There is a recurring question posed on this blog– What can be done about disaffected Mormons who leave Christianity?
I was first attracted to this Blog about five years ago by this post on the subject: We Push Them Into What? followed up with “Challenged by Jesus” among many others. And it comes up routinely ever since. David Clark had recent suggestions regarding the problem in “The C & E Problem“, “Be Positive, Be Christian“, “Consider Christianity“(Forgive me if I don’t have any other blogosphere references to this topic but strangely enough, this blog is the only one I read or comment on with any regularity besides cagepotato.com.)
Tim’s most recent thoughts on the problem are found in “More Than a Bible” I thought I would post my thoughts separately because I wanted to propose an alternative view of the nature of the problem from a post-Mormon, not-at-all-traditional follower of Jesus. (Plus my comment was just way too long.)
In “More than a Bible” Tim pointed out that statistics show that only 11% of former Mormons identify as some other type of Christian.
I can appreciate the problem that these statistics raise for Evangelicals. Here you have a stream of Bible educated one-time very faithful people leaving Mormonism and NOT choosing the real Jesus. This seems like a big failure and lost opportunity for Evangelicals.
Tim suggests more pro-bible apologetics and less anti-bible rhetoric is a solution. The argument seems to be that if those leaving Mormonism believed in the Bible more, then they would still believe in Jesus when they leave Mormonism. Thus, the problem is being laid at the feet of the Church, who claims to want to be part of “regular” Christianity, but consistently undermines the sole source of authority of Protestantism.
First, I don’t think most Mormons believe that the Bible has a hard time standing on its own. Although Mormons talk about inconsistencies and problems with the Bible, they rarely do anything other than read it very closely and as authoritative. (Surprisingly similar to how they view Church leadership.) Mormons hold very reverential, sometimes literal, and sometimes even fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. I think most Mormons think the Bible is true and reliable in all matters of faith, essentially infalliable. The big problem for Mormons is not what is in the, but what is not.
Even if rhetoric that undermined Biblical validity was common, I can make these observations that may explain the phenomena better:
(1) The Church argues effectively that the Bible supports distinctively Mormon doctrines. Bolstering the Bible to avoid defection from Jesus doesn’t work for those who originally based their faith in Mormonism on the Bible and those who are taught that the Bible best points to Mormonism as the answer. The church reasoning on these points holds regardless of whether Joseph was a prophet or not. The Church does a good job of poking gaping holes in the Protestant interpretations and raises lots of issues, plus, it provides genuine spiritual experiences. Mormons who become disaffected see Protestantism and Catholicism as LESS Biblical than Mormonism. They reason that if the most reasonable option for Christianity is not true, then it puts all of Christianity into doubt.
(2) Ostracism of LDS from traditional Christianity discourages disaffected Mormons from becoming traditional Christians. Mormons are looked on as weird by traditional Christians and especially Evangelicals. A disaffected Mormon, who may hold some reasonable Mormon interpretations of the Bible simply won’t feel comfortable in other Churches. The separation leads people not to investigate Evangelical options.
(3) The Trinity and the doctrine of hell and salvation are not attractive or compelling to disaffected Mormons (or any non-traditional Christian). Whether or not the Trinitarian perspective is supported by the Bible is a very open question to anyone who was a Mormon. Even if you believe the Bible is absolutely true, it does not end the debate. If the disaffected can’t accept that the Trinity is the most important element of Christianity then its hard to fit in with traditional Christians. In addition, as reflected by my first comment on this blog, its hard to swallow the “believe in Trinitarian Jesus or Hell” concept.
(4)Perceived differences in Church Culture prevent Mormons from wanting to attend other churchs. Many disaffected Mormons can’t get or accept the church culture of other denominations. Mormons, trained in “reference” and taught to pray in King James English, don’t mix well with contemporary worship. The stereotypes fostered by separation other Christians play into this: Evangelical and Protestant churches are seen as equivalent to TBN televangelists, Catholic and Orthodox are seen as corrupt or anachronistic.
(5) Mormon Culture keeps the disaffected from other Christian churches. Strangely enough, in my experience, moving to a new Christian Church causes more of a stir within Mormon families than simply falling away. By joining a non-Mormon church, you would have to be prepared to explain your decision against the arguments of Mormonism. By becoming an agnostic, the disaffected can remain a part of Mormon Culture, and won’t feel any need or obligation to argue religion with your family. They may still believe in Jesus, but affirmatively identifying and attending another church is a bigger step than simply stopping all attendance of the LDS church.
So, to me, it seems like there is a mish-mash of reasons disaffected Mormons don’t join other Christian faiths and do not identify as Christian, and rhetoric against the Bible is a minor one. Some of them Evangelicals have some control over.
Because I don’t really care if Mormons become Evangelicals, and I think I understand Mormons, I have a suggestion to Evangelicals on how to solve their problem. I think that closer acceptance, tolerance and friendship with the Mormon people by Evangelicals is really the only answer to the problem Evangelicals face. There are all kinds of causes that Mormons and Evangelicals could cooperate in that would not threaten either’s theology. If Mormons felt that Evangelical’s and other Christians were going to welcome them with open arms, it would go a long way to demonstrating that Christianity is alive in other churches. Closer friendship might also allow migration and acceptance of Evangelical worship practices amongst Mormons, leading to a greater cultural similarity. I think Tim’s efforts may be a step in that direction. See also Jack’s suggestions: Faith & Community, Letter to a Christian Pastor.) I think closer connection and personal acceptance (i.e. love) would lead Mormons to tone down their anti-protestant rhetoric. Its hard to bag on somebody’s Christianity when they act like a true Christian towards you.
In general, my suggestion would be not to “resist” the “evil” of Mormonism, or prevent the flaws Evangelicals see in Mormonism from opening up a fuller fellowship. Mormons, of course, would be all over this.
Of course these directions are riskier, by moving toward the Mormon people and showing some tolerance for “weird” Mormon beliefs, Evangelicals risk losing some of their own to the Mormon camp. However, I have to think that Evangelicals should see this as no risk at all. If their faith is what they claim it to be, they are going to inevitably absorb Mormonism one Jesus-believer at a time.