A prevalent argument has formed that women and girls are leaving the Church in droves. The implication is that more women are leaving than men and in historic numbers. All of this is based on anecdotal observation without much actual evidence. Regardless of the actual situation, other equally valid anecdotal based observations can argue that men are still far more likely to leave or not ever join the Church than women. This is not unique to Mormonism according to studies of religious organizations.
Why are men most likely to drop or reject religion? The studies do not really answer that question any more than why women might. In fact, more women remain a part of religious institutions then men. The doesn’t sound correct if feminists are right in the assumptions that traditional religions are oppressive patriarchies. Islam is one of the only major religions where men are more likely to join and participate, but it is an exception and not the rule.
The suggestions of possible reasons are mine alone. They are also theoretical from lifelong participation. Because of the general nature of the subject, stereotypes are present for a wider discussion. Although I never left the Church or intend to anytime soon to give personal examples, there remains a lifetime of experience as a male member. My friends were male, my religious associates were male, and I was raised with brothers and sisters. Some of the acquaintances I have known continue in the faith. Others drifted away like so many.
Men are not always in control.The saying that “boys will be boys” really does have a basis in fact. Call it cultural or genetic, but boys have a hard time not giving into temptations. Nothing is stronger than raging hormones when faced with a desirable person of the opposite gender. Even the best and obedient boy will more than likely lose if put into a situation where giving in is easy. Yes, boys and men are responsible for their own actions. That doesn’t take away the existence of a strong impulse when certain signals, intended or not, are placed in front of them like bate from a fisherman. I am sorry. I am a man. I grew up around men. I talked with men both in and outside of the Church. Men have a strong libedo and sense of independence. Thankfully, they can learn to control themselves over time and with proper training. Regardless, too many make mistakes and decide leaving the Church is better than living a lie of obedience.
Getting in trouble with women is not the only source of frustration. Peer pressure and a sense of adventure push the envelope. Men and boys do not like to be restricted. They are physical creatures more then women or girls, even if there are exceptions for both sides of gender. Talk to four out of five men and they will gush about a sport either as participant or at least watching. This translates into not letting anything get in their way; and often commandments are seen as an impediment to their competitive get what they want nature. It can be hard to follow the Mosiah 3:19 council:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
Giving them a lot of responsibilities is both a help and a hinderance. It can keep men busy so they don’t have idol time to give in to temptations. Focusing on tasks to perform channels the energy into more productive directions. Yet, this can also backfire because ironically men and boys like the path of least resistance. In other words, they are lazy when an immediate reward is not forthcoming and its not their own goal. Expectations of full time job or school, home teaching, a calling in the ward, and fatherhood or housework can be overbearing. For much younger boys the thought of missionary work can be scary enough to drive them away; especially when not going has social stigma.
For more evidence that it is boys and men that are more likely to leave then girls and women, take a look around a ward. Notice how many women come alone with their kids compared to men. Husbands have more of a chance they will lose the faith and stop attending. Women often struggle with a spouse who no longer believes, and eventually there can be a divorce to remain or drifting away themselves. That doesn’t mean that a woman can’t inspire the man to become believing and active. Advice is given in 1 Corinthians 7, to not leave the unbelieving spouse, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” That means continuing to strive to keep the faith despite marital circumstances. Don’t leave them unless they leave you.
What can be done to retain and interest more men in the Church? No suggestions are given because its hard to tell. At no time in the LDS Church’s history has it been opposite this condition. I have some speculation why Islam and more Eastern religions don’t have the same problems, but I’ll leave that alone. The implications would not be well received or fit into the modern Western culture. Other ideas would need to be examined to fit better into Gospel ideals. Perhaps a large and robust active membership for both men and women is just not built into the faith. It is up to individuals, and not the organization, to decide why, how, and if they will join or participate.