Why are people leaving the Mormon Church? A document from MormonLeaks has caused a stir this week, attributed to Church employee Clint Melander as a Powerpoint for a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The most controversial and interesting part of this Powerpoint presentation was a slide titled “Issues and Ideas Leading People Away from the Gospel” with 17 bubbles in four different colors ranging from left (liberal/secular) to right (conservative/fundamentalistic).
Orange — representing liberal/secular
- Disagree with current policies
- Incredulity over Church history
- Ordain Women
- John Dehlin
What is the church doing to minister to and retain the people in this group? I see three main issues.
1. Disbelief over historicity of scripture and foundational events. I believe we have a clear path on how to overcome this issue. It’s not easy but the path is there. We need to get open and honest about church history. I think the church is doing this, but it will be a slow, painful process. The Gospel Topics Essays are a big start. Integrating this and the new work “Revelations in Context” into the Gospel Doctrine lessons this year is a big deal. We see new art work coming out depicting proper Book of Mormon translation with the seer stone. The church is moving in the right direction.
A big next step on this, in my opinion, is going to also require a change in our doctrine becoming more humble. We will likely need to back off the exclusivity claims a bit. We will likely need to accept views of non-historicity of scripture, especially Book of Mormon. We will likely need to repurpose the First Vision as the founding event of the LDS church, which has an important inspired work to do, but back off the claims that this is a restoration of God’s one and only exclusive true church. I call this faith reconstruction. How do we reconstruct faith into something that works after faith crisis destroys the “dominant narrative”.
2. LGBTQ policies and doctrine. This is a huge one. This could kill the church if we let it. For those in my generation and older, sexuality was suppressed by our gay peers. It was pushed away, to the underground, in the closet. It was easy for us to marginalize those who came out. The most common view was to view sexual behavior among gay people, even committed relationships, as evil and debased. Not so, anymore. Our children all have gay friends. They see them the same as everyone else. Some good, some bad. Some selfish, some pure. Their sexuality has nothing to do with this. We don’t see gayness as a virus you can catch and watch it spread if you don’t stamp it out. We know there’s going to be a few or a handful or whatever it is out of a hundred in every sampling you take, whether you suppress it and force them into anonymously acting out or whether you accept them and allow them to have normal relationships. I hope and pray we can move forward in a direction that can undo some of the harm we’ve caused to the LGBTQ community. I understand our current position. I support and sustain the brethren in “patience and faith”. I’m not calling them out, but I hope we can move in this direction. I think there is doctrinal, historical, and Biblical support for doing so. I expect it to happen, but how long it will take is a big question.
3. Female equality. This is also very important. I do see the church making progress here, and I look forward to more progress. The females in our church need to be equal. We have inherited a patriarchal system, and it’s difficult to sort out as a church what’s doctrine and what’s cultural attitudes that we can let go of, without moving away from God’s will. I think we as a society in general and a church in specific, have a lot of work to do. I think we have the organizational structure with the belief in modern revelation to help us lead on these issues in the world. I hope we will do that. If you’re struggling to have empathy on this topic, I highly recommend this eye opening blog post from Amy McPhie Allebest. I’ve raised daughters in this church that have served missions and are strong and capable, and see themselves as not a single bit less than their male peers in the church. But that’s not the experience all females have, and we can improve here.
Blue — representing Apathy, Boredom, “I can’t live the commandments”, what we call “Jack Mormons”
- Lack of Righteousness
- Lack of Commitment
Ugh, I don’t like the way this comes across. “Lack of Righteousness”. Eek. We might need a refresher here.
9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, some Church members struggled with integrating black and white congregations, Elder Renlund said. Thoba, a black convert, vented to her mother, Julia, about the mistreatment she felt from white members one day at church. Her mother said, “Oh, Thoba, the Church is like a big hospital and we are all sick in our own way. We come to church to be helped.”
This group has always been there. If you look at the colors. The green group has always been there to some degree. The orange group I think is the one that has grown the most. The blue group has always been there. We’ve always had inactives, and most of those if you ask them, didn’t have a lot of issues with church politics or doctrine or belief. Most of them just didn’t care enough to attend church. Or they feel judged. Or they knew they were not keeping Word of Wisdom or Law of Chastity and just didn’t feel comfortable. A lot of this group can be reactivated with good local leaders and members who can show empathy and support.
I think the church has done a good job in a lot of ways to address some of the issues here. I understand excommunications and disciplinary courts for sin are down quite a bit. I believe bishops are not grilling and guilting kids over masturbation as much as back when my generation were youth and earlier. Pornography is an emphasis, but even that seems to be viewed a little more realistically, generally speaking. We could use some standardization on this, because like many other issues, the way local leadership (ie leadership roulette) interprets things makes a big difference.
But in general, and I mostly blame the members not the leadership for this, we need to stop acting so Pharisaical. Church is not a contest to see who is the best. We are all sinners. We come to church to be healed. We have standards and we shoot for the best. But we expect to fail. Jesus threw out the old law that said it was a sin to commit murder and adultery. He said he wants our hearts. It’s now a sin just to lust or become angry. That doesn’t mean he expects us to live lust and anger free, though that’s a good ideal. But rather, he wants us to know we’re sinners. We need to toss out the term “Lost Sheep”. All we like sheep are lost and gone astray. None of us are found. If we all took this approach to the gospel, I think those sitting outside thinking they can’t join us because they can’t keep the commandments would immediately feel more welcome.
The red group. International challenges.
- Language and cultural problems “-ites”
As an international church with its core in the Wasatch front, the church obviously struggles with cultural and international issues. I don’t have anything to add here, but Gina Colvin in this podcast interview makes some good points.
Now, the green group. The Ultra-orthdox and Fundamentalistic LDS.
- Church has lost its way or is deficient
- False prophets
- Last days/end of world predictions
- Need “something more”
- Denver Snuffer
- Robert Norman
Again, this group has always been there. I’m not sure it’s any bigger than it ever has been. Denver Snuffer has taken a few from the church. Julie Rowe and the tent city group appears poised to take a few more. This is the hardest group for me to understand. These are the people that want more church. They think the church is weak because we’re not more strict or the prophet doesn’t speak directly for God. They view scripture as God’s God-breathed handbook for man.. They look at prophets as super humans that talk to God.
I made this graphic to illustrate an orthodoxy spectrum within religion. I would say the “Left” the church’s Powerpoint refers to in orange is anywhere from 0 to 60 on this scale. The “Right” in the Powerpoint is more in the 90 -100 range. This side is more likely to believe scriptures are literal, such as the Earth is 6,000 years old. I think the brethren would prefer is to be in the 60-90 Traditional Mormonism range, and those on either side can be perceived as threats.
Fundamentalism is two edged sword for the church. On the one hand, it commands respect and obedience from followers. These people tend to be very, very serious about religion. Not a lot of Jack Mormons in this group. Not a lot of people that think they can skip church and get their spirituality with a hike in the mountains. But on the other hand, it requires literal truth of scripture and factual historicity of church foundational events in a way that doesn’t fit the facts that are coming to light in the internet world. Attacks on the church like the CES Letter, are very successful, if one is trapped in that literal-fundamentalistic paradigm. So, the solution is to move away from Fundamentalism, but then you have two problems. How to get people to still be that committed. And what to do with all these nutso’s that have a real need for a prophet who walks and talks with Jesus and love to analyze the scriptures for clues about the end of the world?
I want to call out a few of my friends on the liberal side of things who criticize the church at both ends. If you criticize the church for scripture historicity and lack of humility in prophetic authority, etc, all those criticisms on the left side of the spectrum, please don’t pile on the right side also. Please don’t jump in with the Rock Watermans and Denver Snuffers criticizing the church for the lack of real prophecy in recent history. We all know what a prophet is and isn’t, so please take one side or the other. Don’t give these crazies on the right any more firepower. They are the dangers to progress in the church and society in general.
Symptoms not Root Cause
The consensus of a lot of analysis on this chart from Church Headquarters is that it seems to be focusing on symptoms and not the root cause. I created this chart that I think shows both. I redid the size of circles to show what I think is the real impact, the overlap, and relabeled the categories a little. I also added a new bubble, which strikes more at the root cause and which spans across all categories.
The big overlying issue here, touching all the other categories, the elephant in the room, is the disbelief and lack of trust that is what I believe is the growing area here that the church has never quite had to deal with in this big of a way.
Information in the internet age is exploding and causing many to doubt the dominant narrative of scripture historicity, factual accuracy of church foundational events, God speaking directly and specifically to prophets. This is pushing people into categories they might not ordinarily fall into. The new information is causing some to doubt the prophet’s ability to lead on progressive topics like LGBTQ issues and female equality. The new information doesn’t seem to agree with science, so those that can’t harmonize them, are leaving and embracing secularism. Not seeing the possibility for the harmonization of both. All these trends are causing the church to mainstream a little and move towards progress in these areas (a good thing). Ultra-Orthodox don’t like this, so they are more apt to believe the church is in apostasy and look for alternatives.
The last thought I wanted to share in this post is about communities. John Dehlin has his own bubble here. The Preppers have their own bubble (Last Days). These are communities that have a high risk factor to the church. We naturally seek out communities when our needs aren’t being met. Those with real big issues on the historicity/belief side of things are looking for communities. The John Dehlin Mormon Stories community seemed to start out neutral towards the church, with intent to work out problems in a healthy way regardless if the path was in or out of the church. Now, that community seems to be promoting the “out of church” path. I hope some of us covering that spectrum can join together to create a new community in place of this. One where those that are on that left side of the spectrum can discuss issues and support each other, from a pro-church position, like the original Stay LDS community tried to do. Those of you in communities on the far right side, I hope you can find a way to make it work within the church. I’m sorry I called you crazy. Variety and diversity is good.
I’m glad church leadership is talking about this. I hope they’re reviewing good information like Jana Riess published in a recent article. I think they are showing a lot of signs of progress. The brethren have a tough job to keep all this together, while moving it in the right direction. I don’t envy them. I look to them with faith and optimism. But it’s not just their problem. It’s a church problem. I want to help and be part of the solution. We have a great heritage. We have a great church. It’s worth committing to, and giving our best to help it overcome these hurdles and reach out and minister to all members, becoming a “mighty power for good” in the world.