My own non-scientific observation and speculation is that 70-80% of ex-Mormons not only leave the LDS church, they leave Christianity entirely. I think for this reason we Evangelicals need to be careful in the way we present information that we think challenges Joseph Smith’s prophetic status. There are several reasons for this phenomena in my opinion and I’ll name a few of them in a minute. But I think we need to consider how and why we might pull someone from a place where we are uncertain about their place in Christ to a place where they are certain that they want nothing to do with Him.
There are several reasons I think ex-Mormons leave Christ. It’s a complex problem and it always concerns individual choice. But I think I can highlight some of the major themes. None of these are true of all Mormons or all ex-Mormons.
1) Many Mormons have spent much of their lives questioning nothing about their faith. They’ve recently learned the tools of skepticism and they become rampantly skeptical of everything. When you first give a child a hammer, everything becomes a nail. We have two obligations when it comes to knowledge. The first is to believe as many true things as possible. The second is to not believe as many false things as possible. Neglecting either one of these obligations is the same fallacy on opposite ends of the spectrum. I think many ex-Mormons are so upset that they lived by faith in things that they now believe are false that they are determined NEVER to believe any false thing again (which in general is a good idea). Unfortunately they stop believing some true things as well.
C.S. Lewis describes characters like this at the end of “The Last Battle”. A false Aslan is exposed and his followers refuse to accept the true Aslan when he meets them because they never want to be tricked again.
2) We Evangelicals offer what we are against, false prophets, rather than what we are for, a personal relationship with Jesus that transforms us into new creations that live by grace. So we shouldn’t be surprised when ex-Mormons take what we offer and nothing more.
3) There are many in the LDS church who find the words “obedience to Christ” and “obedience to the Church” to be synonymous. Jesus and the church are the same thing for many Mormons. So when they leave the Church they leave Jesus without it ever occurring to them that Jesus may be different than the Church. For some Mormons the Church is more central to their faith than Jesus. The only reason they follow Jesus is because the Prophet told them to. I think some of this is inspired by false ideas in Mormon culture and some of it inspired false ideas taught by the LDS church.
(I don’t think Evangelicals are guiltless here either. There are far too many Evangelicals who confuse Jesus with the Republican party, American patriotism, financial prosperity and a host of other things. Our need to clean house on these things will be a future topic.)
4) The never believed in the first place. They were born into the Mormon culture and religion. They’ve long felt atheism to be true.
5) Sin and the desire all people have to live in rebellion from Jesus.
6) They feel the evidence supporting the reliability of the Bible/Christianity is no stronger than the evidence for the Book of Mormon/Mormonism. This is encouraged by the LDS church’s deconstruction of all other Christian faiths. It’s a restoration church so it has to show why mainstream Christianity is false and why the Bible is unreliable by itself. To supports it’s own mission, the LDS church has latched onto the best the anti-Christian community has to offer and used it to bolster its own claims. When ex-Mormons leave the LDS church, they don’t need to learn why mainstream Christianity is false, they’ve been taught that their whole lives.
Once again, not all of these are true of every ex-Mormon, but I think this covers the general reason ex-Mormons most often become ex-Christians as well. Did I miss any?
To LDS, I say pursue Jesus with me above all else. To Evangelicals, I say be careful that when you replace Jesus for Joseph that it’s really “Jesus” in their hand.