Why did you leave? Tell your story or they will

Come tell your own story. Why did you leave the boat? Don’t let other people or the church tell it for you. They already preach a narrative about you and why you left (and it’s not flattering). By far, the narrative they tell is not the truth. The church has a long history of telling false stories about those who leave the church in an attempt to discredit ex-Mormons and then claiming that they can leave the church, but can’t leave it alone.

Image from the demeaning parable from the Renlunds about the rescued boy who complains about the chipped paint and stale crackers before demanding to be let off to fend for himself.
Image from the demeaning parable from the Renlunds about the rescued boy who complains about the chipped paint and stale crackers before demanding to be let off to fend for himself.

This is the story that is told currently, by an apostle of the church about those who choose to leave. He and his wife ridicule those who struggle and leave and compare their struggles to complaining about stale crackers.

Sister Ruth L. Renlund: We feel prompted to discuss a topic that has been on our minds for many months: faith and doubt. Last year, in June, we shared a parable in the annual training broadcast for instructors in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. As we begin today, we want to share this same parable with you.

Elder Dale G. Renlund: Imagine having capsized in a boat while sailing in the ocean. You’re wearing a life preserver and have been swimming for hours toward what you believe is the nearest shore, but you can’t be sure. You’ve become extremely dehydrated, so that every time you start swimming, you become light-headed and fatigued. By your best estimates the shore is 30 kilometers, or 18 miles, away. You fear for your life because you can’t swim that far. In the distance you hear a small engine. The sound seems to be coming toward you; your hope of rescue soars. As you look, you see a small fishing boat approaching.

Sister Ruth L. Renlund: “Oh, thank heavens,” you think, “the captain sees me!” The boat stops and a kindly, weather-beaten fisherman helps you on board. Gratefully you crawl to a seat in the boat, breathing a sigh of relief. The fisherman gives you a canteen of water and some soda crackers. You consume them greedily. The water and soda crackers provide enough nourishment for you to recover. You are so relieved and so happy. You are on your way home.

As you begin to revive and start feeling better, you start paying attention to some things you hadn’t really noticed before. The water from the canteen is a bit stale and not what you would have preferred, like Evian or Perrier. The crackers tasted good, but what you really wanted was some delicatessen meat followed by a chocolate croissant. You also notice that the kindly fisherman wears worn boots and blue jeans. The sweatband on his hat is stained, and he seems to be hard of hearing.

Elder Dale G. Renlund: You note that the boat is well-used and that there are dents in the right side of the bow. Some of the paint is chipped and peeling. You see that when the fisherman relaxes his grip on the rudder, the boat pulls to the right. You begin to worry that this boat and this captain cannot provide the rescue you need. You ask the fisherman about the dents and the rudder. He says he hasn’t worried much about those things because he has steered the boat to and from the fishing grounds, over the same route, day in and day out, for decades. The boat has always gotten him safely and reliably where he wanted to go.

You are stunned! How could he not worry about the dents and the steering? And why could the nourishment have not been more to your liking? The more you focus on the boat and the fisherman, the more concerned you become. You question your decision to get on board in the first place. Your anxiety begins to grow. Finally, you demand that the fisherman stop the boat and let you back into the water. Even though you are still more than 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, away from shore, you can’t stand the idea of being in the boat. With sadness, the fisherman stops the boat and helps you back into the ocean. You are on your own again.

Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Consider this story as a parable in which the boat represents the Church and the fisherman represents those who serve in the Church. The sole purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in Their work to bring to pass the eternal life of God’s children. It provides the covenant path, the way to return to our Heavenly Father. Those who serve in the Church, though not perfect, are essential to help and encourage us along the covenant path.

What do the boat and the fisherman teach us about the Church? Do dents and peeling paint on the Church change its ability to provide the authorized saving and exalting ordinances to help us become like our Father in Heaven? If the fisherman must hold on to the rudder with both hands to keep the boat on course, does that negate his and the boat’s ability to get us safely and reliably where we want to go? You do not have to be an ordained seer, like my husband, to know that slipping back into the water instead of staying in the boat is risky. Yet when we lose sight of the big picture, the small dents and peeling paint can loom large in our minds.

Every member needs his or her own witness of the truthfulness of the restored Church. Without a true conversion, including a mighty change of heart, you may begin to focus on the metaphorical soda crackers and chipped paint.

Sister Ruth L. Renlund: Returning to our parable, those who choose to stay on the well-used, dented boat with the chipped paint are those who recognize that the boat saved them from drowning and can get them safely to shore. In other words, they get on the covenant path and stay on the covenant path. Then, as they endure to the end, the promise of eternal life is extended. This is the greatest gift that God can give. It is through this process that we come to know Jesus Christ, to know of His living reality, and to know of His love and compassion.

Elder Dale G. Renlund: What we consider dents and peeling paint on the well-used boat may turn out to be divinely sanctioned and divinely directed from an eternal perspective. The Lord has either had a hand in the dents and the peeling paint or He uses them for His own purposes.

“Doubt Not, but Be Believing”
Elder Dale G Renlund, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife Sister Ruth L Renlund
Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults • January 13, 2019 • Brigham Young University–Hawaii

But I imagine that someone who is “in the boat” will agree with him and not even notice the harmful rhetoric, while I come off as an angry person who “can’t leave the church alone” for pointing out that the message/tone is not welcoming. What do you think about his talk?

These feelings are not new. There are official church manual lessons about those who left throughout church history stories. Stories about leaving because a neighbor was scraping the cream off the top of shared milk, or because a mission call included a misspelled name. The real reason these people left was more because they could see through the bull. They were made aware of deeply disturbing issues like polygamy. They finally took stock of their personal shelf items and realized there was no honest way to reconcile the questions and concerns.

Contribute your story and together we’ll create an honest collection of stories large enough it can’t be ignored or dismissed. The disaffected can leave the church alone, but we can also write our exit testimony to speak up continually online for others to find and learn from.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply