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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part I

August 17, 2009
Mormon Expression

Mormon Expression

Recently, Mormon Expression podcast hosted a session with John Dehlin, the mastermind behind Mormon Stories podcast, Mormon Matters blog,, among other things. This podcast session was cross-posted at Further Light and Knowledge, a popular message board for ex- and former Mormons.

I didn’t expect there to be so much opposition, and I found myself rather unqualified to defend John, who I think is an outstanding individual. Many of the complaints seemed to concern past duplicity (with some complaints about ideological gymnastics). Posters described how he used to traverse between both ex-mormon and faithful boards, speaking one way to ex-mormons but another way outside.

I can’t argue against that, because I simply wasn’t there for the past (and posters made sure to point that out). Regardless, my experience tells me that whatever the past, the present John is markedly different.

This gave me the idea to look through some ancient history — especially what Dehlin wrote or produced before I came on the scene. First, I came across an essay: How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith, so I’ll review and respond to it.

There isn’t much egregious to it. Yet, as I read through it, I found that Dehlin had made some hopeful and tenuous leaps, so for the sake of a blog post or two, I’ll try to go through them, hopefully restore some credibility with my DAMU brethren, and maybe even present a case for not staying LDS.

*     *     *

I’ll start with the Intended Audience. Dehlin presents this paper as illuminating a “middle way” between “orthodox, literalistic observance and complete abandonment.” In the previous sentence, he writes that many who leave may face “much regret,” and contrasts this with “some” who may face “relative success.”

So, from the beginning I think Dehlin is trying to frame a few things to gain territory. The most pressing proposition, I feel, is that being inside will average better results than being outside. So, only “some” have “relative” success…and “many” face “much” regret. Do the numbers work this way? I dunno.

The question that persists in my mind throughout the entire reading is this: why is the middle way in the church? Dehlin notes that on the other extreme is “complete abandonment.” What if resignation or inactivity doesn’t represent “complete” abandonment? (For I don’t believe that it does, even for those who want it to…cultural Mormonism is too integral.)

Dehlin sidesteps this issue and the need to qualify: “…if you have left the church and feel no desire to return — this essay is not for you.” Does that mean my review and response are over? No, that would be no fun.

In Why Stay?, John begins with (progressive) demographics. Contrasting with the normal characterization of apostates, he offers an idea that apostates are those who believed too much (but even this can be taken the wrong way…with some members implying, “Apostates are those who were foolish to believe so much.” John provides several possible experiences (difficult church history, lack of spiritual witness, etc.,) that break the “normal” LDS ones (e.g., wanting to sin, offended by someone, etc.,). This is a charitable section.

In Trying to “Un-Mormon” Yourself, he writes that a normal consequence of believing too much in the black-and-white thinking often cultivated in childhood can lead to a hasty generalization after a difficult experience: that from the experience, one generalizes that the church must be false. And if it is false, the next thing to do is to try to “Un-Mormon” oneself. Which (even I think) generally will fail, because of the culturally integrated aspects of Mormonism.

But the question arises again: why find a middle way in the church?

I agree with Dehlin’s characterization as Mormonism as our tribe, but still, the question answered by Dehlin throughout his paper with a tenuous leap is always: do I have a responsibility as member of the tribe to stay in the church organization to fulfill my need within the tribe? Even if I concede that a “complete abandonment” of the church will lead to an unfulfilled tribal drive (and “much regret”), this doesn’t mean that the middle way (which supposedly will satisfy such a need) is in the church.

So, when Dehlin wants to present this alone as a compelling reason (“for many,” he qualifies) for staying in the church, I find it to be a tricky gambit. I’ll go further in part 2.


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  1. gazelem permalink

    I’m not sure how to respond to this, except to say that I feel in John Dehlin a kindred spirit of one who has invested a lot in the Mormon church, too much, in fact to make it worth my time to pursue a third way outside the church.

    I’m pretty sure you are not married, so put yourself in the shoes of someone who married in their early twenties when both partners were (presumably) TBM. Ten years pass and babies are born. One spouse stops believing, but feels obligated to continue because of love and respect for their partner.

    A person like this may not even have a social network outside the church, so you can see why the only conceivable path is to trudge through three hours a week and jump through the required hoops.

  2. Now, I am confused too, and unsure of how to respond to your comment.

    I agree with you that I feel in John Dehlin a kindred spirit of one who has invested a lot in the Mormon church. Yet, it doesn’t seem to follow that from there, that that alone is “too much to make it worthy your [or anyone’s] time to pursue a third way outside the church.”

    You’re right; I’m not married. But I’ve seen the plight of many who have done such a thing as you stay. I think that family is one of the stronger arguments (which is why I don’t have much to say against it in Part II).

    Yet, let’s portray a slightly different story to yours, one that I have seen too often. One spouse stops believing, but they feel obligated to continue because of love and respect for their partner. Yet, for themselves, it always translates to living a lie for the sake of their partner. And their partner may often apparently not care enough about the struggling one to care that they are miserable inside, because as a TBM, what may be more important is that their marriage and family is raised with a solid faithful LDS foundation.

    So the unfaithful (in the spiritual term, not the physical) one risks at all times exposing themselves for what they are — apostate. They risk alienating themselves anyway from their children, who may believe one way and with one parent and against the other.

    So it seems family and children are one consideration…and not necessarily always a consideration for staying. But I’ll get to that in Part II. If someone is dependent on the church for social network, shouldn’t the more admirable goal be to help the struggler find a new social network or create a new one?

  3. Speaking of being married…

    I was honestly terrified after I got married to Marcus that he might question our marriage if he knew just how much I didn’t believe in the church.

    Obviously, I dated many at the Y, and were not interested because they were too “BYU” for me. So when I met Marcus, a faithful, yet not radical church member, it was a breath of fresh air for me. I will say, he always knew of my problems with church, and even told him that I didn’t think I had a strong testimony.

    After we were married, and I couldn’t handle thinking two ways anymore, I remember telling my husband and asking him to not think my lack of faith made our marriage any less valuable. To my utter glee however, my husband let me know that he married me, not the church and that it didn’t matter how I felt about religion. I had seen marriages fall apart because one spouse had to leave the faith.

    This was right after we got married, and we both went to church every Sunday for all three hours. Now, to me, it seems obvious that it would be the right answer to put one’s family happiness first, and not one’s church first. But some Mormons (including me at one point) don’t (didn’t) see it that way, and for me, I think it’s a sad lack of priorities.

    There is something interesting about how in Mormonism, the biggest selling point is this concept of “eternal families,” but there’s a disturbing dark side to this coin, as it could essentially be used as spiritual blackmail that would make spouses essentially force one another to go to church, fulfill callings, etc. at the risk of losing their “eternal families” in the after life. One could even argue this situation as manipulative in two ways:

    1. The TBM spouse is manipulated by the dogma of the church to force their not so faithful spouse to go to church “at all costs” , even the cost of their spouse’s happiness.

    2. The not so faithful spouse is being manipulated by the TBM spouse with the threat of divorce, because the TBM spouse thinks (or says), “If you won’t take me to the Celestial Kingdom, I will find someone else who will.”

    Luckily, for me this was/is not the case. I can understand how leaving Mormonism could even be more difficult for some people then it is being for me… as I am still in the process of leaving the church myself and it’s been painful enough as it is, even with the support of my husband (who obviously is no longer TBM either).

  4. Your story is very touching, Hypatia. Thanks for sharing it. Makes me sorry I was such an ass to you when I first got here (you’ve forgotten all about that, haven’t you?). It sounds like you married a good guy who handled your loss of faith well, and I’m happy for that.

    It always makes me so sad when I hear people say that they think apostasy is grounds for divorce. If you love that person, why would you put pressure on them like that? I always thought I was a rational person, not prone to giving in to my emotions, but when my husband told me he was divorcing me because he had changed his mind about wanting to marry a Mormon, I fell apart. I came really close to joining the church just to keep from losing him. People will do insanely stupid things for love, and telling someone you’ll divorce them if they stop believing is a great way to inspire a fake testimony and a miserable life.

    I wish that every married person would get used to the idea of loving their spouse regardless of religion. Interfaith marriage: it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. It really isn’t.

  5. Whoa. I had not read that blog entry from you, Jack. D:

  6. gazelem,

    I’m in a situation pretty close to what you describe except I don’t “trudge through three hours a week and jump through the required hoops”, and we’re managing to make the mixed-belief marriage work. It’s not hopeless.

  7. Jack,

    Thanks for your comment. And don’t worry about before, it’s all water under the bridge. 😉

    Anyways I just read your link to your story. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking that must’ve been. I hope things are working out for the best.

  8. Well… the thing where he leaves the butter out on the counter still steams me quite a bit.

    But we’re otherwise doing pretty well, and excited about our move this week. 🙂

  9. gazelem permalink

    @Jonathan Blake

    Thanks for the encouragement. My wife and I are making it work too. She doesn’t harrass and harang me about church things that much. I try to keep my snide comments to myself and we’re good. But it’s always the elephant in the room?

    She wonders, “who is going to baptize the kids”? I look at her incredulously and tell her that I haven’t died yet. Little comments like that lead me to believe that there is so much unspoken between us…

    I’ve never felt a problem with “living a lie” as it were. We do that every day in life. What’s a few more protocols pertaining to Mormon culture anyway? I don’t have that searing sense of social justice that would actually make me care enough to quit the church, you know?

  10. re gazelem:

    Yes, I recognize that we do live lies every day in life. But this seems to give me more examples of what we should do. When we face lies elsewhere, our goal isn’t to seek and nurture these lies and live more soundly in them. Rather, our goal is to control and mitigate these lies to maintain personal integrity.

    So it’s odd why we would flip what we would do in other situations just for the church. I agree with you with not having that “searing sense of social justice that would actually make me care enough to quit the church.” But that leads me to 1) not pay tithes, 2) not attend church, 3) not worry about church and people in the church. The commandments, church meetings, works of the church laws, etc., all represent additions and intrusions into my life that I can safely abandon if I don’t care.

  11. That whole living a lie thing is one reason I couldn’t stay. I think the biggest reason that I felt so happy after leaving the church was because I could finally live with personal integrity. It was such a relief.

    Not that I don’t live a lie in some respects, but it’s orders of magnitude better than it used to be. Now when I recognize those lies, instead of saying “That’s life,” I say, “One of these days I’ll fix you,… as soon as I fix these other things.”

    I think a sense of humor and open communication has helped my wife and me.

  12. gazelem permalink

    “The commandments, church meetings, works of the church laws, etc., all represent additions and intrusions into my life that I can safely abandon if I don’t care.”

    A-f*ing-men, brother. It’s quitting the caring about the rules that makes it work for me. I live among Mormons as a total outsider and someone who understands how it works, but just doesn’t care anymore. I love them enough to see the flaws and overlook them and I’m comfortable enough with myself that I don’t feel bad that making certain compromises don’t make me feel like I’ve abandoned my own personal integrity.

  13. gazelem: so I guess we’re close to being on the same track after all.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part II « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Middle Way Mormonism and Authenticity « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. Sunday in Outer Blogness: Double Edition! | Main Street Plaza

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