Why Mormons Leave the Church — Part 2
John P. Dehlin, a self-described “unorthodox, unorthoprax Mormon,” surveyed more than 3,000 people who once believed the Mormon church to be the one, true living church, but no longer do. His question: Why do you disbelieve?
Near the beginning of Dehlin’s podcast summary of the survey—Understanding Mormon Disbelief: Why do some Mormons lose their testimony and what happens to them when they do?—Dehlin explains how the project came about:
In 2011, I was approached by a retired member of the 3rd Quorum of the 70, someone who’d served as what many would refer to as a general authority in the church, who was troubled himself by some historical issues. [See the podcast.]
The project began when a high-ranking Mormon leader noticed some disturbing details about LDS history. Dehlin’s own journey as a fifth generation Mormon and descendant of a notable Mormon family began as he studied official church manuals as he prepared to teach in the LDS seminary setting, he explains in the video.
“I had to lose my faith and reconstruct it in a way that was comfortable to me,” Dehlin explained on the podcast.
Though Dehlin remains an active Mormon, he explains in the “about” section of his website www.mormonstories.org that he no longer believes “many of the fundamental LDS church truth claims,” including these teachings: God is anthropomorphic (God was once a man); the LDS church prophet receives privileged communications from God; the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are translations; the LDS ordinances required for salvation; proxy work for the dead; and others.
Dehlin’s journey is the backdrop for the “safe place” he has created for other disaffected Mormons, said James Walker, president of Watchman Fellowship, at the 2013 Capstone Convention in Salt Lake City, where he presented an analysis of Dehlin’s survey. “It is a remarkable story that will break your heart if you follow this man’s story.”
That safe place is www.mormonstories.org where Dehlin interviews Mormons and allows them to tell their stories, whatever they may be.
As to survey results, Dehlin said the information has been presented to leaders “at LDS headquarters—at some of the highest levels in the church.”
Survey Results See the PowerPoint presentation of the survey here.
Dehlin begins by dismantling the common myths associated with Mormons losing their faith. Dehlin said the survey showed that participants did NOT leave because he or she:
- was offended by someone
- desired to sin [alcohol or premarital sex]
- never had a testimony to begin with
- was lazy: stopped praying and reading the scriptures
- studied anti-Mormon literature.
Among the 3,000 participants—a large sampling by most standards—were Mormon bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, temple workers, and those in other leadership positions. Seventy-three percent of the male participants had served on a full-time mission. Fifty percent of the men and forty percent of the women had served in some leadership role.
Dehlin said respondents self-rated these issues as a “major factor” to disbelief:
- Doctrinal/theological issues [74%]
- Historical issues [70%]
- Loss of faith in Joseph Smith [65%]
- Loss of faith in the Book of Mormon [50%]
Walker told the Capstone audience that the survey results were “fascinating.”
“The number one reason that Mormons are losing faith in Mormonism: It is about doctrine,” Walker said. “Truth matters. Doctrine matters.”
Respondents were asked to rank a list of factors on a scale of 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest, in terms of their impact on loss of belief. The report included this summation:
On average, survey respondents cited 15 major factors (with scores of 3 or 4) and 13 minor factors (scores of 1 or 2) as having an impact, indicating that there was not simply one or two issues that led to disbelief; on the contrary, many issues appeared to “stack up” until belief was lost.
Doctrinal and theological issues that were major factors for respondents include the following:
- Polygamy/Polyandry 59%
- Book of Abraham 59%
- Blacks and the Priesthood 55%
- DNA and the Book of Mormon 45%
- Masonic influences in the temple ceremony 43%
- Multiple, conflicting versions of the First Vision 42%
- Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon (e.g. horses, steel, etc.) 42%
- Women and the Priesthood 40%
- Past church positions on science, age of the earth, evolution, etc. 38%
- Issues with the authenticity or credibility of the priesthood restoration 40%
- Joseph’s use of peep stones in the translation of the Book of Mormon 36%
- Changes in the temple ceremony 35%
- Loss of Credibility of the Three Witnesses 33%
- Blood atonement 31%
Current social and cultural issues, many that go hand-in-hand with doctrinal and theological tenets of Mormonism, ranked at the top of issues that are increasingly a problem. The survey identified these issues are “trending upward.”
- Treatment of homosexuals
- Historical issues, in general
- Polygamy/Polyandry (marriage to a woman already married)
- DNA and the Book of Mormon
- Book of Abraham
- First Vision (of Joseph Smith)
- Treatment of Women
A Final Word
Dehlin’s survey highlights the significant problems within the LDS belief system. Many Mormons, including Dehlin, began to doubt as they looked at their own scripture and teachings.
“In reality, it wasn’t anti-Mormon resources… but primary sources that first caused them to doubt and question,” Dehlin said on the podcast.
Dehlin said that LDS apologetic sites, such as the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research [FAIR] website, now known as Fair Mormon, often exacerbated the problem and said those who visited the sites found: that the problems they were concerned about were credible; the sites introduced new problems they had not considered; the answers given were unsatisfactory; and the tone of Mormon apologists was often “unChristlike.”
Walker ended his presentation at Capstone Convention by urging Christians to do more than point Mormons to the problems within the LDS belief system.
“Please, don’t stop there,” Walker said.”Give them the hope of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
For free resources and primary source information on LDS teachings, visit www.watchman.org.