The contrast between the on-line Mormon world and the real Mormon world

I don’t spend much time reading many Mormon blogs.  The primary reason is that it is a depressing exercise.  Don’t get me wrong — even some of the worst Mormon blogs have occasional pearls from people extolling their positive church experiences.  But such jewels usually receive few comments and little traffic.

The three primary themes of the Mormon blog world are 1)the writers are smarter/better informed/more moral/more up-to-date than the leaders of the Church or 2)the writers are much more righteous than “conservative” or “TBM” Mormons 3)Most Church members are  judgmental hicks (unlike the blog writers, of course, who are tolerant and understanding and filled with love for everybody — except for the people they really hate, ie, the other Church members).  And, really, if I wanted to spend my time reading that I could always go to some anti-Mormon web site someplace and read the same thing.

I am sadly forced to report that many Mormons who write on Mormon blogs appear to be obsessed with the faults of their fellow Saints and show no real charity toward people they should love.  The examples are too numerous to mention, and I am not going to give links to any of these blogs because I don’t think people should be reading them.  But in researching this post I looked up the most recent output from about a dozen on-line Mormon blogs, and I found out that people who go to Church are “country club Mormons” who hate gay people, want to oppress women and are overly concerned with what other people wear.  In addition, the prophets are old and out of touch, and the Church used to be better a few decades ago.  And the Church is really, really bad these days because it does not agree with all of the secular trends that the cool people like.

Sigh.

My advice is:  don’t read these blogs.  But if you are one of these people who do read those blogs I would like to give you another perspective.  This perspective comes from somebody who converted to the Church almost two decades ago, and has gone to church in Brazil, Miami and Colorado, where I live now.  I have also visited wards literally all over the world when traveling.  Because of my callings over the years, I have gotten to know hundreds of people who were inactive or who left the Church for one reason or another.  And I have obviously gotten to know thousands of members.  Please keep in mind that as a member of a bishopric and a high councilor, I have had detailed discussions with people about many different issues.

  • I can’t recall ever meeting at Church a latter-day Saint who ever expressed a serious concern over the “patriarchy” or the Church’s position on same-sex attraction.  I have met people who had questions about polygamy or the Church’s position on blacks and the priesthood.  I have met people with questions about the all-male priesthood and the Church’s position on same-sex issues, but none of these people had serious concerns.

  • The number of inactive people that I met outside of Church who expressed serious concerns about the priesthood and same-sex issues is a handful, probably less than seven. And most of these were family members.
  • The primary reasons people seem (in my experience) to stop going to Church are:  1)Word of Wisdom issues 2)chastity issues and 3)they want to do leisure activities on Sunday.  Note:  many people will say they are convinced by some anti-Mormon book or another, but they will almost always (in my experience) say their doubts started before they read the book, which is why they read the anti-Mormon book in the first place.  And many of them will mention the WoW, chastity and leisure time as preceding the onset of doubt.
  • I have never heard a Church member criticize how another person is dressed at Church.
  • I have never heard a Church member whisper that visitor so-and-so smells like cigarettes, even when visitor so-and-so DID smell like cigarettes.
  • I have never heard a Church member make a racist or homophobic or misogynistic comment.  Ever.
  • I have never heard a man with the priesthood criticize his wife.  Ever.
  • Gossip in the wards I have attended has been minimal.  Yes, there is gossip and gossiping, but compared to the many places I have worked, there is very little gossiping going on at church.
  • I have witnessed Church members engage in incredible acts of kindness more often than I could mention.  I have seen everything from missionaries helping a woman change a tire during a blizzard to people who have repeatedly accepted homeless people into their homes.
  • The vast majority — at least 99 percent — of the members of the Church I have met are good, humble people who recognize they are imperfect.  They are not self-righteous.  They try to do service for others.  They try to act with love towards those around them, although they, like all of us, very often fail.

To sum up: I trust these people, and I try to love them, and it makes me sick to my stomach to see the constant criticism everyday Mormons receive from the pseudo-intellectuals who crowd into the bloggernacle to complain about them. Yes, the vast majority of latter-day Saints I have known (including those from Brazil, by the way) are “conservative.”  They do not like the recent trends in the secular world, and they are concerned about the future and about religious freedom.  But they have more true love in their little finger than most of the bloggernacle murmurers appear to have in their entire bodies.

NOTE TO COMMENTERS:  I don’t want to hear about your ward or your friend’s ward or some other ward where people really are bad.  Such comments will not be published.  Try to find the positive in the people around you.  Who knows:  if you started looking for the positive instead of the negative perhaps your church experience would get better.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

68 thoughts on “The contrast between the on-line Mormon world and the real Mormon world

  1. Really great comments, Geoff. I tend to agree with you on nearly every issue. I too am a convert, served a mission in Brazil, and have seen the fruits of the gospel change my life for the better. One thing I would like to get your opinion on: I’ve had several very close friends, that were not long ago very stalwart, recently leave the church. In nearly all cases, they left due to historical concerns that are now discussed at length on lds.org in the form of essays ranging from polygamy/polyandry, to blacks and the priesthood, Book of Abraham translation, etc. I have studied these issues and feel that none of them give me reason to stop believing in the restoration and truth claims of the church. However, it appears to me, at least with those I know, that more people are leaving the church because of church history and past doctrine more than any other reason. The question is, do you see this at all from your experience? Also, how do you recommend helping those that have legitimate questions/concerns about the way they were once taught about things, and the new paradigm that the church finds itself in with regard to the way our history needs to be taught? The common theme seems to be, “I’ve been lied to.” I don’t believe that to be the case at all, just that the church CES leaders, etc. did the best they could with the narrative they knew. So, how do we prevent good people, with once solid testimonies, from leaving the church going forward? I want to help them, but am at a loss for what to do.

  2. I love Lehi’s dream. There are so many rich symbols therein.

    Who knew that in addition to the very female symbol of a tree of life, the very childlike symbol of the fruit of the tree, and the very masculine symbol of the fountain of living waters, we would have a prophet hundreds of years before the Internet who would come up with such an apt symbol as the great and spacious building for the bloggernacle.

  3. Ryan, I have not had the same experience as you. Yes, there are many intellectual types who will question this or that regarding Church history, but it almost never comes up in the chapel. Yes, there are many investigators or church critics who seem obsessed with the “truth” about Church history, but I don’t see it that much among the members. Don’t get me wrong — I find Church history fascinating, and I think there are many things to discuss, but as I say the primary problems with disaffected people tend to be the WoW, chastity and other leisure activities. By the way, I have discussed this with many bishops and they have told me the same thing.

    If people have irresolvable questions about church history, almost everything has been discussed either a)on the lds.org web site b)at FAIRMormon or c)Jeff Lindsay’s blog. A Google search that ends with these sites should be sufficient to answer any concern.

    Meg, LOL!

    Nathan, yes it is remarkable, isn’t it?

  4. “I have never heard a man with the priesthood criticize his wife.”

    Probably because we all do it under our breath. 😉

  5. My experience is similar to yours. There are many imperfect people in the Church because there are no perfect people anywhere. What a surprise.

    The fixation on faults of average members to the exclusion of noticing just how good so many people are is certainly distressing and, IMHO, counterproductive.

    The LDS “bloggernacle” is populated with many bigoted and hateful people with a serious axe to grind against the Mormon Church. In former days, these people would live on the fringes and be largely ignored. Now, with the Internet, their presence and influence is magnified and distorted beyond reasonable levels. The reach of these people, while greatly expanded, has not changed the fact that they are largely impotent in the real world.

    Just like the poor, the dissenters are always with us but, unlike the poor, this group of malcontents deserve very little of our time and attention.

  6. Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I’ve read a lot of criticisms of the church as if they are the norm. I’ve been a member of 7 different wards in 3 different US states and another 3 wards in Europe during my mission. I’ve attended church in probably a large number of places while traveling for both business and pleasure including around 10 or so different countries. I’ve had great bishops and other leaders, and met some amazing members who are some of the most generous and kind people I’ve ever met (I’ve certainly met great people outside of the church too, but the church organization has certainly provided a great structure to mobilize good people to do more good). I have no doubt that there are bad apples and some bad experiences out there, but it’s certainly not the church I have experienced and I think I’ve seen enough to know its not the norm either.

  7. Hi Ryan,

    I too have encountered faithful folks who have struggled as the living gospel diverged from either their former static understanding or the secular worldview they wish to embrace.

    C. S. Lewis made a lion the God of his Christianity-based fantasy world, Narnia. Aslan was not a tame lion. The God of Mormonism is not a tame God.

    The problem is that most of the rest of Christianity has bound God to their mortal whims, and the secularists don’t even pretend to care about any God, much less the untamed God Lewis depicted.

    Those faithful Mormons who acknowledge God as Lord don’t try to grab Him by the jaw to redirect Him.

  8. I think you hit the nail on the head. I left the Church 35 years ago. I had a lot of intellectual excuses, but in retrospect, the real reason was my pride. I knew better than the Brethren, than my Bishop, than anybody in the Church. I returned to activity about 5 years ago, after having found that there was absolutely nothing better “out there”. It’s easy to be critical. It’s tougher to be honest about the real causes for your negative feelings.

  9. Marc, welcome back! Over the years, I have worked with many people who have come back to church, and I can tell you that without exception they are happier and more fulfilled after returning to church. This does not mean you life is perfect or that the other members are perfect, and it does not mean you won’t have challenges. But it does mean that over time when you look at the trajectory of your life you will find so many unexpected blessings along the way.

  10. Thanks Geoff. I haven’t had the opportunity to serve in bishoprics or stake high councils so what you say certainly carries weight in terms of the leading causes of apostasy. I am quite surprised you’ve never encountered people leaving over church history or prior doctrine/policies of the church. Of the close friends of mine who have left in recent years, only one left due to a word of wisdom issue. None due to sexual sin. All six of the others left because of historical things that they learned from the podcast world and/or reading Rough Stone Rolling. Perhaps one of the reasons you don’t hear it at church is because they claim that there is no “safe place” to discuss these issues at church. Therefore, they feel reluctant to discuss them with their bishops and the like. So, they just make the decision to leave because their shelf is carrying too much weight. I also know the CES Letter has been a huge problem and most of them have read at least portions of that as well. At any rate, maybe its just the people I know, and hopefully not a widespread epidemic.

    Meg, you are so absolutely right!

  11. Several years ago while serving as newsletter editor for a ward I wrote biographies of the bishopric. Each of them had converted as adults after being raised in families antipathetic to the church. Some in my extended family have returned after a period of inactivity. Those who warn that the Church will lose members because of policies that hold the line likely underestimate the loyalty of most members who spend far more time concerned about their own worthiness than they do about the habits and opinions of their neighbors or the actions of the Church itself. The Book of Mormon, particularly the book of Helaman, serves as a textbook for the ways that people lose their faith. It is heart wrenching for those of us who watch friends and family give up such precious fruit, but many are like Ryan and return. We all rejoice when that occurs.

  12. Thanks! It’s tough to know sometimes how to deal with people who are experiencing “doubts”, but I do think that trying to only handle what is on the surface will never really handle their problem. Sometimes, of course, people just have questions about stuff they never heard of before, and these questions are usually pretty easy to handle. When they get to the point of “doubt”, however, the real issues are buried so deeply that they are invisible, even to the person with the problem.
    It may be that I had to leave and experience what I did in order to really appreciate the Church, in which case I’ll have to admit that it was worth it. It was a rough way to spend 30 years, though…

  13. Some readers have asked which blogs I am referring to. I am not going to “name names.” One reason is that I don’t want to draw attention to these blogs in any way, and I don’t think people should read them. Another important reason is that many of these blogs regularly criticize M* by name because we support the Church and the Brethren, and I’m not engaging in a tit-for-tat game. That is not the point.

    At some point I will write a post titled, “How to spot a Mormon post that you shouldn’t read.” Here are some common features of murmuring Mormons’ internet posts:

    –They almost never quote scriptures or the prophets, and when they do the quotations are out of context.
    –They criticize Church members or leadership while pretending to try to “prevent people from leaving the Church.” (Remember that John Dehlin started out trying to keep people in the Church, and now he has evolved into an entire apostasy industry).
    –They are usually (but not always) opposed to Church doctrines on same-sex attraction and the priesthood.
    –They very often create outrageous, unbelievable stories about rude things that Mormons supposedly said or did at Church.
    –They usually find ways to criticize bishops/stake presidents or other church leaders.

    There are more common features to add to the list, but this should do for now.

  14. First, thanks for this great post Geoff. I agree with it for the most part. I’ve lived most of my life in Utah and been in many Utah wards and find those who agree with the voices of the general blogernaccle to be few and far between. But they do exist. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are looking to devour the flock. It is dangerous to simply dismiss them.

    Most of my callings/duties of late has been reaching out as part of an EQ presidency to inactive members to fellowship them and invite them to the various ward activities. Many of them have become inactive because of WOW, chasitiy, or other commandment-related issues. But not all. Some have become inactive or left the church because of historical issues, the church’s stance on SSM, the CES letter, etc. However, the bigger issue is what Marc (welcome back!) mentioned. It’s not the church’s history or the church’s stance on SSM that drives them away but their pride. In every case they think they know better than bishop/stake president/GAs/Qof12/1stPresidency and therefore they leave because they’re better/smarter than those in leadership positions.

    I come from a family of 6 children. 3 (including myself) are still active members. One sister left because the church wasn’t feminist enough for her (read: pride), a brother left because of chastity issues, and a third because her husband left and she didn’t want to disrupt the marriage. My point is that I think between commandment issues and pride you can find the cause why 99% of the people leave the church .

    Anyway, thanks for the post and for this blog. I almost gave up on reading Bloggernacle stuff because so much of it was negative and uninspiring. This is one of the two blogs about church stuff that I even read anymore. I love the content and those who take the time to contribute.

  15. Marc,

    Just wanted to thank you for sharing your story about coming back. With three of my siblings currently inactive or having resigned their membership, it gives me hope that they will one day come back and embrace the teachings of the gospel.

    J.S.

  16. James Stone, thanks for the nice comments. We are trying to be a blog where people support the Church and can avoid a lot of the negativity that takes place on other Mormon blogs. We have been around for more than a decade now and have a pretty loyal readership of more than 1,000 page views per day. It is always nice to hear from readers.

  17. My experience is different from Geoff. I have a beloved brother and wife who left the church in the 90s over issues related to feminism and the priesthood. I know there were no Word of Wisdom issues, no issues with Sunday activities, and certainly while I can’t know details of their lives, no one was aware of chastity issues. Again last year, a dear son and wife followed the Kate Kelly bandwagon out of the Church. None of the issues of WoW, Sundays or chastity were (or are) in their lives either. While I have 3 other siblings who slipped out of activity for the reasons mentioned, these two examples are for me, suggestive that concerns related to same-sex marriage, history, and women and the Priesthood are not so unusual as the main force for inactivity/ excommunication.

  18. Thanks!

    You wrote something that seems to me to be so very true, and so sad — but so very true — it bears repeating…

    The three primary themes of the Mormon blog world are 1)the writers are smarter/better informed/more moral/more up-to-date than the leaders of the Church or 2)the writers are much more righteous than “conservative” or “TBM” Mormons 3)Most Church members are judgmental hicks (unlike the blog writers, of course, who are tolerant and understanding and filled with love for everybody — except for the people they really hate, ie, the other Church members).

  19. My sense is that especially in the comments the big blogs tend to draw a lot more “borderline Mormons.” That is people who have stopped believing, have rejected many key beliefs (like chastity or the historicity of the Book of Mormon), or else have very socially liberal views. In general they don’t feel like they can express those on Sunday. I confess on some blogs I’ve stopped posting comments on anything but the strict discussions of texts of theology. The differences are just too great. They clearly only want a certain line of comments and anything that doesn’t follow that line they simply see as part of the problem (even if you largely agree with them – you have to agree in the right way)

    That said I think there are plenty of blogs still worth reading regularly. (Can I make a plug for T&S where I started blogging of late?) But I agree there’s a surprising chasm online over certain political views. Interestingly those who criticize conservative wards seem to often miss that there are definitely politically liberal wards who don’t tend to treat conservatives well. (I’ve had friends in Utah county attend such wards and mention that there are mainstream positions they didn’t feel like they could even bring up)

  20. Pat, while the statistics are extremely dated now, back in the 90’s there was a study that something like 40% of active LDS had been inactive for an extended time in their past. I think of many of my Bishops or even my Mission President and several had been inactive. My Mission President had actually spent most of his life through his 40’s inactive.

    I’ve no idea how or even if those demographics have changed. I’d imagine they have somewhat although LDS retention is still surprisingly high.

    James, I think speaking broadly (i.e. not just of Mormons) that social issues especially feminism and gender issues are the prime driver of pushing people especially millennials out of activity in organized religion. We’re encountering it too. While I think other things contribute, I think we should be careful not to dismiss this too much. There are big social changes taking place right now and it’s happening far more rapidly than I think people want to admit. Exactly how we’ll deal with this isn’t at all clear. Nor is it clear whether this is a blip of a few decades with an end to the trend or if the US will end up becoming more like Europe in terms of being a secular society.

  21. I understand not naming names for the negative blogs, but perhaps it might be useful to name a few recommended blogs.

  22. Somewhere way back before dirt God decided that he was going to minister to men and women through men and women not via a booming voice from the clouds. He even sent His Son to us as a mortal being. His Son said whoever receives His servants receives Him and His Father.

    My rule of thumb is that if you don’t see evidence of weakness then it may not be from God. What a conundrum. He sent messy nasty carnal mortals out to do His work.

    Messiness is the veil over His hiding place that allows us agency. Praise God for such a plan.

  23. I have been pondering this promise a lot in the last few weeks, from Pres. Marion G. Romney: ““I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness” (Ensign, May 1980, p. 67).”

    If we have doubts we need to turn to the right sources for the solutions to those doubts. Rarely will those solutions be found on a blog — even this great blog. 😉 If we read the scriptures, specifically The Book of Mormon, and do as Moroni councils with a sincere heart, real intent (meaning we’ve put our agenda aside), and with faith in Christ, we will find our answers.

  24. Geoff, I agree with your assessment. I have been a member in and outside the United States, in at least 4 states, including Utah, and about 10 wards and one branch. My experience has been similar to yours. Nothing but good people trying to live the gospel. it’s funny that the only place I found the members taking the church and its blessing for granted was Utah. It really took me by surprise as I expected the opposite. Like you I avoid the bloggernacle for the same reasons you stated. I think I only read M* at this point. It’s the only blog I feel comfortable reading. Thanks for the post.

  25. Clark, T&S has become a much better blog now that you are posting there regularly. I hope your influence continues to change its focus back on supporting the Church rather than criticizing the Church.

    Leo, the blogs I would recommend are listed at the Nothing Wavering aggregator:

    http://www.nothingwavering.org

    If there are any that are good blogs that are not on the Nothing Wavering list, please feel free to send me an email at geoff@millennialstar.org, and I will make sure the suggestions get to the administrator of that aggregator.

  26. Clark,

    I don’t dismiss social issues as being a factor and hope I didn’t come across that way. My point was that social issues tend to boil down to a pride issue. Someone strongly believes X while the church believes Y. No man can serve two masters and with many social issues like SSM and women’s equality, there’s no longer a middle ground. You’re either in the X camp or the Y camp. The person in the X camp can either say “The church needs to change its views to X” or they can humbly try to understand why the Lord and his prophets have said they believe in Y.

    In my siblings experience and those I fellowship who have gone inactive or left over social issues, there hasn’t been much trying to understand Y and a lot more trying to get the church to change its views to X. Hence the real issue is pride and not necessarily whatever issue X is. The key is humility and understanding the Lord’s ways aren’t our ways. It’s not always an easy concept to grasp, even for faithful members who agree with the church on social issues.

  27. Leo, I confess I just don’t read as many blogs as I used to. Partially because a lot of blogs sort of repeat things that I’ve just seen over and over again. Not necessarily a knock on them. Just that I’m going by my personal interest.

    The ones I read regularly are:

    T&S (I now blog there although I’m not a permablogger as I couldn’t guarantee the time)

    BCC (Although I know pretty much only engage with the direct scripture analysis and studiously avoid the political posts. The scriptural posts by Kevin and others make it worth reading although my blood pressure sometimes goes up seeing the others.)

    New Cool Thang. Sadly most of the other bloggers there have ceased. But even though I disagree strongly with him on some key points I always enjoy thinking through Jeff’s thinking through philosophical/theological issues.

    The rest I read less regularly via an rss reader so I can quickly scan to see if there are interesting posts I like.

    Juvenile Instructor

    Benjamin the Scribe. Ben Spackman’s blog is a must read. It’s usually close readings of scripture.

    Scriptural Mormonism. An other must read although he wastes too much time engaging silly evangelical exegesis at times.

    Sic et Non. Signal to noise ratio is a little off I confess so I only read about 1 in 10 posts. But when Dan Peterson has a good post it’s really worth reading.

    Scriptorium Blogorium. Always some interesting takes of scriptures.

    Quote Fide. An other good scriptural blog.

    M*.

    Forn Spoll Fire. John Gee’s blog although it’s basically dead right now.

    Speaking Silence. Jim Faulconer’s blog. Always worth reading although it’s often more devotional in nature.

    Mormanity. Jeff Lindsay’s extremely long running blog. I think it’s one of the few long running personal blogs to have continued non-stop since the early days of LDS blogs.

  28. James, I fully agree. I think there’s a lot of lack of humility about our political views. It seems so odd to trust so strongly in our beliefs when the reasons for our political beliefs are often relatively weak, epistemologically speaking. I mean I have strong political views but I’d be the first to admit I don’t have *that* much evidence for many of them. I try and constantly study the evidence and change them when the evidence suggests.

    It’s always shocking to me that people seem so confident on political positions such that they put it above their religious beliefs. There’s more I could say there but it might not be wise.

  29. I enjoyed reading the post and the commentary that followed.

    I was made aware of your column by a post on BYU professor’s Daniel Peterson’s Sic et Non blog — a link on his Facebook link directed me here. Bro. Peterson offers great insights in the scriptures and posses a self deprecating humor that seems to keep the anti-Mormons and other cranks at bay. I highly encourage others to like his Facebook page and check out his blog.

    I share the view that most people who leave the faith generally have issues – and then often blame something else for leaving. For me… I’ve had too many spiritual experiences to deny the faith. Although I find church sometimes a tad boring (brutal honesty here), on the service side, I find Mormon people to be some of the most kind, sharing, helpful and considerate people I know. Of course, there are great people in all churches, synagogues and mosques — and great non-religious people too. Now, as for things in church history that I don’t understand — I assume that if people back then did something wrong, they’ll have to answer to God for it. As for me, I love the counsel of a friend who told me that: “I’d rather be on the welcoming committee than the judgement committee.” I think that’s great advice for all of us.

    Take care… and keep up the great writing!

  30. Geoff, I have had similar experiences. I have had positions of responsible in the Church in many wards and branches on several continents, and the great majority of my experience has been with good, faithful people trying to be like their Savior. They haven’t questioned the role of the apostles and prophets as voices for the Lord. Many of those that I have seen leave the faith have done so by getting tired of trying (not enduring to the end), or by finding fault with some human failing, or by overshooting the mark (overthinking doctrine until they find themselves on some divergent path). I agree with other commenters who see Mormon-related blogs, pro and con, being used to pick off the weak and wondering. But there are also many that bolster faith, provide reasoned answers, and recognize the hand of God in all things. Just don’t read deep into the comments that are posted as replies, because they often become a dark and sticky bog.

  31. An observation.

    It’s been mentioned several times that apparently people are leaving the Church because of reading Rough Stone Rolling and/or the new Church history essays dealing with the priesthood ban, polygamy, process of translation, etc.

    From my perspective, I find this incredible. I read Rough Stone Rolling when it rolled off the presses in 2005, and I found it faith-promoting and balanced. I have always appreciated any effort to make Joseph Smith more human.

    So likewise with the essays. I have carefully read and studied them. I find them to be invaluable and much needed. I was particularly grateful to find them added to the Gospel Library app. Church ain’t hidin’ nothin’, folks.

    I am struggling with the notion that people are leaving because of books and essays, particularly when the vast majority of the information was already out there in the world. The only thing I can reasonably conclude is that people *already* have decided in their hearts what they are acting upon when they read this material.

  32. Michael I think many people stay in Mormonism not out of a testimony but due to a set of expectations. They never seek to find out if it is true. It’s just comfortable. Eventually something shifts them out of their comfort zone. It might be some historic shock, it might be some leader doing something they find mean, it might be something in their personal life. Eventually we all reach that point where we have to know. You can either try and gain a testimony or else you can avoid that. It’s interesting how many people really are converted when in the MTC because for many people I think that’s an experience that shocks them out of their comfort zone. But I think we’ve all known people who even somehow manage to make it through a mission without that happening.

  33. Another observation. I, too, have had my more than a handful share of family members and friends leave the church. Those who left for historical and doctrinal reasons are those most likely to be critical of Church leaders, the Prophet Joseph Smith, in particular. This high road to apostasy is the slipperiest slope of all. Once the criticisms begin, it just snowballs from there, and becomes ingrained into their psyche, that a change of thinking and attitude becomes nigh impossible.

    After his mission, my brother began making poor decisions–WoW and LoC and other problems I won’t bore you with. For many years he drifted down forbidden paths, and just last week, I was privileged to witness his sealing to his sweet wife and 6-months old daughter in the Payson temple. He looks happier than I’ve ever seen him and, doubtlessly, he will face more struggles due to his past decisions, but he is better equipped to handle them. He always had a testimony of the church and Joseph Smith, and just needed to redirect his priorities.

    In answer to Ryan’s question, I’d say help those members with historical/doctrinal concerns to get a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, warts and all. Once they do, all those historical/doctrinal questions for which we have no clear answer will generally fall by the wayside. Having said that, I find that having a rational discussion is fruitless, for when you try to resolve a concern, they will fling out ten more pressing concerns. Humility will be required of them to prayerfully obtain a knowledge of Joseph Smith as the best man that God could have chosen to be the head of this final dispensation.

  34. I have been a member my whole life. Active in church, held callings, felt like it was my calling to have children and rear them in the gospel, submit to my loving husband, and live a life in faith as best as I can. But I am one of those who has issues. I never did until this year when a large number of family and friends left the church. I wanted to know why and began my study with prayer. What I found has been horrible for me. And I am a work in progress. I still continue to go to church, have FHE, read our scriptures as a family, and do everything I can to keep the spirit in my life but I feel like I will never be the same. And I know quite a few people in my same boat who have never voiced this in church let alone to leaders. I don’t know ANYONE who would use actual church attendance to discuss SERIOUS issues so I’m not surprised you haven’t encountered that. I’m sure there are MANY more who just ddn’t feel it was appropriate to bring things up in a large social setting. But there are people with real pain. I’m grateful that the church is full on congregations of people trying to be positive and doing their best to follow Christ.

  35. For the most part, my experience has been much like yours, Geoff. There have, however, been a few very isolated instances of what, for lack of a better word, I will call “weirdness.”

    I once heard a speaker in a Sacrament meeting, just before the 4th of July, launch into an angry tirade against Ronald Reagan, who was then serving as President. It’s the only time I’ve ever walked out of a Sacrament meeting because I simply couldn’t stand for what the speaker was saying. It is also hardly the kind of weirdness the blogs you are writing against seem likely to condemn.

    I once had a guest speaker in a young adult family home evening group talk about how the earth is hollow and the Ten Lost Tribes are living inside. No, seriously. I arranged to be the speaker the next week — then rethought my notion of presenting anything that could be interpreted as a direct rebuttal, and simply showed some of my slides of working at various astronomical observatories as a graduate student and how I’ve been able to have my scientific studies reinforce my faith, for the most part. I had reason to be very grateful for my restraint shortly thereafter: The guest speak lost his job and his large family were in a bad way, and I joined other members in doing what we could to help out; and his tearful testimony of gratitude to all of us afterwards made it all worth it.

    I once had an instructor in a high priest’s group use his time to talk about how the Bretton Woods system was the secret combination the prophets have been warning us about. He was subsequently corrected by the particular member of our stake presidency who happens to live in our ward, and apologized to us. He’s a good man, whatever unusual ideas he entertains.

    And, I’m sorry to say that I’ve heard a priesthood holder criticize his wife. I’m even sorrier to say that that priesthood holder was me. Any negative assumptions you find yourself making about me from that little confession are probably correct.

    But these things are completely overwhelmed by the good I’ve seen in church.

  36. The trouble with blogs is that they lack context. People read a blog posting and think they know about everything that ever needed to be said on any such subject.

    I read one blog recently that really made me laugh. According to this blog poster, she had a friend who was in a high council who excommunicated someone for spreading the false rumor that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Fast forward to the church’s essay on Joseph Smith and polygamy, and the high councilman now feels sick about what they did to that man years ago.

    Hmmm. You mean the Ensign articles from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s that told of Joseph Smith being a polygamist didn’t make him shrug? The point is, there is probably a lot more to this man’s excommunication than him telling people that Joseph Smith was a polygamist (if it indeed happened at all). There’s always more to a story, and blog posts don’t always allow for that. I am as guilty as anyone for reading (and enjoying) blog posts, but hopefully people can do some critical thinking before being sucked in.

  37. Thank you, Geoff. This is a great post and I’m happy that M* continues to be a faithful and fearless voice in the LDS blogging community.

  38. Hi CJ,

    I’m sorry you are having a tough time encountering history as recounted by those who aren’t like my mother.

    For my mother, everything that happened in Church history had a potential positive side. And I have learned from that.

    Also, as a physicist, I know that every action has a reaction. And often when it appears actions are not appropriate, it is in reaction to something hidden.

    In your studies of odd bits that are causing your loved ones to have trouble, I assume you have encountered my Faithful Joseph series or the book that arose from it, <a href="http://www.millennialstar.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Reluctant-Polygamist-5th-edition.pdf"Reluctant Polygamist. Know that in the years before I began blogging here, I talked with everyone about what I was thinking and finding, including with missionaries when I went on splits, my Church leaders when I was having interviews, my friend who is a son of a general authority who was openly voicing his shock over things in the Young Women’s room, during Relief Society service projects, and so on. I have the text of a couple of Sacrament Meeting talks where I looked at matters relating to the New and Everlasting Covenant, and at least one of those talks explicitly talked about polygamy.

    Then again, when a brother in a ward I was visiting opined that young people who commit sin ought not to be denied the chance to go on missions on behalf of the Church, I related the experience of having a fellow missionary in my MTC district whose girlfriend turned up pregnant. He claimed it could not have been him, but he had to count on his fingers to validate that his last sex act with her could not have been the cause of her pregnancy. I’m ancient enough that my fellow missionary was not sent home, but the evolution was very painful for all of us. Then I cited a recent NPS thesis talking about the benefit the Mormon Church derives from not having to carry the dead weight of those unwilling to keep the standards, as well as the damage Joseph Smith incurred because he did not adequately reprimand John C. Bennett in 1841. The fellow whose comment I was responding to told me after the meeting that my comment hadn’t really addressed what he was attempting to say, as well as citing his many Church assignments in positions of authority. But others who talked to me stated they were so glad that I spoke up.

    Not everyone will feel comfortable talking about concerns at Church or with leaders or with home or visiting teachers. But if you can’t tell your friends about concerns, so they can help you, why would you trust nameless, faceless internet folks to guide you to truth?

    [Not related to faith-disturbing stuff, but my life has been so enriched by opening my mouth. I met Glen Leonard in June. Upon finding out that he is writing a history of Farmington, he was gracious enough to tell me about the unique rocks around Farmington and the stone houses many pioneers built. Just this week we corresponded again, and that led someone I was visiting to identify the exact location where my ancestors had built their stone home back in 1848. Subsequent email chatter let me know Glen is a cousin to my cousins. Lesson: Open your mouth. Be honest, Be grateful. Be willing to learn.]

  39. Thanks for this post. I agree with many of the comments–as a convert myself, I can say that whatever challenges I may find in living the gospel, it is way easier than living without it!

    I wanted to point out something to those who said that ‘it couldn’t have been law of chastity problems that caused this person to leave the church’. The saddest I’ve ever been was when my (now-ex) son-in-law left the church. He was a wonderful guy, and had had a strong testimony. Anyone who knew him would have said that it was not sexual sin that caused his loss of testimony–but they did not know the truth. He was very addicted to pornography, and had been from the time he was 13, growing up in a strong LDS family in Sandy, Utah. He and his older brothers had figured out how to circumvent their father’s strong computer protection software and accessed porn on their basement computer. When he left the church, he talked a great game about historical issues and child brides of Joseph Smith and such, but it really boiled down to his shame over his porn addiction, and his decision to erase that shame by embracing the world’s teaching that there is nothing wrong with it. So be careful when you think there is no law of chastity problem–people don’t broadcast that they have an issue with porn (even their spouses usually keep it quiet), but it is very, very common. Not to mention very destructive of any spiritual sensitivity.

  40. CJ:

    There will be those who tell you that, having been exposed to doubt, you c can never again have certainty and those doubts will always be a part of you. Your comment indicates you may feel that way yourself.

    But don’t believe it. Work through what you need to, but don’t give up hope that things can be the same as they once were. I’ve been through it, and I promise you can get back to the same (or greater, having faced issues head on) peace in the Church.

  41. Hi Kate,

    Good point about the spiritual destruction associated with porn. The difficult thing in our day is that porn is an element in many prominent entertainment products (TV, movies, streaming media, etc.). So there will be those who may not even be aware of how much they have been affected.

    No need to sneak time on the basement computer anymore… unfortunately.

  42. Nice post. I agree with your observations, both about the rather venal content of the “bloggernacle” sites, and the harsh words that show up there against leaders, concepts, good doctrine, and faithful followers of Christ. Meg Stout: nice and apt comment about the great and spacious building.

  43. Geoff,
    I feel downright giddy reading such incisive good sense on this post and comments, especially yours and Meg’s! Xièxiè sister Stout! (My wife is also Asian.)

    The net seems burgeoning with nonsense and word-sewage blathered by the pseudo-faithful and near-apostates. It troubles me that even FairMormon occasionally invites Mormon Liberals to speak at their conferences who blather their strange-roads philosophies. I always wonder why FM’s need to pander to them.

    With full-throated delight, I applaud your practice of watch-dogging your comments here. You have every right to safeguard this forum from nonsense, deliberate misinformation, hate bait, and liberal sophistry (bloggernacle word-fog). An editor has the right to *edit*.

    Again, thank you for a fresh breath of oxygenated air. God bless,

  44. Glen, given FAIR’s aims I think it important they bring other voices on so long as they aren’t over the line. There are many politically liberal members. Also many people who are leaving the church but who might be convinced to stay long enough to strengthen their testimonies are leaving over social/political liberal issues such as the place of women in contemporary social structures as well as other sexual issues like gay unions. I think we can and should make a case for why people should stay.

    Persuasion rather than separation ought be our first aim with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  45. I have a comment about gossip. When I was at BYU, I sometimes had roommates that were drinking, smoking pot, showering in the apartment with guys, etc. etc. At one point, I was called into the landlord’s office to tell what I knew because I was known to be upright. It was terrible, I didn’t want to “gossip”. Actually, because the landlord had seen me at a play at BYU on the night in question, I had an alibi, and I was able to avoid giving any damning information about my ‘friends’ about that night (I think that was a mistake). At a later time, I was in an interview with my new Bishop, and he wanted me to give him some names of persons who had busied themselves with tearing apart hope and testimonies by teaching and encouraging heresy in my previous ward. I really didn’t want to “gossip”, especially if it would get people in trouble. He explained that parents send their children to BYU with the idea that they will be protected from wolf-types. But to me at the time, it FELT wrong (though I think I did give the requested information after a while.)

    Too many people, young women especially, don’t understand that there are times when you need to “gossip”, or rather, they don’t understand there is a difference between gossip and telling the truth. In my daughters Primary class, most of the girls said you shouldn’t tell the truth if it might hurt someone’s feelings.

    I have sympathy for the girls. Our society teaches that it’s wrong and “judgmental” to try to distinguish between wolves and sheep and I think many men have given up on trying to protect the sheep from the wolves, often enough because of a misguided understanding of grace and forgiveness.

    Pertinent to this is a quote I just read from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

    The promise of grace is not to be squandered…Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does not recognize or distinguish or desire it…The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and…trample upon the Holy. The Gospel is protected by the preaching of repentance which calls sin sin and declares the sinner guilty.

  46. Lucinda, just to be clear about what I meant about gossip, let’s move to the workplace. “So, last night my friend with out with Tom, and he got smashed and started flirting with Lisa. You know, Tom is married. I can’t believe it….”

    Notice the problems with this? It is second-hand. It depends on the perceptions of the person who went out with Tom, who is obviously a gossip because the first thing he/she did was call the work gossip monger to report the story. One person’s flirting is another person’s being polite. Maybe Lisa was really flirting with Tom and Tom was trying to be polite. Maybe Tom wasn’t really smashed. Maybe the friend hates Tom and is embellishing the story. The point is: gossip like this is evil and could irreparably hurt Tom and perhaps his marriage.

    Should you report bad behavior by your roommates to the landlord or the bishop? Maybe, maybe not. There are so many variables it is impossible to know. But I don’t think you should gossip about your roommates or anybody else. (I say this as a former reporter who used to love to gossip, so it is not always easy to take my own advice).

  47. Gossip also often focuses on common frailties unrelated to breaking the commandments. Let someone isn’t smart, or their kids have behavior issues, or they believe this politically, etc. All with the focus of tearing down rather than building up. The concern is with signaling how much better the speakers are than the person spoken about.

  48. Thanks for the article. I see the same things as most here. Apostasy is usually preceded with ones life not in line with the teachings of Christ and the first and foremost being pride. I have been all over the spectrum with my views on the modern church having been raised by a father who reads extensively and fell away from the church for a time because he thought he knew more than the leadership. I have seen folks fall away for all sorts of reasons mostly due to personal transgressions. Most recently some young men have used some blogs out there to justify not going to church deeming it not necessary for them but it seems just a pretext for them to not put forth the effort. Rambling on here but most church members are sincere in their efforts to find truth and come closer to the Savior in their lives on what ever level they are capable at the time. A big reason I’ve stayed through the years is because in serving others in the church I have felt the Spirit and have come to understand that it is not what we know but who we become in this life is what matters most and I find the most effective way is too serve in the church. Also, so far in all matters and issues I have found to question Joseph Smith as a prophet, I have always given him the benefit of the doubt and with more research have always found those issues to come of nothing 100% of the time. Being new to this blog M* a few of the articles that have been of interest and with comments closed if you allow me to go a little off topic

    – polygamy – thanks Meg for your series A Faithful Joseph – I’ve never questioned this doctrine as Abraham and Jacob both lived it but no desire to live it but it was nice to get a different narrative about it that didn’t portray Joseph as either completely against it or just fulfilling his lusts
    – Book of Abraham (Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar) – there are some articles that seem to miss the point to me. I am of group that says Egyptology are not capable of reading the papyrus fragments and not because they can’t read Egyptian but because it is not written in Egyptian but reformed Egyptian or a semitic based language written with Egyptian hieroglyphics. Let me clarify – there are several books that have convinced me of this.

    – Dry Bones by Alexander Joseph- this is not for the faint of heart as it was written by a modern polygamist so one has to wade through all the church hate but his analysis of the facsimile 2 is quite eye opening. He also demonstrates how the disc can be used to understand the cosmos and also how Sen Sen (book of breathings) can be translated to mean the book of Joseph if one took the translation process from a Semitic worldview.
    – Written by the Finger of God by Joe Sampson – who looks at the translation process from a Semitic worldview and shows how the Egyptian Grammar and Alphabet is a reformed Egyptian Grammar and Alphabet and is an honest document and not just gibberish.

    Long post and a little rambling I know but just a few thoughts as I have recently discovered this blog and keep up the good work.

  49. Clark,
    I disagree with you. We don’t make a case for people to ‘stay’ by making compromises with doctrine and teachings. Let me explain something to you:

    When I mention Mormon Liberals, I’m not referring to their politics. I’m describing self-described intellectuals who use their annotated constructs, wordplay, and narrative subtlety to sew doubt. Since earliest Eugene England / Dialogue / Sunstone days they routinely show contempt for the Church and its living oracles by showcasing problematic issues WITHOUT ANSWERS OR AT LEAST FAITHFUL PERSPECTIVES. Scholarship has never, ever required our people to shelve their discipleship. They do that on their own. I think of the MHA giving their best biography award to Vogel’s book whose thesis is that Joseph Smith was a pious fraud. That is one example among countless. Do we need that in order to entice those with troubling concerns to stay? Are we practicing “separation” by having boundaries of basic loyalty? At what point would we really just become a codependent church where discipleship is forever tentative or nonexistent? There simply is no need for the Church to water down the light and truth they speak to challenging issues — in order to get people to stay.
    Love — absolutely yes. Kindness and civility — musts. Intellectual/academic priestcraft — no.
    God bless you,

  50. More on gossip: I think gossip is, by it’s nature, destructive of relationships, but I also think there are times when relationships need to be broken, not always, but often enough that we should be careful in how we teach our daughters about it.

    The thing is that women who don’t receive lots of help in ascertaining the character of the people around them often pay an extremely high reproductive price. Our society, by and large, is doing a terrible job on this front, and women really are not capable of effectively ascertaining the character of men all on their own. (It seems like men really want to believe that women are not so vulnerable in this way because it’s a significant difficulty for men to deal with.)

    Anyway, in line with Meg’s idea about the Relief Society, I think women need to be able to talk about details of their personal, especially sexual, relationships with people who can give them good advice and direction. That’s often going to get called gossip, but it’s important to a reproductively functional society that has the willpower to give children their mothers and fathers.

    Sorry to zero in so much on that one topic. I just think it’s an area where lots of good people get unnecessary abuse. And I’m also thinking it through to myself.

  51. I don’t read or follow any Mormon blogs so I can’t speak to that; I’m responding to some points I’ve seen in the comments 🙂

    I do want to say that it’s true that most people leave the church due to pride-based reasons. Ultimately when it’s you against the Lord, if you choose yourself it’s due to pride. But I’d be careful not to oversimplify the reasons people give for leaving. They may boil down to pride, but the 10 commandments also boil down to either “love thy God” or “love one another.” The heart of each issue may be the same, and addressing those roots will always be effective, but keeping an eye out for which issues cause the most people to choose pride is also important. Many members may not realize they have a real pride problem until they come face to face with their breaking point. Addressing these points specifically can hopefully help members become more aware of where their testimonies need bolstering and can be a good way to lead them to the deeper cause of their concerns.

    I also believe a lot of people who leave, do so because they didn’t have a strong testimony in the first place. Youth and Young Adults are, in my opinion, most susceptible to being swayed by society and popular opinion because this is the age when leaning on the testimonies of your parents is no longer enough.

    Personally I’m not active in the church but I haven’t actually left it. For me it’s indeed pride at the heart of things and a lack of testimony concerning God’s perfection. In theory I believe all the doctrine but I’ve been struggling for years now to trust that the Lord really knows what he’s doing and to put my life in his hands. There are specific issues that I could point to as areas I struggle with but really it’s not that I just don’t want to follow this or that commandment, it’s that I have very little energy in my life in the first place and the effort it takes to dedicate myself to strengthening my testimony is too great for any length of time, usually. There are underlying mental and physical health problems contributing, as you might guess.

    Anyway, the world is a place full of chaos and confusion and I wouldn’t doubt that many Mormon bloggers who are troublesome, are trying the best they can to reconcile church doctrine with societal doctrine. I could see myself trying to be as objective as possible in hopes of attracting nonmembers to my blogs to learn more, and ultimately falling on the side of criticizing the church too much. I’d mean well but obviously the way to bring others to Christ is through the Spirit.

    My last little observation I wanted to mention is that usually the loudest voices aren’t the majority but the angry minority so I agree that in reality most church members are doing their best and are generally kind and respectful. I also think there’s a greater positive Mormon presence online than this post suggests.

    Thanks for the article, as it sparked a great discussion and given me a lot to think about. 🙂

  52. Meesha, I think you are correct to point out that the Mormon on-line world is much more than the “intellectual Mormon on-line world,” which is what some of us fondly call the Bloggernacle. There are hundreds of blog started by Mormons that are not part of the Bloggernacle, and I have no way of knowing but I would bet most of them are faith-promoting. So, good point.

  53. My zone leaders pulled together a “court” to discipline me for what they claimed was gossip. What I had done was tell two teenage girls they might want to spent less time in activities that could be misperceived as flirting with the male missionaries.

    What I did not do is tell those teenagers the term the male missionaries used to describe them, which was “the lipstick sisters.”

    As I had lived in Northern Virginia around the time the Sonia Johnson business was happening, my bishop held a fireside where we were instructed on the purpose and function of Church courts. So I knew what my zone leaders were doing wasn’t proper protocol. But I kept calm and answered their accusations before all the missionaries in the zone (including sisters) truthfully and humbly. When on of my zone leaders realized he wasn’t being able to shame me the way he had planned, he started screaming at me.

    For better or worse, I had extensive experience with an authority figure screaming at me, so the zone leader’s display of extreme pique further damaged the point he had been hoping to make.

    It’s just as well that they didn’t end up finding me guilty, as I’m not sure how they would have explained to our Mission President how I came to be excommunicated or disfellowshipped.

    Just as there are clearly women who are inappropriately informed regarding the difference between gossip and appropriate truth telling, there are men who are inadequately informed regarding the exercise of patriarchal authority.

    Luckily, Christ atones for the sins of omission and commission the penitent commit. He who knows all our struggles will be merciful to us. But woe to the one who is not challenged and sins by choice, disdaining God.

    I do not judge, but God knows us and will judge those who do not throw themselves upon the mercy of Christ.

  54. Meg, wow, what a story. Obviously, such a show trial is against Church policy. Good for you for being able to overcome that horrible experience and continuing to go to Church. I think your story is a good example of how people can concentrate on the positive rather than the negative in their Church experiences. Your relationship with the Savior is much more important than how other people in church treat you.

  55. I read this post after my wife, sigh, a high-school nurse, and now a newly minted early morning seminary teacher, read a talk by Elder Bednar in which he talked about the differences between the inward and outward focus. Christ is of course the ultimate example of outward focus. Examples: Sending angels to visit John in prison during His own 40-days fast and days of temptation, mending the ear of the soldier after His incredible suffering in the Garden, and basically everything in between those two events.
    Thank you for the post. I submit that it is this inward focus and constant preoccupation with it, that is the problem. When we are inwardly focused church is boring, when we are outwardly focused it is never boring. When we are inwardly focused we blog for the accumulation of praise that is heaped upon us for our intelligence and wisdom (present company excluded). When we are outwardly focused we do our best to bring aid to those in need of it, whatever form that may take. I pray for sacrament speakers and use scriptures which may not have occurred to them so, their talks are always stimulating and uplifting!
    In that you raising the voice of warning about the pitfalls and pratfalls of the bloggernacle to the unsuspecting, I applaud this post. Indeed, there are a few individuals who have commented who may be positively influenced in their self-expressed state of weakened faith. I believe that was your hope in this post. I share your hope and thank you for making the attempt.

  56. O my gosh, Meg, what an incredibe trial of faith! It further reinforces my belief that in rare cases, leaders are called to try our faith! I have had experiences in that category both during my mission and after. Heck, we are promised that our faith will be tried in this toxic fallen world.
    God bless you. So glad to consider you a friend and loyalist who has been through the fires of earthly combat and refused to be consumed by it.
    Cheers,

  57. Clark,

    I think that BCC is just the sort of blog that Geoff properly warns us against. Not every post, of course, but many. It is the place I would go if I wanted to see my faith weakened.

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