Different reasons exist for onetime believers in the Latter-day Saint faith turning away from that faith, just as different reasons exist for believers staying with it.
They vary from disagreement over or disdain for some of the core principles the church espouses to a love for and appreciation of those principles.
Some believers find themselves agreeing with a number of the principles and disagreeing with others, but their experience with their faith tells them to hang onto the positive and let go of the negative, to allow their faith in long-held beliefs to bridge the gaps. To hang on for dear life, or, in church parlance, to endure to the end.
A quote I recently read online from writer Colleen Bordeaux, an individual I know nothing about other than what she puts forth in these particular paragraphs, hits on a theme that is bumping some former believers away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Some of the expression expands beyond matters of faith, but the foundation of it certainly relates to the application of church principles, rules, commandments, guidelines, requirements, exhortations and teachings in the lives of believers — to the point where those principles become, in those who struggle, a heavy burden to carry.
This is what she wrote. See what you think:
“How about you don’t have to become a CEO? Or build a company? Or be the best at anything at all? What if you simply created a life that you genuinely love, that brings you joy every day?
“How about you don’t have to be liked by everyone? Or validated at all? What if you liked yourself so much, that your desire for external approval disappeared? What if you healed that part of you that craves more and more, and just decided that your life, right now, is enough?
“How about you don’t have to be successful? Or remarkable? What if you threw away your beliefs about what success looks like and redefined what it means for you?
“What if you stopped trying to control everything, and instead simply decided to let this moment and your experience in it be all that matters?
“How about you don’t have to have wrinkle-free skin? Or lose weight? What if you decided the only cleanse you need is eliminating the feeling like you should do one?
“What if you dropped the incessant worrying that who and what you are is not enough, and found peace in the truth: that you are worthy exactly as you are?”
Again, some of that has nothing to do with faith in any particular religion.
But if I had five bucks for every time I’ve heard a believer or former believer in the Latter-day Saint faith say they too often feel shame and guilt for falling short or having fallen short of the standard for worthiness, I’d have a shed full of Ferraris and Lambos out back.
The question about temple recommend questions
Many people, believers and nonbelievers, grow tired of their own imperfection. Maybe everybody does. But when folks go to church and are preached to about living a certain standard, week after week after week, a tough standard in this day and age, and are urged to do better, always to do better, that can have a fatiguing effect, an effect that ultimately pushes them away.
Many of them know they are good people, living worthwhile lives. But they cannot — or could not — answer worthiness questions in the manner necessary to qualify for admission to a temple. And that wears them out.
And those questions are not even an indication of real worthiness.
Some of the best people I’ve ever known couldn’t answer those questions in a way that would get them a temple recommend.
I’ve known charitable people who donate time, means and money to a level of great sacrifice, people who believe in Christ, who follow his example, who treat others with kindness and respect and love, who would not be found “worthy” of that Latter-day Saint standard.
And yet, there are people, so-called believers, who casually answer those questions in an acceptable manner, who are issued their recommends, which in the faith’s tradition is symbolic of living a proper, clean and God-approving life, who are … how can we say it here? … words that rhyme with gas-moles and jack-masses.
(Not that I would ever judge.)
Somehow, those folks are in, while others are out.
What about single adults who are told, again and again, that “salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter,” or words to that effect?
It’s the constant call, the ever-present insinuation, and, in some cases, hammering, for living a better life, for living a family-oriented life (as defined by church leaders), for a need to repent and for doing better, for doing and being more, that can put a drag on belief — especially when some folks might just be trying to keep their heads above the waterline in an existence that is difficult for them.
It’s easy for them to give up, to seek their comfort elsewhere.
Yes, it’s that ongoing humdrum, the shaming and the guilting, that often drives many former believers onto an alternate path. The idea that they are not quite good enough, even when they are.
Mother Teresa herself, had she been a Latter-day Saint, couldn’t have qualified for temple entrance if she had a few sips of coffee each morning.
I know, I know, staunch believers would say the cup of coffee represents more than just the action of imbibing some warm, caffeinated drink, it represents a lack of faith, a lack of obedience, a lack of commitment, a lack of dedication.
But does it really?
Let it go — or not
Some would argue that all individuals, whether the good mother or any other fine person living a loving, kind, service-oriented, Christlike life, should find full inclusion and acceptance even in their imperfections.
The fact that they don’t shoves them off.
And so, Bordeaux urges people to feel as though they are enough, that they are worthy, even as they are, to find comfort in that and self-acceptance, and to let the other stuff go.
It is a matter of sound mental health and well-being.
What exactly is a church, a demanding church with “high standards,” supposed to do with that?
Can people find a way to keep their faith, to feel they are accepted and worthy, even with their flaws, which are regularly pointed out to them, without feeling the urge and, in some cases, need to leave?
That’s a biggie.
Let’s say it like this: Is shaming a part of God’s plan?
It is, according to some, if it leads to repentance and if redemption is found through the atonement of Christ. What is absolute, I believe, is this: Redemption is all-powerful and should remain in place, regardless of skids and bumps along the way.
And the path to find forgiveness, within the church organization and its processes — confessions, penalties, delays in granting forgiveness — are at times too rigorous, too harsh, too clumsy, not confidential enough, too embarrassing, too harmful, resulting in lasting shame.
Nothing wrong with reaching for improvement, for aspiring to that. Perhaps the trouble comes in the rigid way it is presented.
And then, on account of that environment, if the aforementioned wonderful life is lived, or mostly lived, if redemption is found, a few rather minor subsequent missteps can bring all of the good down in a heap. “What the heck is wrong with me?!” (Don’t fall for that.)
Or, at least, that’s the way some people — believers and nonbelievers — are made to feel, pulling the scab back off the wound, damaging the healing power of the you-are-enough, you-are-worthy-as-you-are idea, the hopeful notion that even in human imperfection, sometimes the only cleanse you need is eliminating the feeling like you should do one.
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