Mormons who quit the LDS church

A few years ago, I covered an Atheist de-baptism ceremony where de-converts would blow dry their hair, attempting to reverse whatever they thought baptism meant. It was unclear how many of the few hundred officially renounced a formal membership where they had to do something specific to formally part ways, since it looked more like an excuse for a party.

Depending on the religious tradition, leaving can range from pretty simple to formal letter writing, the latter describing the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A large group of Mormons formally leaving the church seems like a decent story to tell.

If you read the headline “Mormons quit church in mass resignation ceremony,” what number would you guess could justify using the word “mass”? I thought at least a thousand. But when the piece said 150 Mormons left the church, I wasn’t sure it justified “mass” departure. However, I’m told that Mormons leaving in some kind of group gathering like this is highly unusual, so I stuck with the rest of the story.

What I wondered, though, was how the story about it could be improved, so I made notes after sections for how one could edit the piece.

Participants from Utah, Arizona, Idaho and elsewhere gathered in a public park to sign a “Declaration of Independence from Mormonism.”

“This feels awesome,” said Alison Lucas, from West Jordan, Utah, who took part in the rally amid soaring temperatures. “I don’t know if I would have had the courage except in a group.”

I suppose Reuters isn’t known for gathering the most thoughtful quotes, but if you pick out the quotes in this piece, they lack much substance.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its culture of obedience, and the mass ceremony was a seldom-seen act of collective revolt.

What does the LDS Church do to retain members? Were there any scholars available who could speak to how rare it is? The piece quotes someone from the LDS Church, which is fine, but it would be more helpful to also have an outside researcher explain why it’s unusual.

The church bills itself as the one “true” Christian faith, and its theology promises families eternal relationships among those who remain faithful, sealing those gifts through special religious rites.

Would a reporter describe Islam, Judaism or any other religion using a phrase like “bills itself”? Of course a religious tradition “bills itself” about anything. I don’t understand the attempt at journalistic distance. A better phrase could have been “The LDS Church teaches…”

Among the reasons cited by those resigning are the church’s political activism against gay marriage and doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist.

What exactly conflicts with scientific findings? Any examples?

Last week, I noticed that mainstream coverage of the Colorado fires ramped up as soon as President Obama took a visit. The political lens reporters use for just about everything is kind of amazing, considering how little phrases like this have to do with the actual story:

Among prominent Mormons is Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee facing off against President Barack Obama in November. Should he win office, Romney would be the first Mormon elected to the White House.

Listen. Stories like this are interesting in their own right. People love religion stories. You don’t have to beg them to care by connecting it to the presidential election.

Some leaving the church Saturday did so with trepidation, as Mormon culture often stigmatizes those who fall away, leaving some without social or business connections.

“It’s hard, so we have to be very careful,” said Robin Hansen, a participant who said she quit over a “culture of abuse” which she believes is cultivated by church teachings promoting obedience.

This is true of many other religions, it seems. What I did appreciate about the story, and what other stories tend to miss, is what it takes for someone to formally renounce membership.

To resign from the church, Mormons must submit a formal letter asking their names be removed from church rolls, a church instructional handbook for lay leaders published on the Internet in 2010 shows.

On Saturday, participants filled a basket with their letters for mailing by [event organizer Zilpha] Larsen, who split with the church over doubts about the veracity of a translation of ancient Egyptian writings which are included in sacred Mormon texts.

The story itself isn’t terrible, it could use more clarification, but what it really needed was a voice from someone who has studied the church and its teachings to help readers understand the significance of this number of renunciations. Leaving the LDS Church is no small task. This group started the process. What we need is more context for why it’s significant.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Josh

    Wow! I didn’t know formally renouncing membership from this church was so detailed. I guess that’s why the girl quoted from the top would not have had the courage to go through with it except for the group!

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jettboy

    It really isn’t that difficult to leave the LDS Church. Here is the recipe : don’t go to church. As for the letter writing, just write the letter to Salt Lake City headquarters or the local congregation, “please take my name off the records. I no longer believe in it.” There you go. Done and over. Even then, its not as if they are ever going to get a certificate that says they are no longer a member.

    I am curious the different ways other churches and religions require for resignations? I doubt they are much different if there is any official way for most of them.

  • Thinkling

    Don’t forget another absurd set of scare quotes: The church bills itself as the one “true” Christian faith.

    I also think the first sentence about requirements for renouncing is quite awkward.

    Unlike some pieces examined here which seem the result of ignorance or editorializing masquarading as news reporting, this piece has the feel of something rushed.

  • Amy

    I think what is significant or at least different is that they left as a group rather than just individuals.

    Also, on the scientific findings: if I had to guess it would be the utter lack of archeological, anthropological, or genetic evidence for the events in the Book of Mormon.

  • Mike Hickerson

    The formal process for leaving the LDS church doesn’t seem all that involved to me. Wouldn’t it be the same process as formally leaving a Southern Baptist church?

    From my perspective, the informal process would be the more difficult part, and that would vary greatly depending on your family, location, history with the church, and so on. In high school, I attended an LDS church for about a year in Western Kentucky, where there are very few LDS members. When I decided to stop going (without having been baptized), missionaries continued to call me for about a year – not persistently or annoyingly, just a quick phone call every time a new missionary arrived in town and saw my name on the list of prospects. I even remained a friend of the family that had invited me to the church and got a summer job working for the father the following year.

    Now, if I had been a lifelong Mormon from a strongly LDS family in Salt Lake City? I imagine the process would have been much more difficult.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Mike, I haven’t looked this up, but I’ve heard they keep you on their books and visit you every so often if you don’t formally leave. That seems more persistent than other religious groups.

  • J. Lahondere

    What Sarah said is true. Anyone who is baptized into the church is kept on church records, and even if you stop going your name and address will appear on the local congregation’s records until you write a letter to the church headquarters asking that your name be removed forever.

    What I wanted to know from the story was why they all decided to leave as a group. Did these people just meet up on Facebook or what? How do they know each other? Who came up with this idea?

    The story also cites people leaving over “doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist.” Like what? That sounds exciting! I’d love to have specifics here. If it’s enough to drive one to leave behind their very religious beliefs, wouldn’t it be worth sharing?

    Also the quote:
    “It’s hard, so we have to be very careful,” said Robin Hansen.

    The story says that “Mormon culture often stigmatizes those who fall away,” and while I don’t necessarily disagree I’d love to know more of what this means. I’ve lived in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City has hundreds, maybe thousands of Latter-day Saint congregations. Nobody knows who is a Mormon, who is a practicing Mormon, and who isn’t. What exactly is Robin Hansen afraid of? Was she actively taking part in her congregation every Sunday and then just decided to have her name taken from the records?

    I only bring it up because the article intimates some sort of hostile atmosphere for people who leave the church, when in my experience people who choose to officially leave have not been active in the church or its culture for many years prior, and their lives are not any different afterward. So why is it so scary to leave?

  • CF

    This is an election year stunt, nothing more. Mitt Romney is Mormon, these people want to make a statement, and the media is hyping this up to make the Church look bad.

    These people had not been going to church for years and years, they were no more real “members” than a group of Atheists. Yet the story makes it out like they got up out of their pews all together one Sunday and walked out the door.

    Joseph Smith once said about people like this, “They can leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone.”. How ironic that stories like this just make the Church’s founder sound more prophetic than ever.

  • Jonathan

    Sarah (6) – You are correct. In order to help care for one another, the church has a program known as “home teaching.” Each individual/family in the church is assigned a set of two home teachers (members of the congregation), who generally make a visit once/month to see how the individual/family is doing, offer any help needed, and share a brief devotional message.

    If the person is on the records of the church, these home teachers will probably contact them periodically, even if they are not attending church regularly. However, getting these people to stop visiting is fairly easy: you ask them to stop, and they stop coming. They may still check in once every year or two to see if you still feel the same way, but that’s about it.

  • sari

    Mike, I haven’t looked this up, but I’ve heard they keep you on their books and visit you every so often if you don’t formally leave. That seems more persistent than other religious groups.

    While recognizing that the Mormon Church is more institutionalized, that is, has better defined and more formal mechanisms for its members than many other churches, I suspect that it, like most religious institutions, is more flexible and tolerates more divergence from stated doctrine than may be apparent to the outsider or less well-educated within-the-faith insider.

    From my own experience in a much more decentralized faith, I’ve belonged to kiruv (outreach)-type congregations that completely ignored hiatuses and others which contacted us if we missed even a week. So, much may depend on the congregation in question: the church hierarchy in any given stake, the members of one’s ward.

    In stories like this, the individuals may need the validation that comes from being part of a group rather than fear formal repercussions from their (former) church. The social stakes are high when one leaves, just as they would be for anyone who changes faith families. We see it happen over and over and over again: former Christians who become Jews only to lose their first families, and Jews whose parents sit shiva upon hearing of their child’s decision to leave the faith.

  • sk

    Interesting post! As a result of the election we are getting a lot more Mormon stories than usual.

  • Andrew S

    This is a great article (referring to this GetReligion article, of course, and not [as much] the Chicago Tribune article evaluated).

    I think that one place where the [Chicago Tribune] article could have provided more detail was in providing some of the formal and informal blocks to resigning from the church…the basic details are correct: to resign from the church, you send a formal letter requesting name removal from the rolls…However, what complicates things is that the church often sends resignation letters *back* to the individual, informing them that they need to contact their local leader (Bishop or Stake President, generally) before their request will be processed. Websites have gone up detailing how to go around this (so I imagine that the mass resignation event must have helped people deal with this.)

    I think the article also could have better explained the significance of the mass resignation (even if it was around 150 — which doesn’t seem too large to most folks)…resignation from the LDS church is something that usually is very individual, so this mass resignation event is really the culmination of a number of factors (the growth of internet communities, forums, blogs, and podcasts) that have brought disaffected and former Mormons together and allowed them to understand that they are not alone. Another possible angle of significance (I’m not sure — I’m not too familiar with this event) is that as has been mentioned elsewhere in the topic, many members “leave the church” simply by ceasing attendance. They are, then, still on the rolls and countered in the church’s official membership records, and generally contacted by home teachers, etc., but these folks are, in all practical senses, no longer members. There is often an inertia between becoming inactive in the church and formally resigning — so it would have been interesting to have read this explained…what drives people to send a letter of resignation rather than silently dropping out?

  • John D

    Just a quibble on your question of whether Judaism “bills itself.” Of course, there are several Jewish movements, just as there are several Christian denominations. Of the Jewish groups, perhaps the Orthodox could be construed as billing themselves as “the one true way for Jews to live,” with a large amount of dissension among competing Orthodox Jewish groups as to what the particular way is.

    As for the remainder of your line and the remainder of American Jews, I don’t think anyone is going to claim that their movement is the “one true” anything. “One true faith”? Not a Jewish claim.

  • sari

    JohnD–Each Jewish denomination suggests that it follows the correct path. The Orthodox refer to themselves as practitioners of Torah-true Judaism, but they are not unique in this respect. But, and this is very important, when non-Jews threaten, the community usually draws together as a whole, regardless of affiliation.

    I think Sarah’s objection was to the word billed, which suggests PR more than it does belief.

  • carl jacobs

    We know they are leaving. What is missing in this story is an answer to this question: “Where are they heading?” Are they going to Trinitarian Christian churches? Are they joining the vast herds of Therapeutic Moralistic Deists? Are they going no where? The story comes across as presenting one more chapter of the Great March into secularism and religious indifference (or perhaps outright hostility). It’s the obvious question, isn’t? “How have you religious beliefs changed?”


  • Dandini

    Hey, as a very small “mass” they got more publicity than when large groups have broken relations with their faith and moved to create another congregation or whatever they call it… of course we all know the media coverage is really about politics…

  • Jon in the Nati

    Amy, #4:

    Also, on the scientific findings: if I had to guess it would be the utter lack of archeological, anthropological, or genetic evidence for the events in the Book of Mormon.

    I’m quite certain you are correct, but the point is that you shouldn’t have to guess. If that is what the writer meant, then something should have been included to substantiate it, such as a brief quote from one of the leavers about what exactly it is that they no longer believe.

    Finally, these two lines:

    Some leaving the church Saturday did so with trepidation, as Mormon culture often stigmatizes those who fall away, leaving some without social or business connections.

    “It’s hard, so we have to be very careful,” said Robin Hansen, a participant who said she quit over a “culture of abuse” which she believes is cultivated by church teachings promoting obedience.

    scream out for some kind of clarification, whether through a quote or something else. Like J. Lahondere, it does not surprise me one bit that Utah Mormons have difficulty if they leave the church, but simply saying “It’s hard…” and referencing stigma in an offhand way is not terribly informative. What hardships will these people face, and will they be imposed by the Church itself (doubtful) or by people close to them who will not understand their decision to leave (much more probable)?

    The space in this article that is wasted by trying to use the impending presidential election as a hook would have been much better served trying to substantiate and give examples, even if they are only quotes from the leavers, to flesh out some of the assertions this article makes. As it is, it is not a very good article.

  • Will

    An episode of the Catholic Mormon podcast (now apparently and sadly defunct) reported that Sarah was advised to write to the local ward bishop, not some unspecified party at national “LDS headquarters”; and send it registered to make sure it was on record. Was the “missionary” who gave this advice wrong? Or did she hear it wrong?

  • Will

    The reference to “doubts about the veracity of a translation of ancient Egyptian writings which are included in sacred Mormon texts” suggests that what is being invoked is the “Book of Abraham” in the Pearl of Great Price, and the “doubts” are claims that the Egyptian text just does not say what Joseph said it says. Now, we can argue over whether the Tribune should have gone into these details at enough length to make them understandable to readers most of whom may not be that interested. But I don’t find it all that disturbing.

  • Will

    Websites have gone up detailing how to go around this (so I imagine that the mass resignation event must have helped people deal with this.)

    Why is there a need to “get around this”, a phrase which implies an imperative to evade something? Is dropping a letter to the bishop into the mail hard to do for some reason?

    The comments here are raising more questions that the Tribune piece!

  • Andrew S

    re 20,


    The bishop should not have the authority to second guess the reasons for someone to resign — there quite simply shouldn’t be a reason why a letter sent to Membership Records should be returned back to the individual and the individual told to talk to their bishop. Especially in cases where the Bishop fails to approve the resignation — this simply shouldn’t be possible for a bishop.

    A lot of times, people want to resign without making it a huge deal locally (obviously, the fact that this is a Mass Resignation is a different dynamic, but still). If people have to have a meeting with the Bishop, this can really escalate resignation into being a far more local (e.g., Bishop feels it appropriate to tell parents, other ward members, etc.,)

  • Ann Rodgers

    I have no problem with the use of “mass” here. If 150 people were baptized together I would consider it a mass baptism. If 150 people were married in one service, I would consider it a mass wedding.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Ann, now you go and make a compelling point. Hmmm. I guess when I think mass anything, I still think in the thousands. Regardless the story itself is valid.

  • Wayne Dequer

    This “mass resignation” of 150 of the 14,000,000+ members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an interesting media event. Membership and activity in the Church is voluntary. It saddens me that these brothers and sisters have taken the step to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I wish them well and hope they will reconsider in the future.

  • G.S.

    It’s interesting that so much of the focus of these comments are focused on the administrivia of resigning vs what it actually means to the LDS people. Simply becoming less active in the church means you don’t participate in meetings or activities regularly. Having your name removed from the records of the LDS Church is basically a self-excommunication, which dissolves the covenants LDS people choose to make at baptism and in the temples of the church. Mormons believe that the covenants (or promises) we make to Christ and those he makes to us in return are very real, so both making and dissolving them are each serious steps in their own right. The Church doesn’t “make” anyone do anything, whether its making the covenant or keeping it, and Bishop’s, as the local congregations leader, are tasked with ensuring the person trying to have their name removed from the records of the church understands the significance of it before they just take the action, they don’t, however, “block” it in any way.

  • LMA

    This comment has generated some follow up:

    Also, on the scientific findings: if I had to guess it would be the utter lack of archeological, anthropological, or genetic evidence for the events in the Book of Mormon.

    But really the commenter should refer to “the utter lack of archeological, anthropological, or genetic evidence THAT I AM WILLING TO CREDIT for the events in the Book of Mormon.” The reality is that there is evidence but the evidence is not of a type that many find sufficiently strong to warrant a conclusion that the events probably occurred. It’s perfectly fair to say that. But to say that there is no evidence at all either speaks in ignorance of the proof of ancient civilizations on this continent or defines “evidence” to mean whatever quantum of proof will satisfy the speaker. I absolutely don’t mind discussions about burdens of proof or scientific methods, but I do object when folks want to put on their faux-scientist costumes and pretend that they know exactly how much evidence exists for and against a particular proposition.

  • EJB

    Things are way different in Utah, especially in smaller towns, than in the rest of the world. Here in my Kansas hometown the people who know your religious affiliation mostly don’t care. But in a smaller Utah town, membership in the LDS church is often an unspoken reprequisite for jobs, elective and appointed office, and many other experiences of life. And if you are LDS and “resign”, you may well lose your job, find that all of a sudden your local bank has reasons not to lend you money, and you may notice your children starting to have problems in school. All for other reasons, of course. It happens all the time.

  • Taylor

    @Jettboy – Actually you’re wrong… it is an involved process, requires at least two correspondences, a call from a bishop or stake president and you do get a certificate/letter when the process has completed.

    I have had a couple friends who went through the process, both took about 6 months to receive the confirmation. I personally don’t have a problem if “The Church” wants to use my name in their voodoo witchcraft ceremonies so-long as they’re not hurting anybody, and not contacting me.

  • Amy


    Since you actually know nothing about me or my education, it would probably be best to refrain from ad hominem attacks.

  • E B

    I saw that article and rolled my eyes- I saw exactly the same problems you noted. Beyond them, the evident disinterest in representing the other side of that story shows their blatant bias. I am a Mormon myself. I certainly understand why the LDS Church can seem racist or sexist to outsiders, but inside it – or knowing the full context – would show you otherwise.

    People losing faith in whatever religion they’re part of isn’t new. This band of 150 leaving together may be relatively new, but it’s still the same old story. Members of the LDS Church and others often mistake the differences between the gospel of Jesus Christ which never changes, the LDS Church itself which tries to teach that gospel but changes Church policies from time to time to best accomplish that objective, and the Mormon culture which sadly doesn’t always have much to do with either the gospel or the Church. That’s where the ‘judgemental’ or ‘closeminded’ stuff comes in.

  • Jeff Jones

    Question; why is it OK for you pinkos to post daily anti-LDS articles but not OK to question Hussein’s association with Marxist Black Liberation Theology via J. Wright who mentored Hiussein for 20 years? Just wondering.

    And never forget, it’s all Geroge Bush’s fault.

  • Commonman

    Dear Amy,

    You said: “Also, on the scientific findings: if I had to guess it would be the utter lack of archeological, anthropological, or genetic evidence for the events in the Book of Mormon.”

    Perhaps it might be wise for you to read up on both sides of this discussion. You apparently have received information from sources opposed to the LDS Church.

    Those who are fair minded and would like the Mormon response could access these links:

  • Janeway

    People change churches all the time, yes, even Catholics, Evangelicals, Methodists, and most don’t spend their remaining life badmouthing their previous religion. Ex LDS are the same except the few who make an issue over it. I am LDS (Mormon)and have been inactive from time to time over my life. Nothing to do with the Church or the doctrine just my personal laziness. No one has ever been disrespectful of my choice but from time to time gave me a call to encourage me to attend church. We believe in the free agency of man and ,right or wrong, has the freedom to make his own choices and be responsible for those choices. If a person no longer wants to be a member for whatever reason it is their right to leave. My question is why it is so important to them to make a big deal out of it. Just write your letter, don’t go to church and be done with it. I hate to say this but other than concern if it is a family member, we don’t care. You cannot force people to believe something they don’t. The Church does not try and as individuals we do not try as we are only responsible to God and if the “leavers” make that choice, it is their right. They do not require a reason.

  • Chino Blanco

    Why was Amy’s comment (#4) downvoted so ferociously?

    Figure out the answer to that question and you’ll begin to understand why many Mormons choose to keep quiet about any doubts they might have.

  • LiamLloyd

    The people who are saying “150 is not many” aren’t considering that this number was only for the people who attended the event. People all around the world participated since not everyone lives in Utah or could get there to attend.

    Happy for them all who participated!! Well done!