When people do ask why you no longer go to church if they are a believer often it’s in a whisper- and prefaced with a hushed, ‘”can I ask you a personal question?” Faith is always personal, but is rarely treated as such within the LDS church when you are assumed to be a believer. When you’re coming to church you’re expected to discuss your faith, testify of it as often as possible, talk to whatever “non-members” (non LDS people) you can about your faith (and theirs) to try and convince them to join the LDS church, and it’s assumed that your faith and beliefs are the same as every other person in the congregation.
But once you stop attending everything changes. The reasons are the deliberate messages that the head leaders of the church send. If you stop attending it’s because you’re either: offended, sinning, or Satan has you in his grasp (or for some or all people all three). This message is powerful and strongly believed by most of the faithful. Because of this they are nervous to discuss with a “less active” or “inactive” member of the congregation their reasons for no longer attending the ward for fear of causing further offense, shaming them for their sins which are none of their business or being in close enough association that they too are in danger of being led away by the devil.
One of the most famous stories that is oft repeated is the one of Thomas Marsh who left the church because of a dispute over “milk strippings.” This account is untrue. The real reason Marsh left the church for a time however brings into question the sparkling clean “victim” image of the Mormons in Missouri so it it not shared. (For more information read here.) Similarly the “story” currently being told about those that choose to stop attending the LDS church by the current leadership is also not true. Maybe in some cases, but certainly not in all, or even in most if my experience in talking to hundreds and hundreds of people about why they no longer attend the LDS church holds any weight at all.
But according to David Bednar, Mormon Apostle, when speaking of the reasons why people stop attending, ”I made hundreds and hundreds of such visits. Each individual, each family, each home, and each answer was different. Over the years, however, I detected a common theme in many of the answers to my questions…. ’I was offended by’ …” (read full text here) . Also according to Bednar these “less active” members all have testimonies and with a reminder of that are ready to come back to church. But “choosing to be offended” is actually a symptom of wanting to sin further and allowing yourself to be led astray by Satan… for hits two and three on our “reasons why people no longer attend church” list.
The funny thing is a much as “not taking offense” or “choosing not to be offended” are talked about I never in my 32 years in the church can remember a talk or lesson about “not being offensive” or “how to apologize when you’ve offended someone.”
For myself none of the three were true. It’s true that I had some neighbors who had treated me and my family very poorly and living in Utah these neighbors were also fellow ward members. But I continued to attend church despite their actions for several years. There were catalysts and things that bothered me along the way, but they were less “offenses” and more “things that just weren’t right and helped me see that God wasn’t heading this church.” I didn’t “sin” in any Mormon sense of the word until I knew that the church was no longer true. I wore my garments until that moment, attended church past that moment, kept myself worthy of a temple recommend (minus the “testimony” parts) until that moment. After that moment those things were no longer relevant or “sins.” If you don’t believe the church is “true” why would believe not following it’s rules is sinning? Anymore than thinking that a Mormon who doesn’t keep Kosher according to the laws of an Orthodox Jew is “sinning.”
I did have a conversation with a fellow classmate at one point who laid it out very succinctly- in a way that no one else has (to my face). We were friends. We studied together in the same study group, had some great conversations and I considered him a friend. He assumed that I had never been LDS and upon finding out that I was a non-believing “inactive” member and finding that I wasn’t going to be easily convinced to return said, “well who offended you?” I assured him I hadn’t been offended. ”Then you must be sinning.” I assured him that I was sinning no more then I was when I was fully active. ”Then clearly Satan has a hold of your soul and I can no longer associate with you.”
He never spoke to me again. The remainder of the semester (an additional 4 weeks) he sat on the other side of the room, ignored me if I spoke to him and made it a point to turn the other way if I approached him. Because I didn’t fit his idea of what an “inactive member” looked like I was now dangerous.
But if the church taught that people often left because the church wasn’t “True” then they’d not be able to control their story. People would want to know why. They do have a “story” for that also, you may have heard it, “you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone.” We’ll cover that in an upcoming post.
As far as the spoiler alert. I didn’t leave because I was offended. I didn’t leave because I wanted to sin. I have not been led astray by Satan (nor do I believe in Satan).
I left because it wasn’t “True.” It’s as simple- and as complex as that.