Note: This commentary is a part of my “Saints Who Swear” series wherein I challenge attacks from apostates and haters of the LDS Church. I have chosen to use very salty language. I swear, a lot. If swear words offend you in the slightest, please do not read on.
Apostates are compelled to circulate all sorts of bullshit about the LDS Church. Again, they cannot leave it alone. But no piece of bullshit feels more useful to them than when an otherwise faithful member of the LDS Church writes about its shortcomings, especially its historical flaws or its politics.
One piece that circulates throughout their nest of nonsense is a 2017 commentary titled, “The Root Cause of Why Members Leave the Church & What Leaders Can Do About It,” by a member named Ryan Gottfredson. I have no clue who he is. I don’t even know if he is still a member as he claimed at the time his article was published. My reply has nothing to do with him personally.
My reply has everything to do with addressing the incessant bullshit he presents and hopes apostates fling like howler monkeys sharing their greatest insult with zoo gawkers.
So, why do otherwise faithful members of the LDS Church quit? The oh-so-rational author, RG, begins with a very brief history of the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio — the last great apostasy in LDS Church history. As everyone knows, the Kirtland bank fails and a third or so of its members quit, including many high profile General Authorities. RG suggests that the problem was Joseph Smith, like a 19th-century Bernie Madoff, and not the greed, materialism, and lack of faith of the quitters. And, when Joseph sought to escape all law enforcement authorities and angry investors, rather than helping their Prophet escape into the Bigger Picture, their pettiness over worldly things sealed their fall from grace.
A successful business endeavor does not prove a prophet, seer, and revelator, so why would an unsuccessful endeavor prove him false?
Author RG then cites Religion News Service’s token Mormon reporter Jana Reiss — a “journalist” in the same way that the Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Stack is a “journalist” when reporting on all things LDS — who claims to have interviewed X-amount of apostates about why they quit the LDS Church. The reasons, she was told, were three primarily: feeling judged or misunderstood, feeling deceived by LDS Church leaders over historical narratives, and, of course, the LDS Church’s stand on gay issues.
Are we shocked by those reported responses? No. Pretty consistent views by the vocal apostates. Nor are we shocked because we know that Jana Reiss personally identifies with each of those three reasons. Surprise, surprise, those answers are the results of her deep journalistic investigation.
What we will never hear is the real reason — the reason of all reasons — why members quit the LDS Church: they lack faith. Religion rests upon faith and faith alone.
Think through this with me. Every member of the LDS Church who has lived in Utah or Idaho or parts of Arizona and Southern California — inside the LDS hyperculture — has been or has felt judged. It is inescapable and it would be inescapable in any hyperculture within any foreign culture around the world. A culture of judgment and competition are both substantial and very natural parts of any environment in which the vast majority of people belong to the same club.
In other words, that excuse is bullshit. Real faith is thick skin. And, if you’re like me, one who grew tired after 20 years of Utah’s LDS hyperculture, just move. Nine times out of ten, the “mission field” is less judgmental, more gracious, and always more diverse. Mission-field members are simply happy to see you. (But, of course, apostates never can seem to be able to move. As with their faithlessness, they are stuck in a mire of their own making.)
The second reason Reiss gives for members leaving the LDS Church is distrust of official historical narratives. Faithful religious adherents to any religion don’t give two shits about he-said-she-said historical details. Neither do we care about “facts.” Facts come and go with time. The faithful care about the truth. Facts and truth are not the same things. Faith is enduring truth. Facts are fleeting.
Truth transcends facts which is why LDS Church General Authorities, especially senior apostles, could not care less about someone else’s version of some historical narrative. When it comes to historical narratives, faithful Saints believe two things: 1) is the narrative in the ballpark of what actually occurred? and 2) is the narrative faith-promoting (i.e. the narrative shares the same evidence of faith as the faith held by the member)?
Do I care if there are 15 separate accounts of the origins of the Book of Mormon? No. I just care about the one version I read as a 20-year-old investigator and the versions I’ve read dozens of times over the past 40+ years. Do I care about Haun’s Mill or Meadow Mountain? Nope. Do I care that Joseph Smith’s dearest colleagues left the LDS Church? Why would I? What do any of those narratives have to do with my testimony of the Book of Mormon?
Apostates naturally, literally, by definition, lack faith. What they do not seem to understand, incredibly so for the oh-so-rational among them, is that nearly every member of the LDS Church has had their faith tried at one point or another and will continue to have trials of faith. Apostates simply failed their trials.
Have any of you ever lost your job because LDS Church officials told your boss to fire you? I believe that happened to me (https://paulmero.com/2021/11/did-my-church-have-me-fired-a-theory/). And here I stand, faithful.
The last reason Reiss offers as to why members quit the LDS Church is disagreements over gay rights issues. Do those apostates really think that the Brethren who crafted and endorsed The Family: A Proclamation to the World give a tinker’s damn about the worldviews of homosexuals and their “allies”? But Reiss has a point. The gay issue is the single issue that will continue to lead progressive and “Second Commandment” members out of the chapel doors. She calls them “Millennials.” So why adorn and obfuscate her reporting on the subject of why people leave the LDS Church with bullshit about taking offense and historical narratives? It’s the gays, baby.
What Reiss does not mention and what RG will not address is how politics today, not unlike greed in Kirtland, Ohio from yesteryear, is at the core of modern apostasy. Progressives. They are quitters.
RG begins to conclude his argument that the root cause of members quitting the LDS Church centers on “fairness issues.” That’s right, fairness issues — like a group of third graders playing a game of four-square, constantly wondering why they lose and blaming their failures on the rules of the game.
I am not saying his theory is incorrect. I am saying his theory is juvenile. I get why kids might quit the game if thought it is unfair. But after one experience, an intelligent kid would go do something else on the playground. It’s a big playground. The LDS Church is a big Church. If a member plays the asshole, don’t engage the asshole. Or do! And call him an asshole. But quit everything because of the asshole? That is the behavior of whiny, pathetic, little babies.
You don’t typically quit school when the third-grade teacher is an idiot or worse. You don’t quit because you believe in education and the nature of education is growth and self-discovery. Why is your religious experience any different? My wife and I homeschooled all six of our children from K-12. We avoided the public school program. We didn’t quit education. Likewise, we did not encourage our children to be “active” in the Young Women’s program or our boys in Scouts. We avoided the programs. We did not quit our religion.
Some asshole on Twitter the other day called me a “Cafeteria Mormon” (i.e., not a full-throated, faithful Saint) after I shared a bit about how we raised our children and how we avoided irrelevant programs in their young lives. Fuck that guy! My wife and I just were not “programites” (i.e., members who believe the programs of the LDS Church save you). In fact, we were pioneers, decades ahead of today as our church now practices “home-centered, church-supported” worship. Disciples of Jesus Christ might be His sheep but we are not “sheeple” and neither do we quit.
Faithfulness is not about your feelings at any given moment. Faithfulness is about conforming and submitting your life to the glory of Heavenly Father. Even Jesus did not atone for our sins because of His feelings for us. He suffered the agony of the Atonement to glorify His Father in Heaven. Apostates believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ was created to conform and submit to them. They are perverts of truth. They are all liars in the eternal sense as they follow the Father of All Lies. In terms of faith, if you quit, you’re a liar and you will lie about anything just to make you feel better about yourself — again, which is why apostates cannot leave the LDS Church alone.
At the end of RG’s opinion piece, he appeals to faithful members about “what NOT to do” in relation to those lacking faith. Allow me to share these in an affirmative manner: 1) play into their emotions, 2) play into their distrust of LDS Church leaders, 3) play into their fears, 4) create a church-within-a-church for those struggling with their faith (e.g., give them their own classrooms and instructors), 5) lean into their doubts by suggesting, for instance, they might be right about the goodness of homosexuality, and 6) embrace a diversity of opinions about gospel truths.
I hope RG is not a marriage counselor or, as we’d have to admit, a divorce promoter.
His conclusion is for the rest of us to exercise charity to apostates. Of course, he would not label anyone that way. He would say to exercise charity toward those members struggling with certain issues — which is what faithful members do. What we don’t do is succor the weak to feed their weaknesses and there is not one point RG makes that leads me to conclude his any other goal.