I just read a blog article entitled, You Should Not Leave Mormonism for Any of These Five Reasons. The article is disturbing to me because the writer advances the stereotypical and shallow explanations for why people leave the LDS Church, and goes on to advise Mormons not to leave the Church for those reasons. I agree that members shouldn’t leave for the reasons listed, but I strongly disagree that those five reasons accurately characterize the majority of members who leave the Church. The five reasons given by blogger Greg Trimble are:
1. Being offended
2. Not understanding the doctrine
3. It’s just too hard
4. Anti-Mormon literature
If I was still Mormon I would be cheering Mr. Trimble on, nodding my head in unquestioning agreement, and declaring to myself (or to my family if I had read the article aloud to them during our daily devotional time); Yep. The Church is true. People fall away from the Church because they are weak or have shallow testimonies. You can’t fall out of bed if you are all the way in it. And thus I would have perpetuated the myths of apostasy, not out of maliciousness, but simply because I didn’t know any better. In fact, this is what I—as a LDS mom—taught my children, and that’s what was bandied about in an occasional Relief Society or Gospel Doctrine class.
One time I was teaching R.S. on the first Sunday of the month. We always left a little extra time at the end of the lesson for the ladies to share their testimonies. One woman stood up and said, “My cousin just left the Church, and now she’s just so bitter I can’t even talk to her. It’s amazing how people can leave the Church over trivial things. Please put her name on the prayer roll at the Temple.” She went on to elaborate on her cousin’s apostasy. The comments that followed were along these lines:
“People leave because they just can’t cut it. It’s too hard for them to live the gospel.”
“I know someone who was offended by something her visiting teacher said 20 years ago and she’s never been back to church since.”
“Well, my husband’s niece’s best friend’s sister started drinking beer and then left the Church. People just want to sin; that’s why they leave.”
“There’s an inactive sister on my visiting teaching route and she has a coffee maker right there on her kitchen counter!”
“If these people don’t want to live the gospel or be in the Church, I don’t know why they just don’t get their names removed!”
“They don’t get their names removed because deep inside they know the Church is true and they just want to cover all their bases.”
I’m sad to say that I was just as uninformed and misinformed as everyone else making those comments. Now I have a whole new perspective because I’m viewing things from the other side. I was a devout LDS woman serving in the capacity of Relief Society president when I left Mormonism.
I wasn’t offended by anyone. I had support and encouragement from fellow ward members. They treated me with respect and—for the most part—were loving and kind. There were a few people I got unfriendly vibes from over the years, but nothing I wouldn’t expect from any group I might belong to. The simple truth is that not everyone is going to like you, no matter how wonderful you are (or think you are).
I understood the doctrine very well (and perhaps better than most). I attended seminary in high school, took LDS Institute of Religion classes at the local college as an adult, went to BYU Education Week every other year, read the Book of Mormon cover to cover a few dozen times for personal study and during daily family study. People were always amazed at how much doctrine my children knew; in fact, their knowledge of the gospel exceeded that of many of their Primary, Sunday school, and Young Men/Young Women teachers. How did they know so much? Because their father and I taught them through daily home school lessons, family prayer, and scripture reading time.
“Living the gospel” wasn’t difficult. Was it challenging at times? Yes. It was challenging to raise ten children, get them ready for Church, and take them back and forth to youth activities. It was a commitment to hold regular Family Home Evenings, daily prayer and Scripture reading, and trying to lead by example. It required time and resources to magnify my callings, attend the temple regularly, prepare Primary and Relief Society lessons, hold Cub Scout Den meetings, and live for the Church so we could be an eternal family. I was weary at times, but not enough to throw in the towel! You don’t quit when the prize is eternal life for yourself, your spouse, and your children! Living the gospel was a no-brainer: “Gee, do I want to take up coffee or do I want to go to the Celestial Kingdom? Would I rather have a cold bottle of beer or would I rather live with all my posterity and Heavenly Father forever and ever?”
Anti-Mormon literature did not cause me to lose my testimony. Official Church literature is what served the death-blow to Mormonism for me. I read a sermon by Brigham Young, who said,
Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands…There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it; and the judgments of the Almighty will come, sooner or later, and every man and woman will have to atone for breaking their covenants. (Discourse Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, March 16, 1856)
As disturbing as this was to me, it was certainly not the only thing that led to my leaving the Church. Reading Young’s sermon was the catalyst that spurred me on into further research and study. It wasn’t just one thing, but a boatload of problems, issues, and discrepencies that I discovered in my research. The final nail in Mormonism’s coffin—for me—was learning that of Joseph Smith’s 33 documented wives (and he may have had more), 11 of them were currently married. Seven of his wives were under 18, the youngest being 14. Not only was that outrageous to me and proved to me he was not a prophet of the Biblical God, but the fact that he lied about his marriages publicly and to his first wife, Emma was further proof he was a false prophet.
I didn’t leave the Church because of sin. I was sincere, humble, and always asking Heavenly Father for direction and guidance. Although I often fell short, I strove diligently to live the gospel, to keep the commandments, and to please the Lord. I was honest in my temple recommend interviews and was found worthy enough in the eyes of my Bishops and Stake Presidents to issue me Temple Recommends over the years.
My experiences in leaving the Church are not uncommon. In a survey to over 3,000 disaffected Mormons, John Dehlin, founder of MormonStories.org, found that only 4% had left the Church because they were offended or wanted to engage in behavior contrary to LDS values. 96% of respondents stopped believing in Mormonism due to:
- Historical issues
- Scientific issues
- Doctrinal and theological issues
- Socio-political and cultural issues
- Spiritual issues
A great majority of these people had served on missions (73% of the men), and held callings as bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, Relief Society presidents, Primary and Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and Elder’s and High Priest Quorum leaders. To accuse them of being offended ignorant lazy anti-Mormon sinners or dismiss them as being weak is uncharitable and hurtful. In the October 2013 General Conference of the Church, President Dieter Uchdorf cautioned members;
Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.
He further acknowledged that “there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.” If a Mormon General Authority can extend understanding and compassion to disaffected and former Mormons, it affirms that it’s time for “rank and file” members to cease stereotyping them and consider the prospect that people can leave Mormonism for significant reasons.