Personal Faith Crisis Report Sections:
Section Table of Contents
- THE TRUE BELIEVER
- THE CATALYST STAGE
- A Teaching Calling or Assignment To Speak In Church
- Traditional Media
- Close Friend or Family Member in Faith Crisis
- Non-Correlated Church Books
- New Media
- Social Media
- Re-examination of Truth Claims via Social Issues
- Re-examination of Truth Claims via Life Tragedy
- Less Likely Catalysts
- Dichotomous Statements Can Magnify Dissonance
- TRAUMATIZED BELIEVER
- LESS-LITERAL BELIEVER
- SECULAR PARTICIPANT
- TRAUMATIZED DISBELIEVER
- EX- / POST-MORMON
Faith Crisis is a deeply personal experience that varies from member to member, although there are many similarities that define the experience. The Faith Crisis Stages provide a framework to better understand and articulate the Faith Crisis experience.
THE TRUE BELIEVER
The faith of a True Believer is “beautifully simple and simply beautiful.”
For these True Believer members:
- God lives, and He loves us.
- The scriptures are His word.
- Church leaders (General Authorities) speak for God.
- The LDS Church is the one and only true church on Earth.
THE CATALYST STAGE
A Faith Crisis Catalyst is an event that can initiate and precipitate a loss of faith for a True Believer. Dozens of Faith Crisis catalysts exist. Common catalysts include:
A Teaching Calling or Assignment To Speak In Church
While attempting to fulfill a Sunday School or Seminary calling—or researching Sacrament Meeting talks—members turn to Google to research their topic. This often inadvertently exposes members to historical and doctrinal information that deviates from the standard LDS narrative taught in our curriculum.
Traditional media such as CNN, PBS, Newsweek, and other news outlets have reported on controversial aspects of our history that often surprise and confuse lifelong, educated members of the Church. Entertainment media have also focused on our doctrine and history. For example, Comedy Central’s South Park aired an “All About Mormons” episode
in which they describe the translation method of the Book of Mormon (along with other historical oddities). While many members who watched the episode rejected it as outright fabrication, many members were disheartened to later learn that much of what was depicted by South Park was more historically accurate than what is taught in our curriculum.
Close Friend or Family Member in Faith Crisis
Many members who have passed through a Faith Crisis may choose to share their faith concerns with close friends and family, which introduces difficult topics to others.
Non-Correlated Church Books
Scholarly Church books—written by faithful LDS authors—have inadvertently acted as a catalyst to learning about Church history that does not align with our traditional narrative.
Being exposed to troubling historical information via New Media (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) can act as a catalyst for Faith Crisis.
Social Media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and blogs actively facilitate the presentation of and discussion of Faith Crisis related topics.
Re-examination of Truth Claims via Social Issues
Members who struggle with the Church’s stances on some social issues (e.g., women’s roles, homosexuality, LDS cultural idiosyncrasies, political conservatism) often use the social issue as a catalyst to re-examine their faith. This “social issue” catalyst is especially powerful with our under 35 members who often feel at odds with the Church’s approach to issues.
Re-examination of Truth Claims via Life Tragedy
Some members who experience personal tragedy (e.g., family-member death, disability, divorce, etc.) use the tragedy as a catalyst to reevaluate the Church’s truth claims.
Less Likely Catalysts
While undoubtedly some members use a desire to sin as an excuse
to “find a way out” of the Church, neither “sin” nor “being offended” appears to be significant catalysts for these surveyed members.
Unintentional (and intentional) access to troubling information is one or two clicks away from a simple Google search:
Some members unintentionally stumble upon Faith Crisis catalysts via social media (three examples are shown above).
- A disaffected member uploaded a YouTube video that purports to be the Primary song, A Child’s Prayer. A few seconds after an active member begins viewing the video, the content abruptly switches to showcase anti-Mormon messaging and links to an antagonistic website.
- A team of disaffected members created the website FutureMissionary. com, which purports to be a resource with preparatory information for future missionaries. The site, however, presents troubling historical information aimed at “telling the truth” and eroding faith.
- As members view the faith-promoting video, “Thoughts on Girls — What Some LDS Young Men Think,” members are presented with links to highly critical “related videos” that are designed to erode faith.
Traditional media often highlight the very best aspects of Mormonism, but it also presents information to our membership that conflicts with our correlated narrative. The media also advances websites and organized groups that are antagonistic towards the Church. Examples of this include:
“By the end of his life, he had accrued some 30 wives, massive debt and hundreds of enemies. ‘I never told you I was perfect,’ he told his followers.”Soukup, Elise. “The Mormon Odyssey.” Newsweek Oct. 16 2005.
“David Twede, a fifth-generation Mormon who lives in Florida, is the managing editor of MormonThink, one of the most influential of the many Web sites on which active and former Mormons debate church teaching. Such sites have drawn increased traffic as Mormons turn to the Internet to find answers to controversial questions about Mormon history and traditions that the church does not address.”Goodstein, Laurie. “Editor of Web Site May Face Mormon Excommunication.” The New York Times, Sep. 21, 2012.
Dichotomous Statements Can Magnify Dissonance
During the Catalyst stage, many struggling members begin experiencing cognitive dissonance—or feelings of discomfort—when presented with data that contradicts their previous beliefs. This dissonance can often be magnified by well-meaning leaders who—in an effort to bolster faith—present dichotomous messages that leave little room for nuance, error, or leader fallibility. Examples of these dichotomous statements include:
“It’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true.”Gordon B. Hinckley, Interview “The Mormons”; PBS, April 2007
· “Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed, and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1954, vol. 1, p. 188
After exposure to a Faith Crisis catalyst, many members enter the Traumatized Believer stage, which results in exposure to many troubling facts and non-traditional points of view. This is a temporary stage that is quickly followed by either the Traumatized Disbeliever or Less-literal Believer stages.
The Traumatized Believer can be described in these terms:
Awareness of Difficult Church History
- Multiple, varying First Vision accounts
- Joseph’s use of folk magic and treasure digging
- Book of Mormon translation (stone/hat)
- Masonry and endowment connection
- Joseph’s credibility as a translator
- Joseph’s polygamy/polyandry
- Kinderhook Plates
- Denial of priesthood to blacks/racism
- Perceived modified role of women’s rights
- Mountain Meadows
- Blood atonement
- Lying for the Lord
- Adam/God teachings
- Priesthood restoration credibility issues
- Post-manifesto polygamy
- Lack of historical candor
Awareness of Challenging Scientific Issues
- Book of Mormon anachronisms (e.g., horses, steel, chariots, Book of Isaiah, King James errors, etc.)
- Native Americans having Asiatic DNA
- Book of Abraham text not matching the papyrus
- Age of the earth (6,000 years old? No death on earth before the Fall?)
- Implausible scriptural accounts (e.g., Noah’s Ark, Jonah in Whale, Tower of Babel, etc.)
- Dark skin as a curse
- Past statements on evolution
Re-examination of Theology and Doctrine
- Apparent God-sanctioned genocide, sexism, racism
- One true church with exclusive authority
- Taking all scripture literally
Re-examination of Cultural Issues
- Feminist awareness and sympathies
- Historical racial inequalities
- Past and present stance on homosexuality
- Political and social conservatism
- Culture of perfectionism
Confronting Spiritual Issues
- Having had a spiritual witness but not being able to reconcile it with new learnings
- Never receiving a spiritual witness (after many sincere attempts)
- Feeling bored, unfulfilled, or spiritually unedified in Church activity
- Feeling burnt-out / not good enough
- Feeling spiritually led elsewhere
Re-examination of Institutional Issues
- Culture of unquestioning obedience
- Culture of patriarchy
- Closed finances
- Questionable spending priorities (e.g., City Creek.)
Members who pass through the Traumatized Believer stage tend to never return to the True Believer stage.
Cognitive Dissonance Creates a Drive for More Information
Once exposed to disturbing historical information, many Traumatized Believers experience high levels of anxiety based on viewing information that contradicts their existing beliefs. This cognitive dissonance leads many to search for additional information to alleviate the conflicting beliefs.
At the onset of a Faith Crisis, many members search LDS.org for answers to their concerns. However, many troubling historical issues are not addressed substantively on the Church’s websites or in its curricula. Many struggling members are then directed to traditional apologetics such as FAIR and The Maxwell Institute. Unfortunately, these traditional apologetics often do not provide a satisfactory counter of issues that lead to Faith Crisis.
Without access to Church-provided answers and analysis, members turn to uncorrelated or untrustworthy Internet sources. Some of these sources are sympathetic to Church membership. Many are unsympathetic and critical.
Thousands pass through the Traumatized Believer stage each year.
- Following the Traumatized Believer stage, many believe the gospel is still mostly true, but the Church and its leaders have made mistakes.
- Members build (or rebuild) a “shelf” for unresolvable doubts and concerns.
- Many become“Buffet” Mormons by cleaving to doctrinal and cultural elements that spiritually work for them and ignoring those doctrinal and cultural elements that spiritually do not work for them.
- For many, belief becomes more metaphorical and less literal.
- Many remain active and participating members as they believe “this is where God wants me.”
- While still remaining active, many members, unfortunately, experience a decrease in their level of Church commitment. (ceasing to pay tithing, decreased temple attendance, etc.).
- They are often unable to confide in anyone, which can result in desperate loneliness and increased anxiety.
- Many of these Less-literal Believers experience a difficultly feeling authentic in Church; and for many, this emotional distress and cognitive dissonance can result in the member transitioning to a less-believing Faith Crisis stage and disengage completely from the Church.
- Members in the Secular Participant phase are often not able to believe the defining Church claims and doctrines.
- They enjoy the Church.
- “It works for me.”
- “I can’t find anything better.”
- Members in the Secular Participant stage must often remain silent about their disbelief or risk negative social consequences.
- This inability to express their concerns often causes members to feel inauthentic at Church.
- For some members in this stage, continued participation can lead to a building of internal pressure, which can cause them to discontinue all Church activity.
Following the Traumatized Believer stage, members will migrate to either the Less-literal Believer stage or to the Traumatized Disbeliever stage. This is a temporary stage with most members quickly transitioning to the Ex/Post-Mormon phase. The Traumatized Disbeliever can be described in these terms:
Evaporation of Belief
- For many, the loss-of-trust in the Church can translate into a loss-of-faith in God, Jesus Christ, and all religious beliefs.
- Traumatized Disbelievers often hit “rock bottom.”
- This stage can be very disturbing and unsettling for the struggling member. Many have labeled this Faith Crisis stage the “dark night of the soul.”
- Vanishing of existential foundation (loss of purpose)
- Questioning life after death
- Loss of identity and values
- Fear of losing family, friends, social network, and job
- Often unable to confide in anyone (can result in desperate loneliness) · Anxiety, depression, and at times, suicidal thoughts
EX- / POST-MORMON
The Ex-/Post-Mormon can be described in these terms:
- For many, leaving the Church results in loss of family, friends, and job.
- Many feel alone and isolated from family members and friends who choose not to engage the disaffected member or attempt to resolve their concerns (this increases feelings of turmoil).
- Turmoil and animosity increase when some Ex- / Post-Mormons feel unjustly blamed for feeling victimized (e.g., active members imply they have insufficient study habits, were offended, want to sin, or sinned, etc.).
- In early stages, many engage in behaviors reactive to LDS restrictions (coffee, alcohol, chastity, etc.)
- Many spend months or years analyzing their disaffection and attempting to“tell the truth” to believing friends and family before completely disengaging from the topic of Mormonism. The longer and more devoted a person to the Church, typically the more prolonged the transition from engaged Ex Mormon to completely disengaged Ex Mormon.
- Transitioning to the Ex Mormon stage requires the creation of:
- New identity
- New moral framework
- New social community
- Coping mechanisms for death and suffering
- Many feel life is better once they’ve left the Church.
- A minority of Ex Mormons remove their name from Church records; but many do not as they do not wish to unnecessarily offend believing family or “give legitimacy” to the Church institution.
Read the next section of this report on The Perpetual Cycle of Disaffection. The other sections of the Faith Crisis Report are broken into the following pages: