I have this habit of trying to name the artist of songs when they come on the radio or even on TV or a movie. I
probably irritate my wife with this and she most likely assumes I am just trying to brag about remembering artist’s names, but my intent is to just test myself that I still have a few synapses between the ears that are working. Now don’t ask me to pick out some Drake or Lil Wayne as I am WAY too old for that. But I do seem to have devoted a bunch of my brain to remembering songs in the late 70’s into early 80’s.
But I did struggle the other day when “Should I Stay or Should I Go” came on a show the other day. I eventually had to look it up and see that it was, “The Clash”. I felt disappointed that I didn’t remember it, but I will get over it – eventually.
Later I looked back at my phone and saw where I had looked up, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and thought about it I a different context. The context of those that struggle with this question when it comes to the church. As I have wrestled with that over the last few years (even before Bishop Bill look at this topic earlier this year prompted by the same song), I have tried to understand why some people stay while other leave. I am quite curious on this topic. One main reason I do this is to help me with my decision on this topic in my life. It seems to me it is not common, but there are certainly individuals that know the messy church history and/or dislike current church positions AND they stay active and/or believing members. I have tried to figure out why and how some can stay.
I have read the book, “Why I Stay” by Robert Rees. I have marveled at those like Gregory Prince and Carol Lynn Pearson that can write some very compelling books on church topics that could certainly be very critical of the church. But they seem to be comfortable staying active members.
I see them know as individuals loyal to the church, while pointing out problem areas. They seem to me to come very close to the “loyal opposition” that some leaders have mentioned. As I have grown up in the church I always felt a deep sense of, “you are either with us or against us” and to be “with us” included never saying anything derogatory about the church or the leaders. It seemed to me that if you were in disagreement with a church leader or a church teaching, then you were going down the slippery slope that Satan would want. If you didn’t repent and stop, inevitably you would leave or be excommunicated. The church could not tolerate such dissent in its ranks and there is story after story in church history that shows this to be the case. I know some disagree with this, but I am in no way the only person that has felt this was/is one of the “unwritten rules” within the church.
I have read “Why am I a Mormon” by Joseph A. Cannon, Blake Roney, the founder of Nu Skin, opened his response in the book in a very honest way, “I am a Mormon because I was born a Mormon.” I found that refreshing compared to the common response of others in the book of, “because it is true”.
Many have left the church after learning details of early church history. I have seen several people mention that men often leave the church over church history, but this isn’t generally the same for women. I recall in Jana Riess’ “The Next Mormons” that for younger women that left the church, the top issue was that they feel judged – a reason that didn’t even register in the top 10 on the guys list.
I was recently reading the book “Blueprint” by Nicholas Christakis and he was discussing the history of communes back a few decades ago. He found that the main reason people left communes is that they did not feel “loved” by other members of the commune. Similarly, if people don’t feel loved in their ward, they are more likely to leave.
I am reminded from a few years back hearing an expert say that those that are autistic often have strong reactions when they see someone being treated poorly. I can understand for certain situations in the church can be rather triggering for such individuals when “the rules” are put above individuals and people are hurt.
It isn’t hard to see there there are many different reasons people leave the church.
The one case I have studied the most is of course the case that is closer to me. There are those that know “all the issues” and still stay as active members of the church. For some that are outraged at what they feel as being lied to by church leaders, those that “know the dirt” and stay seem somewhat incomprehensible. It can be hard for them to understand why some don’t have the same reaction they do to this information. I would probably put myself partially in that category, but I would certainly frame it more that I am curious as to how some reconcile and are fine staying in, or at least able to stay active attending members.
There certainly are some individuals that would like to leave, but feel the costs for leaving is too high. I think of a junior at BYU that feels they have to “pretend” until they graduate. I feel much more sympathy for the BYU professor that no longer believes and is a few years from retirement. There are those that are in a family business and know their livelihood is at stake. Or the common issue of concern if a marriage can survive one partner losing their faith in the church. I think those cases can be sad, but I can understand the reasoning. There can be the situation that one lives in that can impact their decision. It is a different equation for stepping away from the church when you have a family of kids and you are in Alpine Utah vs Miami Florida. The social implications can be quite different. The same can be said for families and how they view a member of the family stepping away from the church. Some families can be very enmeshed.
I want to understand why those that could leave, but decide to stay. I have listened to ChurchIsTrue podcast. In the episode, “10: Prophets, Revelation, Current Issues – LGBT, Female Equality” he made a comment at about 41 minutes in that struck me a bit. In talking about the church he says:
“It’s a net positive in my life and it’s a net positive in the world and it’s very important for me. If it wasn’t a net positive in the world then I think it would be wrong for me to support it. But I do believe that by far it’s a net positive in the world and the good things that it does. But just because it does a lot of great things and even that it’s a net positive even a huge net positive, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do any bad things and it doesn’t do any harmful things.
So certainly there are those that don’t feel the same about the church. I can certainly see how a young woman that was date raped and was then told by her bishop she needed to repent might not be able to say, “The church and its leaders have been a net positive in my life”.
And then I ran across a quote from Richard Bushman, probably not many more “know all the issues”, yet are still active and believing members. He made the comment:
The following statement someone posted on a Facebook discussion attributed to Richard Bushman (sorry I didn’t find a reference, but I don’t find this hard to believe Bushman would say this):
“The fact of the matter is that I find goodness in my Latter-day Saint life that I [can] find nowhere else. When my mind is filled with scripture, when I speak to the Lord in prayer, when I comport myself in the way of Jesus, I am the man that I want to be. I feel wisdom, concentration, compassion, and comprehension to a degree beyond anything I have known as a scholar or a teacher. I do everything better under the influences that radiate from the Latter-day Saint religion. I am a better father and husband. I give more to my children. I connect with the poor and needy. I counsel my students more truly. I am more unselfish. Moreover, I like what the religion does for my fellow Saints, both longtime members and new converts. It welds us together into a community of mutual trust and aid. Latter-day Saints, in my experience, are people of goodwill. They give to each other and to worthy works of every kind. We care for each other the way Jesus said we should. The experiences in my own congregation have persuaded me that nothing is more likely to improve the world than conversion to the beliefs that I have treasured all my life.
As a scholar, I know full well the doubts of agnostics. I know that the scientific worldview, now dominant among intellectuals, appears to exclude traditional belief. I have dealt with the arguments against belief all my life. But over against these, I place my own intimate experience of goodness among the Latter-day Saints.”
I have heard that Terryl Givens has said that the Mormon gospel “tastes good”.
After years of mulling over this, I have come to the conclusion the same as ChurchIsTrue. It is very simple in one way. The church works for them or at least it has more positive than negative attributes, they will stay. And it follows that for those that leave, there are more negatives than positives. For some it is a nice congregation and a way to meet friends and neighbors and to be able to serve and be served. For some it is a feeling that they have found the truth. For some it is that it just makes them feel good.
As I have reached this conclusion I have looked at those that leave and stay and to me this reasoning seems to work. It leaves me not being as judgmental for if someone leaves or stays.
What thoughts do you have on this topic?
Does anyone have a theory that seems to work better for them?