THE PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT
Mormons in different stages of belief often disagree on the following two questions:
- Is the church true or not?
- Does the church have an overall positive or overall negative effect?
This document will not address the first question, but it will address the second.
Whether or not the church is ultimately good or ultimately bad relates to the lived experiences of those who encounter it. When it comes to believers and nonbelievers, the two parties have different assumptions and often have very different lived experiences. Thus, the pros and cons of Mormonism are often seen very differently, and the two parties sometimes have difficulty seeing eye to eye. My goal is to provide perspectives that will allow all parties involved see how the church can both help and harm people. Since not all people will agree with the perspectives I provide here, I am also providing a website where other lived experiences can be shared.
For those that believe in Mormonism, the most important pro is often that the Church is true and is a mechanism for salvation. Because this particular pro is so important, many of the cons of the Church are often overlooked, minimized, or go unnoticed. Because the pro of salvation disappears when a Mormon stops believing in the Church, the nonbelieving Mormon in this situation frequently finds themselves needing to do a much more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of Mormonism than they have ever done before. They must decide if the church is a net-positive or net-negative in their life, if it’s worth staying even if they don’t believe, and whether or not it will still bring more joy and happiness than it will bring pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, untangling the pros and cons of Mormonism is a difficult thing to do. For Mormons who stop believing in Mormonism, there is a dramatic shift in their worldview and assumptions about life and God. This shift can happen very quickly, and it can replace a mindset previously held for years or even decades. When people think about issues in a certain way for an extended period of time, it can be nearly impossible to approach those same issues from new angles. Understanding how the principles, doctrines, programs, and communities of the Church affect someone who no longer believes in Mormonism can thus be very difficult. It can take a nonbeliever years to digest and deconstruct Mormonism from their new perspective. And, since Mormonism was previously the fiber of their perspective on life, many nonbelievers suddenly find they now have no perspective on life at all. If it takes the nonbeliever a long time to evaluate Mormonism and its impact on life from a non-believing perspective, it is no wonder that believing Mormons might have a hard time understanding a nonbeliever’s point of view.
Many believers are aware that living the gospel can be hard, but they can be completely unaware how someone would leave the church based on matters of conscious and morality. Additionally, when these issues are brought up, sometimes the believer can feel so invested in Mormonism that anything critical can feel like and be brushed off as a personal attack. Nonbelievers or outsiders might feel that some parts of Mormonism are condescending, offensive, or harmful. At the same time, believers can feel that it’s condescending and offensive that nonbelievers have this view. This can lead to an escalating cycle of bad emotions between believers and nonbelievers. I hope this document presents the views of both sides and takes the emotion out of the discussion. Even though it’s difficult, it is my opinion that these discussions need to be had if there is any chance that harm is being caused by Mormonism. These discussions also need to be had as a reminder of all the wonderful things Mormonism has to offer.
Belief and unbelief is not binary. Rather, it is a continuum with limitless nuance that I cannot capture here. A comparison of the pros and cons of Mormonism to the believer and nonbeliever is thus a comparison that ignores an unlimited amount of important perspectives. However, I think it is still helpful for a comparison to be made.
In my attempt to summarize the pros and cons of membership and participation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, two perspectives will be used. I sometimes go beyond these two perspectives and discuss many different avenues of belief, but as a whole the document sticks to the following two perspectives:
- The faithful, believing member
- The perspective of the believer that I explore is of a thoughtful Mormon who believes Mormonism is literally true, that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet, that the priesthood is God’s power and that it is only found within Mormonism, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word, etc. This faithful Mormon that I characterize here is very knowledgeable and considerate about the church. They are able to identify cons, and occasionally even have some doubts. Nonetheless, they continue to believe that salvation lies within obeying the commandments and gospel as outlined by the prophets of the church.
- The nonbeliever who no longer believes Mormonism’s truth claims
- The non-believing perspective that I explore is a member of the church who previously was a faithful believer, but who now does not believe in the church. They no longer believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. They do not believe that the Book of Mormon is inspired or historical. They may or may not believe in God. Mormonism was a big part of their life up until this point, and they still remember many of the great things that Mormonism brought into their life. However, they now see many things quite differently and are able to see ways in which the church does harm.
As I am the author of this document, I will admit that these two views are somewhat (but not completely)autobiographical. However, I am not arguing that one perspective is more enlightened or advanced than the other. Most people would probably agree that the church is not all bad, nor is it all good. Those with extreme views that the church is all bad or all good will probably get little benefit from this document and can stop reading now. I have done my best to describe what a reasonable believer and what a reasonable nonbeliever might think about how the policies, programs, culture, and doctrine of the church both help and hurt people. Of course, what one person finds reasonable can seem quite unreasonable to another person, and I hope nobody is offended if a perspective I paint seems unreasonable.
Again, the reader must not be offended if they are a believer and do not have the same perspective I discuss here, or if they are a nonbeliever and do not have the same perspective I discuss here. I do not want to put people in boxes. I try (and probably sometimes fail) to avoid generalizations. Not all believers and not all nonbelievers think alike. It should not be expected that any two people would agree in every regard about how a religion affects their life, and I would not expect any reader in the world to agree with every perspective I paint here. Every perspective makes sense to the person it comes from, and if we can actually understand where someone is coming from I believe we are more likely to love them and build bridges rather than tear them down. Truly, we are all trying in our own way to bring happiness into our lives.
It must be noted that there is some overlap in the pros and cons of Mormonism for Mormons who believe the church is true and for Mormons who believe it is not true. Many of the pros of the church apply to both perspectives, and many of the cons apply to both perspectives. To highlight similarities, I have made the text red for cons and green for pros that are shared between the different perspectives. Red and green text thus represent pros and cons that might be somewhat uniform, regardless of belief. However, the black text that surrounds red or green text represent the different reactions, beliefs, and nuance regarding these pros and cons that the believer and nonbeliever might have.
As a disclaimer, there might not be many original thoughts in this document. I’ve listened to an unhealthy amount of podcasts, spent too much time on Reddit, and read a good deal of literature and blogs. I have lived a lifetime in the church and seen firsthand how it blessed me and blessed others. I have also heard first and secondhand story after story about real people who have suffered because of the church. I have absorbed what I can and what makes sense to me and presented it here. I want to thank everybody for sharing their story with me, personally, or sharing their story or thoughts online.
To the nonbelievers in the church: In all of this I have learned a lot, and this document summarizes my desire to capture everything I have learned from Mormonism before I move on from it. I have spent over a year working on this document. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours digesting Mormonism in my post-faith world, and I wish to move on to a healthy place beyond Mormonism. I also hope that others who no longer believe in Mormonism can get to a healthy place. Whether that is a return to belief, happiness in the church as a new order Mormon, or leaving behind Mormonism, I can’t say what the best option is for you. I do know, however, that loss of belief is painful, and I hope that the countless hours of processing I have done are recorded in a way that helps you get to a happier place faster than I did. This is my capstone project of Mormonism. I have yet to see something that so broadly and thoroughly summarizes the impact of the church in our lives, and I hope these perspectives are of use to you. Lastly, remember that just as you are doing what works for you, believers are doing what works for them. Believers not only find salvation in the church, but also a host of other strong pros. We are all self-interested!
To the believers of the church: I hope you are not threatened by this document. I hope you do not feel attacked. I hope this document portrays how the church helps people and can be a wonderful thing. I hope it shows how even nonbelievers can find many powerful pros to membership and activity in the church. Please know that many people who leave the church only do it painfully. They miss many of the comforting doctrines and the wonderful community that they used to enjoy. For many people, disbelief is not a choice; they can no longer choose to believe. And, when belief is lost, some of the pros fade away and some of the cons grow larger. Please don’t be offended when I discuss how the church can harm people. If you can admit that the church is not perfect, take any criticism about the church you read here as an opportunity to make the church better. If it’s possible that the church you love is harming people in some ways, please do not turn your back and ignore the possibility. I have done my best to be sensitive, but I suspect I have probably failed. Please know that this failure was not intentional.