HOW TO STAY
IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
AFTER A MAJOR CHALLENGE TO YOUR FAITH
A revised and updated version of the original article written by John P. Dehlin*
Current Authors: Brian Johnston and StayLDS.com
© Open Stories Foundation, 2010
If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they
love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to
you. That's what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount
somebody's liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea
of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. ...
think you'd be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are
members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its
origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed
to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we're not
going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we
would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps
of conviction. ... We would say: ‘This is the way I see it, and this is
the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I'm going forward. If
I can help you work toward that I'd be glad to, but I don't love you
less; I don't distance you more; I don't say you're unacceptable to me
as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can't make that step
or move to the beat of that drum.’ ... We really don't want to sound
smug. We don't want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.
are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of
Mormon, and they are firmly in this church -- firmly, in their mind, in
this church -- and the church isn't going to take action against that.
[The church] probably will be genuinely disappointed, but there isn't
going to be action against that, not until it starts to be advocacy:
‘Not only do I disbelieve in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I
want you to disbelieve.’ At that point, we're going to have a
conversation. A little of that is more tolerated than I think a lot of
people think it should be. But I think we want to be tolerant any way
we can. ... ‘Patient’ maybe is a better word than ‘tolerant.’ We want
to be patient and charitable to the extent that we can, but there is a
degree beyond which we can't go. ..."
-Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, LDS Apostle, PBS Interview, March, 2006
FOREWARD AND DISCLAIMER
essay is intended for LDS Church members who encountered a major trial
of their faith, are contemplating leaving the church, and are trying to
figure out what options for church engagement are still available to
them given their circumstances. In our experience, the two most obvious
options for folks in this situation are either: 1) Remain a
traditional, literalist, conservative member, or 2) Leave the church
altogether, either formally by resigning or informally by "going
inactive." The problem is that staying as-is seems impossible to
tolerate, and leaving complicates life with the possibility of
consequences and regrets.
While we fully support those who
choose orthodoxy, we continue to strive to understand those who feel
the need to leave. We write this essay to let people know there
can also be a middle way within Mormonism that lies between orthodox,
literalistic observance and complete abandonment.
This essay explores approaches to navigating a middle way within Mormonism.
you are completely content with your membership in the LDS Church, or
if you have left the church peacefully feeling no desire to return,
this essay is not for you.
If there is any text in this essay
that comes across as highly offensive to believing church members, or
that could be worded better, please do not hesitate to email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org with suggested corrections. The same goes for
those who decided to leave the church. Feel free to let us know
how we can change this document to promote acceptance and understanding
for your decision. Please keep in mind though that this document
is primarily created to serve the needs of those who are struggling to
find new ways of experiencing a space in between the two options of
traditional belief and leaving.
Important Note to the Users of this Document:
path within Mormonism is somewhere between complete, literal belief and
leaving the church. This is not an easy direction to
travel. In order to successfully navigate this path, a person
must generally let go of their dependence on validation from family,
friends and other members of their ward. While that ideal may not
sound difficult, we find that it is for a great many people.
of the difficulty of this path, we want to emphasize that you should go
this direction only if you feel a deep personal desire to make the LDS
Church work for you. There are two key ingredients to staying in
the church: you have to like it, and you have to believe in
it. If you do not like being a part of the church, this article’s
suggestions will probably not change anything. Your religious
life should bring you value and satisfaction. It should do
something positive for you. If you like being a part of the
church, but have trouble believing in it the way you used to, in a more
literal way, then the suggestions in this article might be helpful.
decision to pursue middle-way Mormonism has to come from you, and you
are not a failure if this alternative does not bring you the peace and
satisfaction you deserve. This can not be a path that is forced
on another person for the convenience of traditional, faithful
members. For example, we do not recommend that a faithful LDS
member pressure their doubting spouse to travel this road, to force it
as a condition of their relationship. We have not seen that as
productive in our experience. It tends to make marriage problems
worse. If you do enjoy participation in the church, and find it a
valuable part of your religious and spiritual life, this article might
provide useful suggestions on how to change your perspectives to find a
new, alternative faith in the Mormon belief system. Some of us
find that we actually enjoy our participation much more after making
is some important information about the authors and contributors to
this document, who we are, what we represent, and what we are trying to
is not affiliated with any group or movement. We are not "Middle-way
Mormons", inactive Mormons, apostate Mormons, or anti-Mormons. We are
Latter-Day Saints with a desire to support other LDS members with real
faith issues, with a hope to encourage active involvement in the
church, and not to attack the church or its leaders. We have no
agenda to organize any types of groups to promote changes to the
church. It is about individual growth and support. All are
welcome to join the conversation in an uplifting and positive
- We do not represent the LDS Church in any official capacity.
are in full support of those who maintain traditional LDS beliefs and
who fully comply with traditional LDS teachings and practices. These
types of members are clearly the backbone of the church. Without
them, the church would weaken - to our collective detriment. We fully
and enthusiastically encourage all those who want to remain orthodox
LDS to continue doing so.
- We are not out to gain converts to
alternative approaches or organizations in any way, shape or form. Our
only objective is to help those who are seriously contemplating leaving
the church to consider different perspectives before making that
- We are in many ways traditional members ourselves,
both in practice and in belief. For the most part, we are fully active,
temple-recommend-holding members of the LDS Church.
- We are not
in any way trying to encourage LDS Church members to disobey their
leaders or to slacken their obedience to the church. Again this essay
is written exclusively for those who are close to abandoning the church
and who are in need of a radically restructured framework in order to
try and remain a part of it.
*As an important point of
clarification, John Dehlin is no longer involved in maintaining and
promoting this article. He still believes in the possibility of
living a middle-way within Mormonism, but he no longer promotes it as the single
best answer to a crisis of faith. It is one of many possible
resolutions. We agree. John has handed the project over to
Brian Johnston, and the people who run StayLDS.com, and allowed us to
use his previous material to continue developing the concept and
are huge social and spiritual costs to walking away from one's
heritage and belief system. We recognize that difficult price.
For some, it is better to leave and move on. For some of
us, it is better to stay. Seldom in life is there a perfect
solution. But finding a way to stay avoids many of those
heavy costs. Staying requires us to reconcile our changes in
understanding and belief with new perspectives on church
participation. When someone becomes disaffected from the LDS
Church, it is quite common for them to be accused of lacking faith and
commitment. It is also common for them to be accused of grave sin or
disobedience to church teachings. Our experience tells us these
accusations are not the case for those motivated enough to read a
document like this one, to contemplate the meaning of their
disaffection, and to seek out alternatives. We have communicated
with over 2,000 disaffected Mormons over the past several years.
It has been our experience that most disaffected LDS Church members
were "guilty," if anything, of caring too much about the church, not
caring too little.
The Motivation to Stay: Why Bother?
people struggle with the complexity of crafting an approach to church
that feels right to them. The difficulty of maintaining their
convictions when the tide of the church community seems to be moving in
another direction is a burden. It can cause stress and internal
dissonance. Many say, "Why bother?" This document attempts to
address an answer to this question. Not only do we try to make a
case for bothering to try, but we also present practical advice on
how to go about doing it. Our ideas and practical advice come
from others who have made the attempt with varying degrees of
What Happened to You
receive several emails and other forms of personal stories every week
recounting basically the same story -- your story. You are not
alone. For reasons both natural and spiritual, some of us are
“wired” to go this route. It is part of who you are - part of how
God made you. Here are the most common stories we hear from
people and their journey into questioning the assumptions and
expectations of their faith.
Over time one of several experiences listed in the following sections, or a combination thereof, happened to you.
Caring too Much, not too Little
some point in adolescence or adulthood, you became very serious about
Mormonism. You were likely among the most committed, devout, observant
church members in your family or peer group. You held a literalistic
view of LDS doctrine, took past and present statements by LDS General
Authorities seriously, and perhaps even went a bit overboard in your
level of church service. You might have burned out doing too
much, encountered too many contradictory priorities or zealously and
honestly “studied your way out of the church.”
Stumbled Upon Difficult Church History
life event caused you to increase your study of LDS Church
history. Perhaps you were challenged by a friend or acquaintance
about an article of church doctrine. Maybe you were called into a
teaching position, or some life event caused you to want to know more
about history. You decided to research your new interest fully to
understand. As you began studying on the Internet or in books,
you became overwhelmingly disenchanted by the chasm between what you
were now learning and the version of history and doctrine you were
taught all your life within the church. What you learned in your
new found studies did not meet your expectations. Some of the topics
likely included: Joseph Smith's treasure digging and subsequent use of
a "peep stone in a hat" to dictate the Book of Mormon, issues
surrounding the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, Joseph's polygamy
and polyandry, the connection between the Masonic lodge rituals and the
LDS temple ceremony, the historicity issues surrounding the Book of
Mormon, the events surrounding Joseph's martyrdom, the treatment of
blacks, women and dissenters within the church, etc.
Surprisingly, your primary sources of study were not anti-Mormon
literature. They were very likely to have been taken from
church-published speeches, books, articles, and first-hand journals of
faithful, devout members (usually general authorities).
You Never Received the Witness
spite of your high level of devotion to the church, in your heart, you
were never completely comfortable saying, "I know the church is true."
At some point, you decided to try really, really hard to receive a
concrete witness as to the "truthfulness" of the church.
Unfortunately, and not from a lack of being “worthy” or lacking effort,
you emerged spiritually empty-handed. Moroni's promise simply didn't
come true for you, even though you tried again and again.
You Became Confused About the Difference Between “The Spirit” and Emotion
your membership in the church, you had been taught to equate strong
emotional experiences with Mormon-centered manifestations of the Holy
Ghost. At some point along the way, you had a deeply moving emotional
or spiritual experience outside the context of Mormonism. This
experience might have happened when you were watching a profound but
fictional movie or reading a great book. It could have happened when
you visited a war memorial or while attending another church. You then
began to question what the difference was between a Mormon-style
spiritual confirmation of "truth," and a basic, human emotional
You Met Some Amazingly Righteous Non-Mormons
gained significant exposure to some incredibly moral
and spiritually inspiring non-LDS people. Perhaps they even
claimed to have had the same type of spiritual "truth" assurances that
you did about their own belief system. They seemed to live a more
transcendent life than most of the LDS people you knew -- including
yourself. After much contemplation, it did not feel right to simply
discard their beliefs and lifestyle as invalid or inferior while
continuing to hold your own up as divinely superior.
You Did the Math on the Number of LDS Worldwide, and Throughout Time
finally did the math, and realized that active members of the LDS
Church represent less than .005 percent of the world's total population
today, and even less than that throughout history. Moreover, as you
pondered your assumptions about an all-powerful and all-loving God, you
began to question the incredibly small, but exclusively true, church or
"God's franchise" concept. An overwhelming number of God's
children, for all intents and purposes, have been excluded from "the
franchise" during their lifetime. It did not seem to make sense.
Could God truly be that inefficient or ineffective? This lifetime was
His plan after all. Also, were so many of His children so fallen or
incompetent to not merit the gospel in their lives? If we are His
offspring and made in His image, what does that say about Him?
These thoughts made you question the fundamental “truth” of LDS
Church teachings called the “Plan of Salvation.”
Political Differences with Church Leadership
major life event, usually involving yourself or a loved one,
awakened you to the plight of the "culturally disenfranchised" or the
"other" within Mormonism: women, homosexuals, single people, the
divorced, intellectuals, part-member families, disfellowshipped or
excommunicated members, etc. As you pondered their inadequate status
within what you believed to be God's one and only true church, which
purports to be based on the teachings of Christ, you began to feel
Not Feeling Inspired in Church
slowly realized over time that you were simply not being spiritually
nourished to your satisfaction during regular church or temple service.
The church began to feel spiritually empty for you, maybe even
spiritually damaging or destructive.
Trying to "Un-Mormon" Yourself
you traveled down this shocking road of discovery, you began to feel as
though the framework for your entire world was falling apart. Your
family relationships, your friendships, your code of ethics, even your
identity -- virtually everything about you was anchored in Mormonism.
Where could you go from here?
Because you had been taught to
view Mormonism and the world in a binary fashion, as either
completely true or completely false, your immediate inclination was to
declare the LDS Church "false" and fraudulent. The next
logical step was to abandon it completely. However, there was still a
great deal that you loved about the Church. Abandoning it did not
feel quite right either.
In our experience, for someone who
has reached your level of commitment and devotion to the LDS Church, it
is almost impossible to simply "un-Mormon" yourself. As we mentioned
before, your entire identity, moral code, sense of spirituality, family
and social structures, and even framework for life have been built upon
the foundation of Mormonism. It is the same for us. Mormon is
simply who we are. This is our tribe, our people. We are Mormons
through and through. We could in theory leave the church, but we
could probably never, as they say, leave it alone.
if you are like us, you may find the task of trying to comprehensively
extricate yourself from Mormonism as comparable to trying to remove the
wooden frame from a standing house and then expecting the house to
remain in good stead. It is likely impossible to do so in any
constructive manner. Think for a moment about what it would take
to completely eliminate Mormonism from your life -- the identity, the
community, the familial expectations, etc. For many, it is akin to
completely ripping their life apart - piece by piece - until there is
For many but not all, this reason alone is compelling motivation to consider finding a way to stay within Mormonism.
Other Reasons to Stay
we could write an entire book on the many benefits of LDS Church
membership, let us share with you a few of them. The people we
talk to have experienced many of these:
LDS Church provides a forum for nurturing spirituality. No matter how
rhetorically persuasive folks like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and
Christopher Hitchens are, we remain convinced that science and secular
humanism alone do not hold all of the answers for humanity. Humans
innately crave a sense of mystery, wonder and spirituality. Without it,
they often cease to feel motivated to continue striving for truth,
beauty, justice and excellence. We acknowledge that neither religion
generally, nor Mormonism specifically, hold a monopoly on spirituality.
But in our experience, the LDS Church is one viable place to find
spiritual experiences. We heavily recommend supplementation --
more on this later. Community
humans exist and find meaning largely through our relationships with
other people. No woman or man is an island. Strong social bonds are
irreplaceable for healthy living, and the LDS Church provides community
like few other organizations in the world. As most of you will
acknowledge, a well-functioning LDS ward does an amazingly good job at
helping large groups of people build meaningful, enduring relationships
in a relatively short period of time. If you cut yourself off from the
LDS Church without finding some type of social replacement, you risk
isolation, which can easily lead to sadness and even depression. Family
of you have very close LDS ties within your immediate family. While
family ties should theoretically transcend all others (church
included), this attitude is rarely the case within an LDS context. In
fact, Christ himself taught that he had come to divide husband from
wife, father from son. Consequently, the decision to leave the LDS
Church can result in divorce and in estrangement from parents, siblings
and children. In many instances, the long-term familial collateral
damage caused by leaving the church far outweighs the benefits of
leaving, especially if you can find a viable way to stay in the church
without going mad. We will discuss more on this later as well. Children
it or not, it takes a village to raise a child. The LDS Church
has proven for many to be a fabulous place to raise children,
though we are fully aware there are exceptions to this rule. Clean Living
LDS Church serves as a strong advocate for clean living, family focus,
and Christ-like community service. We acknowledge that the church
doesn't always live up to the standards it sets. But in our
experience, sincere, devout Mormons are consistently identified
worldwide as living generally honorable, compassionate, respectable
lives. At their core, and in spite of all their idiosyncrasies, Mormons
are good people. You, we, and many others in the world have genuinely
benefited from association with LDS church members. In addition,
we generally acknowledge our own personal weakness and frailty as
humans. Many benefit from the encouragement and support the
church can provide to avoid alcohol, tobacco, pornography, adultery,
financial debt, materialism, cynicism, etc. This type of
social environment and encouragement is extremely valuable to us and to
our families. Some Undeniable Good Within
for those who can no longer believe in the exclusive truthfulness of
the LDS Church, it would not feel right to completely deny the presence
of inspiration and divinity within. Whether it was a special moment
during a General Conference talk, a missionary experience, or a quiet
moment studying the Book of Mormon, you may have likely felt
inspiration and divinity within the LDS Church at some point. It
would feel dishonest to completely deny that now for those of us
that had those experiences. Maybe One of the Best There is
ex-LDS find happiness in other churches. But this experience is often
. Many of us, after becoming disillusioned with the LDS
church, began "church shopping" to try and find a better church.
This shopping includes visits to Unitarian, Presbyterian,
Episcopalian, Catholic and other churches. Unfortunately, none of
these churches ultimately felt like home to us. We have not been
able to find a better church or organization for us and our families
than the LDS church -- warts and all. In our experience, all
churches and organizations are a mixed bag of good and bad.
Consequently, each must decide what the optimal cost/benefit is
for self and family. For us, and perhaps for many of you, the overall
best choice is to stay where we are.Some of the Doctrine
members who find themselves doubting the claims of exclusive and
absolute truth in the LDS Church, some Mormon-specific
doctrines still hold deep meaning. Some Mormon ideas are
still inspiring: the idea of an all-loving God, divine individual
worth, eternal families, eternal progression, personal revelation,
opposition in all things, etc. Yes there have been some crazy
teachings in the Church's past. But why throw the positive LDS
doctrinal "baby" out with the "bath water?" If one thing is
certain in the 21st century LDS church, it is that you do not have to
believe everything Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught to remain a
member in good standing. The church has largely distanced itself
most of its troubling doctrine. Church members should feel
comfortable with the option of possibly discarding past folkloric
teachings that make us feel deeply uncomfortable. You can
continue to embrace that which still resonates in your soul. Openness to Inspiration Within
faith the simple act of believing without knowing, or without fully
understanding? Faith for many can be like hope instead of surety.
To us, this approach is the essence of religious observance -- a simple
willingness to be open to the possibilities of the divine. While
we're completely comfortable with the notion that "There are many
[spiritual] ways up Mt. Fuji," isn't it possible that the LDS Church
remains one of the world's viable paths towards enlightenment? For
us the decision is clear. The church is as viable a place as any
to practice spirituality and self-improvement. To quote the immortal
play “Oklahoma!” by Rodgers and Hammerstein:
"I don't think I'm no better than anybody else....but I'll be danged if I ain't just as good!"
conclusion, if you can truly replace all of these things by leaving the
church, then by all means follow your truth. We mean that sincerely. It
might be possible. It is also possible to stay. Make sure that
staying or leaving, warts and all, you are trading up. Be at peace with
your decision. It is up to you. You can trade up by leaving and forming
a whole new spiritual and religious framework outside Mormonism. You
can also trade up by changing your perspectives and expectations, using
the LDS spiritual and cultural materials on hand to build that new
HOW TO ADAPT SO YOU CAN STAY
on to the major purpose of this document: more than 30 tips on how to
remain in the LDS Church after becoming disaffected. We call
these “Reconciliation Strategies.” Reconciliation Strategies are
changes you decide to make to your belief in and practice of
Mormonism. We are talking about a form of adaptation so you can
reuse and repurpose what you have already spent perhaps your whole
You do not have to do all of these. You
can pick and choose ideas that feel like a good solution. You are
free to modify them to your needs or not use them at all. We
collected these suggestions from people who expressed a level of
satisfaction and personal success in their new spiritual journey within
the LDS faith, after experiencing great doubt and crisis. Most
importantly, please remember these tips are not the new correct answer
for everyone in the church. We openly acknowledge that these
alternatives will sometimes not be understood, appreciated or approved
by orthodox members who are happy with their status quo within the LDS
faith tradition. These are alternative ideas. We have very limited
power to change other people, if we can do that at all. We do have the
power and authority to decide how we personally experience our
religion. The tips we present below have helped others make this
internal change -- a form of reconciliation with Mormonism.
Keep the Faith
the tendency to abandon all faith. Just because you have become
disappointed by certain aspects of your faith tradition, try not to let
go of all the things in your spiritual life that still produce value
and goodness. Here are some examples of adapting faith so that it
can exist simultaneously with new uncertainty about religious “truth.”
What's wrong with believing
that there is both inspiration and imperfection in all things,
including our church? The LDS Church may have fallen short of your
expectations, but you might still be able to objectively acknowledge
there is sometimes inspiration and goodness within it. Resist the
temptation to deny any truth, goodness and spirituality within
can still believe in God at some level, even if you struggle with the
idea of an anthropomorphic God (old man with a white beard on a throne
image) or even a mean-spirited God (like He sometimes comes across in
the Old Testament).
- You can have a testimony of the value and wisdom of Jesus' teachings, even if you are unsure of the historical Jesus.
can still find great inspiration and truth in the Book of Mormon, even
if you are unconvinced as to its complete historicity.
can still believe that Joseph Smith and President Monson were or are
divinely inspired, even while simultaneously being flawed.
- You can still believe that God dwells within Mormonism, while also dwelling elsewhere.
though church members sometimes set things up as "all or nothing,"
"true or false," "legitimate or a complete fraud," you do not have to
bow to this paradigm of thought.
Every rose has its thorns. Every beauty queen or high school hunk has a pimple or two.
Seeking to Understand Others
you may be able to replace your anger at the behavior of imperfect
church leadership and members with compassionate understanding for
their positions. If you try, it's not hard to do. They come by their
positions and decisions quite honestly, it turns out. Think back to
your earlier years as a "true believer" in the church. You
yourself may have even been dogmatic, boring, judgmental or
even bigoted at one point or another. So if this was once true for you,
then you of all people should be able to understand their positions
now. You probably do not agree anymore with some of your old
views, but try and remember what it was like – how sure and right you
may have felt. Having compassion for the views of others allows
you to have compassion for yourself and your past. People
disagree on all kinds of ideas when it comes to religion. That is
OK. Coming to terms with this is healthy regardless of our
decision to stay in the church or leave.
This one issue of
understanding pretty much encapsulates the essence of Christianity: to
love, to forgive and to look for the good in imperfect people. It is
also the central theme of Eugene England's classic essay, "Why the
Church is as True as the Gospel."
you can, try to avoid actively pursuing reasons for annoyance or
offense, even when you feel that you are being marginalized by people
who do not understand you and/or fear you. If you can find a way
to love them and forgive them, even as Christ did, you will be a better
person for it. We promise. The understanding and acceptance we
give to others finds a way of coming back to us in the long run.
Understanding the Root Causes of Orthodoxy
our experience, the most dogmatic, orthodox people are that
way for a good reason. Maybe they had a death in the family and
cling to religion as their only hope for seeing that loved one again.
Maybe they are struggling with addiction or depression. Maybe they
suffer from abuse at home or a horrible marriage. Some people who
cling to dogmatic religion most tightly are the ones who are least
happy and most scared in their lives. This situation above all others
perhaps deserves our compassion and respect. Even for the purely
sincere, do you really want to run around trying to disabuse them of
their beliefs? Isn't that like running up to random children to tell
them that Santa Claus is a fraud? People cling to belief for all sorts
of reasons. We often never know completely why. Thoughtful,
kind people respect this boundary. If you really want to
emulate Christ, start with empathy.
Understanding the Brethren's Dilemma
disaffected folk expect LDS general authorities to constantly apologize
for all the past errors of the church and to actively promote awareness
of the most controversial aspects of LDS Church history. These
expectations are unfair and unrealistic.
While none of us who
compiled these tips have close relationships with high-ranking LDS
general authorities, we've spent some time trying to "walk a mile in
their moccasins," so to speak. And while we can't accurately speculate
as to what they do or don't know about church issues, we do consider
the following two observations:
One of the most
common attacks made by critics is that the church hides or denies its
most troubling history. While the church does not spend a great deal of
time discussing the tougher issues in public, it is important to note
that the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have made
numerous attempts at openness and disclosure of tough LDS Church
history throughout the years. For those of you who aren't aware, there
was a ten-year period of LDS Church history (1972 to 1982), under the
leadership of Church Historian Leonard Arrington, where the church made
a significant effort at candor regarding church history. Unfortunately,
according to Leonard Arrington, this particular experiment was deemed a
failure by church leadership. After a 10-year stretch, the department
was closed down. Brother Arrington seemed to indicate in his
autobiography that the brethren feared too much of an emphasis on
controversial topics, more often than not, leads to decreased church
activity and commitment. As many members today continue to be
challenged in their faith through exposure to the Internet, this
conclusion seems to be validated.
- Many of us were raised in
the church without an awareness of the tougher issues of church
history, it very well may be that many of them reached maturity without
a deep understanding of these issues as well.
- Assuming that
many of them married soon after their mission, had many children,
graduated from college, pursued successful professional careers and
actively served in high church leadership positions, it could be that
for some, even as adults, they did not (and do not) have enough time to
dig deeply into all of these tougher issues.
acknowledge that the church continues to make great strides in candor
through its promotion of books like Rough Stone Rolling and Massacre at Mountain Meadows at Deseret Book, and through efforts like the Joseph Smith Papers project. Also, it is important to note that most of what
we do know about controversial church history today was provided
through the church’s own publications, NOT by enemies of the church. As
we learn from FairLDS.com, some examples include:
more examples, see the following chronologies of polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, and Joseph's use of folk magic as examples of
additional, undeniable church candor about tougher aspects of its
history via its own publications.
- In the Friend, the church openly acknowledged to its children that Joseph translated using a "brown rock" called a "seer stone":
help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates ‘a
curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which
consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a
breastplate.’ Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for
translating called a seer stone.”
— “A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site
in the Friend, the church acknowledged openly (even to its children)
that there was a group of Mormons called the "Danites" who attacked
"One Mormon, Sampson Avard, formed a group, called
the Danites, to seek revenge on the Missourians. But when the Danites
attacked the nonmembers, it only gave them more reason to distrust the
— Sherrie Johnson, “Persecutions in Missouri,” Friend, Jul 1993, 47 off-site
- The New Era talked openly about the use of the "blood atonement" and polygamy in early anti-Mormon fiction:
what people heard about the Mormons as they gossiped over the back
fence or sat in the barbershop was often twisted and shaped to appeal
to the popular appetite for the lurid and sensational: secret rites,
priestly orders, blood atonement, polygamy, and white slavery."
E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Through Gentile Eyes: A Hundred
Years of the Mormon in Fiction,” New Era, Mar 1972, 14 off-site
- The Ensign openly published Spencer W. Kimball's repudiation of the Adam-God theory:
hope that you who teach in the various organizations, whether on the
campuses or in our chapels, will always teach the orthodox truth. We
warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according
to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of
the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the
Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be
cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine."
—Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Own Liahona,” Ensign, Nov 1976, 77 off-site
The Responsibility of Leadership
you consider the significant responsibility the brethren have of
governing a worldwide church, it is only reasonable to expect them to
govern the church in a way that maximizes commitment and happiness for
the greatest number of its members. Consequently, the brethren clearly
have to ask themselves this question: recognizing the vast majority of
members know little of the tougher elements of church history, and only
a relatively small group of LDS intellectuals do, which is preferable?
Step back and think
about it. If President Monson today were to start saying publicly
"Joseph and Brigham were wrong about a, b and c, but all of you need to
continue believing and obeying x, y and z," it is not difficult to
predict the outcome. Many members would simply say "Well, if Joseph or
Brigham were wrong back then about a, b and c, why should we believe or
follow you about x, y and z?" For the average member, such overt
statements would very quickly weaken the prophetic mantle, and reduce
member commitment to LDS Church leadership. Whether it fits our sense
of the ideal or not, we might not expect LDS Church leaders to erode
their own basis of authority. Humans simply do not function this way.
some of the intellectuals on the margins by not directly confronting
the historical issues. This approach probably risks less than 2
percent of total members. Would these “intellectuals” really be
satisfied with apologies anyway?
- Risk losing and weakening the
base core of active church membership, perhaps 98 percent or more, by
making them all aware of the tougher aspects of our history and
doctrine through an official apology.
summary, if you were in their shoes, and the future of the church were
riding on your shoulders, would you seek to invite doubt and skepticism
with the church membership? This approach would risk destroying
an organization that you loved, believed in, and believed was an asset
to literally millions of families worldwide. In our opinion, to
do so would be grossly irresponsible.
Thus, their dilemma…
Publicizing Mistakes and Problems
might feel as though the church has a responsibility to be completely
open with all of its major flaws and weaknesses; but in the real world,
this approach is probably not realistic. For example, do you live up to
this standard in your own life? Do you tell everyone you meet, even
everyone close to you, all of your deepest and darkest secrets? While
it is true that the LDS Church claims to be God's one and only true
church, we might try to see that in reality, it is run by imperfect men
in less-than-perfect circumstances. Given that realization, why would
we expect the church to be any different? It is unreasonable to expect
complete transparency from human beings and human organizations -- even
ones that claim divine authority. Humans simply don't work that way.
are not saying it is right for anyone to withhold information about
their own wrongdoing from those who depend on them. Ideally, we should
all be willing to confess the things we have done wrong and try to make
amends. That approach is the ideal for individuals and for
institutions. But we all fall short of that ideal sometimes, in some
areas. We can try to understand the human institutional impulse to
remain silent about missteps. We may eventually look with compassion on
the ways in which humans and institutions seek to hide their
flaws. We may forgive, and we may leave ultimate judgment to a
higher Judge. Even while we do all that, we do not need to say that
hiding one's flaws is right or blameless.
It's All about the People
to focus on the people at church and not on the "hard to swallow"
teachings or doctrines. Get to know people. Find out what makes
them tick, why they think the things they do, why they see things the
way they do. Even the most dogmatically obnoxious members can
actually become wonderful friends if you take the time to get to know
them on a personal basis. Work to uncover what's behind the posturing.
attitude might not work for everyone, for all personality types --
especially those who generally don't like people. Some of us are
"people people" by nature. This approach really works for some of
Focus on the "Average" Member, not the Loudest Member
judge the church purely by the actions and words of the most vocal,
obnoxious members. In pretty much every ward we've attended, the
majority of LDS members are quiet, reasonable, practical, sensible
folk. Focus on them. Ignore the blowhards if you can't make them your
friends. Many of us have found wonderfully thoughtful and
live-and-let-live attitudes when we got to know people in our wards
better. These great people are often not the ones making the most
noise in classes and meetings though. In fact, they tend to be
the more quiet folk in the back half of the room.
Realize that the Culture is not the Leadership
to keep in mind that the general membership of the church is often
completely out of step with the LDS Church leadership. Culture is very
hard to change with 5,000,000 active members. Sometimes it just takes
If you listen very carefully to General Conference these
days, you will find that a great deal of what is taught today by LDS
authorities is actually quite positive, uplifting, and even
progressive. Long gone are days when general authorities waxed on about
Kolob, Adam-God, Quakers on the moon, and the "darkies." Here are the
days when General Authorities often urge compassion, tolerance, and
basic, clean Christian living.
So keep that in mind. Large
ships sometimes take a long time to turn around. The brethren really
are trying. We church members are sometimes slow to see and hear the
Treat Devout Mormons with Common Respect
always to be thoughtful, respectful and temperate in your desires to
"educate" others, especially in group settings at church. Treat devout
Mormons with the same level of respect and common decency that you
would a devout Muslim, Jew or Catholic. Unless you are just plain
rude and insensitive as a person, you would never remind a Catholic,
whom you didn't know well, about the controversial aspects of their
church's history such as indulgences or child molestation. You would
never mock or question a Muslim about the historicity of Mohammad and
the Koran. So try not to treat devout Mormons any differently.
Unless you get to know them on a personal level and build up a
relationship of trust with them, and then they want to know or struggle
with something you can help them with, just leave them alone with all
the things that trouble you. Think of this simple maxim: The
person with the greater knowledge has the greater responsibility.
resist the temptation to disrupt Sunday School, Priesthood, or Relief
Society with controversy. Even though these meetings are promoted under
the guise of education, education is clearly not what they are about.
They are primarily about convincing members to be obedient to church
commandments and to promote wholesome living. Learning is far from the
primary or even secondary goal. Try your hardest to respect the actual,
unstated purpose of the gathering. Instead of disrupting, you might
decide to simply excuse yourself or not attend if it is too hard to
maintain your “cool.” Over time, perhaps after some distance, you may
find yourself able to attend again with more patience and empathy.
Move Past the "True/False" Binary World View
binary world view denotes thinking that something is either completely
true or completely false. It rarely allows for middle ground or nuance
-- and often does not account for the natural complexities of life and
the universe. As needed for your peace and sanity, move past this
way of looking at things. We are not suggesting there is no good
and evil or right and wrong in the world. But there might often
be a little bit of both, even shades of gray sometimes, in our
If you are unable to continue existing in this
true/false paradigm, you may decide that you need to find a healthier
way to think about things. Yes, the church pushes this paradigm.
For example, by saying that the Book of Mormon is either the most
marvelous work ever revealed or the vilest hoax ever perpetrated upon
mankind, they promote binary thinking about our scripture. Try to
not let statements like that get you down. Church leaders sincerely
believe that "it's all true, or none of it's true." Virtually all
growing churches do the same. Teaching the "true/false" paradigm is
what growing churches do. Did the Catholic Church grow in its heyday by
claiming to be just one good option among many? No. They killed people
by the thousands who didn't believe in their truth as the one and only
way. Protestant religions in the 17th and even 18th centuries did
the same thing. Islam has a history of this thinking as well.
you think about it, what's the point of a denomination at all if it
doesn't consider itself to be "God's one true path" or at least the
best of all possible paths?
In our assessment, the churches that
have let up on emphasizing their unique claims to truth have not grown
as quickly as churches that continue to trumpet themselves as the one
and only. Growth means living. Anything less means the church is
dying. An attachment to a divine and absolute truth creates in
most people a duty to act. LDS Church leaders seem to believe
that emphasizing the church's "one trueness" is an essential component
of survival. They may be right. Take a look at the growth
rates of the Reorganized LDS Church (now Community of Christ),
Unitarian Universalists or Episcopalians for counterexamples.
Dramatically Lower Unrealistic Expectations
you move past the "true/false" paradigm, you can dramatically lower
your expectations of the church. If you expect perfection from the LDS
Church, or if you dismiss all other churches as abominations, you will
realistically be disappointed on both fronts after any amount of
serious life experience. If the church leadership falls short at times
in your estimation, try to realize they are all trying their best to
fulfill their callings while balancing work, family and their own
personal stuff. They are stumbling a great deal along the way
like we might expect any other normal person trying to juggle so much.
As Paul said, "we see through a glass, darkly."
of all, remember that losing idealistic perceptions or expectations,
and replacing them with more realistic ones, are two very important
components of human maturity. For example, our parents are much more
limited in their capacity than we thought they were when we were
children. The same is true with our teachers and leaders. The founding
fathers of the USA were much more complex than we were taught growing
up: Jefferson held slaves and may have fathered children with a
slave, Benjamin Franklin was a philanderer, etc. Corporations can
do both great and terrible things. The same applies to governments,
schools and even charities. The world is imperfect. Any organization
that is comprised of imperfect people is going to have
flaws. The bigger the organization, the more likely mistakes will
happen and the more serious flaws can become.
Even though it
might strike really close to home, it's a fair question to ask: why
should it be any different with religions or with religious leaders,
past or present? If perfection, or anything close to it, is
the standard for all organizations or individuals, who will ever
measure up? No one will. If you already find yourself severely
disappointed with or even disaffected from the LDS Church, it should be
completely logical for you to no longer expect perfection from it in
any real sense. You can simply drop this unrealistic, unhealthy
Faith is an Amazingly Low Bar
many years in the LDS Church, the conditioning for children, and the
heavy emphasis for teenagers, has been to say "I know this church is
true." There are at least two very important things going on in that
This approach is not a bad thing. Again,
it's simply what religions do. It may be exactly what many young
children need to give them reassurance and certainty through the
insecurities of young adulthood.
- We are taught to say we "know" before we ever
really have a chance to even think about it, or to test its validity,
especially relative to other faith traditions.
- We are taught
to characterize the church as "true," which implies both a
comprehensive validity to the church, and an implicit non-validity to
all other churches.
Still … never forget that faith
is the first principle of the gospel. It is foundational, and it is
glorious. Christ Himself said "because thou hast seen me, thou hast
believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
He didn't say "blessed are those who know." He said "believed." In
other words, it is actually a "blessed" state to hope and believe, and
not know. We should not in any way feel embarrassed by the fact that we
don't know the church is true, or that God and Jesus live. We should
feel proud to be believers, in spite of our lack of knowledge.
addition, the Doctrine and Covenants
clearly describes "faith" and
"testimony" as a gift. Some people have this gift more naturally,
and some do not, at least to begin with. Consider it perhaps a way of
thinking and seeing the world. Some people are comfortable making
the mental leap from their emotions to a sense of knowing or of
experiencing a revealed “truth.” Many of us, especially those who
collected these tips, are simply not wired to experience spirituality
that way. That’s OK. We have different “gifts” to
share. The universe is full of beautiful mysteries. It is
OK not to “know.” Hope in something better is another form of
faith. One might even argue that it is a more nuanced,
sophisticated and practical type truth. In the world (God) needs
people like us who question and doubt, just as much as it needs people
who feel confident in their sense of knowing. It is perfectly
scriptural for some members to have a strong testimony and for others
to simply hope or even not believe (in the conservative sense). The
church and its membership must allow for this fact.
Try not to
feel pressured into thinking that you are inadequate or in any way
a second class citizen in the church. Be proud of your hope and belief.
Be proud of your faith. Stand up and take your place in the church as a
proud, faithful, non-knowing believer. You are in every way as
legitimate as the "knower" sitting next to you.
Physician, Heal Thyself
(not all) of the people we see leave the church are struggling
emotionally in addition to whatever they are feeling about the church.
Maybe they have poor health, a really cruddy marriage, a job that makes
them miserable or other life experiences or traumas that haunt them.
not saying that these folks don't have good cause to be frustrated with
the church at times. Many of them clearly do. What we are saying is
that some people who leave the church might also have personal problems
that extend way beyond the church. Instead of facing those
difficult problems, they might focus all their anger at the church. The
church is an easy scapegoat because it's a human organization being
expected to live up to "only trueness" and perfection. So of course, it
let them down.
In the areas where you're seriously
disappointed by the church, we are sure you have just cause to feel
that way. But in addition to dealing with your church-related
frustrations, consider looking very closely at your personal life
unrelated to the church. This approach is true for everyone,
whether they stay or leave, or even if they never had issues with the
church at all. Try to determine if there are any personal issues eating
at you from the inside. Jesus taught, "if thou bring thy gift to the
altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee;
leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." This way
of thinking teaches us to deal first with our personal and
interpersonal issues so that we do not drag the church into the
situation. Buddha taught: Fix yourself, and make peace with your faith
tradition before you ever consider abandoning it for something else
(even if the "something else" is Buddhism). If you do not resolve the
issues that trouble you, you will just bring the anger and issues with
you wherever you go. All you have to do is look at the Recovery From
Mormonism board to know that healing is not necessarily on the other
end of the journey away from the church.
the church turns out to be an exercise in "throwing the baby out with
the bathwater." In many instances we've personally witnessed, the
church has served as an imperfect means of bringing about genuine
healing in people's lives. By discarding the church, you may risk
discarding one potential path to resolving your personal problems.
borrow a metaphor, an immunization is not perfect. The injection hurts
your arm. It causes you to bleed. Sometimes it can even make you feel
"woozy." But it can also heal you, or prevent you from getting sick.
it can be with the church. Not always, but definitely sometimes. The
church, warts and all, can be a wonderful place to inch towards
perfection. See Eugene England's essay on "Why the Church is as True as
the Gospel" for more insight in this regard. It's definitely worth the
Supplement Your Spirituality
you are not feeling spiritually filled at church, consider
supplementing your spiritual study with other non-LDS sources. I know
many, many active LDS Church members who look to "the best books" and
even to other faith traditions to supplement their spiritual needs. We
don't suggest this method as a means to replace LDS scripture, doctrine
and theology, but instead to inform it with new light and new angles of
This approach is even encouraged by LDS scripture, doctrine, and statements by LDS general authorities.
As stated in D&C 88:118:
as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one
another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the
best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and
also by faith.”
Also, as published in "God's Love for All Mankind" by the First Presidency in February 15, 1978:
great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and
the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and
others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to
them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of
understanding to individuals.
“The Hebrew prophets prepared the
way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should
provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.
with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all
peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal
salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal
welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or
nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we
are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father. "
great quote on this idea comes from President Ezra Taft Benson in a
1972 address (words of Orson F. Whitney from a 1928 general conference
“Perhaps the Lord
needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are
among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the
Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into
the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain
unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled
temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open
their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for
the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day
Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one
people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners
in a certain sense.” (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.)
many of God's children, regardless of religion, seem to be working
towards a common goal of love, peace and enlightenment. We have much to
learn from our non-LDS brothers and sisters.
Tactfully Embrace the Title "Buffet Mormon"
"buffet Mormon" is someone who does not believe every doctrine the
church might teach and does not do every task the church might ask. A
buffet Mormon chooses among what is offered and leaves the rest. The
term "cafeteria Mormon" means the same thing. Take the dishes that work
for you. Eat them and enjoy them. They are nourishing to the soul. Pass
up the dishes that don’t work. You can go back later. Perhaps your
tastes will change.
Proudly embrace the title buffet Mormon. No
one can eat everything in a buffet, even if all of the food is healthy
and good. No one, not even the prophets, can do everything that
is expected within Mormonism. If you think about it, all Mormons are
buffet Mormons. It's just a matter of to what degree and how guilty we
make ourselves feel about it. Sure we should all try our best to be as
good as possible; however, we all fall short, prophets and apostles
included. Believe us on this one. No one can do everything required by
the LDS gospel with perfection -- gardens, journals, scripture study,
meetings, all the prayers, temple, callings, perfect parent and spouse,
earn a living, genealogy, etc., ad nauseam. Stop feeling guilty about
it! Embrace it. Decide your limits. Set boundaries. Balance your life
to the healthiest extent possible. Make conscious decisions about what
you will do and do a good job at it. Explore what speaks to your soul.
Several recent conference talks have even encouraged this approach.
Unplug from Caring about What Others Think of You Religiously
your care, concern, and self-esteem from the judgment of other church
members. To become a buffet Mormon, it means that you must not care
what orthodox people think about you from a religious perspective.
Religion is ultimately a private thing. It's nobody's business but your
own. Don't get defensive when people talk badly about you and judge
you. Don't become paranoid at what they are saying. Get to the point
where you love folks but seriously don't give a hoot about what they
think of you in terms of how you display your religiosity. One thing is
for certain -- they are most likely hiding their weaknesses and putting
their best foot forward. They have their weaknesses too. It's only a
matter of what they allow you to see or think. In the end, most people
just try their best in private (often falling short). In public,
they put on as good a show as they can.
The only thing you
should really concern yourself with, what you should really care about,
is what good YOU are doing. Serve and have compassion for other people.
Learn and grow spiritually. Practice what brings value to you.
Push yourself and stretch your limits at times. Be proud of what you
do, and be forgiving of others who fall short. We all do.Tithing
we fully support compliance with the traditional LDS interpretation of
tithing, we acknowledge that some people who are struggling with their
faith decide they simply cannot or will not pay 10 percent of their
income to the church any longer, at least until they work through
things in a satisfactory way. Once people arrive at this place, it is
also quite natural to avoid tithing settlement altogether. These
feelings are completely natural... and for many, the law of tithing
becomes something they simply cannot approach in the same way they once
did. That said, we recommend you think carefully before you discard the
For example, if you or your family are still
attending church and benefiting, it seems ethical to not be complete
freeloaders with the church. In that case, if you're not comfortable
giving 10 percent, consider giving 5 percent. If you can't muster 5
percent, give what you feel the church is worth to you in your life.
And if you do drop your tithing to 5 percent or 1 percent, we strongly
recommend (from experience) that you continue trying to obey the spirit
of the law. The concept of tithing certainly sustains the social
organization of the church, but it also is a practice of letting go of
our attachment to material possession. It is also about sacrificing
from our excess to help others in need. This is a beautiful idea,
idealistic perhaps, but a solid spiritual practice that can involve us
directly in making the world a better place. If you are not comfortable
paying all your tithe to the church, consider diverting some to other
worthwhile charitable organizations: cleft palate repair, children with
AIDS, homeless shelters, the Red Cross, environmental movements,
National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Service, or other
forums, publications, and programs that are important to your spiritual
development. The LDS Humanitarian Services fund and the Perpetual
Education Fund also seem like very worthwhile places to contribute, if
you are comfortable doing so.
Again we encourage nothing less
than the paying of a traditional LDS tithe. But if you are unable to
pay a full tithe to the church, consider maintaining as much of the
spirit of the law as you can.Sunday Meetings
attending three hours of church every Sunday is too much for you right
now, instead of quitting church altogether, consider going as often as
you feel comfortable. We acknowledge that at times, if you are
struggling with your faith, sitting through Sunday School and
Priesthood/Relief Society can be very difficult. It is especially
difficult when church history is not discussed thoroughly or
accurately. If you find certain meetings do you more harm than good,
you may decide you need to take a break from some of them from time to
If you do stop going to church altogether, make sure to
replace it with something more uplifting. Keep in mind the
statement, “Always trade up.” Some examples might include: a hike in
the canyon or the woods, a family-centered devotional at your home, or
even a visit to another church. The key is to increase spirituality and
connectedness to family and community, not decrease it.
many of us, stepping back from church attendance for a while helped us
realize how much we valued Sunday services. It gave us a chance to
clear our head and heart, to see things from a better perspective and
to look at things fresh again.Callings
you find yourself uncomfortable with certain callings (e.g. teaching
callings during a time of intellectual crisis), instead of turning down
all callings, consider asking for the types of callings that would work
for you. In an ideal world, you could accept any calling and you would
magically have the time and testimony needed. But if a calling isn't
healthy for you or your family, God (and even the brethren) would
clearly want what's best for you, right? And who knows what's best for
you more than... you? They can't possibly know your entire situation.
So just be honest with them if you can't serve in the way they'd like.
We don't mean tell them your entire situation (see "Be Really Careful
What You Tell Others
" below). Just tell them that calling isn't right
for you, and maybe suggest a calling you would be more likely to
accept. Trust us, they'll take whatever service you are willing to
offer (eventually, anyway). If they won't, then bonus! More free time!
With that said, meaningful service is irreplaceable for healthy living,
as you know.Temple Attendance
the temple makes you feel uncomfortable, take a break for a while.
Don't sweat it. You can come back to the temple once you've had a
break, if you actually miss it. Many of us are surprised at how much we
enjoy the temple once we re-engage with it in our own terms, at a
frequency that is comfortable to us.
Another idea is to try and
see it as a place full of symbol and metaphor. Many people find new
life and appreciation for temple participation after letting go of a
lot of their literal understanding of the teachings and experiences in
the temple. It can still be a sacred and special place, as much as you
want to make it for yourself, and an opportunity to get away from the
world, to enter into a space of spirituality and contemplation.Word of Wisdom
of Wisdom compliance is one of the strongest contemporary, cultural
identifiers related to belonging within Mormonism. Because so
much is attached to this dietary law, we highly recommend you move
slowly and consider changes carefully. For better or worse, you
will find few things with less tolerance than this topic in our
religion. It is a very outward, tangible practice related to
adherence; which makes it much different than most other areas of faith
transition we discus in this article. It is not a matter of
simply thinking different. This comes down to potentially acting
The Word of Wisdom has an interesting history.
Readers may have come across historical stories of early Mormon members
and leaders who did not practice the Word of Wisdom as we understand it
today, even after it was accepted by the saints as canonized
revelation. This may have caused you to question the LDS Church's
current interpretations and minimum standards. Perhaps you simply
read D&C 89 and noticed other inconsistencies. Regardless of
any controversy, there are many positive aspects to the Word of
Wisdom. As a broad concept, it embodies the idea of being
healthy, strong and spiritual. It is certainly a good idea to
avoid addictions that might sap your strength and even lead you to make
other poor decisions. Eating healthy and taking care of yourself
physically is its own reward.
The church provides an active
and vibrant social environment supportive of “clean living.” This
is an uplifting characteristic of our culture. It is an aspect to
be valued and applauded. A person can certainly live a whole and
productive life without coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco. So what
is really the harm in that? Even if there is too often a myopic
focus on avoiding these “forbidden four” as the totality of Word of
Wisdom practice, it does promote a good environment.
line is this: you are responsible for making good decisions about your
health and spirituality. Decide what you want to do. Weigh
the pros and cons of your personal practice of the Word of
Wisdom. Move slowly making changes, if you decide to make
them. If you decide to maintain an orthodox practice of the Word
of Wisdom, it will make it socially easier to stay in the church.Shelve or Toss the Bad Doctrine
you find a particular gospel teaching offensive (e.g. Blacks were less
valiant in the preexistence.), don't ignore that feeling. Listen to it.
If you don't want to believe that God caused a worldwide flood that
killed innocent men, women and children, then don't feel compelled to
take it literally. If you don't think proxy work for the dead makes any
sense for an all-powerful God, then focus on other areas of church
doctrine or theology that work for you.
Students of LDS Church
history will confirm that a number of LDS tenets that were considered
by most members to be hard, unchangeable doctrine have been largely
wiped from the books:
- Polygamy as a requirement for salvation
- Valiance in the pre-mortal existence creating our conditions in earth life
- Dynastic sealings
- Multiple baptisms
- Adam-God theory
- Native Americans as descendants of Lamanites
- and so on…
if a certain tenet of LDS doctrine doesn't appeal to you, don't worry.
Chances are that the church has already chosen to distance itself from
the particular doctrine. If not, it may do so in the future. You really
don’t have to stress out about most, if any, of these speculative ideas.
support of this approach, in May of 2007 the church put out a press
release called "Approaching Mormon Doctrine
" which should be
encouraging to folks like us. It reads (in part):
- "Not every
statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily
constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a
single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered,
opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole
- "Some doctrines are more important than others and
might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location
of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice."
- "Latter-day Saints place
heavy emphasis on the application of their faith in daily life. For
example, the active participation of Latter-day Saints in their
community and worldwide humanitarian programs reflects concern for
other people. As Jesus Christ declared, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’”
- "Individual members are encouraged to independently
strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness
of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach
the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the
spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together."
us, this press release provides clear signals that outside of the core
tenets of Christianity (faith, hope, charity, love, repentance, etc.),
there is a very high degree of latitude for personal beliefs about what
constitutes Mormon doctrine and what does not.
article on this subject was written by Don Ashton, it is called “Mormon
Doctrine. What’s Official and What Isn’t.
” (available at
StayLDS.com) The core of binding doctrine in Mormonism is
actually very small and is mostly abstract. That small core is actually
good and very effective. Flexible, broad religious ideas are better
suited to stand the test of time, leaving room for them to be used in
the context of our changing society and environment. Many of the
teachings we grow up thinking are required and eternal are, in fact,
not official points of doctrine set in stone.Keep the Good. Ignore the Bad. You are the Captain of Your Ship.
In summary, embrace what works for you and your family and reject what does not work. At least put down the burden for now. Throw away all of the guilt!
And most importantly, know that God would really want it this way. God
gave you a brain and a heart for a reason. Use them. Make decisions
about what is best for you. Do the best you can, and put the rest in
the hands of the Lord.
Seriously. You are the captain of your
ship. Free agency was given for a reason. If you are having trouble
with this concept, spend some good time in prayer and/or contemplation.
Let go. Feel the unconditional love and total acceptance of your
Savior. Whatever you decide, everything is really going to be OK.
PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS AND COMMON CONCERNS
Be Really Careful What You Tell Others
never advocate lying, but we would encourage you to use extreme caution
when speaking to church members, especially church leaders, about your
issues regarding church history, doctrine or culture. Do not
unnecessarily introduce topics or issues to church leadership that will
threaten their faith, or cause them to question your loyalty. Resist
the temptation to go into the bishop's office and dump all of your
doubts and fears upon him. Frankly, the overwhelming majority of
bishops are not trained or equipped to handle tough church history or
doctrine, or even simple nuance for that matter.
Most of the
time, LDS bishops just are trying to keep their own jobs and families
from falling apart; while also trying to keep the ward running. They
busy helping people with all kinds of day-to-day needs. Tackling
polyandry and peep stones are about the furthest things from their
minds -- and should probably remain so. If you never bring this stuff
up, it likely will never come up. If you do bring it up, it might lead
to really uncomfortable and highly discouraging situations. That
response is what we often hear from people.
Also, realize there
can be a huge variation in approaches and reactions depending on the
bishop. We've seen super-tolerant bishops who will accept virtually any
type of faith as valid, even a hope. We've seen bishops who are hard
liners, and who will actively seek to prevent you from baptizing your
own children if you happen to express the wrong concerns. There are
over 28,000 bishops and branch presidents (2009 stats). That broad of a
group is going to lead to a lot of variance depending on personalities,
maturity and your local culture.
Be very careful before you open
up to your bishop about these matters. Once you do, there is likely no
"stuffing the genie back in the bottle."
Can You Be Honest and Ethical and Stay?
you be an honest and ethical person staying in the Church if you really
don’t believe everything? People bring up this question a lot. It has
various permutations, but the essence of the question is this: People
around you might think you are a true believer, or mistake you for
someone who is very devout, when in fact you have doubts or do not
believe everything. This worry is related to the issue of not caring
what others think about you religiously. We mentioned that topic above.
But this anxiety is the opposite problem. Some people have concerns
about being honest or feel like they must walk around with a scarlet
letter sewed to their clothing. The best advice we can give is to find
a balance between being authentic and burdening everyone else with your
Most people at Church have at least some doubts and
concerns. Most people don’t do everything on the checklist. It is fine
to talk about these concerns with people we really care to share them
with. But it is far more positive and productive to focus on the common
good and the common perspectives we share with others. Our
beliefs are really nobody’s business unless by sharing we can reach out
and help someone else.
Being Honest without Being Confrontational
skill takes practice. It takes a lot of personal discipline. Some
people have the gift of this social skill more than others. If are
having intense feelings about your changing views, it is probably not
the best time to share them with your Sunday School class. Resist the
temptation of feeling the need to correct people openly. You will hear
comments from teachers and students that are not historically accurate
and/or complete. Sometimes you can nudge the conversation in a better
direction. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Take a look at the
paragraph below about building and spending social capital in your
To be honest or direct without being confrontational
is an art. The best overall strategy is to frame things as your opinion
or to talk in probabilities. Another important aspect is to communicate
with less certainty. This approach allows others to have a conversation
with you. And it also gives people room to disagree respectfully.
Adapting Lessons When Asked to Teach
new 2010 Gospel Doctrine manual has minimal material. It seems to be
about half the size of past manuals. That is actually good for our
problem! You can adapt lesson material to your comfort level and to the
needs of class members. Many people who are new to an exploration of
staying in the church after experiencing doubts are uncomfortable with
lessons. Make them your own. We find that people in a class enjoy
something heartfelt and positive. Presenting something sincere and
uplifting can be tricky if you are still having a lot of concerns. So
perhaps taking a break from callings where you have to teach is a good
idea, at least until you are comfortable with teaching again.
Setting Boundaries with Other People and the Organization
our limits tends to be a tough one for some of us to learn. We are
often used to saying “yes” to every request. Some of us were even
taught to never turn down a calling, seeing it as always 100 percent
inspired. We are not telling people to reject callings, but seriously
think about your personal boundaries. What amount of time can you give?
We highly encourage you to give service to others, to take callings and
to be an active part of your ward community; but we all have to set up
boundaries and maintain them. This process is important for practical
reasons of living your life. It is also important emotionally to not
feel compelled or guilty.
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Bonner Ritchie is fond of saying: Only you can protect yourself from
organizational abuse. Try to remember this truth at all times, as you
would with a job, school or marriage. Make sure to never allow yourself
or your loved ones to be put in a position of being taken advantage of.
Never let your "good sense" safety guard down, not even with
the church or church leadership. Not with scoutmasters. Not with Young
Men's or Young Women's leaders. Not with home teachers. Not even with
bishops. The vast majority of active members are good and decent
people -- some of the best we know. But the LDS Church membership
is also, on some level, just a cross section of our local communities.
What if Your Spouse is still very Orthodox?
topic alone deserves an entire book on the subject. We can only brush
on the very surface of the relationship issues that get tangled up in
marriages when spouses diverge in their perceived levels of orthodoxy.
Please know that the love, acceptance and tolerance you give to your
spouse who remains orthodox will return to you. It is normal for
spouses to grow and develop differently over the course of a marriage.
People change. Change does not have to be the end of a marriage. In
fact, mixed-faith marriages outside of Mormonism are very common and
can be successful. They are much more obvious though, most of the time.
do not recommend trying to pressure your spouse into reading all that
you are reading or learning about everything controversial about the
church that interests you. They may NEVER be interested in it. You will
have to come to terms with this fact in order to move forward.
Many members of the church are just interested in the experience they
have on any normal Sunday. That experience is the church to them, and
the messy historical details disrupt it.
The main advice we can
give is this: Always try to separate church problems from relationship
problems. We tend to mix those up, especially when one spouse is more
orthodox and the other is not (or is starting to diverge).
topic can be volatile. What will you teach your children about
religion in general and about their LDS Church specifically? Your
children may have been doing all the normal church activities and
attendance, and now the family is changing. We hear this question a lot
when people talk about not hearing the “true story” growing up. They
don’t want their children to go through the same turmoil of discovering
that the church was not all they had assumed. Here are some suggestions.
Be Specific About Why You Go
of us actually teach our kids (and this idea is kind of tough, we'll
admit) that we don't go to church because we think our church is better
than others. We tell them that we go to the LDS Church because:
- It embodies much of our culture and heritage -- the faith of our fathers, so to speak.
- We like it.
feel it's as good a place as any to seek out spirituality and community
(maybe better in some ways for our particular needs).
In addition, we never discuss the church with them in terms of it being "true" or inherently superior to other churches. De-program as Necessary
of us have used Sunday dinner time to ask the kids what they were
taught on Sunday and to "de-program" or "disabuse" them of any bad
teachings. This discussion was valuable because it re-trained them to
realize that they didn't need to blindly believe everything they were
taught in church. We have explained to them, when age-appropriate, that
adults teaching them have their opinions about the gospel and that they
may or may not be right. It is OK to think differently or to have
Here is a list of a few ideas that we might
tell our children we have problems accepting. Disagreeing with these
ideas is a highly personal decision. But this list reflects examples of
ideas we know people sometimes reject:
- Vengeful God:
can teach your children that it's okay to reject the idea that God was
behind all the genocidal killings in the Bible (of men, women, children
and animals). Take the opportunity to teach them that scripture is
imperfect and often mixes up God's teachings with human interpretations
and biases. Yes, it will be a stretch for them to understand. But it
would be even more confusing to teach them that God loves them, wants
to protect them, and often kills His children as He sees fit.
- Goodness, not "One Trueness":
lie to your children, or mislead them into thinking that you believe
things you really do not. This dishonesty will only come back to bite
you in the end. Make it very clear at an early age (We recommend eight
years old.) that you do not take them to the LDS Church because you
believe it to be the "one and only true church." In our experience,
this concept will actually be very intuitive for them to understand.
Take the time to explain that you are Mormons by culture and heritage,
and you have a great deal of love and respect for the church. But you
do not believe everything that the church teaches. They shouldn't feel
compelled to believe everything either. Also make it clear to them that
you deeply value and respect all faiths and denominations. The Mormon
Church has some good things that you agree with, some bad things that
you don't agree with, and that standard is the same for other
religions. Encourage them to decide for themselves exactly what is true
and what is error -- both within the church and without. In the end,
teach them to respect the church but never blindly.
your best to lovingly instill within your children the notion that all
people have good in them, and all people make mistakes -- including
church leaders like prophets, bishops and Sunday School teachers. This
idea is intuitive for them as well. Do your best to lovingly and subtly
de-mystify Joseph Smith, Thomas S. Monson, the bishop, and others,
without tearing them down continually. Focus on the good. But be open
about the bad. Use instances of prophet-worship in church or in general
conference as teaching moments. For example, when Joseph's martyrdom is
discussed as a "lamb to the slaughter" or in stories where he appears
"completely innocent," take the time to explain the full story
surrounding Joseph's incarceration. This broader understanding will
help lower your children's unrealistic expectations of leadership,
which will help to avoid setting them up for disappointment later on.
Also, make sure to reinforce the notion that non-LDS leaders also can
have great inspiration and goodness: Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the pope
and even some atheists we know, etc.
- No Superiority:
it's a bit natural for LDS kids to think that a person is inferior if
that person smokes, drinks alcohol, watches R-rated movies, attends
another church or no church at all, is gay, has tattoos or in any other
way falls short of the Mormon norm. Make sure to constantly reinforce
the falseness and danger of such ideas as completely un-Christ like and
prideful. We do hold ourselves to a certain standard. But in no way
should we ever use that standard to elevate ourselves above others.
- God is not a Bigot:
you're not happy with the historical status of women, blacks, Native
Americans or homosexuals in the church, use it as a teaching moment to
explain that churches (like schools, businesses, governments, etc.)
have weaknesses. They should not ever feel compelled to believe any
church teaching that propagates bigotry.
- Science and Religion:
the appropriate time, you'll want to explain that religion and science
do not have to conflict. Your kids do not need to fear science any more
than they do religion.
To summarize, teach your kids to do
in church what you teach them to do with everything in their lives,
including TV, movies, books, school, friends, etc. Seek out the good in
these things (for there is great good in all of them). Avoid the bad in
these things. Teach them to never blindly believe or follow everything
they're told in any of these areas -- church or otherwise. Should your
children demonstrate respect? Of course they should for those who
Teach them to use their heads, hearts and spirit
-- together -- to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. The
church is actually a wonderful laboratory to help practice and will
eventually instill this teaching within them. Focus on the Positive
we first started asking our kids at Sunday dinner to enumerate all they
learned in church that day, we began picking it all apart. We tried to
systematically analyze and criticize all of the bad stuff. As you might
imagine, this practice ended up being a very negative experience for
all; and it tended to amplify the negative aspects of their church
experience in their minds. Simply put, this approach was a disaster.
took us a while to realize that cynicism and negativity were more
harmful to our souls than dogmatic religious tenets and observance.
Consequently, we have tried to teach our kids correct principles, tell
them they don't have to believe all things they are taught and
encourage them to focus on the positive aspects of church in our
conversations, wherever possible.
In summary, we strongly
recommend keeping your focus on the good in the church because there is
much good. Kids should feel comfortable talking openly about their
frustrations. But they also need to be reminded to seek out the good in
imperfect situations: in church and in all other aspects of their
lives. This attitude is an extremely healthy life skill. It is a gift
you can give your children by example.
A Place to Serve, Not to Be Served
Think of the church as a place to serve, not a place to be served.
the church-supported community, how else would you find out about the
sister who is pregnant on bed rest and needs a meal for her family? Or
the good brother or child who has cancer? Or the widow? Or the father
who has lost his job? Chances to serve are chances to love, to build
meaningful relationships and to build your own sense of worth and
self-esteem. They are even chances to "lose yourself" in service and
put your own problems in perspective.
Nonetheless, in giving
service, you do not need to run faster than you have strength. You can
respond to many service opportunities by silently saying, "if I could help, I would. But my needs and my family's needs come first. I do not
have the emotional or financial resources or time to help in that
Still, the church can be a great place
to find out about opportunities to serve that will fit your ability to
give. And who knows, every once in a while (especially if you've paid
your dues by serving others), that service just may come back to you in
a time of real need.
Don't think of the church as a place to
"receive." Think of the church as a place to give. Eventually you will
find that in giving, you receive. This is one of the great strengths of
a community, especially a religious community.
Building and Spending Credit in Your Ward
an old saying that is pithy but nonetheless valid: "People don't care
how much you know until they know how much you care." In our
experience, this statement is true.
Think of your engagement
with your ward as a credit/debit system. Try to focus the bulk of your
time and energy on serving those around you. Be at as many service
projects as you can. Show up for every move you can. Bail the high
counselor out when his car breaks down. Take meals to your bishopric
and Relief Society presidency. Be the type of Christian you want the
church to represent.
Then once you've done all you can to
build up a bank account of love, respect and credibility within the
ward and stake, you may be able to slowly, gently, and in a
non-threatening way let both your leadership and select members know
you are not a typical Mormon -- even unorthodox in some ways. Over time
you will discover others like you in this regard. There always are --
usually among the quiet or "inactive.” You will eventually find
people who are willing to open up to you and discuss things freely
(though maybe only in a one-on-one setting).
Over time, if you
keep your bank account of ward service "in the black," you will change
hearts and minds. You can literally transform an entire quorum or
Relief Society, even a ward community into a more loving, open-minded,
informed and compassionate place.
The potential is limitless.
temple recommend interview process is very intimidating to folks who
have become disaffected from Mormonism. More often than not, we hold in
our minds an extreme, literalistic, orthodox and dramatically
unrealistic expectation as to what the bishop or even the brethren
expect us to believe when they ask the recommend questions. For
be told, there have been numerous LDS general authorities who differed
among themselves on a whole host of fundamental aspects of Mormon
doctrine -- from the nature of God and man, to the atonement, to Word
of Wisdom observance.
- When they ask about God, we assume they require
us to believe in a male God with 10 fingers and toes, who has many
wives, dwells on Kolob and was once a man like us on some other world.
they ask about the “restoration," we assume they mean a near-perfect
Joseph Smith who never swore, drank, got angry or prophesied
incorrectly. We also assume they mean other churches are victims of the
- When they ask about sustaining a modern
prophet, we assume they mean we cannot ever disagree with a current
church position (like homosexuality), and that we cannot hold non-LDS
leaders as divinely inspired as well.
- When they ask about tithing, we assume that they mean "gross," not "net" or "increase."
We should not assume that our
interpretations of church doctrine and policy must align perfectly with
those of Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie. Apostles themselves have
differed greatly over issues like evolution, birth control, age of the
earth, Book of Mormon historicity, valiance of blacks in the pre-mortal
Consequently, you might consider lowering the
pressure that comes from assuming your answers to the bishop's
questions have to line up exactly with the most literalistic and
extreme interpretations of LDS doctrine. There's a reason why David O.
McKay stopped publication of Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine. It's
because much of the book actually wasn't Mormon doctrine.
The Brethren May Want to Be Inclusive Regarding Temple AttendancePriesthood Blessings and Ordinances
An Approach the Temple Recommend Questions
- Intentionally Vague Questions:
our opinion, the brethren have intentionally kept the temple recommend
questions very simple and in many ways quite vague. At a minimum, you
must admit that they definitely could have been much more specific, if
they had wanted to.
- They don't ask "Do you know," but instead, "Do you have a testimony of …?"
- They never mention Joseph Smith by name in the entire interview.
- The term "restoration" is actually, in itself, quite vague.
don't try to specify what is meant by "tithing," nor do they ask for a
copy of your W-2. And they don't provide much detail regarding the Word
of Wisdom other than mentioning tea, alcohol and tobacco by name.
- In our mind, they keep it very simple -- intentionally so.
- No Additional Questions Allowed:
leaders are strictly forbidden to add additional questions to the
interview. To us, this move signals that the brethren are looking to
set a minimum standard, not a maximum one.
- You are the Judge:
ultimately expect you to judge your own worthiness and provide the
leadership as a second-line support when and where you feel they are
needed. Otherwise, they have wisely left the decision ultimately
between you and God.
- Nobody's Perfect:
remember that all temple attendees fall short in their worthiness at
some point. The church and the temple exist to help perfect the weak.
They are not there to further exalt the unblemished.
we address some of the specific temple recommend questions, we must
begin this section by emphasizing something very clearly. We do not encourage or condone lying or deception of any sort during the temple recommend interview.
If you do not feel like you can answer the questions with integrity,
then you should not in any way try to deceive your ecclesiastical
The following section is merely an attempt to
acknowledge and explore both the existence of uncertainty and the
diversity of views that clearly dwell within the broad LDS community
with respect to doctrine and theology. We would hate for folks to
unnecessarily exclude themselves from the blessings of temple worship
based on rigid or incorrect perceptions that are more cultural than
they ask about belief in God, they don't ask if you believe in an
anthropomorphic God. At a minimum, perhaps you believe in some divine
power, force, and sense of meaning or purpose in this life. If so, you
could be honest in using the label “God” to describe that indescribable
power. If you are comfortable with that, then perhaps you could answer
this question in the affirmative. It is something to consider.
it would be silly to deny the possibility of an anthropomorphic God.
Who really knows, in the end, what is out there? We might even be
surprised. This is what we call "faith" or "hope," and certainly it
meets Christ's bar of worthiness (as mentioned above).
someone begins studying the process by which the New Testament was
compiled, which includes that is wasn’t actually written by the
apostles but handed down by oral tradition sometimes generations before
it was actually written down, it becomes quite natural to begin
questioning one's assumptions about a historical Jesus.
when church leaders ask about Jesus and the atonement, they don't go
into this detail. Instead, they simply ask if you have a testimony of
Jesus as your savior (or something to that effect).
minimum, you might believe that a man named Jesus once existed, that
his teachings have "saved" us from much trouble, pain, and sadness in
our lives and that He ultimately died as a martyr for these teachings.
So at a minimum, you might feel comfortable accepting Jesus as your
personal savior in this manner. We're also very open, and even hopeful,
that there is much more to the story of Jesus. Again, this attitude is
the essence of faith and hope to us.
Now, we will admit that
there is much about the mechanics of the atonement and the afterlife
that we do not understand. But fortunately we are not alone in this
regard by any stretch. Who really understands the atonement? We would
argue that no human really does. So don’t feel so bad if you don’t
either. It doesn’t make you defective. It means you are
- The Restoration:
as you will notice, is one of the broadest terms of all. What exactly
is meant by the restoration? The Articles of Faith? The Book of Mormon?
Dynastic sealings? Adam-God theory? Polygamy? Theosis?
assure you that you could say to virtually any bishop, "I don't believe
that polygamy is doctrinal, nor that blacks were less valiant in the
pre-mortal existence," and you would still qualify for a temple
recommend, even though Joseph or Brigham "restored" these teachings and
taught them as “doctrine.”
And so it is with other aspects of
the restoration. In our mind, there are core teachings of the
restoration, and then there are highly speculative and peripheral ones.
For us, the core teachings of the restoration are: faith, repentance,
baptism, service, charity, love, families, clean living, etc.
addition, you might feel comfortable believing that the teachings and
theology taught by Joseph Smith drastically improved, and in some cases
even restored, truth and goodness to the world relative to the
prevailing Christian teachings of the day. Just take a few of the 13
Articles of Faith as examples:
- We learn that the Bible was flawed, sometimes tragically so. Hooray!!!!
learn that men are accountable for their own sins and that babies who
die before the age of eight will not go straight to hell. Wooo
- We learn that all churches should be respected and
that people should be free to worship according to their own
consciences. We're down with that!!!
some of us, there is enough goodness and truth in the restoration to
allow us to say that we have a testimony of it. We do not understand,
nor do we agree with, every teaching uttered by Joseph Smith or Brigham
Young. But then again neither did President Gordon B. Hinckley. See his
comments to Larry King about polygamy ("not doctrinal") and his
comments to Time magazine about God once being a man ("I don't know
that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it.") Didn't
President Kimball himself say that Adam-God was not doctrine? If
Presidents Hinckley and Kimball clearly taught us that not all the
teachings by Joseph and Brigham are to be blindly believed, it is our
opinion that we should take them at their word.
there is much good in the restoration that we can stand behind. That
said, you don't have to feel compelled to believe all that has
been associated with it from 1830 to now.
- Thomas S. Monson as Prophet:
they ask about support of President Monson, we feel comfortable
accepting him as our prophet for two main reasons. First, we no longer
expect perfection from any man, prophets included. Second, listen very
carefully to his conference talks. Virtually everything he teaches
today we feel good about, including staying out of debt, avoiding
pornography, being a good husband and father, etc. There really isn’t
much in the way of dramatic or challenging doctrine being taught over
the pulpit at general conference anymore.
Some of us are not
crazy about the church's stance on gays and women’s roles. But we see
the church as making positive progress (relatively speaking) on these
fronts. As long as they continue to march in the right direction, we
can take the good with the bad and accept President Monson as prophet,
seer, and revelator for the church. It takes a long time to make
deep changes to a culture, sometimes generations.
We are not
required in the interview to denounce Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther or
even David Wilcox as being uninspired. So we don't feel compelled to
read this interpretation into the question. Accepting the current
president of the church as “the prophet” does not have to exclude
anyone else from being an inspiration in our lives.
about keys and authority can still be tricky for some of us to get our
hearts and minds wrapped around. There are some alternative ways of
seeing this though. Do you think someone else has the keys and
authority for the LDS Church specifically? Probably not. So why not
agree that the current president of the church has them. It really
doesn’t have to matter that much.
This question is largely
targeted historically at weeding out fundamentalists or people who
belong to other break-away Mormon splinter groups. If that is you,
which we doubt, then you really shouldn’t have an LDS temple recommend
anyway. It isn’t a question of not being a good person or about
So in this alternative view, which you might be able
to become comfortable with, President Monson has the "keys" or
authority to lead members of the LDS Church. You don't have to feel
compelled to deny that God made provisions for the other 99.95 percent
of His children.
And again, who knows for sure? Maybe the church
does have some uniquely special and specific role to play in the
salvation of the world. If it doesn’t spiritually, then maybe it does
temporally. It might for the members of the Church. This attitude,
again, is where faith or hope comes in to play.
- All the Other Questions:
We agree that official members of anti-Mormon or apostate organizations should not be members of the church in good standing.
as a group, we are huge fans of the Word of Wisdom, law of chastity,
honesty, absence of family abuse, tithing (charitable giving) and
garments, etc. Throughout our lives, we have tried to obey all of these
commandments even during the times we felt disaffected from the church.
So our recommendation to all of you is: Never let up on these
practices. Clean living is the way to go.
Still it is fair to say that at least some of these items are open to some personal interpretation. For example:
could argue pretty soundly that based on a literal reading of D&C 89 someone who eats meat regularly (and we count ourselves as fully
culpable in this regard) is at least equally in violation of the Word
of Wisdom as someone who drinks a glass of wine occasionally with a
meal. Nevertheless, thousands and thousands of non-winter meat-eaters
enter the House of the Lord each day and are not blocked by church
leadership for doing so.
- When asked about wearing garments
"night and day," wide variations exist in this regard. Some wear
garments while exercising, working in the yard, etc. and some don't.
bishop in a family ward once declared officially from the pulpit that
if tithing was paid on anything less than the gross of one's income, it
was inadequate. After a stake-wide rebellion ensued, the bishop
received a polite but firm reprimand from the stake president and
apologized for his misstep to his congregation. The church has
specifically chosen to leave tithing up to personal interpretation.
know that we are not in any way advocating dishonesty or deception
here. We are simply noting the undeniable reality that many of these
questions are subject to at least some private interpretation. We
should feel assured in knowing that the brethren ultimately and wisely
have left this decision between us and God -- and for good reason.
conclusion, always answer honestly. But do not unnecessarily exclude
yourself from the blessings of temple attendance because of rigid
interpretations if it is something that you feel might be good for you
men in the church who experience a crisis of faith, or lose a literal
belief in priesthood authority and power, giving priesthood blessings
and performing ordinances can be a challenge. We commonly hear
concerns from those whose faith has changed, or have doubts, that they
feel like they are being dishonest serving others without an absolute
belief they hold exclusive divine authority or supernatural magic power.
decision to continue acting in a religious priesthood capacity or not
is a deeply personal choice that you will have to make, in a way that
you are comfortable living. There really isn't a single correct
answer for everyone making their way through a crisis of faith.
Many decide they are not comfortable acting in the role of priesthood
holder. That is fine. Perhaps that is the best choice while
you sort out your faith and relationship with the church. You can
change your mind later. If people in your life are expecting this
role from you, find a way to confidently and peacefully tell them you
aren't in the right frame of mind and spirit to do those things
So long as you are a member in good standing, and
were ordained by the church, you have religious authority to perform
rites as a service to members of the church. You may not see this
as an absolute and exclusive authority from God, but it is certainly
authority to do so from the organization itself. And the
ordinances are not for your benefit, they are a service to the people
who want to experience them. It is about their faith, not
yours. It is between them and God, not you. This is an
alternative way of viewing priesthood ordinances and blessings as a
loving service given to your friends and family. The power comes
from their faith and desire to make their experience meaningful.
The middle way of Mormonism is not for everyone and is definitely not
likely to be sanctioned by church leaders anytime soon. Nonetheless, we
have corresponded with literally hundreds of disaffected Mormons over
the past several years. It amazes us that an astoundingly large
percentage of those who have left the church have not, in the long run,
found the peace, solace and spirituality they thought they would find
through leaving completely. Some have found what they need through
leaving, we readily admit that. Sometimes, it really is what someone
needs in order to move on with their life. But a heavy percentage of
those who leave to this day write us to say, "I wish I could go back. I
thought I wouldn't miss it, but I do. I desperately miss the church. I
just don't know how to return, or how to make it all work."
hope for at least some of you, these suggestions will prove useful in a
journey back or at least in helping you find peace and compassion in
looking back upon your time in the church.
your choices, if you've made it this far in the essay, we are
connected! As fellow travelers on this wonderful and bizarre Mormon
journey, we wish you Godspeed. Please keep in touch. You can reach us
at StayLDS.com where we host this document.
In the Body of Christ, Every Part is Needed
us, aside from all that we and our families gain from membership in the
church, it helps to know that in many small ways, we're doing our part
to eliminate ignorance, pain, and insularity within Mormonism. Instead
of leaving, we make the conscious decision to stay and be a part of the
solutions. In general, the way to positively impact the members of an
organization is to do so from within. Once you've removed yourself from
the community, it is far too easy for them to tune you out, so to
For the past several years, our collective mantra has been:
- More knowledge
- Less pain
- More open forums
church needs more voices in support of these tenets -- not fewer. In
the body of Christ analogy, all body parts are needed, even the
backside. By remaining a legitimate member of the group, you can play
an integral role in helping make it better for those who remain within.
They need us, and we need them. It's that simple.
A Deeply Personal Journey
are in charge now. You can judge and value as good as anyone else. You
have permission to do so. Everything from here on out is a deeply
personal journey. Others will not make the same meaning or practice the
same conclusions. You are doing the best you can with what you have
been given. But God expects you to use your brain and sort things out.
Put the rest in the hands of the Lord. Everything will be "OK."
Some additional resources you may find valuable in this context:
Classic essays on staying in the church as a different sort of Mormon:
For audio programming that deal with topics on "How to Stay," check out this link.
An audiovisual screencast on why people leave the LDS Church and what family, friends, and community can do about it:
From the "How to Stay in the LDS Church after Losing Your Faith " Workshops:
Please let us know your thoughts and how we can improve.
- Seattle -- October 2007
- The audio from this presentation
- The PowerPoint deck from this presentation.
- The music used in this presentation (please purchase from the authors if you like)
- The videos from this presentation
- The PDF from the October 2007 Sunstone Workshop entitled, "How to stay..."
- Salt Lake City
-- August, 2007