If I Ever Go Inactive…

From my limited observations, it appears that if a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stops going to their church, they often do not begin attending another church. They simply do not go to any church. I have observed this with family, friends, and various inactive members in the many wards I have lived in. I think that would be the case for me as well. I have no intention of ever being inactive, I’m just thinking hypothetically.

For me, deciding to attend the Mormon church, or no church at all, has nothing to do with being lazy, or anti-religious. It is not that I feel obligated to attend church currently, and that I don’t like attending church. I believe it is because after understanding the claims and beliefs of Mormonism, most anything else seems a bit underwhelming.

The claims made by Mormonism, which I firmly believe, are big claims. They are HUGE. Ginormous even. Here is just a sample:

God lives! Jesus is the Christ! Modern Prophets! Additional Scripture! Modern Scripture! Restored Priesthood! Not just salvation, but exaltation! An entire plan of salvation from preexistence to degrees of glory! And a powerful, and underrated theology. It is hard to beat. Mormonism is also a very practical religion with things like home teaching, food storage, the Word of Wisdom, even Boy Scouts.

I started thinking about this after recently stumbling on to an anti-Mormon blog where the phenomena of Mormons who leave the church, but do not join any other church was discussed. One of the commentors suggested that instead of telling Mormons that their religion is like a crooked stick, they should tell them how straight the evangelical stick is. I am afraid this individual has no clue about the typical Mormon mindset.

You see, Mormons believe that what they have is an IRON ROD, that has been put in place by God himself! And if some Mormon decides to let go of their iron rod, and you try and show him your ‘straight stick’ I am afraid it is going to look a little bit like a toothpick. And a man-made toothpick at that.

So if you ever hear of old Eric going inactive, it is not going to be very likely that I found a church that I like better, or think is more true. No, if I ever go inactive, don’t go looking for me at some local congregation at another church. I will be either watching football on the couch, or out golfing. And trying to figure out what to do with Sundays off and a 10% raise – and how I am going to get by without the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in my life.

Where else am I going to go? The Mormon church has the words of Eternal Life.

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39 Responses to “If I Ever Go Inactive…”


  1. 1 Phouchg October 17, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    I have been “inactive” for 2 1/2 years and I have been regularly (2-3 times per month) attending the Episcopal Church – the church I was born and raised in.

  2. 2 John October 17, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    For the most part, most people I know that leave the church, really don’t leave, they just quit going. Most really aren’t looking for a higher purpose, they’re just looking for free Sundays, a life without callings, or the “freedom” to smoke, drink, play around, etc.

    I have often thought that no other religion or way of life made as much sense, or covered more of the bases, than Mormonism. This could be because I am a cultural as well as converted Mormon. I’ve never had a serious problem with the church, it’s origin, or it’s continuing prophetic leadership. I recognized it has warts. This has been true thruout history.

    People that are active in another faith before they convert, may be a different story. I freely admit I don’t have as much knowledge of that, having lived in Utah (I’m sorry) for most of my life.

    Still, another religion is not my problem. My problem is blue skies, hills of juniper and pinon pine, my 4-wheeler calling me, and it’s time to go to priesthood!

    P.S. I’m not really sorry I live in Utah!

  3. 3 Eric Nielson October 18, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Phouchg:

    I know there will be exception to this. Perhaps more likely for converts?

    John:

    You thoughts match mine quite well.

  4. 4 stevem83 October 18, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Most really aren’t looking for a higher purpose, they’re just looking for free Sundays, a life without callings, or the “freedom” to smoke, drink, play around, etc.

    I think it would be awesome if active Mormons could get past these stereotypes and realize that a lot of people stop attending church for more substantive reasons than those listed here.

  5. 5 John October 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    stevem83,

    Hey, I was talking about the ones I know, not the ones you know. I don’t hold myself as a spokesman for all. Your experience is obviously different. As they say, you mileage may vary.

  6. 6 John October 18, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    I meant YOUR mileage may vary.

  7. 7 gardenia October 19, 2007 at 6:42 am

    I think that even when we know former and inactive members, we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Unless they tell you exactly why they left, you should never assume they are committing grave sin or wanting to make life more comfortable for themselves.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson October 19, 2007 at 7:08 am

    stevem83 and gardenia:

    My intent in this post was not to discuss why people go inactive, but the observation that many do not begin attending some other church. They might attend some other ward in some cases, but usually not some other church.

  9. 9 stevem83 October 19, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Eric,

    I was responding to John, not your original post.

  10. 10 Craig W. October 19, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    By observing those who I have known who have left the church, they have overwhelmingly left religion altogether. I realize that it is not a scientific sample, just my personal experience. It would be an interesting study, however.

  11. 11 Elizabeth October 19, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    There should be exit polls, actually. It would be interesting to discover why people actually do leave.

  12. 12 Geoff J October 19, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Most people leave very slowly so I am guessing so it would be nigh impossible to take accurate exit polls because most people don’t realize they are exiting until they wake up one Sunday and realize they haven’t been to church in many months or years.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson October 19, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    CraigW:

    That is my experience as well. I have served as an EQP for several years. I rarely came across an inactive member of the ward who was now attending another church. It happens, but not often.

    Elizabeth:

    Some of this type of data would be very interesting. Perhaps the church should do some surveys. Maybe they have.

    Geoff:

    I believe you are right. Again.

  14. 14 LDS Anarchist October 22, 2007 at 1:35 am

    There are only three truly Mormon things to do if you ever leave the church, 1) stop attending any church, at all, and still refer to yourself as a Mormon, 2) become a zealous anti-Mormon or 3) start your own break-away Mormon sect. Leaving the church and going to a Christian or other church would not be a Mormon-ish act, so I believe you when you say you’d pick option #1. Note: I am not suggesting any of these things…

  15. 15 Sean October 25, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    My brother is considering leaving the church. He says that it is because he “found Christ” outside the church. The truth is he never really looked very hard for Christ inside the church because it is not difficult to find Him if one bothers to look. To me there are obviously other issues that he has not yet disclosed. But in his case I think he is actually planning to attend another church. I agree that this is not typical. I have known a few inactives who usually just go inactive out of their own convenience. I don’t understand giving up a lifestyle of purpose for a lifestyle of convenience. Can anyone explain this?

  16. 16 Eric Nielson October 27, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Sorry to hear this Sean.

    I think it comes down to laziness. I admit to being tempted to not do cetain things in the church (or not do them well) partly out of laziness. Scouting might be an example. I know that scouting can be a great thing, but it is easier not to do it, or not to do it well.

    So I think part of this phenomena can come down to simple laziness. Other churches don’t do home teachine, often don’t have the level of ‘callings’ we have, and have lower expectations on the ‘lifestyle’. Like flowing water, some of us want to follow a least (or at least lesser) path of resistence.

  17. 17 Sean October 27, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Perhaps laziness has a lot to do with it. Testimony of course plays another major role.

    Toward the end of my mission, I read some thought-provoking antimormon claims which shook me up quite a bit. Interestingly, my testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon wasn’t brought into question. I had had some very real and undeniable experienced with the Spirit regarding these truths of the Restoration, and a little logic puzzle wasn’t about to change that. However, it did cause me to question God altogether. In my mind, if God was real, then these experiences I had were real. However if God was not real… (???) And so my mind danced along this line of thinking for 2 excruciating, spiritually painful weeks.

    I spent a lot of time on my knees during that time, and it seemed that the heavens were closed to me. I realized during this time that if I left the Church, I would certainly not be attending another church. What would be the point, after all, if God didn’t really exist? Finally, an answer came to me as strongly as any other experience I had had with God. I was told rather plainly that I needed to listen to what my heart was telling me, and not be so wrapped up in my own logic and reasoning. I learned a valuable lesson about the limitations of the human/mortal mind, and about what it means to have faith.

    Well, anyway, based on this experience, I fully agree that if I went inactive I would not be attending another church.

  18. 18 Bookslinger October 27, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Sean,
    I was in the MTC in 1984. I would say that approximately 25% of the elders there at the time hadn’t “found Christ” yet.

    It appears _very_ easy to grow up in the church and not get a testimony.

    First off, lots of parents don’t expect their children to get a testimony until they go on their mission. Many parents don’t provide spiritual experiences (or the settings where spiritual experiences can occur) for their children. Those parents expect the church to do it. And if the child grows up thinking religion isn’t important at home, then it won’t be important to them at church, so the child isn’t even looking for or aware of spiritual experiences at church.

    Secondly, the primary and youth activities and classes focus very much on _doing_, on outward actions. Sort of like a “check-list Mormonism.” But obtaining a testimony of Christ is more a matter of intent and state of mind than it is outward actions. Sure, we need to get our outward actions in line with the commandments and be obedient. However, with all the focus on outward obedience, many people grow up in the church thinking the gospel is like a vending machine, and you put quarters in by means of obedience, and out comes blessings and testimonies. So they do it, _outwardly_, but then miss all the inward intents and attitudes that are also required to open the windows of heaven.

    So it’s no wonder that when a Mormon without a testimony investigates another church, and _at the same time_ starts to get his intents and attitudes in line, that he finally gets a testimony of Christ.

    That doesn’t mean the other church is God’s official church. But can you see how easily the confusion can arise? But such a person isn’t being careful about what answer he’s getting. They think the testimony came from a church and not from God. Yet God cannot withhold a testimony just because someone is standing in the “wrong” church. If you ask a question, and meet the conditions for an answer, God has to answer, regardless of where you’re standing.

    I received a strong testimony of Christ in another church years before investigating the LDS church. But fortunately I didn’t jump to the conclusion that the other church was God’s official church.

    Conversely, just because you _don’t_ get an answer in the LDS church, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong church. It could mean that you’re not meeting the conditions for getting and answer.

    Perhaps that is what happened to your brother. He didn’t find the answer because he went to another church. He found the answer because he finally sought it with the right intention. Where he was standing or physically located maybe had nothing to do with it.

  19. 19 Sean October 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for your insites Bookslinger. I think that you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. I believe that my brother’s timing has everything to do with his most recent (and truly spiritual) experiences. And that it has much less to do with any particular church that he is looking into. This is precisely the point that I am trying to get through to him as well. He is a very proud and independent person, and so he has made a lifestyle of marching to his own drummer. It’s hard to get any point across to him, but I keep trying.

    This was a very interesting discussion topic Eric. Keep them coming!

  20. 20 marlajayne October 29, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    Just a couple of thoughts from SC (the Bible belt of America) this afternoon. Interestingly, it’s also been my observation that when Mormons become inactive, they do just that: become inactive. They might be playing golf or sleeping in, but they’re not usually sitting on the pew of a Methodist church or the floor of a Muslim mosque. I’m not sure why this is, but it could be partially because they know the “truth,” so they don’t need to seek it elsewhere. However, they might also feel that they can’t live the gospel at that point in time. Maybe they smoke or can’t pay tithing or something. Then too, I’ve known single people who feel alienated from the happy families and couples there in abundance. Still others have had their feelings hurt or been offended by another member.

    Something else I’ve observed is that there is TREMENDOUS pressure on converts from their families to “return to the fold.” Even I, a convert of 24 years, still have family members and friends who are concerned about my eternal salvation. My testimony is strong, and there’s no fear of every “going back,” but I can well understand how a fresh convert can lose her enthusiasm if her “loving family” is shunning her or making disparaging remarks about the church.

  21. 21 Eric Nielson October 29, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks Marlajayne. You make some great points.

  22. 23 ElGuapo December 1, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    I’ll try this again, my comment didn’t go through the other night. Craig W. mentioned it would be an interesting study to see whether people who leave Mormonism join another faith. This was actually a poll question recently on PostMormon.org, and here are the responses:

    Joined another Christian faith: 13
    Joined a different non-Christian faith: 9
    Agnostic: 30
    Atheist: 28

    So in general this seems to support the idea that most do not go looking for a replacement religion.

  23. 24 Eric Nielson December 3, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for the info. I wonder if the people that visit postmormon dot org might be even more likely to join another church than those who do not visit that site.

  24. 25 Rebecca December 8, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    I served a mission. I attended BYU. I was the golden child and thought the church had all the answers for my life. I did not go inactive to drink or smoke or because someone offended me. I went inactive because church history cannot substantiate the claims that Mormonism makes. I went inactive because as a woman I felt inferior to the all knowing priesthood. I went inactive because I am responsible for my life and when I want children (if I want children which I don’t think everyone does or should.) There are many reasons I have quit being a Mormon. Basically my goal now is to live each day to the fullest and be a good person.

  25. 26 Rebecca December 8, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    ps I did “find Christ” outside the church meaning I found a way to be more christlike without all of the judging and hang ups that come with being a member. I found people who had never heard of Christ that were more honest and charitable then many mormons I have met since…

  26. 27 Eric Nielson December 8, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    so what church do you attend now, if any?

  27. 28 ElGuapo December 28, 2007 at 4:13 am

    Incidentally, another very similar poll was just conducted at thefoyer.org this week, with some interesting results. This is another forum for ex-Mormons, although no doubt there’s some overlap in participants. Here are the results so far:

    What religion are you now?
    New Order Mormon: 4
    Evangelical Christian: 1
    Buddhist: 1
    Deist: 2
    Agnostic: 24
    Atheist: 20
    Other: 12

  28. 30 peetie January 10, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I realize this is two weeks late, but I think several of you might really benefit from listening to John Dehlin’s screencast, “Why People Leave the Church.” I’m active, and *I* found some of your blanket statements about why people leave offensive. Now I’m going to leave the church over it! No, kidding, but honestly, there are more currents to why people leave than laziness or wanting a cigarette or resenting tithing. I know people who leave and still feel like they should give 10%, so they give it to the Red Cross or something. My point, though, has nothing to do with the original post. I simply feel that we as members would be a lot better prepared to help our fellow man and woman out a little better if we tried to see beyond the blanket stereotype that people leave because of the Word of Wisdom, Tithing, or because someone offended them or some other personal sin they are hiding, or laziness. I am sure all of those happen, and maybe it’s the demographics of the couple of wards I’ve been in, but those are not the principle reasons I’ve seen people leave.

    The link to watch the presentation is below. Sorry I don’t know html to embed it. And you have to use Internet Explorer to see it. Sorry.

    http://mormonstories.org/whytheyleave/

  29. 31 Eric Nielson January 10, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    To restate the purpose of this post, I was mostly stating that when people leave they often do not go anywhere else – like another church. That is what my experience is. It seems there is hard data that shows that.

    Thanks for the link.

  30. 32 peetie January 10, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Right – my bad with the pronouns. When I said, “your” in my previous post I was trying to be all inclusive with the previous commentators as well. As far as the original post, I don’t live in the Jello belt and have seen both with regards to the decision of attending another church upon going “inactive.” My intent with posting that comment wasn’t to try and threadjack but rather to put what I thought was a useful link up so that if anyone else stumbled across the page, like I did earlier today, there might be another resource.

    Thanks for your effort with the site. I just read some of your B H Roberts pages and quite enjoyed them.

  31. 34 sue January 22, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I think that this is probably not an LSD phenomenon. That if you were to look at the figures from other religions the figures would be the same. Faith is such a personal thing.

    This may be different for churches that label themselves as multi-denominational.

  32. 35 Eric Nielson January 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Good point Sue. I have known a few people in other churches that seem to be able to switch churches quite easily. But this might not be normal.

    Thanks for your comment.

  33. 36 Lydia January 22, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    In regard to Eric’s 10/18/07 post:
    I strongly take issue with your comment that converts might be more apt to go inactive than those who were born in the church. Converts, the prophets have said, are the lifeblood of the church. Their testimonies strengthen and revitalize.
    As you may have guessed, I am a convert. I was baptized at the age of 21 after I married my husband, who was (and is) a member. We were sealed in the temple, and we have always been actively engaged in the Lord’s work. Our five children were all married in the temple, and our two sons both served missions. I am thankful we brought our children up in California. (Many members who grew up in the Church have told em they consider this the “mission field!”)
    On many visits to relatives in Utah, I realized how blessed we were to raise our children here. Members out here seem to treasure the gospel more; some people in Utah take it so much for granted!

  34. 37 Eric Nielson January 23, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Well done Lydia. You have done very well.

    My comment on 10/18 was a question about converts. The purpose of my question was to ask if going to another church after leaving was more likely for converts. Probably going back to the church they came from.

  35. 38 JW Kopp February 10, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    I came across this site when I was doing research for premortal life. As a convert to the church in 1970 I felt both at home and out of place. Raised in another faith and resented by my mom for joining I found it hard to continue. A family in the Branch I lived in took me in and gave me a better foundation to work from and eventually I chose to serve a Mission.

    On my Mission I gain a firm testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon but I still felt like an outsider. Returning to SLC after my Mission I married and began a family. However, my uneasy feeling, along with my selfish desires, caused me to slip away from the teachings of the church. Two divorces and an excommunication found me floundering in life.

    I have always felt the desire to be spiritual but I also fought against it. After my excommunication I felt totally lost, angry at the way life had turned out, and angry at myself for making stupid choices.

    I wanted to end it all and do away with the pain I felt and for the pain I caused others. Blessedly, I did not. I moved to another part of the country and attempted to start over, but my past followed me. Eventually, I found someone that I connected to and we began a life together.

    I would go to church with her but I always felt the anxiety that, while close, the doctrines did not fulfill my knowledge. I reflected on this for a long time. Did I have wrong knowledge to begin with or were the teachings of this church flawed. I went to other churches and found the same void. My girlfriend then told me that I should go back to the Mormon church.

    When I entered the building I was apprehensive. I was not living my life properly at the time and I had been excommunicated, but the Stake President listened to me and kindly told me what I needed to do. Repent. I did not feel judged nor excluded. While I felt uncomfortable it was of my own doing, not a feeling I got from the Stake President.

    We moved to another location and I did try to go back to church. The small Ward pulled me in regardless of the fact that I put up walls. Finally they had me singing in the choir, with the Bishops permission. Ultimately, in 1999 I was re baptized and soon after my girlfriend, now my wife, was baptised. I received a restoration of blessings and we were sealed in the Temple. The path I had to follow was the only way I could come to understand the love and desires of my Savior and Heavenly Father. While I left them, they never left me.

    I am sensitive to those members who make mistakes and wonder if they can ever be forgiven for I know the answer. My past still follows me and creates problems in my life but I know I have the support of a loving wife and a loving Heavenly Father and My Savior to strengthen me. I currently work with the Ward Mission leader and teach Elders Quorum and I have come to like the person I am.

    I understand the pull that the world has on us and the desires that Satan throws in our path and I understand just how human we are to stumble and fall. I have found the joy I needed in serving that was faulting in me when I first joined the church. I regret that I was not a good father or husband but I also know that what I have gone through qualifies me uniquely to be used as a bad example and now, as an example of a fallen Saint who was lifted up to be able to understand what it takes to lift up another.

    Thanks for your posts here.

  36. 39 Eric Nielson February 11, 2008 at 8:01 am

    JW:

    Thanks for this sincere and personal perspective. Stop by anytime.


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