The best way to prove people who leave the Church wrong

imgladshesgoneI get a message every other month or so from a friend or relative who knows someone who isn’t merely struggling with their faith but who has announced they’re past that point. They are leaving the church. Their exit narratives, like our monthly testimony meetings, often follow a similar formula including a list of problems they’ve discovered in church history, belief, or practice.

I got another message today. Chances are good you’ve received one at some point, too. 

When this happens you might be tempted to rush in with rebuttals to each listed point, some more easily confronted than others. (Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Yeah, I’m not personally comfortable with that, either. Joseph Smith used a seer stone to seek treasure, then used it to translate the Book of Mormon? That’s an interesting discussion. Have you read such-and-such? etc.) My experience suggests if things have gotten to this point, debating with typical apologetic responses might just make the situation worse.

But there is one particular thing they’ve almost certainly come to believe that you must rebut as much as possible: the idea that they will be shunned, harangued, shamed, or pressured to change their views, the belief that every meeting and conversation you have with them from here on out will be weighted with judgment (in both directions, sometimes), the possibility that your love is contingent on their relationship to the church and now you will see them as less worthy of love.

If you’re like me, it can genuinely hurt when a sibling, parent, child, or friend experiences big faith changes. Odds are high (though not certain) that your loved one has already been experiencing fear, grief, and disorientation as they’ve come to see the world differently. They are likely still coping with a loss. What’s worse, they fear more losses. They likely expect you to distance yourself. They expect this because, to our own shame, it actually happens sometimes.

So in response to an announced departure from the church, the best testimony of all—a true witness of Christ—is to “prove them wrong” about their sense that you’ll withdraw love. Manifesting unqualified love—regardless of anyone’s feelings or beliefs about the church—is the best way to prove people who leave the church wrong.

 

[P.S.–If you’re part of the choir I’m preaching to, I hope you still find this post useful to send to people who are trying to figure out how to cope with loved one’s faith transitions.]

Comments

  1. Amen.

  2. So be a Christlike follower of Christ. . got it. . . will do.

  3. This is wonderful

  4. Also the best way to bring and keep people in the church.

  5. “God’s love and the love between us are more important than my own judgments.”

  6. I don’t know that I agree that it is a way to prove them wrong. It is a way to follow the Savior and that should always be our motivation. Love is always unconditional and has no strings attached. If it isn’t unconditional, its something other than love.

  7. In the past when I have been inactive there are a handful of people I have always been able to count on to love me anyway. That love and friendship was never contingent on whether I was a member of The Church. It has always created a path for me to come back if I wanted to. These people are the people that I generally consider to be the closest to me (which I will admit is definitely not the easiest place to be). Members practicing the Gospel rather than talking about it is what grows Zion.

  8. Love is always the answer. Amen.

  9. (P.S. yes I recommended that they read Patrick Mason’s book Planted, but mostly to the family members who are still in the church so they can get a better understanding of their loved one.)

    bit.ly/pmplanted

  10. EOR:

    Members practicing the Gospel rather than talking about it is what grows Zion.

    Nice.

  11. How on earth is being a decent human being the same thing as pricing someone wrong? It’s as though by not cutting off contact or judging you are doing something extraordinary.

    No. You’re just being a normal person. It’s the ones who are judging and ostracizing that are the ones who need to be called out. That is some horrific judgmental behavior. Nowhere else in modern society would that be considered acceptable or decent behavior.

  12. Amen . . . on a behavioral level. Absolutely, prove contrary to “the possibility that your love is contingent on their relationship to the church.” This is a notorious problem, and not just with leaving. Having questions, not fitting in, sitting on the back bench, not taking the sacrament, can all produce the contingent love response.
    On a rhetorical level I’ve got several concerns about “prove them wrong”, but will selectively choose to leave that alone.

  13. Kristine says:

    This is lovely, Blair–thank you. Sometimes we have very strange notions about what it is we are supposed to bear witness of.

  14. It’s almost like saying that my love is not contingent on whether they are voting for Trump, Cruz, or Sanders.

  15. Mary Bradford says:

    Good on ya Blair! By the way –is Tom Rogers’ book out yet?

  16. Angela C says:

    I’d suggest that to do the opposite merely reinforces their leaving, so it’s not that this proves them wrong, but it has the benefit of not proving them right. And that’s the best possible outcome since proof isn’t exactly on the menu when we are talking about spiritual conclusions.

  17. When a person decides to leave, nothing can be said to dissuade them. It is such a tough decision and is a long process. This is the best advice. Unconditional love goes a long way. So many people are or have been shunned and it is confirmation that leaving the church is the right choice. Those that leave because they no longer believe cannot unlearn what hey have read or revealed.

  18. great post, thanks.

  19. This is too easy. It’ll never happen.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    Erik (2:17) I think people leave for many reasons and not typically for historical/theological reasons. While the statistics are dated and no longer applicable it used to be that something like 40% of active members had been inactive for a period. That suggests that it’s plausible many people who leave may come back. Exactly how many seems difficult to discern in the current demographic period.

  21. It will happen but in 20 years (provided we continue on our current trajectory of realizing that this is the right approach). We face a generational problem. First the generation of Kimball- and Benson-era Mormons needs to pass away — they will likely never be able to overcome their culturally ingrained practice of turning away from their family and acquaintances who choose to leave the Church rather than accept apologist solutions to the problems they perceive.

  22. speaking up as someone who wants to leave so much but is afraid to because I am afraid of the ostracism factor, thanks for this. I don’t want friends and family to pull back. And I think some of them will. And they will try to save my kids by sending them crap from Deseret Books for birthdays and will pray for my soul and pity my husband. And it would chafe. So I might pull back too. And it is too scary.

  23. Yes!!

  24. I absolutely agree with the advice in this article. Usually people don’t just walk up to their loved ones, friends and acquaintances the moment they start having doubts or concerns with the LDS faith. They generally keep it quiet at that stage.

    The fact that they’re actually taking the gutsy step to actually bring it up with you (in spite of all the real and imagined social minuses that might entail) means they’ve actually been stewing about this for a while.

    While answering concerns with more faith-promoting historical narratives, or apologetic rebuttals might have worked in the early stages, it doesn’t usually work by the point that a doubter has psyched themselves up enough to do the “big reveal” on you and others. They went through a lot of emotional angst to get to this point and they aren’t going to be exactly thrilled to reopen the entire struggle for a “round two” just because you’ve got a couple FairWiki links.

    So yes – by the time your friend is dropping the “I no longer believe” bomb on you, apologetics are not going to be a good initial response.

    I say this as someone who has been volunteering for FairMormon for years. If anyone is sold on the value of apologetics, I am. But there is a time and a place for everyone. And when someone is emotionally vulnerable, upset, or steeled and resigned to the anticipated social fallout from leaving Mormonism is not it.

  25. @ Clark – Why people leave the church today may not be the same as why people left in the past. It’s a whole new world with the Gospel Topic Essays and the Church’s crazy behavior towards LGBT, women, and dissenters. Anecdotally, everyone I know who has left the Church in the past few years has left for these sorts of things.

    @ Erik earl – I agree that no single conversation will keep a person in the church once they’ve decided to leave, but I’m confident changes can be made that will get people back. The changes won’t be easy. The nice thing is that, in my opinion, the changes are what Christ would want anyway–honesty, integrity, openness, forgiveness, acceptance. As church culture comes to exemplify these things, people will notice and will want to be part of it.

  26. petergulka: “How on earth is being a decent human being the same thing as proving someone wrong? It’s as though by not cutting off contact or judging you are doing something extraordinary.”

    petergulka and christiankimball: I ask your forgiveness for my click-baity rhetorical flourish. My point is that instead of working so hard to prove people wrong about whatever criticisms they have heard about the church, we should work to “prove them wrong” that they will be ostracized or rejected by church members based on their acceptance of those criticisms. As you say, my point is to be a decent human being. Talking about “proving someone wrong” here is a send-up of what I understand to be an overly aggressive apologetic reaction that I’ve been guilty of in times past. Or as Angela said, now that I’ve read more comments, “this has the benefit of not proving them right” that you’ll reject them.

    Mary: Tom’s book is schedule to appear in a few months. I should have the exact due date this week, it will be in the end of May or beginning of June.

    MM: I’m sorry to hear about your tough situation. I am sincerely interested to know if the book Planted might be helpful to you or your family members. I’ve received positive feedback here and there but the book is still new. It was created in part as a way to offer help in situations like yours. And because it is published by BYU’s Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book your family and friends will feel more comfortable considering what it says.

    Seth R.: Thank you my friend. I agree with you.

    And thanks to everyone who left a response. It makes blogging worth the time to me.

  27. Blair: right on.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw the rhetoric behind “prove them wrong” right away and thought it was effective in the context.

  29. @Trond – um, yeah, so that attitude is kind of what got us to where we are at now, right? Go back and re-read the original post, bro.

  30. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Blair. Spot on.

  31. Actually, to really ‘love’ ‘the leaver’ and prove that you are a true disciple of Christ, one must try to win them back by going after the so called ‘lost sheep’ and be willing to have conversations with them and study the topics they are concerned about. If you really have the truth & love then you won’t be afraid to hear & discuss their different viewpoints and help show them how they are wrong, if you think they are. If you are unwilling to look at/consider/study/discuss what they think is wrong with the Church, then you don’t have real love and aren’t a true follower of Christ yourself and have no power to save yourself, let alone a ‘lost lamb’.

  32. isacarrot says:

    I’ve been through and am rebuilding from a faith crisis and I agree 100% with every line in this article. I’ll add my witness to it. My faith crisis felt a nuclear bomb had been dropped in my soul. It was very hard. Sadly, except for one bishop and another friend, everyone I opened up to during my crisis (roommates, friends, coworkers) responded with either silence or interrogation. I reacted by closing myself off to them. I preferred to spend time with those who had no idea about my faith crisis because from them I received love and support and it didn’t matter where my faith was. I wanted to thus protect my relationship with my family, so I didn’t tell them until the crisis had been “over” for a few months. I wonder if my experience might have been less harrowing had I confided in my amazing family sooner. I think that I would have been more likely to do so had my prior confidants shown me unconditional love. I have thus learned about the importance of giving first priority to the first two commandments.

  33. FGH, I believe you are correct—people are leaving today for reasons different than in the past. Even former church historian Marlin Jensen a few years ago acknowledged the challenge posed by the Internet, revealing facts and ideas that do not square with the church’s sanitized and heavily correlated portrayal of its history—information that had been previously swept under the rug and that members, for years, were discouraged from discussing in church. In response to a question at a fireside as to whether church leaders are aware of the magnitude of the problem, Jensen said “they realize that, maybe, since Kirtland we’ve never had a period of—I’ll call it apostasy—like we’re having right now, largely over these issues.”

    Similarly, Terryl Givens, who is staunch apologist for the church, described the situation as a “real crisis” and an “epidemic,” stating that there is “discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet … The problem is not so much the discovery of particular details that are deal breakers for the faithful; the problem is a loss of faith and trust in an institution that was less than forthcoming to begin with.”

    Givens hit the nail on the head—the problem isn’t any particular doctrine or historical episode. Rather, what so many are experiencing is a feeling of betrayal. And the church is naive if it thinks it can regain that trust with the publication of a few essays. This damage will take years to repair. Probably a full generation.

  34. That’s an overriding problem with our culture, isn’t it? We demonize the faith crisis instead of accepting it as a normal part of life — and supporting those experiencing it with love unfeigned, support, and respect for their individuality and their own conclusions, even if those conclusions lead them to believe differently, at least for a time.

  35. I can honestly say that if more ward environments were like BCC and other bloggernacle sites, that would make church a much better environment to associate with, even if one doesn’t believe.

  36. Amen to both the OP and Andrew S’s comment. Why can’t you all just move to my ward?

  37. “harangued, shamed, or pressured to change their views, the belief that every meeting and conversation you have with them from here on out will be weighted with judgment”

    I’d like to add that in my experience (on both sides) treating the Church and religion generally as off-limits topics, not to be spoken of, creates tension and inadvertently communicates judgment and shame. When I can manage it, which is not always, there’s a middle ground of conversation without argument that benefits everybody.

  38. Its difficult sometimes. Some of our family arent satisfied with just leaving themselves, they want us all to go along with them. Many of them are atheist and make snarky comments when we want to pray at a family gathering. We try and stay in touch with them, we still love them and tell them that often. They, too, predicted that they would be shunned, claim they are being shunned, yet when we invited one to come visit he said, “I would rather hold up a wall for a week, than to spend a week with you!” What do you say to that? We will invite him again, and we tried to see him when we were in his town. But he is pretty much shunning us.

  39. I am with Anne it’s a two way street. Yes, we need to stop teaching and treating others as the “others” but they really do have a role in it. Those I know in my family are just as devout about making believers feel guilty or uncomfortable or blaming. I think it will take years. The post is a good start, but most members and all the family I associate with don’t read BCC, so I go it alone.

  40. Thanks for this BHodges. Many who leave craft a defensive narrative partly out of the belief that they’ll be shunned and ostracized. Thankfully, unlike Jehovah’s Witness and Scientology churches, there is no doctrinal basis for shunning in the LDS church. In fact, those who do shun and ostracize are out of line with LDS teachings.

  41. Thanks, Blair.

  42. Clark Goble says:

    FGH (4:14) Yes, which is why I qualified that the data is out of date. However again my personal experiences with people who’ve left the church is that why rarely had much to do with theology/history although those were convenient tools to justify leaving with. Those who came back again came back independent of the theology/history. While the data I mentioned is dated, I’d imagine the same stresses are there on members even if there are additional stresses.

    That all said I do think politics has more to do with it now than in the past. Especially those who leave for the Nones. That’s true of people becoming Nones in general. Although there also appears from the demographic data to be a degree of social disengagement as well. (Again this is more broad than just Mormons)

    Anne (7:10) I’ve had that happen as well. Often, in my experience, what people describe is somewhat disconnected from what people are trying to do. It’s a complex set of feelings people have often with very contradictory stresses. So they may want to be with members but not feel the stress of them being members, for example. That is they don’t feel a part but may not always realize that those feelings of alienation aren’t necessarily due to others treating them differently but simply because the cultural fit is tied to so many factors. (Which isn’t to deny when some members do indeed act in unChristlike ways)

  43. Josh Smith says:

    BHodges,

    I understood your post and your later clarification was helpful, too. Thank you.

    I’m one of those who left Mormonism. My LDS family and friends have been very understanding. The most difficult part has been my marriage, which, thankfully, is now doing better than it has in years. Counseling has been enormously helpful, and I would definitely recommend it to any who now find themselves in a mixed-faith marriage.

    Some of the most courageous, thoughtful people I’ve ever met in my life have left the Mormon faith. These are moral people. They are good people. The ones who do so publicly are people who have loved Mormonism the most and for whom leaving is the most difficult.

    There is a period of anger while leaving. I read some of the comments above (Anne and Cat) and your feelings are completely justified. There is a time of real anger and I suspect these folks go through an “anti-Mormon” phase or a “post-Mormon” phase. I suspect some people get stuck there forever and are perpetually angry at all things Mormon.

    But, most people I know are desperate to mend relationships and move past any anger. Those who leave are anxious to move forward in life without bitterness or anger. And, I think most people eventually make it.

    If you value your relationship with someone who has left Mormonism, you have to understand deeply that they are not rejoining the faith. They are trying to rebuild something new with their lives and I don’t know anyone who is trying to rebuild with Mormonism. You have to understand that they are done. If you value the relationship, you have to give them the emotional and psychological space to develop outside of your faith.

    Finally, I don’t mean this in any derogatory way, but my life is happier and I have more peace away from the faith. At the same time, I recognize that many of my friends’ and family members’ lives are happier within the faith. It works out. I’m evidence that it can be a great journey, though we take different paths.

  44. isacarrot: thanks for that comment.

    Andrew S.: You’re a quality conversation partner who has helped me understand this stuff better.

    Anne: tough situation. The judgment I described in the post can definitely go both ways. Depending on the situation you might someday feel ready to have a direct conversation about what you just explained.

    Clark: I think identifying historical objections as “convenient tools” isn’t helpful. No question feeling disconnected from a faith community often runs deeper than factual claims. But that doesn’t mean such claims can’t play a huge role.

    Josh Smith: thanks. I believe you.

  45. When you say “So in response to an announced departure from the church, the best testimony of all—a true witness of Christ—is to prove them wrong about that.”

    I find myself a little confused by what you are referring to when you say “that.”

    I think you meant proving someone that feels that they will be shunned wrong by showing an increase of love but it reads like you are saying prove someone that has decided to leave the church wrong. In response to an announced departure… prove them wrong about that. See what I mean?

    Sometimes leaving the church is necessary and even the healthiest of available options. I wouldn’t characterize a decision to leave as being wrong, in fact I think characterizing it as such is another way we inadvertently shun those that have made the decision to leave.

  46. There are some who say that the church’s “unprecedented transparency” are more show than substance, and that if the church truly wanted people to know about its history, it would have the courage to address these issues during its General Conferences, its Sunday meetings, and in its teaching to investigators. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that the Church promotes a culture of unquestioning obedience to authorities in the church, even when an individual’s conscience and understanding of Christ’s teachings dictate otherwise. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that the Church teaches that protecting the institution is more important than acting with integrity and honesty. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that the Church increasingly teaches people to place their trust in church authorities and diverts our attention from placing our trust in Christ. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that the Church encourages people to conform to an institutionally- created ideal, rather than finding the individual path that works best for them. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that the Church emphasizes dead works (white shirts, no beards, not drinking coffee) over “weightier matters of the law” such charity and forgiveness – not to mention over the supernal power that comes with embracing Christ’s grace. Let’s prove them wrong!

    There are some who say that church members could benefit immeasurably from seeking out the best wisdom from all ages of the past and from all corners of the earth–from philosophy, from science, from literature, from the social sciences and humanities, from Catholicism, from Eastern Orthodoxy, from Protestantism, from Hinduism, from Buddhism, from Islam, and from wherever else there have been earnest truth-seekers–and incorporating truths from such sources into their spiritual worldview. Let’s prove them RIGHT!

  47. Katie M. says:

    I’ve long wondered why the church doesn’t do surveys to find out exactly why members leave and go inactive (as well as surveys of active members about what the church could be doing better). In the absence of such real data, all we have is speculation over what factors are the most salient, largely based on anecdotal evidence that is very much influenced by people’s own perspective, experience, and the kind of folks they interact with most. I would speculate that the church rarely uses surveys because they give the impression both that the church is a democracy, and that the church is a business that should care about “customer service.” But so much else of the church is run in corporate-fashion, that it would be strange if this was a sticking point.

    If the church won’t do surveys at the top level, it would be beneficial to do them at the ward level. There was recently talk in our ward council about sending a questionnaire out to the more than two-thirds of members of our ward who are inactive, asking why they no longer come to church. Even a low response rate of 5% would give us very valuable data on how we might better retain and recover members. The bishop is a more conservative guy who I don’t know will go for the idea, but I hope it moves forward.

  48. Patrick Bales says:

    This is a nice message. However, I don’t think that telling someone that you won’t necessarily be shunned if you leave is a good enough reason for them to not leave.

  49. This post is not about convincing people not to leave. It is about how to treat people who do leave.

  50. Ann (7:10 p.m.) — that is tragic! So sorry that has been your experience. It doesn’t sound like they’ve been very gracious from their side. Very happy to read that you intend to continue reaching out to them but I can see how that would be very unappealing.

  51. I know some people have some issue with the title of the post, but I love it. If I decide to share this to my facebook page, I think it would likely entice a different audience to read it than a post called, “Let’s continue to love those who leave the church.” And that different audience are the people I would hope would read this.

  52. christiankimball says:

    The more I think about it the more I dislike “prove them wrong,” but I understand its use (from the beginning) and I’m coming around to bhodges’ and EBK’s point of view. As click bait it works.

  53. Part of the problem is that for faithful members, the gospel/church is often such a part of them that when the friend/relative leaves, it’s as though it’s not just the church that’s been rejected, it’s a part them that’s been rejected. That presumptive common ground and accompanying shared intimacy is gone. It hurts and the relationship takes a lot more work. “Shunning” is general assumed to be vindictive, but I think more often what happens is people withdraw from each other simply due to stress and pain.

  54. Anne Palmieri says:

    Sometimes, with adult children especially, it might help to remind them of course you still love them, but like our Father in Heaven who loves all his children equally, He is only able to share all that He wants to share only with those who are interested and allow Him to do so. I think it is ok to let them know that you are sad that you can no longer share with them the things that mean the most to you, while you are still so very desirous of having them share with you the things that continue to mean the most to them.

  55. My daughter is no longer active in the Church. Am I sad and disappointed? Yes. Do I love her less or treat her differently because of her choice? No. My love and support isn’t contingent on whether she believes what I do or lives as I would have her do so. I love her because I am her mother and nothing will ever change that. I do hope she comes back and the best way to support that happening is to love her unconditionally. The worth of souls is great…no matter what they believe.

  56. I tried this, and I couldn’t keep it up for more than a few years.
    My oldest friend left the church and spends (even years later) an unbelievable amount of time and effort insulting the Church/teachings/etc, insulting his believing family members, all the way down to me and his believing friends. He sits like a sniper on the hill, taking pot shots at anything that crosses the Bloggernacle or Reddit that can be used to insult Church related things.
    On social media, no one is telling him *he’s* wrong or bad (out of a real desire to love him and be Christlike), but if one stands up for one’s beliefs and says “I see where you’re coming from, and I can see where you’d see that, but I personally think it’s more like *this*”, he starts a holier-than-thou flame attack about how he’s being attacked and how he’s “not a sinner for leaving” and how much courage he has to stand up to the onslaught of (nonexistent) defaming comments from mentally ill people. Most often he encourages responses on every topic from other ex-believers we know so they can echochamber/ bask in their superiority.

    So, yeah. I’ve spent years trying to still be a loving and supportive friend, and I’ve spent years being insulted an belittled for doing it. If I wanted to receive a constant tirade of insults, I’d be a blogger.

    I’m all out of cheeks to turn, so I’ve just started ghosting. Less contact is less time I have to be insulted and goaded. If he feels like we’ve “withdrawn love” it would have less to do with his faith transition and more to do with his new-and-improved-a*hole-personality.

    When it was my own sisters who left the church, it was easy to continue to love and support them in whatever they chose. They weren’t constantly trying to poison the relationship for years.

  57. Clark Goble says:

    BHodges (10:57) When I say historical objections as a convenient tool please note I’m not denying in the least that they are the key issue for many people. Simply that in our analysis and understanding we should also realize that they aren’t the only issue and for many people they probably aren’t the real issue.

    This is important since if the question is returning people to the fold there’s an inherent tendency to simply discount as “unsavable” those who have these intellectual objections. That’s simply because the nature of the Book of Abraham, polygamy history or even many social issues like acceptance of gay relationships within the church aren’t likely to change. So if someone leaves for those reasons and the basic issues don’t change people are less rather than more likely to work with them. I think this is especially true within families and I’ve seen that before.

    So I think keeping in mind that stated objections may not be the real issue is extremely important in helping us love and fellowship with others. Both from a motivating factor for members but also to keep in mind that acceptance, charity and love can soften the heart leading to conversion in a way that a focus on purely intellectual conditions miss.

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Katie (7:34), the Church has commissioned studies like that regarding why people leave. The 40% of active members were once inactive came from a study like that in the early 90’s. As I mentioned the data is rather dated since it misses a lot of changes in society from 1995 – 2005. Other data that at least gets us in the general direction are religious study surveys such as ARIS and to a lesser extent Pew. I’ve written about some of these studies at my blog. They don’t necessarily get at all the data we might want, but they’re useful for understanding retention and related issues. There have been more targeted studies over the years I’ve seen but I’ve always questioned how representative they are of the general membership due to how the respondents were selected. i.e. it’s not truly random across the key variables.

  59. Ben, thanks, I clarified that line. It now says “So in response to an announced departure from the church, the best testimony of all—a true witness of Christ—is to ‘prove them wrong’ about their sense that you’ll withdraw love.”

  60. Katie M.: I believe the church does try to do surveys with people who leave, etc. This data isn’t made available, though, if I understand correctly. [Now I see Clark mentioned some already.]

    Patrick Bales: “This is a nice message. However, I don’t think that telling someone that you won’t necessarily be shunned if you leave is a good enough reason for them to not leave.”

    I don’t think that, either. Was there something in my post that suggested otherwise? I should fix it if there is.

    EBK: Thank you for spelling it out succicntly. That’s exactly what I was aiming for here. And to make something that is an obvious point to some people even more memorable, make it stick in their memory.

    Martin: I think that’s right in a lot of cases. That’s why it’s important not only to value the idea that love should transcend church affiliation, but also actively find ways to cultivate that mentality in our relationships, including our relationships with our families, friends, and ward members.

    Anne Palmieri: “Sometimes, with adult children especially, it might help to remind them of course you still love them, but like our Father in Heaven who loves all his children equally, He is only able to share all that He wants to share only with those who are interested and allow Him to do so. I think it is ok to let them know that you are sad that you can no longer share with them the things that mean the most to you, while you are still so very desirous of having them share with you the things that continue to mean the most to them.”

    I see what you’re saying but I’d recommend against it. In most cases this will simply come across as “why can’t you be the person I think you should be?” which is easily interpreted as “you’d be more loveable, or at least worthy of my love.” Telling your kids “you’d be better [or happier, more blessed, whatever] if you were Mormon” can be an ineffective way to express love. You might object that you really believe living according to the gospel WILL make them happier or give them more blessings. In that case, I would suggest to you that our religion creates more space than that. Eternity is a long time. Also, think about Joseph Smith’s advice:

    “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”

    (From the church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, excerpted from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards, now in the History of the Church.)

    Lift them up in their own way. There are happy non-Mormons and sad Mormons, blessed non-Mormons and not-so-blessed Mormons. Maybe we should start thinking about each other beyond those easy categorizations and just try to live the first and second great commandments as best we can, and to help others be the best whatever-they-are they can be. Seek shared values and interests.

    N., you said: “If I wanted to receive a constant tirade of insults, I’d be a blogger.”

    haha! I know what you’re saying. There actually are a few people out there who have “left the church but can’t leave it alone,” though I think the vast majority can’t be described this way. You’re exhausted in part because of that person’s withdrawal of love based on your continued affiliation with the church. I tried to hint in the post that this cuts both ways when I said people suffer from “the belief that every meeting and conversation you have with them from here on out will be weighted with judgment (in both directions, sometimes), the possibility that your love is contingent on their relationship to the church and now you will see them as less worthy of love.” See how it can cut both ways? I think this isn;t just a Mormon problem, and I also think some people who leave and act this way may very well have acted this way toward other religions, etc., when they were church members themselves, so in some ways leaving the church didn’t change them very much. In such cases I’d probably just directly talk to the person, tell them I’d appreciate it if they laid off a bit, and if they can’t handle that it may be appropriate to end a toxic relationship.

  61. I’d be interested in reading an article about all the single, never-married members leaving the church because of Elder Holland’s oxymoron statement from the recent Face to Face-that we are loved. We are NOT loved. That’s why we’re still single. Why does the church continue to punish us for it instead of doing something about our growing numbers?

  62. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, I had an experience with the church’s Research Information Division. (link) I am left with the impression that there is plenty of good data available at church headquarters on all kinds of things, but as with most stuff they like to keep it quiet. We only receive glimpses when some Seventy or Apostle throws out some stat in a leadership training meeting. Then the stake president quotes that stat, and you or I are left wishing for more than one isolated number, and doubting if it means what is being suggested.

  63. Clark Goble says:

    That’s really interesting John. I wonder how much of this is questioning which seems more like qualitative anthropology and how much is statistically meaningful data. One thing I often worry about is that data can be misrepresentative but extremely persuasive if it is personal yet not statistially representative. Ideally the people involved recognize this problem and balance the two.

    Some of the statistics I mentioned though I believe either were commissioned by this group in the Church or at least alongside it. Many were published or at least made publicly accessible.

  64. Phila Storts says:

    My son left the church after he married to join the Catholic church with his wife. She was interested in the church, but her family made it very difficult for her, so she gave up. Now they attend church with her mom. While it was the hardest thing and I mean really hard, heartbreaking hard…to hear from your child, I still love him. I know that Heavenly Father loves him too and I trust in the promises of the sealing of families. I have hope and I will continue to have hope.

  65. Clark Goble says:

    mml41 (11:45) The number of singles leaving the church has been discussed in numerous articles over the years. At least since the big social shift started in the mid-90’s and certainly thereafter. I think it’s a pretty difficult issue with few good answers. The reasons people leave, based in my experience with friends and not getting married until my mid-30s, vary. Some just fade away because they don’t feel a part of the community. (I’d add a significant reason why anyone leaves church – I stay convinced that social rather than historical/theological reasons dominate leaving) An other problem is that if there aren’t good social activities it’s fairly easy to fall into groups with non-Mormons or inactive Mormons who often engage in activities active Mormons wouldn’t. That can be a trial that I think far too many members discount.

    In hindsight though there were far more connections possible than I was willing to admit at the time. I was loved by many people – friends and even people in the wards I attended. It’s just that I think we in the church get so fixated in the marriage issue that it makes how we view many things unhealthily distorted. (Not pointing at anyone – just thinking of myself and some of my friends) It can lead to a kind of nihilistic approach which I think leads us away from activity or at least can.

    Of course as I suggested how I’d just the 20 something me is pretty different now than when I was in those shoes. Which doesn’t really amount to much since I’m not sure there was a way to give the 20 something me that perspective. I think what many married Mormons don’t realize is that life after 25 is pretty different life before 25 as a single. Far too many people in leadership positions look at single adults and think what it was like when they were 22 and single. This can be pretty distortive.

  66. Margaret says:

    Honestly my world view has changed so much since I left Mormonism that I’d be happy if my former ward members would shun me. Honestly we have zero in common now. They treat me like a lost sheep that needs reducing. That’s so condescending.

  67. Clark,
    I think it is likely that every person that leaves the church has many reasons. I would imagine that if there was only one reason, they probably wouldn’t have left. It seems extremely condescending, however, to presuppose that if someone tells you they left for historical/theological reasons, that those aren’t the “real reasons.” Maybe those are the reasons that are most important for them even though there are other reasons as well. If I decide to leave the church (which at this point I will admit is a real possibility) it will be for a number of reasons, the very most important of which is theological. If a loved one were to tell me (or even imply) that they thought it wasn’t my “real reason,” that would end any real discussion I’d be able to have with that person. It is very presumptuous to assume you know why a person left the church and they themselves don’t realize it.

  68. Mari Miller says:

    Thank you…I needed to hear this, just as a reminder that I need to be there for my loved ones going thru this.

  69. Margaret: yes, we can be condescending.

    Mari: no problem

  70. Clark Goble says:

    EBK, how is that condescending? Earnest question – I simply don’t think any of us myself included are good at judging the reasons we do anything. Typically what we think is our reasons aren’t. This effect of unconscious reasoning seems so common it’d be shocking if it didn’t apply elsewhere.

    Now if I’m talking with someone about why they in particular leave then of course I’m not going to say I don’t believe them. That would be condescending and counterproductive and the opposite of loving. To wonder about it more broadly in aggregate seems not only fair but important. Especially when one is looking a other religious groups and their retention.

  71. Clark,
    Whether it is one person, or a large group, telling people that you have a better understanding of their psyche than they do is condescending. “You may be a faceless number, but I understand your motives more than you do.”

  72. Exactly what I did for my daughter. I want her to absolutely know that there is nothing she can do that would make me stop loving her. She is still a vital part of our family and very needed for the wonderful woman she is. Thank you for helping to spread the word!

  73. Clark Goble says:

    EBK, so you object to any sociological study that doesn’t line up with people’s self-perception as condescending?

  74. Clark Goble says:

    To add, analysis of racism and sexism often finds that peoples self-perception of their mind versus what their actions show their judgements to be vary a great deal. In case you wish an example of the point I’m making.

  75. David Richardson says:

    It should not be surprising that some people are leave Christ’s church today as MANY of his disciples left while he still walked on the Earth, in spite of witnessing his miracles and hearing his teachings first hand. “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). Could it be that many of them ceased walking after Christ because they were bothered by some of the same issues, or types of issues, that some people stumble on today? Could it be that some people at the time of Christ came to a point where they ceased following the counsel of the Lord “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18) and cut off further discussion with defenders of the faith?

    Could another cause of disciples leaving Christ while he still lived with them have been that they began to think that some of his teachings or policies were hurtful or foolish or sexist or racist or not completely open or forthcoming about details of present and past history, especially the Old Testament? Did those who walked no more with Christ gradually lose spiritual discernment? “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14)?

    It is true that we would never suggest such possibilities to loved ones who leave the Church today because it would hurt them terribly—these possibilities are only presented to try to comfort or explain to those who ask, “How could such a thing have happened after doing all we could do?—for example parents, relatives, and friends who are hurting terribly on the inside because some of the people they love most in this life are turning away, or have already turned away, from the Church of Jesus Christ.

  76. Clark,
    Have you done a sociological study? I’d be interested in the results.

  77. Josh Smith says:

    David Richardson,

    Some leave Mormonism because they believe following Christ requires it. Some leave because they believe being a Christian requires it. Personally, that’s not why I left, but I’ve met enough people who feel that way.

    I’ve met some who were prompted by the Spirit to leave Mormonism. Again, that’s not me.

    Many leave as a matter of conscience.

    One reason many leave is that Mormonism’s truth claims do not match with their lived experience. When a belief system diverges from one’s lived experience, it can be taxing to try and participate in the faith.

    Some leave because the Mormon church excommunicates them. Then some leave because the Mormon church excommunicated someone they love.

    Some leave for their children’s sake. I could explain this one further if anyone is interested.

    Many completely disbelieve Mormonism’s truth claims, yet continue to attend because Mormonism is a wonderful community. I genuinely love the Mormons in my life.

    Overall, I suspect many leave Mormonism for the same reason that 99.999% of humanity isn’t Mormon in the first place–it isn’t a worldview that “works” for them.

  78. David Richardson- I ultimately left because of attitudes like yours that I constantly encountered at church. People just couldn’t accept that my faith could look different and manifest differently than theirs. I got tired of people using the scriptures to justify their view that I was “walking no more with Christ” or “losing the spirit” or “listening to the wrong g spirit” or that I was part of the prophecy about many of the elect falling away in the last days. It’s easy to rest in zion reassuring ourselves that we are the righteous ones and they are the weak ones “leaning to their own understanding”. It’s much more difficult to examine our own actions and assumptions and recognize our part in driving people out.

  79. Katie M. says:

    @Clark-

    I was aware that the church and others have done studies on the numbers of inactive vs active members and such, but what I was specifically wondering about are surveys on the *why’s* of leaving — the various reasons people have left. I can’t find any surveys on that subject. The church may have done them of course, and not shared the results.

  80. And more to the point of the OP, had I received the unconditional love and acceptance the author suggests, even if my fellow saints disagreed with me, rather than having the scriptures used to prove my prideful and errant ways, I might still be counted among the believers. As it stands I have had to choose to follow Christ outside the walls of mormonism. His love truly has been unconditional.

  81. I can validate about 2/3 of Josh Smith’s list from personal experience, myself and good friends. Especially “believe following Christ requires it”, “prompted by the Spirit to leave”, “as a matter of conscience”, and “for their children’s sake”. These are so much does-not-compute for many active Mormons that conversation and understanding seem near impossible. Echoing Andrew S. (way up list) BCC itself seems oddly and delightfully accepting of these points of view.

  82. Clark Goble says:

    Katie (7:26) the BYU Religious Studies Department published some of the studies from the 90’s and earlier. Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members includes some of this. It’s completely dated with a lot of the data coming from the late 80’s. But it’s still worth checking out. (The graphs are horrible done in terms of useful ways of representing the data though) They actually have a surprising number of books with quite a few being available for free as ebooks. Putnam’s American Grace also has some information in this regard. It’s far more recent although most of its data is from the naughts or earlier. (No link since BCC tends to flip out if you have more than one link in a post)

  83. Clark Goble says:

    EBK (4:54) It was an example that invalidates the rule you put forth. But, no I’ve not done a sociological study although I’ll frequently link to them in my various posts on retention and the like.

    Christian (7:39) of course a Mormon can be accepting that people believe those things when they leave. As with people claiming revelations that some other faith is true (like say the FLDS) we don’t have to agree with them in terms of content. But I think we should respect their beliefs just as we’d want people to respect ours.

    As for myself I actually have no trouble with people being led out of the church by the spirit for their development. If we believe life is about our development and God has intentionally revealed the gospel in such a limited fashion, then it seems to follow logically that for most people their best development might be outside of the church in terms of god providing for their flourishing and development. Others might disagree with me on that of course.

    I certainly fully agree that for many people Mormonism won’t “work for them.” It’s a challenging religion that demands a lot. I think that if given a chance it can give great blessings but I certainly can understand completely why some leave and why many don’t want to join.

  84. Thank you so much for this as it is true. I myself am inactive and have been for about 6 years as well as my son. It started out when they kicked him out of Boyscouts and then my thinking changed not understanding how a church who teaches love could do this anyway what you wrote hit me thank you

  85. Clark,
    I agree with some of what you have stated. I definitely think that no one really has a perfect understanding of themselves and their motives. I also think it’s useful to teach members that it is more likely their loved ones will come back to church if you love them no matter their faith choices. My main disagreement is with the idea that people use theology/history to justify their leaving (maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but it sounds a lot like people who claim that those who leave the church are doing it because they want to sin and all their complaints are justifications for their sins – that is condescending.)

    My other disagreement is with the idea that if people come back to church without the theology/history changing, then they didn’t really leave for those reasons in the first place. I think a lot of people change their minds about what they believe many times over their lifetimes. That doesn’t mean that what they believed at one point, but no longer believe now, wasn’t a real belief at the time. Also, for me personally, even if the theological issues didn’t change, it would go a long way if we were able to adopt a view that the church might be wrong on some doctrines but that we are doing the best we can with the information we’ve been given. If the troublesome theology could be seen as what we think is most likely with the information given, but not the only option, it would be easier to swallow. I don’t see that happening though.

  86. The OP is rather late. Had Mormons really been taught to love unconditionally as Jesus taught in the Bible, this would be a silly topic for a discussion. But they haven’t, and this OP implies it. To tell grownups not to shun friends and family who have chosen to leave after deliberating about it, doesn’t that sound weird? That this call would come from someone of no significance in the Church, doesn’t that even make it more strange? But then, who among the topmost leaders would even call for this?

    Therefore, those who chose to remain in Church have proven correct those who have left it.

  87. Sharon Burress says:

    This comment, left by Anne Palmieri on April 12, 2016 at 10:23 am meant the most to me.
    “Sometimes, with adult children especially, it might help to remind them of course you still love them, but like our Father in Heaven who loves all his children equally, He is only able to share all that He wants to share only with those who are interested and allow Him to do so. I think it is ok to let them know that you are sad that you can no longer share with them the things that mean the most to you, while you are still so very desirous of having them share with you the things that continue to mean the most to them.”

  88. Clark Goble says:

    LVSB, are you really saying that if we’d be taught something we’d be living it perfectly? Mormons are human and we typically fall well short of what we know we ought be doing.

    EBK, I don’t think all use theology/history as an excuse. I’ve not idea of the relative numbers. Some certainly are sincere in it. My experience with others is that their heart left well before the historical issues became an issue for them. It’s either best seen as the final straw or else a useful way to justify themselves to others. However if we’re trying to understand socially why people leave people are simply more complex than that. Further I think those who raise the theology/history tend to paint with too broad a brush and assume everyone leaves for the reasons they left or that they see some of their friends leaving.

  89. “Further I think those who raise the theology/history tend to paint with too broad a brush and assume everyone leaves for the reasons they left or that they see some of their friends leaving.”

    This cuts both ways. People who see no issue with the history/theology assumes everyone leaves for other reasons.

    Obviously people leave for varied and complex reasons. The only one you seem to discount is history/theology though and I don’t understand why.

  90. LVSB,
    The top leaders have called for this many times. I think I probably hear a talk about loving those who have left the fold about once every three general conferences. Clearly this is still an issue, but the top leadership refusing to call for love isn’t really the main part of the issue.

  91. Clark Goble says:

    EBK, why do you take me as discounting the history/theology? Honestly perplexed since I’ve said it’s a reason people leave in every comment.

  92. “However again my personal experiences with people who’ve left the church is that why rarely had much to do with theology/history although those were convenient tools to justify leaving with.”

    ” My experience with others is that their heart left well before the historical issues became an issue for them. It’s either best seen as the final straw or else a useful way to justify themselves to others.”

    I think my issue is mainly with these two quotes. They talk about your own personal experiences of real individuals who told you they were leaving for historical/theological reasons and you state here that they were using those reasons as justification. You stated in another comment that it would be condescending to say that to them. Do you now see how it is condescending to say it about them on a blog?

  93. I wonder if we are coming at this from different assumptions. If someone doesn’t have a testimony of the gospel as presented by the Church, and also disagrees with the theology intellectually or is bothered by the history, I would call that a theological/historical reason for leaving the church. Maybe you wouldn’t.

  94. God has always asked people to sacrifice to help others. Sacrifice includes time (e.g. service and missionary work) and financial resources (e.g. tithes and offerings). God sometimes asks people for another type of sacrifice during certain seasons of Earth’s history, the sacrifice of postponement of certain blessings in order to bless the lives of others and to bless ourselves more greatly in the long run. The scriptures say that the rewards for enduring to the end with a willingness to sacrifice or postpone certain blessings during life on Earth will be “a hundred fold” in this life and/or the next. Postponed blessings for certain types of people during certain times and seasons include receiving the gospel and the priesthood. (Same-sex couples too—at least perhaps in the next life?) Biblical examples of postponements of blessings for a season include: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into [any] city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5, 6).

    The discomfort or difficulty some people in living the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perhaps can be compared with the difficulty some people have attending school or a special training session for their employment. Some people are much happier giving up schooling or special training because the sacrifices are too onerous, expensive, or time-consuming for them. But why leave the LDS Church because it is easier in other churches or no church at all? A person not interested in the fullness of God’s blessings in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom in the next life can still remain LDS. The Telestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms are quite easy to attain and are pretty much consistent with the Protestant and Catholic view of what Heaven is like anyway. Even the lowest degree of the Celestial kingdom is fairly easy to obtain—baptism and a reasonably good life on Earth.

  95. Clark Goble says:

    But EBK (10:21) saying some don’t leave for historical/theological reasons simply isn’t saying no one does, which is what you keep saying I’m saying. Again still confused.

    As to your other point, if I don’t name someone and talk in the abstract no I don’t think it’s condescending to critique the reasons people leave. To take the position that it is effectively means the topic can’t be discussed.

    To your later issue (10:24) I’d say not having a testimony is the cause not the history/theology in that it’s the lack of testimony that determines rejecting the history/theology. Now that can be complex since someone with a testimony may indeed encounter intellectual ideas and it’s struggling with the intellectual questions that means they lose their testimony. So in that case I’d say the key issue is the history/theology. However in general from what I’ve read of the psychology religious or quasi-religious identity is simply rarely a matter of intellectual issues but emotional ones – often social ones. Again this doesn’t mean in practice things aren’t complex.

    An example of this might be a hypothetical situation where someone once primarily had their social relations with active Mormons but starts to shift peers. The new peers are very concerned with issues in social justice especially gay rights. Suddenly the gay issues that the person wasn’t concerned with become very important. But should we analyze this in terms of the social change in peers or as an intellectual issue? I think it could go either way, but it also seems that the key event leading the person out was the social change. (To anticipate criticism I’m not saying this person didn’t leave for political reasons, just to note the complexities)

  96. Josh Smith says:

    This really isn’t that difficult to understand, at least from the outside looking in.

    I left because a disbelieve the faith’s truth claims. That is, I don’t believe the faith’s claims are an accurate representation of reality. At an institutional level, I don’t think the faith even gives an accurate representation of itself.

    Even with this position, I continued to attend for 10-15 years.

    For about ten years I attended believing that though not true, Mormonism was something good and useful. I made genuine friendships. I made a difference in others’ lives and they made a difference in my life.

    Now, as I sit here today, for me personally, I’m persuaded that the utility and goodness within the faith is better found outside the faith. Again, that’s my own perspective, my own experience. Others make different decisions and I pass no judgment on how they conduct their lives.

    Easy, no?

    Oh, and I left because my bishop gave me a gallon of milk and said it was whole milk but it was really 2%. … And I wanted to sin. I left in order to drink coffee and I was mad about milk. :-)

  97. Clark,
    I think we’re going to have to disagree on whether or not it’s condescending.

    I think you’re example above just shows that few people leave for only one reason. I would consider your example as someone who left for social and theological reasons. I wouldn’t say that they didn’t leave for theological reasons just because they didn’t have those theological disagreements at an earlier point. No one lives in a vacuum. We are all influenced by our social situations so if any time someone leaves the church because their social group changed affected their thinking, then I would imagine that we would conclude that absolutely everyone leaves for social reasons. I don’t think this is very helpful to a discussion of why people leave.

    By the way, just as a clarification, I’m not trying to imply that everyone leaves for historical/theological reasons. In fact, I think that not even the majority of people who leave, do so for those reasons. I just disagree with your assertion that most people who claim those reasons are using it as a tool of justification. I think it is helpful to the conversation to say that most people have complex and multifaceted reasons for leaving the church and we should not give up on them because theology/history is one of those reasons (I think this is part of the point you are making?)

  98. “Oh, and I left because my bishop gave me a gallon of milk and said it was whole milk but it was really 2%. … And I wanted to sin. I left in order to drink coffee and I was mad about milk. :-)”

    It’s always the milk. It’s Satan’s most efficient tool. :)

  99. Clark Goble says:

    EBK, I don’t think it’s terribly common that people leave for only one reason. There will always be a multitude of reasons.

    As for the condescension I suspect we’ll just disagree there. To me it’s no different than noting that the reason people stay in Mormonism is often and perhaps primarily for non-doctrinal reasons. If it’s condescending to say many leave for non-doctrinal reasons it’s seems just as condescending to say the opposite.

    Finally, I don’t think I claimed most people use history as a justification while the reason is different. Rather I tried to be explicit saying I had no idea the numbers. The closest I came to that is saying, “I think people leave for many reasons and not typically for historical/theological reasons.” But this is just me saying the reasons are complex. I do think if one was able to do a survey that most people wouldn’t say it was for historical reasons so much as feeling it just didn’t work for them. That’s just a guess though. I say that simply because my experience is far fewer people know theology/history than I think most internet connected people assume.

    Now I’ll straight up say most people I know who’ve left the church left for social reasons. But I’d never extrapolate from that simply because the people I know are certainly not representative of everyone. Further even saying that a lot of people I knew clearly did leave for historical/theological reasons.

  100. Anne Palmieri says:

    BHodges
    I think I understand your point in response to my first comment, but from your response I’m not sure you understood mine. When I said that we must continue to let them know that “we
    are so very desirous of having them share with us the things that continue to mean most to them” I meant that to mean that we must do the very things you talked about as you referred to “lifting them.” But I also think it is also important for the parent to still be able to share how their leaving impacts them also.
    Gone are the days when we behave like the scene with Neil Diamond and his father in The Jazz Singer where the Jewish parent rents his clothing and says, “You are no longer my son, you no longer exist” when our children reject our core beliefs, but I think it may come across as pandering or even tiptoeing a little too lightly if we cannot have an honest and loving exchange about how their choice to leave affects us too. Not in an accusatory or guilt inducing way, but in the spirit of honest exchange between two people who love each other. I don’t see anything oppressive or manipulative about being able to say something like, “I really miss the Gospel discussions we used to have, so it means a lot to me when we can still have great talks about other things that are still important to you…” We cannot tiptoe or avoid the fact that a huge part of the relationship is impacted by their choice. This does NOT mean there doesn’t continue to be a relationship. But the dynamics of that relationship have to evolve and change. With love and effort this can happen. But I don’t think it does either party any favors by trying to gloss over this. A true relationship addresses the needs of both parties. If not, it is not a real relationship, but only one person enabling another or treating them as if they are not capable of a real and honest exchange. As parents we are not just charity-oozing robots. I think it is healthy for children (adult and youth) to know that parents are also impacted and can be hurt by the choices they make. Of course we don’t use that hurt to manipulate or punish them for their choice, but it is still an honest response that I think merits expression.

  101. “But I also think it is also important for the parent to still be able to share how their leaving impacts them also.”

    Why? What good would such a conversation do? Children are already aware that their parents disapprove. They’re already aware that their decision to leave the church hurts their parents. Discussing it is only going to make the wound deeper and drive children further away from their parents and the church.

    Again, what good is that conversation going to do? None, and there’s a real possibility for harming the relationship. It might make you feel better to tell your child how much their decision hurts you, but that’s a pretty selfish reason to have that conversation.

  102. Josh Smith says:

    I’ve already written too much on this post, but this is a really important discussion. Thanks again, BHodges.

    Tim, My wife and I see spirituality differently. We’ve had different life experiences. I’m very much a secular humanist and she is very much LDS, though she has her own nuance that she brings to her faith. For a long time–for too long–religious discussions were emotionally charged. Yet, the underlying emotions really didn’t have to do with religion at all. For my part, it had to do with feelings of defensiveness. We’ve spent time talking about the underlying emotions, and now we’re able to appreciate each other’s differences more. We can now talk about religion and it’s not emotionally charged.

    I suspect most parents and most grown children can reach a similar place in time. It’s my experience that a good place to start is not the positions of the various individuals, but rather focus on the emotions. What is it that you are really feeling and why? Can you explain how your loved one feels? Not their position or their beliefs, but their feelings. How does this person feel? Start there. It’s a conversation worth having.

  103. Anne Palmieri says:

    Tim, I totally see your point. I really do (at least I think I do). But maybe it’s because I’m Italian and we are used to getting things off our chest that I think sometimes it can be better to not leave certain things unsaid if they end up becoming a silent elephant in the room causing a relationship to become too guarded and awkward – too full of fear. I think what Josh Smith shared can be crucial to successfully pulling off this level of honesty. I think the underlying feeling has to be love. It can’t be “you hurt me, how could you after all I’ve done for you…” But at the heart of it the child must feel is your desire to be able to continue to share all that you are and have and value with that child. They must feel that in spite of anything and everything you still want to be close.(Isn’t that what parents live to do?) Of course the parent cannot insist or persist in trying to share what the child doesn’t want anymore than God can do that with His children. But God continues to reach out to us in love trying to have a relationship with us on any level that we will allow Him to. And He never stops letting us know how much it would mean to Him if we will accept His invitation. And if we choose not to, His hand is outstretched still.

  104. I guess I’m imagining how my parents would react if I left the church. The conversation would be very different than the ones I’d have with my wife. My parents would complain about how my actions hurt them. It wouldn’t be a real two-way conversation. It would be them venting, and it wouldn’t help matters at all. I’d probably make excuses to not talk to them for a while, if only to avoid the conflict. Perhaps other parents and children could have more satisfying conversations, but I’m guessing the more effective conversations would happen after the parents get over the fact that their child has left the church (and, if the child’s angry at the church, after some of that anger has subsided). I don’t think my grandparents ever reached that point, and it showed in their relationships with their children who left the church.

    A husband/wife relationship is another matter altogether.

  105. Anne and Josh–thanks for the follow-up comments. Perhaps my comments here say more about my personal upbringing and relationship with my parents than about anything else. I guess the important thing is to make sure we react with love and don’t do anything that might cause the relationship to become more distant (which is the main point of BHodges post).

  106. Anne Palmieri says:

    Tim, I think how you imagine that conversation with your parents venting to start out with is probably pretty accurate. (not a statement about YOUR parents, just we parents in general.) As a parent I often react first out of fear. We have so much emotionally invested in our kids. But I think we can get beyond that, but often it is only AFTER the fearful feelings are expressed. Hopefully it doesn’t end there. Again, being Italian I can tell you that I’ve been involved in some screaming matches before that culminated in tears and with both parties then being able to express their love for each other and move into a different dynamic in the relationship. Although I don’t necessarily recommend this as the best mode of communication I think sometimes we need to believe in the relationship enough to honestly share our feelings on both sides. But at some point LOVE has to cast out FEAR.

  107. Anne Palmieri says:

    Tim, Sorry I didn’t see your last response before I posted mine. I think you summed it up perfectly. But don’t sell your parents too short. Sometimes once our worse fears are faced, we parents can surprise you and ourselves with how unconditional our love for our kids really is.

  108. I come back to this discussion with the thought that there are lots of choices and events short of ‘leaving’ that create tension, and for some people even more. Consider:
    “I am not going to seminary any more.”
    “I am not going on a mission.”
    “We are getting married but not in the temple.”
    “I am no longer going to the temple or even asking for a temple recommend.”
    “I will not accept a calling.”
    I have seen the dynamics discussed in the OP around every one of these.

  109. Clark Goble says:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:00 am
    “LVSB, are you really saying that if we’d be taught something we’d be living it perfectly? Mormons are human and we typically fall well short of what we know we ought be doing.”

    Clark, no I’m not expecting perfection. Rather, I am expecting the normal reaction under the given situation. Suppose Mormons were told to bring their scriptures to Church on Sundays, I would expect a normal compliance rate of at least 40-50% among the non-leaders in the ward. But, if I see that only the leadership and other teachers comply, while the rest slack, is it expecting perfection to conclude that nobody seems to comply?

    Here, perfection means 100% compliance for everyone, every Sunday without fail. Even one member who lapses for one Sunday destroys the perfect record. Do you really think that that’s what I meant? Considering human nature, I don’t think perfecting this simple feat is even possible here on earth. I hope you understand that no ex-Mormon left because they expected perfection. That is a mischaracterization of the problem. And if that is how everyone who stayed behind thinks, then that proves correct those who left.

    Take the Jeremy Runnells story as an example. You should know this story. He ran into problems with the truth claims of the church. Someone in his family referred him to a CES director to address the issue. The CES director told him to write down his questions and email them to him. He promised to get back to Jeremy. What did the CES do afterwards? Nothing.

    Do you see a problem here? If not, I can tell you what it is. But if you do, then do you think Jeremy was expecting perfection or just plain normal human behavior?

    Was the debacle a lack of expertise or perfection on the part of the CES director, or was it something else?

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    EBK says:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:10 am
    LVSB,
    The top leaders have called for this many times. I think I probably hear a talk about loving those who have left the fold about once every three general conferences. Clearly this is still an issue, but the top leadership refusing to call for love isn’t really the main part of the issue.

    EBK,

    “Charity… rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in truth” (1 Corinthians 14:6). Therefore, charity and truth go hand in hand. You cannot say “love them” while ignoring what they perceive as iniquity in the church. In fact, ignoring them is already an iniquity.

    There is no charity in falsehoods.

  110. David Richardson: I think it can be dangerous to equate church membership with Christian discipleship. There are many Christian disciples, that is, followers of Christ, who aren’t members of the LDS Church. And even for members, we do well to draw a distinction. Elder Christofferson hinted at this in a conference talk:

    “In this discussion of the Church as the body of Christ, we must always bear in mind two things. One, we do not strive for conversion to the Church but to Christ and His gospel, a conversion that is facilitated by the Church.21 The Book of Mormon expresses it best when it says that the people “were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ.”

    Sometimes I think we’re like the disciples in Mark 9:

    38 And John answered [Jesus] saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

    39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

    40 For he that is not against us is on our part.

    This account suggests Christ desired people to be disciples in word and deed, whether they formally affiliated with him or not, and it isn’t up to us to forbid them that.

  111. Kathy (April 13, 2016 at 2:50 am): You’re welcome, and thank you.

    Anne Palmieri: “I think I understand your point in response to my first comment, but from your response I’m not sure you understood mine. When I said that we must continue to let them know that “we are so very desirous of having them share with us the things that continue to mean most to them” I meant that to mean that we must do the very things you talked about as you referred to “lifting them.” But I also think it is also important for the parent to still be able to share how their leaving impacts them also.”

    Right, I’m not suggesting differences be altogether ignored or glossed over or that people act fake around each other. Rather, I think they should understand the risks that such a conversation carries and that they should make it a point not to repeatedly bring it up. You mentioned the elephant in the room. I’m actually quite a bit like you, I don’t like to ignore the elephant. But there’s a fine line between acknowledging the elephant versus repeatedly inviting the elephant to stay, or to have a seat right at the table. Above all, we should cultivate sincere love regardless of church affiliation and make it abundantly clear that our love and relationship is abiding regardless.

    I typed all that out before seeing how your exchange with Tim played out, so it’s superfluous now, but oh well here it is anyway. Thanks for your comments.

  112. Anne Palmieri says:

    BHodges Thanks for replying to my comment. I think your response puts a perfect exclamation point on the initial point of your very important post with or without my exchange with Tim.
    Sometimes I wish we parents could treat our kids as if they were our friends or neighbors or someone we home teach and not have so much of our egos and personal fears so connected to what they do or don’t do. Perhaps this can only be accomplished by having that perfect love cast out all fear. I will keep praying with all the energy of my heart to be possessed of this kind of love. Maybe we as parents need more of this kind of prayer than the ones we offer praying for our kids to change. Thanks for a great post Best wishes to you.

  113. Clark Goble says:

    LVSB, I certainly agree it’s a false dichotomy between perfection and flaw. However I think I was saying something different from that. More that people can think things are what they should be doing, be trying, yet still fail in various ways. Further when you look at a population they may apply a principle well in some circumstances but not in others. More or less my perspective is that people are judging more than a little uncharitably. Don’t get me wrong in criticism of groups I may well agree with your criticisms. I suspect I’m just a little more long suffering and patient with people, given how much I recognize I need people to be patient with my own failings.

    My qualms tend more to be with people usually assuming the worst motives and judging by different standards than they judge themselves.

  114. Yes. Keep loving. But what does that really look like?
    And are we sure are giving love~truly absent of pride?

  115. Anne Palmieri says:

    I think more important than what it looks like is what it feels like to the person on the receiving end. That will be the ultimate test

  116. LVSB,
    ” You cannot say “love them” while ignoring what they perceive as iniquity in the church. In fact, ignoring them is already an iniquity.”

    This sounds to me like you think the church leaders cannot sincerely ask the members to love those who have left unless they individually address every problem that people who have left have. I disagree with this. I also think it is impractical. I have issues with how the church has glossed over many of its problems, but I don’t think that means they aren’t allowed to try to love those they disagree with and encourage the membership to do the same.

    Clark,
    I don’t really have anything else to add to our discussion, but I enjoyed it. Thanks! :)

  117. Clark Goble says:

    Rereading that last comment it came off a little harsher than I intended. Just to be clear I wasn’t speaking or thinking of anyone here when I said that. I was more thinking of the times I’ve gotten frustrated in the past with discussions. And of course it’d be the height of hypocrisy to be less patient with someone because they are less patient with others.

  118. Lovely, Anne, thank you:

    Perhaps this can only be accomplished by having that perfect love cast out all fear. I will keep praying with all the energy of my heart to be possessed of this kind of love. Maybe we as parents need more of this kind of prayer than the ones we offer praying for our kids to change. Thanks for a great post Best wishes to you.

  119. EBK,

    “This sounds to me like you think the church leaders cannot sincerely ask the members to love those who have left unless they individually address every problem that people who have left have. I disagree with this. I also think it is impractical. I have issues with how the church has glossed over many of its problems, but I don’t think that means they aren’t allowed to try to love those they disagree with and encourage the membership to do the same.”

    Matthew 7:9-11
    09 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
    10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children…

    …then why does it sound like the bar for normal human behavior is being set so low so that everyone seems to get tripped by it?

    If I were the CES director in the Runnells Case, and Jeremy wrote me 1,000 questions that caused him sleepless nights, do I not have the time to answer maybe only 5 of them, and say I dunno with the 995? After all, I did say I would get back to him, right?

    It may be impractical to answer all the 1,000 questions. But it is just outright iniquity to say nothing for months and pretend Jeremy didn’t exist.

    I’m not saying the leaders CAN not love… I am saying they ARE not as loving as they COULD. Why? Perhaps your expectations are just set too low.

  120. “I’m not saying the leaders CAN not love… I am saying they ARE not as loving as they COULD. Why? Perhaps your expectations are just set too low.”

    I am also not as loving as I could be, and neither are you. I think your expectations are set too high. A CES director didn’t answer questions when he could have, yes. That doesn’t mean that the leadership of the church don’t wish their membership (and themselves) would love more.

  121. When tempted to leave the Church, it’s helpful to focus on living the Gospel instead.

  122. So many times in the last ten years have I been tempted to leave. However. I remind myself The gospel is perfect. The people are not. I go to Church to be obedient to my Lord and Savior Jesus
    Christ and my Heavenly Father. I love them with all of my heart and my faith is in the Gospel and
    In my Savior. Amen.