I’m not interested here in responding to Dr. Young’s comments.[fn1] Rather, one of his comments has been playing itself out in my head all week, and I thought I’d spin it out here for others’ thoughts.
Dr. Young writes:
My conclusion is that Latter-day Saints must of course make Christ the center of their faith and seek to be his disciples. But to be in any sense Latter-day Saint followers of Christ, it makes sense for us also to believe in the reality of prophetic calling and inspiration and in priesthood authority and the importance of ordinances and to “receive”—listen to and accept counsel from—the Church’s leaders. It also makes sense for us to accept the Book of Mormon as a witness of Christ and the Doctrine and Covenants as containing the voice of Christ. Since I believe—not with blind faith but after careful consideration and with what I believe is strong spiritual confirmation—that the things I’ve listed are true and real, I believe that truly following Christ also means accepting them. If others don’t believe these things but want to follow Christ, I certainly think that is better than not seeking to follow Christ at all—and I hope they find a way to support that effort that makes Christ a living reality for them and not just a subjective ideal.
I think he raises—and responds to—a central tension in Mormonism (and, perhaps, in organized religion generally): we need faith in and a relationship with Jesus, but part of that faith and relationship is mediated by a faith community, by a church, and by a set of scriptures and institutional practices.
So my question is, what do we hope for those who leave?
Before answering, a couple assumptions. Let’s assume (1) that the first-best solution is that people stay Mormon. Let’s assume, moreover, that, (2) notwithstanding our first-best solution, some people will leave the church, for whatever reason.
(N.b.: please don’t argue with my assumptions. For the sake of this post, they’re meant to frame the discussion, not to be the subject of the discussion. If you can’t go with me on (1) and (2), this probably isn’t the post to comment on.)
My thoughts? I would hope, generally speaking, that people who leave the church would find another faith community with whom they could worship God and improve their appreciation and understanding of Jesus and the Atonement.
I don’t actually know where most people who leave the church end up, religion-wise. It’s an empirical question, and I have no data.[fn2] To some extent, I think this crystalizes the tension inherent in institutional religion: if we really believe we’re the One True, then maybe deciding we’re not True means nobody is, so there’s no point in pursuing other religion.
At the same time, though, if our One True Church puts Jesus front-and-center, maybe an individual can decide (as I’ve stipulated that some will) that the Mormonism isn’t for her, but that she can better pursue her spiritual path through another institution.
Personally, I find the latter preferable to the former, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.
[fn1] I think his response is, by and large, insightful, but I also think he misread Dr. Bushman in some important ways.
[fn2] If you have the data, I’d love to see it!