Leaving the Mormon Church

Last week Jeff Spector over at Mormon Matters wrote about an interesting phenomenon. In “Hedging Your Bets: Refusing to Leave the Church” Mr. Spector talked about inactive Mormons and the negative reactions from some of them when they are visited by their Home Teachers. Mr. Spector wrote:

“I have been yelled at, cursed at, threatened with the police, etc. just for showing up at a member’s door and asking about them. And yet, most do not want their name removed from the Church rolls.

“Either, they have family concerns, are just too lazy to write the letter, or don’t care enough to do anything about their Church membership other than request no contact from the Church….

“So, it has always intrigued me as to why these folks seem unable to completely divorce themselves from the Church. Even though they want no contact.”

Many of the comments left in response to Mr. Spector’s blog center on whether people who have requested no contact from the Church should be left alone. But I’m more interested in the original question. Why don’t people who want nothing to do with the LDS Church have their names removed from membership?

LDS leaders have been fond of saying that people might “leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone” (e.g., Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Becometh As a Child’,” Ensign, May 1996). This is usually applied to vocal ex-Mormon critics, but the saying has equal relevancy for Latter-day Saints who drift into inactivity. It carries with it an implication that these people know the Church is true, and they just can’t shake the conviction. Happily, I didn’t see this kind of rhetoric at Mormon Matters.

I think Mr. Spector’s short list of reasons is a good one, though it’s certainly not exhaustive. The last two suggestions are really just one: being too lazy to write a resignation letter has its root in not caring about Church membership at all. Why bother to write a letter and endure the possible fallout (i.e., efforts to convince the person to change his or her mind) if there is no real reason to go to the trouble?

Family concerns are another matter. One commenter at Mormon Matters wrote,

“I think a lot of people don’t want to take hope away from their family! It could devastate parents or a sibling to think they won’t make it into the celestial kingdom with them.”

Another commenter told this story:

“My parents provided my brother’s contact information to the Church’s Lost Sheep program when they called asking his whereabouts. He’s been inactive for 15 years at least.

“My brother was livid. He wanted no contact at all with the Church and told my parents never to do that again.

“Yet I doubt he would bother with forms and letters to avoid the possibility of contact entirely. His name’s mere presence on the rolls performs some minimal comforting function for my parents, who think his testimony is just weak, or that he is going through a phase.”

According to the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions, the removal of a person’s name from Church membership “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member, and revokes temple blessings” (Book 1, page 129, 1999 edition), while mere Church inactivity does not carry with it these consequences. For some inactive Mormons, then, remaining on the Church role is done out of consideration for their LDS loved ones.

Another possible reason for people remaining on the Church membership list was suggested by Mr. Spector’s article title: Hedging Your Bets. People who don’t know what to believe sometimes look at church membership or completed ordinances as a sort of fire insurance. This isn’t unique to Mormonism; people from many faith backgrounds have told me they’ve been baptized, said a prayer, or given money to a church “just in case.” They are hedging their bets.

For Mormons, though, there is another level of insecurity that might enter into a person’s reasons for remaining a Church member, even if it is in name only. According to one of the commenters at Mormon Matters,

“Also of note is the relatively recent church policy of only one re-baptism per person. If you request name removal, are re-baptized, and then are excommunicated for any reason, or request name-removal again, you cannot get re-baptized in mortality. You’ll have to hope someone does it in the temple for you.”

Add to that another LDS Church policy which states, “First Presidency approval is required to perform temple ordinances for deceased persons who…had their names removed from Church membership records” (Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1, page 75, 1999 edition), and it’s easy to see why some people may be hesitant to “divorce themselves completely” from the LDS Church.

I’m thinking that Mormon Coffee readers may have some interesting insight into the question posed by Jeff Spector: Why don’t people who want nothing to do with the LDS Church have their names removed from membership?

What has been your experience, and what do you think?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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62 Responses to Leaving the Mormon Church

  1. Michael P says:

    FoF,

    But you don’t know for sure, do you?

    Further, the language of the texts is pretty clear, is it not? Please answer this one directly. Up and down the line, the prior Mormon authorities have said or written things that are pretty direct. So, if we are misconstruing them, it is undersandable as to why.

    Also, we see that charge of not understanding your doctrine without clarification of what we don’t do, or why we are wrong.

    In previous posts, I have gotten a little flippant because of the inevitable accusations: we don’t know what Mormons beleive, Mormon leaders get a pass, and all of it doesn’t matter because of the witness (among others).

    Here, the topic is why do Mormons leave the names on the roles of the church. A very plausible answer is that they simply don’t think about it. But, there seem to be many stories, enough to give credence, that they don’t want to mess with it for a variety of reasons.

    Its an interesting subject. Conclusive? Probably not, but worth looking into, especially given comments like Sharon posted by JF Smith. No?

  2. Berean says:

    Mike,

    Yes, I’ve made typos in my life. I made one right before I brought your attention to yours. It should be D&C 76:29-37 – not “39-37”. I’m just as critical of myself because I believe in accuracy. I was merely pointing yours out for the same cause – ACCURACY.

    Anytime you start assuming things about another person and then go on the record here for the whole world to see you make yourself look silly. I didn’t mention any names on here in my posts. “If the shoe fits – wear it”. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that? I will say that when you take my sentences, change the words and then tell my sentence back to me, well, that is a common thing that our LDS contributors do have a habit of doing around here. Please be more creative.

    If you only knew how much time I spend reading the BoM, D&C, talking to Mormons, etc., you’d be very surprised. How much time do you spend reading the Bible? I forgot to mention another resource: spending Sunday afternoons at the Mormon wards where I live doing those things, attending the Gospel Essentials or Gospel Doctrines classes and priesthood meetings. My Mormon library consists of books and manuals straight from LDS Distribution with the Church stamp on the back or I get from Deseret Books. I encourage you to look up the references in those sources as stated above. You think I made those up? Your Church wrote it! If you’ve got a “beef”, then take it up with the GA’s who put it in writing for the world to read.

    If you’d let me know where you live and what ward you attend I’d love to come to your class and talk about the BoM. The LDS General Authorities won’t dialogue with non-Mormons. Will you? Last night I was reading through Ether. When I came to Ether 2:4 I couldn’t help but to think of Exodus 13:21, Alma chapters 18 & 22; Alma 31:15, Col 1:15 & John 4:24. Maybe we could start there?

    The mods will give you my contact information. I look forward to visiting your ward.

  3. germit says:

    To STeveH: reread my post, I said ALL pertinent data, and that would include inactives and those whose names have come off the books. Again, it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at relevant stats, but I remain in the position that the LDS is less than honest in cloaking the ‘inactive’ numbers within their members numbers. Again, this in no way shows how true or false the religion is, other than to raise the question, ‘why would anyone not want to tell the WHOLE story??” SteveH: are you telling me that your church makes these ‘inactive’ and “name off the books” stats EASY to get , and open for all to see ?? I’m not saying (for now) otherwise, but I’m going to keep whatever answer you give me tucked away, kept in mind the next time I study the LDS numbers thing. The fact that yours is a group with easy and accurate numbers for SOME of the stats tells me little: Fortune 500 companies do the same thing, always with an eye for what makes the stock look good. GERMIT

  4. mike bennion says:

    I read the Bible as much or more as you read the Book of Mormon. I have taught institute courses in the Old and New Testaments. I currently teach a weekly class on Tuesdays, and classes on Sundays. I have taken graduate level classes in the Old and New Testaments with particular emphasis on Isaiah and the Pentateuch.
    I have read the Bible in numerous editions and in three languages. I read in both Testaments this morning.

    I have not only read but taught from most LDS church manuals published in the past 30 years.

    Berean:
    Last night I was reading through Ether. When I came to Ether 2:4 I couldn’t help but to think of Exodus 13:21, Alma chapters 18 & 22; Alma 31:15, Col 1:15 & John 4:24. Maybe we could start there?

    Mike:
    Obviously I “dialogue” or I wouldn’t be here.

    I prefer using the scriptures as the basis for discussion.

    Ether2:4 And it came to pass that when they had come down into the valley of Nimrod the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not. (Did the brother of Jared eventually see the Lord, according to the Book of Ether?)

    Exodus 13:21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: (Did 70 of the elders of Israel see the Lord?)

    Alma Chaps 18-22 Conversion of Lamoni’s people.
    The “Great Spirit” (When did Jesus take upon him flesh? Was it after he spoke to the brother of Jared? After Alma speaks to Lamoni?)

    Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
    (Is God invisible to everyone? What might qualify one to see him? If Christ is the “firstborn” who is the second born?)

    John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
    (Does it say that God is “only” a spirit? Do we have to be spirits to worship him?)

    OK, your turn.

  5. falcon says:

    Colossians 1:15

    When Paul declares Christ to be the first-born of every creature, the apostle does not mean that He is the first person whom God created; it means that Christ is preeminent.

    John 4:24

    John gives three descriptions of God. He is Spirit (4:24), love (1 John 4:8), and light (1 John 1:5). God is a spiritual being who is invisible and without a body; He is a divine person who reveals Himself in perfect intellect, emotion, and will; He is the source and personification of all material and spiritual life; He is self-existent; He is eternal in relationship to time; He is unlimited in relationship to the immensity of space; He is immutable in His nature; He is the unity of all existence; and He is consistent in His being-that is, He corresponds in actural fact to His nature and attributes as they are revealed to us. So I guess as a neopentecosal, charasmatic, evengelical, born again Christian, I could say that if you don’t speak in tongues, you can’t worship in Spirit…..but I won’t.

    Now I don’t have a clue what any of this has to do with inactive Mormons leaving their names on the rolls of the Mormon church but I think we pounded the topic of the nature of God to death for about 200 posts last week.

  6. GB says:

    falcon:When Paul declares Christ to be the first-born of every creature, the apostle does not mean that He is the first person whom God created; it means that Christ is preeminent.

    GB: Yet Christ declared Himself to be “the beginning of the creation of God”, see Rev Chap 3 verse 14.

    f: God is a spiritual being who is invisible and without a body;

    GB: Jesus doesn’t have a body? Is He not God? What happened to His body? Did He die again? Was His resurrection not permanent but only temporary?

    f: Now I don’t have a clue what any of this has to do with inactive Mormons leaving their names on the rolls of the Mormon church but I think we pounded the topic of the nature of God to death for about 200 posts last week.

    GB: Berean brought it up as a diversionary tactic. He provided a lot of references, but he didn’t quote any of them. Could it be that they don’t say what he is implying?

  7. Megan says:

    Calm down, people. Things are getting a bit testy. Steve H., I believe you are comparing apples and organges. Membership in a particular denomination guarantees no spiritual benefits (the Catholic Church being an exception). Membership in the LDS Church, however, guarantees very specific benefits. That’s why former LDS leaving their names on the records or removing them is an issue worth discussing.

  8. falcon says:

    Hay Sharon, can you get me out of this. I want to talk about exmo/inactives leaving their names on the membership roll. Maybe you could promise our Mormon friend that you’ll open-up a thread on this topic.

    Rev. 3:14 Christ is the beginning of the creation of God in the sense that He is the origin and source of God’s creation and the head of the new creation.

    OK Mormon-friend is playing Mormon games regarding Christ’s body and Him being God blah blah blah. You know what I’m talking about. You’re more interested in misunderstanding on purpose than having an honest dialogue. You’re starting to sound like a Jehovah’s Witness which you have more in common with than Biblical Christians.

  9. Arthur Sido says:

    SteveH,

    “Arthur Sido – your vague ramblings are not worthy of a response.”

    Wouldn’t that qualify as a response? My point is that what Sharon did is to quote a mormon general authority who is speaking dogmatically about the topic at hand, and yet those arguments are often discounted out of hand.

    Perhaps I can be less vague and more specific for you. People don’t leave the mormon church (which is the topic of this thread) because it is either too big a hassle, or they are hedging their bets or they fear repercussions from family and friends (and perhaps employers). Mormonism has a control mechanism in place. People are given callings to keep them connected and busy. They are assigned friends to keep an eye on them. Mormons are scared away from [email protected] to the point that associating with @nti-mormons can cause you to be “unworthy” of a temple recommend and endangering your future godhood. Mormons are fed lies about Christians from the love of money motivating evangelism to the First Vision condemnation. Children have “I know this church is true” whispered in their ears from a very early age. Mormons shun those who leave. All of this is carefully designed to make the cost of leaving too high, thus the enormous numbers of completely inactive and I would argue unbelieving names on the rolls of the mormon church. Because of the central, false claim of mormonism being the restored, one true church, those who realize the lie of mormonism are left with a distrust of faith in general and have little or no motivation to have their names removed.

    Was that vague?

  10. mike bennion says:

    My last post for a week or so. Going on vacation where I won’t have to look at computers and can hold my 1 month old grandaughter instead.

    Why is Berean’s or Falcon’s interpretation or scripture taken for granted as THE correct interpretation? Are they prophets or something?

    Have a really good week.

  11. Lautensack says:

    Mike B. wrote:Why is Berean’s or Falcon’s interpretation or scripture taken for granted as THE correct interpretation? Are they prophets or something?
    I don’t know if they are prophets, but the reason their interpretation is correct is because they are interpreting it in the light of how its original audience would have. In Hebraic and Greek thought the term “firstborn” had less to do with the generation of an individual, rather with it’s or his preeminence that is unless you think that Jesus was some mystical twin of the entire nation of Israel (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9)

    Lautensack

  12. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    This seems like a good time to close this thread and allow some heat to dissipate. Thanks, everyone.

Comments are closed.