Sometimes you start a journey with one intent but have a feeling that it will lead somewhere else. Kind of like planning a great family vacation with an image of the wonderful experiences that await, but with the nagging feeling that it will end in a quarrel. This was the case with my blog. I wanted to share my thoughts, consolidating some of the lessons I learned from books and articles and make them accessible to others; I wanted to make space for my kids and I to remain in the LDS Church. But, a little voice in the back of my head told me that this could record my path out of the church.
It’s In The Water
Affiliation with religious institutions in the US has been dropping for many years. Those identifying themselves as spiritual but not religious (SBNR) is the fastest growing “religious” category in the US. Regular church attendance is also down. While lagging the general trend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is impacted by the same decline in growth and participation. This seems to be accelerating among the younger generations, but the same conditions are affecting everyone. The reasons for this shift are myriad and complex, but both internal (personal development) and external (cultural) forces are at play.
Since the Church limits acceptable religious practice and has no models or allowance for later faith stages, the only option for many people is to leave when they no longer fit in the box.
An Isolating Battle
For the faithful, separation from the Church is not undertaken lightly. Those who leave the Church or no longer adhere to the traditional practices or beliefs are often avoided by other members, including family, friends, and work associates; we are no longer safe.
Consequently, most leaders and practicing members never really understand the reasons for the lost members change and, instead, substitute shallow assumptions, such as the former member was offended, failed to pray and read scriptures, succumbed to anti-Mormon material, were lazy learners, chose doubt over faith, influenced by the world, or wanted to sin (see surveys conducted by David Ostler). As a result, the Church may lack the ability to respond effectively to retain current members, attract new members, and reunite with those who have left.
I am one of those who no longer believes in the unique claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And since the Church only values a particular expression of practice and belief, there was no longer a place for me to participate.
If nothing else, there are only two lesson that I wish to leave with you:
- For those of us who have built our whole lives in and around the LDS Church, leaving it is not easy and not intentional. It is generally not done because of sin or offense or ignorance. Quite the contrary. The change in our relationship with the Church is often the result of years of intense study, prayer, mental anguish, fear, and emotional pain. We often have to face this transition alone, because we lack a safe space to work out what is happening to us.
- Our agency is limited by our circumstances and our knowledge. In reality, we have very little control over our lives, but we do have some control over what we learn. New knowledge brings new understanding. New understanding enlarges agency. It also expands our ability to love others. If we read and study only what the Church wants us to read and study, we will never know anything more than what the Church wants us to know, thus limiting the scope of our understanding, agency, and personal development.
I have always been active and involved in the Church, serving in a range of teaching and local leadership callings. I love to learn and I loved to teach about the gospel, scripture, and Church history.
Over the last 20 years, I have studied a range of subjects even more intently including LDS Church materials, history, doctrine, and ancillary subjects like philosophy, sociology, Biblical history, and theology. I have also expanded my network of associates to those of other faith traditions. I have loved these new friends and enjoyed more vulnerable and deeper discussions with them than I’ve ever had within my own faith community.
From your perspective, it may seem that I have “fallen” or “apostatized,” but like two cars on a roadway, their increasing separation does not mean that one of them is driving in reverse or on the wrong road. They may both be traveling in the same direction.
To those who ask: “Why don’t you just decide to believe again?” I would say, belief is not a choice. Belief is a reflection of our state of mind. I can no more believe in the LDS Church as I once did anymore than you can chose to believe in Santa Claus as you once did. Our understanding of the world (our beliefs) changes as our knowledge grows. If you believe now as you did one or two years ago, you may be “relearning” what you already knew rather than expanding your knowledge. There is so much more.
Deconstruction is a normal process for people of all faiths. The issues might be different, but the process is the same. It takes time to work through shock, denial, pain and guilt, bargaining, anger, and depression, to arrive at a new place of peace. Unfortunately, some may never find it because they have not been taught what to look for.
So, please be kind and understanding to your family, friends, and associates that leave the Church. Their struggles and reasons for doing so are always more complex than you will first assume. During this traumatic time, one thing is certain: they would love to have someone to talk to but may not know where to go.
PS – This blog will cease to be active by November 2021