Why Do People Struggle? (With Poll!)

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 33 Comments

Through my time in the church, I’ve known many who have left the church, many others who have seemingly never had an issue, and a vast majority who struggled with one aspect or another yet remained active (or resumed activity after a period of inactivity).  What’s your experience with struggling?

I’ve observed 4 general categories of struggles that people have in the church (possibly in any church, and there are likely parallels in any type of organization):

  1. Cultural. They dislike aspects of Mormon culture, may feel they don’t fit in, or may simply not want to fit in (“I’m a loner, Dotty.  A rebel.”).
    • Examples:  Church activities, social norms, opinions people express, how people dress, unwritten rules of behavior, church standards.
  2. Historical. They find aspects of our Mormon history unsavory (even faith-shaking) and white-washed or misrepresented (and sometimes have been unpleasantly surprised due to only having known the uplifting “correlated” version).
    • Examples:  Polygamy, BOM origins, aspects of church leaders’ lives, doctrinal changes, restrictions on priesthood, temple origins, events from church history.
  3. Doctrinal. They disagree with certain doctrines of the church or the interpretations of those doctrines they’ve encountered.  While there may be some overlap between historical events that relate to truth claims, it is possible to view these items separately.
    • Examples:  Mormon view of the atonement, Godhood, marriage and sealing, priesthood authority, ordinances, historical claims that are related to truth claims may also fit here, plan of salvation, the role of prophets, Temple Recommend questions related to belief, interpretation of scripture.
  4. Personal. They have had a personal issue that has harmed them and caused dissonance with the church.
    • Examples:  marital issue, abuse, interpersonal conflict, depression

It seems that a person could have issues in more than one of these areas, or may find that they are less impacted by a disconnect in one or more of these areas.  For example, one may find historical facts like Mountain Meadows Massacre troubling, but feel that they are personally less important because of no direct personal connection to the historical church.  If an area is of high importance and is also an area of strong concern, that’s when people leave if they can’t resolve their concern satisfactorily.

[poll id=”183″] [poll id=”184″] [poll id=”185″] [poll id=”186″]

It seems to me that for people who care very deeply about a specific area (culture, doctrine, history, or personal experiences), they are more prone to disaffection for that issue if something goes wrong in that area.  Likewise, if it’s extremely important to them and it’s going well, that can strongly solidify their commitment to the church.  What are your observations?  And which of these areas are most important to you?  Have they caused you any cognitive dissonance?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 33

  1. It’s funny because I’ve had issues in nearly all of these four categories. While one or two of them are very important to me, I’ve found that my relationship with the Savior trumps all of them, important or not.

  2. Personal commitment might come under the cultural category. Some members who like to go fishing on Sunday with their cooler of beer, spend their home hours in front of the TV instead of their family, read romance novels instead of the scriptures, etc. feel it necessary to leave the Church.

    Those reasons may not reflect on them well, especially Christians of another faith, so they resort to using the LDS beliefs or history as their excuse (“I just couldn’t accept all that stuff about Joseph Smith!”).

  3. I agree with SilverRain – that my relationship with the Savior trumps all of the issues. At the same time, as my life has progressed, I have also realized that my relationship with God has nothing to do with my relationship with the LDS Church. The number of active members of the LDS Church is less than 0.1% of the population of the earth, and I’m sure that vast majority of the other 99.9% feel they also have a good relationship with God. I’m still active out of inertia and family issues, but could take or leave my membership in the Church.

  4. Hm, I think my struggle has been both doctrinal and cultural.

    Doctrinal because I have never been able to make myself believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is an actual historical record. I wanted to believe it, I chose to believe it, but deep down, I just couldn’t. Similar problems with Jesus Christ.

    But, I tend to believe that it’s all unknowable anyway, so one religion is as good as another if it works for you as a lifestyle, and this religion is the one that’s my cultural heritage, so I stayed with it. For a while. Until I accepted that it didn’t work for me. It’s really a religion for extroverts and I am so not one. Church has always been a huge source of anxiety and stress for me and I finally decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life that stressed out. I also don’t want my kids to grow up with the mission/temple pressure, since those are things I don’t believe in literally. I’d rather have an emphasis on being compassionate and responsible people while they find their own paths in life. I don’t want them to think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t fit into the One True Lifestyle.

    So it was ultimately for cultural reasons that I stopped attending.

  5. Most important reason WHY folks “struggle” in the Church – the Adversary deems it worthy of his attention and has a variety of weapons in his arsenal that may derail each and every one of us IF we allow it. IOW, we’re known by our enemies!

    Hawkgrrl – excellent polls! However, let’s keep in mind that all polls (yours by defintion can be no exception) tend to reflect the biases of the poll writer AND they also are a sampling of those who visit mormonmatters.org, not necessarily a representative sample of the LDS membership. Just my own “disclaimers”, which without doubt you already knew.

    As for your general categories:
    1. Cultural – a huge stumbling block. There is a definite “Rocky Mountain LDS” culture that converts (and the reactivated) can feel pressure to conform to, even in far-flung areas that have been referred to by old-timers as the “mission field”. EG, you can vote Democrat (USA), a mother work full-time outside of the home, or, in my case, terrorize the good folks of the Sacramento metro areas with my not-quite-stock Ford Mustang and STILL be a member in good standing! Many other members or investigators with fantastic potential get driven off by the cultural clash.

    2. Historical – a problem ONLY due to the Church overemphasizing PR and wanting to avoid the less savory aspects of our “history”. IMO, though, anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty AND a testimony understands that even the early pillars of the Church (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc.), though great men, were still men, and had their foibles and screwups. Good grief, even the Apostle Peter denied his Savior but hours after being told he would and swearing that he’d never do that! IMO, understanding the foibles of our leaders, past and present, does not shake one’s testimony at all, rather, it affirms that the Lord can still accomplish His work in spite of our best efforts to foul it up!

    3. Doctrinal – depends upon how much, as Master Yoda would say, you must “un-learn”. Many converts come into the Church with preceived ideas and thought patterns and it takes time and patient study to work them out. Plus, the “line-upon-line” method of dispensing doctrine tends to be like a bunch of dry spagehtti dropped on the floor – can be a challenge to align!

    4. Personal – probably the biggest stumbling-block of all! There seems to be an expectation that because we believe and live the Gospel that EVERYTHING must work out and NO ONE will fail us! Sorry, folks, that t’wernt in the contract! Personal situations can results in some of the most tragic examples of apostasy and unbelief. Don’t really have enough time and space to elaborate. Suffice it that this is where its the most needful and at the same time the most challenging to love the unloveable.

  6. It’s always going to be easier to leave than it is to stay. If it weren’t for the fact that church was compulsory for most of the last 2000 years in “Christian” countries, it would never have lasted so long. People stay long term, IMO, only if they have a spiritual conversion or at least a spiritual reason to stay.

  7. My experience is that a positive experience of Church culture, and the ability to get past personal issues, will often overcome even irreconcileable differences between a person’s perception of history and doctrine and the official position.

    I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a family and a couple of wards where the authoritarianism that often grates on red-blooded Americans was minimal. Plus I’m fairly conservative, socially and morally, by temperament reinforced by exposure to the least persuasive and most grating of the other tribe. (BYU made me more liberal; USC made me more conservative — maybe I just have a bit of a a Hayduke “take the other” streak.) So there’s not much of a cultural conflict, although I certainly don’t believe that people who do experience cultural conflicts are just a bunch of Sabbath-breaking beer-swilling family-neglecting slobs, as it’s sometimes suggested.

    Concerning personal issues — again, this is something I can only partially claim credit for. I don’t suffer from depression (much), I’m happily married and never experienced any kind of abuse, and am blessed/cursed with sufficient interpersonal-relations cluelessness that I generally don’t notice things that are supposed to offend me. To the extent I can take any credit for any of this at all, I suppose I could say that observing human nature (mine included) has led me to expect humans to be ridiculously flawed, which results in me being absolutely thrilled and thankful when one of us balding apes manages even a modicum of nobility. The bishop/stake president/regional rep/elders quorum president has let his position go to his head? Of course it has. The same thing would happen to me, so why should I get offended?

    With Church membership thus personally comfortable, the only thing that would send me to proverbial martyrdom over some historical or doctrinal issue, would be a streak of fanaticism that I just don’t have. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of me — maybe it suggests that I don’t take religion seriously enough. But I’ve evolved a take on religion — even a sectarian religion like Mormonism — that gets around most of the historical or doctrinal bumps by the simple, if maybe not all that admirable, expedient of ignoring them.

  8. Philomytha:

    When I was LDS I always felt like there was an ever-changing list of dos and don’ts that aren’t in the bible. This list of rules most often make no practical sense whatsoever. Outside of LDS circles (in mainstream Christianity) I have found that “religion” is actually a derogatory term. Religion is defined as rules, regulations, and rituals made up by men. You can chose to believe whether or not these men were under direct revelation from God. I don’t believe they are. Hebrews Chapter 1 makes it clear that the bible is complete, and Jesus Christ has surpassed the need for modern day prophets who keep changing their rules of religion. Does God change? Why would he keep changing the rules?

    Religion has two outcomes, despair (I can’t do it), or pride (I did it). Grace (again in mainstream Christianity) gives all the Glory to God for everything we do. Its not about keeping a list of rules, regulations, and rituals, its about having a relationship with Jesus Christ alone. This is completely outside of “church organizations” created by men.

    There is no need for the “stress and anxiety” that you mentioned. Jesus said, “Come to me all who labor because my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. The LDS “religion” is definitely not easy and light.

    Good luck in your search. You said, “You’d rather have an emphasis on being compassionate and responsible people while they find their own paths in life.” Jesus said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life.” He is the path. Forget religion and focus on him alone. 1 Tim 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. No need for an additional mediator (like prophets, bishops, apostles, etc..). Let Jesus be my way, my mediator, my path, and forget “religion” for me.

    God bless,

    Joey

  9. Thomas – I mostly agree with what you are saying about positive culture giving sufficient reason to stay, but I sometimes wonder if that is enough for people over the long haul. Without a sense of purpose or some basic level of belief in some core doctrines of the church (even if that’s JUST in Jesus as one’s savior and not even in the restoration specifically), so many of the church’s activities can feel pointless and irritating to the non-believers (temple attendance is the biggest one, but even performing church callings and home/visiting teaching). I think once that door is open for a person (that church is meaningless or all man-made), individuals are going to find more reasons to stop attending and fewer reasons to continue attending almost regardless the social or cultural benefits (e.g. people who help you move or befriend you). I think that’s the inevitable road to Jack Mormonism, unless one has a spiritual experience to bolster hope in a belief.

  10. Hawkgrrrl:

    I agree entirely with your expectation in comment #10. After a person “loses” faith, all of those things do become a drag – but a culture is ultimately defined by the people, and it’s people that keeps me going. Admittedly however, I am not nearly as faithful in attending meetings, etc. Haven’t been to the Temple in about three years. I probably attend Sacrament Meeting 95% of the time, because I can sit with my wife. When she attends Gospel Doctrine I’m always there with her, again about 90 – 95%. Priesthood, I probably attend at 40 – 50%. When it’s my turn with our daughter I usually take her home and put her down for a nap. I am the Sunday School president, so I only really have one meeting per month, which makes it easy.

  11. hawkgrrrl said: “It’s always going to be easier to leave than it is to stay.”

    I respectfully disagree with this. Indeed, it is surprising to see this statement come from someone on the Mormon Matters site, which was started by John Dehlin, whose podcast over the last five years or so (off and on) has featured story after story from people who made the courageous decision to leave the church at tremendous social cost. It is often much more difficult for someone to leave the church as an act of conscience than to continue to conform and gain the social capital that comes with that conformity. I think there far more people in the church who do not believe, yet find it easier to “go along to get along” than perhaps you would imagine. It’s really a lot easier to put issues up on the shelf, out of sight, and out of mind, than to think critically about them and follow reason and one’s conscience. It’s far easier to maintain the status quo, to keep up appearances, to walk the walk and talk the talk, to suppress doubts, and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the unethical conduct of church leaders (past and present) than it is to confront those issues, address them openly and honestly, and act with the courage of one’s convictions when it might mean the fracturing of family relationships, the potential loss of employment or business opportunities, the loss of an earned college degree, the end of friendships, or social ostracism. It is easier to make excuses for bigotry espoused by the Brethren than to speak up in opposition to it; easier, for example, to follow the crowd and hold up that “Yes on 8” sign at the busy intersection than to risk losing your position at the church-owned university because you write an editorial expressing support for equal rights. It is easier to ignore (and by ignoring, perpetuate) the lies repeatedly and systematically told by the Brethren whitewashing (to put it kindly) the church’s history than to stand up for honesty–easier to be loyal to the Brethren in their “lying for the Lord” than to be true to the truth. Maintaining one’s current beliefs and habits is generally a lot easier than changing long-held views (often the result of early childhood indoctrination). It is often easier to subdue one’s integrity in favor of continuing in a comfortable conformity.

    A final note: I question the premise of your poll, namely that people who leave the church (or come to question the validity of the church’s foundational truth claims) are the ones who are “struggling.” (I think people who leave the church do struggle, but the struggle is not with figuring out the truth about the church; the struggle is what to do about it given the extent to which Mormonism permeates so many aspects of their lives. Finding a way to disentangle from Mormonism is the struggle.) Your premise seems to contradict your assertion that those who leave the church are doing the “easy” thing. If so, there was no struggle. But second, it assumes that the “vast majority” (according to you; I would challenge this premise as well–the vast majority of members of record in the Mormon church are NOT active, but that is a different discussion) who stay active in the church are themselves not struggling. I think many of those people are, indeed, struggling. They are struggling to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to square the reality they experience in their daily lives with the fictions they are taught are facts in church on Sunday. They are struggling to square the values they are taught are mandatory requirements for a Christ-centered life (such as “being honest in all their dealings”) with the lies and half-truths routinely told by church leaders. They are struggling because they want to believe things that they know can’t possibly be true. They struggle because they are held to a different (higher) standard than church leaders. They struggle because they recognize that their internal moral compasses seem better tuned to human treatment of others than the Brethren’s. They struggle because there is no place for them in the brick-and-mortar church to voice their concerns and questions and criticisms. I know this is true because I once struggled as a member of the church with these things. And it was a struggle of sorts for me to extricate myself from Mormonism. Years on, and years out of the church, I can testify that I don’t struggle anymore. I’ve never been happier, never been more at peace, and so glad to be free.

  12. #9: “Outside of LDS circles (in mainstream Christianity) I have found that “religion” is actually a derogatory term. Religion is defined as rules, regulations, and rituals made up by men.”

    It’s not unusual, though also not accurate, for evangelicals to define themselves as exclusively comprising “mainstream Christianity.” Catholics do not see “religion” as derogatory term; it’s a currently fashionable evangelical trend to do that.

    “Grace (again in mainstream Christianity) gives all the Glory to God for everything we do. Its not about keeping a list of rules, regulations, and rituals, its about having a relationship with Jesus Christ alone. This is completely outside of “church organizations” created by men.”

    Again with the evangelicalism = mainstream Christianity stuff. Phooey on that. A “mainstream” that excludes the majority of the world’s Christians (who follow Catholic or Orthodox or Mormon traditions, and who don’t focus on grace to the exclusion of the rest of the Gospel) isn’t a mainstream — it’s a creek with pretensions.

  13. #10 HG:

    “Without a sense of purpose or some basic level of belief in some core doctrines of the church…so many of the church’s activities can feel pointless and irritating to the non-believers (temple attendance is the biggest one, but even performing church callings and home/visiting teaching).”

    Pointless activities are much less irritating when you ignore them — and are secure enough in your beliefs that you can happily tell your critics to hie themselves to the infernal regions.

    “I think once that door is open for a person (that church is meaningless or all man-made), individuals are going to find more reasons to stop attending and fewer reasons to continue attending almost regardless the social or cultural benefits (e.g. people who help you move or befriend you). I think that’s the inevitable road to Jack Mormonism, unless one has a spiritual experience to bolster hope in a belief.”

    You say that last line like it’s a bad thing. 😉

    No, I agree. You probably do have to have at least some belief in some significant aspect of Mormonism for the exercise to be worth the bother. Even ignoring stuff takes some effort, and without some conviction that a workable faith in the true God can be practiced within Mormonism, there are better ways to spend your time.

  14. Equality: “I think there far more people in the church who do not believe, yet find it easier to “go along to get along” than perhaps you would imagine.” I imagine and personally know plenty of folks fit this mold. Re-read the opening paragraph of my post which says just that. The majority of those I know who struggle remain active, at least for a long time. I agree that many find the social pull difficult to escape. But I stand by my statement. Any religion is difficult to practice throughout one’s entire life (where freedom of religion exists); gravity pulls us toward inertia, and what satisfied our needs in our youth doesn’t always at different phases of life. Most active members experience a time of inactivity in their lives. To your point, some people quit and stay, some people quit and leave.

  15. hawkgrrrl said: “gravity pulls us toward inertia”

    That doesn’t even make any sense. Inertia is the resistance to change of motion, gravity is a force. So rather than gravity pulling us towards inertia, inertia resists the pull of gravity. So whatever analogy you thought you were making is lost in the physics fail.

  16. I wasn’t shooting for scientific accuracy, just observing that life wears us down to a nub, that enthusiasm wanes as we age. Perhaps others don’t feel as I do.

  17. Hawkgrrrl- Amen to #19 !! I think exhaustion is a very, very viable reason for becoming wandering saints. I think there needs to be recognition of that fact as we continually browbeat ourselves with lists of Things That Must Happen Or I Will End Up In A Lessor Kingdom.

  18. How about Trust? White-washed history breaks down Trust in leaders. Psychology and Neuro science provide enough evidence that you can’t trust your emotions;i.e. no Trust in Moroni’s promise.

  19. #13 You said, “A “mainstream” that excludes the majority of the world’s Christians (who follow Catholic or Orthodox or Mormon traditions, and who don’t focus on grace to the exclusion of the rest of the Gospel) isn’t a mainstream — it’s a creek with pretensions.”

    Perhaps I should have used Protestant instead of “mainstream Christians”, sorry about that.

    What exactly is, “The rest of the Gospel”?

  20. species373 – while some studies show you can’t trust your emotions, there are also plenty that show you can. I think the problem is that when we imbue scientific, secular concepts like “intuition” and “gut instinct” with religious instruction, we are left with what is questionable scientifically, but is in fact how many good decisions are made. Trusting one’s instincts is something we can all see as valuable. When we call it “following the spirit” suddenly it sounds suspect like “confirmation bias.” And sometimes it is.

  21. For me, leaving the church was the easier option. I don’t dispute that. The alternative was living a life I could not comprehend anymore. But in support of Equality (#10) I agree that the choice was a massive struggle to come to and to achieve. I did have to leave a social group and structure that was my entire lifelong experience. I had to disenfranshise family and friends and lose people who had been a part of me for decades. Its a massive struggle and heartbreaking in every way.

    But I recognise that was my choice and I don’t down play that fact. And it was still easier than the alternative – living in a manner I no longer found possible.

  22. My main issues with the church are not tied with doctrine, church history or how its members conduct themselves in wards around the world.
    My main issue with the church is when it conducts itself contrary to that of how I define integrity. In other words, I expect the church (as an entity) to behave similarly to what I expect any honest, noble, and caring individual to act like (Jesus Christ being the prime example):
    1. Take responsibility for one’s mistakes.
    2. Not act out of fear.
    3. Be forthcoming about one’s history – both negative and positive.
    4. Not choose one’s own personal safety over the pain and suffering of another. Especially when the other is facing a life threatening situation.
    5. Have space for discourse or ideas different from one’s own.
    6. Be willing to change one’s position, when enough information leads one to realize that they had a made an incorrect conclusion to begin with.
    7. Love, accept and truly see value in all people.

    Maybe it is the idea of differentiation that I cling to and expect my church to be able to develop towards.

  23. Natasha – I think that’s a good list of things, and personally I would put that somewhere between Cultural and Personal. When an individual has been wronged by an individual (even if that person is in a leadership position), I would put that in the Personal category. When those behaviors are pretty standard across the majority of members or leaders, I would call that Cultural. Do you think the issues you list are more Cultural or Personal?

  24. hawkgrrrl
    I’m not sure how to answer this, since for me personal and cultural are so hard to tweak apart. For me it’s just wanting more clarifying statements from the leadership – take a stance for example. And then it’s the job of us as members to incorporate that information either personally or culturally.

  25. I think it can be very easy to lose sight of the forest due to the so many trees right in front of us. The GOSPEL is supposed to turn us into something we currently are not, that requires successive rounds of applying the atonement to turn us into new creatures. The CHURCH is there to help us along. The church comes up with lists of things to do and not do, checklist of sorts, which are supposed to help us along that path. Lots of folks get caught up with the details of the lists that they forget about their own relationship with Christ. They get overwhelmed by all the other stuff which the church brings along with it.

    But most people I know who left the church were either too lazy, or simply wanted to lead a lifestyle not in accords with the covenants they had made.

  26. Natasha Helfer Parker, I would hope that the Church would see caring for individuals, milk before meat as Paul put it, as more important than structured twelve step behaviors. It seems, at least from many sermons I’ve listened to by general authorities, that they do Love, accept and truly see value in all people and try to convey that and encourage it.

    Part of the problem is that there is only so much nuance and shade and context you can include before there is nothing else and no clear message. I know because I struggle with that in writing. If I am not careful I end up with four pages of material and over a hundred footnotes (which the editor solved by cleverly combining the last several footnotes to get the number to 99 or so). It is easy to end up with no discernible clear message.

    One real problem is that it becomes hard when you have to do more. A twelve step program is so effective because it is so narrow. E.g. AA. One group served: Alcoholics. Accept them all, help them all, one method, one higher power (defined as the “God of your understanding” and basically operationally defined). So, is that enough? No, it is not. Thus you have N.A. for narcotics (and I know people who go to both AA and NA because they have different needs met by each), OA for eating disorders, etc. Al Anon (which has some great literature — but you probably know that) seems so similar to AA, yet their members and meetings are dramatically different.

    At that point, the moment you get a broader organization, you will always have issues.

    And that does not even get to the discussions of how much historical fact is historical fact. I’m always amused to see it change, and to see the current generation decide that historians of the past were incomplete and not real scientists, but we now have enough and we are.

    Is the church perfect? I have to stifle a laugh any time someone says that. But, it is interesting to read about how those in other traditions discuss how surprisingly open and honest the LDS are about their history, issues and past. I think sometimes the Church is better than we give it credit for.

    But dealing with large institutions is so hard, compared to small ones.

  27. IMO, many struggle due to unrealistic expectations. In many cases, the Church has “oversold” with excessive PR and too much “uplifting” and not enuf “nuts and bolts” of working out one’s salvation. Of course, that’s just Doug’s observations, excuse me while the Ark shifts, can’t let it fall…

    The Church is “perfect” because of WHOSE church it is. The line of authority is perfect. As for the execution of said authority, well…suffice it that the LORD is so great that He can do His will with even we “hew-mons”, and the MALE subsets of “hew-mons” in charge! Just like Elijah watering down the prye before the Lord turned on the blowtorch!

    IMO, we focus way too much on the foibles and weakness of those who by defintion also need a Savior. Best to focus on the Savior Himself.

  28. I think it all boils down to one basic thing…The eyes of our prophets since the days of Joseph have been closed.  The spirit no longer bears revelation to them at a time when it is needed most and therefore many members wander like Lost Sheep.  And many of those who “THINK” they are walking a righteous path are only fooling themselves in many cases.  They are the Self Righteous (Mostly Active) among us, who mock those who leave the church or are lost and count them as the tares among us…And Good Ridance.

    Let me remind those wise in their own conciets, that Isaiah tells us in the End, that “The Widowed will out number the espoused”.  This means an eventual REVERSAL of circumstances will come about when the Lord seperates the REAL TARES of His Church from the Poor Wheat that has wandered, or was driven off through displays of hypocracy & self righeousnes.

    For those who fit into that poor and down trodden catagory of the church….God be with you until He Redeems you as He has Promised.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *