Why do people leave the Church? A few simple thoughts.

Why do people leave the Church? A few simple thoughts. February 2, 2023


The Hawaiian archipelago from outer space
A view of the Hawaiian archipelago from space. Starting with the lower right, the major islands are Hawaii (“the Big Island”), Maui, Moloka’i, Oahu, and, somewhat more distantly, Kauai. Militant Flat Earthers should probably look away, though, because the curvature of the Earth is plainly visible in this NASA public domain photograph.


First, though:  Here are three items that went up yesterday on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:


Conference Talks: Life Sciences Panel Discussion (featuring Emily Bates, R. Paul Evans, Steven L. Peck, Michael R. Stark, and Trent D. Stephens)

This panel, comprised of five Latter-day Saint scholars in the life sciences (Emily Bates, R. Paul Evans, Steven L. Peck, Michael R. Stark, and Trent D. Stephens), was convened at the 9 November 2013 Interpreter Symposium on Science & Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth & Man.  It provides personal perspectives from the scientists involved on the development of their ideas and their affinities for their professional work. Following these perspectives, they answer a potpourri of audience questions.


Interpreter Radio Show — January 22, 2023

For the 22 January 2023 episode of the Interpreter Radio Show, Steve Densley, Mark Johnson, and Dan Peterson discussed the Six Days in August film project, Dan’s recent article in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, and Joseph Smith’s First Vision.  Since Peterson was sick that night, he opted to do it from a distance, by telephone.  Even so, he was not in especially fine voice, which probably limited his participation a bit and, thereby, almost certainly improved the discussion.  In any event, the conversation has now been archived, delivered from commercial and other interruptions, and made available for your listening pleasure and enlightenment at absolutely no charge to you.

The “New Testament in Context” portion of this show, for Come, Follow Me New Testament lesson 8, covering the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, will be posted on Tuesday, 7 February 2023.

The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard live and unrehearsed on Sunday evenings from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640.  Or, if you’re not among the elect (in the Salt Lake Valley) whom fate has favored to be able to tune in by radio,  you can listen to the show live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.


Interpreter Radio Show — January 29, 2023

In this, the 29 January 2023 episode of the fabled Interpreter Radio Show, the discussants were Martin Tanner, Terry Hutchinson, and John Gee.  Their conversation focused on controversies around the Book of Abraham.

The “New Testament in Context” portion of this show, for Come, Follow Me New Testament lesson 9, covering Matthew 6–7, will be posted on Tuesday, 14 February 2023.

You may be unaware of this, but the Interpreter Radio Show is available for live listening each and every Sunday evening of the year from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640 or, if you prefer or have no viable alternative, you can listen in live via the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.


Maui and the rest of the Hawaii archipelago
Maui among the principal Hawaiian Islands.  As I write, I’m sitting on Maui’s west end, looking out at Lanai.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Why do people fall out of activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  In a highly predictable place elsewhere, I see that my views on this topic are being misrepresented.  Again. (Color me astonished!)  Apparently, it seems, I believe that people only leave the Church because they want to sin.  They want to commit adultery, drink coffee, and commit other such devilish acts.  I’m a very mean-spirited and vicious person, and I am, of course, wickedly slandering those who disagree with me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m aware of people who have left the Church quite deliberately because they wanted to do something that the Church counsels them not to do.  It happens.  People do leave marriages, abandoning spouses and children, in order to sleep with somebody else, so why would such folks draw the line at leaving the Church?

Still, there are presumably as many permutations and combinations of reasons for living as there are people.  Likewise, there are people — I know a fair number of them and have heard from many others — who, so far as I’m aware, leave for purely or at least largely “intellectual” reasons.  Which is to say that they leave because of historical concerns (e.g., doubts about the historicity of the Book of Mormon and/or the Book of Abraham, dislike for what they know or think they know about early Latter-day Saint plural marriage, etc.), because of theological issues (e.g., seeming conflicts between faith and science), or, increasingly, because of socio-cultural tensions (e.g., regarding the status of women or controversies involved with LGBTQIA+ matters).

At least historically, though — it may be changing somewhat in the past decade or so — I’m convinced by admittedly anecdotal but very wide personal experience and broad reading that the large majority of “inactives” haven’t fallen away from the Church because, after considerable study and research and struggle, they’ve come to the decisive conclusion that the claims of the Restoration are false.  (They may eventually reach that conclusion, of course, simply because, the longer they’re away, the less attraction they feel for their one-time affiliation and involvement with the Church, the more distant it all seems, and the more they come to assimilate to the surrounding cultural and religious environment.  It’s perhaps rather like a long-ago former marriage.)

Most, I think, drift away from attendance out of indifference, enjoying Sundays not taken up with church activities, enjoying a morning coffee, disliking church services, lack of interest in the issues at the forefront of the Gospel, and so forth.  Not necessarily very dramatic.  Usually, I think, not.  The sudden decision to “exit” is, I think, relatively rare.  Overwhelmingly, I think, most who once fellowshipped with the Saints but no longer do are still members of the Church.  They haven’t asked for their names to be removed.

I draw on my experience with a large and often long-time inactive or semi-active family on my maternal side.  (My paternal family are almost entirely, so far as I’m aware, inactive Lutherans.). In more than a few cases, I think, if you were to ask them, they would probably concede that “the Church is true.”  They might even say that, yes, they probably ought to be reading the scriptures and praying.  They just don’t.  They have other interests and other things to do, and their lives are, in their opinion, going pretty well without being “churchy.”

My sense is that ideological ex-Mormons who are active in online fora where they continually reinforce each other’s conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is false, evil, oppressive, laughable, and etc. form a unique subculture (as do, frankly, those of us who spend a significant proportion of our time countering such claims and arguing that the Church is true and good, that its leaders are sincere and good people who are attempting to serve God and to receive revelation and inspiration).  Most people don’t live in that world, just as most people aren’t addicted to news and politics (as I can easily be).  It’s easy, living in a subculture, to take that fish tank for the entirety of the sea.  It’s easy, living inside the Capital Beltway or with cable news on 24/7, to imagine that everybody out there cares just as much as you do about the latest events involving Kevin McCarthy, Ilhan Omar, Hunter Biden, and the political ambitions of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley.  But most don’t.


Posted from Ka’anapali, Maui, Hawai’i.



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