What does it mean to be “In” or “Out” of the Church? As readers of this blog, I expect most of my readers realize that it is not binary, but there are many shades of “in” and “out” when it comes to Church membership. Hence the word “nuanced member” that gets thrown around a lot on the heterodox LDS blogs. This nuance becomes a grey area. This is in contrast to various pronouncements by leaders that you are either all in or all out. They get the idea from the unknown author of the book of Revelation in the New Testament.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.Revelation 3:15-16
Elder Sabin of the 70s said this in the April 2017 Conference
That’s not how we do it! We don’t hold back to see what the minimum is we can get by with. The Lord requires the heart and a willing mind. Our whole heart! When we are baptized, we are fully immersed as a symbol of our promise to fully follow the Savior, not half-heartedly. When we are fully committed and “all in,” heaven shakes for our good. When we are lukewarm or only partially committed, we lose out on some of heaven’s choicest blessings.Stand up and be All In, Elder Sabin, April 2017 General Conference
Recently a friend shared the following experience. He had gone to lunch with a young couple who he had been friends with for years. Though they had skipped church because my friend was in town, and they wanted to spend time with him, he thought of them as fully “in” the church. She was a returned missionary, both were raised in faithful LDS homes, and hold callings. Yet when the subject of church came up, the wife expressed that she is “out” of the church. She wears garments, loves the temple and the Book of Mormon, loves the gospel, and holds a non-Sunday calling, yet she considers herself “out” of the church. My friend never even considers this couple “on the edge”.
What is it that this couple, who attends church once a month or so, reads the BofM, and goes to the temple would consider themselves “out”? Could it be the “all in or all out” rhetoric from our leaders?
After reading Jana Riess’s book “The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church”, I believe we are moving away from the binary definition of church membership, much to the consternation of our leaders. The book is full of millennials telling about how they “Mormon”. Some drink coffee, some don’t wear their garments, some don’t attend church, but they all consider themselves “in” the Mormon Church. From a survey of 1100 members Jana did, of those that consider themselves “faithful and obedient Mormons,” 10 percent drank alcohol in the past 6 months, and 18 percent drank coffee in the same time.
So what do you think constitutes being “in” or “out” of the church? Is the definition changing? Are we moving to a big tent, or are we pulling up stakes (laterally and figuratively) and making the church more exclusive under Pres Nelson?
Bishop Bill is trying to complicate an issue that is really quite simple. Those who are “in” the Church believe in its teachings and seek to follow them by living a moral life. Those who are “out” do not believe in the teachings and seek after their own gratification instead.
Unfortunately, many young people have lost sight of what leads to happiness. They no longer seek to follow Church teachings regarding getting married and having children while being a productive member of society. They have decided that they want to be “out” so they can sit in their parents’ basements playing violent video games while Bon Jovi music blares in the background. When they do venture out, it is only to head to the local honky Tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens in search of temporary sexual liaisons.
The irrefutable fact is that Church teachings on being a productive member of a family and society are what leads to happiness. Those who are “in” know this. Behaving like a wild Russian Princess in an un-watched castle may provide immediate gratification to those who are “out,” but it comes at a high cost. Both in this life and the one to come.
The in/out threshold in my mind is the exclusivity. If you believe it’s the one true church and participate, you are in. If you don’t believe it’s exclusively the place where God’s truth exists, if you don’t esteem the senior leaders ad God’s mouthpieces (or as demigods like so many members do), and most importantly if you give yourself permission to believe and act according to your own conscience and not someone else’s directives, then you are out. By that definition I’m out yet I attend every week, hold callings and a TR, pay a full tithe, etc. But because I’m out I define my relationship with the church and the role it has in my life, instead of ceding that control to the church and allowing it to define it’s role in my life.
JCS: you keep using this word (irrefutable) — I do not think it means what you think it means. But thanks for your comments; they’re always good for a laugh.
I am proudly out. My frequent visitation to the local honky tonk I offer up as proof.
There are different degrees of “in” and there are different degrees of “out”. And because we aren’t mind readers we can’t categorize another person on this scale unless that person is both honest and expressive.
Consider these two examples: Joe attends every week. He pays tithing. He serves in callings. He might even attend the temple. But deep down inside he’s convinced that it’s all made up. He’s a utility Mormon. It works for him and his family, so he participates. Besides, he’s a dentist in Utah County. He doesn’t want to alienate his customer base.
Jim has a deep and strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and also believes in the Church’s truth claims. He sees it all as good be true package and he even hangs by every word spoken in General Conference. Jim is a validity Mormon…he believes in the validity of the truth claims. But Jim is not very social and doesn’t love LDS culture. He kind of slips in and out of meetings.
I’ve described two kinds of Church members and there are many many other types. So who is really in and who is really out?
I’m just as religious in the LDS Church as many in liberal Protestant denominations who consider themselves religious. I attend church once a week, participate in charitable functions, abide by a church health code, pray with family, make donations to the church, believe in the example and earthly wisdom of Jesus, see Jesus as an important philosopher, and talk about God-related subjects on a regular basis.
But by most Mormon standards I’m a heretic. For I don’t believe in the historicity in the Book of Mormon, don’t wear garments, buy stuff on Sunday, refuse to do callings, don’t do home teaching, won’t help missionaries find converts, don’t pay nearly enough in tithing (I follow the advice of Rock Waterman who penned the well-argued “Are We Paying Too Much Tithing?”), occasionally swear, won’t accept callings (although they still have me in the library and have for years, don’t dare release me I guess), believe in gay marriage, evolution, and other secular teachings, very occasionally drink coffee and alcohol in social situations, don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ (I’m with Bart Ehrman), and believe only in Spinoza’s God (God as synonymous with nature).
I have read the comments with interest, and have a short, potentially cranky observation to make:
Do not let others decide whether you are in or out of the Church. YOU decide. I consider myself fully in the Church, and still buy things on Sunday and occasionally swear (marvelous for relieving stress). I also hope for the day when the Church can accept gay marriage, and hope that the Church leaders I sustain can bring themselves to that point. I also believe in evolution.
To assert that one’s positions on such issues determines whether or not one is in or out of the Church is to accept as one’s own mental framework the mindset of Pharisees.
I refuse to do so.
In the meantime, let us go on to trying to love Christ and our neighbor……
Many things can cause a person to consider themselves to be “out”, but one thing that triggers that feeling is when they feel disconnected from the membership. Binary thinking and “all or nothing” attitudes contribute to the feeling that a person does not belong.
I consider myself out, even though I attend sacrament most weeks and hold non-teaching calling, because I do so mainly to support my wife and I wouldn’t attend or participate otherwise. Having accepted my non belief, it’s actually easier for me to attend than it used to be. I used to be very uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance when I heard leaders and members say things I disagreed with; now I just shrug it off. In that sense, it can be easier to attend church and be “out” than “in” sometimes.
Now I’m going to go dig out my Bon Jovi tapes and an old cassette player and drive three hours to my parents house so I can play video games in their basement. It’s perfect because there is a Dairy Queen really close by. Too bad I don’t even know what a honky tonk is, or I would go to one of those, too.
Because the church has decided, thanks to Benson, Packer, etc, that ‘intellectuals, gays, and feminists’ and the greatest threat to it, I’m ‘out’ of the ‘Church.’ I’m an outsider, a threat, something to defeat. It, like a certain former authoritarian fascist president demands loyalty as a core indicator if you are ‘in.’ The Church doesn’t care how moral I am, how full of love. It doesn’t care about those attributes for anyone. It demands loyalty foremost, not love. Ergo, I’m definitely NOT in.
My experience (even in conservative Utah County) is that the general membership and many local leaders look to where folks are at on Sundays to determine if a person or family is “in” or “out.” I think showing up to church each week is the biggest factor in making that judgement. I have to assume that is because even if you don’t fit the mold or make a few comments outside the usual Sunday School answer book, the consistent sacrifice and desire to show up and engage demonstrates commitment, and the LDS Church is 100% about commitment in each and every aspect of the religion.
For those called into leadership positions, you are pre-selected and deemed fully “in” when you actively defend the brethren or church doctrine, when you volunteer and magnify your calling, and (perhaps most importantly) when your life appears to be a product of personal competence and righteousness—you made good choices and God blessed you accordingly. Again, 100% commitment, but judged by more than just putting a butt in a seat.
But life and spirituality is more complex and so my personal definition is more complicated than the above. Part of that has to do with what we mean by “church.” As well-stated in prior comments by John W and Josh h, you can be very spiritual and attuned to the Holy Spirit in your daily living, but disagree or not follow the rigid requirements of the Church (thinking about temple recommend type standards here). Is the “Church” the doctrines and prescribed standards, is it the institution which you physically frequent or avoid, is it the current leadership, is it a combination?
But after we are done explaining our varying observations and opinions, Taiwan Missionary’s statement is one that should conclude this discussion, “Do not let others decide whether you are in or out of the Church. YOU decide.”. Well said, friend.
I think we need an updated definition of “church.”
Am I in or out of the body of Christ / my ward community? I’m “in.” Have a calling. Try to serve. Try to participate in ways that make sense though have majorly scaled back. It’s my neighborhood (well, city too) & spiritual and family heritage. It’s a lot of my friends. For my kids’ benefits, too, I have to maintain some level of connection to the community, and there’s still a lot of good there.
Am I in or out of the “Nelson and Oaks Show” / the $100B (actually more like $220B) Corporate Church? Still technically a member because it facilitates the above community, but if I had to absolutely define myself one way or the other, would have to say “out.”
I have made the typical progression of many of my fellow millennials. I was fully “in” for many years, and then gradually became a much more nuanced believer (in church and other areas of my life). From there I eventually transitioned to “PIMO” (physically in, mentally out – a term a Facebook group I’m in uses and that I find a good description of where I lived for a long time). While here, I maintained the lifestyle required to hold a temple recommend and a calling, but I no longer believed in many of the truth claims of the church. However, I still saw a lot of good there and the community aspect was particularly meaningful. I wanted desperately to make this work for a long time, but the “all in or all out” rhetoric became too exhausting. I have very recently made the final step “out” and now claim exmormon status. I do not have a temple recommend or a calling, and I find the good in the church is far outweighed by the bad. I have not had my records removed out of respect for my active spouse, but if he chose to leave I would absolutely do so.
Though it’s certainly not the only story, I do feel like I am far from alone on this particular path.
The only Russian Princess around here is you, John Charity, issuing invariably ridiculous edicts from on high, then absenting yourself from the conversation . Prove you’re human and join the discussion.
JCS is right. People leave the church because they want to do things that the church teaches are wrong. They sugar coat it by claiming it is because they are smarter than those who remain. But the truth is that they leave because they don’t want the guilt for their choices.
Wayne, good thing you understand so clearly the motives of everyone else. We should just make you God or something.
John Charity Spring’s comments leave me very confused about whether I am actually out of the church.
On the one hand, I thought I was, since I haven’t set foot in an LDS church building since 2008.
But, on the other hand, I have also never been in a honky tonk, and I certainly haven’t headed out to the local….*checks notes*…Dairy Queen…? in search of a temporary sexual liaison.
No, I am committed to my husband. We don’t have kids, so maybe that makes me “out”? But on the other hand, we don’t live in our parents’ basement playing violent video games. Nope, we dutifully work to pay the mortgage on our house (and we couldn’t afford to buy a castle or live as wild Russian princesses???)
It is such a relief to know that being “in” the church is not about a number of administrative considerations (e.g., going to the temple, paying tithing, having one’s name on a membership record for a particular organization) or a lot of the “do-work” fluff (serving callings that only seem to address other members of that organization, or adhering to rules that don’t seem to be about one’s own well-being or the well-being of one’s community or even seem to have any connection to scientific evidence whatsoever, but just seem to be based in 19th century dietary fads) that an organization says it’s about. If we drill being “in” down to the core essentials of “living a moral life” and “being a productive member of society,” then it becomes truly clear that identifying the sheep and goats isn’t a matter of listening to who cries “Lord, Lord” at all.
…but on a serious note, I think that there’s a lot of different ideas at play…conceptually, there’s a division between things like “being in the church” vs “following Christ” vs “being moral” vs any number of concepts. I know that some people would like to conflate these so that they are all the same (particularly where the first is equivalent to the latter 2), but there’s definitely a lot of different ways to look at it.
To me, the story Bishop Bill relays of the young couple who *holds a calling* yet believes themselves to be “out” is really intriguing to me. Like, how do those conversations go between that couple and their other ward members? Like, does the couple speak to their fellow ward members as if they are out, and is the ward aware of that?
And if so, is it usual for callings to be extended to people that everyone is aware of is “out”?
This is the part of the story I most feel like I must meditate upon.
I identify with the definition from Josh of “utility Mormon.” The only thing RMN unleashed for me is a realization of all the holes in the proverbial dam.
You know what, Wayne? I actually partially agree with you here. I did leave the church because I wanted to “do things that the church teaches are wrong.”
Specifically I wanted to:
– Follow my conscience when my conscience was in conflict with The Brethren
– Support my gay family members and friends in living authentically
– Raise my child to follow his own conscience instead of the arbitrary edicts of false prophets, and to raise him without toxic religious shame
– Stop contributing to a system I view as oppressive to women and minorities
I assume, however, that what you really meant is I just wanted to drink, smoke, and sleep around. In fact, none of those things factored into the decision to leave. And, years later, they still don’t appeal to me.
Andrew, I have a fairly important calling in my ward which I cheerfully perform to my utmost every other Sunday – yet I assume the “President” who called me knew full well that my membership could be defined as “complete heretic who loves the Church.” I worship the Milky Way. People like me are “called” to reform us and help us see the light, or because the ward is desperate to fill callings – in my case, a little of both. I make damn sure to deliver a socko lesson every time, one motive to force those in the pews to think waaaay outside that little Mormon, yes, Mormon box. Admittedly there’s a bit of hubris involved w/ this but I’m aware of it and tamp that sh$t down.
Andrew, I’m an EQ teacher and temple recommend holder and I’m pretty sure there’s only one other family in the ward who knows I’m ‘out’ is another ‘out’ family, who also holds callings in the ward. For them, however, the leadership knows they are ‘out.’ The only real difference between our two stories is I was able to hold onto some rational justifications about how I answered those recommend questions for longer than him. I don’t think I can do it for the next interview. I don’t usually talk to other members about being ‘out’ in any way. I get constant praise for my lessons from leaders in the ward and stake. I teach love and refuse to contribute to any navel-gazing.
In person, many people at church know I vehemently disagree in relation to the Church’s stances on LGBT+ issues, but only those people who also disagree or are at least open to differing views. There are more of them than they let on. I don’t know how many of these people are also ‘out’ in some form, but I don’t share with them that I am. Why? I’m still trying to figure that out, but I think it has something to do with the respect (and thus willingness to listen) that the current ward affords me. We’re moving soon, however, and I have no idea what’s going to happen whenever we end up.
Not really a full answer for you, but it’s something.
This is a very complex question, actually.
I read this post earlier in the day but posted from refraining until after my bike ride, so I could think about it.
High level, here’s where I am: Nuanced since Prop 8 (live in the OC), which opened the door to learning new things. Don’t live in Mormonland. Haven’t held a TR since I was released from my Bishopric calling three years ago. Haven’t paid tithing since then but am more than happy to pay a generous fast offering if there is a need. I currently have a calling that I requested, which is Deacon’s quorum advisor over the only deacon, my son. They don’t let me plan any of the activities but they do let me plan lessons from time to time. My partner is currently Primary President (they were desperate apparently given our rap sheet).
I go to church stuff when the mood strikes me, which is about 25% of the time, and I end up there another 25% based on need (I am musically inclined and am always happy to teach anytime, even last minute, so I end up there a bit for those reasons). We let our kids decide as well. Big surprise, they usually choose to stay home too.
So, what am I? In, or out? I agree with Taiwan missionary that I get to choose. I usually tell people that I was raised Mormon but no longer practice Mormonism (ie I’m out). If people ask why, I usually say that the community is great but I can’t support teachings that hurt marginalized people. For friends and work colleagues and clients that have seen me go through this journey, they are very supportive, and more than a few have shared that they could never square why someone like me would be part of Mormonism in the first place. I personally like my answer because it has brought me better connection with my neighbors. Not they they were prejudiced against Mormons, but I think they just find the whole think a bit kooky and unrelatable.
The church interests me less and less. So much so that I don’t even think it’s worth discussing whether I”m “in” or “out”. I’m me, doing the best I can to live a good life, to lend a hand and spread kindness where I can. I take comfort and advice where I can and I don’t waste any of my time anymore on people who are full of demands but are not examples of our highest callings as humans.
What does interest me is that there’s now a new alice up above.
Nice to meet you, alice. I hope you enjoy your time here.
That other alice.
Thank you, Kirkstall, for writing my response to Wayne.
55 years all-in (but with a growing list of bones to pick). 2 years not trying to change the church from within, but hoping to be an ally to the church’s targets. 4 years completely checked out. I will likely resign when my aged mom dies – she’s already so saddened and hurt by my two younger brothers who’ve left (I’m the oldest – and the “good one” that never gave her any grief) and I don’t want to add new sorrow to her remaining days.
My struggle these days is GETTING the CHURCH OUT OF ME! I’m reading “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control” by Luna Corbden which goes through 30+ mind control techniques used by high-demand organizations and cults. There are over 1,000 footnotes from expert sources – and from LDS teachings. I highly recommend it.
Extracting myself from these influences is difficult and painful work for me. Simply quitting churching still left me with the with the pervasive side effects of life long, multi-generational indoctrination. The W&T community may have noted some of the s**t my family has been through. This leaving the church is right up there with losing cancer battles and a child with severe mental illness.
The dismissive notion that we should be able to leave and leave the church alone is so disingenuous: the church has applied enormous influence and resources into insinuating itself so completely into the fabric or our lives (or should I say into every fiber of our beings) that getting out is more than a reboot – it is a complete re-write of our vital life narratives.
I see a glimmer at the end of the tunnel – but expect there is yet a long way to g0.
I had a defining moment on my way ‘out’ when I still had a testimony of the Church’s truth claims. I believed everything I was supposed to believe, but I didn’t have the feelings I was supposed to have. I called myself a ‘feelings apostate’ during that phase of my spiritual journey.
Church teaches that service is a blessing that brings joy; I felt like I was being taken advantage of by a woman I was supposed to visit teach and praying for charity didn’t solve the problem. Church teaches that we should feel peace in the temple; I struggled with a couple bad anxiety attacks and persistent self-hatred that always seemed worse in the temple. Church teaches that if a meeting is boring, it’s my fault for not preparing enough; I concluded we really did have a teacher who was objectively boring. Church teaches that we should feel grateful in all circumstances; I reclaimed the right to say I’ve been through some things I’m not grateful for. Church teaches that family is a blessing and joy despite acknowledging difficulties; I realized I was done with struggling in crappy relationships and absorbing all the blame for things going wrong. Church teaches that I should choose not to get offended; I redefined the principal as choosing to have self-respect and have reclaimed the right to choose to get offended when I am treated badly. Church teaches that women are fulfilled by motherhood and wifehood; getting divorced improved my relationship with my (ex)husband and going back to work full-time improved my relationship with my children.
I believed the BoM was scripture, the Brethren were prophets, and the Church was true, but I didn’t feel the way I was supposed to feel. That led to further feelings of alienation. That led to eventually concluding that the Brethren don’t get to tell me how to feel. Once I rejected the Brethren’s authority to dictate my feelings, everything else crumbled rather quickly.
I attended four other Christian churches over the course of a year, looking for a spiritual place to land. The sermons were very different in tone, though I couldn’t identify anything that was false doctrine. The other pastors taught about Christ. What was so different? After months, I identified the difference. No one talked about feelings. None of the pastors told me to be grateful, or peaceful, or happy, or anything. They just talked about Christ.
Here’s the most radically different sermon I heard: a visiting minister had 30 minutes to speak. For the first 15 minutes, he talked about how we know ourselves best. We know our limits. We know where we find joy and fulfillment. We know how much stress we can handle. I was mystified by this topic. The last 15 minutes, he talked about a service opportunity. He was trying to find people to help with a particular service mission, and he spoke about exactly what it required and its goals and what a volunteer might need to do. He finished by acknowledging that people have different capacities to serve at different times of their lives. There was not one mention about how we should feel joy while serving, or that we should rely on the Lord to increase our capacity to serve, or that the Lord himself was calling us to his service and we were turning down the Lord if we didn’t sign up. Wow.
I’m OUT. I get to have any feelings I want. That’s an amazing amount of spiritual freedom.
@melinda wow, thanks for that. The “telling us what to feel” (with “every fiber of our beings”, that made me laugh @beenthere) is an astute observation.
I really truly think you just put your finger on Utah’s depression problem. Like, seriously.
Also, @kirkstall for the win.
Might I suggest someone here draws up a game of JCS Bingo?
I’m ‘out’ but it’s complicated because I don’t want to rock the boat in our family or influence the things the ‘in’ members of our family hope to teach their children – yet – I’d also like for those kids to know I’m someone they could talk to – especially if any of them determine they are part of the LGBTQ+ community. My husband is ‘in’ as are 50% of our children – though I’d say they are all on the somewhat nuanced scale. I no longer believe the history, have long had concerns about patriarchy, racism and homophobia. I think this path probably began after reading Emma, Mormon Enigma more that 30 years ago. Up until recently I was able to continue to sit with the dissonance but my last TR interview was very fraught and that recommend has now expired and I don’t plan to renew or pay tithing. I prefer to donate to causes I choose. I still worry how to explain to a grandson who will probably marry next year that I won’t be able to attend his temple sealing. I have a calling but it’s peripheral and doesn’t involve teaching. I love our ward, full of good people trying to do their best so I do look to them as my community but I don’t feel like I’m being truly authentic around them – this is where it’s hard! The pandemic has provided a buffer because my husband and I haven’t been attending in person. I know my husband would love for me to fully share beliefs with him but I’m grateful he loves me anyway!
I also wanted to add that I don’t like how the temple ‘others’ and creates a two-tier membership but also have concerns about many religions. They can often provide comfort and guidance for living a good life but there is also the potential for great harm – especially for the LGBTQ+ community and countries with theocratic governments are a big concern. My heart aches for women in strict Islamic nations.
John Charity Spring is a caricature of a misanthropic, pious, sanctimonious believer, Wayne. You might want to think on the fact that you see your belief system in his posts. Just a suggestion.
I’m there every Sunday, have a calling, pay tithing. But I often contemplate why my children are out.
And I’m just tumbling to a basic problem with the church: not understanding that people are individuals with individual lives. We don’t all have a great experience in the church. We should feel free to ask ourselves if it’s a net plus.
General Conference talks describing a wonderful hypothetical life that comes from following all church teachings doesn’t guarantee that outcome for a given person. People have to have *their own* individual experiences to cement them to the church. But many are not. They feel gas-lighted, shamed, guilted, and used. They don’t want to be told that only certain beliefs *will make* them happy. They want to *be* happy. Believing everything the church teaches makes some people miserable. And sad as they are to leave their tribe, they value themselves as individuals over the institution.
“I am the door,” said Jesus. “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 NKJV).
We rarely notice that this door swings both ways, leading us to wander in pastures.” Not a cage or a jail or even a safe harbor, but God’s pastures wherever they may be.
Melinda, that’s an incredible insight about the expectations vs reality of feelings in the church and I agree with Elisa that it’s likely the root of a lot of emotional turmoil among the membership. Probably warrants an entire blog post on its own.
Elisa wrote “I really truly think you just put your finger on Utah’s depression problem. Like, seriously.”
I used to find statements like these mildly offensive to the rough ratio of hundreds of members I know in which the Church is “working” (a nuanced word in this case) in every way intended, to the one in which it simply does not seem to work at all, but most of these members couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks anyway. More and more, I find these statements dismissive of actual victims of genuine depression, which I don’t think distinguishes between member or nonmember, active or less active, or even varying degrees of righteousness. I’d concede arguments could be made as to whether the Church aids or hinders these very real battles.
And it’s probably for another discussion, but I also can’t discount studies linking altitude and depression, or wonder where Utah would rank in Prozac usage if every other state’s self-medication rate of alcohol and tobacco was the same as Utah’s. I know of at least one nutritionist who predicted Utah’s Prozac usage decades before psychologists started pointing it out. As time goes on, I feel like the speed in which people blame the Church for the problems of others says less of what they think of the Institution, and more about their scientific literacy, although I’m slower to dismiss personal stories like Melinda’s.
As for the OP, I’m pretty much all in, although a casual or outside observer might see cafeteria aspects to me. I do think there are some defining characteristics as to what constitutes “in,” but with each passing year, I grow more sympathetic of a view aligning with TM’s final thoughts.
We are out. In March the stake president gave a talk urging members to be “all the way in.” My wife and I discussed afterward what all the way in meant for us and our family. We decided that it meant we are out. We stopped attending, told the bishop to release us and haven’t been back since. I think I would have stayed in forever – as a nuanced member. I loved the Elders quorum and people in our ward. But my kids and wife found the church increasingly not a healthy place for them.
To counter Eli’s comment, while depression and Utah’s depression rate may be complex, my experience and that of my son (who’s now gone through therapy) suggests that Elisa is not wrong. The church’s emphasis on feelings and how you are supposed to feel, as well as strong anti-grace messaging, as well as strong cultural emphasis on judging and judgement, as well as strong policing of those feelings via interviews, etc, definitely creates strong emotional reactions of inadequacy, despair, fear, anxiety, and self-loathing in many people who are ‘all in’ (as I once was.) Bottom line truth: the church (especially because it’s culture as I’ve described) is not for everyone, despite what the Brethren or anyone else projects. Note that I’ve said nothing of the gospel. That’s another discussion.
@Elisa and @Kirkstall – thank you for your supportive words.
@Eli – I’d like to address your point, where you pushed back on the idea that the expectation to feel a certain way is connected to depression. “More and more, I find these statements dismissive of actual victims of genuine depression.” I actually am a victim of genuine depression, though in the decades since my diagnosis, I’ve made good progress in living symptom-free for months at a time. The Church expectations/teachings to feel a certain way didn’t *cause* my depression, but it certainly made it worse.
Depression is more than just feeling sad. It’s a deep-seated conviction of your worthlessness and total despair at the future, and an acceptance that you deserve to be treated badly. When I was unwinding some of these beliefs in therapy, I talked out some deepseated guilt at some feelings I had been taught were bad and, not only would these feelings cause me to sin, but having these feelings (for more than the time it should take me to banish them) were themselves a sin. I’d had these negative feelings my entire life, and whenever I struggled with them, my self-hatred level went through the roof because they were wicked, evil, bad, awful feelings. Given my 100% commitment to obedience, I’d always taken these feelings to be proof that I really was as bad as I thought I was. No matter how Church-obedient I was, I couldn’t banish those feelings. What’s more, not even medication could fully banish those feelings (though meds made them less intense).
My therapist listened, and then said, “those feelings are actually quite common for survivors of the type of trauma you’ve been through.”
Do you understand the import of that? Those feelings were NORMAL. Anyone who had been through what I had been through would have those ‘bad, sinful, awful feelings.’ I didn’t need to repent for those feelings. I needed to heal from trauma. I WAS NOT WICKED. I was hurt.
So anyway. Church didn’t cause my trauma and the resulting mental illness diagnoses I’ve dealt with for a few decades that were connected to both my genetics and difficult circumstances. But the teaching that obedient people should feel a certain way multiplied the burden I carried by a factor of ten.
Once I learned to trust my feelings about my trauma, I started applying that to everything, and that’s when I came to the understandings I wrote about in my first post.
What @Melinda said. I’ve had extensive conversations with LDS women who are suffering or have suffered from depression as well as therapists who treat those women and while I wouldn’t claim it’s “caused by” the Church – causation is tricky and certainly there are a ton of genetic and environmental and chemical and diet and seasonal and yes maybe altitude (honestly don’t know how strong that research is) and a zillion other factors at play – there’s no doubt in my mind the Church teachings exacerbate or trigger depression symptoms in many people, including *myself* and close friends and family. And there’s something very powerful in Melinda’s comment about the total mindf%&! that one experiences when being told that you will *feel* a certain way about something and then not actually feeling that way. This is something that happens outside the LDS Church of course – I think women commonly experience this if they don’t immediately bind with an infant, for example – but it is experienced to perhaps an unprecedented degree in the LDS church and perhaps more by women than men (again, motherhood). I agree, someone needs to do a whole post or write a book on it.
So @Eli, please spare me your pity, don’t you dare gaslight me by explaining to me why I’ve suffered from depression (it’s not the altitude, I’ve got plenty of Mormon friends dealing with similar issues at sea level and unpacking some deeply harmful messages they internalized at Church), and honestly ask yourself whether what your feeling is truly compassion for victims of depression OR a desire to defend the Church against what you perceive to be a threat to it. Because it seems a lot like the latter and feigned compassion in defense of harmful teachings is yuck.
Just so you know Alice – when the first Alice commented, I thought it wasn’t you because it just didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the millennial thing or the tone, but I’m glad that you showed up to clarify. We used to have a JR comment all the time and I loved his comments. Then another JR showed up and for a while I was having to figure out which JR was speaking. It’s kind of interesting to see how this blog has changed.
Unorthodoxy and nuanced thinking will win the day. Dogma and creeds are on the way out. Hell the last proclamation made by the church is seriously a joke that is never mentioned and it was only given a few years ago. About a decade ago my in-laws came over because they noticed my wife and I were not believing the same way as we had been raised. We had a couple hour conversation mostly focusing on Polygamy and historical issues and the night ended with us trying to mediate the disagreements between my in-laws. They had been married 40 years and never once had a discussion about what they believed on these issues. Two people who both considered themselves fully in were a mile apart on what they actually believed. The funniest was asking my FIL to describe his vision of exaltation and what specific roles he thought women had to play as Female Gods. I wish I could have recorded my MIL’s reaction. All this to say that we are all on different levels of belief and each one of us are experiencing this Mormonism in a different way.
Thanks for your words Melinda. I will have to admit it’s hard to put myself in your shoes when I and so many I know feel compelled to credit the Church and its teaching for a large part of our happiness and sense of self-worth. It does press me to be a little less judgmental, however.
Elisa. Not the response I expected from you. Not trying to gaslight. My comment was genuine, as was my compassion. I wasn’t trying to explain to you why you had depression, but trying to point out the folly of why anyone would make a conclusion as to Utah’s mental state when depression is an extremely complex subject. You obviously have more experience with it than I do. But you’re not wrong on defending the Church as well. What exactly do you say to those whose Church and/or Utah experiences may end up somewhat similar to yours (same schools, same wards, same neighbors, same teachings, same youth leaders) but still end up crediting the Gospel, as found through the vehicle of the Church, as a major source of happiness? I have no doubt that some of the teachings of the Church have exacerbated depression for some. I’ve associated with enough people over the years from so many varying backgrounds that I would find it extremely difficult to call that the norm. So yes, I’ll defend the Church, but making an attempt to summarize Utah’s depression genuinely felt dismissive to me. I’m sorry if it came across otherwise, and knowing you from past comments, I probably should have been smart enough to know that’s not really who you are anyway.
I couldn’t find the statistics – I have them somewhere – on the increase in the teen suicide rate in Utah since 2014. It is a hockey stick – far higher rate of increase than the US in general (about three times the rate of increase) as well as the mountain states.
I’ve heard the “altitude” excuse used to explain it. However, I have not been able to document any corresponding increase in Utah’s elevation over the same time period.
There aren’t statistics on exactly why Utah teens are dying by suicide such high rates – those reasons go with them. Suicide is fundamentally an escape from intense pain. As individuals, we need to be better at spotting the warning signs (lots of great resources to help with that – many options for basic training held every month). We need courage to start a conversation.
And, of course, we should do no harm – nothing that adds to the crushing burden of pain.
The Church needs to examine it’s institutional self for how and where it adds to the pain. I can’t imagine that God and His Christ are down with the notion that pain caused by sin or lack of scrupulosity is somehow deserved and that the institution is absolved because they are just preaching painful and inconvenient truths. But we hear a version of this at every general conference.
The haughty declaration that “the leaders always teach the truth”, let the chips fall where they may is either thoughtless or ruthless to members of any age that suffer from this callousness, particularly LGBTQIA and other marginalized groups.
Do No Harm! And try to compassionately and skillfully repair the harm you’ve already done. That is not too much to ask.
@Eli that’s fair and thanks for your response.
The Utah-depression link is tricky and I am not trying to make a sweeping statement or judgement about the entire state of Utah or Mormon church. I do think there is a link to religiousity and depression in Utah and among a lot of people, and I think to the extent there is a link, it may be along the lines Melinda described and that understanding that could be really helpful to people trying to work their way out of that harmful thinking. I also agree that the Church works for a lot of people (but I am finding in my own circles the more I get to know people the more cracks I see under the surface, especially women. Second-class citizenship and being confined to motherhood, it turns out, is starting to wear on women.)
In any case, my original claim may be more limited than how you interpreted it. More of a qualitative “to the extent one sees a link between depression and religiosity in Utah that may be a key or exacerbating factor” and less of a “well that explains the Prozac popping problem!!!” which I agree is dismissive and overly-simplistic but I understand how my original comment could be interpreted that way. I’m not an expert (I assume you aren’t either unless that’s your profession and you just haven’t mentioned it) and it wasn’t my intent to opine on Utah’s mental health epidemic – just musing on Melinda’s excellent point which is anecdotally supported by experiences of people I know.
I suppose I’m “in” according to all the external markers. I largely stay because of the built in social support network wherever you move. Does that make me a utility Mormon?
I’ve never been “church broke”, and was raised to be skeptical of authority figures. So does that make me “out “?
In terms of accepting truth claims, some I accept as likely, others as possible and others as unlikely. So am I a cafeteria Mormon, then?
I suspect that for the vast majority of membership, we are “in” in some aspects and “out” in others. Nearly all all straddling the threshold.
There are two articles today at the DN website celebrating “reconversion” stories – what to make of these?
p.s. pray for Bon Jovi – he has COVID-19.
Great narrative and observations (as usual) Bishop Bill:
I had the great opportunity to attend the Andrea Bocelli concert; at the Vivant Arena in SLC – last Saturday evening. It was a singular, remarkable experience. I must declare that I felt “The Spirit” there at a level and in ways that I’ve never felt at any LDS Meeting, Temple Session, GC Talk or Tabernacle Choir performance; in over 63 years of life. The performance by this historically Italian Catholic blew the artistic enlightenment of my historical faith tradition out of the water!
Note: I’m not talking about the “The Spirit ” as defined by the LDS Church. I’m talking about the feelings one gets when connected with other human beings of all stripes; who are just “children of the universe” – each one holding a “bit of stardust” in their hands.
Maybe folks are just not feeling anything in Mormonism any longer….
Eli states (and I have heard this argument many times), that the complexities of mental health are too wide and varied to be ascribed to church teachings.
But that door swings both ways.
Logic requires us to likewise discount the church’s effect on every beneficial data point from longevity, to cancer rates, Everyone who makes the former argument must necessarily concede that the same dynamic of complexity is at play when it comes to the positive outcomes.
I’m still a bit confused by the couple in Bishop Bill’s post. I’ve often thought that at some point, we will get to where Catholicism is, in that you can be Catholic in many different ways. Some who are ultra-orthodox might not like your way, but there’s not nearly as much getting into other people’s business in Catholicism, or so it appears from outside that religion. But this couple, the woman in particular, kind of has me stumped. I guess I agree with the idea that people have to choose for themselves whether they feel they are in or out.
Looking back over the evolution of LDS discourse during the last thirty years or so, one of the most important developments has been the emergence of grace as a doctrinal concept. I don’t think it’s an accident that this coincided with our rising awareness of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among members of the church. At some point, we started to realize that our saved-by-works doctrine had created a destructive perfectionism. It lights a fire under a few people, but it torches the rest of us. The damage was too great. And besides, the grace of God is a true doctrine that we had neglected. It’s healthy to look critically at our beliefs and make corrections where they’re needed.
So it’s not unreasonable to point to the church’s teachings as a source of depression and anxiety among our members.
The discussion about grace has receded over the last six years, but not because of a resurgence in salvation-by-works theology. Politics has pushed aside most other things in church discourse. Nobody is talking deeply about grace or works or even about salvation. The topic of the day, every day, is now loyalty. And I guess that takes us back to Bishop Bill’s post.
For the record, I’m “Physically In, Mentally Out; PIMO” – I’m very, very disengaged. For the time being, I’m attending now and then to keep the peace within my family.
I’m 5th generation Mormon. That makes my grandchildren 7th. I’m proud of my heritage. But I’m out. I’m an extreme cafeteria Mormon.
I believe strongly in tithing, but I don’t give it to the Church. I avoid the middle man. The Church has plenty of money. I don’t understand the Church’s obsession with temples and the dead. I love Mormon baptism; complete immersion is a great symbol of being reborn. Mormon cosmology sort of works for me. It’s far superior to other Christian beliefs. I’m mostly agnostic.
I think the Church’s past emphasis on works, works for me. But it comes off the tracks when combined with perfection. Loving your neighbor is the key to Christianity, not “be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
I will probably die Mormon.
Speaking of Bon Jovi:
It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t going to live forever/I just want to live before I die”
Words to live by.
Alice the 1st,
I am a regular lurker and only occasional commenter, and I usually post under a different name to avoid confusion. I completely forgot this time. I promise I didn’t mean to impersonate you! I’ll do better remembering next time.
I don’t know of anyone who is really “in” anymore.
Who really believes in magic rocks? REALLY?
I don’t know anyone in my circle of LDS friends, from all over the US / Europe, who actually believe in magic rocks.
To be “in” you have to believe in it.
Nice try Rodney – There is another option. Ignorance. Let me count how many times rock in the hat has been brought up in any priesthood, SS lesson or sacrament talk in my ward. Once. That was by me and it was quickly shot down.
This is a good post to “out” myself officially. I’ve been reading Wheat & Tares for over a decade, and I’ve shared comments under various names over the years (but not that often). My real name is Gavin, and I was “in” the church for 45 years and did everything I could to “follow the brethren.” I had a mission president who instilled in me that nothing was more important than that, and I really did all that I could to live up to that charge.
My wife introduced to me the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog in the early 2000’s to help me understand why she was crying each time we drove home from our ward temple night. She couldn’t find the words, but she said, “just start reading this and maybe you’ll start to understand.” It was extremely difficult for me to read – I thought I was reading the words of very “wicked” people who had some negative things to say about the Lord’s anointed. But I loved my wife and wanted to understand. Over time, I started to recognize some of the issues that these blog authors were pointing out within the doctrine and culture of the church, and they were right.
Within a year to two I was reading By Common Consent, Times & Seasons, and eventually Wheat & Tares. Everything resonated, and I call it the Great Awakening of my life: I could start thinking for myself and using my own mind, and my own heart and my own life’s experiences to decide what was right.
In Nov 2015, the POX was the final piece in the puzzle of my own life’s freedom. There was “absolute knowledge” for me and my wife and our kids that “the brethren” really were not worth following in all cases. We have not been to church very often since (the John Charity Springs and Wayne’s of the ward make it very clear that we are very much a prideful family that has relied on the arm of the flesh to do our thinking…and to support our gay child and to allow my wife not to go completely insane!)
l’ve stopped following all of the other blogs, but I still enjoy Wheat & Tares. W&T is like home for me. None of you know me, but how I have loved reading the insights of Hawkgirl, Mormon Heretic, Bishop Bill, Mary Ann, Hedgehog, Dave, Alice, LDS Aussie, Churchistrue, Happy Hubby…I could go on and on. If there were a church house that you all met in each week, I would be there every single Sunday. You all get it. Thank you for helping me on my journey. I’m “out” of the church, but I will always feel “in” with those who have traveled this mortal Mormon path together with me.
As I have been reading, I have been pondering the concept of being “in” or “out” in other aspects of my life and I’ve come to a conclusion: I’ve never really been in or out -completely – of anything. Ever. Examples:
Football In: I love the artistry, I love that it is the ultimate chess match, with all 22 players having assigned movements on each play. I love the excitement and comradery associated with it. Football Out: I dislike the savagery, I dislike the cockiness, I dislike the injuries.
Marriage In: I love my wife , kids, and grandkids. I’m faithful to them. I fulfill all of the appropriate roles such as provider, silly grandpa, priesthood leader, etc. Marriage Out: sometimes I can’t stand being married. Sometimes I can’t stand the matriarchy that rules, although I know I greatly benefit from it. Sometimes I don’t like me within my marriage.
Quantum Physics In: I love how it’s “mechanics” are at the center of almost all modernization. How the use of it is turning the world into this amazing science fiction movie. Quantum Physics Out: I hate how none of it makes any freakin’ sense, but is still experimentally correct. I hate how it leads me to believe that I don’t know anything about “reality”… real reality.
I can go on, but here’s my point: to borrow a phrase, I am a pray, pay, and obey Mormon. Always have been. I’ve tried to overachieve in every calling I’ve had. But, I ain’t orthodox. Never have been. I’ve studied Mormonism, Christianity, World Religions, History, Science and many other things for decades and I don’t know squat. I almost have a perverse envy of people of whatever life persuasion who are sooo sure of their correctness and right(ous)ness. For me, I’ve seldom been lukewarm, but then, I’ve never been in or out either.
Wow, what a rant.
DQ Mint Oreo Temporary Sexual Liaison Blizzards are delicious….just FYI.
If you define the “church” as doctrine, everyone will be in different places of understanding/belief. People differentiate themselves along heterodoxy to individuate. We all like seeing where we fall on some sort of scale (be it buzz feed, Myers Briggs, or Mormon orthodoxy.)
But, answering P’s question above, if the church is defined as “community”, as being and feeling a part of this “marvelous work and wonder”, that’s a black or white thing.
And if that’s the case, I feel totally “out”. If I were a pioneer, I bet I’d feel more “in”, pushing a handcart, building Zion with my hands, contributing my skills. But, I’m afraid the modern church doesn’t ask me to contribute anything. Everything we have or do comes out of a pretty-fabricated box from Salt Lake. I’m really not needed for anything. There’s nothing that I am depended on to do, that I feel makes a difference. The more resilient the system becomes, the less meaningful each person feels.
I’m female, therefore my voice and contributions are pretty unwanted to begin with. I’m poor, lack that “corporate” spit-shine that seems to be a qualifier not only for leadership, but for acceptance, respect, and participation in our culture. Because I’m a nobody, I have very few opportunities to engage in the church beyond the casserole brigade and babysitters club. (Worthy pursuits for sure, but not unique to Mormonism. Fast-breaking news flash, every denomination has a casserole brigade and a babysitting group.) I don’t belong to a temple-building church. The GAs do, but I only belong to a temple-attending church. I don’t belong to a great humanitarian church, the GAs do, but I’m not included. I might read about aid here or there in the church news (post-fact), and shrug my shoulders when I think that my pennies trickled nebulously into that outcome (through a formula that I am not privy to). But I don’t see the welfare machine at work. The GAs are part of worldwide expansion and diplomacy, but I don’t even have the opportunity to engage at a stake level. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Living down here in the ranks isn’t terribly inspiring because down here the big participatory picture of “Zion” is by design, not practiced.
I am a white cisgender, card-carrying, married RM, from multi-generational, Utah Mormon* pioneer heritage with a pretty unmistakable GA last name. And even I feel like the rough stone cut out of the mountain just rolled right over me.
Multiply that feeling by a million for anyone who is non-white, from the “mission field”, non-English speaking, LGBT+, and doesn’t check off the useless cultural status markers I mentioned above.
*(Someone please put a quarter in the “Mormon” swear jar for me. Thanks!)
Sean wrote “Logic requires us to likewise discount the church’s effect on every beneficial data point from longevity, to cancer rates, Everyone who makes the former argument must necessarily concede that the same dynamic of complexity is at play when it comes to the positive outcomes.”
Does it though, and must they? I believe I’ve seen multiple studies over the decades related to the very examples you’ve given, which are things that can actually be measured with a great degree of accuracy. You either have cancer or you don’t. You either live longer or you don’t. While there are no doubt multiple factors affecting these things (Utahns might spend more time outdoors for example), most of these studies (not all from BYU) ultimately point to the influence of the Church.
I don’t know that science has fully caught up to depression yet, and psychiatrists seem to be the first to admit that. There’s obviously a chemical aspect, a genetic one, a personality one, and environmental aspects at play. I believe there are some studies out there that take into account the Church, but I don’t know that we’re to the point where we can categorically state what the Church’s role is with any degree of certainty, or whether it affects enough people differently enough that its influence essentially “cancels itself out” with regards to a particular study. I don’t think any of us really know at this point. I don’t think that necessarily means we won’t have a more concrete knowledge of it in a few short years, but as of now, I don’t think a concession is needed.
It occurs to me there is some minor hypocrisy in my last comment. I agree with Sean’s point with respect to its overarching application to science in general. I think very, very few things in science are absolute. Even Newton’s laws have faced some recent tests, though they’ve ultimately prevailed. I think at best, we can only say we’re a little more certain about one thing than we are another. Comparing decades of studies of longevity and cancer rates with emerging science on depression as they both relate to the Church, however, felt like apples and oranges, where much more certainty could be ascribed to the formers, rather than the latter. So in the sense of science in general, yes, I might concede the point of complexity as it relates to everything. In the sense of practicality and applying what (little) we know to the best of our ability, I don’t know that it’s needed.
With science, I’d like to think I’m “all in,” but I’ll admit there’s a growing group of people who’d like to say otherwise.
“I am…multi-generational, Utah Mormon…And even I feel like the rough stone cut out of the mountain just rolled right over me.”
Mortimer, what a classic line.
There was an article on grace in the January Ensign (2016 or 2017 I believe). It was written by my bishop who works in the church curriculum department. He was our home teacher (because we were *that family.* I mentioned the article in an HT visit and said it was nice to see something on grace.
He said something to the effect that the church is now *allowing* some discussion on grace and he hoped it would expand.
That means that grace was official off limits prior to that.
BeenThere, thank you. That’s an interesting story. Grace is discussed many times in the Book of Mormon, but we actively ignored that for a very long time. Some religion teachers at BYU started talking and writing about grace in the 1980’s. I think they consciously avoided using familiar Protestant language about grace, and so they allowed Mormons to see the truth in the doctrine. I guess after a couple of decades (!) the folks in the church office building decided it was okay.
There has definitely been an improvement in the Church’s acceptance of grace, even though the Mormon culture embraces it fitfully.
I converted to Mormonism at the age of 22, from Evangelical Protestantism. After I got out of the Air Force, I served a mission in Taiwan. It was my first genuine exposure to Wasatch culture, since 80 percent of the missionaries were from Utah. A bit of a shock. I talked about grace all the time (having been Evangelical, and having read the BOM with all its references to grace). I made a lot of the missionaries uneasy. They often said to me, “Elder ——- , we don’t do grace in the Mormon Church.” My Mission President agreed with me on grace, but grace set Mormon culture’s teeth on edge, back then.
We have a ways to go, but things are getting better. We still have multiple issues to deal with, but the Church (and to a lesser degree, our culture) are better off now in acknowledging the need for grace.