Why do Latter-day Saints leave the faith? Active Mormons tend to think members lose testimony because they: a) weren’t keeping the commandments and allowed Satan to deceive them, or b) had their feelings hurt. A more interesting theory is that apostates suffer from ADD which makes them delve into Church History and note the contradictions between the facts and what they’ve been taught at church. But how do you account for historians such as Richard Bushman who have extensively researched Church History and still kept their faith? Perhaps historians without ADD lack the questioning gene that triggers disbelief.
My favorite explanation for why historical research shatters faith for some people but not others, comes from John-Charles Duffy. He theorizes that beliefs in the historicity of the BOM are influenced more by social than by intellectual environment. In essence—if the LDS Church fulfills our social needs, if our closest relationships are with believing members—we will likely find a way to reconcile contradictory information about the BOM, Church History and doctrines.
Duffy’s theory fits our family to a T. I don’t need to tell anybody that families with inactive or nonmember fathers inhabit the lower rungs of the ward social ladder. Our oldest son, Wort, was 12 before the light of LDS conformity drew George into the circle. Wort was a good kid and it hurt him that he was never called to be a class president in the YM organization. His social needs were met at school, not at church.
Our oldest two daughters, mentored by wonderful YW leaders, served as YW class presidents repeatedly. Both served missions and married in the temple. Jaycee’s temple marriage was a disaster which finally left her too depressed to attend church. When her husband left, her LDS friends responsed with, “Have you been going to church?” Only non-LDS, divorced associates from work empathized. Jaycee changed friends and church affiliation the same day.
Our youngest daughter told me she had never believed anything she’d heard at church. I don’t know if she was precociously intellectual or if she simply never fit with the kids in her ward age group. The fourth child in a family often gets lost in the shuffle. Our youngest son never fit in at church because his goal in life has always been to piss people off. This limited his acceptance at church as well as most other places.
School, not church, reinforced our kids’ self-esteem. None of them enjoyed seminary. They complained that seminary teachers favored the front row kids who sang hymns with gusto and beamed approval over each breath of wisdom puffed from the teacher’s lips—the “choir queers.” I know our kids’ choice of epithets was wildly inappropriate, but I was too busy telling them to put the toilet seat down and to stop sticking their heads out the car windows screaming, “You look mah-velous!” at passersby to teach them the finer points of civilized behavior.
By the time our kids ceased being cute little tykes who brought their mother self-esteem at church, I was teaching full time and my peer group became my work colleagues rather than ward members. As I participated in out-of-state seminars and workshops, I met wonderful non-Mormons, several of whom shared spiritual experiences from within their own faith. Their testimonies of God’s love opened my eyes to the possibility that God does not reserve blessings to baptized Latter-day Saints.
George was a temple worker while I underwent my crisis of faith. I tried to save my testimony. I attended the temple regularly, prayed, read the scriptures, but the more I studied, the more inconsistencies I found. Possibly if my peer group had been limited to my ward, I could have found a way to rationalize the problems I encountered. Thankfully that was not the case. My horizons have expanded to include people of many faiths and no faith. I am not an apostate—one who works against the church. I value what I have gained from my LDS background. I respect the differences in religious points of view of each member of our family. If only they weren’t so damned vocal about sharing their chosen brand of religion when we get together!