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What happens when Mormonism ceases to be relevant?

May 6, 2012

This Sunday, I read and watched two different things that addressed the topic of people disaffecting or disaffiliating from the LDS church. One was videos from the “Mormonism and the Internet” conference held at Utah Valley University in March of 2012. In particular here was John Dehlin’s presentation of the findings from the Why Mormons Question Survey project. In the video embedded below, John Dehlin is the first of three presentations — perhaps you’ll want to listen to FAIR’s Scott Gordon, and I definitely plan on addressing Rosemary Avance’s presentation in another post.

Much has been written about the Open Stories Foundation survey and its methodological problems (I’m feeling lazy today, so I won’t scour for links at this point), but I won’t really speak to that point.

Instead, I just want to juxtapose the findings from the Open Stories Foundation with those of a much older (from 1988) survey that was recently discussed at the FAIR Blog

From Steve Densley Jr.:

 With regard to reasons people become inactive in the Church, the study reported the following:

  • 54% wanted to spend their limited time and resources on other interests and activities.
  • 40% indicated that they didn’t feel they belonged
  • 25% reported feeling it didn’t matter to anyone whether they attended or not.
  • About a third gave contextual reasons (movement to a new community where they didn’t get involved, work schedule conflicts, etc.).
  • 23% reported problems with specific doctrines or teachings,
  • 20% reported problems with other members of the congregation
  • Some said the church demanded too much of their time and money
  • Others said it no longer was a help in finding the meaning in life.
  • Female respondents in particular were affected by marriage to a nonmember spouse.

As I opened it up for discussion, the idea was expressed, and I agreed, that a fundamental reason for loss of faith was a loss of the Spirit. So many of the factors listed above can be tolerated if an individual feels a strong connection with God that is associated with activity in this Church (prayer, scripture reading, Church and temple attendance, etc.)

One thing that struck me when I compared and contrasted the two different lists was the difference between the factors and their priorities. There’s much to say for the several years that has passed since the 1988 survey (as well as the Open Stories Foundation’s very much NON-random sample), but where the Open Stories Foundation’s results would lead one to believe that those who lose faith do so because of history, theology, and church positions on gays, women, etc., the 1988 study has a different caliber. It’s more about people determining whether the church is a priority for their time and resources…whether it even matters from a social perspective that they attend…whether the church provides good answers as to the meaning of life.

The interesting thing is…I can definitely see how these latter reasons apply. Perhaps we could say that instead of people leaving because they are lazy, they leave because they are bored.

There are a few of these reasons on which I would like to focus:

  1. The desire to spend limited time and resources on other interests and activities
  2. The feeling that the church is no longer a help in finding the meaning in life.

As I’ve written about before, I think that Mormonism provides a pretty good script for many people. However, I think that as people diverge from the script in various ways (some of the ones I’ve most recently discussed are in being gay, but also in being a childless woman), that makes Mormonism less of a solid conclusion. I think that people who make Mormonism work for themselves when they don’t prescribed scripts do so creatively, but they aren’t necessarily justified by the institution in doing so.

Steve writes that “so many of the factors listed…can be tolerated if an individual feels a strong connection with God that is associated with activity in this Church.” As I read posts like these ones, I can’t help but feel that there is definitely something to that. But here’s the thing? How many people are there like John with the experiences he has had? I find few. And without such a connection to God — which despite what the church says, doesn’t appear to be freely available to anyone who seeks it — trying to find ways to make things work and patiently wait for the church to do whatever it needs to do…well, that just doesn’t seem like a product use of limited time and money.

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7 Comments
  1. “As I opened it up for discussion, the idea was expressed, and I agreed, that a fundamental reason for loss of faith was a loss of the Spirit.”

    This assumption is really bothersome to me. In fact, it’s offense. As I’ve reconsider the notions I was taught growing up and as I have become brave enough to admit and be okay with the fact that I don’t agree with many Church doctrines and practices–I feel like my connection to the divine, the Spirit, the universe, or what ever people want to call it, has increased greatly. I have never felt more at peace with my decisions in life. I wish others could F-off and stop making generalizations about the journeys’ of others.

    Sorry for the rant. I understand what would make someone think those things about those who leave or even question the faith. If you don’t have experiences that challenge exclusive truth claims it’s difficult to see those who have had those experiences as anything but wayward and misguided at best, or godless, evil apostates at worst.

  2. Taylor,

    I can definitely see how that would be bothersome…I guess I read too much into the second sentence (that adds the whole ” that is associated with activity in this Church” part).

  3. Oh, that part is definitely obnoxious, too.:)

  4. Rob permalink

    I think the “loss of the Spirit” theory is not only offensive but tautological. It assumes “the Spirit” was always there for everyone all the time, if it even exists. Which in turn assumes that everything the church teaches about it is true.

    Some people leave because they don’t believe that. Some never did, some decide they can’t accept it any longer given other major problems with the church’s credibility.

    I’m one who left because I was gay, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the rest of my life waiting for 15 old strangers to decide maybe they’d gotten the doctrine wrong. After realizing I could no longer trust the church because of its’ leadership’s lies during the Prop 8 campaign and the wildly contradictory things its past “inspired” leaders had taught about homosexuality, I also realized I couldn’t trust them on anything else either.

    In the 3+ years since I stopped going to church and the nearly 2 years since I resigned, I have been so much happier and content and at peace with myself, my life, my direction. I don’t fear death anymore even though I don’t know what will happen afterward. I feel like I’m a much better Christian, I’m certainly a lot less judgmental than when I was Mormon. People have remarked on the change for the better that they see in me. So like Taylor said, I believe that leaving the Mormon church has greatly increased my real faith and connection to what God wants for me too.

  5. Rob,

    This:

    It assumes “the Spirit” was always there for everyone all the time, if it even exists. Which in turn assumes that everything the church teaches about it is true.

    Some people leave because they don’t believe that. Some never did, some decide they can’t accept it any longer given other major problems with the church’s credibility.

    definitely fits my story. But then again, I can say that my never having felt the Spirit also meant I never had faith to lose…so…I guess that’s tautological as well?

  6. John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

    Based on what Rob said, you should add to the list of reasons for leaving: Because it makes you a better person to leave.

    I think an authentic journey is far more important than a Mormon journey…

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