For today’s entertainment, go read this article at The Harvard Crimson (kind of like the Daily Universe, but with bigger words): “Leaving the Church, Keeping Its Ties.” It follows the standard script for an LDS exit story. The student author is sort of in, sort of out. Always interesting to read that sort of balancing act. If you are 100% in, you’re in like everyone else who is 100% in. But if you are 50% in (your percentage may vary) — well, there are dozens and dozens of ways of being 50% in. Let’s take a few quotes from the article, not to endorse or criticize the author’s points, but just to use them as a point of reference.
“Until my eighth birthday, I thought every single person in the world was Mormon.” Nice first line. As a teenage convert myself, I can’t relate to being an eight-year-old Mormon or going through Primary. I suppose every Mormon child goes through a few years where they come to understand how the rest of the world looks at Mormons and the LDS Church. I’m sure any Mormon kid who goes to an Ivy League school has some explaining to do. I imagine every time you say, “I’m from Utah,” you end up fielding a few probing questions. Shall the youth of Zion falter? Maybe, maybe not.
“In my home state of Utah, Mormonism is more than just a religion — it’s a lifestyle.” Or you could say it’s less than a religion, it’s just a lifestyle. Or you could say it’s not just a go-there-on-Sunday mainline church, it’s an in-it-to-win-it church with a deeply committed lifestyle. What exactly is a lifestyle? The Internet says it’s “the way in which a person or group lives.” Mormons certainly have a distinctive lifestyle, which accounts for the series of questions the Mormon student gets asked following the “I’m from Utah” confession. I knew a student in grad school who was from Utah. He pointed out to me he wasn’t Mormon. The funny thing, though, is he had “the look.” He had the lifestyle. Maybe it’s a Utah thing as much as a Mormon thing? Nice kid.
“As I glimpsed a world outside the Church, I began to question parts of life I had simply accepted. I had always opposed the Church’s stance on social issues but, until then, had never been presented with an alternative.” Some Mormons teens go through that teenage rebellion phase, against parents, the Church, or both. Some Mormons have a deferred teen rebellion phase in their twenties or even later. Sometimes much later. Some never do. I never rebelled. If anything, joining the Church was my rebellion. A lot of good Mormon kids never rebel, and most of them do grow up, sooner or later.
“The rest of my family was able to compartmentalize, separating their faith from their unease with the Church’s complicated practices and legacy. I could not.” Could do a whole post on this concept. Most people compartmentalize. They keep work and family separate, generally to the benefit of family. Those who serve in combat generally compartmentalize. I think most Mormon returned missionaries compartmentalize (really, has anyone ever given an honest and candid homecoming talk in church?). So this isn’t a “compartmentalize or not” question. It’s a matter of identifying the optimal degree of compartmentalization, as an economist might put it. What segments of your life do you compartmentalize, and to what degree? Is compartmentalization a necessary skill for being half-in, half-out of the Church?
“The more I learned, the more restless I became. I questioned Church doctrine constantly, often to the point of contention.” Nice word, restless. One-hundred percent Mormons aren’t restless … they’re busy. But fifty-percenters are generally restless or uneasy or troubled. If you work through that phase and develop a successful compartmentalization plan, I think you can make peace with the issues on your shelf and get along with the hundred-percenters in your ward and in your life. The second sentence is a big problem for the Church: young Mormons typically have no venue and no trusted but informed person they can bounce questions off of without hitting a wall of contention or at least defensiveness. I think the leadership recognizes this and has made some efforts to be a little more open and responsive to sincere youthful questions, but such an approach is just so opposite the traditional LDS don’t-ask-questions indoctrination approach that it just doesn’t seem to be working very well, as seen in the overall experience of the student author of the article. There is no paragraph about the friendly, supportive, informed Seminary or Institute teacher who helped her work through her questions and issues. Sadly, that’s not what Seminary and Institute teachers generally do. It’s not what they are trained for.
What do you think?
- Do any of those quotes ring a bell for you or conjure up a youthful Mormon encounter with The World?
- Is it getting easier or tougher for LDS youth and young adults to deal with The World?
- Why does the Church keep painting The World as The Enemy? When LDS youth actually get out there and live a little in The World, the often find it isn’t so bad at all. The Church needs better metaphors to contrast The Church with The World.
I’m hearing more LDS kids (and adults) saying one of the following:
1. “I don’t agree with some of the Church’s policies and culture, but I believe in the doctrine”. This seems to let some folks off the hook for their various disagreements. It’s kind of an escape valve for active folks who see more and more with which they disagree, especially on social issues.
2. “I realize the history is messy, but I still believe in the doctrine”. What they fail to see from my perspective is that once the history is in question the doctrine itself gets called into question. Example: Book of Mormon translation.
I respect the mentality of the two quotes above. I myself used to make those statements. The problem with focusing on the doctrine is:
1. the doctrine changes over time. Virtually every LDS doctrine has been modified since 1830. That’s what the study of Church history reveals.
2. doctrine is largely undefined. Is doctrine based on scriptures or current Q15 statements? What about previous Q15 statements? That’s a question that the study of Church history leads to.
3. personal revelation often leads to a conflict with the Brethren. In Nov. of 2015 I was positive that the Church’s policies towards gay LDS was wrong but RMN didn’t figure that out until April of 2019 (41 months later). So should a member try to seek personal revelation or not?
Great post. I agree with wholeheartedly with your thoughts on referring “The World” as “The Enemy” in Church-speak. In the scriptures, I generally understand the references to “The World” to refer to the bad stuff in the world: injustice, poverty, sickness, war, conflict, racism, sexism, misogyny, selfishness, greed, pride, lack of faith, etc. It seems like when encountering references to “The World” in the scriptures there is often some context there to make it clear that it is this bad stuff that should be avoided, not that everything outside of the Church is inherently bad.
On the other hand, in Church-speak (talks, lessons, conversations at Church, etc.), a lot of times it sounds like “The World” is referring to everyone who is not a member of the Church and that whatever it is they are doing should be avoided at all costs. Things are said like, “The World would have us believe that it’s OK to be selfish, or The World would tell us to not care for our families.” It seems like there’s less context in many of these statements to clarify what is meant by “The World”. It often feels like we’re talking about The World = non-Mormons. If you’re in the “Old Ship Zion” and following Church leaders, you’re good. If not, you’re of the World, and you’re drowning in sin. Us versus them.
There are a lot of wonderful people doing great things outside of the Church. The way we often talk about “The World” in Church-speak often doesn’t seem to acknowledge that. The Church could do more to encourage members to see the good in the people outside the Church and to want to work with them to make the world a better place. Church leaders do say things like this sometimes, but it’s kind of hard to hear it with all the talk about the dangers of “The World”. Perhaps instead of using “The World”, the Church should just name the thing or things they are talking about. Instead of, “The World would have us be selfish.” we should say something like “Followers of Christ should strive to be less selfish.” Uctdorf seems to be pretty good at doing this. Instead of calling “The World” to repentance, he tends to give talks that talk about how everyone, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, could be more Christlike.
If you are 100% in, you’re in like everyone else who is 100% in. But if you are 50% in (your percentage may vary) — well, there are dozens and dozens of ways of being 50% in.
I think perhaps there is also some variety (maybe even dozens) among those who are 100% in.
My ivy league child is not half in or half out. A better description would be to say she simply left the church behind. The author of the Crimson article sounds as if she is struggling with a coming of age, existentialist crisis regarding her Mormon upbringing and the legacy of her religious faith tradition into which she was born–this feels so familiar to me except my crisis landed in my mid-30s and has been slowly burning ever since. My daughter’s experience has been different. Like the author, my child also struggled with many issues related to Mormon belief, history and culture. The primary catalyst for my child leaving the church behind is that its representatives (seminary teachers, bishop, YW leaders) simply were unwilling to–or incapable of–engaging her on the many questions she asked in good faith from a well informed position.
It’s almost as if the premises on which our beliefs center are so fragile, so narrow, that it excludes rigorous discussion within church environments. My child’s disillusionment…and that is the wrong word. Her dismay at the church’s seemingly simple-mindedness left her surprised to the point of not being able to see the church as having any religious credibility. In that sense, it’s not my child’s disagreements so much that caused her to walk away, as it was the church’s inability to discuss these issues with her on a meaningful level and in an honest way. She might be a contributing member if any of her leaders or authorities had engaged her in serious theological dialogue on church policy positions and history. Her seminary teachers always promised to make time and do their research, but none ever followed through. Her YW leaders told her she was too ambitious and free thinking–dangerous ventures for a faithful member. Her bishop tried to ameliorate her questions by making fun of them and minimizing their importance, a kind of soft shaming indicative of a spiritual narcissist. Bright kids see threw these ruses and disingenuous expressions. I guess the point I’m making is that she was not antagonistic. She didn’t saddle the church with an unreasonable onus. Yet none could or were willing to engage in the heavy mental lifting these kinds of valid questions require. I wonder how she would have responded to a Patrick Mason, Rosalynde Welch or Joanna Brooks had someone like that been in our ward or stake and been willing to engage her in honest conversations. But first the church would have to do more to recognize broadly minded and well informed individuals like these as credible and authorized church voices, and call them to positions of authority.
As for her and my other children’s view of the world? As we raised them in Utah Valley, we took great effort to expose them to the world and the wonderful people, cultures and belief systems in it. We worked hard to question the dim eschatology within Mormon doctrine, instead focusing on moral development and decision making, and learning how to identify virtue in all of its forms. We were also blessed to do a bit of traveling outside of the US, including to developing regions. None of my children went to BYU or any of the church schools. Their educational experiences range from having attended Utah’s flagship public university, to the Ivy League, to two other top 20 universities in the mid-Atlantic and southeast. All would say they have found the world to be full of wonderful people who are honest, hard working, committed to making the world a better place, and who come from incredibly strong and close families. I have to be honest as well, the idea we may harbor that Mormon’s have cornered the market on the family is nothing more than a testament to our insular and self-reinforcing religious culture. I’ve been deeply touched by the dedication my kids’ roommates parents routinely display. (It’s clear to me they value and are willing to sacrifice more for their kids’ education than most Mormon parents are I know in happy valley.) My kids’ roommates have all come from very close families with dedicated parents. Their roommates have come from a broad representation of the world: China, Korea, India, Pacific Islands, Mexico, the US. Family is at the center of their lives and the support their roommates receive from their own families is inspiring. Mormon families should take note there is much we can learn from non-Mormon and non-American families. Another perspective: All of my children noted they found their non-Mormon peers to be more respectful of the individual than their Mormon peers from Utah County. The idea pushed from our leaders to beware of “the world” feels more and more like Mormon gaslighting.
With the church’s recent moves towards deeper retrenchment and devotional-style religious education, I wonder if any church authorities think of the costs they are incurring. My daughter, like the Crimson journalist, is not a unique case. Among highly intelligent LDS young adults, future leaders in their fields, I think their choosing to disengaged is becoming more of a norm than an exception–and it’s not because they are weak or lazy. That’s laughable. I’m a big tent kind of person and sometimes I wish our entire paradigm didn’t include ideas like “TBM” or “all in” or “half in and half out” or “PIMO,” or, pejoratively, “the world,” etc. I have always believed the church would be better off actively embracing and respecting all, regardless of where they stand on their own continuum of spiritual growth, and how each individually defines their own sense of spiritual consciousness leading to the development of increased moral conscience. But, alas, I’ve come to the sad conclusion the church will never be a more broadly minded and universally orientated institution.
How many people are actually 100% in?
I always thought a good friend’s mother was 100% in. Then she insisted on ignoring the First Presidency message and refused to get vaccinated for COVID. Same exact issue with an older sister in my parent’s ward who’d been a seminary teacher and was generally regarded as one of the most righteous members of that ward.
Some people may claim to be 100% in but we’re all, at least to some degree, cafeteria Mormons. Some of us are just more likely to admit it.
I describe myself as a “Middle-way Mormon.” I am relatively immersed in Mormonism as a belief system, but do not hand control of my well-being over to church leaders. I’ve found that those who would identify themselves as 100% in (especially local leaders) do not know that there is a line between good and evil that runs through their own hearts. This lack of self-awareness makes them extremely dangerous to compassionate and caring people. Unmindful Church leaders are hazardous to church members.
I have tried to teach my own children this principle, that there is a real danger to one’s salvation and sanity in relying too much on the Church as a source of authority, to perform tasks thoughtlessly and without an awareness of the potential negatives that may flow from such actions. I believe it takes a great deal of discernment, thought and mindfulness to navigate potential pitfalls. Not every word that flows from the mouth of church leaders is good for every member. Zealotry and other forms of excess should be avoided.
BigSky’s comment resonated with me a lot, and the thing is, I think it’s much worse now than it was when I was growing up. I don’t know if that’s because the Church has fundamentally shifted (I think it has) or that I grew up in an exceptional ward (I did) full of several open-minded liberal arts professors, far from Utah. My biggest moments of dissonance were when I encountered leaders who did the following types of things:
– shut down questions
– pretended the answers were “secret” or only for the faithful or that I’d understand better in time without actually engaging in discussion of them, leaving me to assume they just didn’t know anything more than I did
– turned “questions” and doubts into an indictment of my character, implying I was deficient for asking them
– presented utterly obvious ideas as if they were mystical answer to deep questions which they weren’t, leaving me to conclude the person just wasn’t that thoughtful or smart
– gave confident “insights” that were obviously wrong and showed that they didn’t know they were wrong. Unfortunately, this is often out of the mouths of apostles.
Current leadership seems to be so conservative and entrenched in authority = God that there’s really nowhere for people with questions to turn right now. It’s not safe to ask, and not only will you not get satisfying answers, but you probably know more than the person in charge because they got there by *not* asking tough questions and by policing the questions of others.
Contrast that to the Socratic method preached by The World, and it’s easy to see which is better.
As I was discussing church history (and some of the problematic things that happened in the early church) with my teenage daughter, I was telling her how when I was a youth they didn’t teach us a true history of the church because they didn’t want it to damage our testimonies. But now, a lot of people my age are finding the true history, feeling lied to, and leaving the church.
Her response was “Wow. Hadn’t church leaders watched ANY super-hero movies? Withholding the truth or lying to people ‘for their own good’ is like ‘How to create a villain 101.’ It never works out well.”
Church leaders and parents are going to have to engage the youth with the questions and acknowledge problems and mistakes of the past. They also need to acknowledge the goodness of those not in our religion, and stop vilifying (or patronizing) our kids’ friends and families who are not members.
Great post and comments.
Re: Bigsky. I could have written your comment almost word for word with my own kids’ experience (Ivy league, top-20 in mid Atlantic and one top rated west coast school). Your daughter’s growing up experience tracks one of my daughters and with the same (predictable) outcome.
Thanks for putting it so well. We are really losing a lot of smart, hard working, thoughtful young adults, but, in my experience, the disconnect began in their teen years.
Walk around the Villanova campus and you might think you’re at BYU. (Amazing how those students can dress themselves w/o an (faux) honor code to tell them how to dress.). Attend a Villanova basketball or football game and many fans will look like young Mormon families: lots of married people with small kids and smiles. (Do not, under any circumstance, repeat the experiment at an Eagles game.). In short, we do the world a disservice when we paint with a broad brush. When we smugly silo ourselves we miss out on a lot.
rb: Hey, whoa! I will not stand for this (fully accurate) representation of Eagles fans!
I think hiding our history (i.e., truth that is not really useful) came into form with Pres. Packer in the 1980’s. This was on the cusp of the Internet making it impossible to hide inconvenient truths (as well as to promote intentional lies) about the Church. Hindsight is 20/20, but it now seems unfortunate that he could not have foreseen how this approach would come to result in a greater falling out than if we had just met our history, warts and all, head on.
I relate to this. The church made me choose between God and the church. I could have a God that loved me, created me with a divine potential, a God was just and merciful. Or I could have the church, filled with wonderful people striving to do better but led by those who strain at gnats while swallowing camels.
That description of church leaders doesn’t convey the complexity of my feelings and warrants more compassion, but I don’t know how else to put it. Why are God’s servants so troubled by ear piercings, tattoos, and beards but refuse to bind up the broken-hearted and bring deliverance to captives (those who are treated unequally, those who have been abused, etc.)?
Why will they elevate men and hide women under bushels based on incorrect scriptures, yet claim the Bible bears scrutiny because it wasn’t translated correctly?
Why do they claim we live the 10 commandments when they defend a history of codifying men’s adultery with polygamy?
These and so so many other contradictions.
Sadly, I realized the weighty matters of the law cannot be allowed to undermine the structure church leaders have built. The structure and hierarchy is a self-sustaining machine that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of the truth, LGBT teenagers’ lives, women pierced hearts, black people’s humanity, and more.
Because my full potential and identity threaten the institutional church, I was forced to choose. Because I still wanted to believe in Jesus and a God who loves me, I was forced to choose.
I miss the community. I miss worshipping together. But at least I am always numbered to God, and He knows where I am.
As I was deeply rethinking my life understanding after an unexpected, unwelcome, abrupt reckoning with my belief in god, the quote from Lawrence Corbridge that @bwbarnett shared a couple of days ago, was just the sort of thing that I found problematic (and really antithetical to the God I had believed we believed in, and might be able to salvage some belief in):
November 14, 2022 at 10:38 am
“Of all the problems you encounter in this life, there is one that towers above them all and is the least understood. The worst of all human conditions in this life is not poverty, sickness, loneliness, abuse, or war—as awful as those conditions are. The worst of all human conditions is the most common: it is to die. It is to die spiritually. It is to be separated from the presence of God, and in this life, His presence is His Spirit or power. That is the worst.” (Lawrence Corbridge, Stand Forever)”
I cannot find anything good there, only yuck.
It does not reflect the Jesus we read about in the NT. THAT Jesus had empathy, compassion, saw the good in people, while recognizing challenges they faced. He did not abandon them through the worst of things that happen in this world. He wept with them.
“Do any of those quotes ring a bell for you or conjure up a youthful Mormon encounter with The World?”
I was a youthful atheist; similar questions but opposite side of the river.
“Is it getting easier or tougher for LDS youth and young adults to deal with The World?”
Both. It depends on where you are. I have fewer people asking to see my horns but it is becoming more difficult for ANY Christian in modern America.
“Why does the Church keep painting The World as The Enemy?”
It is a matter of definition. The enemy is the world, the world is the enemy. It doesn’t mean other people nor does it mean geography; it means everything that is a distraction from your journey to happiness. The Amish have a similar concept.
“When LDS youth actually get out there and live a little in The World, the often find it isn’t so bad at all.”
Enemies seldom portray themselves as the Enemy. The Amish expects youth to try out “the world”. It may be they prefer it. If so, that person is not really suited to Amish living.
Youth are not equipped to make life-altering permanent decisions; except of course to chop off body parts. Elders attempt to steer youth away from the more harmful paths. Naturally the youth seldom see it the same way.
It’s getting tougher for youth. In the internet era and through the Mormon moment, Mormonism has been stripped naked. Even the bloggernacle gives Mormonism no dignity, and no privacy. It’s hard to be an icon while constantly being publicly ridiculed and exposed warts and all.
The magic of belief doesn’t exist in a purely scientific view nor is there oxygen for it in this critical, scornful, doubtful environment. You will never hear the jingle bell from the Polar Express ring with such an attitude, nor will you see the true beauty and power of our faith by poo-pooing it. Alma said it was antithetical to the scientific method as it pertains to faith. He has a point.
Unfortunately, few people (proportionately) can guide and inspire others to this belief, and we don’t grow our faith in isolation. So precious few mentors exist. So precious few. And sadly, we are sometimes exposed to negative examples in leadership. We all need at one time or another our” Yodas”, our Jonathan Livingston Seagulls, our inspired teachers. And so few youth are ever exposed to those people. Honestly, there’s little to no chance of meeting a mentor in a young singles ward, where the blind lead the blind or, shall I say, the meat market is open. Gurus are rare in our ballooning wards, stakes and even regions. And when you do find them, there are few opportunities for inter-generational collaboration. If GAs are those people, they are 1) too busy in rote administrative duties and 2) too far removed in SLC’s ivory tower to meaningfully connect with the common saint. (Gimmie a break- those stuffy conference talks are impersonal and so tightly constricted to be of much use.) 3) not desirous to connect personally or mentor over time, but to indoctrinate.
The church isn’t really addressing the mentor problem. It’s “we speak you listen” modus operandi doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the importance of such a connection. Conversely, it is addressing the toxic environment by attempting to adapt. It is letting go of the things that keep us weird and mainstreaming. Maybe this is saving others, but it’s pushing me away (politically, ethically, and doctrinally). I have no taste for Mormonism-lite that copies evangelical art, whiney Christian worship music, mega-church theater and group activities, and takes in a steady no-calorie diet from charismatic amateur pastors diluting chicken soup for the soul or recycling memes into sermons.
I pray we will remain a people of miracles, of transformation, of millennial zeal and Celestial sights. Doing so means connecting with the “Yodas” in our lives- those wise souls who inspire and teach. We lose our savor as we continue to mainstream and become vanilla versions of ultra-conservative evangelicalism. Furthermore, we sell ourselves and our God short by settling for small “tender mercies” as opposed to mountain-moving, heraldic, inter-veil, millennial and transformative miracles.
Bottom line: to stop the hemorrhaging of souls we need to tackle the toxic environment, allow ourselves a spec of possibility and belief, and connect individuals with authentic mentors, who are increasingly hard to find.
I thought this was going to be about the Provo Soak.