Exit, Voice, and Change

One sometimes hears calls among Mormons of a certain stripe for faithful believers to extend more love and acceptance to people who leave Mormonism. I am well aware of this discourse for the very good reason that I have on more than a couple of occasions initiated such discussions. Yet on further reflection it seems to me that this message has potential dangers for Mormonism as a community that are at least worth thinking through.

The basic point is about barriers to exit. How easy is it, in psychological, emotional, and social terms, to leave the church? The easier it is, the more often people who doubt, are uncomfortable in social terms, dissent from specific doctrines or practices, or in general terms don’t fit with contemporary Mormon culture will leave. It’s a simple cost-benefit question: if the costs go down and the benefits stay constant, more people will make the calculation that leaving is the right decision.

What this means for Mormonism as a community is this: it will become less internally diverse. People who don’t fit well with the current configuration of things will just leave, so the remaining group of Mormons will be the set of people who like the current configuration. Some people, of course, think that our group has already arrived at this destination — Mormons are already, on this account, highly uniform. Of course, this isn’t true, and there is a lot of diversity in our tribe that could in theory be lost. Imagine a church in which, to pick an example, only strict McConkie Mormons remain; although it can be fun to rhetorically exaggerate by claiming that we live in that church now, it would certainly be different from what we face.

To some extent, the pattern I describe can be seen in the church in Latin America (for example), where the social and economic costs of exit from Mormonism are zero to negative for most members — i.e., if anything they would gain by leaving. This is because most of them have few close friends or family members who are Mormon, no emotional attachment to the tradition beyond their religious convictions, and only a weak connection with what is usually a relatively fragile ward or branch community. On the other hand, they live in a society that strongly legitimates Catholic and increasingly Protestant religious identities, usually have extensive networks of friends and family members who affiliate with these faiths, and may even gain professional or other economic advantages by conforming to the dominant religious culture. With this incentive system in place, most people who are Mormon at any point in their lives eventually leave. The church to some extent comes to be dominated by (roughly and with some rhetorical exaggeration) two groups: recent converts, or church employees and their relatives. There is limited diversity in terms of ways of being Mormon in such a community.

Such limited diversity, due to easy and socially painless exit, can be theorized to have a perhaps somewhat contradictory effect if it becomes general in the U.S. core of the church: it may well bind the church to its contemporary beliefs, organization, and practices. After all, any significant change would make the church a less tight fit for the beliefs and preferences of the very uniform remaining group of members. Furthermore, because the social and economic costs of exit would (by hypothesis) be very low, such members would have little difficulty in leaving themselves and, perhaps, establishing a parallel church that removed the objected-to change. So, in this scenario, the church would be forced to remain pretty much how it is now — in theological but also organizational, programmatic, and cultural terms — or perish.

But of course remaining static in these various ways isn’t a viable long-term solution, as newer generations will need gradual change in order for the church to continue to serve their needs and interact successfully with the broader social environment, just as has always been the case. So paralysis of this sort could well be an intergenerational death sentence for the LDS church.

But what of the broader, non-LDS-church-related group of Mormons? Would they not prosper if the LDS church were weakened in this way? I don’t think there would be much of a Mormon community if the LDS church itself fell apart. Unlike Catholicism or especially Judaism, Mormonism doesn’t have millenia of tradition to tie people together as a community. We don’t have a great literature, a profound shared history, a unique cultural location in the world. We’re tied together almost entirely by the church as an organization — through membership in it, rejection of it, or ambiguity toward it. It’s the shared reference point; without it, we would lack a point of unity and would simply disperse.

These arguments are related to Armand Mauss’s Angel and the Beehive argument about tension with the broader society, although I think his argument is a little bit different and probably applies more to another set of issues. His tensions are really about barriers to entry, which are probably important as a motive for converts but aren’t as important for people who are already members. What matters for current members are barriers to exit — the costs of leaving, which are partly theological in the way he discusses but are probably mostly social and cultural. It’s the shunning, loss of family, and so forth that make it hard to leave, and therefore keep Mormonism internally diverse and capable of change over time.

A beautiful, useful short book that may be worth reading to think about how preventing exit can enhance change within an organization is Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. In a series of useful passage, Hirschman, talking about the choice between ending a market relationship with a company (exit) and complaining to management about problems (voice) argues:

…the role of voice would increase as the opportunities for exit decline, up to the point where, with exit wholly unavailable, voice must carry the entire burden of alerting management to its failings. (pg. 34) …The presence of the exit alternative can therefore tend to atrophy the development of the art of voice. (pg. 43)

This destruction of voice when exit is unavailable can be deeply unfortunate because “the possible discovery of lower cost and greater effectiveness [in production or service] is of the very essence of voice” (pg. 43). Thus, when exit is too easy, an organization can fail to discover or implement changes that would benefit everyone.

Of course, this argument is based on the Mormon community. It is about what most enhances diversity among Mormons, and about what is best for Mormonism as a collective in the long term. What is best for Mormonism as a community is not necessarily the sum of what is best for each individual within Mormonism. For marginal or poorly-fitting individual Mormons, a graceful and painless exit from the community may well be individually best. But if that individual best is turned into a general social norm, it would certainly devastate the internal diversity of the community, and may well have long-term consequences for the health and even survival of Mormonism. This obviously does not imply that we should not seek the best for each individual — just that we ought to think about the costs as well as the benefits of an individual focus.


  1. Excellent, JNS. Not much to add, though.

  2. I realized a long time ago that the only way certain things would change would be if people like me stuck around – not that having a testimony amounted to nothing. But what about when the ones that could make a difference with their voices have become afraid to use them? What about when using your voice has the potential to get you a forced exit?

  3. StillConfused says:

    What I love about Judaism, and why I seem to relate better to it as a faith, is that there is not one Jewish faith — you can be Orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, kosher, non-kosher etc. So you can still be Jewish even if you like bacon. In the LDS faith, it is designed to not permit such diversity. Everyone is expected to live by a certain set of rules, and if you do not, you are a Bad Mormon or a Jack Mormon. If that is the design, then that is fine, just understand that such design will not work for people who don’t fit neatly into the mandated box.

    Plus do you really want to have a religion where people stay in because it is too hard to get out? That doesn’t strike me as overly healthy.

  4. you don't know me says:

    I am not sure that someone whose decision about staying or going is primarily based on cultural consequenses would have a great deal of positive influence on diversity in the church. I can understand leaving because you no longer have a testimony and I can understand staying anyway because of what it would do to your family or even your job if you left. I do not want someone who does not believe to alter my religion so he or she can be comfortable with it. On the other hand, if you still have a testimony and only disagree with the way some of the doctrinal principles are practiced, I can not imagine leaving just because no one really cares if you do or don’t.

  5. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    corktree, I think that even silent or very quiet diversity counts for something. Every person in the community is a voice that could be heard under the right circumstances.

    StillConfused, every community has some people at the margin who stay because of the costs of exit; I don’t think that distinguishes. But the number who are deterred from leaving at least partly for that reason is important — Person A is pretty comfortable in Mormonism because she knows that Person B (who is more radical in several ways) is trying to make Mormonism work for her. So if Person B left, Person A would be less comfortable and more likely to consider leaving. And so forth.

    you don’t know me, the testimony issue is one that I’ve made implicit in the main post, deliberately. One reason is that everybody has a testimony of some things and not others. The testimony, or the aspects of it that exist, play a role as one source of costs of exit. People who believe some things and not others — which is most Mormons — include the people who leave the church as it is today, and also the people who serve inside it. So these people are the relevant decision-makers. They may leave because of the costs to them of the things they don’t fully like or believe, or they may stay because of the things they do believe and the social supports which reinforce them. But the church’s research shows that most people who stay active do so in significant part because of social factors — hence the refrain that everybody needs a friend and a calling, as well as a testimony.

  6. Does any research show how many LEAVE because of social factors? I’m not trying to be antagonistic – I’m really curious – because much of the time lately I wish I could worship elsewhere or more anonymously but still within the doctrines of the church.

  7. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    corktree, my understanding is that the church’s proprietary research shows that a high percentage of people who leave do so at least in part for social reasons. This gets reflected (probably inadequately) in GA talks about people leaving because they “took offense,” as well as in the emphasis on social incorporation for new converts and reactivated people.

  8. TaterTot says:

    I think it’s interesting to think of the church as a giant pendulum. As the pendulum swings one way on different political/social/cultural issues, some of the people on the opposite side fall off. The problem is that if they all fall off, the pendulum gets stuck. Sometimes I feel like I hang on and just wait for the pendulum to swing the other way.

  9. TaterTot says:

    I think I got that pendulum idea from Armand Mauss.

  10. JNS:

    This is very thoughtful and well presented as always. This is an area that I struggle in, and I think I could use something even more fundamental. What I am getting at is – what is the value of diversity in a group that is seeking a Zion like unity? What of statements like – If ye are not one ye are not mine? If the Godhead represents a perfect soically united group, should we not emulate such a group?

    I am not trying to criticize what you have put out here. Just trying to find some insight into the relative values of unity and diversity.

  11. Kristine says:

    Eric, unity does not equal uniformity, and therefore diversity is not necessarily in conflict with unity, and it’s not very sensible to talk about their “relative worth”. It’s pretty clear that the kind of unity described in the scriptures is one that includes and embraces all kinds of diversity, rather than eliminating it.

  12. What’s the deal with McConkie as the whipping post? How about we imagine a religion where only Jesus’s remained?

    He’d always be barging into Relief Society and tipping over their table with the nice lace and flowers.

    Or Peters?

    Tell the high priests to cover their ears!

    Or Pauls

    Say good buy to our good standing with the National Organization for Women… oh, ya, right…oops.

    Or Nephis?

    Really, what would we do if everytime the Bishop decapitated someone, his response to the outrage, was, “Well, better that than the entire ward dwindle in unbelief…”

    I like the post except for the random, uncharitable stab at an Apostle, and apparently those who are grateful for him?

  13. Kristine says:

    Chris, if there was an uncharitable stab, it’s only in your mind. And I don’t think the example is random. JNS probably used McConkie as an example because his interpretation of Mormonism has influenced (or maybe created) the dominant strain of Mormon thought in the late 20th/early 21st century. There’s not really anybody else whose influence is so apparent, so it stands to reason that he would be chosen as an example in this case.

  14. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Eric, I think Kristine’s response is in line with my thinking. Christian unity is the kind of unity in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). While it’s anyone’s gamble what Paul meant when he said that, Mormons certainly don’t read that as meaning that Christians stop being male and female — instead it means that both males and females are present in Christian unity and fellowship. Diversity is a key component of this kind of unity; if the body of Christ only involved men, then Paul’s statement would be wrong, because there would be male and male alone.

    chris, no attack on McConkie is remotely intended. The post’s point is quite the opposite: if we had no McConkie Mormons, we’d also be less diverse than we are today. Kristine is right that McConkie was the example because his views are pretty much hegemonic in Mormonism right now, so people who would make the counterargument that Mormonism has already eliminated all diversity would pretty much have to be claiming that all Mormons are McConkie Mormons. It’s no objection to McConkie’s fans to point out that there are obviously people in Mormonism today who don’t really think along his lines of vision.

  15. J,

    I get the argument that diversity that exits will only homogenize the body further. That point is well taken. But you start the post with the idea that there are “potential dangers” in “extend[ing] more love and acceptance to people who leave Mormonism”. Huh? So basically you are saying that because it would hurt the body for someone to exit, the solution is to make it (keep it) painful to exit? This is a better solution than asking the body to be more accepting to diversity *before* it reaches the exit point?

    Please explain, because I know you to be way cooler than that.

  16. JNS,
    I feel some struggle to make a comment on this post, since we talked about it earlier ahead of time, but I want to reiterate how much I like this theory. Great post.

  17. JNS, when you speak of the costs of leaving Mormonism, what type of leaving do you mean? Do you mean becoming disengaged from the Church (i.e., “inactive” or “less active”), or do you mean disaffiliation (by resignation, joining another church, or excommunication for apostasy)”?

  18. I highly doubt we are anything like a McConkie Church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, as with all his family, were/are Democrats, and we know that most Mormons are Republicans.

    I don’t think Mormons could easily exist without the religious stuff. As you mentioned, we do not have millennia of history to bind us. But we also do not have a very strong culture, either. Our lay bishoprics that are retired after 5 years means that we get a new environment frequently in a short period of time. Rabbis and Catholic Priests are forever, or until death, and bind their communities close to them for decades.

    Mormons also suffer from severe multi-ethnicity issues. Catholics come in a few primary flavors: Italian, Irish, etc. Jews come in very few ethnic types. These tend to bind the groups closer together in communities across the world.

    Meanwhile, Salt Lake City, our closest and best attempt, is multi-national and multi-cultural. There isn’t one dominant culture to speak of. Except for July 24th, there aren’t major LDS festivals that make us unique. We don’t have local saints’s birthdays to celebrate, or high holidays. The closest we get is when the ward sets up a temple trip together. One can celebrate holy birthdays and events as a reformed Jew, but a “reformed” Mormon cannot go inside to do temple work.

    Since we circle our wagons around temples and the Prophet, we don’t have any cultural events to bind us together that are also not extremely religious in nature. The lapsed Catholics can at least get together weekly for Bingo.

  19. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Clay, I’m not arguing solutions here — I agree that a perfect-world solution would be for the community to be flexible and willing to embrace and celebrate diversity.

    The post is really intended in more of a social science theory mode. I’m taking for granted the current configuration of our community, in which some people and perspectives are more central than others. Given that situation, the argument is that making exit easier and less painful probably would have unintended consequences, i.e., making the remaining community less flexible, less inclusive, and less capable of future self-reproduction.

    This doesn’t mean that we should therefore hurt people who leave. What I’m pointing to is a trade-off between two things that I value — care and acceptance for people who find themselves at the margins of our community, and the community’s flexibility and diversity.

  20. A meaty, thoughtful post, JNS; many thanks for it.

    The basic point is about barriers to exit. How easy is it, in psychological, emotional, and social terms, to leave the church? The easier it is, the more often people who doubt, are uncomfortable in social terms, dissent from specific doctrines or practices, or in general terms don’t fit with contemporary Mormon culture will leave. It’s a simple cost-benefit question: if the costs go down and the benefits stay constant, more people will make the calculation that leaving is the right decision….[T]he remaining group of Mormons will be the set of people who like the current configuration. Some people, of course, think that our group has already arrived at this destination — Mormons are already, on this account, highly uniform. Of course, this isn’t true, and there is a lot of diversity in our tribe that could in theory be lost.

    You are, of course, talking about only one–and often neglected–element of the larger dynamic, which is how exit can potentially appeal to those already within the church. But I think addressing that one element, in the way you do, misses other, more important parts of the dynamic. I’ve argued that the sort of tightening of Mormon identity which we’ve arguably seen over the past 30-40 years–Mauss’s “retrenchment”–can be perceived as a response to the decaying of the moral (and, more often than not, religious) presumptions that shaped the otherwise perceived free choices within the community. In your own language, one might argue that Mormonism, for the bulk of the 20th-century, was able to “outsource” some of the barriers to exit to the surrounding civic and social culture (being a conservative, law-abiding monogamist Mormon always involves costs, but if those costs are replicated throughout the dominant community environment anyway, then why not stick with being Mormon?). With the loosening up of surrounding community mores, Mormonism finds itself needing to build up its own barriers. Making sure exit remains costly, in other words, emerges as important active concern on the part of those who don’t want to exit, but merely to define those who stay.

  21. Kristine/JNS:

    How absolute should one be about ‘all kinds of diversity’. What I am getting at is – all kinds of doctrine? All kinds of behaviors? All kinds of practice? All worshiped Gods? Certainly there are some boundaries of diversity that must be embraced. Isn’t there? It seems that either end of this specrum is wrong – embracing all diversity and/or embracing none.

  22. I think on an abstract level, that yes, ease of exit could have a long term effect of less diversity of thought, however on the practical level I have a couple of thoughts:
    First, no matter how kind I am to a person leaving The Church of JCOLDS, I’m sure there will still be many who shun them for their choice. So on this level I think I’m safe to practice a Christ-like love and acceptance of people who leave the church since there will be plenty who make up for it by causing pain to the person leaving.
    Second, your contrast of the Latin-nation mormon communities is an interesting one, but it might not be comparing apples to apples. Having spent two years in a South American country, and having worked for two years before that with Mexicans in construction, and having since worked for another year in a company where I am the only non-Mexican (literally), I know a thing or two about Latins. And while I’m not going to say anything positive or negative about them in general, I will simply say that they have a different culture than the Anglo-saxon-cowboy-American one that we have. And while I don’t know if this accounts for differences in life-activity in the church, I don’t know that it doesn’t either.

  23. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    DavidH, the kind of exit that I have in mind in the post is inclusive: disengagement or disaffiliation would count as subtypes. Obviously, disengagement (or sometimes a kind of disengagement-plus, which combines inactivity with participation at some level in another religious tradition) is the majoritarian exit route for contemporary Mormons.

    Rameumptom, I think I largely agree with your thoughts, and would point you toward a great recent BCC post by Scott that elaborates on these themes.

    Russell, I like your point about the relevance of changes in the broader society. Certainly a cost-benefit analysis (which I’m sure you’d regard as a crude analytic tool, and I pretty much agree — but it can sometimes be a useful simplification that clarifies a tricky theme, as I hope was the case here) requires attention to opportunity costs, i.e., whatever the relative benefits are of not being Mormon.

    I also agree that the degree to which there are costs of exit is important for faithful Mormon self-definition and other kinds of intra-community politics. My argument suggests an all-good-things-don’t-go-together aspect to the role of barriers to exit in intra-Mormon contests, though. Most of the people whose identities are invested in the maintenance of high barriers to exit would probably also articulate a preference for a low level of diversity of styles of belief (just as many Mormons who prefer diversity within the community also prefer low barriers to exit). But causally, these preferences may involve a trade-off.

  24. considering an exit says:

    Another element of barriers to exit is the relative cost of staying in. As the increasingly polarized hegemons within the Mormon church enter the world of politics, I find myself increasingly denying my own connection to the Church. Although I can confirm that the barrier to exit kept me more active when I was in Utah, where cultural pressure was higher, I cannot think of anything that could be done where I am now to raise that barrier. The incentives to leave could be knocked down with a more accepting culture where I live, but the people I meet outside of my culture are not concerned with how supportive my local community is, merely what their perception of national Mormonism is. This perception is growing persistently worse among those I associate with, which is lowering my barriers to exit.

    Thanks for the theory, JSN. I enjoyed the post.

  25. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Eric, an interesting question. I don’t have any interesting thoughts in response to it, though, really. My argument here is that diversity goes up as costs of exit go up, and also the reverse. I don’t posit an optimal level of diversity, but I’d pragmatically want to agree with you that absolute diversity wouldn’t work.

    152, the Latin American illustration isn’t meant as a rigorous piece of empirical causal inference, but rather as an illustration of a theoretical ideal type. I agree that people in Latin America have cultures that are very different from any U.S. culture. Many Latin American cultures are hugely different from Mexico’s various cultures, and I would reject a generalization that accounted for church activity rates in terms of an imaginary shared “Latin” culture; what’s really there is a giant diversity of cultures.

  26. I’m not completely convinced. It seems to me that the high barriers to exit cause a fair amount of resentment and result in unnecessary festering. I think if people could come and go a little more easily, some of those with diverse views might be able to contribute more positively, since they wouldn’t be so fearful and could take a break when they simply couldn’t handle it anymore. Plus, many of the disaffected still value so much in the church that they may be more likely to come back if they realized they could easily leave again.

    On the other hand, a bunch of contrarians coming and going at will wouldn’t contribute to the overall unity.

  27. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Martin, interesting points. I think people do take a break when they need to by going temporarily inactive — I have a lot of friends who’ve taken church “sabbaticals.” I also know a large number of people who would love to be in a tradition that fit them better, but are staying because of the costs of leaving.

    Regarding the festering hypothesis, this strikes me as plausible. It’s probably a reason why many voices within Mormonism aren’t heard. But, as I said in an earlier comment, current “festering” voices might be heard in the right moment, after the right changes. But if they’re gone rather than festering, they can’t be heard when the change comes — and indeed the change is less likely to come if it has no constituency (even a quiet constituency counts more than a vacuum, no?).

  28. “Easy come; easy go.”

    I agree, JNS, with your main point.

    All I can add is that my favorite General Converence talk of the last decade (if not all time) was Elder Wirthlin’s “Concern for the One”. I don’t want an orchestra of just piccolos; I want all the instruments playing side-by-side, since I believe the full Gospel can be heard only in the harmonies that combine to make the music. If the kazoos leave, the cymbals and trumpets might leave also – and that would be a terrible shame.

    I think we ought to make it almost impossible for those who are in the LDS Church to leave because we truly value their contribution to the orchestra in which we play – even if their tuba sounds radically different than our saxophone (or the shrilly dominant piccolos) when played in isolation. I think if we truly loved and valued each other for who we each are, even if our views on specific issues varied, far fewer would leave – not because of painful barriers they had to surmount but rather because of all they would lose by walking away.

    So, yes, it should be hard to leave Mormonism – but not in the way and for the reason that it currently is for many.

  29. #27 – Amen to the idea that change is hard in a homogenous group. We need diversity if we value change.

  30. If leaving includes disengagement–inactivity–I don’t think the costs are very high. Of course I may think that because all my adult life I have lived in areas where about 60% of those on the rolls are disengaged (not attending any meetings at all). If our ward rolls included those living in the ward whose records were address unknown, I am sure the disengaged membership percentage would be much higher. My wards are outside the norms in the U.S., I am sure. But certainly, among young single adults, disengagement throughout the Church is quite high.

    Those I know who have dropped out of activity (but still self-identify as Mormon) don’t seem to consider the costs of disengagement as high. They get a “raise” in income of 1/9, they get to eat on Fast Sunday, feel a lot less guilt on Sundays, and the like. Unlike members who defect to another faith, disengaged members do not seem to suffer much opprobrium from participating members, who often treat less active members quite well in the hope that they will return to activity.

  31. This is an interesting post, but I’m not sure I agree with some of the assumptions that seem to be coming through.

    Given that situation, the argument is that making exit easier and less painful probably would have unintended consequences, i.e., making the remaining community less flexible, less inclusive, and less capable of future self-reproduction.

    To me it seems that true charity would actually decrease inflexibility within the community and simply be about respecting individuals and their agency, while being unapologetic for standards and boundaries that exist. I think sometimes there is a conflation of the idea of love and the notion of accepting or condoning behavior or choices. I think true love as Christ shows includes a balance of love and law, an open door and open arms and open heart all while holding to the expectations the Lord has set for being in the covenant and enjoying the fullest measure of the blessings of the Atonement that are possible through the covenants and ordinances and commandments.

    Also, the assertion that the “the remaining community [would be] less flexible, less inclusive, and less capable of future self-reproduction” only assumes that everyone will perceive the Church in the same light. But reality is that there are always different perceptions of the same thing. The Church can be viewed either through a negative lens (e.g., “the Church is inflexible”) or through a positive lens (e.g., “the Church is anchored”).

    This brings up another thought I had, piggybacking off of something said above.

    Making sure exit remains costly, in other words, emerges as important active concern on the part of those who don’t want to exit, but merely to define those who stay.

    I think something else that holding to boundaries and expectations not only defines those who stay, but also will appeal to a group of people who are searching for something more constant in a world of shifting values. So even sociologically, there may be a cost in one direction as people may choose to exit, but also may present a benefit for the Church and for people who may be drawn to the Church. The hard truth is that we will never be able to be everything to everyone, and it would be folly to try to be.

    I think there is a real tension in all of this — I’m not advocating unkind treatment of those who want to leave. The Savior did not stop caring or reaching out to those outcast in His community, but sometimes that reaching out came as much in invitations to repent as anything. I think the more we as members realize and talk about how the Church is a place for people to work through the messiness of mortality, the more I think we can all be helped with the gap between the ideal and the messy reality of our lives.

    But — and this is a big but to me — the challenge comes when the expectation is that the Church will or should change drastically in terms of laws, commandments, standards, etc. in order for people to feel more loved and accepted. The Savior was not apologetic for the commandments, and simply continually reached out while inviting people to come to Him, to repent, to be obedient, to avoid sin. I don’t think we can expect laws to change (or apologize for the standards we have), but I think we can always continue to seek for ways to reach out better and to be honest with each other that we are all “different” from the ideal in many ways.

  32. This is a thoughtful post and there is a lot here to think about. Coming late to the conversation, most of my thoughts have been articulated well (and responded to in kind) by others. I did want to take the time to thank you for the post though, JNS.

    Rameumpton (#18), BRM was a Republican, though you are right that his father and several of his family members were prominent Democrats.

  33. Fascinating post and discussion, though the culture of which you speak that is hard to leave may be limited to certain US geographies where there is a high concentration of membership. You allude to this with a discussion of Latin American, but the same may be true in less-Mormon dominated areas of the US, as well.

    I suppose the counter question is also valid: are there ways to make continued association more attractive (as opposed to making exit less attractive) that do not detract from the core spiritual requirements of membership. The brethren seem to ebb and flow on this separation of culture from doctrine, especially when considering sending the gospel to new parts of the world.

  34. I also know a large number of people who would love to be in a tradition that fit them better, but are staying because of the costs of leaving.

    Oh! That’s me! Hi J! I’ve missed you. Love to Taryn and the girls. I need pictures.

    I’m a crappy Mormon. I might make a decent Christian, but with formal affiliation with another religious group now a possible definition of apostasy, I risk my membership just by joining up with the local Methodists or Catholics or Disciples of Christ or Unitarians. Maintaining my formal membership matters a great deal to me. Just because I hate going to church and it makes me suicidal doesn’t mean I want to surrender my faint hope of an eternal marriage, after all.

    Re: the concept of Voice: they don’t care what we think.

  35. JNS — from your comments, I gather that you aren’t suggesting that members be unkind to those who have left the church, they shouldn’t shun (or divorce) a non-believer in the family.

    So, what — in practical terms — are you suggesting that members do to make exit difficult for others?

    If you’re talking about a disaffected/disaffiliated adult, there’s not much you can (ethically/legally) do to that person’s life besides change your own relationship with that person. And making it clear that your relationship is dependent on both parties’ church membership/activity, perversely, doesn’t make church more appealing.

  36. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Ann, I agree that voice in the Mormon context is limited — you’re right that nobody seems to care what anybody in Mormonism thinks about much of anything. But there’s another important context in which it’s still valid; in the future, church leaders will eventually realize (or have revelations or what have you) that the community needs to change in one way or another. Discontented Mormons are an important resource in that change — they reduce the opportunity costs of change for the organization because (while some Mormons will no doubt become less contented in the aftermath of any change) some of the previously discontented will now be much more enthusiastic and experience a better fit with the church and the community. (Actually, this is more Hirschman’s third category, loyalty. Still important for organizations’ capacity to change.) Voice also matters even when it isn’t taken seriously because it nonetheless provides leaders with an inescapable measure of the degree of discomfort currently existing within the community.

    chanson, this isn’t really the kind of post where I’m urging people to do anything. It’s instead a sort of social science exercise in thinking through unintended consequences. Realistically, the major things that the church could do to lower costs of exit from where they are now would involve (a) theological change, removing the emphasis on how people who leave are jeopardizing their eternal state and family connections in the next world, and (b) reduction of uncertainty, by establishing a clear set of expectations for how the organization and members will treat people in the process of (or after) disaffiliation. These changes would no doubt make things much better for many members (hi, Ann!), but might also have negative consequences as discussed above.

    More centrally, it seems to me that there may be tension between the goals of reducing the pain involved in processes of disaffection (a goal I think is good in itself) and having a diverse Mormon community that is capable of eventually addressing existing inequities and adapting in cultural and religious terms to have a positive and transformative effect on the world in general (a goal that I think is also good, and at least comparably important with the first).

    But, yeah, I don’t advocate divorce or cruelty, unless the target is Brad Kramer, who deserves what he gets. (Hi, Brad!)

  37. Leaving the Church is akin to divorce. When society makes divorce difficult and frowns upon it, there are fewer divorces. When divorce is made easy and acceptable, many more go through that door.
    However, there is a drawback. In making divorce more plentiful, it diminishes marriage. Where people once made lifetime commitments to one another, we have people not thinking twice about being unfaithful, or leaving when they get bored.
    Is divorce needed in society? Of course. Occasionally there will be a need to separate an abused wife from her abusive husband. But should we make divorce easy to attain in all situations?
    The same with Church membership. We should have an easy way for people to leave when there is a need, but also make it hard under other circumstances. Otherwise, membership in the Church becomes meaningless, as people can easily become serial polygamists in our society today.

  38. Sanford says:

    … in the future, church leaders will eventually realize (or have revelations or what have you)…

    JNS – you crack me up. Thanks for the post and follow up.

  39. Kristine says:

    Rameumptom, with respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Divorce is plenty difficult still.

  40. Amen, Kristine.

  41. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Leaving the church is really more like writing poetry while swimming through an ocean of sharks, simultaneously buoyed up and weighted down by the music of Mahler and your memories of that one perfect spring morning with your teenage boy- or girlfriend, when suddenly a UFO appears.

  42. Ann,
    I’m no psychiatrist and I’m only a part-time theologian, so please understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about. If the church is making you suicidal, leave. Seriously. I have real doubts that God is asking you (or most anybody) to make the Abrahamic choice of devotion or death.

    I say this as someone who likes you and who thinks the Church is a good. If it is making you suicidal, stop going. God will understand.

  43. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    m&m, I missed your comment. Certainly it’s reasonable to say “anchored” instead of “inflexible.” Either way, the point is the same — if the church is too anchored/inflexible it will probably eventually break down, because it historically changes quite a lot over time in order to keep meeting the needs of its members and interacting successfully with the broader society.

  44. JNS,
    Like others here, I’m a little off-put by the idea that standing in front of the door, not-quite-barring exit is the best way to get girls to like me. Did I say girls? I meant frustrated church members.
    You mentioned above that you have advocated a friendlier exit/non-exit strategy in the past. It’s pretty clear that your primary concern here is diversity within the group who call themselves Mormons. Help me see your point in a way that seems less like a trick and more like something that could result in something more positive.

  45. I just reread that and realized it might seem a like I’m just being sarcastic. Sorry. I’m honestly curious, but I’m getting caught up on the means to the end of broadening the tent.

  46. if the church is too anchored/inflexible it will probably eventually break down

    Hm, I’m not so sure I’d agree, although I can see why you might think that.

    But maybe we are talking about different things…I think a church can be grounded and flexible on the things that are not constants. Policies can change, doctrine does not. The trick may be discerning which is which, but I think there will always be a group for whom the churhc is appealing because of its consistency in doctrine, just as others may grow weary of it, thinking it somehow off.

  47. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    blt, I’ve got no means here — this isn’t a policy post.

    There’s really no trick involved. If you don’t want people to leave, you have to make staying more attractive than leaving. So there are two variables, the benefits of being in and the costs of leaving. I’d love to fix this by raising the benefits of being in for everybody — that’s my preferred policy. But my point is that, given the current overall situation, an intervention that only lowered costs of exit and didn’t more than compensate by raising benefits of being in the community would deplete diversity.

    Anyway, this really isn’t unique to Mormonism. Pretty much every organization either has people in it who are unhappy but stay because of costs of leaving, or is fragile and will have difficulty changing over time. To a certain way of thinking, staying while being unhappy is a tragedy in itself. I don’t buy that, really.

  48. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    m&m, fair enough — but the church changes things that used to be doctrine on a regular historical basis. What’s doctrine isn’t a permanent category, and it isn’t a point of consistency really.

  49. Kristine says:

    “Policies can change, doctrine does not.”

    I can see why you might think that…

  50. JNS,
    I can buy that. Thanks.

  51. m&m,
    Rocky IV trumps your doctrinal consistency:
    “If I can change, you can change, everybody can change!”

  52. MikeInWeHo says:

    This is an interesting post, J. I’m not sure I agree with your assertion though. Let’s look at the evidence.

    The Mormon church has rather high barriers to entry and exit. To get in, most have to significantly change their lifestyle. (Heck, some of us would have to change our very sexual orientation!) Once in, orthopraxis reigns supreme. If you leave, you may lose close friends and even family. From the outside, it looks very self-contained and homogenous. It’s not as extreme as the Amish, but it’s still striking. Maybe it’s different in South America, but even there aren’t people quick to point out how the Church is “exactly the same everywhere!” ??

    Contrast this with the Evangelical subculture. They make it very, very easy to get into the community. “Accept Christ” and in most cases you’re good to go. They’re much less rigid in terms of requiring specific sacraments, and there’s no equivalent of the WoW. You can wear a polo shirt and jeans to church on Sunday and nobody bats an eye. Evangelicals move from congregation to congregation with relative ease as their needs change. Tired of the boring hymns at First Baptist? Try Megajumbo Community Church down the road. They have a latte stand in the lobby.

    At the end of the day, where do we actually see more diversity? If you want more diversity within Mormonism, the culture would have to become more like that of Evangelicalism. It really doesn’t have much to do with doctrine, imo. An LDS congregation could, hypothetically, look very different in terms of dress/behaviors/music/political views without changing one iota of doctrine.

    Imagine this: 1st Casual Ward of Provo. All doctrines and moral standards are identical, but members can choose to attend this ward instead of their assigned one. No business suits allowed. It’s understood that certain issues are very private and between a member, Heavenly Father, and the Bishop. No risk of excommunication except for those who publicly oppose the Church’s standards. The WoW is interpreted more liberally and without judgement.

    How do you think this ward would compare in terms of activity rates, retention, and diversity?

  53. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Mike, barriers to entry are a whole other thing, and I agree with you that lowering them would make Mormonism more diverse. On the Evangelicalism thing, well, that’s a different point and one I’d interpret quite differently. I think you probably find more religious diversity within an average Mormon ward than within an average Evangelical congregation — the movement as a whole is diverse, to be sure, but also atomized such that each actual religious organization tends to be very homogeneous and organizationally fragile.

  54. MikeInWeHo says:

    I don’t disagree with you J., although some big Evangelical churches are quite diverse and stable. Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago is practically a franchise system at this point. Ditto Saddleback Church here in SoCal. Hardly homogenous and organizationally fragile!



  55. The Mormon church has rather high barriers to entry and exit. To get in, most have to significantly change their lifestyle.

    Mike, I don’t think it’s the focus of this post, but I completely disagree with this. While the requirements for baptism do in fact necessitate making many potentially difficult changes, the fact is, the changes only need to last about 72 hours to make it to baptism.

    Entry requires only that an investigator goes to sacrament meeting twice and then convinces a baptism-hungry missionary that they are willing to keep the commandments for the rest of their lives. Given the high rate of reneging on this promise, it doesn’t seem that this convincing is very difficult.

  56. Kristine, how is it you can say, “with respect” and “you don’t know what you are talking about” in the same sentence? I don’t think you are sincere.

    Divorce IS much easier today than ever before. Now that may differ from state to state. I was divorced in 1982, and it was rather simple back then. At least the legal portion of it was simple.

    The consequences of divorce can be difficult, but the divorce itself is fairly easy to obtain. And the consequences of leaving the Church can also be difficult. If we make it too easy to leave, then more will feel the effects of the consequences.

    About 15 years ago, BYU had the problem of students running down to Nevada on a weekend. They would marry, have a “honeymoon” and get divorced all in one weekend. It only ended when the Church told them it was still a “no-no” and violated the law of chastity. But it shows how simple divorce can be, and how it can cheapen marriage by making it too easy to get out.

  57. Bogolubov says:

    What I find quite telling after reading most of the comments is that there isn’t a single person represented who made such a decision, much less anyone who made the decision when the costs far outweighed the benefits. What is grossly insulting is insisting on talking about a highly personal decision with all of the clinical detachment of asking someone to set the marginal cost equal to the average cost and solve for q. Such a gross simplification insults the complexity of the problem in the same way that claiming a Nash equilibrium exists without realizing its solution is an NP problem. Or, to use another completely useless analogy, it’s like insisting that the first two terms of the Taylor series expansion of e^(-500) should give a rough approximation to the true value. But never mind.

    Although this isn’t the appropriate forum to discuss all of the reasons associated with my particular choice, let me at least try to give one example related to the problem of community and trying to find one’s place within it.

    Previously my discomfort associated with the gross overrepresentation of lawyers, CEO’s, political staffers, FBI and CIA agents coupled with the dearth of highly artistic, intellectual or scientific types was nearly bearable. Recent years have shown that attitudes have shifted from merely accepting someone like Glenn Beck to openly and actively embracing someone of his ideological background.

    To put the problem back in financial terms , a significant portion of the church community has become riddled with people who sell – and buy – ostentatious knife sets, home alarm systems, pest control and World Marketing Alliance products (both literally as well as their intellectual counterparts). Instead of framing the problem in terms of barrier to exit, consider it a sales problem. How would you sell your product to the skeptical buyer and then expect the buyer to continue to subscribe to your product?

    I find it intellectual laziness to pose such a question without the slightest hint of a solution. So I ask in all sincerity, give me your best elevator sell/speech. Why should I buy your product? Before you answer, bear in mind my own particular requirement that is symbolic of most others – I should be able to read Bruce R. McConkie’s “Science and Religion” entry in Mormon Doctrine and be able to call him a complete idiot. Who I’m quite sure meant well.

  58. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Boglubov, of course you’re wrong that the comments don’t contain people who’ve made the decisions in question. There are several — you haven’t read very well. I have close personal connections with lots of people who’ve been through the process. It’s unfortunate that you’re offended by analysis rather than, I guess, advocacy, but such is life I suppose.

    What’s the product I’m meant to sell you? How is it lazy to do the intellectual thing and analyze causal structures rather than engage in apologetics?

  59. Coherence fail

  60. Bogolubov says:

    Fair enough. Clearly it isn’t lazy to analyze causal structures, but I don’t believe there’s one post that states very explicitly “Because of policy or event A, my response was B”. Perhaps my impatient and rash decision to label such musings as lazy is because no one has identified the effects of barrier to entry as a real problem to be worked on – only one that might exist in some hypothetical vacuum. But even if it is a problem, it’s most likely not one amenable to influence from an average member.

    Forget the sell – what I meant was try and convince me using a cost/benefit analysis why I should overcome my discomfort and still remain in a community that is increasingly foreign to me.

  61. Norbert says:

    You had me at ‘solve for q.’

  62. Aaron Brown says:

    “Or, to use another completely useless analogy…”

    Don’t sell yourself short, Bogolubov. Since first reading JNS’ post, I haven’t been able to think about anything but Nash equilibria and Taylor series expansions.

  63. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Bogolubov, I agree that barriers to exit probably aren’t easy for rank-and-file individuals to change, although as a group we have huge effects on this.

    Regarding why you should stay or not… Look, if you care about Mormonism being diverse and changing to be more what you think it should be, then it’s important to realize that leaving removes a pressure in that direction. If you don’t care about those things regarding Mormonism, then I don’t see why you’d want to stay. I want you to stay because I want Mormons who are unusual — because lots of such Mormons is the way that Mormonism changes over time. So things that make it easier for you to leave are at least problematic for me, and at most bad.

  64. Bogolubov says:

    I want to thank you for your thoughtful response, but the question for me has always been and will continue to be, whether or not my contribution to the community is important and valued as opposed to merely tolerated. It is something I will continue to think about, but must wait for the time being as I must return to my job which requires my semi attention. Thanks again.

  65. 25 I realize the use of the Latin America comparison wasn’t meant to be a rigorous comparison, I just don’t think it holds much water as a general comparison either for reasons I’ve already stated. Too many factors outside the paramaters of your analysis that influence exit from church activity.

    As to whether or not a shared Latin Culture is real or imagined: probably no more so than We (USA-ites) share a common culture with Canadians, Australians, and UKers. But I dare say that there is more in common among our cultures than we have with any of the Latin countries, and vice versa. And for the record my experience goes beyond just Mexico. I served my mission in Argentina and dealt with a plethora of Paraguayos, Chilenos, and Bolivianos with some Uruguayos, Peruanos, Colombianos, Guatemaltecos, etc. thrown in from time to time. Needless to say, anytime two or three of them were with me, I was the outsider – this wasn’t just perceived either, many times I was told that I “looked and acted differently” than them because I was North American.
    Additionally having studied to a small extent Latin American literature, there are common themes from Cuba to Chile that would stand out against our Anglo-Saxon literature. I don’t know how you define culture, but yes, I would say that there is a common Latin American culture, regardless of the many co-cultures, and has been ever since the Malinche.

  66. Thats not to say I didn’t find the OP very intriguing, I really did enjoy it, and I think I agree with your premise. So hopefully you take my criticism as it was intended, and not in any way as an attack or insult.

  67. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 55
    I see your point, Scott B. So would you agree that the entrance requirements are ostensibly high, but in practice not really enforced? Similarly, one could say that there are no barriers to exit whatsoever. Anyone can walk out of church and never go back. So there’s a distinction between organizational and cultural barriers on both the entrance and the exit, and they’re not necessarily the same.

    HINT: If you just skip comments #55 – 64, it all makes more sense. I read the OT the same way.

  68. Right, Mike. I think the difference between the two forms of exit in my mind–leaving by “not participating” and leaving by official disaffiliation–is actually found in the difference the choice of exit has on barriers to re-entry at a later time.

    If you leave by simply “not participating” then there is essentially no barrier to re-entry: You start showing up at Church again. At most, we could say that you experience the same original barriers–stop smoking, lose the drug habit, stop being gay[1], etc…except that you don’t have to be rebaptized, so it is definitionally easier to return.

    In contrast, if you officially leave the Church, the once-low barriers to entry become enormously high–requiring endless interviews, letters from the 1st Presidency, and long-term proof of commitment to the Church, in addition to the original set of barriers, including rebaptism. All of this implies clearly that having stringent barriers to official exit increases the ease–and therefore, probability, other things equal–of returning to the Church.

    [1] Just kidding. Sort of. Sigh.

  69. Harold Dwyer says:

    This is well thought out but at the heart of it is a false assumption: that the voice and input of the disaffected matters. If the path of exit is hedged up, all this will do is keep people miserable and silent.

  70. If you don’t want people to leave, you have to make staying more attractive than leaving.

    OK, so I guess part of my point is that this to me seems to assert that it’s the Church’s responsibility to make people stay, or the Church’s fault if they don’t. While there will always be things we can do better as a people, I think it’s essential to recognize the role personal agency plays. Even premortally, with the perfect love of God right before them, not everyone wanted “to stay.” And God didn’t do anything to “make” them. Each person had the agency to choose whether or not to follow and have faith in Christ and in God’s plan.

    but the church changes things that used to be doctrine on a regular historical basis. … What’s doctrine isn’t a permanent category, and it isn’t a point of consistency really.

    I imagine there will always be a difference of opinion here. I think people often call things doctrine that aren’t, and thus assert that doctrine changes more than I think it does. To me, the basic, core doctrines about the Atonement and the plan of salvation are what matter most. That core of the gospel has been with mankind since the beginning: come unto Christ through covenants and ordinances, and be perfected in Him, to be on the path toward eternal life.

    I think ultimately, the more we can help people understand and embrace and feel the power of those core doctrines of the gospel in their lives, the more we can help them stay. While the element of community is something, it is not enough to save anyone. Ultimately, the community exists to help people come to Christ, to stay on the personal path of faith, repentance, and “enduring to the end.”

    I tend to think that a lot of the other stuff risks becoming more a distraction from the core.

  71. Kristine says:

    Rameumptom, the analogy only (sort of) works if you include the social and cultural consequences. As many people have pointed out, it’s already easy to leave, if by “leave” you just mean stop going, or having your name removed from the records.

    Sorry–the idea that people consider the legal difficulties when considering divorce, and thus that more punitive laws would reduce the divorce rate, has always struck me as completely idiotic. Sorry you happened to be the one to push that button; it’s nothing personal against you.

  72. Kristine says:

    m&m–how core does it need to be to not change? The nature of God? Oh, wait…

  73. hellsbelle says:

    For reasons that Bogolubov’s posts highlight, I think it is potentially spiritually damaging (as well as insulting) to discuss the entrance into and exit from the Kingdom of God on earth this way.
    In response to Bogolubov:

    If you do not believe in the gospel as it is outlined and practiced according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then membership in it accomplishes nothing and you shouldn’t stay. If you believe that it is true, then to stay and find peace means figuring out what is causing you feel the way you do and resolving it. There are many who would gladly offer to help you do that.

    Why do you say what you did about your contribution? Did a reliable number of those within “the community” come to a verbal consensus that your contributions are unimportant and must merely be tolerated? Do you have the ability to read minds? Or do you personally feel that your contribution is un-important and has no value, and you just assume that everyone else feels the exact same way?

    I’m teasing you there, but in all honesty there is only one person whose opinion really, truly matters. Have you asked God how He views your contribution to His work? Whose validation matters most to you?

    He doesn’t need diversity-He created it. Does being one in heart, mind, and purpose make the Godhead boring and stagnant? If so, then I would give all that I am for a mere sliver of such boring stagnancy.

    He doesn’t need you or me or anyone else to change or fix His Church for Him. Seriously. He is master and Lord over all creation. Nowhere in the Word, and Law, and Order established by Him is there found either invitation or command to offer up “advice” or “suggestions” continually before the Lord.

    He doesn’t need us. WE need Him. He offers us everything that He has and tells us how to obtain it. We have nothing of value to offer Him, or His Church, that He doesn’t already have/own/rule over, except our hearts and our wills. If you are living under the influence of the Spirit, until you offer them both to Him willingly, fully, there will always be a part of you that rats you out. :P

  74. hellsbelle,
    “Nowhere in the Word, and Law, and Order established by Him is there found either invitation or command to offer up “advice” or “suggestions” continually before the Lord.”

    Have you read the Old Testament recently?

    Moreover, it is hugely counterproductive, IMO, to suggest that people who don’t find the Church completely true leave, both for the reasons the JNS outlines, and the suggestion that others have made, that, in certain circumstances, barriers to reentry are high.

    Basically, I’ve never understood the thought that those who aren’t orthodox (that is, people who believe differently than me) should leave. That seems to me a very uncharitable understanding of the gospel and of the church.

  75. Kristine, not sure what you mean by your #72.

  76. Kristine says:

    I mean that you’re mistaken about core doctrines not changing. Sorry.

  77. Well, Kristine, if core doctrines are things like whether Joseph Smith, Jr., existed or not, m&m is absolutely right. I mean, really, people have consistently asserted the existence of a historical Joseph ever since he was alive.

  78. Still don’t know what you mean, Kristine.

    Don’t quite get the sarcasm, either, JNS.

  79. Kristine says:

    It’s tangential to the point of the post, anyway, so I’m not going to try a lengthy explanation.

  80. m&m, don’t think of it as sarcasm, think of it as playfulness. Then you’ll have the melody…

  81. Kristine,

    I was going to suggest we drop the subthread anyway.

    JNS, ok, then, la-la-la….

  82. JNS (77),
    It is a matter of history that, at or near the beginning of what has since come to be known as the Restoration era, the man Joseph, surnamed Smith, was born in Sharon of Vermont. The principal data as to His birth, life, and death are so well attested as to be reasonably indisputable; they are facts of record, and are accepted as essentially authentic by the civilized Mormons of the world at large, no matter what the crap the rest of society thinks. True, there are diversities of deduction based on alleged discrepancies in the records of the past as to circumstantial details; but such differences are of strictly minor importance, for none of them nor all taken together cast a shadow of rational doubt upon the historicity of the earthly existence of the man known in literature as Joseph Smith Jr.

  83. John C., I mostly don’t go to church any more. I guess I was thinking “exit” is more than just “less active.” I know believing LDS who don’t go for reasons as simple as it starts too early for them to get there on a Sunday morning.

    Formal membership in another church puts my LDS membership at risk. That’s a barrier, and a fairly new one.

  84. hellsbelle says:

    Sam B.

    I’m reading the OT right now as a matter of fact, but only the parts that are reasonably indisputable and essentially authentic of course.

    So was it your charitable nature or your interest in productivity that caused you to misrepresent what I actually said? I said that Bogolubov should leave if he/she does not believe in the gospel as it is outlined and practiced by the Church. I don’t believe that Bogolubov should be encouraged to stay just so JNS can enjoy his/her diversity, or just in case God needs just one more warm body in order to force change where He has been unable to force it by Himself. I’m weird that way.

    As far as the entire “barriers to entry” cry going on here. Really? It is most productive to use terms and definitions designed for use in marketing/economics when discussing situations that have nothing to do with marketing or economics? And here I thought that the whole point of having a highly developed language was that if we had more appropriate words and phrases to use we’d be able to communicate more effectively.

    “Barriers to entry” doesn’t just fail here because it’s a marketing term; it fails because it’s used in relation to things that are designed specifically for the purpose of limiting or restricting the number of competitors in a given field. I do not believe that the Church is engaged in a competition with other churches, nor do I believe the interviews and paperwork required to enter or re-enter the Church were designed to specifically limit or restrict membership as a means of controlling that competition.

    Most of the important things in life, past present and future, require that certain conditions be met first. Some of us choose not to view those things as barriers.

  85. GatoraideMomma says:

    Wow…heady stuff to try and process the original thesis and all the comments.

    I would just like to say that the barriers to entry are bit too hard when WOW coffee and tea issues are on the same par as serious morality behaviors of all types. WOW Compliance may indicate belief and “obedience” but could one not grow in this area after baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost? And is the paying” tithes buying into the organization?

    Once in you don’t have keep up these commitments, but progress is limited, callings are limited if you don’t.

    I feel a large majority of us members have “no voice” about anything which makes us feel our opinions and thoughts are unimportant and we are only valued for the service we give our units or the church organization. 98 percent of the decisions are top down with no input from those of us serving the ranks. We can’t even have a say about the color of the carpet or location of the bathrooms in a new building. Or how much we really don’t like the 3 hour block. No asks, and we feel no one up the command chains cares. We are just soldiers doing our duties. Also the give us your tithes and offerings but the lack of transparency/ accounting back adds to the feeling of just being a soldier.

    I do have a love and testimony of the Gospel, but it doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated. Sometimes I want to slip quitely into inactivity or be just active enough not to be labeled “inactive.”

  86. MikeInWeHo says:

    “I’m reading the OT right now as a matter of fact, but only the parts that are reasonably indisputable…”

    That’s gotta be a rather quick read.

  87. hellsbelle says:

    Yes, but the pages create a pleasant breeze as they cascade past my eyes…

  88. I still can’t believe no one appreciated my Talmage reference. You people suck.

  89. Ann,
    I wasn’t talking about physical presence in the building (although that might be an appropriate, less drastic, approach). I’m saying that if being affiliated with the church makes you suicidal, request removal. I don’t think any sane person or deity would object. Please note, once again, that I suggest that as someone who likes the church and who likes you and who would like ya’ll to like each other.

  90. 84 Barriers to entry is indeed an economics term (although not a marketing term, since it refers to competition, not customers). Although its use here is not the same as its usage in economics. In economics its to keep competition out to create monopolies. In this usage it is referring to the difficulty of getting new converts (something the church very much wants). Its being used in a social science setting with a different perceived definition. Would it help if it were referred to as difficulty of entry? I don’t know why it would be perceived any different, but if that removes the difficulty of confusing it with economic theory for you, than I’m sure that noone would object to you substituting “difficulty of entry” for “barriers for entry” as you read.
    That being said, I can understand your difficulty with reading about the church in a social science setting. Yet churches and organizations get studied in this manner and thats how social science theory and sociology develop as academic fields. Would you have the same aversion to someone studying why Freemasonry was so popular in the 1800s and is much more rare today, or would this seem inappropriate to you as well.
    I might be crazy, but I bet they study demographic data and social data pretty extensively in some department of the church headquarters. While we’re on the subject, I’m pretty sure they study Marketing theory as well, but thats not really the point. Is it a sin to discuss things in this manner?

  91. When “difficulty of entry” is used, are we talking about 8 year olds? If so, none of the “difficulty of entry” seem to apply?

  92. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Bob, no, costs of entry for 8-year-olds raised in the church are pretty much zero, for the very good reason that entry in all but the ritual sense happens for these people at birth. The discussion above along these lines is really about converts. For much the same set of reasons that I don’t bother conceptualizing the costs of exit from Mormonism of people born outside the community — arguably, from some theological perspectives, such a birth is an act of exit from Mormonism, but not an interesting one.

  93. “I think you probably find more religious diversity within an average Mormon ward than within an average Evangelical congregation”

    I believe Bridge Jack Meyers has a good post somewhere supporting just that point.

  94. Steve Evans: Huh?

  95. m&m does have a point. I think that a central concept within mormonism is the idea that there is an absolute truth out there. While I may be disagreeing with her when I say It may not line up with the current teachings/doctrine/practices of the church, but it is what we seek after.

    It brings to mind Smallaxe’s excellent post on imposed openness.

  96. hellsbelle says:


    Not a sin, no. When I say inappropriate, I mean it in a sense of disservice-an injustice to the depth of what is being discussed.

    In the 2nd paragraph of the OP:

    “The basic point is about barriers to exit. How easy is it, in psychological, emotional, and social terms, to leave the church? The easier it is, the more often people who doubt, are uncomfortable in social terms, dissent from specific doctrines or practices, or in general terms don’t fit with contemporary Mormon culture will leave. It’s a simple cost-benefit question: if the costs go down and the benefits stay constant, more people will make the calculation that leaving is the right decision.”

    The specific words that JNS is using in both his argument and his conclusions, are words that by definition REQUIRE that the VALUE of the things he’s referring to can be or have been measured or quantified: the “cost” to join/convert to the Church, the “benefits” of membership, and the “cost” of leaving.

    JNS’s arguments are:
    *the Mormon community has the ability to raise or lower what it “costs” members to leave the Church
    *if those costs increase, more people will stay
    *if those costs decrease, more people will leave

    I’m forced to reject all of his conclusions because they are based false premises that specifically don’t work in the context he’s using them in:
    1) that is it possible to determine, and assign a value to-the emotional, psychological and emotional costs/benefits experienced by individuals
    2) That individuals place the exact same emotional, social, and psychological “value” on the exact same things (entry, exit, etc) and thus all experience the same costs/benefits
    3) That individuals always react in a predictable and similar manner to increases and decreases in costs and benefits.

    Conclusion-based on the above assumptions,the Church or the Mormon community has the ability to manipulate significant numbers of these people with a “simple cost/benefit” solution.

  97. hellsbelle,
    I’m not sure how quoting back to you a line from your comment and then responding is misrepresenting what you said (although it could be, if I picked it out at random and acontextually it actually meant something different; if you feel that’s what I did, I apologize).

    And I’m not sure why you’re opposed to using the language of economics to evaluate religious experience; I disagree with a swath of what (at least certain of) the dismal scientists say, but I tend to feel that approaching religion from a multiplicity of viewpoints has value. And it’s not like religious experience hasn’t been explored by economists, sociologists, legal theoreticians, etc.

    Your idea that the person who doesn’t “believe in the gospel as it is outlined and practiced by the Church” should leave may work on an individualistic level, although I’m not entirely sure it does. But, as JNS points out, it’s less solid if you take a communitarian view. I tend to lean toward communitarianism, myself. There is value to participating to help others create a community that does good, even if you would be happier outside of it.

  98. hellsbelle says:


    Regarding the “data” that the Church might study and find useful in accomplishing it’s goal…

    If the Church’s mission statement or definition of “success”/purpose was something like :to convert (defined as ceremonial baptism/official record) and retain as many people as possible while maintaining internal diversity and fostering an environment that accommodates members in every way possible” then I’d have no problem with OP and it’s terminology or theories at all. You’d probably be spot on in saying that studying world demographic/social data might be very useful in achieving that end.

    But, because the Church’s self proclaimed mission is different, and rather specifically difference: to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, redeem the dead, and to care for the poor and needy…I’m thinking that what it views as problems that affect that goal, and the information they use to help them solve those problems is different and fairly specific as well.

  99. hellsbelle, I disagree with a large percentage of what you have to say, obviously. But it’s late in the thread and late in the day, so let me react only to the one point you make to which I most seriously object. You say that I think (or that my analysis assumes):

    That individuals place the exact same emotional, social, and psychological “value” on the exact same things (entry, exit, etc) and thus all experience the same costs/benefits

    This is an assumption that I would absolutely reject! Fortunately it doesn’t figure at all in the discussion. My assumption is much simpler and probably more plausible: that there exists a set of practices and beliefs which for most people make exit more difficult than it would otherwise be — although the extent of the difference can vary across individuals and some may be immune.

  100. 98 – that explains why my mission president would review our baptismal numbers every quarter in our Zone Leader conference, why he would compare them to the other mission just to the South, and then talk about ways we could do as well as them. In fact, your explanation explains why we keep track of numbers like that at all, publish them in reports, or why they are reported across the pulpit every general conference. I’m glad to know that noone in a position of authority pays attention to these numbers or places any importance on them. You’re right, it truly would be faith shattering if we took a numeric approach to our faith.

  101. Bogolubov says:

    JNS – After some thought, I think the only argument I can disagree with is that my presence (as well as others of my ilk) might apply some pressure in a particular direction. If any organization could boast a 90% participation rate (measured by in this case by attendance, tithing, marriage, kids, etc) but was accompanied by grumblngs among its members there’d be no motivation on the part of the organization to change. To put it in marriage terms (which clearly strikes a chord with people), if someone was involved in a dysfunctional relationship, there would also be no motivation to change if one person knew full well the other wouldn’t leave regardless of behavior.

    The only example of change as a result of pressure that I can think of is the creation of mid-singles groups in some geographic locations. But I’m sure those were created as a result of taking a look at plunging numbers of marriages, significant increase in the age of those who do marry, and the decreasing number of children couples decide to have :)

  102. hellsbelle says:


    May I please point out that it appears that there may be come confusion about what I said in #98.

    I mentioned ONE source of information that would probably apply to the first example: “world demographic/social data might be very useful in achieving that end.”

    In the second example I said: “the information they use to help them solve those problems is different and fairly specific as well.”

    Since the data used to generate both the numbers your mission president read and the Church statistical reports comes from data that is internal/ LDS Church demographic specific, then we both agree that it comes from a “different and fairly specific” source rather than a “world demographic/social” one.

  103. hellsbelle says:

    152 and Sam-

    Let me clarify. I’m not objecting to the use of economic terms in discussing religious experience. I’m objecting to the application of economic terms that are specifically designed to refer to the worth or value of quantifiable “things” to flesh and blood human beings and the spiritual, emotional, and psychological ramifications of their decisions.

    Sam believes “that approaching religion from a multiplicity of viewpoints has value”. I only believe that approaching religion from a multiplicity of viewpoints CAN have value. The less congruence and relevance that a viewpoint has to the subject it is being applied to, the less value it has for me.


    “My assumption is…that there exists a set of practices and beliefs which for most people make exit more difficult than it would otherwise be — although the extent of the difference can vary across individuals and some may be immune.”

    Thank you.

  104. I think I get it. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I think I even agree with this.

    I just don’t know how to square this with my interpretation of Christ’s admonition to leave the 99 and to seek after the 1.

  105. Matt W. says:

    John Dehlin: I’m not even sure where I see Christ’s Parable coming into play here. How does making it easier for the one to quit constitute seeking out the one? That’s a bit of a non-sequiter to me.

  106. Matt W,

    (Part 1)

    Here’s how I make the connection.

    On the one hand, it feels to me like Christ’s message (or at least how I choose to interpret it) was overwhelmingly about love, understanding, patience, empathy, compassion, etc. He challenged us to love our enemies, even — which seems to almost increase our requirement to love family, friends, and fellow church members — even if they choose to leave the church. If we are to walk a mile with/for our enemies, what is our obligation to family/friends/ward members who lose their faith, or who choose to leave?

    On the other hand, we are asked to believe that this is the one and only true church with exclusive authority, and that there is no other path under heaven whereby we can achieve exaltation, and live with our families forever, etc.

    In my experience, the very act of empathizing with, and seeking to truly understand someone who has lost their faith/testimony can very easily lead to a loosening of one’s own grip on a level of certainty regarding the church’s absolute truth claims, and their own level of devotion to the church. It doesn’t have to happen — but it’s a real risk, I think.

    So for me, “leaving the 99 to go after the 1” means that I should develop love and empathy for someone who has chosen to leave the church (for example), and do all that I can to show them understanding, compassion and support. So the irony (and hopefully the connection) comes into play if/when that very empathy seems to erode the barriers to exit that we might otherwise erect (that J. seems to be arguing for here): e.g. the more painful we make it on those who choose the leave (via barriers), the less likely it will be that others will choose to leave.

    But the more pain and judgment, or the more ostratization and shunning that we inflict on others, the less Christlike it feels like we are acting.

    I’m not saying that this is true, or that it always happens…only that I see a bit of a paradox here. Don’t get me wrong…I love paradox. I just feel like what J. is arguing for here (keeping the barriers high) can lead to unChristlike behavior like shunning, judgment, lack of empathy, lack of compassion, etc. If those things are required for the barriers that J. proposes — then I’m a lot less interested.

    If Christlike barriers are possible — then I’d love to learn more.

  107. (There’s no part 2. Sorry about leaving that in.)

  108. Steve Evans says:

    John, loving people even when they leave the Church should not require us to lessen the importance of Church membership, the desire to reinforce keeping our covenants or that of a community based around common codes of conduct. It’s not shunning when someone leaves a community — it’s called “hey, that guy quit.” The problem with your interpretation of Christ’s injunction is that it completely ignores latter-day injunctions from Christ regarding Church membership and community affiliation, in favor of a purely New Age reading of that single parable.

  109. Steve Evans says:

    That said, could we be nicer to exmormons? Yeah, sure we could. I think Jesus would like that, too. So if that’s really all you’re saying, no controversy there.

  110. Steve — I totally agree with you. I don’t think that it has to be an either/or situation: either stay committed to the church or empathize with/love those who choose to leave it. I want to believe that we can successfully do both (it’s certainly what I’m striving to do myself).

    But after counseling so many folks in this situation….I really do wonder: Does the very act of truly empathizing with those who choose to reject the church tend to loosen our own grip/certainty with regards to traditional LDS orthodoxy and orthopraxy? In my experience, it often does….which might explain why we (in traditional LDS culture) so often erect barriers…and sometimes shun/marginalize those who choose to leave.

    I guess all I’m saying is…..Christ’s admonitions of love and true empathy can really be challenging in a situation like this….and I struggle a bit with an emphasis on the barriers over empathy…but I think I understand why the barriers persist. I guess I want both absolute empathy and simultaneous devotion (on the part of the believers) — but I think it’s easier said than done..

    Kudos to BCC, by the way, for showing so much love/empathy/tolerance in this regard…both with commenters, and with permas. You guys really do set a good example/walk the walk w/ what you do here.

  111. #104.
    I really wonder sometimes if that was really an admonition for us to emulate (I know that is a popular interpretation), but to me it seems more natural as a rebuke to self righteous pharisees. Somebody please show me a “just person that needs no repentance”, much less 99 of them.
    That said, John, I really admire the work that you do.

  112. Mark D. says:

    I highly doubt we are anything like a McConkie Church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, as with all his family, were/are Democrats, and we know that most Mormons are Republicans.

    For what it is worth, the Wikipedia article on the man claims that Bruce R. McConkie was a Republican and his father a noted Democrat. The citation given for this is The Bruce R. McConkie Story (Joseph Fielding McConkie), chapter 3:

    Like Father like Son To understand the father is in large measure to understand the son. I have heard people say that had they been blindfolded and heard one of them preach, they could not have told which of the two had done the preaching. On politics their views differed sharply-one a Democrat and the other a Republican.

    I have to say that much of this article (“Know Your Constitution”, Deseret News Mar-Apr 1945) doesn’t read like it was written by a Democrat either, to put it mildly.

  113. M. Bevington-Seawright says:

    “Leaving the church is really more like writing poetry while swimming through an ocean of sharks, simultaneously buoyed up and weighted down by the music of Mahler and your memories of that one perfect spring morning with your teenage boy- or girlfriend, when suddenly a UFO appears.”

    Concerning these words, a slightly modified Brigham Young statement seems appropriate:

    “If our hearts are filled with the Spirit of truth, with the Spirit of the Lord, (…) when [JNS] speaks, all [the bloggernaccle] should shout, “Hallelujah! (…) We are ready to receive those words, for they are true”.”

  114. From the NYT article on Scientology yesterday:

    “Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.”

    “These are common religious tenets,” he said. “The very survival of a religion is contingent on its protecting itself.”

    I think this supports your argument, J. Barriers do protect the church.

  115. John, it also supports the argument that you just don’t get it. How does what a Scientoligist spokesman says support anything, except your desire to make readers uncomfortable with an association between Mormonism and Scientology.

  116. Stapley,

    I see a clear, direct connection.

    J. is arguing here for the need for exit barriers within the church.

    The biggest exit barriers we have in the church are things like: labeling (“anti-Mormon”), shunning, ostratization, excommunication, etc.

    I honestly don’t know how the connection could be more obvious.

  117. Drew Emmick says:

    Thanks JNS. Great post with much food for thought.

    “But if that individual best is turned into a general social norm, it would certainly devastate the internal diversity of the community, and may well have long-term consequences for the health and even survival of Mormonism.”

    I agree that focusing on the individual best would have long-term consequences within Mormonism. But I also believe that the LDS Church would evolve and adapt, as it has done in the past.

    This leads me to ask –

    Is it possible that these consequences would ultimately prove positive for Mormonism? This change would attack the rigid structure that causes many to leave the LDS Church in the first place. Likewise, in a country that is becoming less and less dogmatic could focusing on the preservation of the community (what I call the rigid structure of the LDS Church) become Mormonism’s downfall? Could it lead to a continual decline in converts and current membership – which some claim is already happening?

  118. Ron Madson says:

    Interesting post and comments! Why would we consider using any means, compulsion, influence, persuasion unless it is gentle, meek and kind.
    Any what barriers are there in pure religion but love, pure knowledge and light?

  119. Amen, brother Madsen.

  120. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 117
    Sure it could lead to decline, although I wouldn’t use the word “downfall.” It’s easy to imagine a scenario of shrinking membership in most areas; it’s happening in California right now.

    It’s interesting to listen to the way members spin the decline of the Church in California. Correct me if I’m wrong bbell, but doesn’t it boil down to “Housing in too expensive for large families so Latter-day Saints are moving to Utah and Texas….” No, surely it couldn’t have anything to do with the Church’s cultural increasing marginalization and inability to compete with other denominations.

    But it seems likely the Church will adapt and become less rigid, and thus continue to grow. From an outsider’s perspective, there seems to be a lot of adiaphora (Google that one, everybody!) within Mormonism. White business shirts = symbols of righteousness? Green tea = sin? Really? All that could readily change with one conference talk.

  121. MikeInWeHo says:

    Wow, talk about typos. Yikes. Why no edit function?!

  122. Ron Madson says:

    An “Amen” from John Dehlin makes my day. thank you.

    My favorite author, Henry Thoreau, was traveling in Cape Cod and writing in his journal observed:
    “In1665 the Court passed a law to inflict corporal punishment on all persons, who resided in the towns of this government, who denied the scriptures. THink of a man being whipped on a spring morning, till he was constrained to confess that the scriptures were true! It was also voted by the town, that all persons who should stand outside the meeting-house during the time of divine service should be set in stocks. It behooved such a town to see that sitting in the meetinghouse was nothing akin to sitting in the stocks, lest the penalty of obedience to the law might be greater than that of disobedience.”

    Stocks and whippings work—but only for a season.

  123. Steve Evans says:

    #116 one might think than an exit barrier to leaving the Church would be the loss of one’s covenant blessings and/or being turned over to the buffetings of Satan. Folk magic I suppose.

  124. Steve Evans says:

    PS the coercive tactics of Scientology have very little to do with our Church. John, not your finest hour to make that sort of patently false association.

  125. Dehlin: The biggest exit barriers we have in the church are things like: labeling (“anti-Mormon”), shunning, ostratization, excommunication, etc.

    Hehe. I am pretty sure that excommunication is not a *barrier* to exit from any church.

    No doubt that being shunned or ostracized by people you want to hang out with still is a barrier to leaving any organization, but there certainly is no policy of shunning or ostracizing people who leave the Church that I have ever seen.

    Last, someone normally has to do a lot more than just stop practicing Mormonism to warrant to label “anti-Mormon”.

  126. Kristine says:

    Stapley, Steve, you might not like the association, but, in fact, the specific tactics mentioned in the snippet John quoted are ones that are used by Mormons. The comparison is accurate as far as it goes (though one hopes, of course, that it doesn’t go too much farther–say, to parents disowning their children who come out as gay, or boycotting the wedding receptions of those who marry outside the faith. Oh, wait…)

  127. Kristine,
    There is an enormous difference between formal “shunning” with JW’s and anything Mormons do.

    Many Mormons might–as your last quip notes–shun people, but to suggest that such shunning is encouraged or condoned is just wrong in my opinion.

  128. Randy B. says:

    “. . . but there certainly is no policy of shunning or ostracizing people who leave the Church that I have ever seen.”

    If by “policy,” you mean an official written statement specifically calling for shunning or ostracizing, I would be with you, with caveats. (There are, of course, written statements cautioning against too close of an association with some who have left the church. See, e.g., Temple Recommend Question #7.)

    If, on the other hand, your definition of “policy” is intended to cover a pattern and practice undertaken by a significant number of members, often with the knowledge of and even the encouragement of local leaders, then I think perhaps you’ve not seen all there is to see.

  129. Kristine, are you agreeing that “Scientologists are no different from Mormons…” (which is the point Dehlin wanted to make)? Having read Dehlin’s virtually incoherent analysis of JNS’s post, I’m curious whether you are agreeing with him or not on that as well.

  130. Kristine says:

    Yeah, it’s not clear to me why having shunning as “merely” a widespread cultural practice, rather than an official policy, really makes us so much better.

  131. Kristine says:

    That’s impressive mindreading, there, J. What John said, I think, is that Mormons and Scientologists use some similar practices in constructing barriers to exit. That seems true enough, on the face of it, though I don’t like the comparison any better than you do, and I’d like to think that we differ from Scientologists in many important respects.

  132. It seems to me that virtually all social groups use some similar practices in constructing barriers to exit.

  133. Kristine says:

    Indeed. And religious groups tend to use a particular subset–doesn’t seem worth getting worked up over which religious groups we’re most like, or the subtle differences in the way we employ those practices.

  134. “boycotting the wedding receptions of those who marry outside the faith”

    Can a member not marry a non-member in the chapel by the Bishop? I could have sworn I have actually been to such a wedding.

  135. Kristine says:

    Yes, they can. Again–unofficial, meanspirited practice, not policy.

  136. Stapley,

    You really crack me up.

    To say that Mormons and Scientologists do similar things is not to say that they do the exact same things.

    Logic 101.

  137. Steve Evans said, “PS the coercive tactics of Scientology have very little to do with our Church. John, not your finest hour to make that sort of patently false association.”

    Steve — Perhaps you and Stapley have not spent much time around people who have decided to leave the LDS Church. That’s totally your right.

    But just try asking folks who have actually left the church as to whether or not there are similarities between their exit experience and what that NYTimes article describes (shunning, ostratization, etc.). If you do actually take the time to speak with some of them, I guarantee you both that I win, and you lose, in this argument.

    I think you and Stapley just might be arguing out of ignorance…with all due respect. Not your finest hours either, I suppose, from that perspective.

  138. Yeah, it’s not clear to me why having shunning as “merely” a widespread cultural practice, rather than an official policy, really makes us so much better.

    I don’t think that, for the present moment, it makes us much better. However, forward-looking the difference is significant. One requires repentance on the part of members; the other requires institutional change.

  139. “There is an enormous difference between formal “shunning” with JW’s and anything Mormons do. ”

    Amen to that. Read Crisis of Conscience if you don’t know anything about it. JW’s aren’t even supposed to eat or be seen with former JWs. Mormon “shunning” is of the mostly awkward “I-thought-I-knew-this-guy-but-I-guess-not” kind.

    “I guarantee you both that I win, and you lose, in this argument.”

    And that’s what it’s really all about, John Dehlin?

  140. John, J. told me to tell you he’s not responding to you because he is now officially shunning you.

  141. Mormons are rightly perceived as fairly clannish in orientation or behavior–I don’t think any of us intends that. It is largely an unintended side effect of a religion demanding of all our time talent and efforts. There is not much left to expend outside our religious clan.

    I do not doubt that shunning is experienced by many who intentionally depart from the Church. But some of the shunning is, I am sure, unintentional. When a person resigns or otherwise disengages or disaffiliates from the Church, it may be similar to moving to another ward or stake. Our Church is so absorbing of time and energy, that many of us have few close acquaintances outside of our home ward or stake (and perhaps our employment). Often times doing things with our “friends” from Church simply involves being involved together in a Church meeting, or activity, or assignment. Thus, when we move or there is a realignment of wards or stakes, new friendships are made, and many old ones are lost. Not that we “shun” our old friends intentionally, we just don’t have the opportunity to rub shoulders as often as when we were serving or meeting together.

  142. Gina Dehlin Faust says:

    I may be in over my head here but, to me, if the Mormon church is primarily a tool that is designed (with the help of deity) to lead us back to God ultimately becomes obsolete…well then. If we are here to become more God-like and find that the Mormon church at this time has an effective plan to make us stronger then it makes sense to stick with it–in spite of the fact that some aspects may be troubling to some. Lets say that as an institution we choose acceptance and reach out collectively or individually to that one individual. If this were to eventually weaken the institution, does it have to follow that the individuals within would be weakened as well? Maybe the individuals will eventually evolve into beings who need a less restrictive guideline. I believe that the one will always matter more then the institution itself.

  143. Scott,

    If I were Stapley, I’d run away from his previous comments too.

  144. #142: Sis! I love you.

  145. Geoff said, “Last, someone normally has to do a lot more than just stop practicing Mormonism to warrant to label “anti-Mormon”


    You might be surprised how little is required sometimes to be given that label. It’s often used simply as a replacement for, “What you are saying is making me uncomfortable”, or even, “I don’t agree with you.”

    I’ve seen firsthand apologists slap that label on Richard Bushman of all people. I’ve even heard it used a number of times to describe the content of the discussions on this very blog.

    With sincere respect, I really think you guys need to step outside your bubble a bit more, before you try to speak intelligently about the experience of disaffection from the LDS church. You really do come across as almost laughably uninformed. But I know you are smart fellas. Just not on this issue, apparently.

  146. John,
    J. told me to give your zinger the Heisman. Sorry.

  147. John Dehlin,
    I think that the problem is that many members of this blog assume that the church means well and that, therefore, local instances of shunning and so forth are best understood as aberrations, not a systematic attempt to prevent exit through public shame, etc. That said, I tend to think that we do worse on this front than we would like to think we do, so your characterization may describe the reality on the ground in the majority of cases. However, I think it is incorrect to characterize the Mormon approach to those who leave as being equivalent to the Scientology approach based on what I understand to be the actual counsel of general church leadership, which encourages us to be kind to everyone, including those who have left fellowship. This disconnect between what we ought to be doing and what we do may be the source of the talking past each other in this instance.

  148. “I’ve seen firsthand apologists slap that label on Richard Bushman of all people. ”

    Really? Who are these apologists?

  149. What John C. said.

  150. Dehlin: You might be surprised how little is required sometimes to be given that label.

    I doubt it. I’m rarely surprised when I encounter a moron anymore. But I hope you aren’t surprised that the very rare moron (like the moron you encountered who called Bushman and anti-Mormon) is just that — very rare.

    With sincere respect, I really think you guys need to step outside your bubble a bit more, before you try to speak intelligently about the experience of disaffection from the LDS church. You really do come across as almost laughably uninformed.

    Har! Wow. You really are coming off as a total ________[fill in insult of your choice–the one Geoff chose was in poor taste. Admin.] in this conversation John. Well since we are being honest with each other now — I suspect you need to step out of your bubble and quit being so shocked that people who leave the church find the experience painful. It isn’t all that surprising big guy. And while this may be bursting your “I am the self-appointed worldwide leader in helping exiting Mormons” bubble, I feel compelled to reveal to you that their pain at exit is not a phenomenon that is unique to Mormonism either.

  151. Actually, Ben (148), this one is pretty believable to me. I recall hearing about RSR shortly after its publication at the Institute in Logan, UT, from two different institute instructors. One of them said RSR was pure anti-mormon lit; the other said it should be required reading for all members of the Church.

  152. Kristine says:

    “feel compelled to reveal to you that their pain at exit is not a phenomenon that is unique to Mormonism either.”

    I think that’s what he was arguing at the start, Geoff–that the experience of Mormons who leave is painful in ways that are comparable to the pain of those who leave other religions (or cults, which I believe was the source of the offense to J. et al).

  153. the one Geoff chose was in poor taste.

    Lol! I liked the original but there is a certain beauty of leaving it blank to allow readers to use their imaginations.

  154. #152, I don’t believe that was the source of offense to J. et al. I don’t believe there was offense. Rather, just an observation that there was little practical value in making a comparison between two things with such huge substantive differences (institutional vs not, etc).

  155. or cults, which I believe was the source of the offense to J. et al

    Right Kristine. Dehlin could have compared us to Catholics but in his usual Dehlin-style he decided to go for a much less flattering comparison. (And of course it sounds like the other problem is that Scientologists and JW’s officially shun so the comparison wasn’t even apt to begin with.)

  156. John C,

    Count me as squarely in the camp with those who assume that the church means well (both leaders and members included). I’ve stated that, on the record, hundreds of times.

    That said — the term “local instance” does not quite resonate well with me. In my experience, the shunning and ostracization is relatively systemic: it is the rule — not the exception. And as Kristine noted — it’s not official policy, but it is the cultural norm (at least in my experience).

    In a church that believes in obedience to leaders — it would not take much effort to help fix this problem. One well crafted general conference talk or Ensign article just might do the trick.

    And again — I *never* claimed that the LDS and Scientology approaches were equivalent. That was Stapley, Geoff, Steve and others trying to muster up a defense (or an attack…I couldn’t quite tell which it was). I only posited that there were similarities — and I definitely maintain that position. In fact, I have data to support this position.

    These days up 3 couples A WEEK are directly contacting me — and the situation is always the same. The believing spouse is threatening the disbelieving spouse with divorce….solely for the crime of losing their testimony in the church. No other grounds or grievances are required. This is happening every single day in the church…across the U.S.

    And because the stakes are so incredibly high — I personally believe that there could be much benefit to explicit counsel being given in this regard: that spouses are not to be divorced simply for disbelieving, and that parents, siblings and children are not to be shunned for disbelieving….but instead are to be loved.

    That’s one of the wonderful things about the church — when the prophet speaks, members really do listen.

  157. Scott, I too have heard this kind of opinion from people, but not from anyone I’d term an apologist. John (who opposes labels but has no problem with this one) typically applies that to FAIR/FARMS affiliated people, and I have serious doubts any of them have ever said such a thing about Bushman.

    CES instructors don’t fall into the “apologist” category, at least as I understand it and John tends to use it. Conservative/orthodox, sure. Apologist, not really.

  158. Mark Brown says:

    John C. and Cynthia and Scott B.:

    While I agree that the distinction between individuals in need of repentance vs. institutional problem is a good place to start, I think I disagree with you about how much work it ultimately does. If individuals persist in their rotten behavior (and it cannot be credibly argued that they do not) and what point does the institution itself begin to bear some of the responsibility?

  159. Mark Brown says:

    In other words, I agree with John’s # 156.

  160. 155: Geoff said, “Dehlin could have compared us to Catholics but in his usual Dehlin-style he decided to go for a much less flattering comparison.”


    You, too, are hilarious. Here’s my original quote (pasted from above):

    “Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.”

    You really crack me up. I think you’re letting your emotions cloud your reasoning.

  161. Mark Brown says:

    Geoff, # 155,

    John actually used a quote by a Scientology spokesman which compared us to Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Amish. It was J., not Dehlin, who zeroed in on the Mormon/Scientology comparison.

  162. Sure Mark Brown and John Dehlin (#156 and #159).

    All the prophet needs to do is come out and announce that we are now a universalist church. He just needs to announce that everyone will be exalted regardless of what they do or believe. Then no spouse would ever have motivation to threaten divorce when the other spouse is choosing to set aside temple covenants; no parent would have reason to ditch a reception, etc. That should be easy enough.

  163. I would just point out that refuting John Dehlin’s arguments about the treatment of outsiders in Mormonism is delicate business. People on all sides of the issue would do well to be a little more careful with their language, myself included. Too much vehemence by defenders of the faith may only serve to reinforce John’s arguments in the minds of some. For my part, I was primarily concerned with the comparison between the LDS Church and the institutionalized shunning practices of Scientology. In my mind, it was a sloppy comparison that was probably unhelpful. But again, my point was not a particularly controversial one nor all that central to the overall discussion, so let’s move on. I’m sure that John did not mean to compare our church to a dangerous cult, and even if he did there’d be no point wrangling over such an ineffective comparison.

  164. Gina Dehlin Faust says:

    Why is everyone so hung-up on the word “Scientology”? It’s just another faith. I know a perfectly lovely Scientologist who actually holds an office in her church. We Mormons should be all too familiar with information taken out of context by the media. I don’t think our comparison to them is any more unflattering than to other churches.

  165. Because of barriers to exit, I would posit that there are a number of people like me:
    – I attend Church regularly. I am able to check all the appropriate boxes to keep my temple recommend current. I have had a number of callings, etc.
    – I think all of the things that the Church has encrusted around the Gospel have dragged it down
    – I still cling to the Gospel in the LDS Church, but have pretty much rejected all of the peripheral issues (although I still follow them enough to keep a temple recommend)
    – I haven’t “exited” because I think there are some reasonable truths that the Church can help with for my family
    – I think God is bigger than the 0.1% of the earth’s population who are active-LDS, so don’t believe that that means much in the eternal realm of things.
    – My brain approaches issues more from a Buddhist perspective than an LDS perspective

    So, while I haven’t “exited” the Church formally, or even gone “inactive”, my heart and mind are drifting away. So why haven’t I left the Church – purely social reasons.

  166. Mark Brown says:


    Easy there Hoss — no need to go completely off the deep end.

    I think a better comparison would be to the way it was necessary for Pres. Hinckley to admonish us for our racism 30 years after 1978.

  167. I think John C. nailed it, especially this bit:

    I tend to think that we do worse on this front than we would like to think we do, so your characterization may describe the reality on the ground in the majority of cases. However, I think it is incorrect to characterize the Mormon approach to those who leave as being equivalent to the Scientology approach based on what I understand to be the actual counsel of general church leadership…

    It seems to me that Stapley, Geoff J et. al. are really saying “Come on Dehlin, you know we don’t officially shun people. This is policy for Scientologists. Aren’t you laying it on a little thick?”

    John Dehlin, on the other hand, is asserting that the difference is lost on people whose spouses are divorcing them and whose parents would prefer them dead to apostate.

    I think it’s fair to point out the real policy differences, but also to acknowledge there sometimes isn’t much difference in the experience as it’s lived. I think Scott B. (138) expressed the real difference between us and the Scientologists well when he said “[This behaviour by Mormons] requires repentance on the part of members; [Scientologists] require institutional change.”

    To J. Stapley’s original point, it’s true of all close-knit social groups that their very closeness is a two-edged sword: being in them can be very rewarding, but when you leave the hate (or at least the disapproval) goes as deep as the love and approval did. Personally, I feel the weight of the responsibility to help the disaffected in my circle feel they are welcome to return; institutionally, I’m much more pessimistic that the experience of leaving will get easier.

  168. Well said Chuck.

    Gina, read up on Scientology. ..

  169. Randy B. says:

    Count me with Mark as agreeing with John’s #156. Frankly, I’m a little surprised the point is evoking as much disagreement as it seems to be.

  170. Mark Brown: Easy there Hoss — no need to go completely off the deep end.

    I really don’t think that is going off the deep end. The fact that we aren’t universalists is behind these problems being brought up.

    For instance, people consider divorce when their spouse leaves the church because they want to be part of an exalted eternal family and know that according to current non-universalist teachings they can’t have that without their spouse along for the ride. Until that core doctrine changes spouses will continue to consider divorce when their counterpart leaves the church. It is a perfectly logical calculation to make under current teachings.

    Now of course the prophet could come to some compromise and apply the univeralist quote from Orson F. Whitney about wayward children (the one we hear so often) to wayward spouses too I suppose. But it will probably require something along those lines to make a real substantive change in the patterns.

    But moving more toward universalism lowers barriers to exit and as the original post aptly points out, lowering barriers to exit has significant costs as well.

  171. Eric Russell says:

    I’m quite beside myself that you people could carry on with all this nonsense in the middle of the Oscars.

  172. JNS, kudos for a very nicely-crafted, well thoughtout, and thought provoking post.

    I agree with John Dehlin here: Trying to persuade people to stay through love, accommodation, and empathy is different from trying to prevent them from leaving by using stigmas or moral condemnation, which constitute the current normal practice within the church.

    Furthermore, I think that John’s usage of Scientology as an example is appropriate insofar as it illustrates that preservation of an institution cannot be used to justify mistreatment of its members — the priority of preserving the institution only gets us so far. To the extant that there’s any sloppiness involved, it was in the distortion by Stapley and Evans of John’s example to try to pretend that he was drawing a direct comparison between Mormonism and Scientology. That’s a pretty shabby straw man. But you attack on that, get a response that you feel validates your mistaken assumptions, and use that to sidetrack the entire argument.

  173. Mark Brown says:

    Geoff, I agree completely with you that barriers to exit serve a good purpose for our church. That point isn’t in dispute at all. The question is whether we can also acknowledge that the way those barriers are maintained can also sometimes be counter-productive.

    To acknowledge that problem does not make anybody a universalist. As Scott and John C. have already pointed out, the church has already advised members to not break up families over religious differences. Do you really think the church wants people to boycott their daughter’s non-temple wedding, or excommunicate a son from the family if he comes home early from his mission? This is the kind of crap that happens all the time, and it is something for which we ought to be ashamed.

  174. Until that core doctrine changes spouses will continue to consider divorce when their counterpart leaves the church.

    Meh. I’m not really convinced that even a doctrinal change would fix that. If people want to live the entire lifestyle, you need a spouse doing their part—preparing the FHE lessons, shepherding family prayer in the morning, making those FHE assignment board thingys, etc. What, like half of marriages end in divorce? For things like people “growing apart” and having different interests/hobbies, but of the sort that just fundamentally change whether you are excited about the other person anymore. I really don’t see how the church could ever efface itself enough that there wouldn’t be friction between at least some couples over it. I’m not saying that we couldn’t do better at supporting mix-membership or mix-activity families and marriages, but I question how high the ceiling is on how well we can do.

  175. For the record, I have long said that if made a GA, my first action would be to make a huge fanfare-like announcement that disowning of children (and other family members) is outright banned.

    And I have a long list of actions so that that one has been emphatically first for a long time is really saying something. :-)

  176. Mark,

    We obviously can agree that we wish people wouldn’t be jerks to their family members. We can also agree that the church teaches people not to be jerks to their family members — even prodigals.

    What is not clear to me at this point is what you are hoping will change from the pulpit. The brethren already counsel us to be forgiving and loving. What else do you think they need to do to prevent church members from acting like jerks at times?

  177. Mark Brown says:

    If I ever make GA, my first action would be to ordain females so that Cynthia L. could then make GA.

  178. Cynthia,

    You make a good point. It seems to me that at least some spouses would still want to divorce if their partner left the church even if they were universalists. Going it alone when it comes to living the church program is far from ideal.

  179. I’m frankly astonished at the horror that a certain class of Mormons here feel (” air quotes ” ) when presented with the evidence (clear as day for a certain subset of us) that Mormons shun. The admonitions to be kind to those that left are more than matched by presentations of the horrors of the outside world. Here, for example: is Pres. Hinckley writing in the Ensign in 2005:

    “I know of no other writing which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. But with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.”

    “No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard Him and His word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. The Book of Mormon is an affirmation of the Old Testament proverb: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).”

    The admonitions towards inclusiveness are undercut totally by the protestations that anything but orthodoxy causes “a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death.” Who wants that?

    Mormons shun. Ask me for details.

  180. Mark Brown says:

    You’re right Geoff, it’s an uphill battle, and since we humans are such a fallen mess, it’s also a battle that will always be with us.

    But for a church that makes a habit, not to say a fetish, about emphasizing the importance of the family, it seems to me that a little more vigorous exhortation from the GC pulpit is in order. The people I know who have been rotten to their kids for marrying outside the church think they are doing the right thing. I think it would do wonders if bishops were told to put people on probation for their membership if they did stuff like that. Shunning a child ought to be at least as bad as drinking coffee.

  181. “Do you really think the church wants people to boycott their daughter’s non-temple wedding, or excommunicate a son from the family if he comes home early from his mission?” Yes.

  182. Mark Brown says:

    Agnes, you are mistaken.

  183. OK, that sounds a bit harsh; I think the church wants the family to almost boycott their daughter’s non-temple wedding, to be sure that everyone understands the importance of the temple but so they can also feel like decent people — the daughter gets the point, however. Also, I think the ideal is to not excommunicate a son who comes home early from his mission, but never let him forget that he has failed. Full Stop. I’m sorry, this sounds so harsh, but this is my experience and the experience of my friends’, over and over again.

    I have a very sad Sunday School story I can’t even type.

  184. Mark, if you live in Utah, you are mistaken.

  185. Neal Kramer says:


    A note on Whitney. The quotation you are referring to, in which he cites Joseph Smith (someone with universalist tendencies when it came to sealing and priesthood power), is found in William Clayton’s journal from 1843. It’s a Joseph Smith idea supported by Elders Whitney and Packer.

  186. Mommie Dearest says:

    My anecdotal evidence is that we don’t shun. We deal with awkwardness sometimes, and distance is often a natural result of the differences, but nobody boycotts anything, that I can think of within my real-life experience. The missionaries coming home early are welcomed and not asked prying questions, the unwed moms are given a baby shower, everyone comes to all the weddings in all their variety. Maybe I am not cozy with the shunning crowd, and you are. That would explain why your anecdotal evidence is different.

    I really believe sincerely the abundance of direction I have heard from the pulpit that we ought not to do this, and everyone I associate with, to the best of my knowledge, believes likewise as well.

  187. In fact, this razor-sharp dividing line between pure and impure; between faithful and unfaithful; between deserving and undeserving is the single biggest reason for the disturbing cleft between Mormon and all those others in Utah.

  188. And it’s totally unnecessary, as Cynthia, among others, has pointed out.

  189. Mark: The people I know who have been rotten to their kids for marrying outside the church think they are doing the right thing.

    Right. That is why I think the non-universalism issue cannot be avoided. It is at the very root of this topic.

    I suspect people sometimes they think they are doing the right thing in that case because they believe that eternal families are so important that they must do everything in their power to get their children sealed in the temple. It becomes a “by any means necessary” pragmatic decision in many cases in my guess. And our doctrines back them up.

    I think it would do wonders if bishops were told to put people on probation for their membership if they did stuff like that.

    Yeah but at what cost? (This sounds eerily Big Brotherish to me but that might just be me BTW) And what will the bishop say when the parents say “this life is only a blink of an eye — all we care about is having Jr. with us in the eternities to come so we are doing whatever it takes in the short run”. Bishops have problems running their own families. I think it would be a train wreck to get them that deeply involved.

    I think it would do wonders if bishops were told to put people on probation for their membership if they did stuff like that.

    But what would you say to the fictional parents above who see it as a temporary method to bring back a prodigal?

  190. My experiences are solely with Mormon pioneer families. I’m quite willing to believe that there are other, kinder, strains of Mormonism.

  191. Mark Brown says:

    Agnes, I think everybody already agrees that sometimes people behave in ways that produce tragic results. We can also agree that we have a tendency toward smugness that can be pretty hard to stomach. But you are making accusations agains the institutional church which are simply unsupportable. If you want to claim that the church wants the family to almost boycott their daughter’s wedding, or to make their son always feel that he is a failure, you’ll have to show me where the church has given that advice.

  192. Mommie Dearest says:

    My “bubble” includes an agnostic non-member husband, inactive children, closet anti-mormon inlaws (who are softening that attitude ever so slowly), siblings/relatives who are temple-going with BIC children, siblings who have left the church, and so forth. We don’t practice shunning at all, and when awkwardness happens, it is, far more often than not, dealt with in a compassionate way. In many ways am closer to my ex-mo family members than the active members.

    Though it may have been common in past generations, it’s simply not universal anymore.

  193. Mark Brown says:

    But what would you say to the fictional parents above who see it as a temporary method to bring back a prodigal?

    I would first laugh in their faces, then tell them that they were disfellowshipped as of that minute, and that it was just a temporary method of helping them regain their sanity.

  194. Geoff J; Big Brother? Mormonism is deeply concerned with orthopraxis. How is declaring that you need to treat your kids decently more obtrusive than declaring how many earrings a woman may wear?

  195. Agnes — Grind your axe elsewhere.

    Mark — I’m guessing from your response you aren’t a bishop. If people were disfellowshipped for every jerky action we all would be.

  196. Mark Brown says:

    Agnes, I’m sorry that you have witnessed and apparently been on the receiving end of this sort of reprehensible behavior. I wish we were better at living up to our ideals. However, this isn’t the place to grind an axe or make unsupportable accusations. Please watch it.

  197. MikeInWeHo says:

    I suspect nobody commenting here really knows a darn thing about the Scientologists beyond crude stereotypes. I certainly don’t, and I live right up the street from some of their massive facilities.

    They seem to keep to themselves, their core members (the Sea Org) wear natty polo shirts, and their public service videos are incredibly good:

    I’m not defending them by any means and they do kinda creep me out, but nonetheless people in glass houses……

  198. Mark Brown, see comment 179. It doesn’t explicitly say to be cruel, but it does say that “when they disregard Him and His word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death.” The problem, as I see it, is that no one want their kids to be lead to “impotence and death,” so that parents and friends, doing their very best, try to shepherd those they see on the wrong course back towards righteousness. What I called “shunning” is, I’m convinced, done from a place deep love and caring.

    It just doesn’t work.

  199. a place OF deep love and caring.

  200. Mommie Dearest says:

    Yup Agnes, it doesn’t work, and many of us can see that, which is why we do. not. practice. it.

  201. Mark Brown says:

    Geoff, we needn’t ex’ people for every jerky action. You’re right, if that happened, we would all be on the outside looking in.

    However, we can see what an institution thinks is important by what it is willing to tolerate. Our religion now uses the drinking of tea as a method of boundary maintenance. If you drink tea, you’re not a member of the tribe. In the same way, I think we could say that somebody who boycotts a child’s non-temple wedding should count on official disapproval. There should be no ambiguity about it at all.

  202. Geoff J, believe it or not, I’m not trying to grind an axe. I am Mormon, I identify as Mormon, but yet I’ve heard some very unkind comments towards Mormons (by people who don’t know that) that scare me to death, almost (but not quite) entirely around the issues discussed here. A few minor changes would make a big difference in the public perception. Really.

  203. Yeah Mark, I could see that. Seems a bit specific but maybe a single sentence in the general handbook would do the job on the wedding issue.

  204. #195 Geoff: Agnes disagreeing with you, based on her own experience, necessarily means she has an axe to grind? I really don’t like the implication, sometimes bandied about in these kinds of debates, that people who disagree strongly with us (esp. on very emotional issues like this one) must be arguing in bad faith.

    #196 Mark, I’m betting she could support those accusations quite easily. As I said in my earlier comment, often the deeper the love and concern, the stronger the disappointment and the pressure on the wayward one to fall back in line. Motive matters, i.e it’s better done out of love than out of Machiavellian manipulation. But Agnes has acknowledged that in her #198.

  205. Mommie Dearest says:

    Someone who boycotts a child’s non-temple wedding would get plenty of disapproval in my stake. I know a couple of bishops who would probably try to privately persuade the mistaken parents to relent and support their child. But it would be bad to turn bishops into the Official Parental Love Police on this issue so that we’d all be forced to not be boneheads and show our love appropriately, and (even worse reason) so that we’d project the right image to the world out there observing us.

  206. It’s all good Agnes.

  207. Chuck M,

    I don’t think Agnes disagreed with me.

  208. Geoff J, I disagreed with you calling me names.

  209. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 203
    While you’re in there revising the handbook, maybe you could also add a “single sentence” about not disowning your gay kid or rejecting his partner when he comes out to you. Not too many loving outcomes in that situation either.

  210. #209, So all over that! (see #175)

  211. I think maybe it’s time for gst to get here and close this sucker down.

  212. But it’s finally getting exciting!

  213. Oh, bother; that last comment is going to get me banned.

  214. Mommie Dearest says:

    Banned? wouldn’t that be, like, ostracizing?

  215. Mark Brown says:

    I shun you all. I shun you because I love you.

  216. Indeed. In the past BCC has advanced the holy ordinance of bannination on trolls and rabble-rousers, but perhaps a new dispensation may one day dawn, with shunnination as the principle means of restoring order to the blog.

  217. I love the word ‘ostracize.” As I remember (certainly faulty), it derives from the Greek word ‘ostracon,’ pottery shard. The men in certain Greek cities got to cast a vote using said pottery shard on who to throw off the island, uh, town. Loser was expelled. Plus the two words “banned” and “ostracized” are synonyms. /threadjack.

  218. I think both ‘bannination’ and ‘shunnination’ would be great band names. And political movements.

  219. Matt Elggren says:

    The church rose upon the updrafts of its perceived relevance. That fact that we’re even theorizing here about what might be the right amount of friction to sustain the church’s relevance only suggests that the updraft has seriously weakened.

    What’s more, all this hyper-defensiveness about comparisons with contemporary organizations suffering similar weakening — well you might just as be jumping up and down screaming, “na na na, I can’t hear you.”

    John Dehlin’s point was fair and insightful. But based on the reaction you’d think he’d merely called you a bunch of couch-jumping lunatics. Are you so easily offended, so insecure in your faith?

  220. MikeInWeHo says:

    This does get a little more interesting when Steve Evans is asleep. BCC After Dark, anyone?

  221. Woohoo! So why is Hellesbelle named after an AC/DC tribute band?

  222. Not to mention all grrrls.

  223. Is it too late to cast another vote against castigating John Dehlin for posting the link?

    There are aspects of Mormon exit that are similar to Scientology exit. There are aspects that are different. And there is lots of room for reasonable disagreement over the details of the similarity or difference.

    However, a major NYT article that runs *yesterday,* about the topic of difficult religious exit, where one person cited *specifically compares* Mormon exit to Scientologist exit, and which goes into detail on the Scientologist application of an idea (shunning) that JNS specifically mentions in the OP and then in follow up discussion — that’s pretty well relevant and germane to the discussion here, isn’t it?

  224. Kaimi, harsh our (perfectly legal) buzz (because The Dude won!!!!!) will you? OK, seriously; Mormonism is seen as a religion that shuns those that leave by people who know very little about it.

    Certain Mormons do, in fact, shun. More problematic, unlike Mommie Dearest’s experience (completely valid) many Mormons have shunned family members who have, in turn, told non-mormons about it. Even if the shunning was done with the best possible motives (to encourage the deviant back into the fold), the public at large reads it somewhat differently.

  225. Chuck M says:

    #207 Geoff: you’re right; she didn’t. I was too hasty and I apologize.

  226. I’m replacing “many” with “some” in post 224, above.

  227. Mark Brown said, “As Scott and John C. have already pointed out, the church has already advised members to not break up families over religious differences.”

    Mark (or anyone) — If this is true, would you please send me those references? This information would be SUPER helpful for those couples that come to me in distress. I’ve wanted to search for quotes like this, but haven’t had time. Please email to: mormonstories@gmail.com

    Thanks so much.

  228. Kristine says:

    Here ya go, John, from Elder Oaks in the most recent General Conference (and do your own homework! :)):

    ” If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?

    To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.

    Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.

    As parents grapple with these problems, they should remember the Lord’s teaching that we leave the ninety and nine and go out into the wilderness to rescue the lost sheep.11 President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance.12 These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.”

  229. Funny thread, where shunning is being discussed shunning is occouring.

  230. Kristine says:

    Indeed, DKL–I believe it’s what lit crit types would call “performative.” :)

  231. (Sheepishly). Thanks, Kristine. :)

  232. OK, wow, this seriously exploded!

    I think there are real and meaningful differences of degree, at least, among religions in terms of the extent to which they do the kinds of shunning being discussed here. I’m also willing to say uncategorically that shunning is a bad thing. The post here is about trade-offs, about the fact that the possibility of shunning among other costs keeps dissenters and marginal Mormons of all kinds in the community. Diversity among Mormons is, in my view, an uncategorical good. So this is one of those things where we can’t necessarily get all the good.

    I think historically there’s a dynamic sort of like this. Sometimes costs of exit decline. When this happens, the remaining really present membership of the church becomes the more homogeneous “orthodox” core. These people generally have a preference for relatively high costs of exit, so over a generation or so practices evolve again to raise costs of exit. But then the result is that the active membership becomes substantially more diverse. This more diverse membership prefers lower costs of exit, causing those costs to fall over a generation or so. Starting the cycle over again… That’s a hypothesis about how the trade-off in the post actually plays out in our history.

    The hypothetical is, what if there were some intervention that exogenously lowered costs of exit? It’s possible that the cycle would break down.

  233. Kaimi: yes, it’s too late.

  234. Matt Elggren says:

    Elder Oaks suggests that non-shunning love of the lost sheep is preferred to shunning. That the extremes of acceptance and rejection are inappropriate. This is excellent advise — and pragmatic — for those few extremes. Now, how about the broad middle ground where the disaffected neither expect full acceptance nor allow themselves to be rescued? Is shunning still appropriate for the most common case?

  235. My 2 cents

    If shunning occurs in my exp it always happens at the family level. AKA Mom and son are not speaking. Sister not speaking to brother etc. This is a condition of the human race and is not specific to Mormons. A lot of the shunning stories you hear from wayward kids are I think are half truths by rebellious kids and the stories usually collapse with a few questions. Oh you got kicked out? Oh you tried to get your younger brother to try pot? That DUI with your 10 year old sister in the car was a honest mistake? Oh you went to jail for a month? You are 27 and was living in the basement? You like video games?

    I have never seen or witnessed any “institutional shunning” or Bishops/SP’s advising parents to shun non-dangerous kids/family members over LDS issues. I essentially agree with Mark Brown on this topic.

  236. Geoff J,
    I am a universalist and a Mormon, so there is that.

  237. MikeInWeHo says:

    bbell makes a good point. A feud is not the same as shunning, although an observer might easily confuse the two.

    re: Certain comments by Elder Oaks. I think he’s being purposefully vague and therefore not as helpful as you would like, Kristine.

    Here’s a real life example. Many years ago my partner and I went back to Michigan for Christmas. It had been decided that the large Christmas Day family gathering would take place at the home of my Aunt and Uncle who are very religious and conservative. Upon arrival we were allowed in, but my partner was literally ignored by everyone present over 30. No greetings, no hugs, no casual conversation, nothing. I was furious and wanted to storm out in a huff but bit my tongue as I am wont to do. (FWIW: We spent the next Christmas on Maui. Living well is the best revenge. But I digress….)

    How do we interpret my family’s behavior that year? I’m sure they would pat themselves on the back for the “continued loving concern” they displayed by allowing us in the door together. Or were we effectively shunned? It certainly felt that way to me at the time.

  238. Kristine says:

    Oh, I don’t disagree, Mike. Elder Oaks is pretty lawyerly there. It’s a useful quotation, though, because I think Elder Oaks is one of the brethren most likely to come down on the side of, uh, strict interpretation, and even he wants to leave room for kindness.

    And I think the example you describe is a perfect illustration of why the “difference in degree” between Mormon shunning and, say, Amish shunning, is not nearly as significant as Mormons would like to think it is. It’s every bit as effective at communicating total rejection as an official, over-the-pulpit denunciation. In some ways it’s even more insidious, because it means it’s a deliberate choice on the part of those doing it, rather than simply compliance with an official directive, and because the unofficial nature of it allows people to persist in denying the unChristian character of their actions.

  239. Mikeinweho:

    What religion are your personal family shunners? Since its Michigan I would guess Catholic or maybe Dutch Reformed?

    What happens with these disputes/behavior issues with misbehaving young people is that they go around talking to their friends about how their LDS parents did them wrong. When in fact usually the kid is the misbehaving one.

    If you want we can talk about Cali saints offline. My email is on Facebook I think.

  240. Kristine says:

    That may be, Steve. But I think you may be underestimating the pain felt by those shunned, however unofficially and unsystematically, by Mormons.

  241. You know who really gets my goat? The Chupacabra. He’s stopped returning my calls since I came out about my love of D&D. I’m relatively certain his apostate bishop told him to. Jerks!

  242. Mark Brown says:

    John Dehlin,

    This was from Gordon B. Hinckley address in October conference, 1982. The talk was called The Greatest of These is Love.

    Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people, that can bridge chasms of bitterness. I recall these lines:

    He drew a circle that shut me out—
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But Love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle that took him in.
    (Edwin Markham, “Outwitted.”)

    Pres. Hinckley has quoted that poem at least two other times. Say what you will about his taste in belles lettres, I agree completely with the sentiment behind the words.

  243. Thanks so much, Mark! I like that one a lot!!!

  244. John, I have been avidly listening to the podcasts on your website http://mormonstories.org/ about Peter and Mary Danzig’s exit forced exit from the Church. Listening to first hand voices is so much more powerful testimony than just reading about it!

  245. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 240
    These particular relatives were Baptists and conservative Lutherans, bbell. I should have pointed that out. My sense, however, is the same scenario could easily have occurred in an LDS context.

    I agree with Kristine. Informal social shunning is in some ways more insidious than what the Amish and JWs do (and a heckuva lot more common).

    Also, bbell, do you see any difference at all between a “misbehaving” child who’s getting DUIs and one who decides to come out as gay? I’m used to getting lumped in with drug dealers and pornographers ’round these parts, but drunk drivers are a new peer group for me. The circle I’m in seems to get bigger all the time!

  246. Mike, it’s populism in action: since the world only involves two groups (“us” and “them”) it obviously follows that everyone who is not “us” is one big category. Thus, you, Margaret Toscano, and Larry Flynt are all the same in every important respect. By the way, how are Margaret and Larry doing?

  247. MikeInWeHo says:

    Fabulous! I had them over for dinner just last night after the drug dealer left. Larry makes a great cacciatore.

  248. StillConfused says:

    I like being shunned. It reduces the amount of Christmas cards and gifts I am expected to give out.

  249. Whether institutionalized or not, the real life effect of the LDS Church’s practices generates “shunning” or a high cost of exit, as least in my experience along the Wasatch front. If I were to leave the Church, I know my family would certainly make their feelings heard in both subtle and overt ways, as I have seen it happen. I know people in my family would think I was “going to hell” and casting away my chance for eternal glory.

    In my neighborhood, people would still be “nice” outwardly, but I know I would be talked about and shunned in ways that are obviously not institutionalized, but would be real nonetheless.

    In my profession, there are a number of people who would be much less likely to see me as a physician if they knew I “left the Church”, even though it has absolutely no bearing on my medical knowledge.

    So, at the end of the day, I stay. So I give up a few hours on a Sunday morning – doesn’t matter too much for the sake of the costs of not going. I have no interest in tobacco, regardless of whether or not I was a member. I’d probably be like Christ or JS and have a glass of wine now and then, but would still probably avoid “strong drink” as I have no real interest in being intoxicated. I’d still probably give away at least 10% of my money to charities and other organizations who do good in this world, so that wouldn’t really change either.

    So, while I think the Church has seriously veered off course from the core of the gospel into minutae that have nothing to do with Christ, it’s just not worth it to “leave”. The “cost” of remaining a “member” isn’t really that high.

    And statistically, of every 100 “members”, probably 60-70 are inactive. Of the 30-40 remaining, I would posit that at least half feel like I do, but just like with me, you’d never know it. There are probably less than 10 who actually buy off on things like what color shirt you wear making any difference, or how many earrings you have, or why coffee is a hot drink but not hot chocolate, or whether rum cake is bad for you, etc… Yet those 10 trickle up into the leadership and make the rules for the other 90.

  250. John Mansfield says:

    So, Mike S. figures that pretty much all the participating members around him that aren’t needed for leadership have a relationship with the church that is about the same as his.

  251. Mike,
    Your analysis misses the fact that, unlike you, most active members don’t live on the Wasatch Front. That is, if I were to become disillusioned with the Church, my parents would undoubtedly be disappointed, putting some soft pressure on me to stay. But other than family and friends in the Church, I’d face no downside. My coworkers wouldn’t care, the people at my daughter’s preschool wouldn’t care, my neighbors wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t take a financial or community hit. And so your estimate that fully half of the active members in the church are staying mostly because of outside pressure seems really high to me.

  252. StillConfused says:

    Mike S, I don’t really roll with the LDS ways right now but I have not found it to be a problem with either my family or my legal practice. When I remember to wear jewelry, I have a nice star of david that I wear. When my daughter picked out the pattern for my dress at her reception (she was temple married), she picked a sleeveless pattern.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t want a client who chose me based on a belief as to my religious affiliation.

    For me, I have a hard time defining whether I am Mormon or not because nothing about me has really changed. I never liked church (too ADD for that business), I don’t drink, smoke or overeat out of personal choice rather than religious. My style of dating was not impacted by my religious affiliations.

    I think the big thing is just to be strong in who you are. If people judge you because of that, then it is their loss.

  253. The Chupacabra and his buddies are bad mouthing me to the Stake President now. How can I get ahead if the man keeps me down?

  254. MikeInWeHo says:

    It sounds like the cultural experience of being a Mormon is quite different along the Wasatch Front (in a way that scares me!!).

  255. The Chupacabra roams the hallways of the Pleasant Grove Vermont 8th Stake Center during Stake Conference, eating children found straggling around out there.

  256. #251 John Mansfield
    #252 Sam B

    I stand corrected. Those numbers are based on my experience along the Wasatch Front and the people with whom I am close enough to truly let down your “church face” and really say what you think. Extrapolating them past the Wasatch Front was a stretch.

    The non-familial societal pressures truly do only make the most sense in an area where the LDS Church is predominant. In my own experience in various Wasatch Front wards and in talking with a number of “active” friends, I would still argue that 50% of “active” members generally stay for societal reasons and not necessarily for belief reasons.

  257. I do think things differ along the Wasatch front from other places. When I referred a Utah lawyer to someone along the Wasatch front, not only did the person want to know if the lawyer was LDS but whether the lawyer was active LDS. Anecdotal evidence, sure. But that was the only time in my life I have been asked about the religious identity of another lawyer when making a referral.

  258. John C.,
    That’s “Brother Chupacabra,” and he’s been told that he’s not to each children anymore unless he’s accompanied by his wife or another brother in the ward.

  259. John Mansfield says:

    Mike S., the part of your observation that I have a bit of trouble with is gauging leadership callings as a measure of personal belief.

  260. John M. is right — people can (and do) easily get and hold leadership callings without believing much, and lots of people believe a lot but don’t have leadership callings.

  261. Strange, I could have sworn that Brother Chupacabra was at our ward house every week. He teaches Sunday School every other time, sometimes quoting from the Book of Jasher.

  262. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    He is everywhere and nowhere, like Zelph.

  263. When someone leaves the church what was once common ground now no longer is. It makes people uncomfortable on both sides, and working out a new basis for relationships that once had the easy camaraderie of Mormonness can be complicated. If the relationship is a superficial one to begin with, one or both parties may decide it’s just not worth the effort.

    Shunning can be a two-way street. I could probably hang out more often with members of my ward, but it’s all church stuff all the time and it drives me nuts, so I don’t seek out relationships with them. I’m pretty sure my persistent absence from church makes them uncomfortable (the elephant in the room) so they don’t seek me out, either.

  264. The chupacabra is the true cost of exit.

    In the end, if you do not choose the chupacabra, it will not matter what choice you have made.

  265. Ah, a mystery solved. Let’s give the poor Goat-sucker his proper Nephite name from now on: Brother Zelphacabra.

  266. The chupacabra demands a sacrifice. He demands that you go to SSRN and download a copy of Nate Oman’s new article which begins with the immortal line: “In the ancient Near East, contracts were often solemnized by hacking up a goat.”

    Remember to click the “Download article” button and give a brother a hand with his download count. It’s free, and it just may satisfy the chupacabra. Remember, the chupacabra never said it would be easy.

  267. Ann, thanks for the comment. I think that’s a perceptive description of what we’re really talking about on the ground. For my part, you know I think the same things about you whether you’re going to church or not. Next time you’re in the midwest, we need to meet up so you can meet Athena and see crazy 2-year-old Artemis…

  268. On the other hand, hacking up goats reduces the food supply available for Bro. Zelphacabra. I’m not sure how he’d feel about that, Kaimi.

  269. @ #245 — Thanks, Dan! Nice to meet you virtually!

  270. StillConfused says:

    I am an attorney in Salt Lake and have never had the religious determination issues in my practice. I think that most people probably assumed I wasn’t even when I was because I never used LDS jargon. I have had some potential clients who were uncomfortable with a female professional but I am not sure if that was religious or just societal in general.

  271. I think that some people here want there to be a rule about Scientology similar to the one about Hitler: 1st one to bring it up loses.

    If you want that to be the rule, just say so. All these attempts to accuse John of comparing Scientology to Mormonism are just plain idiotic.

    (and for all the stupid people here who can’t grasp the logic of generalizations: No, I’m not comparing Scientology to Hitler. I’m comparing arguments into which Scientology is inserted with arguments into which Hitler is inserted.)

  272. pinkpatent says:

    I don’t know anything about DD, so the whole goat thing is a mystery to me.

    I just wanted to say that I have alot of respect for JNS and I think the object of his post was that any organization has to look at the health of the whole as well as the health of the individual. Its the same reasoning behind laws based on what is right for society rather than what my own idea of justice might be.

    I get it. But, at the same time I am not willing to see my husband be the one falling on his sword for the benefit of the organizational church. No way! If others want to take that path, fine. But I will not be the one shunning, or applying pressure or divorcing the man I love just because he no longer wants to participate in mormonism.

    I realize there will be a price to be paid for this, most likely extracted from me, because that seems to be the way it works. I guess that’s the unwritten agreement I made when I decided to stay active LDS while my husband has been detaching……So, all I can do is pay until I’m broke.

    This whole thread reminds me of this weird slogan I saw in a teacher’s classroom a long time ago: The beatings will continue until moral improves.

    Seriously folks, people will be more apt to stay if they believe we really like them, really care about them, even when we know what they REALLY do and don’t believe.

  273. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think that would be a good rule, actually. No comparisons to Hitler or Scientology.

  274. I agree that John didn’t compare Scientology to Mormonism. His quote, as I now take it, was offered at face value as an interesting point relevant to this conversation.

    I think there’s a possible implication which John didn’t intend, that I’m operating in the same way as some guy defending Scientology. I’d reject that argument, because I’m not defending any practices. But John I think didn’t intend that implication, so there’s no issue.

  275. Matt Elggren says:

    It’s always fun to imagine too that Scientologist might find Mormon revulsion of Scientology a tad bit comical. As I do.

  276. Was Hitler a Scientologist?

  277. pinkpatent, I’ve been in that spot myself. It’s hard, and you have my empathy and full support. I don’t want anyone I know to be stuck between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual. But I also don’t want to be the Last Non-Conservative Mormon Standing… I guess we don’t always get what we want, or even what we need.

    Mike, I’d vote for that rule.

  278. Matt Elggren says:

    Mike S wrote: “Was Hitler a Scientologist?”

    Well, there’s this …

    Scientologists Claiming to be Nazis in Their Past Lives

  279. pinkpatent says:

    Thanks, JNS. People like you (and a few others I won’t name) make me want to stay. That and the fact that I happen to be a mormon girl.

  280. #275 @JNS,

    True on all counts. I agreed w/ your article from the start. You were highlighting a tough reality/tension that I tried to acknowledge as tough (by my use of the term “paradox”). And I thought there could be some value in discussing the tension between the need for barriers, and Christ’s admonition to love.

    The Scientology/Catholic/Amish/JW reference was made purely from the standpoint of coincidence. I thought it was interesting/timely. It was sort of a….”Hey, look! Someone else is talking about this today…in the NY Times…and it just shows that others churches struggle with this too!!!!” I in NO WAY intended to put the LDS church in a negative light by the comparison to the other churches. Not even a tiny bit.

    JNS — You rule. Sorry to all for the heat. I did not come here to cause problems. I really, really didn’t. Apologies to all for the bad blood.

  281. What’s worse is that the Chupacabra is a well known Scientologist. His appearance at church only demonstrates the insincerity of his faith.

  282. John C, what sound does the Chupacabra make upon entering a chapel? I’ve heard everything from “the sound of silence” to “hosana shouts” and I’d like your thoughts here.

  283. I have not read all the 282 comments and so if i’m repeating a previous post I apologize.

    It strikes me that there is a “chicken & egg” scenario to this, JNS suggest’s that there is a potential that extending more love and support to disaffected Mormons would lead to Mormons having a greater propensity to leave the Faith due to a lack of social stigma, and therefore cause less diversity within the organisation.

    Whilst I see the logic, I would suggest that extending more love, would lead to a stronger level of understanding, more openness about doubts and challenges and greater retention within the church. I recognize that this is an idealistic view but I can’t vary from this.

  284. “It sounds like the cultural experience of being a Mormon is quite different along the Wasatch Front (in a way that scares me!!).”

    Mike, having lived both on and off the Wasatch as a member I can tell you that the differences are there, but that they are mostly overblown and not (to me) at all scary. Now, West Hollywood on the other hand…

  285. MikeInWeHo says:

    I’ve heard non-Utah LDS say the most scathing things about “Utah Mormons.” Having never been outside of downtown SLC, I have no idea what it’s really like there. Everything I know about the culture of the Wasatch Front comes from reading the Bloggernacle and watching Big Love. Kinda wonder if my perceptions aren’t a bit off…..

  286. You’d think with all that fry sauce that people would be cooler in the Wasatch. Go figure.

  287. Having never been outside of downtown SLC

    Mike, really–you should at least try to hit up Clearfield or maybe American Fark some time.

  288. JNS at 232, are you really saying that given the chance a significant number of currently-active Mormons would flee for the foothills (or even the deeper canyons) that the Wasatch front so conveniently provides? Wow. Wow. That plus your comment telling me that Mick Jagger lied to me (Mick! No heroes allowed here?) is just stunning.

  289. #288: No, no, no. Mike, you gotta check out Heber.

  290. …all the cool Chupacabras hang out in downtown Heber.

  291. Heber is great and everything, but Midway is where it’s really at. A tiny bit of heaven on earth.

  292. Latter-day Guy says:

    Late to this party. (It kinda looks more like a rave, actually––I’m convinced there was mescaline involved in the creation of #41.)

    Anyway, apropos of the whole apostasy/divorce angle, I recently found out that one of my past co-workers had left the Church. It was pretty big news to all of us, particularly as the job is Church related. It was interesting to hear the comments of some of my (current) co-workers. They generally would include some variation of “That’s awful. How could he do that to his wife!?” (She’s still active.)

    On one hand, I really do see their point. This decision has, I’m sure, really complicated things for their little family. On the other hand, however, I don’t sympathize with some of my co-workers’ insinuations that he was dishonest, and therefore his wife ought to consider divorce. He was raised in the Church, he kept the commandments (imperfectly, I’m sure, just like the rest of us), he served a mission, and married in the Temple. Through all of that, he never felt like he had a testimony. He read and prayed, but nothing happened.

    I understand that there is some irony in being a testimony-less missionary, and (to some extent) in holding a TR sans-burning bosom. But aren’t we essentially counseled to “fake it till we make it”? (For instance, BKP’s famous line: “A testimony is found in the bearing of it.”) After going through over 23 years of life in the Church, never feeling like he had a spiritual witness, I can’t hold his decision against him. How long should he have waited?

    Hypothetically, were I to find myself in the same situation, I think I would stay. The familial cost of leaving would be too high; I know for a fact that my family would be less upset by my death than my apostasy. (Given our theology, this is understandable.) But that decision wouldn’t be more honest or virtuous that his decision. Both roads are compromises.

    So yeah, I think shunning/disowning/cutting ties is a pretty standard practice in the Church. While not officially sanctioned, it is nevertheless a frequently-used method of “border patrol.” I suspect that this phenomenon is actually part of a larger dynamic in LDS life: inner language v. public language. This is also reflected in the way we talk about missionary work: there are certain things you say over the pulpit or to groups including pre-missionaries––however, behind closed doors with other RM’s, the conversations are often very different. Lots of the same horror stories/complaints/frustrations are brought up, but these things are very rarely mentioned to non-initiates. Consequently, most missionaries get a hefty dose of disillusionment during their first few transfers.

    Anyway, this was a fascinating post, JNS.

  293. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: inner v. public language

    I suspect this tension is what makes the Bloggernacle so popular. The anonymity of BCC, FMH, et. al. provides a safe environment for to bridge that gap. Not really sure since it doesn’t apply to me; just a thought. What do you guys think?

    Heber? Clearfield? American Fark (sic)? How does one choose? If I venture out of SLC next time I’m in Utah, I’d like to visit the Juniper Creek compound.

  294. Peter LLC says:

    None of the above, Mike. Check out Mexican Hat, Blanding and Castle Dale instead for a taste of the real Utah. Those other ones are just part of the Wasatch Front’s urban sprawl.

  295. The Chupacabra has been seen as far south as Kanab and as far north as Brigham City. His range is wide and his suckers are pointy.

  296. Well, having listened to the Danzig interviews on Mormonstories, I am no upset and confused and doubting if I will ever qualify to go to the temple again. I know I am where I am supposed to be, but now I am not sure where that is.

  297. Latter-day Guy,

    “I know for a fact that my family would be less upset by my death than my apostasy. (Given our theology, this is understandable.)”

    Please tell me this is a joke. The mere suspicion that this could be true may be a factor in too many suicides, so the meme should not be lightly propagated in jest.

    And if it is not a joke, maybe you should have a talk with your parents. They might just surprise you. Mine did.

  298. You know what else just might surprise you? Chupacabras.

  299. Latter-day Guy says:

    It is no joke. In fact it makes sense. The LDS notion of families is based on the idea that a temple sealing trumps death. Unrepentant apostasy, being an act of will, is less easily overcome.

    Now, suicide does complicate the matter. It is very serious sin, so it could be considered tantamount to apostasy, but there are usually many mitigating factors concerning the deceased and their state of mind when they took their life. Nevertheless, I suspect that this kind of statement is indeed a factor in some suicides. I knew missionaries who were told, “Come home clean. I’d rather have you come home in a box than come home unclean.” (I believe that’s a quote from a talk or a book… anyway, the statement is pretty well known, and not infrequently repeated.)

    Anyway, I wasn’t joking. I also don’t think the notion is an uncommon one within Mormondom.

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