Is leaving the church giving up?

By: shenpa warrior
October 20, 2010

I don’t know why some people don’t get answers to their prayers. The scriptures suggest that people should receive answers to prayer. I don’t know why some have not. Blaming them is not helpful.

I know people who have literally shed tears over the course of many years of praying for answers to things such as the veracity of the Book of Mormon or simply the existence of God. These people are often blamed for not receiving answers: “Well, they just haven’t prayed long enough” or “they must have some sin or another that prevents them from getting an answer” or “they really have received an answer and just don’t accept it.”

Some of these people eventually choose to leave the church, and may be written off by others as having “given up” on their trial of faith.

I disagree that leaving the church necessarily means they have given up. I think that accusation is disrespectful, dismissive, and invalidating. In fact, leaving may be the opposite. It may take tremendous courage, patience, and dare I say, enduring to the end, especially for those from LDS families if they are not accepted.

We all have our own challenges and opportunities for personal growth whether in the church or out. For those of us in the faith, we should respect those who choose to leave (many of these people go through a great deal of pain along the way), trust that they really did give it all they had, and trust God that He loves them just the same. He will provide the experiences they need in this life, even outside of the church.

For those of us who have received answers, may we minister to others in love and service, regardless of their choice to leave the church, or their lack of belief.

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71 Responses to Is leaving the church giving up?

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 20, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    Ok, what do you call it when someone gives up and changes direction? I change direction at work on files all the time as matters are developed. But it means giving up the original plan.

    I think you are addressing the connotations of what giving up means rather than the denotations.

    But giving up is a choice, or should be, like many other choices. But I don’t see it as heroic, just a matter of the choice of balance in one’s life.

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  2. loren on October 20, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    depends on your definition of giving up. sometimes priorities change

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  3. Andrew S on October 20, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    I both agree and disagree with Stephen.

    The open question is: what is the object of “giving up”? Adam has not expressly mentioned it. If the object is “the church,” then I think the answer is relatively straightforward — leaving the church generally means giving up on the church.

    (Note: “generally.” Leaving the church doesn’t mean one stops trying to engage the church, so it may not even mean they have given up on “the church,” but rather given up on a particular way of interfacing with the church.)

    The bigger reason why I disagree with Stephen is because I interpret Adam’s implied object to be something quite different than “the church.” Rather, it is something like “trial of faith.” To this end, is it true to say that if someone leaves this particular church that they are giving up on their trial? Even if someone seems to leave any sort of religious faith, does that mean they are giving up on their trial of faith?

    I do not believe that to be true. I think that relies on a parochial view of trials of faith.

    If I think about people who have given up on trials of faith, I think that is completely distinct of church membership. It seems to me that complacent people — both members and nonmembers — are the ones who have “given up” on the trial of faith, not the people who grapple, both outside and in.

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  4. skih2o on October 20, 2010 at 7:55 AM

    Who are we to judge?

    Our mission here is to love our fellow man, not label them.

    It would do us all a lot of good to worry about our own position in God’s path for us than telling or acting we get to judge whether or not our friends ‘gave up’.

    When we’re standing before the judgement bar we will not be held accountable for not properly placing value or evaluating our friends decisions, but for how we treated them.

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  5. Course Correction on October 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    Nice post, Adam.

    Leaving the Mormon Church isn’t necessarily giving up. What is the point of participating in a church or any organization that doesn’t meet your needs? Moving on is healthy.

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  6. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    AdamF, I share your experience of knowing people who have sincerly tried to gain a testimony, sought for a testimony, worked for a testimony, and yet did not receive that gift. And I also do not understand it.

    I echo the others who suggest that we are not in a place to judge those folks who may glibly say, “Oh, he didn’t pray hard enough.” I think that response is principally a defensive one, perhaps even uttered by one who also has not yet prayed hard enough (and knows it) but remains faithful because of inertia or some other reason, hoping still for the day when his or her testimony arrives.

    I think of one person close to me who has left the church and is very active in her evangelical Christian congregation. She has not reduced her activity in church at all, but has shifted her focus to a place where she feels a spiritual connection that she did not feel among the Latter-day Saints. It is comforting to me to see that she is (finally) at peace with her choice, especially compared with the relative torment she felt as she struggled with a decision to leave.

    So, does a person “give up?” Well, yes, a person gives up Mormonism. And a person may give up the struggle to find a testimony of Mormonism. But that does not mean a person gives up his relationship with God, or a pursuit of a life of faith.

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  7. Holden Caulfield on October 20, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Leaving the church for some means finally getting an answer.

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  8. Mike S on October 20, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    According to one viewpoint, we ask people to “give up” on a daily basis. The fundamental point of the missionary program is to get someone to “give up” their family traditions, their religious upbringing, their congregations, their social networks, etc. and to join the LDS Church. It isn’t a fit for everyone, but for those whom the LDS Church makes enough sense to join, we call it a “conversion” or a “success”, not really “giving up”.

    We are not all the same. For some people, the process goes in the opposite direction. They may find more comfort or peace or acceptance or love or whatever in a different non-LDS denomination. From an institutional point-of-view, this may be “giving up”, but from a more holistic or global point-of-view, perhaps this, too, should be considered a “conversion” or a “success”.

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  9. Corktree on October 20, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    The more I think about the idea that two people can receive completely different answers on any spiritual subject tells me that either 1) we haven’t yet accurately discovered what it means to get a “true” answer, since my limited logic still tells me that (absolute) truth for one should be truth for all, or 2) that God doesn’t actually *want* some people to be on the LDS path. I’m inclined to believe reason #2, but only because my heart tells me it’s true that someone can follow a different path to God. So I become stuck in the problem of number one and questioning if my answer is ultimately *true* or just what I hope is true.
    I’m one that is not happy in my church community, but I carry on (probably due in part to inertia as Paul said) and hope for a more sure form of testimony that makes attending more bearable. But I’m open to finding another path if I can’t find the spiritual nourishment I need.

    Of course, I’ll admit that I probably *haven’t* prayed enough, so I guess I’ll keep trying. ;)

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  10. adamf on October 20, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    On “giving up” – I was thinking mostly just in the sense that I mentioned in the OP – that of someone who prays for an answer for a long time, gets nothing in return, and eventually decides they’ve been duped.

    Andrew – Re: complacence – that is an intriguing way to look at it. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before… given that angle I have probably “given up” on issues of faith while in the church. I like the idea of “not grappling” as giving up, with the acknowledgment that as was said above priorities change sometimes and we may just be grappling with different issues.

    skih20 – I agree – it’s just so hard for some NOT to label or categorize others – some people feel threatened in some way with hearing things like, “leaving the church was the best thing that happened” because it somehow (in their own mind) invalidates staying… at least that’s how it seems.

    Course Correction – Thanks, and I agree – moving on IS healthy for some people.

    Paul – I am also glad when people find a more fulfilling, happier life (still full of growth-promoting challenges, of course) in other religions or outside of religion.

    Mike S – this is essentially the same thing I think Paul’s story illustrates – some movement (in or out of the LDS Church) could be considered a “success” – some members just can’t consider that – perhaps the semantic contamination is too great?

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  11. adamf on October 20, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Corktree – I see value in both of those viewpoints. People definitely get different answers, and perhaps part of that is, like you said, due to the highly subjective, personal nature of revelation. I think answers to prayer are great up to the point that one is beating someone else over the head with it. Once it moves past humble sharing of experience and into “I got an answer so you should follow this” there will be conflict. For the second, I definitely think God has bigger plans than just the LDS Church. Again I’m limited by my own brain, but it doesn’t make sense that everyone would need to follow the LDS path… at least not in the present.

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  12. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    I did write a post some time again addressing an aspect of this topic,>

    I think maybe “enduring to the end” is very different for each of us.

    I also think that perhaps the LDS Church is NOT for everyone, regardless if it is the true path or not. The Lord sent the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years because of their problems and still some would not believe.

    So maybe it’s like that.

    If the Church is not for them, I can respect that. It’s what they do with the Church AFTER they leave that concerns me. Being negative and vindictive is a real indicator to me.

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  13. Andrew S on October 20, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    re 12,

    Jeff, even though I understand where you’re coming from (re: “being negative and vindictive”), to an extent, I think it’s more unusual when people *aren’t* negative or vindictive. It really casts suspicion on how invested they were in the church if they can leave without any fuss. Especially considering the church doesn’t just go away — it remains a constant, if only in family and friends’ lives, but more probably elsewhere (politics).

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  14. Mike S on October 20, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    I was born in the Church. I went to Primary and YM and have always been completely active. I was on seminary council and graduated from seminary. I went on a mission, serving in just about every role up through AP. I was married in the temple. I have served in a number of Church callings. I have always paid a full tithing my entire life. I have donated thousands of hours of my life and literally tens of thousands of dollars (or likely much more) to the Church. So I am probably about as active and involved of a member as there could be.

    So how does this relate to the post? I have probably read the BofM 10-15 times. I have prayed about it hundreds of times. But… I have never received an answer that it is “true”. I have never received a “knowledge” that the Church is “true” in the sense that most people talk about.

    I do think there is truth in the BofM and in the Church, but I also think there is truth in many, many non-LDS places. I think there is much good in the Church, but I see equally as much good in many other places as well.

    At the end of the day, my main goal is to find truth, grow closer to God, and help other people. I happen to be doing this in the context of the Mormon faith, because that is how I was raised. Perhaps someday I might have some experience that lets me know this particular faith is “true” from the Joseph Smith perspective where all other faiths are “abominations”. Perhaps not. I personally think that many, many more people will make it back to God than the 0.1% that are active Mormon, but that’s just my own opinion.

    Therefore, I don’t consider someone who finds their path back to God outside the LDS faith as “giving up”. This would make me a terrible missionary, by the way, and I don’t really know if someone can get too far in the LDS hierarchy unless they have that “knowledge”, but that doesn’t bother me. I can still be a good Mormon without having that answer and, most importantly, can still be a good, kind and caring person towards my fellowman.

    And at the end of the day, the only 2 things that really matter are: 1) Love God, 2) Love your fellowman. Everything else is just noise.

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  15. james on October 20, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    I first want to agree with Mike S. Yes! Love God, love one another. Do we really need more than that? Well put.

    As has been discussed by others, I too think that the term “giving up” might be better replaced with the idea of “moving on”. Giving up is not an entirely bad thing. There are many times when giving up means taking a more efficient approach, spending time and resources on more appropriate goals, or simply cutting your losses. To say I have given up on the church, for me, means I have decided that it is not worth the time, energy, and dedication that I put into it for so many years and instead now focus on things that are more rewarding for myself and my family.

    Giving up is a paradigm shift, not a declaration of failure.

    Very nice post, AdamF.

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  16. Thomas on October 20, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    I think of the Old Testament story of Naaman, the leprous Syrian official who went to the prophet Elisha to be healed, and was told to go bathe in the Jordan. After initially being skeptical, he did what the prophet told him, and was healed.

    What should Naaman have done if he’d taken the recommended bath in the Jordan, and come out still a leper?

    The standard Church response to someone who doesn’t get Moroni Ten-Foured is — if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Take another bath. Do it right this time — though we can’t precisely tell you what you need to do differently, and no matter what you do, unless you get the answer we did, you must be doing it wrong.

    If Naaman had taken seventy baths in the Jordan without result, I think he could fairly conclude that following Elisha’s recommendations wasn’t going to work out. What do they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

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  17. diane on October 20, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    I don’t think changing is giving up, it just means that you want something different in your life. To go in a different direction is better than to beat yourself up or make your self depressed because you no longer have your needs met. To me change is healthy. Your acknowledging that something is wrong.

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  18. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    I almost extended my original comment before posting and then held back. I’ve now “given up” and going to finish…

    I think many people who pray about the Book of Mormon get an answer — some answer — and that leads to their conversion. But the various lists of spiritual gifts all make clear that not everyone gets the same faith, the same knowledge, the same ability to believe. I have no idea why, but who am I to argue with the scriptures. So it comes as no surprise to me that there are a variety of experiences around testimony seeking.

    An idea that I’ve been dancing with for a few years is this: I do believe that everyone needs the saving ordinances to return to Father in Heaven (so I guess either that’s a part of loving God, which I could argue, or it’s in addition to the Love God/Love Fellowman baseline).

    But I also acknowledge that eternity is a long time, and I am not convinced that everyone needs those ordinances today. We do not baptize infants in part because they *can* die without baptism and still make it home, either by dying before the age of accountability, through vicarious ordinances, or through ordinances performed during the millenium.

    So while I don’t believe that all road lead to Rome, so to speak, I do believe that not everyone needs to get to Rome today. (The traffic there is bad enough anyway…) Some make take a different route to our through Christianity today and come to the saving ordinances another day or another way. Some may never know Christ in this life but still know those blessings another way. The gospel clearly provides for this.

    I personally have never felt the confidence to be able to judge that another person has had “his chance” to hear the gospel. My view is that only Father in Heaven can judge that. And He loves His children enough (and has told us so) that all will get the chance to hear. And presumably, in His time, to know what they are hearing is correct.

    The fact that someone does not get an answer does not mean that I should not ask. I might get an answer (and I feel as if I do get answers). As those particularly, who are close to me have chosen to leave the church, it has caused me great pain, mostly because I know they do not feel the joy in the gospel that I do, and I wish they would or could. But I cannot deny them their right to choose. And I can hope for a day of understanding in the future.

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  19. Thomas Parkin on October 20, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    I spent the better part of my adult life to date outside the church. Then I came back. I honestly believe those years were necessary to me – for many reasons. Sometimes things are a matter of timing. God really does move in mysterious ways. Sometimes what we think we need isn’t what we need. Often answers to prayers are withheld. Very often we get an answer, but it leads us down paths to deeper answers we were unprepared for. Learning always involves an alteration of our viewpoint, so that feelings of having acquired an ‘absolute truth’ are rarely valid. To a person who has agonized over not receiving an answer to prayer, I’d say: live your life as honestly and with as much joy as you can, be a learner, and try back later. ~

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  20. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    #12 – Jeff, I understand the point you’re making, but I ultimately disagree with your point about people’s post-activity behavior.

    I’ve always found the cliche “you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone” to be very shortsighted and a little juvenile. If you think about it logically, it makes all the sense in the world that someone who has left the church would, in most cases, have a desire to make his or her feelings about the church known. First of all, for someone to take such a step as leaving the church in the first place, they must have some pretty strong feelings about it. Secondly, people who leave the church have obviously had major life experiences or impressions that have led them to that decision. Why should that person’s important experiences and ideas about the purpose of life, religion, etc., be expected to be muffled or kept quiet? This is a particularly salient question within the context of a church that encourages, commands even, its members to spread the good word about the gospel and to openly share their experiences and feelings about the church. What is really being said is “strong and aggressive POSITIVE feelings about the church should be shared, but anyone who shares such strong NEGATIVE feelings should just keep it to him or herself. Anyone who does otherwise is just bitter or being led by the devil.” This idea is absurd on its face. If the issues of religion are important to the human experience and should be shared, then that sentiment should apply across the board. To think otherwise is just an offshoot of the common LDS idea that anything that testifies of the truth of the church is of god, and anything or anyone that criticizes it has no credibility or is of the devil.

    I realize that the church is important to its members and they don’t like to see it disparaged or its image tarnished. But it is exactly as appropriate for people who leave the church to share their feelings about it as for those who join the church to do the same. I’m sure all the LDS converts here were eager to share their conversion story. If I feel like finally, after 35 years, I’ve found the truth, should I not be allowed to share that with vigor and passion, just because it cuts against the message of the church? I think the answer to that is obvious.

    All that said, I don’t see why one’s tone necessarily has to become vindictive or ugly. Most of the people I care about in my life remain in the church, and I have no desire to hurt or offend them in any way. I like to think I can make my points, even those critical of the church, in a civil way. I understand, though, that there are those whose experiences in the church may have resulted in serious hurt, who may have a harder time doing that. I think it would be really dangerous to attempt to interpret how hard a person “tried” while in the church based on how they act once they’ve left. I think there are too many factors involved.

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  21. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    Andrew, #13, and brjones #20,

    “I’ve always found the cliche “you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone” to be very shortsighted and a little juvenile.”

    I find the behavior of those who are vindictive and nasty toward the Church to be juvenile. I see no issue with sharing a story of leaving the Church as one’s choice. It does not make those who choose to stay idiots, or stupid and it doesn’t make the organization guilty of anything other than not serving the needs of the person leaving.

    To act otherwise, demonstrates a level of immaturity.

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  22. Rebecca on October 20, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    I agree that we need to treat those who choose to leave with friendship and respect. I’m a little less clear about how to validate people within the church who are at various stages of belief. We tend to talk in church like everyone is on the same page in terms of testimony. People who express questions are often seen as unhealthy, or threatening. If we can become less defensive and emotional, we will have more success making people feel at home, even if they have an unconventional faith.

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  23. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    #21 – In general I would agree with you, Jeff. However, I don’t think feelings of vindictiveness or nastiness toward the church necessarily equate to calling those who stay idiots or stupid. I’m thinking more along the lines of criticizing the church itself and its doctrines and policies. I don’t think that’s out of line or juvenile. And frankly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of some people to feel that the church is guilty of something more than simply failing to meet their needs. I wouldn’t think that kind of experience is the rule, but certainly there have been those who have been failed by the church on a more significant level than what is probably normal.

    Do you think it’s appropriate for a person who has left the church to carry some kind of hard feelings or even to speak out against the church on some level? I know a lot of members think it’s dirty pool for any ex or disaffected member to utter a word of criticism. They see it as the fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s words that if you leave the church you have enlisted in Satan’s army and you’ll fight against it till the day you die.

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  24. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Jeff, I agree that those who engage in petty behavior (calling the “other side” stupid, for instance) is bad form.

    A common technique among anti-Mormons (ex-s and others) is the “I know something you don’t know” game, where the assumption is that if you knew what I knew then you’d leave, too. The way it is played it often has the feeling of gotcha-style reverse missionary work.

    Interestingly, the people I know who have thoughtfully left have done so quietly and respectfully. Some have been family members who recognize they are leaving the fammily’s church; it’s not the family who moved away from them, but they who moved away from the family, so they show some deference to the family. It’s not always easy for the departing family member, but it is kind of them.

    I had a friend who left the church who did not want to share what he had learned that led to his leaving; he did NOT want to be responsible for leading others away. His wife and children remained active as did his parents. He was exceptionally respectful.

    I have known not known any personally who have left the church loudly, though I acknowledge they do exist.

    Rebecca, as for validating those with varying levels of belief: I agree this is a key issue. It’s important to communicate that asking questions is ok (President Faust did a nice job of this a few years before his death). I wonder if some people’s negative reaction to those questions is a manifestation of their own insecurity.

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  25. diane on October 20, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    The one annoying thing that I can’t stand is when people do decide to leave, all the friendships disintegrate. Its’ a shame, because all that says to me is that the friendship that was, never really was in the first place.

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  26. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Rebecca, #22

    “We tend to talk in church like everyone is on the same page in terms of testimony. People who express questions are often seen as unhealthy, or threatening.”

    I never mind a person with a contrary view or a big question and I never found anyone treated without respect because of that. On the contrary, I have found folks more uncomfortable with a really strident member who clings to an old or speculative doctrine.

    I think that sometimes we are insecure in our own belief and that is where the real discomfort comes from. Not from other members.

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  27. Mike S on October 20, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    A support for all this comes from a great book I’d recommend: Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. It essentially is a collection of correspondence involving her.

    I consider her an amazing woman. I have no doubt that God loves her. Yet for 40 years, she wondered why she didn’t get an “answer”. She very literally felt distance and darkness from God. An excerpt: “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

    Or another:
    So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

    Wow. That certainly gives hope to those of us who can’t stand up in testimony and say “I know”. I certainly believe. I have faith. But there doesn’t seem to be as much room in the Church anymore for someone who can’t stand up with that convincing look in their eye and say, “I KNOW that …” Even little kids do it.

    So I just sit there and think of Mother Teresa.

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  28. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    #25 – I don’t necessarily think this is true, Diane. Real friendships can go away when people’s shared interests and values divert. I personally agree with you that it’s very sad, and shows that one or other of the parties may have placed too high a value on the fact that both were members of the church or shared common religious and/or moral beliefs. I’ve always thought this is interesting, because unless, as a rule, a member has no friends who are non members, or the ex-member has no active member friends, then it is completely arbitrary and random to end a friendship just because one person has changed their religious affiliation.

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  29. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    brjones #23,
    “Do you think it’s appropriate for a person who has left the church to carry some kind of hard feelings or even to speak out against the church on some level? ”

    I think it is fine for someone to do that, but it must be couched in the way that it is personal rather than painting with a broad brush.

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  30. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    Paul, #24,

    It can be done. I know that I left the religion of my family and it was not well taken by other members. But, I still love it dearly and have learned more about it since.

    I could never see myself going to an Ex-Jews website and calling Moses and Isaiah names! :)

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  31. Rebecca on October 20, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    #24 Paul – If it’s handy,could you point me to the President Faust quote you are referring to?

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  32. Heber13 on October 20, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    In some ways, you can compare a relationship with the Church to a marital relationship, I think.

    Is divorce giving up?
    I think if a person is seeking personal happiness and growth, there are some situations (toxic relationships) that prevent that person from finding peace and happiness and personal growth. So they may give up on that relationship while not giving up on finding personal peace.

    Similarly, in some instances people at church are seeking God and personal growth and peace/happiness, and they just can’t find that in their current situation at church, so leaving the church can mean giving up on that relationship, but not giving up on finding God.

    Some people think that is never an option, and will stick it out no matter what.

    Others think there may be other paths things that make it right to change course in order to reach their objective.

    There is no one answer for everyone’s situation. So I guess I believe you can leave the church, and that means giving up on that relationship, but not entirely on faith.

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  33. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    #29 – I think this is totally fair, Jeff. I know it can be tempting to make blanket statements about all people on the other side (and both sides do it), but I agree with you that it’s inappropriate. I think people need to consider the utility in casting broad aspersions on people who believe differently than them. If one’s goal is to educate and help others come to a better place, then that kind of behavior is rarely, if ever, going to be effective. Even for those who have left the church and have strong negative feelings, I think they need to be controlled.

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  34. Andrew S. on October 20, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    re 24:


    A common technique among anti-Mormons (ex-s and others) is the “I know something you don’t know” game, where the assumption is that if you knew what I knew then you’d leave, too. The way it is played it often has the feeling of gotcha-style reverse missionary work.

    I’m glad you referred to it as “gotcha-style reverse missionary work” because…you know what, it is.

    The issue is this: the church teaches and rasies us to have such a paradigm of knowing things that, if other people just knew and comprehended, they would join us. That’s what missionary work is about.

    When people leave the church, is it any surprise that they keep this same mentality?

    (I’d criticize the mentality both ways instead of focusing on one side or the other, but I’m not the average guy anyway.)

    Interestingly, the people I know who have thoughtfully left have done so quietly and respectfully. Some have been family members who recognize they are leaving the fammily’s church; it’s not the family who moved away from them, but they who moved away from the family, so they show some deference to the family. It’s not always easy for the departing family member, but it is kind of them.

    Do you see the issue here? I mean, do you even recognize the implications of what you’re saying. You’re basically admitting that leaving the church is tied with leaving one’s family. When people leave the church, though, they don’t generally *want* to leave their families. It is a source of more dissatisfaction that the church becomes a persistent wedge between them and their families and friends. Someone who doesn’t act upon this dissatisfaction is resigned, not simply “kind.”

    I had a friend who left the church who did not want to share what he had learned that led to his leaving; he did NOT want to be responsible for leading others away. His wife and children remained active as did his parents. He was exceptionally respectful.

    I’d like to translate this to the Truth-centric rhetoric that we learn in the truth.

    When you say, “he did not want to share what he had learned with his family” — to the exmember this often reads like, “he did not want to share truth.”

    Imagine if you converted to the church. (In fact, converts can imagine this). When you joined, it may have had some heartache with family, but you found something that you believed to be *true*. So, there should have been a NON-negligible tension in FAVOR of sharing this truth to family and friends. “Respect” or “care” or “love” wouldn’t be to let your family and friends live essentially what you believe to be a lie.

    And thus, we have missionary work. Thus, we have the great commission. Thus…

    Does that make any sense? I mean, I sense you already recognize that things aren’t as clear-cut as some people on either side want them to be, but I believe there are strong reasons as to why many ex and former members act the way they do.

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  35. Heather on October 20, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    I think all people like to wrap up things they don’t like/understand into tidy packages so they can forget about them.

    It’s why we look for clues when someone the community holds up as a “good person” turns out to be a monster. (Like the BTK killer.) It’s easier to process our own lives when we think “only a monster would do something like that”. Thinking that evil lurks in the heart of us all is too uncomfortable to consider.

    It’s also why people have such trite responses to homosexuality. “God wouldn’t make someone that way. It’s just a perversion they give into.” They are able to wrap up sexuality into a tidy package, place it on a shelf, and move on with life.

    The same goes for how “faithful” members respond to “apostates”.

    It’s much easier to wrap people who leave the church into a tidy little package and set them on the shelf. That way we easily explain our life experiences and get on with life. We don’t have to face the cognitive dissonance that comes with looking at the nuanced reality behind each person’s situation.

    It’s just a natural reflex. And, while understandable, it’s a natural reflex that we should all work to overcome because putting people in these little boxes and filing them on a shelf detracts from what we should be doing:

    a) showing compassion, love, acceptance, and understanding to all of God’s children

    b) using our earthly probation for what God intended it to be: an opportunity to learn and understand the world

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  36. Cowboy on October 20, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    Andrew S (#34):

    Well said, I’m glad you addressed that point. The only thing I would add is that, I don’t get what is so virtuous about leaving “quietly”. As Jeff is saying, it is possible to show disagreement while still maintaing respect. Avoiding unwarranted accusations or ad hominem, and sticking to rational and well thought out arguments should be perfectly fine. Of course the choice to be vocal is up to the individual leaving, but suggesting that the only “right” way to leave is quietly, shows no appreciation for the person who is leaving. Mormons are all to eager to share what they “know”, therefore ethically there is an implicit obligation to be willing to hear where others are coming from as well. It sort of the can of worms Mormons open when the assume the member-missionary obligation.

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  37. Andrew S. on October 20, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    If you value harmony or deference or respect or things like this over truth, then that can explain the virtue of leaving quietly.

    This should just be EXTREMELY foreign to a Mormon audience, because our entire missionary orientation is that the truth should be shared. (Well, I guess that only applies when the truth is useful…)

    The idea here is that it’s many vs. one. So, who loses more if they are not “appreciated”? The ONE person leaving? Or the remaining community that stays?

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  38. Cowboy on October 20, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Thomas (#16:

    Well said.

    As has already been asked, what is “giving up”? If someone were to accuse me of “giving up” I would think that they are suggesting that I am either weak, cowardly, lazy, etc. The implication is there was a task at hand, and I had ended my participation before properly completing the task. As Thomas points out however, when is the task complete, allowing a person to quit head high from the believers standpoint. The official answer would be, never! Try and try again, as Thomas notes.

    Due to all the press behind President Packers conference talk, Bishop Richard C. Edgley’s talk was kind of lost in the limelight, in spite of the problematic case he presents. Essentially he argues that “Faith is a choice”, yet it is not earned without desire or effort. Here he makes the case that faith is the only viable option on a road that only leads to the truth and makes no provision for the possibilty that destination doesn’t exist. If faith is not rewarded, a person as per this popular logic, should endlessly cling to Mormon doctrine as truth in the affirmative, persisting tirelessly till reward or death. Of course, as Thomas points out again – do the same thing and expect different results? Of course not. Bishop Edgley of course would not apply this logic to those of other faiths. He would suggest, in proper Mormon missionary zeal, if what you are doing isn’t working in your Presbyterian faith, perhaps you should “give up” and give Mormonism a try. If what you are doing isn’t working in your Mormon faith, try harder – you haven’t applied the appropriate amount of effort or desire. Since little of anything can be truly “proven”, particularly when speaking of religion, it is rather convenient that the Mormon-faith paradigm has been structured without a reasonable system of falsification.

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  39. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Rebecca, the talk is “Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief” from the October 2003 conference. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    This morning I would like to bear a humble testimony to those who have personal struggles and doubts concerning the divine mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of us are at times like the father who asked the Savior to heal his child with the “dumb spirit.” The father of the child cried out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” 1 To all those with lingering doubts and questions, there are ways to help your unbelief. In the process of accepting and rejecting information in the search for light, truth, and knowledge, almost everyone has—at one time or another—some private questions. That is part of the learning process.

    The whole talk is at this URL:

    Andrew S, I don’t disagree with what you’ve said. In fact, I argued a similar point at my blog a few weeks ago.

    But here’s a difference I see. Most of us don’t badger people with the truth, and don’t go looking for a fight when sharing the gospel. But someone who is decidedly fighting against the church does. It may be couched in terms of a warning or it may be in a taunt to missionaries or members.

    Now, one man’s badgering is another man’s boldness, so I realize that everyone’s mileage may vary.

    I’m not quite sure about your critique (perhaps a poor word choice by me) of my experience. I can only tell you what my family member told me, and what my friend told me. I don’t say that they are right or wrong, or even the model to follow, but it is, in fact, what they did. And I found their approach to be kind to their still-Mormon friends and family.

    Whether that silent (or tolerant) approach ultimately leads to difficulty because of the dissonance of truth not expressed, I cannot say.

    BTW, I am a convert to the church. And I think Jeff’s observation about his continuing respect for his family’s faith is a good approach.

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  40. Heber13 on October 20, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    #23 brjones,

    I’m not sure I agree that just because one has hurt feelings or strong enough feelings to leave the church they must express those and make them known. I’m trying to think what benefit that creates?

    If I hate my boss or my employer to the point I choose to leave and find employment elsewhere…that’s my choice, and probably a good one, and one that the employer or boss will never likely understand.

    But it is usually better and more respectable to handle it professionally and keep ones frustrations and emotions to oneself, and not burn any bridges along the way.

    Why is it different if choosing to leave the church?

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  41. diane on October 20, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    @heber 13)

    While on the whole I agree with your basic premise its’ best to be professional matters of religion are often anything but.

    Here’s why I feel this way

    I think/ believe most adults have to understand that work is work and if we want income we know we have to put up with a certain amount of garbage. When they no longer wish to put up the garbage they can leave and find other employment.

    Church is different. Church is suppose to be a place of refuge, solace and acceptance. You shouldn’t need to prove your worth to be at any meeting, to partake sacrament without guilt and to attend temple.

    My last BP will never know, nor understand the hurt he caused me. However, there is one person that I finally had to tell off, because she had bullied me the whole three and half years that I was a member there. She may have been old, but she knew exactly who to pick on because (mostly sisters) because she found it fun. I believe and I in as much told her so, that the reason she didn’t humiliate any of the brethren is that she knows they wouldn’t put up with her crap.

    I also told her that her bullying was the reason why I could no longer be her visiting teacher. I told her flat out I would not provide service to someone who was abusive to me.

    Now, she still behaves this way with other people, but I feel better because I stood up for myself. She behaved like this to me, infront of leadership and they did nothing.

    This is why when leaving the church, people need to write down, and articulate the reason why they are leaving. That way, no one in leadership can say. Oh, we never know why. They do know why. They just want to ignore it. The ignoring is why people get upset and think the church and leadership is uncaring.

    That’s just my honest opinion.

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  42. Jeff Spector on October 20, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    #34, Andrew S.,

    “When you joined, it may have had some heartache with family, but you found something that you believed to be *true*. So, there should have been a NON-negligible tension in FAVOR of sharing this truth to family and friends. “Respect” or “care” or “love” wouldn’t be to let your family and friends live essentially what you believe to be a lie.

    Here is the way I’ve handled that situation since I live it. If a family member asks me why I joined the Church and away from Judaism, I have said that it felt like the right thing to do, I enjoy it and it is good for my family. It’s all on me, I don’t blame the religion.

    If they press me, I say that I just didn’t get anything out of Judaism, that perhaps had my family been more observant, things might have turned out different. That’s it. I do not proselyte to my family and only answer questions when asked.

    Pretty much the same as with missionary work.

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  43. Jared on October 20, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    1. Does God answer prayers?

    Based on my experiences, I know that He does.

    2. Does God answer everyones prayers, who ask sincerely? (Sincerity is more important than worthiness)

    I believe he does, but it will be in His own way and time.

    3. Does everyone who offers a prayer, do so with sincerity?

    I think the obvious answer would be, NO.

    4. When someone claims they can’t get an answer to prayer, how should we respond?

    With kindness, showing love and respect. It’s not for us to judge. (That is, unless we have a calling that requires we make a judgment)

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  44. Thomas on October 20, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    “But it is usually better and more respectable to handle it professionally and keep ones frustrations and emotions to oneself, and not burn any bridges along the way.”

    Probably true overall. That said, I’ve worked some jobs, with some people, where I made a point not only to burn the bridge, but dynamite the approaches, dam the river, and flood the whole site a hundred feet deep. And stock the resulting lake with man-eating sharks with frickin’ lasers in their foreheads, just to remove any possibility of ever going back.

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  45. diane on October 20, 2010 at 5:50 PM


    Since when is anyone able to tell how sincere someone’s prayer is, That’s like wow!

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  46. Troth Everyman on October 20, 2010 at 6:38 PM

    I just blogged about a similar topic yesterday. Although it was framed differently. Rather than discussing whether or not someone is “giving up” it described the conflict that can occur between trying to achieve secular and spiritual balance in life and the notion of not being “lukewarm”.

    Here is a short excerpt that explains some of my thoughts about it:

    “Balance is a principle that is often discussed at church. Members extol the virtues of striking a balance between work, family, diet, exercise, callings and community service (to name just a few). We are told not to run faster than we have strength. We are also warned not to ignore the spiritual aspects of our lives. We are told that we need to balance secular knowledge with spiritual knowledge and faith.

    However, we are also told that God will “spew us out of his mouth” if we are lukewarm. There must be a commitment and devotion. We are told that we cannot and should not straddle the line between belief and unbelief. This concept implies that agnostics are spewed out of God’s mouth, while atheists and believers are placed on a higher level (because they at least committed to something). I realize that not deciding does not equal not being balanced. However, where does balance fit in here? What if straddling is part of someone’s attempt at balancing their spiritual life with their secular life?”

    “Admittedly, one can still achieve balance in one’s life if one is a devoted member, an atheist or an agnostic. One can be committed to something or not committed to something and still achieve balance. However, for some, being forced to choose one way or another may come in direct conflict with their attempt to strike a balance?”

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  47. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    #40 – Heber, I think matters of religion, eternal truth, the purpose of life, etc., are simply not comparable to a job. Additionally, if a person voluntarily left his or her job because he or she found out something disturbing about the employer, and still had close friends and family working for said employer, I think it would be absolutely reasonable for him or her to spread the word about his newfound information and reasons for leaving. Even then, the scenario pales in comparison because of the disparate import of the two situations.

    In short, if it’s important enough to talk about joining the church, a person might reasonably find it important enough to talk about why they left.

    Jeff, I respect your position. I do think that’s somewhat different than someone who leaves Judaism or mormonism, or any other religion, because they believe they have discovered that it is not true and potentially a harmful way to live. I’m not saying those religions are or aren’t harmful; I’m just saying that if someone comes to that conclusion, how is it not reasonable to share that?

    If anyone here had a parent in a care facility and discovered there were care-givers employed there who were abusive to patients, would any of you hesitate to take all necessary action to alert your family members, and get your family member out? Of course not. Again, I’m not saying the church is akin to an abusive care-giver, but there are people who decide that the church’s policies and teachings are not just wrong for them, but are actively bad. Obviously most people here would disagree, but that’s a matter of fact for each person to decide. The point is, whenever a person discovers what they feel to be a great eternal truth, it is the most natural thing in the world for that person to want to share it with those they care about. Just because that person’s idea of truth is not flattering to members of the church doesn’t mean they should be precluded from sharing it.

    As I’ve said before, however, I don’t think there’s any excuse for using an uncivil tone or name-calling.

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  48. brjones on October 20, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    #47 – Even though I’ve, regrettably, engaged in both practices before.

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  49. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 7:07 PM

    #41 Diane — can your end of informing people why someone leaves be accomplished by a private letter or does it need to be a public pronouncement? Seems the private letter also accomplishes the goal of informing the leadership.

    When my father converted to Mormonism, he wrote such a letter to his Presbyterian minister, explaining that he had joined a new church and briefly explaining some of his reasons why. They were not so much complaints about what he was leaving as identifying the good things in what he had found.

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  50. Stephen Marsh on October 20, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    Thomas and Paul, I enjoyed your comments.

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  51. diane on October 20, 2010 at 7:36 PM


    Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I think each case is individual. And I also think it depends on what it is that you are trying to accomplish.

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  52. Jared on October 20, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    #45 diane said, Since when is anyone able to tell how sincere someone’s prayer is, That’s like wow!

    I was thinking that God can, and those who God would reveal it to (church leader).

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  53. hawkgrrrl on October 20, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    Faith is personal. Spiritual experiences including conversions are personal. They are usually not compelling to people aside from the one who experienced them. When we take the personal and apply it universally, we put ourselves before others. We have to allow for others to have their own views that differ from ours without feeling threatened by them, whether we have a conversion or a deconversion experience. Applying what has happened to me with a “should” to others is where the disrespect begins.

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  54. Mike S on October 21, 2010 at 8:46 AM


    I think the question of “sincerity”, etc. is merely a way to preserve logical consistency in the whole missionary program and Church given widely different actual experiences and realities.

    If someone truly accepts the basic premise of the church, including Moroni 10:4 such as forms the core of the missionary program, several things necessarily follow: This is the “only” true Church with all others being “abominations”; everyone will need to accept the BofM, etc.; everyone will necessarily have to have the Mormon ordinances done to return to God; etc. For this to be true, and if God is fair, God will necessarily confirm the truth of THIS Church to ALL people if they truly ask.

    This poses a dilemma. If someone prays about the Church, or the BofM as per Moroni 10:4 and receives a positive answer, then it is “proof” that the process worked.

    But what if there is NOT the positive answer. For someone who truly believes that this is the one true Church, etc., the only acceptable response that avoids cognitive dissonance is that that person wasn’t sincere enough or that the person just hasn’t asked enough – because the alternative explanation would be at odds with the Weltanschauung (roughly: world outlook) in the true believer.

    For the non-missionary/believer, however, who feel that have done everything “right”, who have been “sincere”, who have tried the experiment, etc., but who have NOT received the same LDS answer, they see things differently. Perhaps their “non-answer” is the answer. Perhaps it means that their path back to God is NOT in the LDS faith but in some other denomination. To a missionary or a believer in the “only true Church”, however, this is simply illogical.

    So the word, “sincerity” is a loaded word. It is a way for believers to accept the premise that this is the “only true Church” yet also accept that people haven’t received the same answer – they just haven’t been “sincere” enough. But as Diane pointed out, it can also be offensive to someone who truly feels they are sincere about God and religion but who doesn’t feel the same way.

    I do understand both sides. As per my comment above (#14) I understand the “believers” point-of-view. I have always been a member, etc. But I have also never received an answer. Initially, I, too, questioned my own “sincerity”, but I now know that this is just my path. When I hear things saying that if I were just more “sincere” I would have my answer, it used to bother me, to be honest. But now I just accept it as a necessary word that some people need to use, primarily for their own sake to preserve logical consistency, and not for my sake.

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  55. Paul on October 21, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    Mike S, I think you’re right about the cognitive dissonance issue, particularly for a person who is unsure about his own faith.

    As we’ve discussed, there are are a variety of ways to receive answers, and different folks have different gifts. So generally it is challenging to “read” someone else’s sincerity. But I think that a believer can explain different answers to prayers (without questioning someone’s sincerity) by also recognizing the diversity of spiritual gifts.

    I suppose it leads to another question — whether Moroni’s promise is extended to all at any time, or if that promise expresses a potential blessing, only to be meted out in the Lord’s time. As you might guess, I tend toward the latter.

    Jared, I don’t dispute that a duly authorized leader COULD receive revelation about someone’s sincerity if that were necessary for him to know. But I question whether that condition presents itself very often.

    Conversion is a personal process. Personal agency plays as large a role in that process as anything. I would submit that only in unique circumstances would the Lord need to reveal one person’s sincerity to another.

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  56. brjones on October 21, 2010 at 9:41 AM

    #54 – I think we also need to recognize that we’re not only talking about the many people who have sought a positive affirmation of the church/BoM, and have gotten nothing. There are also many who feel they have actually received an affirmative answer of something, and that answer was a confirmation of something other than the church. In fact, apart from those praying about the mormon church who have received an answer that led them in a different direction, obviously there are billions of people around the world who feel they have received affirmative, divine answers to prayer that led them in a direction other than the mormon church. I realize this debate has been done to death, but it seems a little presumptuous to assume that all those people are either deluded or misinterpreting their interactions with deity, while anyone receiving a confirmation of the lds faith is interpreting their feelings correctly.

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  57. Cowboy on October 21, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Continuing in the vein of “sincerity”, it’s not enough to talk about the amount, but also the content. I obviously know what the word means, but what is sincerity in the context of Moroni 10:4? Jesus appeals to an anology of a mustard seed, whereas Alma calls it a particle – and then transitions back into a seed metaphor. While I can accept as a matter of probabilities that some portion (perhaps a particle or mustard seed?) of those who in private moments get on their knees and pray for God to reveal himself, may not be “sincere”, for the overwhelming majority my cowboy aim say’s that act alone ought to exceed the shear weight/volume/density/mass of particles and mustard seeds. So if mass of those who don’t recieve the alleged witnesses fail to do so because they lack sufficient sincerity, then I’m at a loss. How does one get more sincerity and aptly apply it. To maintain the Austin Powers references (sharks with lazer beams), “Throw me a friggin bone”!

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  58. Paul on October 21, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Cowboy, you make an excellent point. In my experience, those who aren’t praying “sincerely” just aren’t praying. I remember a fellow on my mission who claimed he prayed and got no answer. But it seemed clear to me that he had not read, let alone prayed. I asked if he had received an answer then would he change? He said no. But short of such blatant lack of effort, it seems any effort to actually pray is a signal of one’s sincerity.

    I’m struck (similarly) that one who seeks a blessing to be healed is already demonstrating faith by asking for the blessing.

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  59. hawkgrrrl on October 21, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    IME, sometimes I’m more sincere than other times. Sometimes I just don’t really care that much. I don’t think it has to be an indictment of a person’s entire character either. Praying in sincerity isn’t the same thing as having integrity. I think we’ve all prayed both with sincerity and half-heartedly depending on circumstances and feelings at the time.

    I think we conclude what we do about spiritual matters based on discovery of our own inclinations and desires.

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  60. Will on October 21, 2010 at 11:03 AM


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  61. Thomas on October 21, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Sincerity is of course everything.

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  62. Jon Miranda on October 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Website owners:
    I don’t see that the posts are numbered. Up there someone refers to #45. How do you know which is #45 unless you count each one?

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  63. Andrew S on October 21, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Do you use Internet Explorer, by any chance..?

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  64. Jon Miranda on October 21, 2010 at 3:48 PM


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  65. Andrew S on October 21, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    Well, that explains why you can’t view comment numbers.

    Internet Explorer (especially older versions) view webpages improperly, so we have to manually figure out ways to design the site alternatively for people who still use IE.

    We haven’t yet gotten around to implementing comment numbers, but that’s in the pipeline.

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  66. Thomas on October 21, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    Shows what a dinosaur I am. Evidently using IE is old school?

    I still catch myself looking for the Netscape Navigator icon. :(

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  67. Andrew S on October 21, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Yeah, VERY old school. Microsoft is trying to catch up (with Internet Explorer 8 out currently and 9 coming out soon), but still, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are superior browsers.

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  68. josh on October 21, 2010 at 9:08 PM

    Nonsense! I left the church because I felt it was the right thing to do after praying about it.

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  69. Mike S on October 21, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    But is getting rid of IE and converting to Chrome “giving up”? :-)

    p.s. I bear my testimony that Google Chrome is true.

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  70. AdamF on October 22, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    Josh – Re: “Nonsense!” – What are you referring to? Internet Explorer really is a bad browser.

    Really though, help us out. Also, if you can, please explain the process of getting the answer that it wasn’t “true.” That would be a good thing to add to this post. How did the answer come? What happened? Thanks in advance.

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  71. Eric Davis on October 22, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    To me, personally, I find it disturbing when I read comments in which a person who left the church “quietly” or “without a fuss” was seen in a much more positive light than a person who became outspoken or openly critical of church teachings, practices or history.

    Take any good psychology course on the behavior of mind-control cults, and one of the first things you will learn is that a cult will do its best to silence its critics. No one is allowed to say anything negative about the cult, its leaders, or its doctrines and scripture.

    I am of the persuasion that it is of utmost importance that if anyone has a grievance against any other person or organization, than those grievances should be heard, so that others can decide for themselves what they think about that particular matter. For example (but not saying this is what happens within the church): If a female fan of a football team were to be raped by the starting quarterback, should she just go away quietly, so the rest of the fans can enjoy their team’s success? Likewise, if a member or former member of the church notices something they believe is a problem with the church, should they quietly ride off into the sunset, so as not to potentially damage the faith of others? If someone notices a problem, it should be raised, people should hear both sides of the story, and then make an informed decision based on the available evidence.

    If something is true, it will continue to remain true, regardless of any case brought against it. However if something is false, then it should be exposed as false, so that people can find a better direction. But I don’t like when people think that critics or nay-sayers should be silenced, or when people do their best to isolate themselves from discussion which they may disagree. That type of behavior, at best has a scent of cult mind-control, and at worst is thoroughly un-American.

    Where would the LDS church be today, if no one ever spoke out about their doubts or displeasure with religion? (hint: I seem to recall a story about a boy named Joseph, who voiced some concerns about some churches in his neighborhood.)

    Everyone, speak up. Let your voice be heard. Who knows, you may become the next great leader…

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