, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Slightly modified but same principle applies to some commenters here:

    16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; … we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children…

    17 …O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren…

    18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.

    Alma 31:16-18

  44. Camping on the Edge of Mormonism
    July 18, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    “Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” (Francis Bacon)

    How about one more category of people who leave to include those who have issues with the behavior of the institution and its leadership, not necessarily historical issues?

    For me, this includes: why the church refuses to account for how tithing is spent; why the church refuses to provide details on what GA’s are paid (ditch the “stipend” explanation); why the church is cozy with such organizations as the Marriotts, who earn their living selling alcohol, staying open on Sunday, and providing pornographic movies to their guests, while they frown on tithing from members employed in institutions doing the same; how the church can justify giving second annointings – isn’t that the role of the Savior?; why the church would retract and redact a conference talk and pretend the new version is what was delivered; and why they feel it necessary to spy on members and feebly justify the activities Elder Whitney and the (bizarrely named) Strengthening Members Committee.

    “When you lie to me, you take away my choice and my right to make a decision based on the truth. It manipulates reality and, sadly, we both lose in the end. I lose trust and you lose me.” (Anonymous)

    When they sell the exclusive hunting venues, shopping malls, condos, real estate developments, when they cease providing perks like a Fortune 500 to their senior executives, and when they stop telling me “the brethren cannot lead you astray” and “stay in the good ship” I will be more inclined to lend a listening ear.

    The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.

    I would feel more engaged if the Corporation of the President would just come clean and stop being “economical with the truth.”

    If they continue to keep these secrets, I am free to attach my own conclusions to their behavior.

  45. p
    July 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Bravo, Camping

  46. Laura
    August 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    As someone who is currently only marginally active but still believing, I applaud the original post. I do believe it is the responsibility of the leadership to reach out strongly to correct mistakes made that pushed people out of the Church. I also believe many local leaders should be better taught in reaching out and not giving offense in the first place.
    But I have spent many years in an extremely politically liberal ward where those who belong to the Republican Party are nastily mocked. Conservative members are intimidated from giving their opinions in Church classes, verbally jumped on if they offer their opinion.
    I have had to see that both sides of the political spectrum suffer from extreme pride in assuming that it is in any way okay to equate belonging to one party as making one superior. Or that discussions of this nature belong at Church in the first place.
    I have also heard many Church members in my ward talk openly about how they are leading the way for the Church in the way they treat gay couples in the ward. The focus being on them and their superior reasoning ability, not actually on their love for these people.
    I have seen and heard from many in Church who use their membership and time on Sunday to further their pride and self-aggrandizement. I do find it disturbing.
    In one wealthy ward it was money and work position. In one Silicon Valley ward it was education. (I used to tell people that coming to Church reminded me of Alfed Speer’s description of life among the Nazi hierarchy in the days before World War II, when they saw themselves as the gods of this world.) But in both wards it was pride usually covering insecurity. And perhaps inexperience with possible spiritual blessings available to them if they would only let go of their false behaviors and beliefs.
    But I have been fortunate in my private spiritual pursuits to have many spiritual experiences. I have heard God tell me He loves me and wants me to be happy. A voice speaking whole paragraphs in my mind, not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I have had warnings with specific instructions as to what was about to happen and what I must do in order to reach safety while being followed one night in a strange city. I have personally witnessed miraculous protection exercised in my behalf in some of the darkest places on earth. I have had specific intervention from unseen beings as I pursued my genealogy, something LDS and non-LDS report regularly in genealogy magazines. And my spiritual witness I receive when I read the Book of Mormon is very strong.
    The only advice I could give is not to get caught up in the pressures to meet someone else’s requirements. I have had to beat back demands from my Relief Society president when we used to have monthly homemaking and I chose not to attend. Hot gluing pinecones did not fill my needs. I laughed in her face when she tried to pressure me.
    And I have learned to push back at some of my bishops and their insistence that I must participate in certain activities. At times I have had to be not only firm but rude to their faces, challenging their personal behavior as if I thought I was their bishop. It is amazing how having your words turned back on you can shut people up.

  47. St Dunstan
    August 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    #35 John- I appreciate the kindness in your comment and I appreciate you sharing what has worked for you. For me, though, temple attendance isn’t the solution because I see 19th century gender norming at every turn. Temple worship is in discord with the bedrock of my testimony: that God is no respecter of persons (and certainly no purveyor of the Cult of Domesticity). Without refuge in the temple or the wardhouse, the church can be a spiritually exhausting place to be.

    And OP? I love this post. As a lifelong member who often feels that I’m attending The Church of Traditional Families of Family-Centered Families rather than anything to do with Jesus Christ, Latter-Day Saints, or my own family structure, there is a lot of squeezing out going on.

  48. August 10, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    St Dunstan 47

    Temple attendance is not the solution for everyone. I am not sure that there is one universal cookie-cutter solution for complex social-cultural issues. We try to work within the principles of faith, repentance, and forgiveness, but how those need to be applied in various situations can be different.

    I hope you find something that works for you. Solitude with prayer, meditation, and scripture study also works for me. There are 19th century gender norming aspects of our culture to be sure, but the shadow side of 21st century gender “equalizing” should also be strongly considered.

    I try to include people, especially the disillusioned. I try to show them that where they are is perfectly fine with me. Let’s walk the path together. That is my approach. It sometimes works.

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