Through the years, lots of people I love have exited the Church Formerly Known as Mormon. While any transition can be temporarily bumpy, their departure from the faith has never changed the way I feel about them and, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t changed the way they feel about me. So that’s a big old win right there.
Why did they leave? Lots of reasons, and often I understood those reasons.
In the midst of all this leaving, I can remember a fireside my husband and I attended. I wanted to hear the speaker — a family sociologist — talk about rearing teenagers because, you know, teenagers! We had a bunch of them and, believe me, there were plenty of times when I felt like I was in way, way, way over my head. Especially when I had to make them read “The Scarlet Letter” for their English class. Or, you know, go to juvenile court with them. Stuff like that.
Anyway, the speaker said something I’ve never forgotten, i.e., that if a person who was raised Mormon says adios to the church, there’s an 80 percent chance that at some point this person will opt for a return engagement. I have no idea where the speaker found this statistic, or if it was even true, or if it was true then but not true now. However, I do know I leaned over and whispered in my husband’s ear, “I think you and I know the other 20 percent.”
I tell you this because I’ve recently been surprised by a person who’s told me she wouldn’t mind attending church again. Sort of. It’s not that I don’t think this is a nice idea, but WHAT?! And why now — especially when so many people (at least in my world) are making a beeline straight for the exit sign?
I’m not quite sure why this individual wants to return. Maybe she wants to experience a familiar sense of community or to hear hymns she once loved or to stoke a nostalgia for the spiritual language of her youth.
She’d like to return under these specific conditions:
• She wants to feel accepted for who she is now, because she actually likes who she is now, even if her life doesn’t look very Mormon.
• She doesn’t want to do the full buy-in when it comes to her level of activity, which in some ways is the larger issue.
Here’s the deal: Being an active Mormon is time-consuming. Really, really time-consuming. A formerly Mormon friend of mine recalls being with some women who were miffed that the Latter-day Saint women in their neighborhood didn’t seem to pull their own weight when it came to volunteering for community activities. My friend, who’d walked away from the church years before, was able to explain in that moment what the calendar of, say, the average Relief Society president looks like.
It’s not that other people aren’t busy. It’s just that we’re all busy doing different things.
It’s true that many active members will tell you that the level of commitment the church requires is its major strength, that it enriches their lives in all kinds of ways. And I understand that, too. I also understand that some Mormons who regularly give their all to the church might unconsciously resent the casual contributor.
But still. As General Conference approaches, I’m wondering if we can talk (a little, at least?) about meeting people where they are because that’s where they want to be … and leave some room for them in the pew, too.
(And, by the way, snaps to the congregations already doing this. I know you’re out there.)