It is easy within our lives to blame a symptom, easy to blame a messenger, and easier to blame anyone or anything if such protects us from being accountable or aware of our own part in the problem. We all do it. It is human nature.
Recently a presentation was leaked that occurred a year ago where the top leadership in the church had a conversation about sending out top leaders to various stakes and areas in the church to address the “issues and ideas” that lead people away from the church. The photo above is a dramatized re-enactment of the actual photo from that presentation. This slide didn’t dive into the deeper conversation begging to be discussed. With each bubble the Church pointed to outside reasons for a loss of faith and for why people are leaving. The deeper conversation is what are the underlying issues that have these people attracted to an outside voice?
The other struggle with our human nature is the need to tell someone else’s story. In other words, we could easily ask people what their reasons are for leaving. I am highly doubtful any of them would name these bubbles but instead they would also speak to the underlying problems. Its like the person in therapy who deflects and dismisses the tough questions calling them to go deeper with themselves to figure out the real underlying issue. Instead it is more important for the person to be able to tell themselves the story they have always told themselves and in turn are stuck in a cycle where the problems never really get addressed. On top of that the cost of therapy is high. The person is deeply losing something and their unwillingness to be vulnerable only serves to have their life’s problems continue and perhaps even grow. Again this is human nature to do such things.
With that said I want to go through each bubble the Church names as “issue” or “idea” and then expound on what is the underlying real issue or idea that would come out if we asked the actual folks who are leaving.
If we asked those who are sympathetic to the cause of Ordain Women we would find women who have pain and hurt over a religious system that seems to say on one hand women are equal partners in a marriage and within our Church but then would see the outward manifestation of something else being seen in the culture’s outward behavior. Our theology acknowledges a Heavenly Mother exists but have relegated her to silence and our being silent to her. We teach that the eternal role of Women is in the background with a responsibility to be eternal spirit baby makers. Our Church practice relegates women to less crucial to the decision making process of our ward and stakes, and general leadership. In places it relegates women to having a middle man in their relationship to God while giving a man a direct connection. It teaches in subtle ways that while the man has freedom to seek out accomplishment and fulfillment that the women should instead set self care and personal ambitions aside and put all of her energy and focus on helping her children to perpetuate the Mormon ideal. These women would plead for us to find ways to walk the walk of equality and to create a safe space for them to have healthy self identity where they can chase their dreams, feel an equal partnership in their homes and within their church, and to feel encouraged to chase their dreams and aspirations rather then be told what those should be and having modes of shame in place when the two don’t match. The Church has made progress in this area and it seems to want to create greater equality in the value of one’s voice regardless of Gender.
You could add a host of other voices to this bubble, myself included. The question becomes why do people turn to John Dehlin and other voices in Social Media to hear their perspective? If we asked these people why…. what would they tell us. Having had a 1000 conversations or more with these people let me take a guess. They would say that they had questions. Serious Questions. That they could sense or had experienced that there was little safe space to ask and walk out those questions in their formal church experience. That said questions would be dismissed or shamed. That asking said questions had the Church and its members formally and informally distancing themselves from said questioner. These folks feel alone and feel deeply the Church really does not wish to meet their questions honestly and openly. These folks feel they have nowhere to turn. Even when they take their questions to apologetic websites that state they are there to help, these folks quickly discern that if their question forces the apologist into a corner of either validating the question or putting the Church in good light, they see these apologists always choose the latter. When people turn to podcasts or blogs they acknowledge they are finally finding someone who is validating what they are reading and seeing and wanting to ask. These people take the questions and they honor them and are willing to acknowledge the Church has not only made mistakes but also validate that harm and hurt have been caused by those mistakes. These questioners would self acknowledge that had the Church had available a real authentic and safe space to work out one’s discovery and questions then they may never have been searching for a safe space outside of Church. The Church leaders state that questions are honored and that doubts are normal but then have a multitude of mechanisms in place that have the doubter feeling less then and their questions feeling like a threat or plague.
The world is becoming less religious and more “worldly”. But Why? Is secularism the problem? What if we ask people who have become more secular why they have chosen to do so? What would they say. My guess is from the conversations I have had that most would say religion no longer was meeting their needs. That Religion was trying to hold old ground that they saw as no longer tenable. They would likely name specifics like the following. Religion wants to impose ancient myths as literal when our understanding of science and how the world works no longer allows one to be both educated and informed and still hold that ground. Religion imposes that we believe God doesn’t like certain people who fall into minorities when that kind of God no longer makes sense. Religion imposes that we give equal room to unreasonable illogical ideas alongside reasonable logical ideas simply because a particular religion believes such and imposes it should have equal ground. Religion imposes that one tribe or people is better than another or more privileged or more unique or has more access to truth or spiritual experience and their life has taught them that such a view is arrogant and has little basis in evidence. These people would say they have become more secular because their religion has done little shifting and growing to maintain the same size space to believe in it while also being in a world today that understands so much more about how things occur and why things are the way they are.
Disagree with Current Policies
In the Church we are going to have to make some choices. First do we really want diversity or do we only want to give lip service to it. Would we prefer blind obedience even if we are scared to say it? Because when you truly value diversity and truly value people coming to different perspectives and points of view then it follows that you will naturally have a safe space for disagreement and dissent. The trouble here is that if we ask people who have left because they disagree with Church policies, what would be their response of why? Again based on my numerous conversations with these folks they would report the following. That there is little safe space in Mormonism to disagree without being marginalized. They would report that there is no healthy mechanism in our Church for sharing a concern and having that concern addressed based on its validity. They would report they little to no real effort in the Church for it as an entity to face its own shortfalls and to work openly and publicly to address those. When people discover they have a deep disagreement over a policy, and especially when they see others being deeply hurt and marginalized over such a policy, they feel it in their very soul and conscience that something must be done. When they see no valid healthy way to work to address the problem then many feel their only option is to distance themselves from the entity so as in their soul and conscience to not be culpable to the hurt and damage being done. Others choose to be a voice in expressing the concern. They feel a moral obligation to speak out and to not allow the problem to be dismissed or ignored or dealt with in the shadows. Some of these voices stay in and some do it outside the Church. What is sad is that these voices are portrayed as an enemy when they are doing the very things their Church taught them…. standing up for those on the margins, being honest and courageous, and doing what is right and letting the consequence follow.
Incredulity with Church History
Lets ask those who distance themselves from the Church of their perception of how credible is the Church’s narrative of its history…. what would they tell us? They would certainly say that the Church narrative of its story is messy. They would say in places it feels implausible or unreasonable once the data is known and understood. They would say the narrative “is not true” and that “it can not sustain itself”. But it is more than this. They can also see that the Church is shifting its narrative at a certain pace and they deem that pace as too slow to ease their suffering. That it still wants to couch things and still wants to withhold things so as not to hurt the faith of the majority of members. And that such motive to them feels as if the majority who hold a inaccurate narrative are valued of them as a minority who are aware of the messiness. That it still wishes its general membership to stay unaware of just how deep the rabbit hole goes and would prefer to bring everyone along slowly. While this is in all likelyhood the best approach in keeping as many people directly connected to the Church as possible, this slow revising comes off to these people as the Church wanting to avoid apology, wanting to avoid accountability, and wanting to avoid the consequences of having built a narrative inaccurately, and now feeling pressured by the information age to come clean. When folks distance themselves from the Church over history it is out of a sense of betrayal and an awareness in their mind that the Church has no desire to be accountable to the narrative it had taught and to some extent is still teaching. These people left over a loss of trust and at some point the only fix for them when such loss it is real is to see the Church accepting accountability as the betrayer and apologize and acknowledge that wrong has been done and then promise and make real effort to not make the same mistake. The trouble is these people sense a problem that prevents this from happening. Imagine a room of a hundred people where 5 people in the room know that another person in the room did something wrong. That one person knows he messed up but he also knows if he apologizes then all other 99 people in the room know that something went wrong. They will begin asking…. wondering… and when they get home doing their own research….. so that guy tries as hard as he can to give cues and hand signals to the 5 that he acknowledges his wrong. But this nod nod wink wink fails to help the 5 see he is wanting to be accountable and can be trusted and in fact only serves to make it worse.
I will simply say here that sex is a big driving force on human nature. Sex, we would all agree is healthy under certain conditions and unhealthy under others. The conditions can be debated and certainly the Church has told it membership and even the world where it stands on this issue. If we asked those who distance themselves from the Church over chastity issues I would wonder what they would say. Here I admit I have had only a handful of conversations and hence I will not impose any ideas here. That said I will at least suggest that it might revolve around other issues named here (why keep the Church law of chastity if one loses faith in the Church to impose God’s rule as God would have it). I also wonder if those who break the law of chastity and still believe struggle to return due to a shaming culture that exists at least to some extent in Mormonism. One only need to listen to Elizabeth Smart to hear her experience and realize we have issues.
Lack of Righteousness
We must discern here whether we are talking general christian unrighteousness (stealing, lying, murder, jealousy, etc..) or Mormon unrighteousness (not paying tithing, Word of Wisdom issues, etc…). If it is the first then we need to ask ourselves why people choose to sin against what even the world at large would say is not right. If it is the latter then it likely is connected to something else including perhaps the other issues lined out here. In the end the Church can only do so much with the first. Help people see that God loves them. Make our Church experience more Christ focused. Help people grasp grace and mercy and feel they have real access to them. Let go of the check the box, do your very best first mentality and help people turn themselves over to Christ. Faith and hope help us press on. Disappointment and a sense or worthlessness have us stepping back.
I will simply say on this issue and the Chastity issue above that I can not implore the Church enough to seek out a multitude of health professional voices to better understand these issues, what they are and what they are not, and what are healthy ways to speak and teach about sexuality. Often when we suppose our views are God’s views and we talk on subjects for which we have little real understanding, our church history has taught us as well, that in such instances we often make very deep and hurtful mistakes. That we could do much better incorporating our standards in ways that takes into consideration as well as implements the best approaches taught by health professionals.
Lack of Commitment
This one may bring a more diverse response. Why are people no longer as active or committed to Church? I can add responses I have heard and others I can surmise. The Church is a barrier to growing into deeper stages of faith development. The Church is not as Christ centered as I need it to be. The Church is not a safe space for my ideas. I no longer believe . I found better things to do with my time that bring me fulfillment. The Church tells me my friends are my enemies. The Church asks me to sacrifice a lot of time from my family and I am no longer willing. The lessons, talks, discussions no longer meet me where I am. In the end I would prefer to ask them and let them tell their own story.
Again if the Church doesn’t meet people where they are, address needs that they have, answers questions they are asking, and inspire them on a regular basis we should not get upset when people chose to invest their time and energy elsewhere. Someone recently told me “it feels like the Church wants to correct the results but doesn’t want to really hear out the problems”. We need to honor that for some a hike in the woods is more spiritual and inspiring then 3 hours at Church. We don’t want to hear that and saying such feels like criticism but what if we took that and said what can we do to make the three hour block more appealing to those who are leaving? what if Church addressed real issues and spoke to real pain and showed real vulnerability with its members.
Language and Cultural Problems “Ites”
When one segment of our Church is in tension with another… what can be done. Can the Church ask itself if it has created a divisive culture within itself? Is it past and current approach to race, color, American issues vs worldwide issues, malls, rodeos , and other property vs solving world hunger, LGBT issues, religious freedom vs social equality, etc… When I look at Mormonism, as much as we want to say there is room for you, it is difficult to be Mormon and black or democrat or gay or have doubts or a host of other things (feminist, disagree with the church on anything, not believe the narrative literally, etc…). When we create a safe space for differences and value people on the good they do and respect and honor differences, and apologize for past mistakes then we will have solved the majority of the “ite” problem.
Why are Latter-day Saints seeking after false prophets or alternative voices? Let’s ask them. What would they say? My guess is they desire “prophetic” messages and teaching. My guess is they are looking for one who “sees”. I would guess they wanting “revelation”. For reasons we don’t feel comfortable talking about they feel they are not finding it in the Church. They were raised to believe our leaders are like Moses, Noah, and Abraham. That these men talk face to face with Christ. That these men are lead by Christ in leading the Church. What are their assumptions about what they expected that to look like? What did they expect a Prophet to do? what about a seer? what about a revelator? Were their assumptions realistic? Who set those assumptions for them? What can be done to change the assumptions going forward so that we all clearly know what to expect and to look for? In the end if we are taught to see the supernatural and the mythic as literal who can blame the member who looks elsewhere when those expectations are not met? In the end they are in need of a real vulnerable conversation where it is laid out what a Prophet and Seer and Revelator is in a way that they see such an expectation as something that can be met and lived up to. Once we help people move into more realistic expectations of scriptural historical understanding and of realistic assumptions of Prophets then I see this bubble vanishing.
Simple take your eyes up one item and re-read the Denver Snuffer line item.
Last Days End of World Predictions
Again this is about assumptions. We have taught our people that we are in the last days, that we are in the eleventh and half hour, that things are really bad and going to get worse. We have taught people to be prepared with food rations and water rations and fuel rations. We have taught people that even the very elect shall be deceived. We have given talks on last days, written books on last days, and prophesied of last days. Then when people base their preparation on all the teachings and instruction given we see this as “going to far”. Perhaps we could have some balance. Perhaps we could talk more about how much better the world has gotten. How the second coming may still be a long long long time away. Maybe we could encourage people to focus on having their hearts right over having their last days house in order. Again maybe this about about taught and assumed expectations and assumptions.
Very few people know who this is but apparently he has claimed to have spoken to Jesus and Noah and has shared his perspective on the last days and what must come to pass and what already has. see the previous three entries and you have the heart of this issue.
Need Something More
Maybe we can ask these people what is missing and take their responses seriously. What would they say? Do they want a more Christ centered experience? Do they want a less republican supporting church? Do they truly want their questions honored by our engaging them? Do they want us to stop hating people because the old testament told us to? Do they want us to apologize for our wrong on race and a host of other issue? Do they want us to acknowledge our limitations and be more vulnerable? Do they want a Church that focuses more on world issues and less on Utah-centric and American-centric issues? Do they want the strength being a Church of spiritual leaders offering spiritual manna in their instruction or corporation leaders running a corporation? Do they want real spiritual advice to the problems they are facing in their lives or the Church to always be speaking to the threats it fears are facing it as an entity? Do they want to given room to grow into normal healthy deeper stages of faith development or to be stagnated by a Church that encourages obedience to itself over one’s conscience, box checking and busy work, and preference of autonomy and outward authority over diversity and inner authority?
Church has lost its way or is deficient
I would simply say that if we ask those who feel the Church has lost its way, what would they say in response to what that means, looks like, and feels to them. In the end this again is about safe space to grow, about realistic expectations about prophets and scripture, about trust and transparency, and about meeting the needs its members have with real spiritual answers. If an individual feels these are met they will likely stay.
In the end moving past our human nature to tell another’s story and instead sit with them and listen and let them tell their own gives us real feedback which allows us to address the root of an issue. It begs us to be vulnerable. It begs us to be real and to go deep with them. Their story is sacred and we honor it by allowing them to tell it. When we tell another’s story it often is based in fear. People leave religion. They leave Churches, and they leave our church. If we want to slow that down and reduce it as an issue then we have to let these people tell us their reasons for leaving rather then tell their story for them. We also have to create a safe space for dialogue and discussion, a safe space for differences, and a truly safe space to ask questions and to respectfully disagree. I think if we can ever get there then we will have truly captured the Zion of my heart.
May the Lord Warm your Shoulders