When someone chooses to leave the LDS church, it can often be very painful to friends and family members who still believe. After all, when you know with certainty that the church is true, it is impossible to understand why anyone would want to turn their back on that. And when it involves loved ones, it is hard to accept that they have chosen a path of sin rather than a path of righteousness.
Members in this situation are often left with many questions:
- Why did they leave?
- How could they turn their back on Heavenly Father after all that he's done for them?
- What did they do to allow Satan to get a grasp on them?
- How can someone who was so valiant in the faith lose their testimony?
More often than not, unanswered questions lead to assumptions. After all, if there is no valid reason to leave the church, then the people who choose to do so must have done something wrong. Maybe they were guilty of some horrible sin they didn't want to confess to the bishop. Maybe they got lazy in their diligence to the church and gradually lost the spirit. Maybe they were angry at someone in the ward, and allowed a grudge to blind them.
Assumptions don't always fit, though, and the comfort they bring is hollow and empty. But aside from some sin or another, why else would someone leave the church? The truth is, many former Mormons choose not to be open with friends and family about their reasons for leaving. Some worry that they won't be understood, and others fear the conflict and confrontation that is almost certain to ensue if they are completely honest about their issues with the church.
Sometimes members might feel like their faith is shaken when someone close to them, even someone they looked up to or respected, leaves the church. They might find themselves revisiting doubts they have had, but have "put on a shelf." Some people feel very conflicted, and others may feel that their faith is reaffirmed.
President Monson has taught that:
"Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time." (1)Many Mormons lean on this to strengthen their faith and push away doubts. Elder Ballard was even more to the point when he said:
"We won't question the doctrines that are part of our belief." (2)Most Latter-Day Saints live by this rule, protecting their testimonies from doubts that might creep in. But to understand why people leave the church, you have to be willing to face some of the issues. And contrary to what the church teaches, it is important to examine your beliefs, to question the things you believe in, and to seek greater understanding of all things. After all, as the saying goes:
"A faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets."If you are a faithful member of the LDS church, you have to ask yourself: If someone could prove that your beliefs were wrong, would you let them? Would you want to know the truth, or are you more comfortable with your illusions? If you aren't willing to entertain the possibility that your beliefs might be wrong, how can you ever know with complete certainty that they're correct?
If you choose to follow Elder Ballard's advice, and if you are more comfortable with your illusions, then you shouldn't read any further. However, if you are interested in truth, and interested in understanding why people leave the church, then read on.
Chris Morin, co-author of Suddenly Strangers, said:
"From my childhood, the question had never been, 'Is the church true?' Rather it had been: 'Have you made the necessary effort to gain a testimony? If not, you need more diligence in your scripture study; you need to ponder and pray more sincerely.' I was the one, never the church, on trial." (Suddenly Strangers, p. 112)Many former Mormons were also exemplary Mormons. They read their scriptures, said their prayers, attended their church meetings and the temple. They served in callings, held family home evenings, and tried to live their life according to Heavenly Father's plan for them. If people that are doing all the "right things" can still lose their faith, perhaps it is time to put the church on trial.
So why do people leave? The truth is that there is no singular answer to that question. Each person's path out of the church is very unique, and it's likely that no two paths are the same. There are, however, many common elements - catalysts along the path that are shared by many. While it is not comprehensive, the list of issues presented here contains many of the larger issues that frequently occupy the minds of those who transition out of the LDS church.
The information presented here is just that - information. Each person reacts to these issues differently, and it would be impossible to convey the wide array of emotions that former members feel about these subjects. If you want to learn more about how someone feels regarding anyone of these issues, ask them. Most former Mormons would be happy for the chance to talk about their feelings to someone who is open-minded, understanding and willing to listen.
Next: First Vision