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Response to Meridian Magazine’s 8 Things That Can Pull You Away from the Church

When I read Meridian Magazine’s article 8 Things that Can Pull You Away from the Church yesterday morning my heart sank. Not because I disagree with the author’s suggestions of ways to strengthen one’s faith, but because it oversimplifies the complex process individuals go through when they decide to distance from or to leave the LDS Church. (Meridian Magazine is a private online magazine whose audience is primarily active Mormons)

While I see the positive intent of the authors and they offer good suggestions to nurture testimonies, there are unintended consequences of using these 8 reasons–stop reading the Book of Mormon, forget their covenants, listen to those who’ve left the Church, stop praying to stay strong, stop going to Church, don’t listen to General Conference, listen to philosophies of men over leaders, fail to acknowledge the Lord’s blessings–as explanations for why others leave the Church. As a therapist, family member, and active Church member who has many loved ones who are no longer attending Church, I wanted to voice some of my concerns about the unintended impact of this article:

1) Oversimplifies reasons people leave the Church
This article suggests that disobedience and lack of dedication to spiritual practices are reasons people leave the Church. While these 8 reasons are some of the reasons that people leave the Church, there are also many, many other reasons that people pull away. Until we acknowledge reasons outside of the “Sunday School answers” it will be very difficult for those of us who are active Mormons to listen empathetically and respond respectfully to the thoughts and feelings of those who have left the Church.

2) Neglects systemic factors impacting disaffection from the Church
Explaining disaffection from Church as primarily due to one’s own choices neglects any relational or systemic factors that impact individual choices. For example, some people have experienced abuses of power or gender inequality which impact their decision to leave the Church. Additionally, the LDS Church’s new level of historical transparency (see Church topic essays on plural marriage, first vision accounts, Book of Mormon and DNA, translation of book of Abraham)–have brought up sincere questions by many faithful members. Any discussion about things that pull others away from the Church is incomplete with out engaging in the messiness that can surface when considering more complex questions.

3) Fosters “us” vs. “them” mentality
The title of the article uses the phrase “8 things that can pull you away from the Church” but the article focuses on “them” and “they.” Individuals who have left the Church often feel on the outside, feel disconnected from loved ones. The “us” vs. “them” paradigm can easily perpetuate divisiveness and judgment instead of inviting love and compassion among the spectrum of Mormons. I believe there is only “we.”

4) Suggests staying away instead of mourning
The suggestion to simply stay away from people talking negatively about the Church leaders because they are “doing the bidding of Satan” is reductionistic and dangerous. While it is important to shield our faith from negative influences, this must be balanced with Christ’s teaching to mourn with those that mourn. From my personal and professional experience, people who criticize the Church leaders are doing so as part of a grieving process. Often, people who are pulling away from the Church are close family members or friends who are in pain associated with their decision. I suggest that we should seek the Spirit to know when to set boundaries with loved ones and when to move toward them and show acceptance and love.

5) Fails to include self-reflection on impact of our behavior on others
This article leaves out the importance of self-reflection – of asking ourselves and the Spirit to illuminate our part in the process of many people leaving the Church. How am I being unwelcoming, judgmental, prideful, or insensitive to those around me? It is easy to point a finger at others for leaving the Church, but we are all part of their process. Instead of determining why others leave the Church, we would be wise to ponder what we can do to be more welcoming, inclusive, and loving.

We are living in a complex world. And while I believe that prioritizing our simple spiritual practices helps maintain and strengthen our faith, it is not helpful to ascribe simplistic explanations for other people choosing to step back from or to leave the Church.

(c) Can Stock Photo / eric1513

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About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. . Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her book The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide for Women is available now.

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Comments

Jack Ryser

Thank you for your insight and willingness to share. Very few seem to understand this complicated subject.

jonah higinbotham

woof. i’m glad i didn’t read that article when i was a teenager and grappling with my faith. i would’ve made the wrong decision and stayed.

Joe

Didn’t you just do what you criticized Meridian Magazine of doing? Over simplifying for example. Your treatment of the topic offered no more complexity or elucidation on the topic than theirs did. I think anybody who undertakes to write such an article (or a response) is fully aware that they are not going to be able to offer a comprehensive approach. The truth is that the number of reasons people leave the church are as myriad as the number of individual but, if we let that persuade us to not address the topic in some general terms, we will never talk about it at all and never have any red flags to help us realize we are on a path we should get off of. Wilford Woodruff said that criticizing church leaders will lead us to apostasy but he never said it was the only thing that would result in apostasy. Should we reject his counsel because it was not comprehensive enough to suit our tastes? I think not. Why couldn’t you have accepted the Meridian article for what it was? Why couldn’t you have made your points by adding to the article instead of criticizing it? Isn’t that how we do missionary work? We don’t destroy someone else’s beliefs and faith. Instead we augment it with more but treat their existing faith with respect.

Paul

You are spot on. May I suggest another item in all of this? It’s about the very elect. We think that the people who leave the church is fulfillment of prophecy that “the very elect will be deceived”. Yes this is true, but it’s also true for the elect who are active to. What I mean is loosing empathy for others, simplifying those who leave the church into an over simplified list of “what they did” in leaving the church – members can be just as “deceived” into thinking their judgements are just and true.

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