Explosive Church growth has had a real impact on one of the core experiences many LDS had growing up — knowing apostates. The lack of them hampers us and in many ways we need more apostates.
After all, it used to be that everyone, while growing up, would know at least one ex-apostate, someone who had left the Church and returned. Sure, the bloggernacle has some (e.g. Bookslinger), but someone on-line is a poor substitute for having someone in your ward or stake that you get to know and interact with. So we have a need for more apostates.
Well, we need more ex-apostates. People whose journey took them out of the Church and back, and whose stories overlap with our stories. People who have completed the journey.
Between turnover and people moving about (so that you don’t get to know people in other wards as well or get to know people’s private stories) and growth, people no longer grow up with the experience of ex-apostates to guide them and give them perspective.
For not only do ex-apostates model a path back to the Church for those who leave and who remember them as the Spirit moves them to return, but ex-apostates also provide a second hand experience and example of people who have had doubts or who have left and returned and that experience serves to inoculate others against doing the same thing.
The return also brings a strong testimony of the truth of the gospel. Oliver Cowdrey’s return had a completely different meaning to the children of the pioneers than it did to the pioneers, and it was a stronger message to everyone than his leaving was. To the children it was a strong witness of the truth of the gospel, that what their parents suffered for really was true and that the contrary stories, which obviously caused Oliver to leave, did not stop him from coming back.
Like Thomas Marsh, Oliver Cowdrey knew intimately the weaknesses and follies of the brethren, yet at the end of life, returned when there was little benefit and a great deal of sacrifice involved. By completing the circle, he gave a witness and example to others.
In my own life I’ve known people who left the Church and then returned. Some for a chance to frolic in sins of the flesh, some who lost faith in God, others who were troubled that the Church was made of mortals. Their stories, their falling away and their returns, and in cases my chance to participate in their returns, has given me a better and broader life, a deeper faith, and a better knowledge of the mercy of God and the truth of the gospel.
One thing that has always kept the Church strong has been its apostates, well, its ex-apostates. There are times when in dealing with people and their needs that it seems that what we really need now is more (now ex-) apostates who have completed the cycle, a knowledge of their stories and experience and a chance to be strengthened by their narratives and testimonies.