This is my response to Meridian Magazine’s article titled “8 Things That Can Pull You Away From the Church”
All around us we hear of friends and loved ones who are falling away from the Church. It breaks our hearts because we know of the incredible blessings they will be missing. We love them. With all our hearts we want them to enjoy all the blessings of the gospel and be with us throughout all eternity.
This article rubbed me and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I sat with myself and pondered what it was. If I am honest the eight reasons laid out do in actuality cause some to lose motivation and interest in Mormonism…. then it struck me. That doesn’t seem to be who the article is speaking about. There seems to be at least 2 groups of Latter-day Saints that drift away from the Church. There may in fact be many groups but for the sake of this post let’s split these into a dichotomy. Those who were generally un-dedicated to the faith, found Mormonism boring, perhaps new converts who found themselves in over their head, or no longer interested once the Missionaries were not focused on them, perhaps members who went to Church for social reasons but were never tied to the theology. Then there is the dedicated group. Those who are both feet in. Those who magnified callings, those who moved up in leadership, those who did what the Church asked and were committed to the Church and its leaders. The question begging to be asked is which group is the article talking about and which of these two groups is the article trying to speak to before their withdrawal from activity occurs? The first thing that struck me was that they are speaking to readers of Meridian Magazine. The very nature of who is reading a peripheral magazine in the Church that costs money to subscribe indicates that these subscribers are not the un-dedicated members of the Church. Rather, simply getting this magazine and actually reading the issue indicates a two feet in on Mormonism.
We may ask, how does it happen? Some who once were faithful are now doubting and leaving the Church. It rarely suddenly happens; it’s usually a gradual process. It’s a process we all must guard against. Here are 8 things that ever so carefully pull people away.
Another indicator here. They are speaking of those who were once faithful and those who we have deep loving attachment to. again they indicate they are speaking to the dedicated, two feet in, true blue dyed in the wool members…. who for the reasons they give step away from the Church. The second question being begged is Are the eight reasons listed an accurate portrayal of those who were once dedicated and faithful and who were also involved long enough that they were our friends and we loved them and are brokenhearted that they have stepped away from such incredible blessings? The reality is that the authors of this article and many active faithful members of the Church paint a simple story of those faithful members who leave and they label them and they want nothing less than to know the real reasons why these folks stepped away.
1. They stop reading the Book of Mormon.
This is likely not an intentional sudden ceasing. It’s usually the gradual not finding the time, even promising yourself that you’ll get back to it, and before you know it you’re out of the habit. Life moves in on all of us and if we’re not careful, that which is most vital will be left behind. So it is with daily reading of the Book of Mormon. Reading and studying the Book of Mormon is profoundly important in maintaining our testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel.
President Howard W. Hunter said, “It is through reading and studying the Book of Mormon, and prayerfully seeking confirmation of its contents, that we receive a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth”(Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, p. 151-152). To keep our testimonies fresh and growing we must continue to read and study this sacred book.
So let’s start by acknowledging that some truly leave for the reasons we will run through. Again I see these reasons in the way the author(s) here lays them out as applying to a different group of people than who it seems to be wanting to speak to and about. For that reason while validating these reasons are accurate for some… For the purpose of this post we will set that group of un-dedicated members who leave aside and only speak to the second group. Those who make us the readership of Meridian Magazine and those who left after being once faithful prior… the dedicated members of the Church who are at risk of falling away or who have fallen away.
If we did a study of those who were once dedicated and have fallen away, I bet we would find that these folks encountered something in their faith that troubled them. That when they encountered the troubling issue that they had full faith that God would help them work it out. I am also guessing they prior to discovering that trouble these individuals read their scriptures as often or perhaps more often then their untroubled counterparts. Then when they encountered said trouble rather then relinquish their study of the scriptures, I am guessing a majority of them doubled down looking for answers. They likely increased, not decreased their scripture study. As they searched the scriptures and as they sought “by study and by faith” to find answers to the troubling perplexity, they likely discovered other contradictions and troubling problems and the snowball begin to build. Only once they realized that scriptures were not solving the conundrum and that the mass of troubling issues were growing was their faith lost and their act of diminishing their scripture study and perhaps the complete relinquishing of them having occurred.
2. They forget their covenants.
One of the greatest blessings we have in this Church is the opportunity to make sacred covenants with our Heavenly Father. We renew these covenants when we partake of the sacrament. We are reminded of what we must do to be faithful members of His church. President Spencer W. Kimball observed: “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of you have made covenants—you know what to do and you know how to do it—our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day.” (Quoted by Tad R. Callister, in The Infinite Atonement, p. 287)
When it comes to our temple covenants, if we do not return to the temple often we can easily forget the sacred promises we made there. It’s human nature to forget unless we actively work at remembering what we’ve promised the Lord. These are covenants that bring us peace and ensure that, as we live them, we will be with our Savior and our family throughout eternity. That’s a promise so great it demands our devotion and attention to keeping it ever in our minds and hearts.
Again it is easy for those who are still faithful & and also readers and writers of Meridian Magazine, but who are clueless to what a deep faith crisis entails, to assume one must have obviously have negated their covenants prior to falling away. But having gone through a crisis of faith myself (and still an active temple recommend holding member who is still “faithful”), let me share a new idea with you. More often than not, these folks negated their covenants, not before their loss of faith, but after. Once they came to the realization that for them, Mormonism was not what it claimed to be. Once they mentally arrived at that decision, these covenants no longer held water. They no longer were binding. They lost their hold and their value. It is a chicken and the egg and sadly it is always the outsider who has not gone through this who decides which order things happened for those who left. A simple fix is to ask them. Ask your friends and loved ones who were once faithful, why they left and if their loss of faith happened before or after their forsaking of their covenants. What are you afraid of? It can’t be the truth can it?
3. They listen to those who have left the Church.
Too many have been led astray by listening to people who have a “beef” with the Church or someone in it. Many think they are wiser than the living prophets. We suggest if someone is talking negatively about our Church leaders and are belittling you for believing them, they are disrespecting you and beliefs that are sacred to you. Unwittingly or not, they are doing the bidding of Satan, whose sole purpose is to lead souls of men away from the joyful blessings of the gospel. The Book of Mormon teaches us the devil “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2Nephi 2:27) If you have questions, seek answers from the scriptures, the Spirit, and many other faithful resources, rather than from those who have left the Church.
A friend shared a conversation she had with someone who professed that the Church wasn’t true and that, in fact, there was no devil. She looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter one whit what you think. The Church is true whether you believe it is or not. And there is a devil whether you believe there is or not. And he’s seeking to lead you away from the truth. You can choose the devil’s way or the Lord’s way. It’s up to you, but there will be consequences.”
As it turned out, this man changed and became a faithful, dedicated member of the Church and has been for many years.
We suggest that a powerful testimony is your protection. Not arguing or trying to convince people who seek only to confuse the faithful. Testify, then depart in peace, allowing no further argument or allowing of Satan to enter the conversation. Remember these words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “[Satan] seeks to confuse and deceive us, to get us on a low road that leads away from our eternal destination.”
Well, darn it. now you can’t ask them because asking one who left, why they left, puts you at risk….. huh. think this through. If a faith was really worried about what was out there regarding it’s history and behavior what would be the first thing you would expect that faith to do to prevent said discovery of said info by its members who were unaware…. hmmmm. Maybe not to listen to those who are now aware? Such instruction to not listen or to understand both sides of a issue is cultish and for that the Meridian author(s) should be ashamed. Sadly one can not ever discover truth if they are only willing to listen to one side of any story. The truth is whether the Church likes it to be known or not, it has shared and told a simple whitewashed narrative of itself that when studied deeper poses problems, paradoxes, and contradictions. Whether the Church is true or not, it should recognize that people have a right to study the deeper reality and make educated decisions and for anyone to suggest that to avoid information and perspectives when making important decisions that affect one’s salvation, well…. that is truly cult-like and Meridian should be ashamed. The truth need not fear. Joseph smith said come where it may, Mormonism is truth. and President J. Reuben Clark stated “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”. Lets talk openly about both sides and let people make educated informed decisions and we are all better for it.
4. They cease praying to stay strong and faithful.
People who fall away cease praying that they will always remain faithful, that they will never be deceived. We must pray diligently for that divine help. We need the Lord’s help in staying strong and faithful to all we know to be true. In this day and age we need His help desperately.
In a General Conference address we were reminded that even our leaders pray to stay faithful. “Shortly before President Heber J. Grant passed away, one of the Brethren visited his home. Before he left, President Grant prayed, ‘O God, bless me that I shall not lose my testimony and keep faithful to the end!’ After nearly 27 years as President of the Church, this was his fervent prayer. His example is a striking reminder that no one, at any age, is immune from Satan’s influence.”
Like President Grant, we, too, must pray always to stay faithful and to never be deceived by those who would lead us away from the Church.
Again just like like #1 it is those who haven’t gone through this and who are still “faithful” who decide for others why they no longer are “faithful”. This seems like faulty procedure and sets one up for false assumptions about why things happen. In terms of those who left, more times then not their prayers and commune with god was increased. They sought revelation. They went to God with broken hearts and pleaded for God to show them what they were missing. Again whether the Church is true or not is not the point to debate, rather we need to all get to a place where we recognize that our Church has a deeply flawed history and it is full of contradictions and problems that give one reason to leave. We need not be defensive over such a statement and until we can comfortably say such we may never really understand those who leave and what the real reasons are for doing so….. especially if we are scared or fearful to ask them and to listen to them.
5. They stop going to Church.
Attending our Church meetings, especially sacrament meeting, is vital to keeping our testimonies strong. We need to be there to partake of the sacrament, to be filled with His Spirit, to renew our pledge to keep the commandments. We need to attend Sunday School, Young Women and Relief Society and Priesthood meetings. That is where we are taught the doctrine and share testimonies. We need to be in our meetings so that we may be spiritually fed by and associate with other faithful members.
In his book The Infinite Atonement Elder Tad R. Callister reminded us of Brigham Young’s teaching: “It is one of the greatest blessings we could enjoy, to come before the Lord, and before the angels, and before each other, to witness that we remember that the Lord Jesus Christ has died for us.” (The Infinite Atonement, p. 289) Partaking of the sacrament weekly helps us stay close to the Savior and have His spirit with us throughout the week. This is a great protection in keeping us faithful.
This seems so ironic. the author is saying they go inactive first from attendance and then become unfaithful. Does not common sense dictate that they lost faith or interest first and then went inactive in their church attendance? Is our need to remain comfortable, so strong that we avoid common sense and reason? Again what do we fear? Also if church does not provide a safe space to explore one’s doubts and questions should we expect people to keep going if people label them and refuse to hear them as the article does and suggests others do?
6. They don’t listen to General Conference.
When our Church leaders speak to us at General Conferences they are saying the very things that will help us stay true to the faith. They know how Satan works. They are knowledgeable and up-to-date on what’s going on in the world. They are inspired to say exactly what we need to hear. When we listen with the pure intent of learning God’s will for us we will know precisely what we need to do to stay strong. And how we can help our families and other stay strong.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, explains why we should pay close attention to the messages of conference. “The more we treasure the words of the prophets and apply them, the better we will recognize when we are drifting off course—even if only by a matter of a few degrees.”
When members stop listening to the messages of our leaders they are more easily led away. To not watch General Conference is like someone handing you a valuable diamond, free of charge, and you saying, “No thank you.” Be wise, and listen.
Like #1 and #4 and #5 this point ignores that these people were once dedicated and certainly revered and listened to the prophets…. They only stopped when they lost trust in these men as being what they claimed to be. Whether real or perceived, that loss of trust is real and until we talk openly about why that trust was lost, we will continue to label and dismiss those who no longer see the prophets as their ultimate source for truth and for some no source at all. Again the reality is these members who fell away looked to leaders to help them sort this out. but the more they listened and the more they sought out context, the more they felt betrayed.
7. They listen to the philosophies of men above the teachings of the prophets.
Some drink up the so-called wisdom of the world regarding social issues that are contrary to the teachings of the Church. Part of this is due to not wanting to offend anyone and some because they are afraid to speak their own mind. In other words they fear man more than God. It’s easy to get caught up in the popular trends of the day. It takes courage and faith to stand true to what the Church has taught.
We must never forget that regardless of what someone else believes, we will always treat them with love and respect. That doesn’t mean we have to accept their philosophies. It simply means we treat them with respect and hold true to our own beliefs.
If we support doctrine contrary to the teachings of the Church we are treading on dangerous ground. Always follow the prophet. That will bring us safely home to our eternal reward.
Talk about “Poisoning the well”. When we tell the “faithful” that Prophets are right and the philosphies of men are wrong it simply scares people into not studying out the issues and gathering information to make educated decisions. If we want to scare people into staying believing members, this is the way to do it. I would prefer to error on the side of letting all sides share their perspective and for each person to have access to those perspectives and for people to make informed educated decisions. If the Holy Ghost is real and we trust him as a member of the Godhead then we should not fear what the other side has to say. This is a competent method in business, in social circles, in political disagreements, in forming informed opinions on any topic or issue…. except when it comes to Mormonism? Please hear me. You would be thrilled if the Jehovah witness, Catholic, Methodist, Islamist, Scientologist, Evangelical Christian who is investigating Mormonism delved deeper into their current religion to decide if something was awry there as they decide if Mormonism has something to offer. You would welcome them listening to the critics of their faith as they make such a decision but somehow because Mormonism is true and you know it, you would dismiss such a method as deceptive and unfruitful but only with your own faith? weird.
8. They fail to acknowledge the Lord’s blessings.
When we see the blessings the Lord has given us and thank Him for them it draws us closer to Him. To ignore these blessings puts a gulf between us and Him. It’s not that He has left us, it’s that we are pulling away from Him. To acknowledge Him opens the door for Him to shower even more blessings upon us. Thanking Him daily for all He has done for us will help strengthen our testimonies of His love for us. Thanking Him for our membership in His Church helps us treasure it all the more.
In a General Conference address Elder David A Bednar said, “Let me recommend that periodically you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude. Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate appreciation with all the energy of our hearts.”
Gratitude such as this will draw us closer to the Lord and strengthen our testimonies of the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This point seems to conflate the Mormon Church with God. They are not the same. Also the Gospel of Jesus Christ is separate from the Mormon Church as well. People active in Mormonism may or may not be dedicated to God. People who are not members may or may not be dedicated to God and his gospel. And certainly Latter-day Saints who have left the fold may also may or may not be dedicated to God and his gospel. To label one who distances themselves from the Church as having distanced themselves from God is an assumption and is offensive. We are better than this. Also once you understand what a faith crisis entails you recognize how after having felt betrayed and lost trust in Mormonism, it is reasonable to then explore the realty of God. The best thing we can do with these people is validate that whether they stay Mormons or not, that their relationship with god is independent of that and they should be encouraged to continue to look for him and we are to truly be happy for them when they find him elsewhere.
By doing our part, as suggested in these 8 points, we cannot help but stay faithful and steadfast in protecting our testimony and membership in the Church.
We conclude with the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “The Holy Ghost will protect us against being deceived, but to realize that wonderful blessing we must always do the things necessary to retain that Spirit. We must keep the commandments, pray for guidance, and attend church and partake of the sacrament each Sunday. And we must never do anything to drive away that Spirit.” (Ensign, Nov. 2004, “Be Not Deceived”)
Yes, if we put blinders on we can cling to our simple naive faith that gives us comfort and allows us to remain comfortable….. but it is only when we become real truth seekers, and like Christ, sit with those who are marginalized and different do we grow a real living faith that can sustain the storms. We are better than this. If we are not then it seems we are likely not cut out for real truth seeking.