Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk in October 2016 General Conference entitled “To Whom Shall We Go?” where he said the following:

Some disciples struggle to understand a specific Church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much. Finally, some have become “weary in well-doing.” For these and other reasons, some Church members vacillate in their faith, wondering if perhaps they should follow those who “went back, and walked no more” with Jesus.

If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked: “To whom shall [you] go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to “walk no more” with Church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now.

whereelsewillyougoElder Ballard is a very sincere believer in the LDS church. To him, it is absolutely everything. He has been a General Authority for 36 years, and an apostle for 31 years. He is convinced it’s the only path to true joy and happiness, and for him it has worked perfectly. For many members, the church is exactly what they need. They should stay in the church because for them, it works. But for many others, it can begin to break down, or even completely fall apart. Faith transitions seem to be a real challenge facing the church, as we see the issue addressed more and more at General Conference. Unfortunately, Elder Ballard’s talk shows a lack of understanding as to why people leave. Many people leave because they no longer believe the LDS church is the true church, for various reasons. Some may look at church origins and realize they have the fingerprints of man, and not God, all over them. Others decide the church doesn’t treat LGBT or female members the way Jesus would. To Elder Ballard, it seems so sad for someone to walk away from Jesus Christ’s church. To those who leave, they’re not leaving Jesus behind because Jesus isn’t leading the LDS church. Unfortunately for Elder Ballard and most orthodox-believing Mormons, it’s really hard for them to understand how leaving the church can be the right option for some.

So where do people go when they leave the church? Some find new churches or communities that are more in line with their beliefs. Some relish the extra time they have to spend with their families. Personally, I look forward to Sunday as my favorite day of the week, because I’ve reclaimed it and I get to decide what I will do. I try to make it a point to spend as much of it as possible with my family, so that it’s a family day. Sometimes I will visit a local church that preaches a message that speaks to me and uplifts me. I have enjoyed going to a local Presbyterian church, a United Methodist church, a Unitarian-Universalist church, and a Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) church. All of these churches teach messages that resonate with me more than what I had been hearing in LDS church. Sometimes I don’t go to any church, and I just enjoy an extra day to recharge my batteries. Some former Mormons feel so burned by organized religion that they have no need to ever find another church.

I have found that leaving has made me more empathetic to people around me. My mind is more open to learning from different perspectives, because I no longer think I have all the answers. The open discussions I’ve had with others about philosophy, theology and opinions on life have touched me many times. I don’t feel like I could have had these same discussions as a believing Mormon, because those ideas would have felt threatening to the answers I “knew” to be true.

I will never again believe any church has the one way back to God, the only true plan of happiness. The world is full of happy people, both Mormon and non-Mormon. I see both religious and non-religious people all around me who are raising kind, responsible children. I wish the LDS church could validate that there are many paths back to God (or even to just living a good, moral life), and that the LDS path is simply one of them. I wish they could appreciate how hard leaving is. People generally don’t leave because they’re “weary in well-doing,” as Elder Ballard puts it. That would imply they got sick of being good, and they left because they wanted to break the commandments, or to quit serving people. I have interacted with many former Mormons in person and online, and I have yet to meet someone who fits that description. Most former Mormons have spent a lot of time thinking about their beliefs, studying the issues, formulating their conclusions, and then doing what they feel is right. Until the general authorities learn to understand why people leave, they will continue to give talks like Elder Ballard’s that show they just don’t get it.


If You Leave the Church, Where Will You Go? — 11 Comments

  1. Yes, without really listening to people who leave, the GAs can’t understand. They seem to have their preconceived answers filtering all input. (The leaked videos illustrate that.) I l would love the stories members in truth crisis share online to make their way to the top- we all have been through so much and talks like Ballard’s just add to the sorrow of not being heard or understood. Instead of the pandering presenters in the leaked videos, imagine real members sharing the pain and anguish the church has caused their families instead. Would it do any good? Sadly, probably not.

  2. I appreciate your article. I had the same thoughts as you, especially with Ballard’s example of the “arduous hike”. Yes, this hike can be hard at times but if he and other LDS members would just look around they’d see that there are many paths going up this same mountain. They don’t have the only way up, and they surely don’t have the easiest path either. They seem to put obstacles in their own path (guilt, judgment) that makes hiking that much harder. To continue this metaphor, I have left that LDS path and started walking one without those self-imposed and church-imposed obstacles and, oh, the clarity of vision I now have, the increase in love I feel for those on all paths, and the joy this has given me. Steve, again thank you for your article and the thoughts it provoked within me.

  3. Being one who is just starting on a “new path”, I really needed this article. Thank you for articulating it so well. It’s sometimes hard to put into words.

    • I’m glad I could help. If you’re looking to meet others who may have ideas on how to navigate things, I highly suggest visiting mormonspectrum.org. That site lets you find groups both locally and virtually that could be of benefit to you. Meeting people who understand what a faith transition is like has made a huge difference to me. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to you.

  4. I personally do not believe that Ballard made or pointed out in his talk that leaving the Church would ruin your life and jeopardize your eternal salvation, i feel what is trying to teach here is that if you do not follow the path of Christ, it will be very easy for any human being to get lost in the wilderness of the world and that goes for all members and non-members. I have read all the comments posted here and in spite of the fact that people ask for understanding and comprehension, many also attack Ballard’s position with much incomprehension and judgement.

    • Thanks for your comments James. I tried hard not to be judgmental towards Elder Ballard. I do believe he has the best of intentions, and wants what’s best for people. He believes what’s best for people is the LDS church, because it’s been the best thing for him. I do think he believes leaving the church jeopardizes your happiness and eternal salvation, which is doctrinally correct according to the LDS church. Some quotes from this talk that I think illustrate this:

      “Utilizing another familiar metaphor, I pray that anyone thinking of leaving the “Old Ship Zion,” where God and Christ are at the helm, will pause and think carefully before doing so.”

      That implies to me God and Christ are only at the helm of this church, and not any others.

      “Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?”

      Again, it sounds like he thinks only the LDS church teaches good morals for raising children. I couldn’t disagree more.

      “And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?”

      A “saving ordinance” is of course something that is required to get to heaven. I don’t fault him for this belief, I just disagree with it.

      I do really appreciate his comments at the end where he says there should be more love for those with questions or doubts:

      “My heartfelt plea is that we will encourage, accept, understand, and love those who are struggling with their faith. We must never neglect any of our brothers and sisters. We are all at different places on the path, and we need to minister to one another accordingly.

      “Just as we should open our arms in a spirit of welcoming new converts, so too should we embrace and support those who have questions and are faltering in their faith.”

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  7. Alma 32:10-12

    10 Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?

    11 And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?

    12 I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom

  8. I left bc I wanted to break the commandments and stop serving. It’s been the worst choice I ever made and since then (2 years) it has been hell for my family and I. Everyone notices a negative difference in us and my life really has sucked. It’s been a slooooow transition from happy and peaceful to angry frustrated cold hearted and bitter in general. Everything sucks. So were going back. But it’s hard. It’s sooooo hard. Hard bc I don’t have the same enthusiasm even though. I know in my eart it’s truly the right thing to do. I left bc my husband isn’t LDS and didn’t get it. I was the only member of friends and familiy to join. He fell in love with me being a happy sweet gung-ho LDS girl. Now just a few year later after following him to his regular Christian church y kids and my life has gone from feeling like heros to miserable zeros! We all want that happiness and peace and joy back but it’s harder now to commit and get there and leave the sinning and laziness behind-although I do know we will truly be happier when we do! Just putting that out there. Maybe I’m some enomoly.

    • I guess every story is different. I have spent a lot of time in person and online with many transitioning/post/ex-Mormons and I have never run into someone who said they left the church “to break the commandments and stop serving.” If the LDS church is the best place for you, I definitely think you should go there. It works great for some, and doesn’t work for others.

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