Do people leave the church for greener grass?
I was just reading a fascinating new post at Times & Seasons — Wanted: Greener Grass.
I won’t lie; part of what amused me was the link to a study of children’s drawings that captured their preconceived notions of what kind of person a scientist is (with implications as to the gender stereotypes harbored by boys and girls and how mutable those stereotypes are after experience with actual scientists.)
But that wasn’t all. Of course, Dane’s own article was interesting because of its hypothesis about (some of) those who leave the church and its comparison and contrast of the respective ideological “pastures” or “lawns” of groups quite ideologically distinct from the church.
(As an aside, one thing I appreciated about Dane’s article is that he admits early: whatever his hypotheses about why he thinks some people might leave the church, he doesn’t know why. I think this kind of humility is commendable [and good for both sides of the fence].)
Structurally, Dane’s article is concise. Why might people leave? To get to greener grass. What can we do with that? Analyze whether the grass within the LDS church really is all that brown and patchy, or whether the grass outside of the LDS church is far richer or greener in comparison. Conclusion? The second part (at least) is not the case, because interestingly enough, we can find some of the same points of discomfort (poor attitudes regarding intellectuals, gays, women, artists, etc.,) within groups that are drastically different from the church (like the communist Chinese government). A human problem, not a Mormon problem.
I think that there are plenty of examples that do show stunning insensitivity, intolerance, or oppression outside of the church, so without going too far deeper into the nuances and plausible objections, I might be willing to concede that point.
However, I haven’t addressed the first part of the question. Just because the grass on the other side isn’t all that greener, does that mean all the grass is green? Or can’t all the grass be brown and patchy? I guess our mileage will vary here, but I suppose that the people who have issues regarding race, the precarious treatment of intellectuals, feminists, and gay people, and so on in the church also see and have issues with those same things elsewhere in the world. I imagine that if they are not direct activists for change within the church, then they are activists for change somewhere else or in some other fashion.
…but here’s the clincher that I don’t think is addressed. With the church, we have an entity that claims divine revelation, inspired leadership, a plan of salvation and happiness, and the fulness of the Gospel. For the church to be “on par” with the rest of the world — which we are led to believe is wayward, sinful, in need of our message — this is not comforting or easy to square away.
I know that for me, it was tough to try to align doctrinal expectations of a grand creation, a caring force within the universe, the true path via divine revelation and the restored Gospel, and so forth, with a creation that apparently was not all that grand, a universe that apparently was uncaring — if not hostile — and a pathway of revelation that apparently was just as mundane and laden with misdirection as everyone else’s supposedly false or misguided paths.
So, leaving wasn’t so much about finding greener grass, but in realizing that there wasn’t much difference in the grasses at all.
I know people say: “The church is true, but the people are not,” but it seems to me that the only way I can interface and interact with the church is through people. Corporations may be legal persons according to the Supreme Court, but I suspect that if the entire C-suite, the entire board of directors, the entire group of shareholders, and all other people jumped ship, the corporation would not survive.
When people have suggested that I (or anyone else) lighten up on the church…that I take it less seriously…that I stop expecting so much from it…I point out that I am doing that. By not accepting the church as the source of grand and ultimate truth. Understanding that the church is like any other human enterprise is refreshing not because it reveals greener grass elsewhere, but because it offers a way out of our panic from seeing that the church’s grass isn’t all that green.
(And I’ll note that none of this even *touches* other pressing questions, such as the historicity of various scriptures and whatnot.)