We each have our reasons for staying or leaving

I posted this elsewhere not too long ago, and it seemed to get positive feedback, so I thought I would share this experience here and get your thoughts about it.

During a conversation with my wife in the car after meeting some fantastic believing/disaffected couples for dinner last week, I realized something that has somehow completely eluded me until now. My wife and I approach the church very differently because it has fulfilled completely different needs for each of us.

I joined the church as an adult convert ten years ago. Previous to that, I had many deeply spiritual experiences as a Christian, but not in the LDS church. I did not join the LDS church because I felt anything special, or because I felt it met any particular spiritual or emotional need I had. If anything, I found the LDS style of worship definitely lacking in the profound spiritual feelings department.

Instead, I joined the LDS church because, based on my investigation, I believed it was true. Many of the beliefs made a lot of sense to me, and as I read much of the material that has been written about the LDS church, both pro and con, I believed I had found something that fulfilled prophecy and had the true gospel. Or at least something as close to such a thing as I was likely to find.

Consequently, as I have reexamined my assumptions and my beliefs over the past few years, I found it easy to disconnect from the church emotionally once I no longer believed in it intellectually. After all, I did not join for the emotional, spiritual, or social aspects of the church. I joined the LDS church because it made sense. Once it no longer made sense, I had no reason to hold onto it, and I let go almost immediately.

My wife, on the other hand, still enjoys being a part of the community and enjoys the good feelings she experiences when she goes to church. As she has learned more about the historical or doctrinal problems in the church, I have sometimes been confused as to why many things don’t seem to bother her as much as they bother me.

But last week I realized that she did not join or stay in the church primarily for intellectual reasons. It doesn’t matter as much to her whether everything makes sense in a rational way, or whether there are problems with the history or doctrine. Those are not her reasons for being there. She feels spiritually connected in the LDS church, in the same way I felt as a Christian before I joined it. That’s why I look back on those times with fondness, and that’s why she stays in the LDS church today. Whether it’s true or not has little bearing on that.

I think a lot of us disaffected folks approach the church in the same way I’ve described my own approach. We see it as failing the test of truth, and therefore try to distance ourselves from it. That’s certainly a valid way of dealing with it. But I realized that there are other reasons people might reasonably choose to stay despite the problems, and I think that’s fine too. After all, I think just about everyone needs something spiritually fulfilling (note I did not say religious or supernatural). While I personally do not find that in the LDS church, and I never have, some people do. And that’s why my wife probably will never have the same problems with the church that I do, and that’s okay.

Now if only we could get the warm fuzzies without the authoritarianism, life would be golden!

11 thoughts on “We each have our reasons for staying or leaving

  1. I’ve never heard anyone echo my feelings for converting. I’ve tried to explain to so many people, in so many ways, that I converted intellectually, because the Church’s teachings “made sense,” all the pieces falling together neatly. Nobody has ever seemed to understand how that could be. Ardent members don’t understand how such a “golden” convert could have joined, and then left, so dispassionately; non-believers or ex-members don’t understand how anything about the religion could “make sense” intellectually. It feels kind of amazing to have my own experience validated.

  2. I agree. I converted in my teens and I believed what the missionaries told me was completely true. Some things didn’t make sense and weren’t easy practices to live by, but if it was true and if it was what God himself wanted then I was willing to do it.

    I was a very devoted member up until only a few months ago. It was while preparing for a lesson about pioneer history that I stumbled across some websites that led me to the truth about early church history, the true nature of polygamy, Book of Abraham, etc.

    This was the deal breaker for me. It didn’t matter if I felt good while being there, if I had lots of Mormon friends who would be disappointed in me..none of it mattered but my own integrity. I could not be part of an organization that told me such deceptive lies. They purported to give me answers to my burning questions and I believed them. Where did I come from? What is my purpose in life? Who is God? What do I do to get to Heaven? on and on and on. When I found out the answers were not true, the deal was off. No looking back. I resigned from the church in September 2009. The rest is history.

    I still believe in God but I have my own form of spirituality. It doesn’t cost any money and there are no strict rules other than being a good person and treating others with respect.

  3. Ive never heard anyone echo my feelings for converting. Ive tried to explain to so many people, in so many ways, that I converted intellectually, because the Churchs teachings made sense, all the pieces falling together neatly.

    That was a big part of why I joined too (at age 20). I also had what I believed to be spiritual experiences and so on, but the way the church’s theology “worked” was very important to me.

  4. I think you nailed it on the head! One reason the missionary program has such a focus on feelings, in my opinion, is so that people “feel” they are turning their back on God if they begin to find the intellectual flaws. My father asked me a while back why I can’t just “chose to believe.” I think it is awesome that though you may not “believe” the same as your wife, you both can still find common ground on which to focus.

  5. Excellent story and analysis!!

    As I’ve said many times (most recently here), the thing I love about the Internet is learning about the range of different experiences people have had with Mormonism. Whether you’re on the believers side or the non-believer’s side, there’s a tendency to assume that the folks on your side had essentially the same experience as yourself, and that the other side is well-represented by whichever person there behaved most loutishly. 😉 It’s great to have the opportunity to expand our picture a bit.

    non-believers or ex-members dont understand how anything about the religion could make sense intellectually.

    It’s my understanding that — back in Joseph Smith’s day — the fact that the LDS gospel made sense intellectually was a huge draw. It answered important questions of the day and corrected points that people then saw as flaws in Christianity. The situation isn’t quite the same today, but I don’t think it’s crazy (or incomprehensible) that some people would still be drawn to Mormonism for that reason.

  6. Funny, for me it’s been logic and intellect forcing my conclusion that it’s true. And I’m currently looking for a more meaningful and emotional re-connection with God.

    And this is after being confronted with all the other information that others leave over.

  7. Chandelle, I take that as a great compliment. I’m glad our experiences are able to validate each other. For all the emphasis on feelings in the LDS church, it’s taken me a long time to realize that for me it was hardly about feelings at all.

    Seth, I think that’s awesome. I also knew about pretty much all of the historical and doctrinal issues before I was baptized. I was an investigator who actually did a lot of investigation. FARMS and particularly Jeff Lindsay’s work helped me get to a point where I felt everything made sense. For people like you (and me, back then) who feel that the LDS gospel satisfies their intellectual rigor, I say kudos.

    Since then, I’ve taken another look at their work and it doesn’t satisfy me as it once did. I think one big difference is that before I was baptized, I really wanted the LDS gospel to be true (for several reasons – that’s a story in itself). Nowadays, I don’t have a strong desire about it one way or the other. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between then and now, and that’s the main one I’ve been able to come up with.

  8. I grew up in the church, but I had social difficulties as a child and found church frustrating much like I found school (boredom, unwanted expectations, etc.). In my late teens I became much more engaged in the church because I thought it had valid explanations for life’s questions. I became nearly obsessed with it. Then in graduate school my faith collapsed when I recognized the logical errors in my belief structure. I tried to remain active as a non-believer because I wanted a spiritial community. But I had nothing in common with the rigid, leader-worshipping views of nearly all the members. So I dropped out. Mormons fail to realize that the church’s strength is in its people, not in its history, its leaders, or its “priesthood.”

  9. Good to meet you, Tim. I have been thinking along the same line. The strength of the Mormon church are its members.

    That’s the cornerstone for any reform efforts to overcome the atrophy that has been creeping into the church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *