What happens when Mormonism ceases to be relevant?
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.
There are a few of these reasons on which I would like to focus:
- The desire to spend limited time and resources on other interests and activities
- 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.