Getting at the Root Reasons Why People Leave Mormonism


Aug 23, 2005 02:36


steve benson

Introduction: Why People Abandon Belief in Mormonism--Their Personal Breaking Point

In one of his consistently substantive and interesting contributions to this forum, Deconstructor made some pertinent observations about the typical tension evident on this board between theists and atheists, in the context of recovering from Mormonism:

" . . . [S]omething . . . has always baffled me about this board and recovery from Mormonism in general.

"When I first started posting my exposé’s on Mormonism, everyone was cheering me on. I'd quote prophets and Mormons scripture and everyone was supportive and agreeable.

"Then one day I made the mistake of making a list of New Testament scriptures, just as I had done with the Book of Mormon. I was totally surprised at the response. Suddenly all of these ex-Mormons who had understood and appreciated a list of questionable BoM passages went berserk when I did the same with the New Testament. My approach was the same, but the reaction was completely different. And the response was personal attacks on me instead of refuting what I said with actual facts.

"I realized then . . . that a lot of ex-Mormons really haven't recovered from the magical/superstitious thinking.

I think this gets back to something you said to me when we talked at Fuddruckers. You said something like 'people don't leave for intellectual reasons, but because they've had a bad experience of some kind.' I'd like you to elaborate on that, because I think that explains why we all take different paths after exiting Mormonism.

"We didn't all leave for the same reasons. Some leave and still want to go to church every Sunday and hear about Jesus. Some still want to pray and feel like God is watching over them and blessing them. Some still want to feel like they are in the one-and-only true church of Christ. I even know an atheist ex-Mormon who still wears garments because he says they are comfortable!"


Intellectually versus Personally Breaking from the Mormon Church: The Role of the Bad Experience in Making the Exit

In response to Decon’s invitation, I would note that, based on both my own individual experience and my general observation of others, that many individuals end up leaving Mormonism for a combination of reasons: personal, emotional and intellectual—but that it is often the negative personal experiences that tend to crystallize, focus and propel them to take the final step of actually disassociating from the LDS Church.

These personal experiences can take many forms, including:

--marital stress with a TBM spouse or with other family members;

--the discovery of acts of hypocrisy or other inappropriate conduct by formerly trusted and respected Church members and/or leaders;

--a sense of personal betrayal at the hands of Church authorities; and

--conflicts with Church leaders who abuse their authority in heavy-handed efforts to control one’s individual life and decisions.

My Intellectual Road Toward Leaving the Mormon Church

For years leading up to my ultimate decision to resign from Church membership, I had been actively investigating several basic issues of Mormon doctrine, history and practice, including:

--the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham;

--the “translation” of the fraudulent Kinderhook Plates;

--the Masonic origins of the Mormon temple ceremony;

--the rewriting and altering of LDS Church history;

--the question of consistency within Mormon doctrines;

--the racist and sexist teachings of Mormon scripture; and

--the reversal and denial of official Mormon teachings

The more I studied in these areas (reading many sources from both "pro" and "con" perspectives), the more I developed an intellectual resistance to, and eventual disbelief in, bedrock Mormon claims. In fact, I had reached the point of intellectual rejection of most of the above areas some time before I formally withdrew from the Church.

Breaking from Activity

Even in the final stages of my growing intellectual disenchantment with Mormonism, I nonetheless remained active, as I struggled up to the last moment attempting to reconcile my growing doubts with my continued activity.

Ultimately, however, the rift between the two became so wide that I found it necessary to put my Mormon Church participation on hold, without actually yet resigning my membership.

For instance, when I concluded that there was no other reasonable explanation to account for the obvious connection between the LDS temple ritual and the rites of Freemasonry, I stopped paying tithing and discontinued temple attendance.

When I reached the point where I could no longer accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic historical document, I notified my bishop that I could not, in good conscience, continue teaching my Aaronic Priesthood class that it was a genuine document. I did, however, offer to continue instructing the young men under my charge, on the condition that I be allowed to focus on issues of human character development and general moral behavior--but not on the Book of Mormon. My bishop found this offer unacceptable and released me.

I eventually discontinued my home teaching duties and requested that the home teachers assigned to our family stop making their monthly visits.

I turned down a calling from the stake president to be ward mission leader.

In short, I needed time and space to deal with the steadily growing gap between what I had been taught was true in Mormonism and what I was discovering was, in reality, false about Mormonism.

Personal Experiences: The Basis for My Foundational Disconnect from Mormonism

As important as my intellectual awakening to the falsity of Mormon claims was to my eventual decision to leave the LDS Church, the most powerful influence in that ultimate decision took the form of personal experiences, from youth to adulthood, which served to raise growing doubts in my mind about the LDS Church’s claims to divine and singular authority over my life.

What made these personal experiences even more powerful to me than the intellectual arguments was their direct and obvious effect on my individual life, as brought on by people I knew and had contact with in the Mormon Church--from family, to teachers, to Church leaders.

The cumulative effect of these personal experiences led me to make the final decision to leave the Mormon Church. The intellectual reasons served to reinforce and validate that decision.

What follows is a list of the personal experiences, in cumulative order, that formed the underpinnings for my decision to resign my membership from the Mormon Church. These included:

--the failure of a priesthood "healing" blessing, given to me as a young boy while hospitalized for pneumonia, to have any discernable effect on my recovery;

--the false promise made to me in my patriarchal blessing that I would return from my full-time mission to find things just about the way I left them. Contrary to the blessing's assurances, my girlfriend, whom I wanted to marry, died barely six weeks into my mission. Within a year, several members of my Seminary class, along with their instructor, were killed or injured in a tornado while returning from a Church trip to Nauvoo;

--the failure of "the Spirit" to register positively when I heard a flamboyant youth fireside speaker reveal to us the Masonic origins of the Mormon temple ceremony (including garment wearing), even though many of my peers in attendance were moved to Holy Ghost-inspired tears;

--my family’s discouragement of me from making any public reference to struggles I had experienced on my mission with my own testimony, insisting to me that I, in fact, had always possessed a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel and that it was my duty to set an example for others in the Church to follow;

--unjustified perks and privileges provided family members of high-ranking Mormon Church leaders, including free passes to General Conference that were expressly off-limits to non-family members; reserved seating in the Tabernacle for relatives of Church leaders; and access to special lunches for the kin of General Authorities during Conference proceedings. The Bensons consistently took advantage of these perks, at the expense of respect for, and belief in, the supposed equality of all before the eyes of God;

--the effort of my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson (after being solicited to intervene by my parents, especially my mother), to stop my planned marriage to Mary Ann. He did so, but only temporarily, by invoking his authority as President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles in order to exact my compliance--commanding me that I should defer to parental "inspiration" and seek family peace, rather than make my own decision on whom I should marry;

--the refusal of a trusted BYU professor to answer my growing doubts about Book of Mormon historicity, saying that I needed to put my questions on the shelf and accept LDS scriptures on faith;

--the on-the-spot demand of another BYU instructor (in a private interview into which he called me) that I bear him my testimony of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior (I felt inappropriately intruded upon and left the encounter in tears);

--the efforts by my grandfather and other family members to stop me from completing an undergraduate BYU research paper on the Church’s official position on the theory of organic evolution, fearing that it would be critical of Mormon leadership and undermine faith and testimony in the Brethren;

--the refusal of Mormon Church leaders (including President Spencer Kimball, Apostles Bruce R. McConkie and Mark E. Peterson, Correlation Committee Director Roy Doxey, Kimball’s personal secretary Arthur Haycock and my grandfather) to give me direct and straightforward answers to my questions on the subject of organic evolution; combined with the LDS Church’s refusal to honestly acknowledge to its members the actual history of the official LDS position on organic evolution on the basis that to do so would be too controversial;

--the extremist political views personally conveyed in our home by my grandfather and other family members, including that the U.S. civil rights movement was Communist-inspired; that President Eisenhower himself may have been a Communist; that political liberals (such as apostles Hugh B. Brown and Neal A. Maxwell) could not be good Church members; that the John Birch Society was the most effective organization (outside the Mormon Church) in fighting Communism; and that the Beatles were Kremlin understudies groomed to sew revolutionary destruction in America;

--the attitude in certain quarters of the Benson family, conveyed to me as a 4th-grader on the day he was assassinated, that President John F. Kennedy deserved what he got;

--the preaching of racist religious and political doctrines in my home and in the Church--including opposition to school integration; support of segregationist George Wallace’s presidential platform as being more in line with those of the Founders than that of either the Republican or Democratic parties; opposition to my participation in demonstration marches urging the passage of a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday in Arizona; and the refusal of the Mormon Church to officially endorse passage of a Arizona state holiday honoring Rev. King;

--efforts by an anonymous Mormon Apostle, local Arizona Church leaders and Mormon political authorities to silence my public cartoon criticism of Mormon governor Evan Mecham--including direct contact from the state regional representative of the Church to me, a phone call to my stake president from H. Burke Peterson of the Presiding Bishopric and complaints from a Mormon state senator--all which led to my eventual removal from the stake high council; this combined with efforts by local Mormon Mecham supporters to have me excommunicated for my opposition to Mecham, whom they claimed had been elected by God’s will;

--a warning from my home teacher that if I did not stop asking critical questions about the Book of Abraham, I would be excommunicated;

--personal meetings with my stake president about my growing disillusionment with Mormon Church doctrines and practices, followed by his personal letters to me, in which he accused me of being consumed with pride and in the grip of Satan, and in which he also warned me to cease my public cartoon criticism of unequal treatment of LDS women by the Mormon Church;

--criticism by a local Mormon male stake youth leader of Mary Ann’s Sunday School lesson to a joint young men’s and young women’s class, in which she taught that during the last days of Jesus’ life, his female friends were more faithful and brave than were his own apostles (a criticism that was, in typical Mormon sexist fashion, relayed to me by the stake leader, rather than directly to Mary Ann);

--efforts by Mormon Church General Authorities and members of my own family to discourage me from speaking the truth about the Church’s deliberate misrepresentations of my grandfather’s actual deteriorating physical and mental state, combined with the threat from my own family that if I continued to speak out publicly about his health, I would be barred from seeing my grandfather. This last warning was issued to me by my father in the name of protecting God’s prophet from enemies in the press (of which I happened to be a member); and, finally,

--admissions by Apostles Neal Maxwell and Dallin Oaks in private conversations with Mary Ann and myself in their Church offices just prior to us leaving Mormonism, which included discussion of what they themselves regarded as problems with Book of Mormon historicity; failed prophecies of Mormon Church presidents; contradictory accounts of the First Vision; Joseph Smith’s inconsistent behavior in the wake of receiving the First Vision; difficulties with Smiths’ alleged Book of Abraham translation; the role of FARMS in protecting the Quorum of the Twelve from criticism; the actual means by which revelation is received by Mormon prophets; lies publicly uttered by Oaks about fellow Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s inappropriate involvement in the excommunication of LDS author and feminist support, Paul Toscano; the unimpressive nature of Maxwell’s and Oaks’ own testimonies of the Gospel and, in particular, of their supposed callings as Special Witnesses for Christ; their obsessive concern for secrecy concerning our conversations with them; and their compulsion to pry into our personal lives regarding our individual worthiness to ask them questions in the first place.

Conclusion: Leaving the Mormon Church Because of Personal Experience, Not Intellectual Argument

Many questioning Mormons harbor serious intellectual doubts about the claims of the LDS Church. These concerns are real, valid and substantial.

But it is often the grinding, eye-opening effect of jarring personal experiences in their own lives with Mormon Church authority, family pressure, Church hypocrisy, individual mistreatment and a sense of smothering control that leads many of them to finally make their escape from the captivity of Mormonism's depersonalizing prison camp.

In the end, disillusionment with, and ultimate disbelief in, the Mormon Church frequently boils down to intensely personal conflicts between fact and myth in which people come to a clear sense that they have been fundamentally--in their heart of hearts--betrayed by a corrupt institution that professed to love, trust, respect and accept them as the individuals that they are--and then acted in ways to totally undermine that assurance.



Powerful and true.


Aug 23 03:54



Thank God I went on a mission. Up to that point the Church which I had experienced had been a loving, supportive organization dedicated to the welfare of its people, in particular me. On my mission I saw a manipulative, brutal machine intent on using people to further itself.

I was deeply troubled to learn that the Church had excommunicated Mormon anti-Nazis during the 1930's. The justification: It was needed to save the institution. Sounded to me like something the Roman Church would do, not the people of God.

One particular incident, in itself no great deal, turned the lights on for me. Officials of the Church building committee had come to Germany to survey the country for new building projects. I was one of the drivers for the group. As we entered a city, the head of the committee asked where the best restaurant in town was. We headed there and virtually everyone ordered the most expensive item on the menu. When the bill arrived, the two leaders responsible for payment laughingly tugged for it. The one who relented, laughed, remarking, "We all know who is paying for it anyway." In the church's defense, Wendell Mendenhall, the leader in question, was later released without thanks for his service.

One of the members in Cologne walked to services every Sunday so she could save the few pennies from the streetcar fare to pay her tithing. I don't think she'd ever eaten in the best restaurant in any city. But her tithing money and that of others like her made it into that restaurant for the building committee.

Incident after incident such as that put the intellectual questions which had first been raised upon reading Vardis Fisher's Children of God as a teenager into perspective. By the way, the book still makes good reading.



Re: Powerful and true.


Aug 23 11:08



Clio wrote:
> I was deeply troubled to learn that the Church had excommunicated Mormon anti-Nazis during the 1930's. The justification: It was needed to save the institution.

Has anyone ever done a book on these peoples lives and the charges the church leveled against them for why they were excommunicated? Has the church ever issued an apology to their families? Silly questions. The church never apologizes for its past actions!



Re: Getting at the Root Reasons Why People Leave Mormonism


Aug 23 09:28


Just can't

God does not need to be defended.

Your decisions are valid enough in experience to know what is "God" like and what is not.

Putting the ox in front of the cart, either you choose to be the ox or you choose to be resting comfortably riding along inside the cart. It's not an easy road all the time but there needs to be a figurative road to travel.

For me it starts with God does not need to be defended.



I didn't believe from the time I was pretty young, read


Aug 23 10:49



"No Man Knows my History" at age 18, thought it really pretty much explained it all, but because of all of the good Mormons around me, decided to go on a mission to make sure. There were times on my mission where I had the "good fruit" testimony, but all and all, still didn't believe deep down in my heart of hearts. And then when I found out about the Book of Abraham fraud, I was done.

I enjoy hearing your story. My parents weren't very Mormon so that part was easy for me. My grandparents were the ones who were hurt when I exited. So, I can see how it was more difficult for you. Also, even though I still see some of my buddies from Mormon days, it's not the same.



Thanks Steve....


Aug 23 11:37


Craig Paxton

Two and a half years ago as I was on my own road to discovery, I read your essay on your meeting with Oaks and Maxwell. At the time I was still trying to hold together my faith in Mormonism in a bold attempt to maintain family unity. When I read that essay I was still having doubts regarding my doubts. I guess in some way your story allow ed me to accept that I wasn't going mad. That the questions and doubts that I had had since my days as a missionary where real. It helped me to finally accept the sad truth that the church was not what it claimed to be.

Your interview with those two men was a powerful story. It helped me understand that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't crazy and that there was life on the outside of Mormonism.

Thanks for your contribution to those who seek truth,




I agree completely


Aug 23 11:45



Viewing first hand how poorly the church treats homosexuals and transgendered individuals is what jarred me out of Mormonism and Christianity. The facts about real church history were always right in front of me, but I would not see them. To use the words of a Mormon, my experiences created a necessary "paradigm shift". The facts did not change, but my understanding did.




Great post, It was somewhat opposite for me, though.


Aug 23 14:51



Well, perhaps not the opposite, exactly.

The personal experiences that led me to believe Mormonism was a crock had been present throughout my life. Abusive authority figures, despicable doctrine, etc. I always wrote this kind of thing off as being somehow my fault.

It wasn't until I stumbled on the history that I realized the intellectual reasons for leaving, and then I was gone rather quickly after that.


Still, I wonder if I hadn't been bothered by the personal experiences already, if the intellectual reasons would have had so much force.

I don't think I've expressed quite what I mean, but figuring out which caused my exit is sort of a chicken/egg thing.



Re: Getting at the Root Reasons Why People Leave Mormonism


Aug 23 14:54



My doubts started in college, which I started attending after my divorce (my husband got "permission" from our bishop to divorce me due to him being unhappy). I took Western Civ. and History of Christianity. I started doubting any religion. Then I started investigating the claims of the Church. Confirmed my intellectual feelings of it all being a lie.

Why did I stop going? Well, that is the Bishops fault (LOL). I went to him to ask questions about my concerns, and his immediate response was "have you been masturbating or reading romance novels?"

I think it's funny now, but at the time, all I could think of was 'get my girls outta here'.

My ex is still in the Morg, but I've pretty much convinced my girls that the Church is false...thank "god". As for my son, he's 7, and I just don't discuss it.




weighing in


Aug 23 15:15



Steve. I can certainly follow your thinking regarding the underlying personal impetuous to leave the fold, Unlike you, however, I never was overcome by the shadow of abusive power as you seem to be having had a grandfather who was so clearly gone Hollywood as yours. I still remember the word tabernacle but even more painful was his daughter singing in front of millions at conference. ouch, I can see why you abandoned any Bensionesque hope for life at the Met and took up the pen and cartooning. Good thing for me the annual Wizard of Oz rerun convinced me at an early age to consider the source and to look not only for the man behind the curtain but to look at the man or men behind it as well. For that reason I think I am not alone in finding some degree of accommodation for those folks charged with running the show.



School of Hard Knocks vs Academic Knowledge


Aug 23 15:22


Buddy the Golden Retriever

My personal experience taught me that all the errs in Mormondom (scriptural, doctrinal, historical, and cultural)are academic until they infringe on you personally. At that point you become invalidated as a human being. To become a human being again you must dissociate from the institution.

ruff ruff



somewhat opposite order for me (disillusionment, THEN discovering facts). . .


Aug 23 16:46



Steve wrote: "In the end, disillusionment with, and ultimate disbelief in, the Mormon Church frequently boils down to intensely personal conflicts between fact and myth in which people come to a clear sense that they have been fundamentally--in their heart of hearts--betrayed by a corrupt institution that professed to love, trust, respect and accept them as the individuals that they are--and then acted in ways to totally undermine that assurance."

Wow, you said it all.

Maybe both ingredients (facts and bad experiences) have to be there, but the order doesn't matter. For me, it was first the painful recognition that my lack of spiritual experiences didn't validate what I was taught to expect as a faithful and obedient member of the church (and it took about 20 years to even consider that maybe the problem wasn't with ME). There were also painful experiences that taught be that maybe there wasn't a God up there guiding our lives OR protecting them, or even answering prayers when we needed it AND then 2) later finding out that there were big doctrine and history problems.



Re: Getting at the Root Reasons Why People Leave Mormonism


Aug 23 18:12



For 35 years I had bad experiences galore in the church and nothing ever quite seemed to work out but I tried not to let it bother me.

Ditto for the many doctrinal inconsistencies I came across in my many hours of prayerful studying.

For me it was seeing the huge tabernacle go up which really pushed me out, and I took our whole family out with me.

Such a waste of millions of dollars, and while growing up I had seen large families do without food and medical care so they could pay tithes to this lousy church. I HATE THIS LYING CULT.



The truth...


Aug 23 18:53



For me it came down to truth. I had always been taught we had the one truth. When I found out how much the "truth" had been manipulated, polished and changed, it was the beginning of the end for me. I might still be a member if they had acknowledged the past and owned up to it, but the lies are what changed me.



Thanks for the post.


Aug 23 20:27


can't log in here

It does seem like we're all in one of two camps here on the board. For me the intellectual doubts preceded the personal issues. The personal issues were just the last straw. Like you, I remained active the whole time I was searching. I actually did the whole Alma's challenge thing and lived the religion to the most extreme extent I possibly could. I found that the religion left me empty and unhappy. Sure, it was still based on feelings at first. But I happen to think that any group that requires you to spend every spare dime and second of your life on it should be very emotionally fulfilling, intellectually stimulating and entertaining!



I agree with your LAST paragraph n/t


Aug 23 20:42






Steve, your post is very insightful ...


Aug 23 20:55



I always love to read what you write and how eloquently you are able to word things. I agree with your viewpoint and the others who have posted.

In my situation, my divorce was the culmination of my church beliefs. I had quit going a couple of years before, but my ex-husband's actions (and other "church" people) convinced me that it was not for me. I held on to some beliefs, but they finally crumbled and I've disassociated all the way (except a letter of resignation - I just don't care enough to do it).

My final straw was the day that I called the Office of Recovery Services and a very nice worker listened to me about my lack of child support payments from my temple-recommend holder ex-husband. Then, she informed me that they're not allowed to pierce the veil of the COB for wage information associated with child support. If the church wasn't guilty, why were they covering for their own? I was done and I haven't looked back since. My family is somewhat disappointed and holds out hope that I'll see the light, but they also watch me do things for them and see that I'm still a "good" person.

I don't have much of an opinion about the church's doctrine because I just can't believe in the Joseph Smith fable as a whole. I like "The da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown because it basically debunks religion in general (even if you agree or disagree with his writing style).

I am constantly amazed at the lengths the Mormon church goes to cover up some asinine doctrine or historical aspect. I feel pity for those involved. I also feel angry that my ex-husband feels tithing is more important than supporting his children, but it's his choice and he'll be the one who grows old - by himself.

I'm very thankful that I'm not involved and no longer giving my tithing money to a monster that's always hungry and never grateful for what you do. My life is much better and complete without the Mormon church.





Recovery from Mormonism - The Mormon Church

Listing of additional short Topics  |  Main Page