(Update August 6, 2015: At the time I wrote this, I considered myself an ex-Mormon. My thinking has evolved to the point where I consider myself an independent Mormon.)
In my 43+ years of activity in the LDS church, I learned of several reasons why someone might leave the church. Here’s a gospel doctrine lesson that hits on some of the reasons I often heard:
- Deceived by Satan into rebellion against God.
- Pride: Thomas B. Marsh and the “milk strippings” story is used as an example. (In reality he split with Joseph Smith because he wasn’t happy with what the Danites had been doing.)
- Being critical of leaders’ imperfections.
- Being offended, although that sounds a lot like “pride” to me.
- Rationalizing disobedience, i.e. wanting to sin.
- Accepting the false teachings of the world. From the lesson: “Examples could include the false ideas that the commandments of God are too restrictive, that immorality is acceptable, and that material possessions are more important than spiritual things.”
Some additional ones I’ve heard of:
- Didn’t pray or read the scriptures enough.
- Lack of faith.
- Wanted to cover up some dark deed.
Maybe all of those are valid reasons. I have never been a bishop or stake president, so I’ve never heard any confessions or had any experiences with those reasons. What I do know is why I left, and why thousands of people like me have left.
My simple reason for leaving the LDS church: I studied church history and I no longer believe the church is true.
I’m not sure how to make it more clear than that. There are thousands who have left the church because they no longer believe it’s true, as evidenced by the many online communities, podcasts and blogs for those disaffected with the church. There are reasons besides church history that people decide the church isn’t true, but in my experience church history is the most common reason. Now, I know there are people who learn what I’ve learned, and decide the church is still true. Or, they say maybe the church isn’t the one true church, but they see enough good to stay. Or, they love the community, and they want to stay to be a part of it. I love all my family and friends who are still in the church. If it works for them, I’m happy for them. I’m not angry or resentful that they believe in the LDS church.
Breaking up is hard to do
Leaving the church can be hard! It hurts our families and friends who still believe in the church. Some people decide they need to pretend they still believe in the church because they’re afraid leaving could destroy their family, or cost them their job. I knew when I was walking away it was going to cause some pain to many people I love. But at the same time, I felt like it was something I had to do. I didn’t want someone to come to me years later and say “Why didn’t you tell me before you didn’t believe in the church?”
Having spent 43+ years in the church, it was a part of my identity, and still is to some degree. I spent countless hours serving, from my two year mission to many church callings. It was a very large part of who I was. Turning away from that has proved to be painful, because a change of that magnitude is never easy. At the same time, I feel like my ability to empathize with others has never been greater. I am more tolerant of other ways of living than I ever have been before. My mind and understanding are growing, which is an exciting thing to experience. Am I happy that I left the church? I’m happy I found what for me is the truth about the church. I would have been happier if I could look at the church and say it’s true after all I learned, but I can’t do that. But ultimately I am happy I took this path because I know it’s what I needed to do.
Being misunderstood isn’t fun
For me, one of the worst parts of leaving the church is being misunderstood. I have some friends who left the church last year for the exact same reason I did. But, I had never heard that not believing in the church was a valid reason to leave. So I thought about all the other reasons I had learned about (see the list at the top of this post), and I assumed they must have had a problem with one of them. When I realized I was leaving the church for the same reason they left, I felt sorry I previously didn’t understand them. And now I know people misunderstand my motives as well. There’s not much I can do to explain why I left without making it look like I’m recruiting people to leave the church. I made a post on Facebook where I announced I no longer believe in the church. I wrote the post because so many people were asking my wife or asking our friends what was going on. I didn’t spell out any of the church history issues, because my post wasn’t intended to prove I was right. I tried to explain I didn’t believe in the church anymore and that I’m doing fine, as are my wife and my kids. I asked for mutual respect and continued friendship, which is mostly the response I saw. I don’t know if any active church members believe I could honestly decide the church isn’t true and just walk away, but I’m guessing a lot of people think I’ve gone crazy, or that I’m hiding some dark secret. The best I can do is to continue to live a good life, to take care of my family, and to continue with the same morals I’ve always had.
MormonStories.org: Why People Leave the LDS Church and How We Can Help
Wikipedia: Ex-Mormons: Reasons for leaving