We Are Already Seeing An Exodus of the Faithful

Damon Linker, a Catholic writer at The Week, is a former visiting assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University who interacts with many LDS thinkers and writers. In his most recent column, Linkers asks whether gender inequality will lead both faithful Catholics and faithful Mormons to eventually leave their respective Churches.

…what if the next institutions to be leveled by the Christian ideal of equality are the churches themselves?

I’m not talking about all of the churches. I mean those that have resisted reforming themselves in light of women’s equality — and specifically those that resist this reform from the top down, with ecclesiastical authorities enforcing male-centered dogma and doctrine. That’s mainly the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

A contrast with Protestantism and Judaism is instructive. There are, of course, many gender traditionalists in both faiths — evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews. But there is no overarching authority in either religion stipulating that traditionalism is the only valid form of belief. That means there are other options besides apostasy for dissenters. Don’t like the traditionalism of your congregation? If you’re a Protestant, you can find a more liberal, mainline alternative. If you’re a Jew, look for a Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist synagogue.

But in both Catholicism and Mormonism, there’s often nowhere else to go. It’s either love it or leave it.

While Linker focuses much of the column on the Catholic Church, he also makes some insightful comments about Ordain Women.

Last year, several Mormons formed a group called Ordain Women and tried to gain admission to the all-male priesthood session of the church’s semiannual General Conference at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. They were turned away. In an effort to avoid a repeat demonstration, the church has now banned the group from Temple Square during the upcoming General Conference on April 5. While a 2011 poll found that only 8 percent of Mormon women (and, oddly, 13 percent of Mormon men) support extending priestly ordination to women, this defensive move by the church is bound to raise the profile of the group and its cause. Combined with broader cultural trends in favor of equality, those numbers are bound to rise in the coming years.

If they do, the LDS church will face a crisis, since Mormon theology and folk beliefs are far more profoundly gendered than mainstream historic Christianity. The patriarchal nuclear family mirrors a divine familial arrangement led by an authoritative male God (Father in Heaven) who has his own obedient and deferential wife (Mother in Heaven). Opening the Mormon priesthood to women would challenge these doctrines in a way that could strike at the foundations of the church — far more so than the decision to permit the ordination of blacks in 1978. On the other hand, refusing to reform could eventually drive large numbers of younger, egalitarian-minded Mormons away from the church.

Will younger egalitarian-minded Mormons leave the LDS Church over his issue? How about related issues about gender and social equality?

Yes, they already are.

I see it amongst my former students from my three years teaching at Brigham Young University-Idaho and my one year teaching at Brigham Young University.

And it is not just among liberals, Democrats, or leftists. It is also my Republican and conservative friends and former students. They might advocate a neoconservative foreign policy or oppose Obamacare, but even they tend to be rather ambivalent about gay marriage and generally more in favor of gender equality than older generations.

It is easy within Mormonism to dismiss such people as never actually being faithful. But such assertions are false and this tendency or impulse to characterize them as apostates is hateful and cruel. It is also counter the idea of Zion or a community of disciples.

These friends are my brothers and sisters. Not because I view everyone as brothers and sisters in a Christian sense, but because I have come to view them as my younger and older brothers and sisters because of the meaningful interactions I have had with them. I wept when I discovered that they left Mormonism. Not because I view them as lost or because I think they are now going to hell, but because I view their departure as a great loss to my faith community. They are graduates of LDS universities. They are returned full-time missionaries. These are some of the best, the brightest, and the kindest people I know.

It breaks my heart that they have left. I breaks my heart that they felt the need to leave. But I cannot blame them. I understand where they are coming from.

The desire for gender equality, and the overall appeal of egalitarianism, it not merely a “worldly” desire. It is rooted, as Linker points out, in the very Christian idea of equality. Even secular arguments for gender and social equality are deeply rooted in moral commitments. These are just concerns which should not be scoffed at or dismissed.

If you are one that says that the egalitarians or liberals who do not like the status quo should just leave, please stop it. This is not a game. This is about the very future of our faith community and faith tradition. They are leaving. If you are glad to see them leave, you do not see them as Christ sees them.

I especially find it odd that many who are attacking Ordain Women do so while also claiming that the Church is headed by Jesus Christ. He is in charge, not the members of the Church or the General Authorities, the argument goes. True…but would he approve of vitriol? It seems that he would be more interested in loving one another and acting with compassion. Rallying around the institution, whatever the institution, never seemed to be his first impulse.christus-jesus-christ-mormon

I find hope in the Mormon faith tradition. I find hope in the local LDS ward (or congregation) that I attend. I find hope in my calling with the youth group in our ward. But this does not mean that I can dismiss those who are instead finding despair. Instead, it should be of great concern.

I do not think that the answer is to change those who are feeling alienated. The answer is definitely not to demonize those people. Sure, we could all be more humble, but that applies to all of us and if you are demonizing others it likely applies more to you than to those that you are demonizing.

Alienation is often rooted in the structure of institutions. If we could change that is ways that would bring hope and fellowship…why not? This is not about winning an ideological game. It is about the worth of each soul.


105 replies »

  1. Chris: It seems to me at times the best response is to try to change those that are feeling alienated. I understand your desire respond in a Christlike way to people, but I do want to resist the assumption that alienation in response to institutional structures has some kind of morally privileged status. From a purely pragmatic point of view, I think it unlikely that the Church will change its fundamental governing structure anytime soon. Given that fact, it seems to me that helping people find mental and emotional habits that can reduce their experience of alienation would be helpful. Condemning them as faithless minions of evil isn’t likely to do this, but I suspect that a reflexive affirmation of alienation isn’t likely to help too much either.

    • Oh, I doubt the Church will change significantly. I am not saying that alienation has a morally privileged status, but leaving seems to be the most healthy reaction for many. This is not new either, it happened because of blacks in the priesthood, the ERA, etc. Keep in mind, I usually find out that people have left the Church after the fact. For the most part, I encourage people to view the Church and Mormonism as a lived religious experience rather than as a grand metaphysical struggle of sorts. So I think we can help individual deal with alienation. Indeed, we deal with it everywhere. I often draw a parallel with my own alienation from the Democratic Party.

      • Wow. Interesting that you refer to that alienation. I suspect that there are strong parallels. I’d offer to explain, but would be more interested in your thoughts on that subject. Have you, Chris, written about that subject directly? If yes, I would be interested in being pointed to that. If no, then please write that blog.

    • Nate –
      I think you have a point – affirming any division or rebellion simply because of an emotional feeling of being left out or oppressed isn’t necessarily constructive or right. But I don’t think coming at the perceived problem with the attitude of “I’m right and you’re wrong and I need to change you” is right either. It reminds me of one of my favorite sections of Huck Finn and the book/movie Chocolat – both contain examples of abusive men. The church/government take the men, scrub them down, stick them in a suit, teach them some new phrases, and proclaim their marvelous change to all the world. But at heart, neither man is changed. They’re both still the same. Real change isn’t something we can force on anyone, and approaching people with an attitude of moral superiority isn’t going to help anything.

      • I don’t think most people are “demonizing” the OW movement. Thinking someone is wrong, and vocalizing it – even being persistent in your vocalization, is not demonization. If it is, where does that leave OW in their attitudes toward Church leadership?

        I think women will have the Priesthood one day. I would be happy to see the Prophet make the announcement today. Woment wanting the Priesthood is not the problem.

        The problem I see is that OW has the exact attitude of “I’m right and you’re wrong and I need to change you” towards Church leadership. That’s clearly manifest by the various comments of their leaders and followers. And it’s especially disappointing when the founder and leader of the organization has clearly stated that saying yes to the ordination of women is the only acceptable answer, no matter what may have been said previously about “only wanting the Prophet to ask”. Yet they cry foul when someone says “I’m right and your wrong and I need to change you” to them. If that is demonization, then OW is clearly demonizing the Prophet, and that’s pretty much been the pinnacle of apostacy throught the whole of Judeo-Christian history. OW can’t have it both ways.

        • Thank you, Rob, for saying this. This has been my view on the entire movement as well and it is very hard to convince supporters of the OW movement that just because you don’t support their methods doesn’t mean that you don’t support their same underlying ideals.

        • This is true, Rob. I found this quote from a recent article about the OW founder enlightening: “Kelly agrees: ‘I never considered leaving the church. That was never on the table for me. I’m more of a person who’s like, ‘Well, I’m in an institution and I can see it needs to be improved. It needs to change; I don’t need to leave.'”

  2. I am old enough to have lived through the ERA fiasco, and watched my BYU freshman women studies teachers come back from the national conference on women in tears. I married in the temple, have stayed temple-worthy ever since, but alienation and pain have always been a part of being active for me. I asked my husband early on what keeps him loyal to the church, and he showed me Abraham 1:2-4. For the first time (and this was decades ago) I felt the pull of that desire. And also how irrevocably that door was shut in my face. So much of church is good, and at the same time so much feels like a violation of my integrity and my most tender desires and beliefs. It is hard to be a disciple of the Jesus I know and love from the gospels. My membership in the church often makes it harder.

    • This makes me so sad to hear of your struggles! No where outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do I feel more valued, more important, and more empowered as a woman. Women hold a vast number of authoritative positions in the church, and in every temple on earth there are women officiating in some of the ordinances. The men and women are supposed to work together as equal partners, but that doesn’t mean we have to be fighting for the same roles. In a good working partnership, there are different roles that each partner plays in harmony with the other to complete whatever task is demanded. Neither can do it all on their own, they need each other. Any time I hear of those who leave the church or have their testimony shaken because women don’t hold the priesthood, my heart hurts. It really comes down to your personal testimony of the church and whether it is led by God or by man. Too many people are upset with the prophet for not changing church policy, but it’s not his decision. This church is led by God himself, and God’s laws are constant and will not change just because a some people (no matter how many) think they should. Of course there have been times in history when certain changes have been made, usually due to the “readiness” of the people or the circumstances at the time (I’m thinking of the institution of the Mosaic law, Christ’s implementation of the higher law, preaching only to the Jews during Christ’s life and then opening it up to the gentiles, polygamy, priesthood to blacks, etc.). However, I don’t see giving women the priesthood as anything that will happen soon. Personally, I don’t really want it anyway. All members of the church, male or female, have access to the “power” of the priesthood, dependent on our faith. Really, what everyone is all upset about is the “authority” of the priesthood, and like I said, I don’t want it. We women have enough responsibilities as it is, and it isn’t like the men can use their priesthood to bless themselves. They still have to find someone else to officiate or give them a blessing. The priesthood is service-based, so they have to be ready and worthy at all times just in case they are called upon to use their priesthood. This isn’t to say that we women wouldn’t be willing or able to do it, but it is a heavy burden to bear. I see the men’s priesthood roles (in some small way) as a way to make up for their inability to bear children. As non-progressive as that may sound, it is still impossible for men to have children. It is so amazing that women were chosen to work hand in hand with God’s creative powers. Obviously, we need the men as part of that, but as women we are so lucky (if you can overlook the pain for a second) to be such a huge part of that power. Men cannot change the laws of nature and suddenly get to bear children if they want, and so I see the priesthood as something that we women can’t and shouldn’t just change the rules to suddenly hold the priesthood. Equal doesn’t mean the same. I feel like the women in the church are respected, revered, and cherished, as equal as we can ever get.

      • ” God’s laws are constant and will not change” I hear this a lot from Mormons. Then how did God change his mind about black people? About plural marriage? This is basic math here. 1+1=2. God said PLURAL MARRIAGE is ETERNAL…and the Mormon church STILL believes in this principle. So you are ok with your husband having plural wives in the afterlife? Now that gay marriage is legal…the next step is plural marriage. (as many are working towards) Are you prepared to live this eternal law? Not being offensive…but please explain your thoughts on this. My personal view point…is that these principles changed within the Mormon church…as the human ego leadership changed them….and updates them to roll with human culture. Thoughts?

  3. What should I have said to, or how should I have tried to change, my cousins who left in the early 1970s because they said they did not believe that God was a racist nor would God have “cursed” descendants of Cain because of the sin of Cain? They hold currently no animosity toward the church, and made sure their mom, my aunt, had a Mormon funeral. But they see no divinity in the church (or at least no more or less than any other).

    The church was an easier place in the 1960s and 1970s for those who did not believe strongly in racial equality than for those who did. The church is an easier place today for those who believe in males’ presiding at least in homes and religions (and perhaps other places, although the law no longer allows that). It is an easier place for people who believe that lgbt intimacy (sexual or non) (and perhaps their thoughts and desires) is inherently and always evil, than for other.

    Given that many or most of the strongest supporters of racial equality left in the 1960s and 1970s over the church’s racialist practices, and that many or most of the strongest supporters of sexual equality left in the 1970s and 1980s over the church’s forceful lobbying and anti-ERA activities (akin to Proposition 8), and that many or most of the strongest intellectuals and more feminists left in the 1990s because of the crackdown on the September 6, is it any wonder that of those who remain (and their descendants), the church is overwhelmingly conservative and GOP (more than any other denomination)? Is it a surprise that of the women ( and their descendants) who remain in the church, that, outside of OW and FMH, there is not much interest or advocacy for greater female equality or ordination?

    Perhaps this is part of assuring the continued cohesiveness and intertia of the Church. Implicitly to make uncomfortable those on the cutting edge of societal movements, even good ones. Or maybe it is intended to help those of us who are on the cutting edge to learn patience and longsuffering in our religious lives.

    I will say, though, that I think our central leadership does seem to be hearkening and listening more, and is less harsh than in the past. I don’t think there will be excommunications like there were in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, over feminist issues. I think there will be strong moves toward addressing much of the structural inequality between the sexes. I see continued movement toward finding or making a good place within the body of Christ for my lgbt brothers and sisters, whether or not they are celibate.

    I am optimistic. I think the church is a much better place for me now than it was when I was younger, and I hope the same will be true for my descendants, that it will become a better and better place as there continues to be positive and continuing (though very slow, sometimes) revelation and improvement.

    In the meantime, I too grieve the loss to our community of so many wonderful people (including my cousins and many others) whose hearts are in the right places. But I also know that God will continue to be with them and strengthen them and lead them in good and righteous paths to do good outside of my religion. But I miss them as my co-religionists.

    • I think the highlight of your anecdotal evidence and sweeping generalizations is the comment that begins “Of the women who remain in the church. . .”. As if to say that women are all of a sudden an endangered species in church meetings. Powerful stuff.

    • Just because something is anecdotal does not mean it’s invalid. I’m a lifelong active member and have served as an adult woman in the church for 25 years. DavidH’s comments are an accurate reflection of my experiences and dozens of other women I know. Perhaps a quick, dismissive reply works for the women in your circle of influence, thor. But from where I’m standing, that’s the sort of crap that continues to alienate scores of LDS women each and every Sunday.

  4. What statistical proof do you have that there is a mass exodus of young people due to the issues that you raise? The Church has always struggled with — and been concerned about — retaining youth. Do you have any hard data that supports the claim that women’s issues are pushing more young people away now than have left in the past? The annectdotal hearsay of the internet echo chamber certainly does not suffice.

      • What’s the difference between an “exodus” and a “mass exodus?” Isn’t using “mass” in front of “exodus” redundant in the colloquial usage of the term? It’s confusing in the way it’s titled, making it seem as though people are leaving in droves due to this reason. I suppose it’s one way to pique interest to get people to read the article.

        You say, “If you are glad to see them leave, you do not see them as Christ sees them.” I agree 100%. Isn’t the issue, though, that they don’t see themselves as Christ sees them? Aren’t they looking at “equality” through a temporal lense?

        Without stating where I stand on this particular issue, as though what I think matters, I think that’s where people err. Proponents apply a temporal perspective of “equality” to a spiritual principle. Proponents claim to be “unequal” because of the way they feel they are perceived by society. If they are saying that the church has somehow diminished women in the eyes of the Lord by not giving them the priesthood there’s not much help to offer, except remedial primary lessons.

        You state in your closing that this is about the worth of souls. I submit that is exactly what is missing from proponents analysis of who holds what in the church. The notion that holding the priesthood (or even being a member of the LDS church) is relevant when it comes to the worth of souls is nothing short of absurd.

        Agency is a bugger.

        • Slow and steady trickle would likely be more accurate than exodus. But the individuals in particular, not some overwhelming numbers or whatever, are what concern me.

          “The notion that holding the priesthood (or even being a member of the LDS church) is relevant when it comes to the worth of souls is nothing short of absurd.”

          True. But the symbolism of exclusion undermines abstract ideals of equal worth is devastating ways. I do not think the priesthood makes anyone special. That is for sure.

    • I don’t have numbers, but I have served on ward councils recently. It is a major concern coming from the top that young people, especially Young Women, are leaving the church in droves, and it’s starting at age 14.

    • LDS Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen was asked if church leaders were aware that Mormons were “leaving in droves” which Jensen confirmed. He elaborated that “maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now.”

      John Dehlin did a survey fairly recently about why people leave the church and the number 1 fastest rising issue with the younger generation was the treatment of homosexuality, with unequal or unsatisfactory treatment of women and minorities ranking high as well. I am a Bishop in a YSA ward and a significant percentage of my ward members are very bothered by both of these issues (this includes many returned missionary sisters).

      The last numbers i saw at a High Council meeting was that by age 25 or so we have lost around 40% of the YSA’s.

  5. From my experience, the exodus over issues is greatly exaggerated. Not the pain or loss of loved souls, but the causes. Practically everyone feels alienated these days. Symptoms of alienation have been discussed (OW, LGBT issues, Scouting, etc.) all over the bloggernacle, but I don’t think the real cause for this alienation has been accurately identified. This social alienation is the reason that so many turn to social media to discuss religious issues. This social alienation is a failure of community, not a failure of religious practice or doctrine.

    Years ago, my elderly, widowed grandmother was struggling with a Bishop she could not relate to. A family member suggested that she just go inactive. After all, there were doctrines and elements of church history which had always troubled her. Her response? “Oh, no. I couldn’t do that, the Relief Society needs me.” She had cooked hundreds of meals, nursed dozens of sick families and taught hundreds of RS, Primary and SS lessons during her life. Leave HER Church, HER Relief Society, HER community? Unthinkable!

    I remember what Church USED to be like. We worked on welfare farms, we distributed items to the poor. We had a ward party every month or two. WE were the Church. Now when people talk about the church they think about distant leaders in Salt Lake City.

    What we need is actual work. One of the firmest testimonies I have ever heard was from a gay man who volunteered for every service activity imaginable. We need a mission other than ripping loose with our opinions on a blog site at every opportunity (I know, I know, pot meet kettle!) or leading crusades to redesign the entire Church to meet our specifications. We need to help Mormons rediscover service and brotherly love, which are far more Christian than a post-modern definition of “equality.” We need people to know they are needed. We need community. We need to rely on each other. Because in my experience, the ones doing the work are NOT leaving. It is one thing to doubt, that is a normal event in life, but that experience can be harsh. But the worst of Satan’s lies is that there is not something vitally important for each of us to do. And that something is usually in the direction of doing dishes and mowing lawns for the sick and elderly, tutoring failing students, serving meals in the homeless shelter, etc.

  6. “We were the church”. Since the church is founded on apostles and prophets we are the church if we can align ourselves with them. Otherwise we are a social club based on shared religious feelings. Where is the faith in that?

  7. As somebody who as been anguished over many church-related issues of late, who really doesn’t want to leave (or at least doesn’t want to want to leave) but for whom church has become a mere exercise in psychological endurance…thanks. It’s nice to know that not every fellow Mormon out there thinks ill of me for having a hard time relating to the institution. And, Nate Oman, you are as always a stalwart defender of the institution. Congrats. You have always struck me as clueless about people’s struggles with faith, and your post only confirms it–but good luck “changing” people like me. (As if I haven’t spent years trying.)

  8. Js: I know nothing about your struggles, but I certainly don’t think ill of those that struggle with the Church. People struggle for lots of different reasons. Sometimes you can say or do something that might help someone see or experience those struggles in a different and less painful light. Often times you can’t and the best thing to do is to just be kind and listening. That is all I meant to imply about “change.”

  9. Many Mormons struggle to maintain a relationship with the church even though it is demonstrably and obviously harmful to them and inconsistent with the dictates of their own conscience. I find that tragic and I support wholly those who leave in order to live authentically. I pray that those who are struggling find peace.

  10. Al Miller:

    The spirit of love for our fellow human beings (the loving horizontal pull of the atonement) is the same spirit that animates the leaders of this Church who utilize the cleansing vertical pull of the atonement (repentance and ordinances) to enable us to see God’s face. Service and love are the unifying factors, the “glue,” in a community, and in missionary work and member retention.

    I would argue that community (looking outside ourselves) is where we are struggling as members. Loneliness, alienation and not feeling of worth are spiritually deadly. I know people who are actually quite “orthodox” when it comes to belief who are less active because of this problem. Yet others who entertain quite “unorthodox” ideas who are so subsumed in the horizontal pull of the atonement that I would be shocked if they ever left the faith. And they are busy “doers” of the word! So the problem often (but not always) isn’t difficult doctrines or weird history, it is a lack of brotherly and sisterly love in the community. It is a lack of ambition on our part to do good.

  11. People have always been coming and going in the church. Christ had detractors, dissenters, apostates and betrayers in His time. According to the parable of the seeds, it says more about the individual soul than it does about the church or the gospel. I don’t mean this as any judgment or criticism of these people. Their departure is always sad to me. We all have our faults and weaknesses which will eventually be overcome through the atonement of Christ, if we continually seek Him and endure to the end. The church is neither perfect or eternal, but it is true; meaning it provides the fullest access to the atonement of Christ through its principles, doctrines, and ordinances which are eternal. It is sad to me when people choose to distance themselves from the very things that could help them the most in an eternal sense due to hurt feelings, confused priorities, or a desire for the Lord to obey their will. I struggle with some things myself, but I trust the Lord is working through men of weakness as he always has. Elder Holland said it beautifully, “Be kind regarding human frailty — except in the case of his only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to him, but he deals with it. So should we.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

  12. I always find these articles proclaiming that any Church is doomed due to it’s core Biblical doctrines to be amusing. Do you really think that the Alpha and Omega is all that concerned with what we, his creations, think is right?

    Sure, we could go the way of the Anglican Church and start Ordaining women, and allowing homosexuals to be Temple married, but do you really think that this would actually change the prospective of the Lord of Hosts?

    At what point do you join the ranks of every other church paying your money to the pastor to tell you what you want to hear? At what point does it become an echo chamber for the world, instead of a real Church?

    We have to live up to the standards of the Lord, not down to the standards of the world. Any church that doesn’t stick to it’s doctrine was never worth being a part of to begin with.

    • >Any church that doesn’t stick to it’s doctrine was never worth being a part of to begin with.

      Wow… Your last sentence just throws the rest of your comment under the bus. Do you truly not know how much LDS doctrine has changed since the 1830s? Do some basic internet searching and you’ll find plenty. Blacks and the priesthood, Adam-God, polygamy, temple ceremony changes, etc. You should have left a long time ago if you practice what you preach.

      • Blacks and the Priesthood. I agree that BY was mistaken when he removed the Priesthood from all worthy males. JS did ordain at least one member of color while he was alive. However, the Priesthood was restricted to just Levites at one point, so there is prescience there.

        Adam-God, show me in the scriptures where this is taught. It is not in the scriptures and is easily seen as BY mistaken.

        Polygamy, the Lord has given Polygamy as a commandment in ancient times, and taken it away in ancient times. There is prescience there.

        Nothing you have brought up changes anything set down in the Bible/BoM. So… what exactly was your point?

  13. Obviously, the people leaving are nothing more than disillusioned sons of perdition that have fallen into Satan’s control. It seems they just want to sin it is just easier for them to shift the blame to The Church. I think it would be only fitting that their skin is turned dark as a flint as a mark of their wickedness. They really should just repent and stop trying to use critical thinking in regards to life’s decisions and their eternal consequences!

    • They are always welcome to start their own town and church, after all, it’s worked out so well for the Jeffs family… Perhaps their catch phrase could be, “All then Apostasy, None of the Child Abuse…”

      • Wait a sec, it looked like the Jeffs were just out Joseph Smithing Joseph smith… When you look at Fanny Alger and Helen Mar Kimball, they may say they were just “following the prophet”. Prolly not the best example with that one.. just syain’.

        • Except that Joseph was long dead by then… and they left after the repudiation of the practice… however I applaud you for not letting facts get in the way of a good sarcastic reply.

        • You misunderstand, not surprising considering. The FLDS church split from the mainstream LDS Church long after Joseph Smith was dead.

        • And how does the FLDS Rift from the SLC Branch have any bearing on JS’s example he left for us? I mean in reality if any group, SLC branch (main LDS), CoC (RLDS), FLDS or any others want to pick and chose the pieces of the original church to follow it’s pretty ballsy for any branch of that same tree to point fingers since they all share the same trunk and root system.

          Now if someone wants to argue that the SLC Branch is NOT the same church as before then I am ok with that but don’t beat around the bush, just come out and say, “from here on out we disavow our entire past.” This idea of nuance wishy-washy doctrine and the old standby of “he was not speaking as a prophet” or when he said this he was “speaking as a man” is really tiresome. If we are going to play that game then I expect a banner to flash at the bottom of the screen during General Conference that says, “Now Speaking As Prophet…thus sayeth the Lord” or “Speaking as Man – not to be referenced as Doctrine”.

          Even the new essays are replete with ambiguous statements to where I have no idea were we stand on things anymore. I am seriously about to the point to conclude that everything ever said was “as a man”. Heck at least there will be no blow-back next time they change their minds.

        • Well, if you were looking for the answers to be fed to you, you joined the wrong Church. If you want easy to digest, basic, unambiguous answers that don’t require faith and prayer, go back to Gospel Essentials, however if you want to explore harder subjects like Joseph Smith’s life, then you’ll need to exercise your faith, fast, pray, and then take a leap of faith in the direction you choose to believe.

          Nothing about the early church’s practice of polygamy leads to easy answers. My own personal study of the situation had lead me to the conclusion that there are aspects of it that I don’t understand, and that looks exceedingly bad. However, that does not change my belief in the Book of Mormon or a great many other things in the church.

          I’m not willing to throw away my testimony over something as trivial as not understanding one aspect of someone’s behavior, when there is much more than person has done that I do believe in.

        • I very much sympathize with the Elder Holland quote above, (“Be kind regarding human frailty — except in the case of his only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to him, but he deals with it. So should we.”). I find the attitude often on display in these LDS themed blog conversations curious. On the one hand it seems like there’s often a position strongly promoting the idea of faith and prayer as essential to the church experience, and on the other hand it feels like there’s an attitude diminishing to those whose faith and prayer experiences lead them beyond the mean curve of the institutional church.

          What if those who faithfully prayed over the ERA issue, or the race and the priesthood issue, received the answer that the church was wrong at that time? Did the “faith and prayer” crowd of the mainstream church at the time, assume those who made such claims were way off base? Hindsight being 20/20, only years later can one look back at how the church has changed and admit that those folks may have been telling the higher truth about their faithful prayer experiences notwithstanding they were not in harmony with the brethren at the time. This isn’t a hypothetical scenario, it’s an observable historical occurrence. I find it powerful and instructive.

          I hope that those who have no intention of leaving the church because their faith experience yields no dissonance can be mindful that those who may have different views may have legitimate reasons for feeling the way they do. To marginalize their testimonies is to fall short of our own, and possibly miss out on growth opportunities.

        • So if your prayers lead you over the edge of the foundation can you still consider yourself founded on the prophets and apostles? What would it mean to say ‘foundation optional’? Where is there any license in scripture to say that you are founded on your own revelation? Christ committed the Church to the apostles. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if he had left out that messy complication? Heaven forbid that we can’t have our exclusive little spirituality uncomplicated by obedience to –yuck– mortals. Burn a candle, meditate in the forest etc.

        • Al, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. It sounds like you’re disputing the concept of being founded on personal revelation? For license in scripture, what about Moroni 10:4-5? Or 2 Ne 28:24-32? (small excerpt: “…wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!” though I suggest that you read the whole chapter). John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Or there’s the words of Brigham Young, “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied…. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the Kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.”

          – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 3, p. 45

          I understand that there is obviously a balance but the priority is reliance on God, not man. Within the context of OW, I feel like their methods are wrong and probably counterproductive in many respects, but in general, if you find yourself more committed to any church or mortal man than to Christ, then you’re going to be unpleasantly surprised at the most important day of your future. “Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there” 2 Ne 9:41.

  14. If a member is feeling alienated at church, they are the “lost sheep,” aren’t they? The one for which we are supposed to leave the 99 and go and find them?

    But if we call that sheep a “rebel” or “divisive” or even “apostate” then we are free to stay in the sheepfold, mock them, and let them be eaten by wolves, AND feel righteous while doing so!

    People have left the church for all kinds of reasons, but when it’s just put down to either laziness or desire-to-sin the people do not come back, fake friendships are attempted (and fail), and the Mormon church continues to lose people, and the shepherds inside the sheepfold don’t seem to care.

    • Wait. What was that about fake friendships? The point here is that you’re castigating faithful members for NOT searching out the lost sheep … but then we see that, when they DO try to reconnect with those who have left, you disparage those efforts as fake. This is a can’t-win situation.

      I think that on an individual basis, there are lots of efforts to maintain or mend, as needed, relationships between faithful, active members and those who are less so. But in some of those cases – very much a minority, I believe – the disaffected member seeks to lay blame unfairly. This is not to say that anyone is above criticism, but it is to say that in a few cases the member not only becomes disaffected but actively hostile. I wonder what you recommend in that situation, you who are sure that efforts to reach out in love and kindness are “fake.”

    • As a member who walked away for about 10 years, I can say that nothing the membership of the church could have done would have mattered. As a matter of fact, the harder they tried, the further away I ran.

      The only person who could fix it was me, and eventually, I did.

  15. God loves us; God loved Saul; God loved David then did he excuse their disobedience, will He excuse our disobedience -not according to the scriptures. Who knows what is fair better than God, you Chris, me, ordain-women organizers, gay marriage shrill,

    22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
    23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
    24 ¶And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. (1 Samuel 15)

    God knows what is best for his creation “but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7) We have the proclamation to the family what more do college graduates need. “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” (Matthew 10:41) Life isn’t fair and it is not equal, however, the promise is: if we are faithful and obedient to the terms and conditions set forth by Jesus Christ through his prophets by His atonement and righteous judgement all will be made right.

  16. Lovely article, thank you for such a thoughtful tone. Unfortunately I feel, from reading the comments, that it falls on the deaf ears of the orthodox and may be nothing more than a nicety to those of us (myself included) that are leaving. Members who do not see the beginnings of the exodus obviously do not live in my area where a sitting bishop just left with his whole family in tow. You would be hard pressed to find anyone with even the slightest intellectual or liberal political bent, and about 1/2 of the young women and men in my ward rarely show up at all. These are returned missionaries, temple married people, feminists, liberals, questioners etc. Our ward uses about about 1/2 the chapel with four wards in the same building that would be far more functional if combined into 2.

    The reasons members leave are as varied as the individual, and we are all familiar with the most common of them. Agitating for one side or the other as most of the commenters seem to always want to do on these boards is beside the point. The fact remains, the community, the doctrine, the history, the very religion is failing many of us, and its a sad thing to see.

    • Is the religion failing you, or are you failing the religion? I have been a member for nearly 50 years, and it seems the longer I am am faithful, the more I study my scriptures, the more I strive to attend my meetings, say my prayers, pay my tithing, the more important the Church becomes. Some one once said that the reason we fall out of bed is because we are not far enough in. I suspect that if one would spend as much time trying to find reasons to stay as s/he does leave, the results would be different. But that’s just me.

    • Head Of Shiz,

      Thank you. I do not think the church is best served by rallying around the flag or knee-jerk reactions of dismissal…but as you can see….we are really good at that.

  17. People leave the Church all the time, and for a wide variety of reasons, not just because women can’t be ordained to the priesthood. And yet, many statisticians say that the LDS Church is the fastest growing Christian denomination in the US. Interesting juxtaposition.

    The thought was raised as to whether or not we should suggest to those who can’t accept the position of the Church on women in the priesthood simply leave the Church. Of course not. Someone who has a misunderstanding of the Law of Chastity should work closely with his or her bishop, spouse, parents to repent and come into compliance with the doctrine of the Church. Likewise, someone who is outside the doctrine of the priesthood should seek to repent and get right with what The Lord has established. I doubt seriously that we will have a group crop up anytime soon that will demand that the Word of Wisdom be relaxed and stricken from a temple recommend interview. This is not going to happen; those whose preference is to disobey the Word of Wisdom simply alienate themselves when their conscience prevents them from coming to church. Nor should we favor those who seek to change the fundamental structure of the organization of the Church; it is they who need to bring themselves into one accord with the Church.

    • Can you tell me what statisticians (outside of the LDS church headquarters) say that the LDS church is the fastest growing?

      • April,

        For me, numerical growth is not the issue either way. It is about the worth of individual souls. This post is about the specific people that I know and love. While some like Kelly want to change this into an attack on the Church, it is not. It is about the one. The 99 do not always like that.

        • April, it is about an attack on the Church. Chris may be hiding behind the idea of the one, but when the article is about exodus, mass exodus, or people leaving in droves because of a single issue, the attack is on the Church and its policies. While I agree with the idea that the worth of the individual soul is great in the eyes of the Lord, it is still He who said to the woman caught in prostitution “go, and sin no more.” Yes, He sat with the prostitutes and sinners, but it is not likely He said to them, “oh, I understand your struggles, let’s see if we can change the gospel to your liking.” Rather, He is more likely to have taught them true doctrine and said to them the same as he did to the prostitute, go, and sin no more. Yes, we would rather have members remain active, but sometimes this requires repentance and conformity that some are not willing to accept.

        • No, Chris, they are like sinners, just like you and me. But you completely missed the point of my post that Jesus does not bend his will to ours, but asks that we bend our will to his.

        • If you considered all of the converts in our ward during the last five years, you would find probably one or two still active. They come in the front door but quickly depart through the back door. I am sure they all have their own special reasons. I have been a member for 56 years since my childhood. I am raising a granddaughter who has been diagnosed with Gender Disphoria. She was born male but has always identified as a female. She is 10 years of age. She is accepted in society and at school but not at church. The Bishop suggested that we attend a different stake because the members would not accept her. His advice was to hide her condition. Be deceitful. She cannot attend cubs in girls clothes and is banned from attending activity girls night because she has boy parts. I have stayed home these last 6 months with the kids while my husband attends. He is the former Bishop of this ward and is currently a shift supervisor at the temple. The church has given me no other option but to be inactive.

  18. Hi all, I’m an outsider looking in, having never been Mormon, but the culture fascinates me.

    Mr. Henrichsen, do you have a sense of how many people are leaving because they stopped believing the LDS claims about doctrine and historical events? Or perhaps never believed them in the first place?

    • NevermoLurker (love the handle BTW),

      Issues like gay marriage and gender inequality might fall under doctrinal disagreements as homosexuality and gender has been a large focus in recent decades. Of course, each case is different. Historical claims may be a factor, but in the cases I am most familiar with those were secondary concerns.

    • I know your question wasn’t addressed to me but I will give my opinion. To me it seems the majority of the people did not leave for one particular issue. Now I don’t want to cheapen anyone’s crisis but to me it is much like a civil court case where “preponderance of the evidence” either shakes or completely collapses one’s believe system. The reactions themselves vary greatly too. They range from no longer seeing things as Good or Bad or “Black and White” to seeing many gradients of shade and color all the way to a complete resignation with no turning back. I would guess the majority actually fall some place in between, where many have checked out mentally but remain physically, usually in an attempt to save a marriage or maintain some semblance of family.

      Many times these ‘in between’ people have it very difficult as they struggle with “cognitive dissonance”. I personally know many of these people and the ‘tightrope’ act can be quite grueling. I know some that have become very depressed even unto mental break-downs and having self destructive thoughts. I found out later one of my “Zone Leaders” from my mission ended up in the hospital over these issues.

      Unfortunately I do not see an easy way to resolve this. Once somebody no longer believes you cannot just flip a switch to turn it back on any more than you can coax an adult to believe in Santa Claus again. In these situations there really isn’t a lot you can do. This is where I am currently. I try to stay for my family, I have a firm belief in Jesus Christ and I try to focus on the good. Focusing on the good is not always very easy. Many times the “fruits” look rotten as I have seen many friends go down this same path ending up in divorce and losing their family.

      In my case the local leaders of “The Church” do not know what to do with me as I enjoy serving yet am not comfortable giving talks or teaching lessons where the Mormon vernacular of “I Know” is expected. I become restless in meetings as I do not feel they truly focus on Jesus Christ. Most three hour blocks I would guess 5 minutes is spent talking directly about the savior and that includes the sacrament prayers. I now do other things like sing Christian Hymns with friends when I need to be recharged and that helps. However many who leave or stay feel tricked (IMO) and turn to atheism. I can’t imagine how hard it may be for them.

      Anyway for the record the most damaging thing for my “Testimony” was ever present war-like stance that I saw in the church. From President Hinkley’s endorsement of the war to the constant prayers in the Temple blessing our military when they were in foreign lands killing children in other countries. I looked at it through the eyes of the Book of Mormon and to attack Iraq based on 9-11 just would not work in my mind.

      Then when photo after photo of church leadership using temple handshakes with these pro war leaders it made me wonder what was going on. When BYU professor Steven E. Jones was terminated after a Washington DC entourage visited SLC I became even more suspicious. Then later to see Dick Cheney and President Hinkley grasping each other in a temple handshake it was devastating. Again in my true-believing mind I had to wonder if the “Secret Combinations” had gotten above us. **Just for fun run “LDS Prophet handshakes” through Google Image search and see what you find.**

      It wasn’t until I began to look hoping to justify and make sense out of what I was seeing that I began to find all the other historical issues. Looking for info on LDS.ORG or FAIR only made issues worse as you only weak justifications or find more skeletons, like the polygamy, polyandry, Kinderhook plates, appearances of massive “stipends” being paid to leadership through a non-transparent organization. While I feel bad for what the minorities, women or homosexuals have gone through these were NEVER my big issues. Now I have quite a bit of empathy for these groups as I too try to fit in a place were I cannot and I know how uncomfortable it really is.

      Was I a believer with faith? Undoubtedly, in fact I used to work in Law Enforcement and there was a time I applied and wanted to work for Church Security. In my mind I had already made the resolve that I would gladly take a bullet for church leadership if needs be, knowing I would then have a place in the Celestial Kingdom. Is that the kind of believing faith you were wondering about?

  19. Thank you kind sir.
    I have left, and isn’t without a great heart-ache. It isn’t out of sin or deviance. It came when I saw the contradiction of the top leaders of the church (and every other lower level following suit) as they systematically dismantled the agency of souls which was so gloriously touted through out the doctrine (chose right, or chose wrong, let the consequence follow… except you gay lovers. You may not choose. We will make the choice for you.). It no longer made sense. And I, with broken heart, had to walk away.

  20. Interesting insight on your perspective of the “exodus of the faithful.” I’m not sure how much has changed over the years of history of the Church and how much is apparent because of the means of mass communications we have available to us today. 50 years ago if you were dissatisfied with the doctrines you mumbled and grumbled to your social group of 20 people and eventually moved on. Today you write a blog, start a movement, and make sure that as many people as care to listen get to hear your story. The voices of the few have been amplified by the internet.

    It’s not entirely a bad thing, I like reading dissenting arguments, it forces me to rethink my positions. I have shifted my way of thinking quite a bit in many aspects. The downside for Mormonism is that these voices, which were once “lost in the wilderness,” are uniting and giving strength and credence to ideas that would’ve been shrugged off as apostate just a generation ago. They create their own momentum and gravity which attracts others who are also in the same frame of mind. This has led to the “exodus” referred to here.

    What the Church needs to do is do a better job explaining the priesthood to the membership. Most equate the priesthood with the leadership of the Church without thinking about what they are taught in the temple. I will not go there out of respect but there is much taught there that is obviously not understood by many. Another point that is seldom talked about, god is a title given to a man and a woman who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (I use lower-case “g” because that is how it’s presented in Doctrine and Covenants 132). So a god is actually a man + a woman acting together in unison. When “god” speaks, it is their united voices speaking, not the lone voice of a man. So if the priesthood is defined as “the power of God granted to mankind to act in his behalf” then we are saying that the Divine Male and Female came together and granted mankind the right to act in their name.

    Oh there’s so much more to discuss… but I will stop right here. Thanks for reading.

  21. It is easy to point out problems but it is more difficult to supply solutions. Personally if the LDS church gives women the priesthood or allows gays to marry, that will hurt my testimony, I wonder if those groups will care about me at that point.

    • That’s a good question that I can’t answer but I can tell you that most people, no matter where they find themselves in their disaffection understand the paradox you bring up. I have seen it discussed many times in nearly every forum containing DAMU types of people. Really it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

      I know my thought would be if you are to err then err on the side of love but make no mistake if either one of those changes your mentioned were made on a dime I think you see another kind of “exodus”. I really don’t know what the answer would be.

      I have sometimes mused that maybe the church could play up the long time urban legend or prophecy about a “rift” in the end times. In some ways I think that could work. The “Iron-Rod” orthodox hardliners could go with like-minded people while the more liberal “Liahona” members could go their way. Sounds crazy I know but I honestly don’t see any resolution on the current course. Of course it would take a “revelation” but if the equal-rights protest of the 60s and 70s could lead to the ’78 revelation on blacks and the priesthood and Emma getting sick and tired of cleaning up tobacco spit and cigarettes could trigger the WoW revelation then whose to say 13,000 Reddit members of /r/exmormon that have recently left couldn’t trigger a little somethin’ – somethin’…?

      • It seems that the side of love is to admonish people to eschew sodomy and embrace obedience. I am afraid I have been a little hesitant here. Need to show more love.

    • If/when the Church adopts a radically different position on certain issues, the way the progressive Mormons calling for those changes treat those Mormons who opposed said changes probably depends a lot on how they themselves were treated due to their beliefs. (That may not be a positive thing in many cases.)

      However, hopefully most progressive Mormons would prioritize unity over score keeping.

  22. I find the title “Exodus of the Faithful” to be a complete contradiction. To what are these people faithful? Not the Church, otherwise they would not abandon it. Also, people who leave the Church almost always stop doing things that are associated with being faithful such as paying tithing, fast offerings, family prayer, any form of worship service, etc.. My 30 years home teaching experience is mostly with those who stopped attending church. Many are very nice people with whom I have become friends. Yet I struggle to convince many to return to personal (non church related) forms of worship such as reading the Book of Mormon or having personal and family prayers. The fact is that they are often not interested in putting forth any effort to worship God. Would you call this being faithful?

    • I think faithful is an accurate descriptor. They were either “formerly faithful” devoted Mormons, or “presently faithful to their conscience” Mormons.

    • Perhaps they realized religion and God are human constructs. Perhaps they are faithfully attending to the needs of their families and communities without having to go through a corporation posing as a church.

      People used to worship Thor and Odin. The world kept turning when everyone stopped.

  23. I have known Chris Henrichsen since he was a teenager. I have not read all of his works, I don’t have as much formal education, and I don’t agree with all that he believes and says. But that is ok.

    Most of us feel threatened by folks who challenge our beliefs. I know I do. Often people feel that it is easier to ostracize those who think, believe and act differently. Chris’s point is dead on: stop ostracizing people who believe or act differently. We are all different and we need to accept that first of all. Bashing, name-calling and exclusion do not help anybody but deceivers, backstabbers, traitors and manipulators. That is my thought.

    I moved from Maryland to New Mexico because I felt that God directed me to do so. I am very active in the LDS Church and participate in a small ward in Espanola, though I live more than 30 miles away in a little cow-town. I come from suburban Maryland and I was raised in the army. Needless to say, Northern New Mexico is very different from my idea of the “norm.” The language, accents, politics, culture and demeanor are vastly different from how I was raised. Getting used to it is very difficult. Loving the people can also be very difficult for somebody like me, but it is essential.

    Many folks in my ward are poor and come to church in their street clothes. Others come in their best. I have shown up in both and in between. I rub shoulders with people who smoke and drink, do drugs, and some of whom come to church…or try. The members of my ward are welcoming of all and that is something that really makes a difference for my morale here. This is the friendliest ward I have ever attended. The people are humble and most of the members treat each other and outsiders as family. Some don’t, but we try to love and include them anyway.

    I have learned in my line of work in Behavioral Health and Child Development to consciously make an effort to accept people however they are. It is hard and it takes practice, but it is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, from my perspective. It starts by acknowledging inside one’s own feelings (i.e., I feel anxious, or uncomfortable or bothered by what this person is saying to me), then separating those feelings from one’s own by the mental questions, “What is this person feeling inside?” or, “What is this person’s ultimate objective?” Reflecting the person’s feelings to them shows you are listening and the person feels heard. Sometimes that is all that is needed.

    I still feel uncomfortable inside when somebody challenges my beliefs or lets out their anger at me, but some of the best conversations I have had with people who are angry and frustrated or who have issues with the LDS church have been conversations in which I mostly listen.

    We all have our faults, flaws, sins, proclivities and beliefs and all of us need somebody who reaches out to us for fellowship. All of us need to repent of something also. That is why we have our Savior Jesus Christ.

    I’m still working on the name-calling bit.

    Good job Chris.

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