You Left Because You’re Lame

One of my visitors stated this oft repeated LDS maxim:

Ex-Mormons usually got to be “ex” because of one of three things, according to my experience with a great many ex-Mormons.
1. They never caught fire
2. They chose worldliness over Godliness and as a consequense [sic], lost their connection to The Holy Spirit.
3. Their lifestyle was incompatible with Church teachings.

I think this is a terrible misrepresentation and over generalization. I think it got its start as a means of giving confirmation bias to people who remain in the church. It’s much easier to judge someone else as a sinner than to actually engage with ideas. There are no doubt people who left the church because they didn’t like the righteousness standards promoted in the church. But there are many many people who don’t want to leave the church at all but don’t feel they can intellectually justify the church’s description of itself or its history. These people often go on living by the same standards for quite some time even though they have no longer have a connection to the church.

It’s akin to someone claiming “People only join the LDS church because they are weak minded and subject to brain washing.” or “People only become atheist because they have bad relationships with their fathers.”

Statements like this are just a way to write some one off as some one I don’t need to listen to.

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45 thoughts on “You Left Because You’re Lame

  1. The problem is that Mormonism sort of makes this conclusion inevitable.

    Mormonism teaches that God answers earnest prayers with revelation. In particular, God will reveal the truth of the Restored Gospel to any honest-minded true seeker of truth.

    So, what do you do with someone that they’ve prayed, participated in the Church and been fully committed (i.e. read scriptures, kept the commandments, magnified their callings, etc.), and done all that they’re supposed to but nevertheless do not feel that God has revealed any such thing to them?

    What is a believing Mormon supposed to make of it?

    Well, the problem is clearly not going to be on God’s side- he’s a God of truth and cannot lie, etc. So the only way to reconcile Mormon doctrine with the person who denies the Church is to blame the person somehow. The only possible answers are that God has revealed the truth to them but they are denying it for some reason (e.g., they’re too prideful, they like to sin and don’t want to give up their worldly ways, they’re too blinded by worldly learning and education etc., they’re in darkness and bound by Satan, or they’re just lying about it for whatever reason) of that God has not revealed the truth to them because they have been asking the wrong way (e.g., they’re not as committed as they should be, they’re not fasting and praying hard enough, they’re not really reading their scriptures, or whatever).

    Mormonism can’t be true and not true at the same time (at least, not when talking about “truth” in an absolute sense, the way Mormonism typically does). If God promises x, and I say God hasn’t delivered x, then either I’m lying or God is, and Mormon doctrine says God can’t lie. A Mormon can’t admit the possibility that I’m simply being straightforward when I say I did all the right things and prayed all the right prayers, because it would mean that fundamental Mormon doctrines about the nature of God and the accessibility of revelation were flexible, and that would pretty much completely undermine Mormonism (because it would call the Testimony into question, and without the spiritual witness of the truth of the Restoration, Mormonism crumbles). So the obvious way to reconcile this is to say I’m not being straightforward- either I’m lying or I wasn’t genuinely seeking truth.

    Some Mormons try to get out of this (i.e. to reconcile) by saying that God’s time is not our time, and we should have faith and wait for the answer, even if it takes our entire lives. But that doesn’t really hold water. If I haven’t received revelation that Mormonism is true, what basis do I have for waiting indefinitely to get such a revelation? It doesn’t make sense. It’s not even a question of faith, because I would have nothing to base my faith on (sure, I could base it on your word, but why should I base it on your word instead of someone else’s?).

    It seems that the only Mormons who manage to believe in Mormonism without calling me a liar are those that simply are content to not reconcile the two. Those that can maintain the cognitive dissonance between “God promised x” and “Kullervo says God didn’t deliver x” and just humbly live with the paradox. I appreciate those that can do this–I wish more of the members of my family could–but it’s still problematic to me that you have to do this in order to just take me at face value and not conclude that I’m a liar or something.

  2. (e.g., they’re too prideful, they like to sin and don’t want to give up their worldly ways, they’re too blinded by worldly learning and education etc., they’re in darkness and bound by Satan, or they’re just lying about it for whatever reason)

    Interesting. If I were to tell someone that they only ACCEPT Mormonism for these reasons they probably wouldn’t bite on the idea that they should stop being Mormon.

  3. Tim,

    You got that right. And no evangelical for that matter. It really is no way to try to evangelize your fellow man by accusing him of being a sinfull, pridefull, arrogant liar, just because he doesn’t buy what you are selling.

    Kullervo,

    “Those that can maintain the cognitive dissonance between “God promised x” and “Kullervo says God didn’t deliver x” and just humbly live with the paradox. I appreciate those that can do this–I wish more of the members of my family could–but it’s still problematic to me that you have to do this in order to just take me at face value and not conclude that I’m a liar or something.”

    I was wondering if you could expound on this a bit. Particularly the bit as to why it is problematic to you.

  4. The whole thing is easily reinforced by the Christian belief that all man is fallen.

    If you try to deny that you left because you’re weak, you run into the Christian understanding that everyone is sinful and weak, so why not you too?

    I personally think people leave because they are weak. I also think they stay because they are weak. Weak, weak, weak.

    But really, what’s the point in this train of thought anyway? There isn’t one as far as I can tell. I find little use in speculating why someone left, or in macho comparisons of who can out-righteous the other. I stayed in the LDS faith. Kullervo left. But I see no real grounds for making any determination as to which one of us is morally superior.

  5. Kullervo: You frame the paradox so well! Of course, each individual must deal with that paradox as well: “I really believed that God would do X for me if I did Y, but he hasn’t come through.” Don’t we all experience that some time?

    I don’t think that it’s entirely useless to ask/speculate/wonder why someone left the Church. Suppose it’s because he had no friends—well, then there’s something the local ward needs to repent about. Maybe he was torn up inside about Mountain Meadows—well, there’s a part of our history that we should address in some better way. I’m not suggesting that everyone who leaves does so for a “good reason” or that every reason is something that the Church could or should change, but I have no doubt that the Church can do much better in many areas.

    On the other hand, surely some people leave for exactly the reasons Tim’s visitor (original post) listed; i.e. he was weak” (as Seth puts it). Shouldn’t we lament as a Church? Doesn’t the Church exist to help those who are weak, and so we believe that this man is better off in the Church than out? If we can compare the Church to a hospital, shouldn’t we be concerned when someone refuses treatment? If he really is better off leaving the Church, shouldn’t we ask what we could have done to better serve him (i.e. build a new hospital wing to treat his particular illness)?

  6. Brian–I think you make a good point. There is value in finding out why someone left the Church.

    I think the problem comes when someone says, “I left the Church because I believe that it is not, in fact, what it claims to be, and actually goes against what I feel like God’s church on earth WOULD be,” and the LDS listeners say, “hmmm… adultery? Pornography? What’s the REAL reason they’re leaving?”

    That’s the real problem–the not believing someone when they say they just don’t believe it’s true, and making judgments and speculations about what sins they’re committing.

  7. katyjane—“That’s the real problem…making judgments and speculations about what sins they’re committing.”

    You’re absolutely right.

    Of course, you’re only saying that because you’re a sinner.

    {I really hope that you can see my smile and my wink when I write that!}

  8. The truth of the matter comes down to this:
    Did God and his son, Jesus Christ, appear to a fourteen-year-old boy as he knelt in prayer?
    Did he, later and through revelation, translate an ancient book of scripture?
    Does the Spirit testify of these truths to you?
    If so, then the Church is true, no matter what happens. That simple faith makes everything else work.
    If not, then the LDS Church is the largest group of blasphemers and heretics on this world, and they are in danger of hellfire.

    P.S. To those who just can’t seem to get that witness, I would suggest not that you are quote-unquote “sinning,” but that something is not right in your process of asking. God taught that “you must study it out in your mind.” I would suggest that such studying might take two nights or it might take two years, but in any event God does answer prayers. He answered mine, and I know he can and will answer those who put forth the effort to ask him.

    P.S.S. It is also possible that the answer is not one you’re anticipating. Everyone feels (hears) the Spirit differently. Perhaps you’re relying too much on someone else’s description of “your bosom shall burn within you.” There is more than one way for a “bosom [to] burn,” and your way is doubtless different than mine. Find yours. My prayers are with you.

  9. Jarom, that really isn’t enough.

    For example, I’ve been reading Spencer W. Kimball’s teachings for our Elders Quorum lessons in church.

    Personally, I’m not sure I agree with some of the things he’s teaching in that manual (just some of them).

    What possible relevance does Jesus Christ appearing to Joseph Smith have on the truth of Pres. Kimball’s writings?

    So Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. OK…

    Now what? Does that guarantee that polygamy was OK? Does that mean your Bishop is inspired? Does that mean that Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel on dating is correct? Does that mean that everything Joseph Smith taught is automatically correct?

    No, it means nothing of the sort. All it means is that Joseph saw God and Jesus Christ. Period. Seeing God and Jesus Christ does not give the Mormon Church a “free pass” to do whatever it wants and claim that it’s God’s will. Having a testimony of the First Vision does not automatically mean you have a testimony of whether Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet. Having a testimony of the Book of Mormon, does not mean you have a testimony of what was printed in last month’s Ensign.

  10. Actually Jarom, in order to believe in the LDS Church, you also have to believe that Brigham Young was the next true successor to Joseph Smith, etc. You also have to believe that during the 1800s, Adam was God the Father, but then stopped being so (and that any further belief in that is heresy).

    Also, I don’t think that most members of the Church could be considered blasphemers and heretics, or in danger of hellfire. I think that the normal member is actually a good person doing their best to follow Jesus Christ in the best way that they know how. If that damns you, then God isn’t very nice (and not my god).

    And, you suggest that people should study it out in their minds and keep praying. While doing so, would you suggest that they should live all of the principles of the LDS gospel and follow all of the extra commandments? If so, what reason would they have for doing that? Because a missionary told them to? My mom told me not to… should I follow my mother instead of the missionaries? 😀

  11. Katyjane:
    I think you misunderstood what I meant. If Joseph Smith had a vision, then everything he said is true, and therefore by faith, we can begin to accept the rest. Yes, there is much more to being LDS than just that, but that’s where it starts. If you can’t accept that, then the Church is not for you.
    Secondly, if God did not speak to Joseph, then we claim to receive revelation based on nothing, thereby putting words in God’s mouth, which is blasphemous.
    In answer to your question, the Bible says, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)” In order to gain a testimony of a principle, you must first live it.
    Evidence of this from an LDS standpoint is found in the Pearl of Great Price. After being cast out from the Garden of Eden, Adam was commanded to keep a Book of Remembrance, which he did. An angel asked him why he might do that. He replied that he did not know except that he was commanded. After his righteous obedience, the angel told him the reason for the commandment.
    Does that make sense? If we put forth the effort to follow God’s commandments, he gives us understanding.

  12. Jarom, “If Joseph Smith had a vision, then everything he said is true, and therefore by faith, we can begin to accept the rest.”

    I’d like, as a Mormon, to take issue with that:

    “If Joseph Smith had a vision…” Okay, I really believe that he did.

    “…then everything he said is true…” But I don’t believe that at all. One vision and Joseph is permanently infallible, inerrant, etc.? I don’t believe that (and, interestingly, neither did Brigham Young).

    “…and therefore by faith, we can begin to accept the rest.” To a degree, yes: if Joseph was right about the grove then it stands to reason that his other experiences and teachings are worthy of careful consideration. But I wouldn’t (and don’t) accept the Doctrine and Covenants (for example) because of the grove; I accept it for other reasons.

  13. katyjane, #11: What Seth said.

    But you do make a good point about the difference between the LDS Church and Joseph Smith; viz. one can accept the latter and not the former.

    Also, thanks for the charitable words about “most Mormons.” Here’s hoping for the day when the same fellowship could be extended to all by all.

  14. “If Joseph Smith had a vision, then everything he said is true”

    What kind of logic is this?

    Laman and Lemuel had a vision too. Does that make everything they said true as well? Seeing Jesus Christ isn’t magic pixie dust that makes everything true. A person can easily believe in the First Vision and still not believe President Hinckley’s counsel on dating for example.

    The First Vision is important and all, but it doesn’t prove whether the modern church is true at all. Neither does the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon prove whether the Ensign is true or not.

  15. Once again, you’ve misunderstood me. Having a vision is not what made Joseph Smith’s teachings true. Of course having a vision did not set him on an error-free course. He could and did still make mistakes. The point is he could have rejected the vision the way Laman and Lemuel did, but he did not. That’s what makes his teachings true. What I meant is, that if you believe he had the vision, God can work with that faith and help you to know that the rest of the teachings of not only Joseph Smith, but all of the Prophets, Apostles, and other General Authorites since his time, are true. God works with what he give him. What I’m saying, though, is that without that basic first particle of faith, the rest will never make sense. You don’t introduce someone to the Church by telling them about the sacred practices inside the Temple. That comes later. You begin with a boy who had a vision. With faith in that, the rest can become clear, but never without.

  16. Jarom,

    I think I get what you’re saying, but I think you overstate your case. Joseph in the grove is certainly a logical place to start to discuss Mormonism, but it is not the only “beginning.” There are, for example, many well-known stories of individuals or groups who gain a faith in the Book of Mormon before ever hearing about Joseph Smith. Also, someone more knowledgeable can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think that Joseph himself always used the grove as his “starting point” for potential converts.

    And so I think that katyjane’s point is worth reiterating: one can accept Joseph in the grove, the Book of Mormon, and most of the Doctrine and Covenants, and still not believe that the LDS Church is true.

  17. It’s possible that I overstepped my bounds, and if I offended anyone, I apologize. However, I tend to think things a little bit more simplistically when dealing with those not of my faith. When I say *the* starting place for conversion is the grove, I don’t mean the *only* starting place. I mean that the starting place is *not* deep doctrines that cause confusion, even among LDS scholars, which many people seem to do. I’ve heard some pretty twisted things from people about “what you mormons believe.” I think most of the problem stems from someone trying to explain deep doctrine before starting with something simple like the grove, or as you point out, the Book of Mormon. I once had a Baptist missionary come into my home, see my painting of the Savior, and then proceed to tell me that I didn’t believe in Him. So you see why I prefer to start simply. Once again, I apologize if I over-simplified the situation.

  18. All this being said, I still don’t agree that you can gain a true testimony of the Book of Mormon and not ever be converted to the Church. The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church. If he could do that without formal training in the translation of ancient languages (reformed Egyptian, to be precise), then the Church he established has God’s help and is God’s church. If you truly believe that he did that and then started a Church that isn’t supported by the God (who must have assisted him), you’re lying to yourself. It doesn’t compute. God doesn’t help someone perform that kind of a miracle and then allow him to cause millions of people to be led astray. It doesn’t happen. Name me one time when a former Prophet has been allowed to do something like that. I don’t know of such a time, because God does not allow His servants to lead His people astray. He who God calls, he qualifies.

  19. If he could do that without formal training in the translation of ancient languages (reformed Egyptian, to be precise), then the Church he established has God’s help and is God’s church.

    That just isn’t so, Jarom. There are amazing leaps of logic that you’re doing, without even realizing that you’re doing them. Just because a bunch of people have told you that something is logical or reasonable doesn’t make it so.

  20. Jarom, I think katyjane articulated the most important: There were many Mormons who believed Joseph and the BofM, but they rejected Brigham Young (some of them formed the formerly-named RLDS Church). Later, many Mormons who believed JS, BofM, and BYoung rejected Wilford Woodruff. And so on. In other words, there are a lot of people today who believe in the BofM but reject the LDS Church.

  21. Seth, you’re right. You don’t have to believe the Adam-God theory to believe in Mormonism (in fact, that is heresy lol).

    However, it is the case that you have to believe that a prophet can say one thing is a true doctrine, and another prophet can say that a completely different factual thing is doctrine, and the first doctrine isn’t, and be okay with that happening.

    Brigham Young explicitly taught the doctrine that Adam was God the Father. He taught it as prophet, and said that it was a true doctrine.

    Now, this isn’t a discussion of the Adam-God theory, so I’ll stop there, but I stand by what I said that in order to believe in Mormonism you have to be able to have some cognitive dissonance. 🙂

    Jarom, it sounds like you’re a good guy with a wonderful faith in the church. (Actually, you sound like me a few years ago :D). The trouble for me is that you can’t discuss the church intelligently in such simple terms because you’re taking a lot for granted. If you believe it’s true, that’s fine, and you don’t need to go deeper, because in your mind, the stuff in the middle are covered.

    However, that’s not the case for everyone. If Joseph Smith had a vision in the garden… then he had a vision in the garden. That’s about it. If Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon the way that he claimed to have, and translated it the way that he claimed to have translated it, then the Book of Mormon is what he claimed it to be.

    But to make a jump to say that that means that the LDS Church as it stands today is true is a big jump. There’s a lot of stuff in the middle that has to be taken into consideration. You might take it into consideration and say that you believe that those things are true/happened/etc. However, there is a lot in the middle that I take issue with and say don’t make sense, don’t represent what would seem to be true of the nature of God as far as I understand Him, etc.

    Additionally, I think that while it was said in a General Conference that either the Church is true or the biggest crock (or whatever the actual quote was) makes for a good 10 word answer, in reality it doesn’t make a lot of sense. As far as I know, it’s not like you get to a certain level of priesthood authority and then get ‘the rest of the story’… I think that everyone in the church is doing their best and really believes that it’s true.

    But Muslims believe that their church is true too… based on a spiritual experience by an uneducated man who received a book from the hand of God.

    I can’t explain how/if either event happened, but I can say that I don’t think that faithful Mormons or faithful Muslims are being purposely covert or sinister.

  22. Jarom, simply stated; what makes you believe that the LDS church is the one Joseph Smith founded? There are over 100 splinter groups that stem from Nauvou. You’re a Brighamite. Maybe authority was found in the Strangites or some other group.

  23. Tim-

    I think your number of “over 100 splinter groups that stem from Nauvou (sic)” is a little high. But your point is absolutely valid. And not only are there the splinter groups from the 1844 LDS Church that believe in the BoM, but many fundamentalist (polygamist) Mormons in the the American West, Mexico, and Canada that regard the BoM as scripture, but don’t accept GBH as a prophet of God.

    Jarom-

    I think you have a rather whitewashed view of LDS history, most likely based on seminary and institute manuals and oral histories passed down in your family. Over on the thread discussing finances (comment #40), you explained why the Church no longer practices polygamy or communal living. But that there might be reasons for such changes still doesn’t change the fact that the LDS Church today does not “practice everything (Joseph Smith) taught.”

    Reharding the gathering, you challenged my statement that the Church no longer practices a literal gathering. I did not say that the Church does not believe in a literal gathering at some future date, but it currently does not practice a literal gathering to one location, as in JS’s day.

    Joseph Smith used did indeed use seer stones in a variety of contexts, from translating the BoM to receiving revelations, to seeking for buried treasure. And in the original revelation that now appears as D&C 8, Oliver Cowdery’s “gift” is described as a divining rod, through which revelations were received.

    I suggest that you catch yourself up-to-date on the last 40 years of Mormon scholarship. A good starting place would be Leonard Arrington and David Bitton’s The Mormon Experience. Then read Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. Check out the footnotes for further sources on a variety of subjects. All three men were (or are) respected historians and faithful LDS during their lives.

  24. Tim and Kullervo-

    I guess the benefit of reading work by academically-trained historians who are also devout Mormons is that it helps previously uninformed Mormons come to grips with the reality of the “warts” of Mormon history and not dismiss it all as anti-Mormon material.

  25. I agree. I think you just need to recognize that both are putting their own spin on things. So you have to decipher what’s fact and what’s spin.

    If someone refuses to take my word for it that polygamy started with Joseph Smith 10 years before D&C 132 was written, I’m going to direct them to Bushman so we can at least have our facts straight. Then we can get back to debating whether or not it matters.

  26. Of course I recognize that, though Bushman and Arrington’s writings certainly do not have a directly “faith-promoting” spin to them.

  27. If someone refuses to take my word for it that polygamy started with Joseph Smith 10 years before D&C 132 was written, I’m going to direct them to Bushman so we can at least have our facts straight. Then we can get back to debating whether or not it matters.

    We learned that in Seminary.

  28. katyjane-

    That’s a rather uninformed comment. Perhaps you too need to catch up on Mormon Studies of the last 15 years.

  29. Kullervo,

    Of course I have. It was 14 years ago (hence the advice to catch up on what’s been going on in the field of Mormon Studies for the last 15 years).

    The relationship between Mormon scholars and the Church hierarchy has undergone significant changes since that time. While it is far from an ideal atmosphere for historians wishing to research controversial topics, it is much improved.

    It is all but explicitly said in that Elder Packer wasn’t pleased with Rough Stone Rolling. Yet Bushman not only was not excommunicated, but currently serves in the Church as Patriarch for the New York New York Stake and a sealer in the Manhattan Temple (at least he did until his recent appointment as Chair of the Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University).

  30. Kullervo,

    Of course I have. It was 14 years ago (hence the advice to catch up on what’s been going on in the field of Mormon Studies for the last 15 years).

    The relationship between Mormon scholars and the Church hierarchy has undergone significant changes since that time. While it is far from an ideal atmosphere for historians wishing to research controversial topics, it is much improved.

    It is all but explicitly said in Bushman’s published diary that Elder Packer wasn’t pleased with Rough Stone Rolling. Yet Bushman not only was not excommunicated, but currently serves in the Church as Patriarch for the New York New York Stake and a sealer in the Manhattan Temple (at least he did until his recent appointment as Chair of the Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University).

  31. “Yet Bushman not only was not excommunicated, but currently serves in the Church as Patriarch for the New York New York Stake and a sealer in the Manhattan Temple.”

    I know- we used to live in that stake, and katyjane and I sat next to the Bushmans in sacrament meeting sometimes.

  32. Anyway, Bushman has admitted that he walks a razor-thin edge. The Church lets him publish his scholarship, but he knows as well as the rest of us that he dare not step over the line.

    It looks a lot more like the Church is trying to repair its PR than actually trying to encourage honest scholarship and unflinching honesty about its history.

    Otherwise, why not apologize to the September Six and invite them back into full fellowship?

  33. “That’s a rather uninformed comment. Perhaps you too need to catch up on Mormon Studies of the last 15 years.”

    Ouch. A little harsh there, eh? 🙂

    I see no need to catch up on Mormon Studies of the last 15 years. So the Church has changed its position again? I assume for the better–getting excommunicated for writing the truth was kind of a sucky road to take, IMO.

    I know that Richard Bushman has talked about how it’s a tough road to take–to be a church scholar who writes historically accurate things. And you don’t need to be condescending about who he is–I have sat next to him in Sacrament meetings.

    Seriously–and all snottiness aside–if the Church is no longer ex-ing people for writing the truth, that’s great. I’m not completely up to date with the specifics of Mormon scholarship–I actually don’t find the subject interesting. I was mostly appalled at the idea of people getting disfellowshipped and excommunicated because they wrote things that the Church decided wasn’t ‘faith promoting’. Big Brother, anyone? It is things like that that make me wonder how the church can claim to be God’s true church.

  34. Kullervo and katyjane-

    My remarks certainly weren’t meant to be condescending. That’s great that you know the Bushmans so well. That alone should prevent you from simply dismissing them as CES-style faith-promoting historians.

    “why not apologize to the September Six and invite them back into full fellowship?”

    Because only one of them showed any desire to come back to the Church (perhaps understandably so). Some of their lifestyles are in contradiciton with qualifications for membership (Quinn), some of them have moved on (Paul Toscano), and some remain sort of cultural Mormons (Lavina Fielding Anderson) and seem content with that.

  35. Oh, so there’s no point in apologizing and admitting guilt then, if the Church was wrong? Hey, I know what the Church can do- it can sweep al of this under the rug, change the policy, and claim that it has always been at war with Eastasia. That would sure be a novel way of handling past controversy.

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