I’m still playing around with the ChatGPT we discussed a week ago in Bishop Bill’s post. Just a quick note, ChatGPT as it is now is basically not very different from a Google search except that it cobbles together one imperfect answer from the scraps and detritus of the internet rather than returning an array of possible links to sources you might like. If you want info, you’re better off in a search window. If you’re an English major who didn’t read the book, ChatGPT is your best friend. If you’re a small business owner who needs to write a quick ad with house cleaning tips, Chat GPT is great. But if you want to ask it bigger questions, it’s going to be limited.

But hey, I’m not going to let that stop me! For funsies, I asked it to create a list of 10 reasons people join the Mormon Church. Here’s what it said:

  1. Strong Community: One of the biggest draws of the Mormon Church is the tight-knit community that it offers its members. People often find comfort and support in being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same beliefs and values.
  2. Family Focus: For many, the Mormon Church is seen as a place where families can come together and grow stronger. With a strong emphasis on family values and the importance of raising children in a supportive environment, it’s no wonder many people join to support their loved ones.
  3. Sense of Purpose: The Mormon Church provides its members with a clear sense of purpose and direction. From participating in service projects to learning about the teachings of the church, people often find meaning and fulfillment in being a part of the faith.
  4. Emphasis on Service: The Mormon Church is known for its focus on service and giving back to the community. Many people join for the opportunity to serve others and make a positive impact in the world.
  5. Strong Moral Code: The Mormon Church has a strong moral code that encourages its members to lead a virtuous life. People often join for the guidance and support in becoming better versions of themselves.
  6. Empowerment: The Mormon Church provides its members with the tools they need to succeed in life. From educational opportunities to leadership training, members often feel empowered to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.
  7. Positive Message: The Mormon Church is known for spreading a positive message of hope, love, and compassion. Many people join to be part of a faith that brings joy and positivity into their lives.
  8. Global Reach: The Mormon Church has a global presence with members all over the world. People often join to be part of a larger community and connect with others from different backgrounds and cultures.
  9. Social Opportunities: The Mormon Church provides its members with a variety of social opportunities, from youth groups to service projects. People often join for the chance to form new relationships and make lifelong friends.
  10. Sense of Belonging: For many, joining the Mormon Church provides a sense of belonging and comfort. People often find peace and comfort in being part of a larger community that shares their beliefs and values.

Then I asked it for 10 reasons people quit the Mormon Church.

  1. Lack of Inclusiveness: Some people may feel that the church does not adequately support the LGBTQ+ community, leading them to question their involvement in the organization.
  2. Disagreement with Doctrine: Some individuals may have theological differences with the church’s teachings, causing them to reevaluate their commitment to the organization.
  3. Disillusionment with Leadership: Some members may feel that the leaders of the church are not acting in the best interests of the community, leading them to seek alternative spiritual paths.
  4. Lack of Transparency: Some members may feel that the church is not transparent enough in its operations and decision-making processes, causing them to question their trust in the organization.
  5. Gender Roles: Some individuals may feel that the church places unequal emphasis on gender roles, leading them to feel uncomfortable with its teachings and practices.
  6. Historical Issues: Some people may be troubled by the church’s history, such as its stance on polygamy, and feel that it is not in line with their values.
  7. Cognitive Dissonance: Some members may feel that the teachings of the church are in conflict with scientific knowledge and evidence, causing them to question the validity of the church’s beliefs.
  8. Cultural Appropriation: Some members may feel that the church has adopted cultural practices that are not its own, leading them to question its authenticity.
  9. Pressure to Conform: Some members may feel that the church places too much pressure on them to conform to its beliefs and practices, causing them to feel suffocated and seek alternative spiritual paths.
  10. Financial Burden: Some members may feel that the church requires too much financial sacrifice, leading them to question the value of their involvement in the organization.

Anyone else notice what I did? These are basically the same reasons. In other words, it’s not that the Church really is and does all those good things on the first list. It’s that the things it does are perceived situationally. If your circumstances fit what the Church offers, it is a positive in your life. If not, or if your circumstances change, it can be (or become) a negative in your life. If you are an investigator, you can see the Church’s community and actions as either positive or negative.

Consider the following dichotomies:

  • You are raising your children, and you want your kids to make friends who are like them, “good” kids who follow the rules and get good grades, white kids (you don’t think this, but the “ideal” friends you picture fit this image), straight kids (again, you don’t think this, but your own friends, those “ideal” friends you are imagining weren’t LGBTQ), kids who stay out of trouble (you imagine the teachers praising them and their smiling cheerful faces in your home as they treat you with respect and interest while you hand out orange slices), kids from suburban middle-class backgrounds like yours (you imagine their parents becoming your friends, people you can talk with, who might even offer job opportunities and help you move or carpool). The Church’s homogeneous culture is appealing. You would say that the Church provides strong community support and a focus on family values. You can even send your kids to a college where they will meet and date and marry similar people (and not meet and date and marry kids who don’t share their beliefs or backgrounds). Is the Church family focused? Is the Church welcoming?
  • You are a single parent raising your children, and you want them to meet people who are different from them, who challenge their ideas. You want them to befriend kids who are not like them. You want them to break the rules sometimes like you did. You don’t want them to be so obedient to authority that they don’t live their lives. You find their unique personalities charming and hilarious. One of your children is LGBTQ. Another has a best friend who is transgender. Another is dating a boy from India whose family is Hindu. Is the Church family focused? Is the Church welcoming?
  • You are financially secure and feel compelled by an internal desire to donate to those in need. Giving 10% to a Church you love and trust is an easy way to feel that you are doing good in the world without having to think much more about it, and you have confidence that the Church will have your back if you are ever the one in need.
  • You have paid tithing for decades, sometimes at great sacrifice, and you were happy to do so. Now you’re in a financial bind and have serious health issues. Due to your health problem, you have had to take extended unpaid leave, but the bills keep coming. You worry about losing your house. You can’t handle routine errands while you recover and you reach out to your local ward for assistance. You are treated with sympathy but also told that they can bring in meals for one week, but can’t help beyond that. If you need help with bills, the bishop wants to go through your finances with you first, and there is a time limit on how long you can rely on assistance, and only after exhausting all other options. The Relief Society President will come out to help you with a grocery list, but first she wants to go through your cupboards. You feel embarrassed and frustrated, realizing that if you had saved that 10% all those years, you’d be in a better situation now without being put on trial to get help.

Several years ago I did a post called the Testimony Puzzle. I still think it’s one of the best posts I’ve ever done. In the post I shared a conversion story that was also a deconversion story. It showed how an investigator’s perspective changed from faith in one church to another, but also how it changed from viewing the same aspects of the Church negatively, with skepticism, to a positive view of faith and trust in the Church. In that post, the investigators went from seeing the high demand commitments of the Church (including giving up cola) as “narrow-minded” and “too demanding” to being “inspired from God” and “easy to do.” What was being asked didn’t change; it was the circumstances. Specific changes included their previous congregations letting them down. They were deconverted. They were seeking a change because they lost faith in their church of origin. Conversion to something implies conversion from something.

We trust, we invest time, emotion and money in something, and our trust may be reconfirmed or at some point, it may be damaged. The more we need it in that moment, the more important it is that it come through for us. If it fails us in our moment of need, when we are thinking about it, that feels like a betrayal. That makes it hard to believe in or trust a Church after that point.

The Church frequently cautions members to avoid questioning their faith in the Church (I’m not even going to say in Jesus at this point). Belief in an institution is necessarily flimsy and subjective. You are loyal to your employer until they lay you off. You are loyal to a service provider until you run afoul of their policies. Institutional loyalty depends on one’s situation not changing, on having reliably good experiences. Everything that can cause you to deconvert from a Church can happen in any Church: not feeling welcome, hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, demands higher than benefits. If you allow yourself to notice those things as they happen, you may lose belief. You may divest. If you ignore what doesn’t work, more of it works. We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe.

The difference between the list of reasons people join and the reasons people leave is the same list because it all depends on what people believe. If they believe the Church is a good influence in their lives, even if it sometimes falls short, they still see the first list. If they believe the Church is a net negative in their lives, they see that second list. Every time they look, it’s more and more clear.

  • Do you find it interesting that this is essentially the same list?
  • Have you seen the deconversion process as part of conversion (e.g. on your mission)?
  • What can the Church do about this problem, if anything?