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.