Why People Who Leave the Church Can’t Leave It Alone

If you engage in any sort of discussions online regarding the Latter-day Saint religion, you are sure to come upon those who some call “anti-Mormons.” Invariably there will be back and forth debate and someone will ask those critical of our faith, “Why can’t you just leave Mormonism alone?”

It’s something that I have wondered as well. Why do some who leave the faith have to fight against it so vehemently when they leave?

There is certainly a myriad of reasons why people leave the Church. I’ve talked to many. Many of those reasons involve traumatic experiences and intense pain.

At the height of the same-sex marriage debate with California’s Proposition 8, the secretary in my Elder’s Quorum Presidency whom I served with left the church. I recalling leaving quorum meeting one Sunday to be with him in his home and talk through his concerns.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many who have varying levels of concerns with church doctrines, practices, or culture.

I encourage each of you to do the same. Seek understanding. Listen to people’s stories, and try to learn from them.

All who leave the church have their reasons, and because they have their reasons they feel that the Church isn’t true.

However, I don’t agree with that premise. Just because you don’t like something and it is painful for you, that doesn’t make it not true.

I know of people who have issues with the following and have left the Church:

  • LGBTQ issues
  • Plural Marriage
  • Abuse with leadership
  • False information online

At the same time, I know people who have concerns about all-of-the-above and still remain active in the Church. So, what is the difference between those two camps?

I would argue that it is because of the influence of Satan. He uses the pain, confusion, frustration that people feel and creates a mist of darkness that leads them off of the correct path. Admittedly, these aren’t soothing words, and they don’t sit well in our politically-correct world where people are made an offender for a word.

At the same time, I must say this does NOT mean that someone who leaves is evil, a follower of Satan, or should be shunned. Just because people are tempted and influenced by Satan doesn’t change who they innately are – a child of God with divine potential.

Let’s remember, we are all influenced by Satan every day.

It wasn’t until I read the following account from Joseph Smith that clarity came and I understood exactly why so many of our faith leave, but can never truly leave. I’m referring to those who actively fight against the Church of God and seek to tear it down when they leave.

In Truman G. Madsen’s Joseph Smith Lectures, he recounted the following discussion between Joseph and a fellow saint.

A revealing conversation once occurred between Joseph Smith and a brother named Isaac Behunnin. He had seen men involved in the quorums and in the high spiritual experiences of the kingdom who had subsequently become disaffected, and it was a mystery to him why they had then devoted their zeal and energy to attacking the Church.

He said to the Prophet: “If I should leave this Church I would not do as those men have done. I would go to some remote place where Mormonism had never been heard of, settle down, and no one would ever learn that I knew anything about it.”

The Prophet immediately responded: “Brother Behunnin, you don’t know what you would do. No doubt these men once thought as you do. Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.” Happily, Brother Behunnin was faithful to his death.11

joseph smith and hyrum smith statute

What Joseph said there became a genuine description of case after case. To name a few: William McClellin, John C. Bennett, William Law, and to some degree Thomas B. Marsh.

Up until the Nauvoo era every one of the Prophet’s own counselors, with the sole exception of his brother Hyrum, either betrayed him, went astray, faltered, or failed in some way. Some, glorious to report, found their way back.

When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it.

Orson Hyde, not a member of the First Presidency but one of the Twelve, under oath endorsed terrible things said against the Church and the Prophet, of which he later repented.

But many remained bitter in their opposition to the end. “If it were not for a Brutus,” Joseph said in 1844, “I might live as long as Caesar would have lived.”12 There was more than one! So, much enmity came from within and Joseph struggled as the revelation warned him he would: “If thou art in perils among false brethren. . . .”13 

The examples above are just a few, but as was mentioned, there were many. Similarly today, those who have left the neutral ground do so by covenant to follow God. Should they be lead away, it is by the instigation of the evil one.

The next time you happen to be in a debate or discussion with someone who just can’t seem to leave to church alone, with the additional understanding you now have, please extend to them the grace that they deserve.

They have their reasons. At the same time, those who remain active in the Church also have concerns. Let us be more understanding of each other and seek to point them to Christ. 

We are all children of God, and He commandeth none to go away, but to come unto Him. Let us extend the same invitation.

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