A recent post has gone viral, and while I don’t think the author reveals a very deep or nuanced understanding of why people actually leave the church, I will give him absolute props for letting everyone tell him that in the comments. Here’s a quick summary of his 5 reasons (but hey, feel free to read his post yourself). According to the post, he cautions people not to leave due to the following reasons:
- Being Offended
- Not Understanding the Doctrine
- It’s Just Too Hard
- Anti-Mormon Literature
Here’s my take on his five reasons and why I think they are insufficient for you to leave the church:
- Don’t leave because you are offended. By all means stay, because if you don’t, then I’m stuck here with all the offensive people! Maybe the trick is how to get the offensive ones to leave. Just kidding; we all know they aren’t going anywhere.
- Not understanding the doctrine. One caveat: unless you are a leader. Then you can just assume your own opinion of what the doctrine is, and it’s binding for everyone else. But even as a lay member, vague doctrine means you can in fact believe what you think best so long as you keep your trap shut.
- It’s just too hard. Stay and just do a crappy half-hearted job like the rest of us. Not so hard after all.
- Anti-Mormon literature. Like this guy’s blog post implying people only leave for dumb reasons, which casts Mormons in a poor light. I’ll grant this guy that a lot of anti literature is pretty silly, but I won’t go so far as to agree that people should spend as much energy digging around in approved sources because they’re not exactly perfect either.
- Sin. Don’t leave to sin. Stay in and sin like everyone else. You’ll just have to do sins like judging people instead, but those types of sins are always welcome. So long as you look the part, you can really get away with a lot of sinning while remaining an active member.
Whenever I hear someone whipping up the base rather than engaging in self-reflection as a community, I like to imagine how what they are not saying would sound; this is called subtext. Subtext is content underneath the spoken dialogue. Under dialogue, there can be conflict, anger, competition, pride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions. Subtext is the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters—what they really think and believe. 
There’s an implied set of cautions for the church in all this too. Here are the five things this says about what we as a church should do:
- Quit being offensive.
- Quit being so vague about the doctrine and conflating policies and practices with doctrine.
- Quit making church soul-crushingly boring and difficult to balance with normal life commitments.
- Own up to the full picture on tricky issues (this has begun albeit slowly).
- Quit favoring sins of hypocrisy over other sins.
Personally, I would generally like more people to stay in the church, too, so on that point, I can certainly agree. Especially if they are good singers, good cooks, or love to sign up to clean the church.  We can always use more of those folks.
 Wikipedia, baby.
 Ooh, good idea. Instead of ex’ing people, let’s make them clean the church a certain number of hours, like community service. Maybe they could also feed the missionaries. And make food for ward parties.
I think you can sort of lump the basic reasons for inactivity and apostasy into those 5 categories.
The thing is, there is no way for an TBM to really give an apostate Mormon full credit or sympathy. The TBM’s No. 2, “not understanding doctrine” is the way he MUST define the host of reasons why people lose their testimony. I think it is unfair to expect most TBM’s to be able to see the doctrine from an apostate’s perspective. If they were even to entertain the apostate perspective, it could be dangerous to their faith. It’s a subconscious method of self-preservation, and more Mormons should be sympathetic to the needs of conservative members to keep things straightforward. Paul tells liberal members not to eat meat offered to idols in the presence of more conservative members, because it might shake their faith, “why would you do something to offend thy brother, for whom Christ died?”
Sadly the parody works because the church has become far more abstract and far less relevant than it was generations ago. A charismatic church is living, a codified “unit” is dead, guided by a faceless handbook a correlated lesson manual and discussions monitored for “false doctrine”. What is correlated doctrine? It’s committee approved propaganda.
What must attending church have been like when it was held in the tabernacle by apostles who spoke from the spirit at a simpler time in history? It must have been riveting! It contained what we read in the Journal of Discourses, hardly boring but now relegated to suspect folklore status because it predates codification and correlation. It even included debate on doctrinal issues, hardly boring. I’ve often thought the church should redo some of those talks in GC and offer them for lesson material.
Today instead we’ve become mobots attending dead codified units for 3 long boring hours while prospecting for an occasional nugget or two of gospel meat that somehow manages to sneak into the correlated gruel compliments of the spirit. Our sincere but uncorrelated questions are stacked upon our shelves week after week because saccharin smiles tell us they are unwelcome among the saints until one day our shelf finally collapses because what once made such comforting sense is now betrayed by the invasion of truth and our delusion is shattered making us dangerous to the delusions of others around us!
I hope none of the inactive members that poor guy home teaches, or comes into contact with, ever reads that blog post. I’m betting that a lot of times, it’s easier for people who leave to oversimplify their reasons for leaving, if they’re ever asked, to one of the “Five Big Ones” than it is for them to explain their real and complex issues to people who don’t want to, or can’t, hear or understand them anyway.
I disagree with Nate’s opening statement in #1 (I think you can sort of lump the basic reasons for inactivity and apostasy into those 5 categories). I mean, I suppose if you really stretched the reasoning you could do that (and that might be what Nate means), but you’d have to make a conscious decision to avoid active listening and to ignore feeling and nuance to make that kind of generalization. However, I couldn’t agree more with this: more Mormons should be sympathetic to the needs of conservative members to keep things straightforward. As a convert, and a naturally curious one who had several excellent mentors early in my Church life, some things which seem to surprise and dismay some lifelong members (seer stones, Joseph’s plural wives, and so on) are things I’ve always known about. In addition, as a spiritual rather than cultural Mormon, who came to the Church through a powerful and rapid conversion experience rather than lifelong indoctrination, I find that I tend to be more doctrinally oriented and less focused on “how we’ve always done it,” so I have to be careful in comments in Gospel Doctrine and other venues lest I shake the faith of some poor Utah transplant who thinks that all North American Indians are actual descendants of Lehi, or some fool thing.
The Church life does nothing more than mirror everyday life and people modify their lifestyles, interests, associations, jobs and places to live pretty much based on the same 5 reasons, if you generalize them more. Since the Church is a organization in the world, why should it be subject to anything different?
But many people who leave on a bitter note tend to blame the church and others rather than take any responsibility for their own decision. Which ultimately it is.
I think you make two very important points.
Inoculation. Learning of the controversial issues as you go rather than being surprised by them later avoids feeling disillusioned and betrayed. This is just one of the very serious problems caused by a Pollyanna policy of elevating faith promoting folklore above truth.
Conversion. Contrary to Elder Packer’s opinion a testimony is NOT found in the bearing of one, rather that results in a fragile testimony facsimile built on sand rather than rock and it requires others to handle it with extreme care or the delusion bubble is easily popped which greatly exacerbates the problem of inoculating others. .
You want to know why people have left the church completely or are inactive? Get off your rear end, hook up with a bishopric, RS, EQ, YM, YW, or Primary presidency member, or stake presidency or high council member, and volunteer to visit the homes of the less active in your ward and stake. If all of us were to help out in that effort we wouldn’t have time for sarcastic rejoinders.
Re. #6: Unless you agree with the guy who wrote the strawman post. In that case, you’d probably do more harm than good.
We had an inactive couple in their late 50s, converts. He had been the EQ president, and when he was released, he was a little restless. He and his wife travelled a fair bit, visited a lot of temples, put pix of the temples they’d visited on the wall of their home. Some elder missionary told them they weren’t worthy to display them and they should take them down. Visits from people like that, we don’t need.
John Dehlin got off his butt and exit interviewed thousands of members who left the church. Here’s his excellent video summary:
Top 5 Myths and Truths about Why Committed Mormons Leave the Church
Hmm. I tend to agree with Haidt that people don’t really know why they do what they do. We only articulate our justifications for our decisions later. The heart wants what the heart wants. Haidt describes an elephant and a rider. The rider is our conscious mind, and it functions as the PR person for the elephant. The elephant is our actions and “where we go.” Whether you stay in the church or leave it, your rider will try to explain your actions, but the truth of it is that the reasons you think explain your behavior probably run deeper than anything you are able to articulate. That’s one reason I’m skeptical of the 5 reasons given in John D’s study.
The original OP that this post is talking about does worse than that in that the reasons are given by neither the rider nor the elephant, but some outsider judging why someone else did what he or she did. Destined to come up short.
Hmm, so don’t bother asking them? Is there any point then in discussing this topic if we can’t accurately know the subconscious mind of the elephant?
Howard, I’m not saying don’t ask them. Just be aware that the answers might not be exactly right.
Sure, we all have an elephant and it needs to be considered in any intellectual pursuit. Examination and introspection grows the rider and shrinks the elephant. Of course examination and introspection isn’t exactly encouraged by the church so African elephants are probably more prevalent in chapels and Asian in blogs.
Why people leave the church? As someone who has left the LDS church with a husband who has also left, here are our reasons. We fully respect LDS members and their beliefs. We are only speaking for ourselves here and wouldn’t expect others to share these opinions. For what’s its worth from two former TBMs – branch president and former councillor on Stake Relief Society. Here you go …..
* Because he did not believe it was the one and only true church and he needed to stay for his salvation – reviewing LDS own source documents destroyed his faith. It was different to the story he’d been given in seminary.
* He didn’t like it – he was bored and felt the religion was unpleasant to live. It did not make him happy.
* He did not want his children to be forced into a faith tradition like he was, he wanted them to have freedom to decide for themselves. That freedom was not available if we did attend.
* He thought it cost too much – tithing – and took up too much time – church meetings and callings.
* He believed a deity wouldn’t care about physical ordinances or even need to be worshipped. He felt he should live his life based on his own integrity (not others thinking)
* Because I did not feel the focus on the faith was doing charity for others, rather it was a merit system (getting blessings) and special physical rituals to further promote ones self.
* I did not find it a spiritually up lifting place to be.
* I struggled with emotional and spiritual abuse I observed spending time with distraught young women going through church discipline nearly finished me off. If did not feel a safe place to be for me (giving an opinion to leaders as a women) or my children (“if you don’t get baptised you go to the spirit prison not heaven” honestly!)
* It pulls us apart as a family. We battled to spend time with each other as we tried to do everything expected. We still see little of our LDS extended family due to their time running the church.
* I felt the theology was a patch work quilt and as a deep thinker my shelf just broke – helped by reading the Joseph Smith Papers, the discourses of Brigham Young and The Book of Commandments (it took many months). No Mormon Think summaries for me!
Ironically, the greatest thing that we miss about leaving is the members. Even though they could be very frustrating at times, if we were going to leave for being offended we would of done it years ago. We left at 40 and 41 years (both fathers former stake presidents) it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, if not the hardest. If the church was a safe place for a variety of belief we’d happily stay to be ‘offended’ by the members. We miss them all greatly. Ironically, as non LDS we are so much less judgmental that we understand why many act like they do now. They are doing the best they can being ‘spiritually exhausted’ with everything they that is expected of them. They are an example to the world for shear hard work and dedication. We miss them all.
Rose, why did you let the church pull you apart as a family? I can understand that organizations can suck you dry…if you let them. The Church is there to support the family, and if the time commitments start getting in the way, then it’s time to start saying ‘no’ to things.
why did you let the church pull you apart as a family…The Church is there to support the family Nice ideal but the second part of this is very misleading the church pulls many families apart in many different ways. A child is born gay. One of the spouses begins to lose their testimony or is using porn but is afraid to tell the other fearing divorce. A young adult chooses a moral path different from the church and the church’s standards push a wedge between them. In short the church elevates itself above family and distances gays.
As always, I like and appreciate your write-up despite the numerous and deep seated disagreements I have with it.
In this case, I definitely do not accept either of your #2’s in which priesthood leaders are in some sense independent of and subordinate to church doctrine. In Joseph Smith’s final charge to the Apostles we made it clear that they should not allow any written constitution to be written, let alone rule over them. Instead, the Apostles themselves were to be a living constitution.
You also assume that church policy is in some way subordinate to church doctrine. I see no reason why we must embrace such a fact/value distinction or prioritize the facts over the values.
One of the spouses begins to lose their testimony or is using porn but is afraid to tell the other fearing divorce. Trust me, there are plenty of people not even religious where porn would be a deal breaker. Any self-respecting woman would have major issues with a husband’s porn use. Why should it be less so in the Savior’s Church?
A young adult chooses a moral path different from the church and the church’s standards push a wedge between them. Different moral path? It usually means, why won’t mom and dad be more accepting of junior’s or missy’s permissive lifestyle. Again, plenty of people not of our faith (or of any faith) that don’t let their kids run all over them, even as adults.
You’re now defending the church pulling families apart. Open your eyes and your mind. People aren’t perfect but that shouldn’t cost them their family!
Thank you for your comment about saying NO. It really wasn’t that simple. We were reminded that we had made covenants in the temple to promise all to building up the kingdom. We felt that we had to do all we could. We are UK based. There is a huge shortage of people to run the programs. Members are exhausted. We were financially better off than many (meaning we could afford the fuel to run around when others couldn’t) we also didn’t have much of the problems others seemed to encounter. Our marriage was and still is blissful. You feel more responsibility to do your bit – much is given, much is expected.
I sincerely believe that the LDS faith tradition does really work for some. And I am glad that it gives them joy. All I’m saying is that for us it simply did not work, if it had worked (even with all the historical/theology problems we would of stayed). There’s no point being part of something that makes you miserable and you don’t believe in it either.
Going to bed now. It’s nearly 10.30pm in the UK and it’s our 20th wedding anniversary. Looking forward to a very happy day with a man I’d run down the aisle to be with again, as I did all those years ago. Have a great rest of the day all those across the waters.
#7 – I would hope that (1) the couple would have enough of a testimony and self-confidence to go tell this “elder” to pound sand, and (2) folks would keep their big yaps shut. If ya can’t say somethin’ nice…
#19 – Smiles. Keep up the good work in the land o’ bangers and chupa chups. May the Lord continue to bless….
It seems that those with an attiude of charity and benevolence are those that find the good in both the Church and out of it. Others that look for thorns and bristles have little difficulty finding them.
“There’s no point being part of something that makes you miserable and you don’t believe in it either.”
This is the number one reason I disagree with Delihn’s (sp) approach to keeping people in the Church. If you are miserable and don’t believe in the basics of the Church, then staying is only making both those who believe and those who don’t miserable together. Better to have as amicable divorce as possible, unless you have ulterior motives.
There’s a very high social and cultural cost to leaving for most people independent of belief or non-belief. Is that what you mean by ulterior motives?
Howard, the church does not pull families apart. If you let any organization (i.e. church, work, etc.) pull your family apart, then ultimately you let it happen. I’ve been in the church 40 years and have served in a variety of callings. I’ve always tried to fulfill my callings to the best of my abilities, but never to the detriment of my family’s home life. People need to use some sense and/or grow a pair instead of playing the victim.
Thanks so much for clearing that up Bro. and I’ll let all the women I know that the root cause is lacking balls.
“But many people who leave on a bitter note tend to blame the church and others rather than take any responsibility for their own decision. Which ultimately it is.”
I totally agree joining and leaving the church were both my decisions. I left after almost forty years of active activity.
I joined the church at a young age (17). No one made me get baptized. In fact, my mom pleaded with me to not get baptized.
As I reflect on the years gone by, I don’t regret joining the church because I never would have met my wonderful wife.
I do find myself calling Joseph Smith many names I won’t call him here. In my mind, he is the salesman that lied to me about the product. Maybe not about its accidental goodness, but about its origin. Am I a victim? Sure, I got lied to. But I didn’t have to bite and I did. So it’s on me.
Jettboy: From all I’ve heard John say on various occasions, he doesn’t advocate staying in the church if you are miserable. I think he would agree with your sentiment. My own view is that sometimes people are miserable for reasons that run deeper than being in the church, and it can be hard to know what the real cause of the misery is. Getting to the cause is a good thing. But many people leave for reasons other than personal misery, too.
Howard, you’re welcome.
Observer, your comments belie the fact that the church works for you, and you’ve never had to deal with any significant issues or problems within the institution. You’ve probably never had a crisis of faith, struggled to fit into a gender role that was at odds with your God-given talents, desires and abilities, struggled to make sense of church doctrine or history that offends your own sense of morality. Congratulations! Your life must be awesome! But it’s making you sound like kind of a jerk. I’m assuming you are a man, and if so, I pray that you will consider that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and don’t let anything get to you” can be soul-crushing coming from a priesthood leader/bishop/stake president. Please try to acquire some empathy and compassion for others in the church. “If ye have not charity, ye are nothing.” A lot of Mormons get so caught up in church service that they forget to love.
Those who ask for charity from others also need to give charity to others — it is best when it goes both ways.
“We were reminded that we had made covenants in the temple to promise all to building up the kingdom. We felt that we had to do all we could.”
Yup. As the parents of four children, with full lives of our own my husband and I have struggled with the demands of church membership. My husband serves as a scout leader, which is a very time demanding calling, and is still constantly being nagged about serving more and more and more. The temple covenants argument was actually brought up when he said he didn’t think he could commit to being on a regular schedule to go on splits with the missionaries. I don’t even understand why they NEED members to go on splits—don’t we have a surplus of missionaries at the moment?
“Observer, your comments belie the fact that the church works for you, and you’ve never had to deal with any significant issues or problems within the institution. You’ve probably never had a crisis of faith, struggled to fit into a gender role that was at odds with your God-given talents, desires and abilities, struggled to make sense of church doctrine or history that offends your own sense of morality. Congratulations! Your life must be awesome!”
I’m sure your right. After all, if there can be five reasons people leave the Church then there surely must be five reasons people remain faithful in the Church. Pot, meet kettle. The truth is I have never met anyone who has faith in the Church who has not run into one or many of those things. The difference is some find them stumbling blocks while others stepping stones.
Actually, reading in this post for the reasons others have left the Church doesn’t take away from the points made above. They do seem to come mostly from number 3, Its just too hard, with a little push from 1. being offended. The number 2 would have to be tweaked to read losing faith in the doctrines (although those with faith will still believe its not understanding the doctrines properly). Finally, those who leave because of the history can easily fall into category 4. anti-mormon literature, because they come to understand the history in the same way (evil and number 2 offensive). Anti-mormonism is often as secular as it is religious. In other words, I have not heard anything so far to refute what the link points out, so there is hope that zera might also be right.
TBMs suffer from a serious form of conformation bias disease and are expert at rationalizing the church’s flaws, problems and defects and quickly turning them into features! Example for years they insisted the brethren were (almost) infallible and the church was exactly as God wanted it, ban on blacks and all…until church documents surfaced in common blog discussions demonstrating that “revelation” was actually a very rare occurrence of Y/N inspiration not the day-to-day micromanaging by Christ that they had been fervently testifying to and…until the church rightfully threw a string of past “prophets” under the bus for the ridiculously absurd things they claimed about blacks.
So that leaves us with a flawed prophets (Present prophets excluded of course!) guiding a flawed church. This is spun into isn’t wonderful that God works through imperfect men, they’re imperfect but trying just like us! Actually I agree with that conclusion but you can’t have it both ways obviously you were wrong about the brethren being (almost) infallible and incapable of leading the church astray! Therefore it is proper to question and doubt including that concept that stumbling blocks are actually divinely designed stepping stones.
Let’s see if you can spot the faith promoting (HeartSell ®) conformation bias in Jeffrey Holland’s new video Anyone have a coin?
My faith transition came when my personal revelation I received in the temple and lived experience through a trial I *know* God put me through . . . didn’t match the current teachings of the Church. I can’t deny the truth of the revelation I received, and it feels like being punched in the face incessantly with the opposite while at Church. Based on current trends of my local congregation I find little solace or peace from participation in “Church” — I find my Savior elsewhere. It’s moved into the personal sphere, and it’s a crappy place to be in when they tell you participation at Church strengthens your faith and you find that participation is actually weakening it. And I’m not mad at anyone or offended . . .
And this from someone who will never leave.
So yeah, it might be a *bit* more complex than matt-walsh-wannabe and his fans think it is.
Kristine A wrote: I can’t deny the truth of the revelation I received, and it feels like being punched in the face incessantly with the opposite while at Church…I find little solace or peace from participation in “Church” — I find my Savior elsewhere.
These words match my experience as well. Going to church is often a spiritual come down.
“So long as you look the part, you can really get away with a lot of sinning while remaining an active member.”
Couldn’t be more true. As a convert, one of the first discomforts I found within the organization and every Sunday was that I just didn’t ‘fit in’. I’m introverted – terrible at glad handing, smiling big, keeping up appearances, and shouting my ‘testimony’ loud and proud. I’m naturally observant of others and contemplative. There is definitely a correct way to be within the church, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first or only who’s experienced this level of discomfort in this way. It’s not one of the reasons listed. But, I would opine that people who have similar qualities as me tend to be more open and willing to look at other issues with the Church that might make us leave.
I once asked a friend who had left the church why. His answer: because there is so little of Jesus in it.
I’m not sure why so many Mormons are so quick to take offence at anything and everything people outside their church say about it, or their own experiences in it, or even the idea that one can be happy living a different life from them, but then tell people to put up and shut up if Mormons do hurtful things to them. And trivialize abuse by saying its victims “were offended.”
Why can’t I take offence when people like Not Matt Walsh are giving it freely? The way I was treated before and after I left deeply hurt me, and caused lasting scars. I wish that I’d left because of that, instead of waiting until I saw others who had it worse. And knew that I couldn’t be part of the reason they hurt.