How do we say goodbye?

September 5, 2012 | 47 comments
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How do we say goodbye to those who choose to leave the Church? We who stay are torn, pulled on the one hand by our faith and hope for salvation, ours and theirs, and on the other hand by respect for their agency and personal revelation.

Do we feel better about people who make a clean break and have their names removed from the rolls of the Church or do we worry that they have renounced saving ordinances? Do we compare them favorably or unfavorably to those who take a more passive aggressive approach, the ones who drop out of activity and refuse to commit to living the gospel as we think it ought to be lived?

The question has a sacred component–the matter of ordinances–and a mundane component–dealing with the numbers in the church: home and visiting teaching statistics and attendance percentages [fn1]. Somewhere in there money and labor enter the equation as well, in the form of lost tithes and offerings and volunteers to serve in callings.

How do we live with true respect and love for others without denying the truth and value of the Church for ourselves? How do we embody the 11th Article of Faith when the ones claiming the privilege to worship differently are those we know and love?  And must we even say goodbye, as though we can never see them again? Would a goodbye itself be a disownment, a rejection fueled by a sense of being rejected? What ought we to do?

 

 

[fn1] In my branch on Long Island, we had many more people listed on the rolls than ever attended church. I was assigned to go through and call people to see if they still lived within our boundaries and if they knew when and where church was if they had any inclination to come out. Somehow, the “do not contact” notes did not get transferred onto the list, and I was cursed at and even called back (thanks, caller ID) and harassed further for being the hapless person who bothered someone who thought his wife had broken ties with the Church many years and several moves before. That incident made me wish it was easier to resign one’s membership in the Church.

47 Responses to How do we say goodbye?

  1. Wilfried on September 5, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Excellent and timely remarks, Rachel. Indeed, the majority of members we deal with in the mission field are those labeled “inactives”, which I think is a sad nomer because it tends to chase more people away out of uneasiness or guilt once they falter a little. Most other churches do not make such a sharp difference and let everyone feel welcome all the time, whether they come every Sunday or only a few times a year. But it is a difficult issue because our message and rhetoric is so filled with expectations, commitment and obedience — which we cannot throw overboard as such. How to create a welcome place for those who cannot live up to all expectations, but without making the dedicated ones feel that they alone have to carry the burden? I realize this is only one aspect of a more complex issue for there are many reasons why people leave the church.

  2. Naismith on September 5, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Why do we have to say good-bye? If they were friends, we aren’t going to drop them as friends just because they leave the church.

    And really, whether they ask to have their names removed isn’t anyone’s business. Why would we have an opinion about their choice? Each of us have our own unique life path.

    I guess I don’t see how other people’s choices affect me in the least. But I live in an area where most of my friends are non-members, anyway.

  3. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2012 at 10:01 am

    I find this issue uncomfortable and troubling in many respects. I’ve been a ward clerk, and I know how much of the time ward lists include those who don’t want anything to do with the Church. In a sense, it would be easier to manage the ward without those who don’t come.

    [Of course, most wards would first like to simply clear off records of those who no longer can be found and don't appear to live in the ward any more. That's the real problem membership clerks face. I think everyone would be happy to have inactive members that we know actually live in the ward on the ward lists.]

    But, on the other hand, I have a few friends who have left the Church or become inactive, and it IS painful for me also. Church is one of the prime places where I meet friends. If they don’t come to Church, often it means I don’t see them (or at least not as often). I know I can go out of my way to see them, but somehow that doesn’t happen as much. For better or worse, friendships are, at least in my case, often based on context.

    Perhaps that is the answer to Naismith’s (2) question “Why do we have to say good-bye?” We don’t have to, but it changes the nature of the relationship. In part because we don’t see them as often, and in part because it changes the nature of the relationship. A mutual connection is no longer there. The subject of conversations changes, or, to avoid offense and to be sensitive, we now avoid topics related to the Church.

    I care about these friends. I want to keep these friendships. And I do try. But it is hard.

    Of course, Naismith, you are right that whether they have asked to have their names removed isn’t our business—especially if you believe that you can somehow be a friend and not care what that friend does. If a friend is in trouble, you try to help them out—which means you are sticking your nose in their business.

    Of course there is a balance between when you should stick your nose in and when you shouldn’t. There is also better ways to do that and offensive ways to do that. But if you care you look for ways to find out how to help, even when they don’t want the help, without being patronizing or offensive. There is a balance to what to do and when to do it. I probably haven’t stated this well, but there is a balance to all this. Friendship is more than simply being friendly when we see someone. It does mean you care.

    In any case, I try to continue being friends with those I know who have left the church. I try to find ways to see them, talk with them and build the parts of our lives that we have in common that are outside of Church so that the void in our relationships that is where the Church was doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the relationship.

    Patience, prayer and working on the relationship. Beyond that, I don’t know what I can do.

  4. Adam G. on September 5, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Its the going thats distressful. Except in extreme cases, the manner of their going is comparatively a minor irritant.

    Same from our end.

  5. A. Nonny Mouse on September 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

    “The question has a sacred component–the matter of ordinances–and a mundane component–dealing with the numbers in the church: home and visiting teaching statistics and attendance percentages [fn1]. Somewhere in there money and labor enter the equation as well, in the form of lost tithes and offerings and volunteers to serve in callings.”

    Another component is the scriptural injunction that we as covenant members of the church have to keep track of those who have been baptized that we might be able to take care of them (cf. Moroni 6:4). I believe this is the principle reason why we can’t just purge membership lists easily. While they might not take their covenants seriously any more, and perhaps even we as members of the church don’t take their covenants as seriously as we should anymore because we desire to not have to have large lists of people who don’t consider themselves members of the church lying around, Heavenly Father and his Kingdom _do_ still take those covenants very seriously. And, as so often happens, He is waiting. Waiting for those Sons and Daughters of the covenant to come to their senses and turn around and come back.

    He has a lot of patience. And I think in asking us to keep track of these people who have no desire to be associated with us, and to remember them and attempt to take care of them, He is inviting us to learn to have the same patience with them that He has. And the true source of that patience comes from His perfect love for them.

  6. J on September 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I never know what the appropriate respons is given there’s no scripture for the sheep that considers itself to have found better pastures, the coin that does not want to be in the purse, or the prodigal children who do not yet realize where their decisions will lead.

    Once upon a time I was on splits and we were a door knocking. The missionary made a point of going to a house of a “less active” member. Where we were summarily chewed out for denying their wishes to not be contacted. My frustration was that the missionary was well aware that the request of no contact had been made, “But I was hoping the wife wouldn’t be home. The husband might be more sympathetic.” There are no good feelings fostered when another’s stated desire is violated.

  7. D. Michael Martindale on September 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Go with the “respect for their agency and personal revelation” thing and keep being their friend. Anything else just makes you an arrogant, judgmental twit.

  8. Peter V on September 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I agree that we don’t have to say goodbye as friends. If a friend’s conscience takes them down a different path we can maintain friendships.

    Of course, it is far more difficult if the leaver is inclined to want to argue and persuade others to abandon their faith.

  9. D. Michael Martindale on September 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Now that I’ve given my pithy response, let me get into more detail, and perhaps get a little personal:

    Don’t assume they stopped being involved because they sinned and lost the spirit. Even if it looks like they left to be able to “sin.” Most of the people I know who left did so because they genuinely decided the church’s claims weren’t valid, not because they longed to be reprobates. If they appear to be “sinning” afterward, according to the standards of the church, well duh! They no longer believe those standards are divinely inspired, so why would they keep following them? They’re finally choosing for themselves what standards they believe in, instead of having them dictated.

    That one’s for you, “faltering a little” Wilfried and “come to their senses” Nonny Mouse. Condescension will never help build friendship, and will be sniffed out a mile away. People who choose to leave don’t want you “taking care of them.”

    Maybe it’s not that they “cannot” live up to the Mormon lifestyle, but have simply decided there’s no point in living up to it anymore. Why sacrifice when you don’t believe the sacrifice means anything?

    If you naturally drift away from a friend because you never see them at church anymore, I guess you never were much of a friend to begin with. There’s more to friendship than meeting at church and jumping through the hoops together. This is for you, Kent. If you really were friends in the first place, you WOULD go out of your way to maintain the friendship. In fact, it wouldn’t feel like “going out of your way” at all.

    You never were friends. Just let it go.

    There certainly is scripture on how to deal with this situation, J. “Love thy neighbor” and “Judge not.” What more do you need to know?

    (P.S. Condescendingly feeling a religious obligation to “care for” or “save” these people is not love. Now if you genuinely just want to be friends, that’s cool.)

    The problem in all this lies in the utter “certainty” Mormons think they have that they are right, and leaving means you are doomed, so they have to save you. You want to believe you’re right? Cool! But respect the choice of others who believe otherwise. Treat them like people, not spiritual projects.

    It’s just not that hard to figure out.

  10. DavidH on September 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    My current and former LDS friends (and relatives) generally know my feelings about the Church and the significance of ordinances, and they know the teachings of the Church. They generally know I am a member because I perceive that is what God wants me to be. I respect their own conclusions for themselves about that matter. I would hope they would know that I hold them in the same regard whether they decide to stay or leave.

    True, if a person who is a friend purely or primarily through Church channels (e.g., same ward or stake) drops out by disengagement or disaffiliation, the frequency with which I would interact would likely decrease. But where interactions have roots in other connections (community, work, hobbies, other interests) the only change generally is a bit more care in conversations that may relate to the LDS church. The same is true for family members who disengage or disaffiliate.

  11. Bryan S. on September 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    “If you really were friends in the first place, you WOULD go out of your way to maintain the friendship. In fact, it wouldn’t feel like “going out of your way” at all.

    You never were friends. Just let it go.”

    I often hear this when talking about friends who have left the church. “If you were really friends then it wouldn’t matter”.

    I think this would only apply to best friends or super really close friends. Think of all the friends you had in college. Your roommates and people in your building. You hung out with them, spent time with them, and enjoyed their company. However, are you still in frequent contact with every single one of those people? Of course not. Does the fact that you don’t talk to them every day mean they weren’t your friend at the time? No, it just means they weren’t your absolute best friend.

    We all have friends through common ground. I have friends on my Ultimate Frisbee team that I spend time with 4 days a week. If I stopped playing Ultimate then I would not see them as much. Simple as that. Are they my friends? Yes. Are they my best friends that transcend our common activity of frisbee? Maybe one or two.

    Same with the church. Chances are we only have a small number of people we consider friends at church who will transcend the activity of seeing them at church. When that link is cut it makes things just a little bit more difficult. Especially if it’s only one person reaching out to maintain the friendship.

    So my point? There are different levels of friendships and I don’t agree with the argument, “Well you weren’t really friends then.”

  12. palerobber on September 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    i suggest that the church “decriminalize” resignation and re-baptism.

    what exactly do all the scare tactics, guilt tripping, and bureaucratic hurdles accomplish anyway? now if some sociopath is causing serious disruption or harm in their congregation then sure, excommunicate them and be careful about letting them back in. but it’s very odd to treat people who did nothing more than step away from the church for a bit in that same probationary manner.

  13. palerobber on September 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    …one more thing:

    a request for “do not contact” should be taken as a request for resignation (whereas the current Handbook specifically instructs leaders *not* to make this interpretation).

  14. Silhan on September 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    This is a timely post for me.

    I’ve more or less already decided to have my name removed from the Church. I no longer believe in its truth claims nor do I recognize its authority over me, but I’m struggling with how this change will be received by my family and friends who are still actively believing members themselves.

    When I was fully active in the Church, I felt much more uncomfortable around formerly active members than I did with those who had never joined the Church. In my mind, where much had been given, much was required, and I couldn’t condone, even passively, their disobedience to the covenants they had made.

    Obviously, I no longer see things that way anymore, but it’s hard for me to accept that believing members of the Church, especially my parents and siblings, will probably feel uncomfortable around me for the rest of my life.

  15. JT on September 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    D. – I agree with you that friendship should not stop when one decides to leave the church. However, here are my thoughts on the rest of your comment:

    1. You quote “judge not,” but then go on to blanketly attribute _thoughts_ (this is always dangerous ground) to an entire group of people. I have found that accusing someone of being judgemental is about as judgemental a thing one can do. (And yes, I realize I just accused myself.)

    2. “Most of the people I know who left did so because they genuinely decided the church’s claims weren’t valid.” This is always going to be a self-selecting group. If you actually go out and visit those who are not actively attending church (whether they are on the rolls or not), you will find a wide variety of reasons, some of which are similar to your observation but do not make up the majority.

    3. A person who truly understands what it means to be a Latter-day Saint, including its beliefs about covenants and the afterlife, will understand why it hurts a Latter-day Saint to see one of their loved-ones leave. I would agree with you if all of this was nothing more than “jumping through the hoops together.” But for Latter-days Saints, it’s not. This isn’t really all that hard to figure out either.

    4. Even though it hurts to see one leave, I always want to maintain our friendship. Unfortunately, in my experience with several individuals or families who have left and with only two exceptions, the ostracizing has been coming from their end. Suddenly they won’t return my calls, they stop socializing with my wife and me, and in some cases threaten legal action if anyone from church (whether in the capacity of a friend or not) tries to contact them. This also hurts.

  16. JT on September 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Clarification – the “two exceptions” from my 4th note in my last comment refer to individuals with whom I am still good friends (and does not refer to me being the ostracizer in those cases :)).

  17. Rhodes on September 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    A hint:
    If your 6-year-old is inviting their 6-year-old to come to church, then they are your spiritual project, not your friend. If they do not return your phone calls, it’s because they think you only value the friendship insofar as you can recruit their kids.

    My family has resigned. We had a few dinners since then with one family in the ward, and we went to each other’s kids’ birthday parties. It was awkward. And their kids were trying to recruit our kids. Eventually we just kinda forgot about each other. All of our lifelong friends are still great friends, even though most of them are believers.

  18. Adam G. on September 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Silhan is absolutely right on the psychological aspects. A divorce is more traumatic than turning down a date.

  19. J Town on September 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Good post. With good questions. I don’t know that I have great answers. But I have one, at the end of the below comments.

    In response to D. Michael Martindale:

    “They’re finally choosing for themselves what standards they believe in, instead of having them dictated.”

    [The implied accusation is that, previously, they were brainwashed.]

    The reality is that they were always choosing. They chose in the past to listen to certain people, which helped form their opinions. They are now choosing to listen to others (or, as they may perceive, no one) and forming different ones. The difference is solely in what, not whether, they are choosing.

    “You never were friends. Just let it go.”

    [The implied accusation is that you really don't care about people if they aren't members of your church or social group. If you were, you would be BFF's forever, no matter what.]

    The reality is that you have no idea if they were actually friends previously or not and in fact no one can know that with the exception of the people involved (and God.)

    ““Love thy neighbor” and “Judge not.” What more do you need to know?”

    [The implied accusation being that if you love someone and don't judge them, they can do whatever they like and you will have no problem with it.]

    We need to know a lot more, actually. And just once I’d love to see someone correctly reference the entire “judge not” passage of scripture(of which there are actually a few), complete with context and not just as a way of saying, in essence, “shut up and leave me alone, I do what I want.” I realize at this stage that it’s unlikely to happen, but a man can dream.

    “P.S. Condescendingly feeling a religious obligation to “care for” or “save” these people is not love. Now if you genuinely just want to be friends, that’s cool.)”

    [The implied (or in the case, explicit) accusation being that caring for someone is ok, except when motivated by religion in anyway, or when that caring impels you to want to help someone, then it's condescending and false.]

    True religion is genuinely caring for others and wanting to help them in any way that you can. That doesn’t mean that it’s ok to force anything upon anyone, but the desire itself is pure and noble. Do all those who practice religion observe this? Not necessarily. But neither does it mean that religion is inherently condescending and false.

    After viewing the above comments, it’s become apparent to me what my particular issue is with staying friends with those who leave the church.

    In my experience, invariably every conversation I have with former members of the church is very similar in sentiment to D. Michael’s comments above: accusatory toward religion in general and Mormonism in particular. The axe is always there to grind. There can never be a conversation in which you aren’t walking on eggshells and in which one or both parties aren’t defensive.

    If you bring up anything even semi-related to the church (which you will, even inadvertantly, most of the time if that’s where your focus is), you will immediately get a negative, even hostile, response or the person will disengage completely. If you purposefully avoid talking about anything church-related (which is very difficult), then you are not comfortable and the conversation is stilted and formal. Neither party is at ease and no one can be themselves and that isn’t a relationship most people want to be in.

  20. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    D. Michael (9), your “little personal” is really more a “little offensive,” isn’t it?

    I think you go to far in assuming that Wilfried, Nonny Mouse are condescending and that I am not trying to preserve my friendships. Surely there is a better way to suggest that we will, if we are truly friends, find ways to continue the friendship? I didn’t notice whatever you see as condescension on the part of Wilfried and Nonny Mouse, but how you expressed it sure seemed out of line.

    For the record, I didn’t even say that a friend leaving the Church would mean the end of my friendship with them. I only said that it is more difficult because I don’t see them as often.

    Under your model how many friends can an individual have? It has to be a very limited number because you have to go out of your way to see them all the time. Those acquaintances you see only when it is convenient aren’t real friends then, and if they disappear we should just blow them off, right? Don’t feel bad that so-and-so moved away. You aren’t willing to go visit them so you aren’t real friends, right?

    To be brutally honest, friendship isn’t as simple a concept as you are making it out to be. Relationships vary in strength, but just because I’m not strong friends with someone or because our friendship is based on church and we haven’t built up other aspects of the relationship doesn’t mean I won’t miss them when they are gone.

  21. Alison Moore Smith on September 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Kent, great comments on this thread.

    Naismith:

    Why do we have to say good-bye?

    I have a friend of a number of years — returned missionary, married in the temple, etc. — who left the church fairly recently. She is fun, bright, a great mom, and admirable in many ways.

    Unfortunately, she left the church shortly after her divorce and with some degree of bitterness. And she can’t let it go.

    We are friends on Facebook and for about a year after she left, almost every other multi-day status update was some snide remark about or jab at the church. It was constant mockery. After ignoring it for months, I just removed her updates from my feed.

    No, I didn’t say “goodbye” to her — and I didn’t “unfriend” her — but I know far less about what GOOD things happen in her life, because I just couldn’t stomach the animosity directed toward “my people” and the complete disrespect toward a church and principles I love. So, to an extent, I disassociated.

    Since she doesn’t live in the area anymore, FB was about the only regular contact we had with each other. Now we have almost none.

    Whenever my kids have troubles with friends, one thing I tell them is that you should make it EASY for someone else to be your friend. If you’re moody, bossy, pouty, obnoxious, overbearing, demanding, possessive, super reserved, etc., it forces the OTHER person to work really hard to be your friend. Sometimes, it’s just TOO hard and people— who have their own lives and issues to deal with — give up and make friends with people who aren’t so draining.

    I have lots of friends who are not LDS. But often ex-Mormons bring a dynamic to current Mormons that is difficult to circumvent. How hard one works to overcome such issues depends, as Kent addresses, on lots of things: time, resources, former level of friendship, other common interests, etc.

  22. Wilfried on September 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I apologize, D. Michael (9) for having given the impression to be condescending toward those who become inactive or leave the church. Usually I get criticized for being too lenient :) No, I did not want to imply inactives always “stopped being involved because they sinned” as you put it. I agree many people leave the church, not because they have problems with commandments, but with other issues.

    The point I tried to make for a group of inactives is the tension that “strong” members create for those who are perceived as not as strong. My sentence that some of us “chase people away out of uneasiness or guilt once they falter a little” is clarified by the reason that the rhetoric we hear at church is “filled with expectations, commitment and obedience”. That tends to discourage people who are made to feel they do not measure up, while they are still convinced the church is true.

    But it remains a dilemma: on the one hand the church has its rules, on the other hand we do not want to lose members over those rules. I explained that dilemma in my post Sacrifice and retention: An unsolvable dilemma?

  23. palerobber on September 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    as i was typing my previous comment about bookkeeper matters i found myself wondering WWJD regarding Rachel’s main question of “how do we say goodbye?”. so i looked in the NT and this was the most relevant passage i could find (though it’s from Paul, not Jesus)…

    2 John 1:9-11 (NIV)
    Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

  24. palerobber on September 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    …rather, bookkeeping matters.

  25. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    palerobber (23), this sounds to me like it is talking about apostates, those who are teaching “ahead.” Raymond Brown, in “The Epistles of John” (Anchor Bible) is explicit about this, saying that this section (v. 7-11) is a “Warning against the Antichrists and Their Teaching.”

    I don’t think the op is about apostates who are openly preaching against the Church as much as it is about those who have gone inactive or left the Church regardless of whether they are preaching against it. John’s (not Paul) advice would seem more pertinent only to those who were trying to persuade you to leave the church.

  26. Julia on September 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I have been thinking about this a lot. A good friend and I are working on a group of posts on this exact topic. (We both got the flu, one day apart, so they won’t start posting until the 14th of this month. You can find them on my blog poetrysansonions.blogspot.com if you are interested.)

    I am an active member, but I have not had an easy road. I consider myself someone who has wrestled with angels, and come out with a strong and abiding testimony because of those struggles. It also means that I often times feel a closeness with members who have had those same struggles, even if they did not come out of them with a testimony.

    Rachel is a former member, who considers herself to be a “post-Mormon.” She doesn’t try to convince me, or anyone else, to change their religious choices or opinions. She does talk openly about her own experiences, and her critique of events that are peculiarly Mormon. She really doesn’t want to convince anyone to follow her path if they aren’t sure. If someone is having a crisis of faith, she suggests they talk to me, because she considers me a better person to help someone find their faith, if they think they might want it back.

    The reason we started talking was because I appreciated her perspective and the insight she gave me into the reasons why she left, and how best to leave the door open for the future. It helped me understand a close childhood friend, and how best to let her know that any time she is ready, I am here. We have both come to have great respect for each other and enjoy our friendship. For a while I tried to be careful with the language I used on the phone and in emails. She noticed and sent me an email that essentially said, “Julia, stop being silly. Even when you try not to, you will always sound like a Mormon. It is okay. I can tell that when you say you be praying for me, it is because you care about me, not because you are trying to pray me back into the church.”

    That was an “Aha!” moment for me. We both love each other. When I complain about how frustrated I am being stuck at home, after back surgery, and that fast Sunday is the hardest day of the month for that, Rachel gets it. She gets that I miss being at church most when I could relate to other members, and be strengthened by their testimonies. She doesn’t miss it, but she knows why I would.

    When her family does things that are hurtful, I am there to support her, but also to ask her; Would they be doing this even if a difference of religion wasn’t a piece of their relationship? I understand that relationships with family are complicated. My siblings and I are all members of the church, but that doesn’t stop us having extremely painful dynamics. Many times the painful interaction she is struggling with does stem from her leaving the church. Either way, understanding that setting the right boundaries, she can help in creating a relationship that is healthier for her.

    Getting beyond the egg shells is a process that takes two. If the person leaving is too raw to hear any inflection that reminds them of being Mormon, then they are not at a point to accept the friendship of current members. If a current member is going to spend all their efforts on showing someone that they were wrong to leave and should come back, they aren’t ready to be friends with former members. In either case, there is nothing wrong with a person who can’t make a friendship between members and nonmembers work, just like there is nothing wrong if two people sitting next to each other in math class can’t be friends on the playground.

    Friendship between current and former members only becomes a problem when people who are not ready to build a friendship try to do it, and run all over the feelings and needs of the other person. Rachel and I talk about religion or the lack thereof, but more than 80% of our communication has nothing to do with religion, which is just about the same as most of my other LDS and non-LDS friends.

  27. Trevor on September 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve had a number of friends leave. The most challenging ones are those who seem like they had the same approach to Mormonism that I have right now.

    I try to treat those who leave with the same respect. I see angry, bitter Facebook posts non-stop from some of them, and it can be hard. (“How does this guy seriously think his family is going to react to that anti-religion rant? Really? What in the world is he trying to accomplish? Doesn’t he remember how he would’ve felt when he was a believer?”) Honestly, some people have dang good reasons for leaving.

    I think there is always some degree of irreconcilable rift. As one who tries to be a bridge builder between these two camps, I see a whole lot of needless antagonizing on each side, so I try to push back against it when I see it.

  28. Naismith on September 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Some good points, and of course not everyone makes it easy to remain friends.

    But I have come to the conclusion that we all have our own unique path that we take in the gospel and in the church, and it is not always black-or-white, in-or-out, but often a meandering mutlifaceted process.

    I know people who have attended every week for decades, sent their kids on missions, served faithfully–and later I found out that they themselves never were actually members, for various reasons.

    I’ve known people to go through a multi-year season of what some would term inactivity, and then they are called to serve as a bishop or high councilor, and do an outstanding job.

    I’ve known people who appear “active” to the casual observer and serve in leadership, but don’t feel comfortable with the temple for a season.

    Worrying about who is active or who is a member just strikes me as an exercise in frustration, that only provides a snapshot at one moment in their journey, anyway.

  29. BR on September 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    As a member who left and them returned to the church I would like to share my experience. Many years ago my wife and I chose to leave the church over a continued disagreement with our Bishop. We found a small protestant church where felt were much more cared for and loved the we had been in our LDS ward.

    We attended there for about two years them one Sunday in Sunday school the class was discussion the mystery of the Trinity. Something in my head wispered “this isn’t a mystery, you have been taught the truths of the gospel, and you know where the fullness of the gospel of Christ can be found”.

    A week later we recieved a call from our new Bishop who lovingly gave us the choice of having our names removed or coming back to church.

    We chose the latter. and even though I still feel we could learn a lot about careing and brotherly love from that small protestant church, I find that the bereaucracy, calling based friendships, and other irritations I find as a Latter-day saint are a small price to pay for having the fullness of the gospel of Christ.

    In short my point is that when someone chooses to leave the church, there is very little we can do as members except to be ready with open arms when the spirit tells them it’d time to return.

  30. YvonneS on September 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Having reared five children and until this year believed they were all active and faithful members of our church I found it extremely interesting. It wasn’t until I began to think about my aunts, uncles and cousins that I realized how many different kinds of people who are not interested in being active members of our church there are. I have realized that there are many different ways to leave the church. Each way brings something different to a relationship. A few months ago one of my children said the church was not true and never had been. It changed many things. This child is still mine and is loved. But, there is nothing I can do but pray and wait for time to make whatever changes this child chooses.

  31. Rachel Whipple on September 6, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Thanks for the kind discussion everyone. I tend to feel some sadness whenever a person I know leaves the Church; that’s because I know it can be hard to make that kind of change. For some people, emotional ties and perceived obligations hold them to the Church long after their testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel in general and the Church in particular have faded. I can understand letting go of those last ties that no longer feel uplifting and trying a different path. As Mormons, we tend to think of conversion as a one-way street, that people can come to our church and faith, but there is no reason that they would choose to leave. But we also believe that God speaks truth and gives light to men according to their understanding, and that He has done this throughout the world. Some may need to approach truth through these different paths. And if, like BR, they come back to us, they will enrich our understanding of what it means to live the gospel.

  32. Kent Larsen on September 6, 2012 at 9:45 am

    BR (29): “calling based friendships”

    Great term. I’ve not heard that one before.

  33. palerobber on September 6, 2012 at 11:06 am

    @Kent #25

    thanks for your helpful reply. i did overlook the context provided by verse 7.

  34. palerobber on September 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

    @AMS #21

    i’m sorry to hear of your bad experience with an insensitive post-mormon friend. as there are many believing posters on this board willing to acknowledge the problems in their religious culture, i feel i ought to do the same. though many post-mormons have legitimate reasons to feel bitter and/or angry towards the institutional church, there’s no excuse for expressing those feelings in an anti-social manner.

  35. Anon on September 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Allison #21

    Thank you for that post. I have family members who have recently left the Church. It is now more difficult for me to communicate with them, because they drive the agenda with their anti-Mormon rants, often going from a normal sane discussion on other things to rabid anger in mere seconds. I often try to understand why they left, I love them just the same, but I can’t rationalize their angry opposition to the Church.
    As I read their e-mails etc. to me I know that they came in contact with anti-Mormon literature, which we have been reluctant to address. We have recently become almost self-righteous in our acknowledgement of our history, but have not approached this in a really intelligent way. We have speakers going out and publicly acknowledging our whitewash of our past, and admitting that our critics are right, but we don’t offer any defense. This has been extremely damaging. To those who feel so disposed to speak on these issues and do not have answers stop it. You are as culpable for those who leave the Church as any enemy of the Church has been. You will be held accountable. I have seen the results of your firesides and can name at 150 people who have left the Church because of your “efforts”. And I am aiming this at BYU profs who do this.

  36. Rachel Whipple on September 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    We do need to have an honest and faithful acknowledgement of our history. I have found my own balance on this front, but I can’t assume that it would be the best place for everyone. Yet, I will be held accountable for both my beliefs and how I communicate them with others. I can well understand why some people would be hesitant to share their testimonies and struggles, how they came to their point of balance, not because they are ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but because they may be misunderstood or their understanding doesn’t transfer well to all others. Yes, we will be held accountable, but the law of unintended consequences can make that a terrifying prospect. I’m not interesting in aiming the finger of judgment at anyone, including BYU professors who ride the fireside circuit. That kind of insult is too broad to be justified, and were it more specific, would likely be too uncivil for polite conversation.

  37. Anon on September 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    You are right, Rachel, but when it causes faithful people to get the wrong angle on the issue and turns them out, one can caught up in hyperbole. I use Elder Christopherson’s address in April conference as the new standard for giving firesides etc.

  38. Rachel Whipple on September 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Anon, how do you feel about the ideal of “inoculation” whereby saints are introduced to our history in a church or CES setting, even the hard and real aspects of it, instead of only relying on publications like “True to the Faith” that may leave a faithful saint blindsided when they do finally come upon our history from less charitable sources?

  39. Anon on September 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

    “Innoculation” also implies “do no harm”. Where reasonable and rational explanations do not attend the revelation of past mistakes, then the hearers do turn to less charitable sources to learn what we have neglected. They have no other sources.

  40. Kent Larsen on September 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Anon, I don’t think your observation clearly indicates where you stand.

    But let me make a comment: Every inoculation carries a certain risk to it. This is true for a number of reasons, such as the fact that some are allergic to something in the drug. But the risks are minimized in comparison to the potential harm that catching the disease has and how easy it is to catch the disease.

    Seems to me that inoculation is exactly the right word to use. Sure it carries some risk. But, if the information is presented correctly, it should have a much lower risk of harm than letting members come across information in an anti-mormon setting, and given that the Internet today has increased the frequency that members come across less charitable sources, it is necessary, IMO.

  41. Bob on September 8, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    #40 Kent,
    I have never known what is meant by “inoculation”. Or, what is the “disease”? Why not just say the truth of the things.

  42. Jo on September 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    First, #9, thank you! Second, #14, you are living my past three years. I haven’t had my name removed, nor those of my family because it is difficult to take that step. I still respect the church and enjoy keeping in touch with what is going on, hence my visits to this site. My parents are inactive members and my sisters are very active. My brothers do not attend, though their names are still on record.

    But, I can testify that I have not “faltered” nor do I need to “come to my senses.” My children grew up with friends in the church, who, when we left, were no longer allowed to come to our home. My children were no longer invited to their home. These are people we spent holidays and birthdays with. This is a conversation I had to have with my young children. An uncle died and my parents would not speak to me at his funeral. A good friend is watching his mother slowly fade as a hospice patient. He remarked to me how because of their temple sealing he knows they will be together again. Then he says to me, “I know you don’t believe that, but I do.” As though I don’t believe in family relationships beyond this life just because I attend a different church? How is that pleasing to the Lord?

    I now attend the Methodist church. The only person I feel judged by is the Lord…not the members. Shame on you for even having in your mind for one second that those who leave are a “project” or that Heavenly Father is “waiting” for me to come back. I never left Him and I testify that I feel His presence in my life as strongly now as I did when attending weekly devotionals at BYU for five years and devouring the latest Student Review. I pray that mine is not the reality of what most who leave the church experience.

    I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ, His Son, died for me so that I can live with Him again after this life. I know that He loves me and my family and that our family unit is one that will continue to be strong after this life. I know that service to my fellow man is the greatest gift I can give Him. I am a Christian, not a great one, but I read my scriptures daily and pray daily. I still feed on His word and feel His spirit. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

  43. Anon on September 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Kent #40,

    It is true that I have been a little vague on this. The reason is that I have family members and friends who follow Times and Seasons, and I don’t want to say anything that might reveal the identity of the family members who have left the Church. I will say this. It was a result of BYU faculty member giving a fireside, probably to innoculate members about what is about to become a public debate. However, even with his best intentions, he did not elaborate on possible reasons why certain events occurred, why polygamy was instituted, or why some think (even in certain scholarly circles in the Church) that the Book of Abraham (and the facsimiles) should not be considered scripture.
    Since no reasonable explanation was given, there were at least 3 people (2 not related) who went to investigate out of curiosity these things they did not know. This led them to the internet and you can guess the rest.
    If we are to raise the issue, do we not have some moral obligation to at least understand the damage that will happen and do our level best to mitigat it. The idea that we can innoculate people and feel good about ourselves because we are out there broadcasting ahead of the storm seems a little self serving to me.
    You cannot imagine the e-mails I receive from those family members who havew left the Church and the quotes they use from the early brethern respecting events that occurred, that seem to tell a different story from the one we tell.
    Hugh Nibley, was to my mind, brilliant in his defense of the Church, and yet we get obscure BYU professors from time to time disagreeing with him and providing fodder for the enemy. Opinions from various Brethern are taken out of context and used against us. We have known this for decades and yet we let it pass without so much as a peep, other than in scholarly journals where few go to seek.
    We have now placed ourselves in an interesting position where we have cultural answers that don’t meet the facts. Our lesson material is, to put it bluntly, bland at best. There is the constant reminder to study the scriptures, which I fully support, and then nowhere to go to share ideas and thoughts on them because we have an agenda driven worship service that lasts 3 hours and no more. The first hour I am grateful for, the next two I could probably use more effectively “resting”, because it is always read from the manual, and I am assumed to be so dumb as not to have done that during the week.
    I am grateful to be a Latter-day Saint who has been blessed with a desire to search and understand, and have been rewarded in many, many ways. There are so many who are not blessed as I have been, and it is in defense of those members that I make my comments.
    We need to provide a companion magazine to the Ensign that can provide “real” answers to the problems that we face. We cannot afford to wait for General Conference to address these issues, because that is not what conference is about. We can’t wait for expensive research like the Joseph Smith Papers to be produced, which more and moremembers are going to find beyond their budget to afford.
    The magazine needs to be intelligent, forthright, and if need be, punishing in it’s assessment of past faults. We don’t have to be apologetic to justify something if it is a lie. We need to confront the issues honestly. We need to clarify that we are members of a living Church with a living prophet, who is not responsible for past faults, but deals in the here and now with respect to us today.
    I feel like I have rambled too long, but I hope there is no ambiguity in my response this time, Kent. Thank you for your comment.

  44. Kent Larsen on September 10, 2012 at 8:36 am

    anon, I understand your fears. But I think you are really arguing FOR inoculation, but wanting more care in preparing HOW inoculation happens.

    In medicine, the ideal is a vaccination that, for example, protects 90+% of those inoculated while causing illness in a small fraction of 1% of those vaccinated. I think a similar result would be ideal among Church members.

    But, even in medicine, such rates are not always possible. For example, as I understand it, the only vaccine for Tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine, in some circumstances only provides protection about 60% of the time (it still causes very little illness) while making one of the prime tools for identifying those exposed to TB, the ppd test, ineffective, and as a result it is widely used in the rest of the world but not used at all in the U.S.

    I think that when it comes to the gospel, it is very difficult to get a “vaccine” that is ideal — that is highly effective while causing little disease. It is also VERY difficult to control who is inoculated and when. Clearly, care is warranted when attempting an inoculation.

    Still, like with medical inoculation, you have to weigh that use against the alternative—what happens if they haven’t been inoculated. Unfortunately, the rise of the Internet means that it is much easier than it ever was to run into descriptions of facts about Mormon history that are designed to confuse Church members.

    A good example, I think, is the spurious claim that Joseph Smith was a pedophile. I’ve seen it crop up in many public discussions of the many news stories that have discussed Mormonism during this “Mormon Moment.” Its so frequent that I wonder how most members handle it, if they aren’t familiar with the basis for the claim and how it is unfair.

    Perhaps the only objective way to answer this question is simply to try and measure how much of a problem claims like this occur and how much damage these claims do versus what kind of inoculation might help and how to apply it. Unfortunately, unlike with medical vaccines, we don’t really have any easy, moral way to do controlled experiments to measure and test ways of inoculating members.

    I hope you can agree that the whole question isn’t easy.

  45. Rob on September 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    This is a question I’ve really struggled with myself–not the membership records part, but how we relate to those whom we love but no longer share a common faith with. Those who become virulently anti-Mormon upon leaving the faith are an easy call for me; I recently had to de-friend someone on facebook following what I thought was some rather obnoxious behavior.

    In situations where friends leave the Church but aren’t belligerent towards those who remain, I think the story of Alma’s reunion with the sons of Mosiah have application:

    “…therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord…” (Alma 17:2)

    Are we to infer that, had the sons of Mosiah NOT remained in the faith (despite having seen an angel, mind you) that Alma would have still been happy to see them anyway? This is the approach my mission president seems to have taken; on the facebook invite for our upcoming reunion, missionaries are asked to “please spread the word and drop by, whatever your current lifestyle.”

  46. Suleiman on September 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    We so often worry about divisions of faith, but are not divisions of political ideology, cultural worldview and economics nearly as destructive to our friendships and our Zion-like unity?

  47. Brian on September 16, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I feel grateful for the way in which my ward has handled my leaving. I asked official visitors to stay away and they have. My LDS friends are still my friends, but I find myself gravitating to non-members because the LDS people are so engulfed in church activities and that is not something I want to do. As sad as it is, there is a gradual fading away of most of the friendships. We still have a handful of member friends that we do things with.

    There have been a few who have written letters or worse have come to see me in person to set me straight. I just chalked it up to the same zealotry I would find in other churches. A few people that just don’t know where to draw the line.