Why people leave the LDS Church, and what we can do about it

November 24, 2005
By

Recently a stake high councilman came to me very concerned about a family that had just decided to leave the church, and have their names removed from the records. He and his wife were desperate to know how to counsel this family–one of the best and brightest in their stake.

To help, I came up with this screencast (for Internet Explorer users) and this one for everyone else.

The basic premises are–1) you can’t help them if you don’t know what they’re going through, and 2) you can’t help them by making them a “project”.

For those of you with loved ones who have left or are leaving, I would love you to watch/listen to this and let me know what you think.

For those of you who are struggling, or have left, I would love to know if you or your family/friends would find this useful, in helping people understand and deal with your situation better.

Please let me know. This is only in draft form, and I could really use your feedback.

John Dehlin

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123 Responses to Why people leave the LDS Church, and what we can do about it

  1. jordanandmeg
    June 12, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Freeatlast,
    most mormon men I know are great guys.

  2. jordanandmeg
    June 12, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    And Ruth,
    Wonderfully said. There is no better way to leave the church if one so wishes.

  3. FreeAtLast
    June 13, 2006 at 11:30 am

    The LDS Church recently announced that it will build a temple in the metro area where I live (Vancouver, BC, Canada). The press release (ref. http://www.lds.org/newsroom/showrelease/0,15503,3881-1-23528,00.html) states that there are 172,000 church members in Canada. Assuming that 50% are ‘active’, 20% are children age 12 or younger, and 60% of the remaining group are youth and adults who are ‘temple worthy’, that means that approx. 41,000 Canadian Mormons will be attending the seven temples (including the one in metro Vancouver). That’s less than 6,000 members using each of the seven multi-million dollar temples. The annual cost of lighting, cleaning, heating, air-conditioning, landscaping, and otherwise maintaining each temple must be many thousands of dollars.

    While on the subject of expensive church buildings, in November 2002 I visited the LDS Conference Center during a visit to SLC. A tour guide, a retired medical professional, took me through the Center. He pointed out the large alabaster light coverings, pear wood panelling, super-sophisticated sound system and broadcasting equipment, massive I-beam in the ceiling that had been forged in Europe and shipped to the U.S., high-end carpeting, and other expensive elements of the building. I asked him how much it cost to build; he wouldn’t say. I then told him that I’d heard about $400 million, an amount he would neither confirm nor deny. I know that if I’d been a tithe-paying member, the response would’ve been the same. For generations, the LDS Church’s patriarchal leadership has concealed from members financial details of how it uses their tithing and other ‘contributions’. Their ‘you-don’t-need-to-know’ attitude and the church’s lack of financial transparency was one of the many reasons why I left.

    As the tour guide and I walked past large paintings depicting Book of Mormon stories, he told me about Lehi and his family sailing to the ancient Americas from Israel, the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations that spread across the Americas, native Americans descending from the Lamanites, the Brother of Jared and his lighted, submarine vessels, and other BoM stories. As we departed the area where the paintings are located, he took his gaze off of me, got a puzzled look on his face, and speaking to no one, really, he said, “If I wasn’t raised in the church, I wouldn’t believe these things.” I’d told him at the beginning of the tour that I wasn’t a member; his words were extremely revealing. Little did he know that I’d been raised in Mormonism from early childhood, went on a mission, left the church a decade before, and had studied the effects of LDS religious indoctrination and Mormon psychological conditioning extensively since 1992.

    The Oct. 18/05 issue of Commercial Property News reported that the LDS Church was (is) spending US$1.5 billion to “redevelop 20 acres of Downtown Salt Lake City, focusing on more than 1 million square feet of retail, as well as housing and office.” (ref. http://www.cpnonline.com/cpn/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001307971). In 2003, the church bought the second largest ranch in Nebraska, and in 2004, 633 acres in Hawaii, with plans to build a 200-room hotel on the north side of Oahu and residential subdivisions. A couple of years ago, I read a news report that the church was the second largest private landowner in the U.K.

    The Aug. 4/97 issue of Time estimated that the church’s total wealth was US$30 billion (ref. http://lds-mormon.com/time.shtml). The reported membership that year was 10,070,524. For 2005, it was 12,560,869, a 24.7% increase in nine years. Assuming the percentage of tithe-paying members has remained the same since 1997, and the church’s real estate and other investments have appreciated at an average of 5% per year, it’s no stretch of the imagination to put the church’s total wealth at approx. US$45 billion. In “Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power” (by former BYU Professor of History, Dr. D. Michael Quinn and published in Dec./94), the listed assets of the church included 48 banks, 34 lumber companies, 60 newspapers and magazines, 55 mining firms, 55 railroads, 9 hotels, a $16 Billion insurance company, and a chain of radio and TV stations.

    In May 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley told church members, “In the last 10 years we have supplied in cash and commodities hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to those not of our faith.” As of Nov./04, total church donations for humanitarian aid since 1985 totalled US$450 million based on church press releases and public statement made by senior church leaders. In the U.K., the church is required by law to submit financial reports each year (which the public can view at http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/). Here’s a summary of data for a recent year (2003):

    Total funds received: £31,788,000
    Total expenditures: £28,678,000
    Net surplus for 2003: £3,110,000
    Total of church accounts at year end: £18,849,000

    Expenditure totals for the year from the report:

    Physical Facilities: £8,162,000
    Equipment: £687,000
    Units Costs: £626,000
    Fast Offering Fund: £500,000
    Materials and Supplies: £246,000
    Humanitarian Aid Fund: £193,000
    Perpetual Education Fund: £101,000
    Temple Construction Fund: £45,000

    Total Net Book Value of Church Lands and Buildings: £216,474,000

    The LDS Church (U.K.) spent 1.57% of its 2003 income on fast offering, 0.61% on humanitarian aid, and 0.32% on assisting people with their education. In total, the LDS Church (U.K.) spent only 1/40th of its 2003 income on helping people in need. The church’s income surplus for 2003 was nearly four times what it spent on fast offering/church welfare, humanitarian aid, and the perpetual education fund. The total of the church’s accounts as of Dec. 31/03 was nearly 25 times more than what it spent on helping financially-disadvantaged individuals and people requiring humanitarian assistance.

    Every year, about one quarter of a million children around the globe lose their vision due to a deficiency of certain vitamins in their diet. The cost of an appropriate vitamin supplement to prevent premature blindness is $0.05/day (when purchased in bulk), or $220/child (to age 12). A donation of less than 1% of the LDS Church’s annual income could save tens of thousands of children from going blind prematurely.

    Every year, about 35,000 people (non-combatants) around the world are killed or seriously injured by landmines. Since 1988, the HALO Trust, a British charitable organization (ref. http://www.halotrust.org/), has cleared more than 5 million of the estimated 70 million landmines buried in 90 countries. It’s annual budget is US$45 million. A donation of less than 4% of the sum that the LDS Church is spending on the two SLC shopping malls to the HALO Trust could double its life- and limb-saving work.

    But building a multi-million dollar temple in Vancouver, BC is more important than doing more to relieve human suffering and save lives for the senior priesthood leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  4. Ruth
    June 14, 2006 at 11:09 am

    John – Thanks. I listened to your story today – I appreciate you sharing the depth of your soul. Thanks for the site, for giving me and so many a voice. You have my profound respect and support.

  5. BEA
    June 21, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    I have to say I really thought the presentation was something that I would have loved to have heard from my church leaders 2 or 3 years ago when I approached the subjects with my bishop. Honestly, like a lot of other people I long for the companionship and the comraderie that I once experienced in full fellowship in the church. My wife and boy still attend but upon confronting a lot of the issues outlined (and many others) I find it difficult to be able to accept that the constant bombardment of “I know the church is true” the church is perfect etc.

    Initially a lot of the initial doubts I had stemmed from a college project on of all things Lake Bonneville. For those of you outside of Utah and the Wasatch front one can look to the “everlasting hills” and see a number of “bathtub” rings circling the valley. As someone brought up to believe that the literal “temporal” age of the earth was about 6,000 years and that Adam was the first man and so on. I was shocked to find out that that Lake Bonneville last existed as recently as 15,000 years ago with evidence of human habitation in caves surrounding Lake Bonneville dating to 15,000 years ago in addition to other archeological sites around the world tens of thousands of years more ancient than that. That is substantially greater that the 6,000 years that church leaders have consistetly cited as the timeframe of the first man, physical death etc. Simply put and not to get bogged down in the minutia because I realize science is not error free either 19th sentury science justdoesn’t hold up as eternal truth today. At the point of finding that first inconsistency I still remained active in the church. After all, is the age of the Earth and the first people REALLY more important than the eternal salvation of my soul?

    A few years later my wife and I decided that we would adopt an african-american child and made a trip to LDS family services (which in itself was an eye opening experience “why would you want to settle for an african-american child?).

    I then started to try and find out about the ban on the priesthood. As strange as this may sound to a lot of people I never really and still do not have a problem with the church deciding who it will or won’t give the priesthood to. It is a private organization and they make the rules. If they want to exclude blacks, red heads, chirpas or whomever it is their right to do so. The issue I have was the reasoning behind the ban. All the “thus sayeth the lords” and “in the name of Jesus” followed by some epithet about how evil ,low life and cursed black people are and that slavery is a divine institution and so on. Much more inflamatory than exclusion from the priesthood in my opinion is the thought/doctrine endorsed on numerous occasions from official letters from the first presidency that just being born with black/dark or whatever skin was a consequnce for less than stellar performance in the “war in heaven.” It was at this point that I became very concerned and wondering if this really was/is the feelings of God toward my new little son? Did God say these things to his one and only prophet on earth as well as numerous leaders through the decades following? I prayed and prayed to know these teachings were truly divine revelation. I tried to find contemporary explanations about the pre-existence valiance. At no point have I been able to determine that the doctrine has been officially denouced. What I have been able to determine is that the the doctrine has been substantiated over and over again through various manuals, letters, discussions, discourses and correllated materials to remove all doubt from my mind that this was not a general “church policy issue”, opinion or conjecture but was indeed bonafied “real doctrine” and therefore continues to be.

    Did I want to endorse an organization that still (though quietly) holds as a belief that my son was not good enough in pre-earth life to be born with white skin? That white skin is better or desirable? By attending church am I silently endorsing and sustaining “ALL” of the teachings of the prophets including a belief that that my son is substandard in any way? Can I take the “cafeteria” approach to the church? These are the questions that I was struggling with (and continue to haunt me as I try to determine my place in the church).

    As I’ve struggled for the last 3 or 4 years with these issues I have always drawn the comparison between my belief in the church and a glass of water. Starting out my belief was full, I accepted anything and everything as the “gospel truth” that came from any and every prophet since the restoration. When I discovered the earth was older than 6,000 years old and Adam was not the first human. I had to pour a little bit out of my cup and had to ignore that particular part of a sunday school lesson relating to the garden of eden and Adam and Eve. When I found out that the Book of Abraham wasn’t actually lost in a fire in Chicago like I had been told for years and was not truly a literal translation and was not “written with his own hand” I had to pour a little bit more out of the glass. Joseph Smith and secret marriages. Post Manifesto church sanctioned polygamy. The flood of Noah being a literal and complet baptism of the earth. A little more out of the glass. When I discovered the doctrines relating to people of African descent I had to pour more out of my glass. And eventually I really have to wonder, what else is left? Does the church or it’s leadership really have a clue what “true” really means? Is it the sanitized for your protection correllated version of true? Ultimately, people will choose to believe no matter what kind of skeletons are found in any number of closets. I know that my concerns may have been lessened had someone with real authority been able to address the issues in a substantive way but no one has the authority to speak for the church and, from the half a dozen leaders I spoke with I got 6 different answers all lacking any kind of real insight into the issue at hand. But one thing that I can say is the sweep it under the carpet, pretend the church is perfect, ignore the issue, don’t ask don’t tell policy that is the modern church just hasn’t cut it for me.

    I’ll finish quickly by saying and this has been a question that has nagged me ever since my struggles began…. How does one follow the admonition of Yoda the Jedi master “You must unlearn what you have learned” Or alternatively how do you un-ring a bell?

    I can’t say how helpful listening to this podcast and reading on this blog has been for me. I don’t know what if any activity level in the church I may have in the future but I can say that a combined adult lesson in a meeting block from time to time covering some of the issues outlined in the webcast would be a really good thing. But unfortunately members with questions will continue to be marginalized for the good of the “flock”.

    Thanks for your time.

  6. July 3, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    Hey John

    A friend of mine listened to the screencast and absolutely loved it! I put it on my web page as well in the Communication section. My friend wanted to record it onto his computer, the whole thing, especially with your excellent narration. So whenever his highly active LDS friends ask him about the church he can just say, “here, listen to this…” He and I would like to know if it’s possible to download it onto our computer in case the link gets broken etc?

  7. Jo
    July 15, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Jamie, I hope you still refer back to this site and know that there are people here who understand and love you.
    I wrote about being ex-communicated by a gay bishop. That was actually finally the beginning of the end if you will. The real beginning was another bishop a few years earlier who told me that regardless of what my husband did, it was my duty to stay with him for the sake of my children and that I would reap my reward in heaven. My husband did not beat me, it was just multiple affairs. I didn’t know until the gay bishop entered the picture and I finally left my husband for good that my husband was bisexual.
    Tony Feliz, author of Out Of The Bishop’s father was my bishop at the time I was ex-communicated. There was much manipulation and coersion on his part when I made initial feeble attempts to leave my husband. I experienced a lot of ostracization by men in the ward and then the women as well.My husband and bishop smeared my name to many people in our ward. It was painful. I now realize, though, that much of my reactions were destructive and self defeating. I did not have supportive parents, so was very lost and angry.
    It is hard and can take a long time to find your way. I, too felt yearnings for the very church I left. It sounds that you do not feel angry at the church,Jamie,but at the perpetrators of the so very heinous abuses you experienced. I hope that you are able to find peace in your soul. For me, it took me two more marriages with very controlling men, one a mental health professional who was extremely abusive in every way. Still, the Lord never left me alone. He will not leave you entirely. Pray to him every day. Go to church if you feel you need to. If your husband is a good man, he will support you in what you need to do to find spiritual peace.
    As I said in an earlier comment, there are heinous crimes that are committed in this church and ever other church. Maybe the difference in the LDS church is that we expect so much more of the members and we put total faith that as so called “saints” they are incapable of maltreatment and horrible behavior. You must be wary of everyone. The church is not a Utopia. But, you are right, Jamie, there is a spirit unparalleled in the temple. I believe that it is that spirit that beckons you.
    Go to the temple grounds if there is one where you live. You can also subscribe to the Ensign. If the LDS faith is the faith that is within your heart, you need not deny it. Have faith in your husband that he will support you in your quest for peace within.
    Jo

  8. just one of many
    July 28, 2006 at 11:37 am

    I have been the victim of every I/it scenario! I appreciate your thoughful presentation. I just left the church and it was partly due to the fact that the bishop’s inability to understand the effects of “the gap”. We refused to stay behind to try to change things because we as members are powerless. If we voice our concerns openly, we can be brought up on Apastasy charges and be exed. How is discussing truth apostasy? By the way the church doesn’t seem to get what you are trying to do. Have you seen the new Joseph Smith movie in Salt Lake…talk about fictionalizing church history! I refuse to teach my children that the church is “true” when the truth isn’t allowed inside its walls.
    By the way, your suggestion that people can pick and choose which doctrines to accept/ reject is a fouled theory. If you don’t accept all and abide by all, you are judged. The rift between child and parent would be great. How does the parent help the child reconcile that the church says it has all the truth, but not all of it is technically true. You become the “apostate” parent and the church becomes a substitute parent driving a wedge between parent and child.
    I can be a good person, by virtue of choice. Your right lds church service is easier, but after leaving the church I have found that choosing how I can serve my fellow man has many benefits. I don’t have a “list” to check off each month as to how and who I needed to serve. I had to constantly look for those in need, become active and seek for ways to serve God.

  9. September 30, 2006 at 4:01 am

    I find your presentation to be misleading, contrived and ultimately missing the pooint and the setup.

    I have left the church after being manipulated by its many constructs.

    Your focus must shift from blind apology if you wish to appear rational.

  10. Don H
    February 9, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    I found that most people that bash the LDS church they themselves has a difacult time getting along in any good struchured church. We are Christians the same Lord of King David, Moses and the twelve aposeles, lives in my heart and intire life the same. Thank you for this time to wittness of Christ , Don H

  11. dean
    February 19, 2007 at 12:36 am

    It is very difficult to leave the churh. The inconsistecies within Church histories and doctrines are simply too numerous to stomach. Yes, ‘prophets’ are men, and men make mistakes…but if Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and even Hinkley are wrong about certan revelations which supposedly came from God, the how can any one person decide which are real and which are false?

    None of the prophets from the Bible were ever wrong when they prophesied in the name of God. Brigham yound SAID that God told him about Adam being our true father and only God to worship. If he said that God told him that, then how can we believe anything else?

  12. Brad
    April 17, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    John,

    From the perspective of a long-time ex-mormon, I think what you are trying to do here is a good thing. You may be swimming upstream, but I think it is worth doing. When you talk about focussing on the “good” as opposed to the “truth,” one of the “bad” aspects of mormonism is its tendency to rip families apart when one or more members leaves the religion. If your efforts reduce that effect at all, I think you have done a good thing.

    On apologetics. It’s not just the new exmos who won’t be convinced. Apologetics are useful only for those who really want to believe, but have doubts. LDS apologetics starts from the conclusion that Joseph Smith restored the true church to earth or that the Book of Mormon is a historical record of peoples in the Americas and seeks to prove that those conclusions are possible. Most exmos are interested in figuring out what is true, not what could possibly be true. So, from the perspective of having some sort of dialog with those who choose to leave, there are no “good” apologetics.

    I wish you luck in your efforts.

  13. Tasha
    April 24, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I really appreciated this honest approach to understanding why people leave the LDS church. I left the church 8 years ago, and I struggled with many of the issues you addressed here. The one thing that I noticed that you left out, however, was those people (like myself) who discover the Truth found in the Bible. The message of the Bible is vastly different from the message of Mormonism. The LDS Church has come to a point of using the Bible as a sort of front to make them look Christian, when really the only verses they learn are the ones that – out of context – seem to back up Mormon theology. You should definitely have a slide dedicated to What we were taught about the Bible (that is is corrupted, incomplete and unreliable/ that it agrees with the Book of Mormon and LDS theology/ that it is equally proofless to the Book of Mormon), and what the facts are about the Bible (that there are thousands of manuscripts available to check the accuracy of it/ that it was not translated by monks and priests of the Catholic church, but by men who were hunted and killed by the Catholic church for trying to give the Bible to everyone/ that there are thousands upon thousands of archaeological, historical and anthropological evidences for the Bible/ that the message of the Bible is that Jesus paid the whole debt for our sins and that through his atonement PLUS NOTHING we are saved from Hell and adopted as children of God). This was the clincher for me, not the sordid history of the Church. Just the Bible, and the simplicity of the gospel of Christ and his cross.

  14. Quinn
    April 24, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    Great effort that attempts to help LDS leaders and members away from judgment to dialogue, a very scary thing for members and leaders alike in an authoritarian culture. And waking up to the falseness of LDS history and doctrine tests relationships to their core, and yes, most are disparaged. It must be the person, not the church in the minds of members and leaders.

    May I suggest your analysis is fairly superficial? You highlight the taught/reality gap but leave out biggies like Jesus saying the gates of hell would not prevail against his kingdom, directly refuting the need for a restoration, where Joseph’s ability to translate was directly testable he failed miserably in Kinderhook and the Book of Abraham, not to mention that we know what the early apostles thought and taught, and little resembles core LDS theology. So you still ignore many glaring evidences that show Mormonism for what it is and never establish a reasonable criteria for the truth. Look to the Bible. The Bible tells us that those who prophecy in the name of the Lord are 100% accurate, something that Smith can’t claim, not even close. Or those who teach what is counter to the established word are to be “accursed.” So it isn’t a taugh/reality gap, but a God’s word/Mormon reality gap.

    I pray that God will inspire LDS leaders and members alike to open themselves up to their own sin of arrogance and pride, and come to know the Jesus of the Bible who always was God and stands with open arms to recieve them.

  15. Quinn
    April 24, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    One more thought…I’ve done research on those who leave Mormonism and have found that there are tremendous losses for most…relationships, respect from LDS friends, and many others you mentioned. And so inspiring that those who came to a saving relationship with Jesus view all those losses as mere bumps on the road. Sadly 60% who leave the LDS faith end up aganostic, turned sour on religion. Most likely this is due to deep revisionism…AKA why let the truth stand in the way of good story. Honesty is always the best policy unless you choose to excommunicate scholars for printing evidence critical to the sacred stories. You can’t hold a position of integrity and show such distain for truth at the same time as is clearly the case among the intellectual purge in the early 90’s that continues today.

  16. Trevor
    April 24, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Quinn,

    Which Jesus of the Bible? You can’t simply make up your own composite character and call him the “Jesus of the Bible.” It’s a lot more complicated than that.

  17. May 23, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    This thoughtful and kind screencast has general principles that will serve anyone whose loved ones are going through a conversion (or deconversion) in any faith.

    Well done and humane: we so often forget to be the best our tradition (whatever thay may be) asks of us.

    -Kushana

  18. Amy Cote
    July 5, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I loved your presentation, yet, I’m still troubled very deeply that people actually remain loyal to a church that is a fraud and true to a false profit who was a liar, adulterer, caused married women to commit adultery, etc. The Church cannot be true if Joseph Smith is a fraud, which is pretty easily shown if a person really WANTS to know the truth. Smith is a fraud, the Book of Mormon is not the “most correct book on Earth” and the Church leaders, if they are truly “Christians” need to stop deceiving members and non-members alike. The Church is NOT TRUE, Joseph Smith is NOT a TRUE prophet. Admit it and move on! The Truth will set you free! It did me!

  19. Amy Cote
    July 5, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I found it amusing and confusing by the comment above that even if Joseph Smith sinned in his polygamy, that sin is on his head and the church is still true. Joseph Smith taught as DOCTRINE that polygamy was REQUIRED and WILL ALWAYS BE REQUIRED (“the everlasting covenant”) to become a god. If he sinned in this matter and this is NOT of God, then he wasn’t telling the truth and the prophet would be directing the church to do something that is abominable before the Lord (which it clearly IS, ALWAYS). Now, God would not tell a true prophet to direct people to do something ungodly. So if it was a sin, which is WAS, IS and ALWAYS WILL BE, he was NOT a true prophet. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that if someone tells you to break a commandment that has already been commanded, they will be called least in heaven. We already know having sex with people other than our spouses is adultery, so anyone who teaches us to break the commandment is not of God. PERIOD!

  20. Fritz Jensen
    July 12, 2007 at 1:31 am

    I found that the Quinn entry of April 24, 2007 to be right on, in its first two paragraphs, but I found the 3rd paragraph incongruent with the first two.

  21. annegb
    July 12, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Freeatlast and others, you only validate my opinion that people leave the church because of jerks and jerky behavior more often than a dispute over doctrine. I know jerk is too softly euphemistic, I’m trying to quit cussing.

    I tell you, I am so mad at somebody in my ward right now over a particularly egregious wrong that involves the highest level of hypocrisy, I could leave. I won’t, but I’m mad. Righteously so.

    It’s hard to hang on through what people experience. Like Jamie, I think God understands and I think He’s going to slap a bunch of temple recommend holders up the side of the head as He lets us sinners through first.

  22. Fritz Jensen
    August 4, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    There are three ways to leave the Church:

    1, Excomunication
    2. Write a letter to the 1st Presidency asking
    that your name be removed.
    3. Just go inactive.

    MOST CHOOSE #3

  23. Brook
    August 5, 2007 at 1:28 am

    This is demoralizing.

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