A few confessions to people who’ve left the church

anditwasallgoingsowellI have friends and family members who have left the church. A few actively removed their names from church records. Most of them simply slipped into “inactivity” and some even still consider themselves Mormons. I have some confessions to make about my various relationships with them. 

Sometimes (though not always) I feel anxiety around them. I fear they might believe my love for them was somehow conditional on our shared faith, meaning my ongoing love is weakened or even pretend. I even wonder if my love was conditional, at least in some ways. I worry that any kindness on my part will be misinterpreted as covert missionary work. I worry that they’ll believe I pity them as lost souls who must be making sinful choices and disconnecting themselves from God. In fact, I don’t pity them for that. My belief that God’s mercy is deep and abiding and that eternity is a very long time suggests they’ll ultimately be fine and, more importantly, that their current experiences have value whether they unite with the church or not. So I grieve with hope.

Which leaves me with one last anxiety: that my loved ones might feel diminished by my attempt to recapture them into my narrative of God’s love and salvation. They may get the impression I feel bad for them because they aren’t living life the way I believe they should. Any pity on my part can feel judgmental and misplaced—especially considering the fact that someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life.

The truth is, I do feel sorrow when people I know leave the church. But expressions of this grief can be taken in a number of ways leading to negative side-effects. These include alienating people who choose to leave, as well as reinforcing a sense of superiority on the part of people who stay. At the most basic level, the idea is that a person who leaves is being defined according to a perceived lack on their part. Sorrowing for them makes sense according to the assumption that staying is the absolute right decision. In sorrowing, I impose my own standard on them even though I do it as an act of love. But my love is thereby revealed to be conditional. Instead of relating to a former member as still being a sister or brother in Christ, a dear friend or family member, I define myself over and against them—even if I admit that the fact that I’m still here and they aren’t seems ultimately mysterious.

I should put my sorrow in perspective. I sorrow for people stricken with cancer. I sorrow for parents who lose a child. I sorrow for suffering. In expressing sorrow for people who leave, I express judgment about their actions and the quality of their life. I categorize them with other sufferers in ways that may be untrue to their own experiences. I risk making a judgment about the likely state of their soul eternally, a judgment only God can really make and which I’ve been cautioned against making (Matthew 7:2). I cast them in the role of sufferer whether they feel like they suffer, or whether their actual suffering differs much from my own resulting from the vicissitudes of life that impact anyone (Matthew 5:45). Yes, there are some people who leave the church and who shift their values in sometimes-destructive ways, but there are church members who suffer from the same things, and there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives. And people who leave and apparently do suffer as a result of not adhering to LDS values (say, someone who caused an accident by driving while intoxicated or something) need an increase of love, not a withholding of love in an “I-told-you-so” fashion, as well as an ongoing recognition that everybody sins.

To people who leave, then, I think my expression of sorrow can come across as blame or as unfair judgment against them when according to my own beliefs I’ve been commanded to take care of the beam in my own eye before worrying about other people’s motes (Matthew 7:3). As I said, this doesn’t mean I don’t grieve when a friend or loved one has decided to leave. (And this isn’t a discussion about why people leave!) I try to worry less about the state of their soul than I do about the fact that something in their experience made the church a non-viable option for them. Instead of measuring their ongoing adherence or deviation from LDS values, I grieve that I’ll miss out on their ongoing contributions to the body of Christ. I sorrow that the church can’t live up to the divine potential it seeks to achieve. I sorrow even more if the person who leaves experiences grief at their loss of a faith that formerly sustained them.

More than with grief, however, I try to relate to them with hope. Not just hope that they’ll turn around and choose the right and make it back, but that whatever they do, they’re in the hands of a loving God whose plans for them are beyond the reach of my own vision. For both theological and practical reasons I believe saying “I sorrow for you leaving the church” isn’t likely to communicate love to most people who’ve decided to leave. It’s also unlikely to inspire love on the part of those who remain.

All of us are so much more than our church membership or lack thereof. I believe we’re all still God’s children. Some of my friends and family who’ve left share this sentiment. I hope my friends and family who don’t share this particular belief can understand it as flowing from unfeigned love, and that they know my love for them isn’t contingent on their relationship to my church.

Comments

  1. Some really great thoughts here.

    “I try to worry less about the state of their soul than I do about the fact that something in their experience made the church a non-viable option for them. Instead of measuring their ongoing adherence or deviation from LDS values, I grieve that I’ll miss out on their ongoing contributions to the body of Christ.”

    I would venture to say that it’s because you’ve learned how not to view them as mere caricatures, ascribing all kinds of nefarious or unsavory motivations, thoughts, and beliefs to them. Instead, you respect them for who they are as individuals.

    The other strength I see in this perspective is your ability to “let go” and trust God — that “they’re in the hands of a loving God whose plans for them are beyond the reach of my own vision.”

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. This was great. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this, as it’s becoming an increasingly important topic.

    It made me think of the fact that I finally got around to seeing Meet the Mormons last Sunday. I was struck by the vignette of the woman in Costa Rica who converted from Catholicism and where she talked about her family’s reaction.

    She spoke of their unconditional love and support, and the fact that they were happy that she was happy.

    It struck me how odd it is that this is a practice we seem to expect of people whose family members leave the church, but it’s an approach we seem to be so bad at when the roles are reversed.

  4. Thomas Parkin says:

    As someone who bounces in an out of the church like a tennis ball, I really appreciated this, Brother Hodges.

    In fact, all paths leading to Christ have some common elements. Understandings, states of being, divine, personal qualities – knowledge, ultimately. We have to penetrate the veil, at some point. As we acquire these things, we can come to greater interpersonal unity. The acquisition of these things will often look the same, seeing as their nature is One. There has to be more than one path up the mountain, however, as our starting places vary so radically.

    No man knows my history. Not one dmn man. And I appreciate all the loving and free space I can get, and hope to give more of it myself as I go on.

  5. I appreciate this. In the examination of self you give us all food for thought.
    “I grieve that I’ll miss out on their ongoing contributions to the body of Christ.” — is, I think, the most consistent and non-judgmental approach you can take. It’s about you rather than about them.
    I confess, however, that when I finish reading I wonder whether one could do something similar with respect to those who remain active but in a back-pew sense. Attending and even sometimes participating, but with a heterodox view of what the church is about or how we fit in.

  6. An author over at Segullah happened to publish a post today that resonates with this one. I like the distinction she draws between the hope we have for others versus the expectations we have of others:

    http://segullah.org/daily-special/hope-expectation-love-and-agency/

  7. Don’t worry too much about what those who have stopped going to church think of your concern for our happiness. In some cases, you are more loving and kind to us than we deserve. We can be every bit as smug, self-righteous, dogmatic, and judgmental as the most pious, insufferable Saint. If you take priesthood authority from a privileged know-it-all, he’s still a privileged know-it-all.

    Your hope for us is not misplaced. I think it’s pretty much spot on. If God is good, or if there is such a thing as karma, it will all work out the way it’s supposed to.

  8. Blair, you’re a good guy. Thanks for articulating these feelings, which seemed very familiar to me.

  9. It’s a painful situation all around.

    I feel sad that leaving the Church causes suffering to those who remain, especially where the departure is act of conscience.

    I really feel sorrow for people who feel trapped in the Church because of the grief that their leaving would cause. “I can’t leave–even though I don’t believe–because Mom would cry herself to sleep every night about the loss to her eternal family.” The specter of inflicting that sorrow is a powerful, coercive force keeping many people in (intentional or not).

  10. JamesPatterson – Amen.

    Blair – My grandfather was the perfect example of someone who left, long before I even came into the picture, but who was still the same generous, hardworking, loving, Christian man. His non-member neighbors called him the Mayor of the street, because he cared so much.

    We need to quit feeling and labeling leavers as dissenters.

  11. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I empathize with many of your thoughts here. However, many of those I know who have left the Church have done so as a result of their intellectual wrestling with truth claims. While their transition away from the Church was painful, and persists in its cultural and familial difficulties, they “seem” quite confident in their rejection of the Church and genuinely happy to have left. As their stated reason for leaving was that they could no longer believe in something so ridiculous, when I am around them I feel as though they perceive me to be an idiot for still believing. Or further, there is a sense (sometimes stated overtly) that I will eventually come to my senses. So I confess to avoiding them. I am confident that they feel as though I have judged them to be wicked, that I feel sorrow for their soul, that I think they are secretly suffering, that I am fickle in my friendship. Such is not the case. In truth, I simply find them to be insufferable.

  12. Upon a friend leaving the church, I usually feel more sorrow for the church than I do for the friend who leaves the church. I’m not altogether sure that I’m right to feel that way, and I’m not certain why I feel that way, but there it is.

  13. Keith M. Henderson says:

    Some of us who have left the Church didn’t really leave the church at all. The “church” left them. In fact the church threw them out and then ran over them in it’s attempt to quickly distance itself from the “rubbish,” as they supposed. Some of these got thrown out in the middle of a discussion which didn’t turn in the direction the church thought it ought, but to which consideration ought to have taken place; especially if it was scriptural.

    Some of these “that are lost” sit convinced they are wrapped in the arms of their Savior with all their priesthood intact, and mourn the loss of their friends still in the church, because they see them as being asleep in the comfort of their ignorance.

    Some are convinced the churches’ leaders exercised “control, dominion, and compulsion” on them contrary to D&C 121: 37 and subsequently those leaders received a prompt “amen” to their
    own priesthood.

    The Church has its rules and has a right to throw anyone out who they think doesn’t meet its conditions, but just because they do, doesn’t mean they are right in the eyes of God. Many of us got the “ex” simply because of our belief that the Prophet is not infallible. Your sideways glance should look up and down the street called “God’s will” before looking only at the excommunicant, as you step out to cross that street. If you don’t you might get hit by a bigger bus than you anticipate in the future.

    IMO not all is as it seems to the lethargic member yawning his way through the 50 approved topics of the priesthood manual. There is a real hemorrhage taking place, just as Elder Marlin Jensen acknowledged just before becoming emeritus, by comparing today’s exodus to that in Kirtland Ohio. Why do you suppose that is?

    And finally, many of these “lost souls” would relish the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss their condition (and yours) and would not in any way take offense at your long face.

    Keith

  14. I second Keith’s statement. There is a hemorrhage and it won’t be healed till some heavy lifting is done. People close to me who have left, really did feel abandoned, betrayed, thrown under the bus and lied to. That is different than just walking away. My grandfather who I mentioned earlier, walked. Others feel forced. It’s going to take bigger steps by bigger people to mend this area of pain.

  15. Wonderfully said, Blair. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your recognition that the sorrow you might feel is not always reciprocated. We humans have a remarkable capacity for assuming the worst about our fellow wo/man. We demonize and we ascribe mala fides when all we need do is turn inward and examine our own human condition to know that most people mean well and most people are only doing the best they can. I no longer identify as Mormon or even Christian, but truly charity never faileth. It is hard to see how we might go wrong if we interact with each other with a genuine spirit of charity.

  16. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    This discussion reminds me of an old story. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were two very close friends who were united in their devotion to each other. They were united also, as it happens, in obedience to the commandments of their God. Things went along OK, and then one day one of them got to thinking about things — in particular about the whole “obedience to commandments” thing — and decided maybe it was better not to obey. Before you know it she up and left her little church, and she asked her friend to do likewise. Forced to choose between obedience to his God and loyalty to his friend, the man chose his friend. To this day, no one knows if that was the right choice; all we really know is that for all three of our characters things would never be the same.

  17. Hatch! You still owe me a CD.

  18. Truly love this, Bhodges. I was thinking some similar things today. Thank you!

  19. A Happy Hubby says:

    Very NICE! I wish all types of people could read this and appreciate the LOVE that I can sense from you have.

  20. As usual great thoughts and writing to match Blair. I don’t have much to add other than to say this post resonates with me.

  21. Angela C says:

    Turtle Named Mack: “As their stated reason for leaving was that they could no longer believe in something so ridiculous, when I am around them I feel as though they perceive me to be an idiot for still believing. Or further, there is a sense (sometimes stated overtly) that I will eventually come to my senses. So I confess to avoiding them.” This is how I feel at times, worse the closer the relationship is and the more likely it is that religion will come up on a regular basis. Both sides have their preference, and the other side is their less preferred, so there is distance. Finding common ground is the key, but the common experiences associated with religion or being together in a church community are no longer going to happen, and that’s a loss.

    I don’t want to judge either way. People have to live their own life. I wish for their happiness. But on some level, one of us has rejected something the other one loves, one of us thinks that the other one’s decision is perhaps less than or even foolish (or both may feel that way), and that creates distance. It’s hard to feel judged, but it’s also hard to want to invest in a relationship with someone you think is gullible or immature or foolish and who thinks the same of you on some level.

  22. Speaking as one who has been friends with you for what seems like forever, and has ridden waves of activity and inactivity at that time I can genuinely attest to the fact that I felt no less loved as an inactive member as opposed to an active one.

    In fact, because I felt that our friendship was never contingent on whether or not I was active (I’ve always still considered myself Mormon despite long bouts of inactivity) it gave me the space to come back to Church. When I struggled to decide whether to go back into activity or to remove my name from The Church records, you were the first person I contacted. If it had not been for the patience and love you showed me at that time I never would have had the courage to embark on the experiment of coming back.

    So, from one who has known you through periods of feast and famine of my soul I thank you. If I had not been able to count on that non-judgment my life would be much worse off today.

  23. Joe Swick says:

    Thoughtful post, Blair, and kind. Thank you.

  24. As someone bouncing along on the fringes both mentally and institutionally this is lovely. I think there is much to be gained to making our social boundaries more porous than they are. This happens one person at a time. The people I admire most, both those that have stayed and left Mormonism, are described in the OP. May I find as much charity in my heart, no matter where life takes me.

  25. I think that frequently the sorrow of those who stay is more than a perceived lack on the part of those who leave. It is sorrow at a loss of communion with someone you love. You don’t have to think your child/spouse/friend is immoral to be sad that they won’t participate in some Church thing with you. You can even think it is best for them, but still be sad at the loss of shared experience. It is probably a selfish sadness (I’d enjoy this more if so-and-so was here with me), but that doesn’t make it inherently manipulative or judgmental.

  26. Coming from someone who has left the church (or rather allowed myself to drift into “Inactivity”… for a few decades): This IS something I have seen and felt from some people. Most have never seemed to be insincere and you certainly are one of the most forward thinking and honest people I’ve ever met. I’ve never felt this way from you, or indeed most active Mormons I still see regularly.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts about the topic, It is great to see that this is something people are conscious about. And I always appreciate reading your well articulated thoughts on any topic!

  27. It sounds like a lot of the problems related to judging and second guessing other people’s judgments can be chalked up to the more universal human condition of a failure to communicate.

    People that leave may end up leaving because they don’t feel like the church creates an environment where they can be themselves. I’m sure at least some have left because they feel like they are stuck communicating a facade, eventually they wear down over time, and find that leaving is an easier path to being authentic. The culture doesn’t do a good job of creating space for people to communicate their genuine selves.

    It’s been my experience at the local level, where the rubber meets the road, that the majority of people are loving and accepting. If they knew the more authentic side of their neighbor they would be accommodating and love them all the same. They may even hunger for more genuine interactions because it would help them realize that it’s “safe” to be genuine.

  28. I’m not sure I totally understand all the angst. Why can’t we just treat people like friends, relatives, and neighbors? When we communicate with others do we have to have an agenda? I have friends who are Catholic, Protestant, Ethiopian Orthodox, Native American, ex-Mormons, active Mormons, etc. Shouldn’t I treat them all the same? With love and respect. Why should I feel uncomfortable or judgmental toward them because of their choice of religion?

    I recently attended a Stake Conference; my wife was singing in the choir. One of the issues was dealing with those who are “less active.” (By the way, that’s me.) Some of the speakers mentioned that the “less active” are frequently the topic of discussions in Ward Councils. To me, that seemed slightly creepy. I wonder about issues like personal privacy. I intentionally live a rather private life.

    A few months ago, I was visited by a pair of senior missionaries. I invited them in, we had a brief discussion about life, and then they stood up to leave. Since one was wearing a name tag, I asked them the purpose of their visit. They mentioned something about “hastening the work.” After I checked out what “hastening the work” is, I had to inform them that I didn’t want to be “hastened.” I have my own personal religion (as we all do) and I’m comfortable with it.

    Our home teachers are very congenial and pleasant, and my wife and I enjoy their visits. I appreciate the fact that they don’t push.

  29. anonymous says:

    “… especially considering the fact that someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life”

    For me leaving the church was an -essential- step towards living a good and happy life.

  30. I have been “out” for quite awhile, althought if I’m honest, the LDS members of my family, neighborhood and ward have actually been marvelously loving and kind. My bishop knows I won’t participate with any formal interview so he’s literally “walked with me twain” and discussed the issues (made a deal that I would adhere to the word of wisdom the day he can beat me in a 5K). But as many know that which has been seen cannot be unseen and for reasons both dealing directly with man’s propensity of belief including out of the thousands, our little historical corner of upstate New York belief, and reasons outside that deal with the natural world, I firmly have rejected supernatural belief and embrace the worldviews of naturalism, materialism and atheism. And you know what? I have found the peace, joy, calm and humility that were only guessed at as a “knowing” believer, but firmed only when uncertainty, unknowing, tentative living were embraced.

    So you are so close bhodges, and you are so loving, and I’m grateful for your words. See my eyes? They are brimming with self actualized concepts of gratitude of nature, comfort with solitude, efficient perceptions of reality, comfortable acceptance of self and others, and freshness of appreciation. I don’t turn the tables but it would be easy for me to actually feel sorrow for you as a believer in a worldview that embraces many notions not grounded in reality, and sees fellow primates as with or without the group. I have the advantage of being a Mormon, a fully participated Mormon, and your path I have walked. I love your attempt brother, however, sorrow would be the last thing I would expect nor want. For us on the outside, it almost becomes a non-sequitor, which to me, is another fruit of leaving belief. Let’s just put our arms around our shoulders like we did as kids and whistle our tune as we march down the street, looking to have a good time.

  31. Peter Hardie says:

    I’m going against the grain here and will say what a condescending piece this blog post is. It’s rooted in the paradigm that the Church is the only ‘true’ way and is judgmental of all those how are not practicing Mormons.

    “…especially considering the fact that someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life”

    Really? People who leave the Church CAN live happy lives? How about saying that people who leave the Church do live happy lives. There’s plenty of happiness and misery in and out of the Church alike.

    “…and there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives.”

    Really? People who leave the Church, EVEN they can be Christlike? How about stating that people who leave the Church do live Christlike lives. There’s plenty of Christian and despicable living being done in and out of the Church alike.

    “Not just hope that they’ll turn around and choose the right and make it back, but that whatever they do, they’re in the hands of a loving God whose plans for them are beyond the reach of my own vision.”

    Really? Those that have left the Church are not ‘choosing the right’ the way those that stay in are? News flash, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with people who leave the Church and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with people who stay in it. People who leave did not all of a sudden stop “choosing the right” and they there is no ‘back’ for them to make it to. Get over yourself. Attending church is not a ‘right’ choice, just as not attending is not a ‘wrong’ choice.

    The fact that you feel the need to post about the status of whether someone is practicing or not and how that may affect your relationship with them shows you are judging them. Love your family and friends unconditionally and stop judging them, especially over arbitrary choices like whether or not they go to Church, then their status as a practicing Mormons or not will be of no consequence to your relationship with them.

    I don’t sorrow for or pity people who stay in the Church. Personally, I understand why people stay in the Church. It’s not for me but what’s their attendance to me? I’m happy it works for them. I would hope they feel the same about the choices I’ve made. Now let’s just get back to being good friends and family.

  32. Some people CAN really miss the point of this post. EVEN you.

  33. I was thinking along these same lines the other day, in the context of the Savior’s well-known counsel, “By their fruits shall ye know them” (Matt. 7:16-20). I was thinking how many times I’ve heard that applied to the Church as a whole, usually as a part of some talk lauding our charitable efforts, or the PEF, or disaster relief, or the growth in membership, or the fact that we’re all such nice people, or some such. And it occurs to me, as you seem to be implying, that the Savior rarely judges us as a group. When he does, he usually adds a caveat about the individuals involved – see the last phrase of D&C 1:30, and verse 31. :)

    In that passage of Matthew, Jesus speaks of “good trees” and “corrupt trees” and it’s easy to see churches and organizations as the trees and us as the fruit. However, I have come to see myself as the tree, and my actions and relationships as the fruit. I don’t think that we will be judged as a church, nor that the Church’s status as the “only true and living church” necessarily means that we’re always cranking out good fruit. We members of the Church, from latest baptized 8-year-old up to the prophet, are imperfect human beings screwing things up on a regular basis.

    The thrust of Scripture seems clear to me – I’ll be judged on my own actions and understanding. The job of the Church is to provide a framework within with I can grow and progress; it does that fairly well, and sometimes not so well. But if I will be “punished for [my] own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression,” it seems equally likely to me that I won’t be rewarded for Joseph Smith’s virtues (or Thomas Monson’s, or Gordon Hinckley’s, or any of yours). We are judged as individuals. I am the tree. It is up to me to bear good fruit, to prune my wild branches and graft in the tame ones, to cultivate myself, and above all, to avoid judging others as fruit but to remember that they also are trees, and are working on their own fruit.

  34. Much to think about here. I also have friends and family who have left, and while I have maintained the relationships as much as I can, this has prompted me to rethink some of the things that I have said, that while well intentioned, could come across as condescending. Since much of this has revolved around church history issues, saying “How is it that you and I can look at the same thing, and come to two different opposing conclusions?” That happens all the time anyway on every sort of topic, and is not helpful. But I am trying to keep them close, as I realize that all of them are still good, decent, moral people. That much has not changed.

  35. John f: Thanks for the comments about not viewing people as caricatures.

    James: that scenario reminds me of the circumstances at church schools where students who convert away from Mormonism are no longer allowed to attend. LDS students receive a lower tuition rate than non-LDS students, so I could understand it if a person who converted away from the church was required to pay full tuition. But it seems like we could do a better job of granting religious freedom to our own ranks at church schools in the event that people covert away. Maybe I just don’t understand the requirements, though.

    Tennisball Parkin: Right, space is what people need. We might as well try to force a flower to grow at will or a cake to bake as forcing someone to covert according to our understanding of conversion to Christ.

    Christiankimball: right. Not all who have left have exited the building, and rather than acting suspicious toward them we might be better off accepting them.

    Ann Porter: Thanks for chiming in about snootiness and judgmentalism not being restricted to church members.

    Joel: I’m glad I haven’t faced the question of staying simply to keep familial peace. I don’t know if that is very common, but even one example is too many.

    A Turtle Named Mack: you said some folks who leave make you “feel as though they perceive me to be an idiot for still believing. Or further, there is a sense (sometimes stated overtly) that I will eventually come to my senses.” I’ve felt that way occasionally and I’ve heard similar sentiments, but to my recollection no one I really have a personal relationship with has done that. Sometimes they might joke about various church standards with me or something, but I think they know I can handle a joke when offered in a good spirit. So it would feel terrible to have a close friend or family member constantly give a vibe of superiority. That’s the sort of vibe I fear I risk giving off, and which I’m trying to exorcise by talking openly about it. I guess if I was bothered enough about it I would try to talk directly to the person as nicely as I could to let them know how it makes me feel and see about calling a cease-fire. I love what Angela C. said:

    “one of us has rejected something the other one loves, one of us thinks that the other one’s decision is perhaps less than or even foolish (or both may feel that way), and that creates distance. It’s hard to feel judged, but it’s also hard to want to invest in a relationship with someone you think is gullible or immature or foolish and who thinks the same of you on some level.”

    Keith M. Henderson: I have no doubt that church leaders make mistakes, and that sometimes those mistakes have tragic consequences. In the few cases I know of where it’s affected someone’s membership, I’ve felt a sense of loss, sometimes anger, sometimes a bit of resignation, and all sorts of other feelings, including sorrow for the hurt that results. I can’t really speak to your case in particular because I’m not familiar. I’m glad my membership hasn’t been on the line as a result of believing our prophets are fallible and I’m sorry to hear that other people’s has. When you talk about lethargy and yawning etc. you cross over into the mirror image of what I describe in my post as uncharitable sorrow.

    Cat: I don’t know how many members we lose, or how it stacks up to loss of former days. I tend to suspect we formerly lost more than we realize and currently lose fewer than we think, but that’s just a guess. Losing any sucks no matter when it takes place and we need to not place all the blame on people who leave because things are more complex than that. And PS, Thanks. Every street needs a Mayor.

    John Hatch: amen spirit of charity and glory halleluiah. Also apparently you still owe Evans a CD.

    Dr_Doctorstein, the gospel as taught in the church runs deep, and threads many needles, so disruption at any point causes quakes throughout.

    EOR: thank you so much. I’d tell you I love you but we don’t really have that kind of gushy thing going, do we?

    rah: “I think there is much to be gained to making our social boundaries more porous than they are.” I know this sentiment will seem deeply wrong to some members of the Church. All religious organizations need boundaries, of course, and it’s an ongoing negotiation as to where they are drawn and who draws them and what the consequences are. To any who believe this process would somehow compromise the gospel and might see the suggestion as an abandonment of the faith, I would respond by saying I see this sort of boundary opening as intrinsic to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    John C.: Yes, the selfish sort of sorrow.

    baghtal: Thanks. I think I know who you are, but I’m not 100% sure.

    Eeyore: I agree that many members of the church would be quite open to differences if they were given a chance to show it more often. We can do better.

    rogerdhansen: “Why can’t we just treat people like friends, relatives, and neighbors?” (I think we can and should.) “When we communicate with others do we have to have an agenda?” Communication doesn’t really exist without agendas. I don’t necessarily act the exact same toward everyone, I tend to try to modulate according to the context of interaction. I try to negotiate this way while remaining true to something I can call my authentic self while positioning myself as respectfully as possible with others. If I use a term that someone else thinks is derogatory I try to change that up, etc. As for discussions about “less actives,” I’m not in a calling where I’d be much involved in such discussions. In the case of many members of the Church I think it’s likely that people genuinely believe that helping people become active in Mormonism will make them happy, and in the process will bring happiness to the “helper” as it were as well. Your level of creepiness is gonna vary. “Hastening the work” is a catchphrase that’s being used these days, but I was always more interested in working smarter rather than just faster. Speed for its own sake is against the Word of Wisdom. ;)

    Rude Dog: ///And you know what? I have found the peace, joy, calm and humility that were only guessed at as a “knowing” believer, but firmed only when uncertainty, unknowing, tentative living were embraced.///

    I’m glad you’ve found those things. For me, my faith is about more than just finding peace and joy, to be honest. I suppose I need a faith that will shake me up sometimes. Get in my head. Make me question and make me wonder if I need to change. Some days it feels so nice to fall into bed and stay the same, but other times I need something pushing me along, and the gospel as I understand it provides that for me. In a way this doesn’t sound all that different from what you’re describing, except that in some areas I’m a little less sure than you are, and vice versa. Of course, I still have things to learn from you, as well. I guess the sorrow I’d feel for you, given that you feel you need none, is sorrow over the fact that it is probable that some Mormons you know have bothered you by being unduly judgmental. (And technically, you also seem to view certain primates as being within or without the group, only your group is encompassed by your understanding of rational thought rather than religions belief.)

    Peter Hardie: “There’s plenty of happiness and misery in and out of the Church alike.”
    Right, Peter, I tried to communicate that in the post but it didn’t come through for you. For example, I said “there are church members who suffer” regardless of being Mormon “and there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives,” in other words, simple membership or non-membership is insufficient to predict the happiness of a person’s life. Sometimes Mormons oversell the idea that “living the gospel will make you happy.” Happiness is great, but it’s not all we’re here for according to the Mormon worldview. I completely agree with you that “There’s plenty of happiness and misery in and out of the Church alike.”

    Everyone else thanks. I read every comment to this point and I really appreciate the comments. Helps me keep working through these ideas.

  36. There is a case to be made that a primary function of Mormon beliefs, ethics, morals and certainly rituals is to help one answer the question: Are you part of the in group or part of the out group? An unfortunate consequence is the mother who feels rejected by the son who has a cup of coffee for breakfast, absolutely betrayed by the other son who has a glass of wine for dinner, and who worries she may have to take the elevator down to the telestial kingdom to visit the poor daughter who came home with the adorable flower tattoo on her ankle. There are plenty of us on the outside that will continue to unconditionally love those on inside despite their insistence on such dysfunctional and exclusionary behavior while they simultaneously maintain ridiculous beliefs despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary. But it really doesn’t need to be like this at all.

  37. How does calling someone you love ridiculous help improve your relationship? Mormons might say people who leave are Terrestrial, former Mormons might say Mormons are ridiculous. These things damage relationships. These things should not be.

  38. I may be wrong but I’ve always liked the concept of there being only two churches. Church of God and church of the devil. But here’s the thing. I don’t think the lds church is the church of God. I know the lds church is the true church of Christ and has true priesthood authority and is led by Christ. But when the scriptures speak of there only being two churches in this world I separate the lds church from the “church of God” concept. To me those who are of the church of God are all those who regardless of affiliation or belief seek to do good. To truly love their neighbor. They may be Mormons, exmormons, Christian, non Christian, or atheist/agnostic. Doesn’t matter. They seek for the good and as such belong to the church of God. On the other hand, the same is true for the church of the devil. For example, a card carrying, temple attending, church going, true believing Mormon can very much be a member of the church of the devil based on his heart.

  39. Evans! I actually vaguely recall owing you a CD. Remind me which one it is and I’ll get in a time machine and go back 10 years to when people still burned CDs for each other.

  40. Rude Dog says:

    Bhodges, the vibe here is starting to take a turn. Too bad, started out well.

  41. Top 10 songs on Steve Evans mix CD ranked!

  42. To believers, there is no legitimate reason to leave. To those who find the church to be a despicable lie, there is no legitimate reason to stay. That leaves no common ground.

    It is by design. Mormons are a peculiar people, and will be separate from the world.

  43. No common ground? I suppose that could be true, but only if our religion subsumes the whole of our humanity.

  44. Mormonism claims to know what the purpose of life is. It defines the meaning of FAMILY. It also likes to get involved with politics. It has rules down to what you eat, drink, wear, watch and how you will spend a great deal of your free time.

    Perhaps not the WHOLE of your humanity – but a pretty large chunk of it.

  45. “Instead of relating to a former member as still being a sister or brother in Christ, a dear friend or family member”
    Why do Mormons see religion first, apparently, it seems to the exclusion of everything else? I’ve been Catholic all my life, I’ve seen friends leave the church and join bible, evangelical, and mega churches. Not once ever have I looked at them other than the Sue who has been there through thick and thin, the Bill who is as into girls soccer as I am, the cousin who I have loved, played with, and shared stuff with as long as I can remember. How in the world do you not have relationships with individuals, with people, but instead with “members” and if a relationship is damaged because on of the participants changes religions you are not connected to the person but to the institution. Why is the person, the human being in front of you eclipsed by their religious belief. I find your use of “family member” particularly sad, I’ve never seen any disruption in my very Catholic and huge extended family when someone leaves nor have I seen it in my husband’s family also big and Catholic family. I have many friends and close acquaintances who come from Baptist, and Methodist families and from what I see their experiences are the same. Family is family and friends are friends no matter the winds of religion, or lack of it. Why do you see religion first above the person in front of you?

  46. Thanks for helping me think about my emotions towards and relationships with loved ones who have chosen not to be involved with the church anymore. As a parent, it’s been too easy and too destructive to wrap myself up in guilt OR to create emotional distance because I can’t share certain parts of my life on “my” terms. God has been slowly pushing me to remember all his children are loved and walk a path he will walk with them, as they choose to involve him. I love the strength and hope I find in my covenant relationship with him, but realize it is not the only good way to walk in this life. So I, too, can “grieve with hope.” And in the meanwhile love and respect my dear one.

  47. martha my love says:

    Thank you, Nan. You’ve got it exactly right!

  48. Nan: “Why do you see religion first above the person in front of you?”

    I don’t. That’s what this post is about. Sorry if that wasn’t clear to you.

  49. Nan. You are absolutely correct in your indictment of Mormonism. Mormons are conditioned to see religion first. I’ve been inactive for 20 years, and to this day, my parents see me as a lost member first and only then as a son. It’s the primary reason I left. i couldn’t stand the elevation of church above family, the viewing of every aspect of life through the lens of the church. Too many members worship the church instead of Christ. BHodges, I appreciate this post. It is hard not to want others to believe as you do, to see the world as you do, and we do ourselves a disservice by insisting on everyone believing as we do because that creates separation and distance. Unfortunately, the church encourages that separation. It talks about family but demands time away from the family. It talks about how we believe that all may worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, but has the most aggressive missionary program the world has ever seen with the opposite message that all who aren’t mormon are incorrect. I believe you when you express your dismay and sadness when someone leaves, but I think Nan is also correct (speaking generally and not necessarily of you in particular. I don’t know you personally so won’t opine there); you say “Not just hope that they’ll turn around and choose the right and make it back”. There is an inherent arrogance in such a statement, an assumption that everyone who has left has chosen wrong, that they need to turn around, and I think that is the blind spot that too many members have. They claim they see a family member or friend first, but since they believe the church is the ONLY true church of Christ, and religion comes first, they only “see” that their family member or friend needs to turn around, choose the right, and come back. Too few see what you said next, that “they’re in the hands of a loving God whose plans for them are beyond the reach of my own vision”. That humility, trusting God, is what is sorely lacking, and the distance created by that lack is very difficult to overcome.

  50. Rude Dog says:

    BHodges said:

    “and technically, you also seem to view certian primates with or without the group, only your group is encompassed by your understanding of rational thought instead of religious belief.”

    I’m sorry you had to go there as it was on your own initiative. This is the religious attempt at the intellectual argument of “I know you are but what am I”.

  51. Suleyman says:

    Shawn H:

    Let me rephrase your comment from the perspective of an active member. Blair was not indicting Mormonism, he was discussing human traits, attitudes and behaviors within the Church. Mormons are conditioned to see families as potentially eternal associations. If your parents are anything like me, they view your actions as possibly abandoning your potential, your potential to God and your potential eternal relationship with your parents. That situation probably pains them daily. Some active members like myself and possibly your parents need to grant others the time and space to make the decisions and develop in ways that they need to in order to make conversion to Christ possible. Patience and love is called for, for it must be a free will decision for each one of us or it does not work. You or your parents do not understand Mormonism if you believe it elevates church above family, to the contrary family is elevated to an eternal status, while church is a temporary structure which individuals and families cling to as they evolve into saved, eternal organisms. Members do not worship the church instead of Christ. The church is the body of Christ. By helping and serving within that body (the body provides teachings and ordinances, further opportunities for learning and relationships with the Holy Spirit) a person or a family helps others and themselves to grow and accept a fuller, more mature relationship with Christ.

  52. martha my love says:

    Nice words. Probably sincere or mostly sincere from the original post through all the comments. But Nan and Shawn are EXACTLY right. It’s the church’s teachings that set up the us-v-them mentality that has created anxiety & depression, alienated family members and resulted in too many suicides. Suicides, folks.

    I think that mentality persists even when people do leave the church. And I think Blair is identifying that as well when he says that ex-members reflect it back.

    Everyone has got to recognize it and DROP it as Nan says. It isn’t helpful. It doesn’t contribute to anyone’s happiness. It isn’t Christ-like. We should be worshiping and reflecting Christ not the church.

  53. Rude Dog: I’m sorry you had to go there as it was on your own initiative. This is the religious attempt at the intellectual argument of “I know you are but what am I”.

    My response was an effort to resist the tribalism you re-injected into the conversation with your primate comment. I apologize if it came across as snarky. You made what seemed like a hypocritical remark and I pointed it out. I don’t see divisive tribalism as the exclusive province of Mormons, and I don’t deny that we Mormons tend to exhibit it ourselves sometimes. So I think I’m making a slightly different rhetorical move than the “knowyouarebutwhatami” trick. Keep in mind one of the purposes of my original post was to openly identify tribalism and admit that it still haunts me, and this in order to resist, suppress, and overcome it while encouraging others to do likewise, regardless of their religious affiliation.

    Shawn H.: Categorical statements about Mormons are not a helpful way to advance the conversation. You say “Mormons are conditioned…” denying agency to Mormons themselves, as though brainwashed, while also indicting any and all Mormons. You follow it up by relating the crappy relationship dynamic you have with your parents which is a more effective appeal, I think. It sucks that your parents seem to conditionalize their love for you on your behavior according to their religious beliefs. In your experience, the values of Mormonism don’t play out in the real world; regard for family stands in the way of a healthy family experience for you. I wanted to get at that in my original post by saying “I sorrow that the church can’t live up to the divine potential it seeks to achieve.” Thanks for helping draw that out more. You add: “That humility, trusting God, is what is sorely lacking, and the distance created by that lack is very difficult to overcome.” I hope you see my post as an effort to increase humility and trust in God on the part of LDS people like myself.

    martha my love: It’s the church’s teachings that set up the us-v-them mentality that has created anxiety & depression, alienated family members and resulted in too many suicides. Suicides, folks.

    I don’t see Mormonism as a static set of universal “teachings,” even though I grant you that some people experience Mormonism this way. Certain teachings or beliefs can have any number of positive or negative side-effects. Each of us imbibes a “canon-within-the-canon,” a go-to group of scriptures and quotes and ideas that make up our limited understanding of the faith, and those beliefs inform and are informed by real life stuff that we do. I think Mormonism has so much in its theological toolkit that runs counter to the sort of tribalism you and I both dislike, and I work here and there to draw those tools out to help my religious community. “Recognize it and DROP it” is a great approach. People need to recognize the stakes and work to improve the mental and spiritual, health of family members rather than alienating them.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments everyone who chimed in. I have too much to do to attend to comments for a while, so we’ll go ahead and close now.