LDS Discussions Blog
Looking at the 2013 Report: "LDS Personal Faith Crisis" (Oct 30, 2018)
In 2013, a team of scholars and experts within the church (we do not know exactly who was in the group) conducted a survey for the church of over 3,000 members to understand what caused their faith crisis, where they are today, and what they felt about the church upon learning the facts that were not taught to them as members. The report was then presented to Dieter F. Uchtdorf and given to the Q15. We do not know exactly what actions or discussions happened before or after the survey was executed, and we want to note upfront that this is not a directly commissioned report at least in an 'official' manner.
It's a 67 page PDF document and we will link to it at the end, but we wanted to highlight some points here because it's one of the most important and telling church documents you'll see and having gone through a faith crisis myself hits home in ways I didn't expect.
In fact, I want to state up front how difficult it was to read this as someone who has left the church but has family who are in the church, and how painful it is to see the mechanics of this report along with reading so many respondents going through similar situations. I hope anyone reading this post that is a believing member can have an open mind as you read this post, because to me this is one of the most eye-opening things I've read since I began researching the church and I am having a really hard time processing this information. But I will do my best to highlight some points here and provide links where more information can be found.
First, the report highlights the objectives of the report which is to better address the idea of a faith crisis in order to stem what this report notes that "not since Kirtland have we seen such an exodus of the church's best and brightest leaders." (Givens) They define what a faith crisis is and discuss what is leading to such increased number of members leaving:
1) Unprecedented Access To Uncorrelated Information
2) Continual Access to Uncorrelated Information
3) Unprecedented Content Creation and Consumption
4) The Mormon Moment
The first point here focuses on the information age, specifically Google. From the report: "Through the Internet, our members now have access to uncorrelated Church historical data, details, and doctrine that vary—and sometimes conflict—with our traditional LDS narrative. The Internet presents this “uncorrelated” information from vastly different perspectives (from apologetic to highly critical)."
This has been one of the hardest things for me. I spent a decade not looking at information even though I knew there were problems with the church, and once I began searching the information is endless. And some of it is correct, some of it is incorrect, and some of it we can never know for sure. But the problem here is that this group of scholars for the church is admitting upfront that the church historical data, scriptures, and doctrine is very different from what the "correlated" narrative that is taught to members has always been. This needs to be stated upfront because this report was done just before the Gospel Topics essays and the Saints book began (it took six years to finish due to lengthy approval processes as stated in the Face-to-Face with Quentin Cook). But the takeaway here is that the scholars of the church are acknowledging that the narrative taught by the church does not match the historical data, which is something that is never admitted in public. In fact, the issues that the church highlights in this report are often called "anti-Mormon" lies, but we are learning here that even the church knows that these problems are real.
The report further discusses how social media can spread the information quickly, and that when a member leaves the church is often has a ripple effect as family members see the information that might be posted on Facebook, Youtube, etc. The last mention is the "Mormon Moment," which highlights the spotlight being on the church due to Romney's presidential run, the Book of Mormon musical, and shows like Big Love.
The conclusion of the overview is: "As outlined in the following pages, unprecedented access to information through Google and similar search engines, continual access to information via mobile technology, and the unprecedented ability to create and consume social content—combined with The Mormon Moment’s media attention of uncorrelated topics—has proven traumatic—and in some cases devastating—for a segment of our active membership."
The report then discusses the findings of the survey, of which over 3,000 members were surveyed who no longer believe. A few interesting points here:
70% of those who have a faith crisis are married, while just 30% are not
Just 27% have a faith crisis before they hit 30, with 39% experiencing it during their 30s
91% of the survey respondents are from America, with 60% being outside of Utah
43% of faith crisis respondents earn $80,000 or more per year (higher than average, as noted in the report)
Majority of those who leave the church were lifelong members
Furthermore, those who leave the church often held high callings - both men and women.
73% of men who left served missions
52% were in the EQ presidency and/or High Priest leader
42% were in the YW presidency
38% were in the YM presidency
35% were in the Relief Society presidency
31% were in the primary presidency
20% were in the Bishopric
The bottom line is that those who leave are not recent converts or those who never participated -- they are people who have served in high levels leaving because they took the "deep dive" into church historical, scriptural, and doctrinal issues.
The report then discusses the reasons why people are leaving the church.
This chart might be a little difficult to read, and they did not give the #s for each one, but you can see that the top reasons for leaving were ceasing to believe the doctrine/theology, studying church history and losing belief, losing faith in Joseph Smith, and losing faith in the Book of Mormon.
The bottom reasons are being offended by someone or wanting to sin (alcohol, have an affair).
I am pointing this out because we have seen so many church talks over the years where those who leave are vilified as people wanting to go out and sin - this survey proves the exact opposite.
And this next part begins the real meat of this report: the primary factors of historical issues.
Again, this chart might be difficult to read, but the top reasons people leave are the Book of Abraham and Polygamy/Polyandry. Close behind are blacks and the priesthood, DNA and the Book of Mormon, Masonic ties to the temple ceremony, and the multiple First Vision Accounts. There are other issues which we have discussed on our website such as anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, church positions on science, changes to the temple ceremony, blood atonement, Adam-God theory, and more. You can read about most of those issues on our Summary of Church Issues page if you're interested.
As a member I was not taught about any of these, and once you find out away from the church it led me to wonder why they were hiding it from me. Apologists argue the information was always there (which this survey proves to be true as these members found this out before the popularity of such documents as the CES Letter), but you were told not to look outside of church sources. I was even told that by family, and even when I had horrible doubts about polygamy and the treatment of blacks, I never looked outside of church sources for a decade.
In this survey we also see the following findings:
For those who disclose their Faith Crisis doubts, many report feelings of “social excommunication” from LDS family and friends.
Over fifty percent of active members in Faith Crisis report moderate to severe cost to relationships and their individual emotional health.
In general, the believing spouse of a member experiencing a Faith Crisis tends to be aware of his or her struggling spouse’s Faith Crisis. Church leaders and friends tend to be less aware.
Young members are least likely to disclose their Faith Crisis to Church leaders: only 2 of 203 teen respondents (less than 1 percent) state their Church leaders know “most everything.”
As someone who is going through a faith crisis now, I can absolutely vouch for this. While I have been happier since leaving the church years ago over polygamy/treatment of blacks until 1978, I have struggled a lot since finding out this information just recently. And the struggle is partly because I feel so deeply betrayed by the church who knew about these problems and refused to tell me, but also largely because family members I love have no interest in taking the journey with me to research the topics in detail with me.
It hurts so much to know that the church's hold is so strong that many would rather dismiss your findings than to sit down and go over these issues in-depth. We all personally know of stories where a member leaves and every person in their family tells them they don't want to know why they left, followed by years of hurt because they feel shunned by the family that doesn't even try to understand the issues.
It has been heartbreaking to experience it myself, because if the church is true, going over these topics in detail with each other should not cause any problems. If they are true, then you'll leave with a stronger testimony having gone through the journey, and if it's not true, then you deserve to know the truth as those of us who have left feel we've found. But as we see here, it causes great stress in families because, just like I did a decade ago, when you're told not to look at outside sources, you don't listen or read anything that doesn't promote faith in the church.
Next up, the report highlights the key findings:
The significant majority of survey respondents represent long-term members who were (until recently) actively engaged and holding leadership and other callings.
Members in faith crisis tend to be married, more educated than average, and earn higher-than-average incomes.
A little less than half of these disbelievers remain active in the Church, while over half no longer attend.
The majority of those who left did so in the past seven years.
Among historical issues, the Book of Abraham and Polygamy/Polyandry are the most significant factors leading to loss-of-belief.
Although some factors rate higher than others, respondents indicate the exposure to several factors (historical + social issues) collectively led to their disbelief.
Spouses tend to be aware of the Faith Crisis issue. Church leaders and friends tend to be less aware.
Members in Faith Crisis who attend Church regularly tend to suffer the most mental and spiritual anguish as a result of their discovering these issues.
For many, Faith Crisis extracts an extremely high cost in spousal and familial relationships.
A strong sense of betrayal often accompanies a member’s loss-of-faith
The report then discusses the progress of a faith crisis, with multiple scenarios all starting from being exposed to information that contradicts the 'correlated narrative' we were all taught about the church. It discusses the catalysts, and how some become less literal believes, traumatized non-believers, etc. It discusses how 'new media,' 'social media,' and 'traditional media' can all impact our knowledge of the church and we react in different ways. This is getting long already, but I want to highlight just how much the church knows about the problems with its truth claims that they do not tell us:
"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
First, I want to note that cognitive dissonance is a real thing that causes us to shut down when presented with information that contradicts important beliefs. You can see this not just in religion, but in politics, science, and even just traditions like Santa Clause. If you hear a kid tell another kid that Santa isn't real, they will scream back they he's real and usually shout down or ignore the other person. Obviously this is so much more important than Santa Clause, but the concept is still the same, and why the process of finding out about the church is so difficult because your body is working so hard to keep you from really digging deep into the issues here.
Second, those quotes above are not uncommon. This is the "one true church" that is either true or it's not. That was a theme they created, not the members. The fact that is now is used against them because so many believe the information disproves elements of the church is not the fault of anyone but the leaders who made those comments while knowing the information that was being kept from members in "correlated" materials.
The discussion of members entering the "traumatized believer" stage is interesting, because it shows how once you start to learn of the issues, even if you keep believing they are hard to ignore forever. The cognitive dissonance can only work so long, and at some point most will want to dig deeper to make sure they are giving their time, money, and loyalty to a church that can withstand scrutiny of their claims to being the one true church.
As the report tells us: "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."
The entire reason for our website is to discuss why apologetics do not work to solve the toughest issues like the Book of Abraham, Polygamy/Polyandry, DNA and the Book of Mormon, or the Translation of the Book of Mormon. Even with some of the more antagonistic apologetic websites like Conflict of Justice, the answers just do not work. On a surface level the explanations make sense, but when you're ready to dig deeper you see why the apologetics are just implausible and in some cases unquestionably wrong and/or impossible.
Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful force, and it is sometimes used to tell you that the discomfort you feel in researching further is actually Satan trying to lead you away. But even the church here acknowledges that it is not Satan, but your mind trying as hard as it can to keep information away that might disrupt a long held belief. It's why we discuss so often how difficult this information is to read, but that however you come out of this journey, you will be stronger for taking it.
I also just want to quickly note that this report paints the member's "Drive for More Information" as a bad thing, when a church that has truth on its side would never frame it as such.
They discuss in the other stages how some members stay for social reasons, because they like the community or family pressures keep them in. There are a lot of 'nuanced' believers that fall to this category at some point on the way out, as a last means of hanging on to the tradition they grew up with.
The report then discusses the "Post-Mormon" stage, where members leave and struggle with family and friends who no longer view them the same, with many even shunning them altogether. Among the bullet points:
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).
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.
Many feel life is better once they’ve left the Church.
These bullets are all important, and I want to quickly discuss them. It is important that when you leave, you want those you love to know the truth you have found. It is soul crushing when that doesn't happen, and it is a reason that so many "leave the church but can't leave the church alone." Just imagine that you discovered someone was lying to someone you love and that when you try to get them to sit down and go over it with you they just don't want to even discuss it. It's painful on so many levels, and unfortunately it's impossible to get through that impasse for both sides. I know I've handled that poorly in my life, because I feel so betrayed that I just want everyone to know the information that is out there. I hope someday that gets better in my life, because it's more painful than the realization about the church was.
I want to note that "coffee, alcohol, and chastity" do not belong in the same sentence here. Coffee has been proven to be healthy in many studies, and certainly healthier than Coke which is now proudly served at BYU as the church has effectively walked back the ban on caffeine in soda, hot cocoa, and chocolate. Chastity is a much bigger issue and I would argue that many, many less respondents mentioned that as something they did after leaving the church that trying coffee or alcohol. Lumping all three together is irresponsible, although I will give the benefit of the doubt since this was an internal report.
Last, I think the church scholars admitting in this report that many who leave "feel like is better once they've left the church" is the most important point. They constantly tell members to stay in the boat because it's rocky and awful outside of it, yet their own study shows that people have happier, better lives once they leave it behind. What does that tell you?
This quote is used to discuss the "perpetual cycle disaffection" that members go through as they lose faith in the church. They discuss how members become aware of problematic issues with the church, do the deep dive into history (beyond the surface), and then discover the church is not true. This quote they use about the Book of Abraham is a perfect example:
This is the crux of the problem: The church knows that members who look outside of church sources are going to discover how much they were not told. Once this becomes truly realized, the "supernatural" part of the church crumbles along with it. A spiritual witness only goes as far as the belief the church is true, and once historical issues are discovered in-depth, that witness becomes much different.
All of the quotes in this report are equally damning:
"My loss of belief has as much to do with how the church dealt with or is dealing with these issues as much as it is the issues themselves. Also, there is no 'primary' factor for my loss of belief, my testimony suffered a death by a thousand cuts."
"The problem is we have NO WHERE to go for official answers. You do a search on LDS.org for polygamy and get a talk from Elder Ballard about why people should stop asking us about it."
"Do you expect me to believe that my four sisters and I could go to church from primary through seminary and BYU and not know how our own Book of Mormon was produced? Please stop with the apologetics as well. FAIR and the Maxwell Institute contributed to my leaving the church. Sincere believing members want to hear [about troubling issues] from the leaders they set apart as prophets, seers, and revelators."
"I learned the dishonest was systematic and institutional, euphemized as 'correlation,' on the part of what I believed to be God's church- the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth with which God was supposedly well pleased. Indeed, the very church which burned the principle of honesty into my soul as a youth, the church which required me to be 'honest in all dealings,' and the church to which I had confessed my darkest indiscretions in an attempt to remain honest before God - this same church simply has not told the truth about itself."
We could go on and on, and the actual responses that are published in this report are eye opening as well. In particular, the responses that are received by loved ones after leaving the church are so misguided and insulting:
What covenant are you breaking?
You must want to sin.
Who has offended you?
Are you clinically depressed?
You're not worth to be a parent if you're questioning this.
I must have raise you poorly.
Stop reading and thinking about these historical issues.
Your concerns are anti-Mormon lies and are meritless.
It's your own fault if you're struggling. Nothing has been misrepresented.
Your IQ just dropped 30 points for questioning these things.
Your discontent is part of the latter-day "inner cleansing" of the church.
We're running out of time and space here, but there is so much more to note in this report. It discusses those who get divorced because the believing spouse would rather leave than take the journey into historical issues with their spouse, how Bishops didn't even know this basic historical information, and about 25 full profiles of members who left.
There is a big emphasis on the income levels of these profiles, and they make sure to note early in the report that "when factoring median income for these Faith Crisis respondents, the Church incurs an estimated tithing-revenue loss of $281 Million over ten years (at $2.5 million per chapel, that represents a theoretical loss of 112 chapels)."
I know they money is not the only factor here, but it does feel like one of the motivating factors is the loss of tithing funds, especially when each profile highlights their income along with these data points. To be honest the historical, scriptural, and doctrinal issues are so much more important than tithing revenue that I don't want to get bogged down here, but I did want to note it.
The last section of the report is how to address the increasing number of members leaving the church. One of the challenges listed is "Today, faith crisis is being driven primarily by uncorrelated content propagated by social media." They don't say it's inaccurate or wrong - they say it's "uncorrelated." This is important because the church spends so much time and money carefully crafting the narrative through "correlation" that when it doesn't fit that narrative, it is not because of the info being false but because it doesn't fit the "correlated" church history.
Again, the church doesn't have a "Google problem" as has been stated before - it has a truth problem. This report not only acknowledges that the deeper you go into history, the more problematic it becomes, but that they have been aware of the issues and still refused to teach members about them out of fear of an even quicker loss of members.
Among the strategies listed to deal with the increasing loss of church members over history are:
"The gap between the history currently taught and factual history is—in certain instances—highly differentiated."
"Inoculate current membership and future generations by closing the gap between our historical narrative and factual history."
"In an expeditious manner, update CES and other Church manuals and curricula to more accurately depict Church history. Collaborate with respected, non-Church employed historians to add credibility."
"Openly publish official position papers on difficult historical / doctrinal topics. If known answers are inconclusive, concede uncertainty and advance multiple ‘viable’ answers, including those that may be uncomfortable for the Church."
Here is the problem: the only reason they are now looking to teach history factually is because they got caught. Second, even in the Gospel Topics essay, they are not being honest about church history. We have time and time again displayed that in our annotated essays. And third, why would the one true church need to inoculate members? Why are they so afraid of members taking the deep dive into historical issues?
Among the strategies listed to deal with the members going through a faith crisis themselves are:
"Train general leaders, local leaders, and the general membership how to appropriately acknowledge and support our brothers and sisters in Faith Crisis."
"Via conference talks, outbound communication, and leadership training, work to change the traditional narrative (that those who doubt are “sinners and apostates”) to an approach of empathy, understanding, love, and outreach"
"Instead of encouraging Faith Crisis members to “stop thinking and stop reading about the issues,” encourage members to thoroughly research the troublesome issues. Consider providing a listing of third-party materials which have been shown to help those in Faith Crisis reconcile difficult issues (e.g.The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life by Fiona and Terryl Givens)."
Again this just does match what is happening. We know the Gospel Topics essays are not known or recommended by most Bishops and these troubling issues are still not known by most members. In addition, there is still a very antagonistic approach towards those who doubt by families, congregations, and friends. And last, Terryl and Fiona Givens are not third party materials. This bullet point is just not being honest - they do not want members to read beyond church approved sources. The Givens are church apologists who try to find ways to get doubters to ignore the problems. I have listened to their talks and interviews - they know there are problems but try a different approach to get members to ignore them.
The idea that the church scholars recommended that members "thoroughly research troubling issues" is laughable at best. Just weeks ago in the October 2018 conference, we were told by Dallin Oaks not to trust information we found on the internet. It is easy to brush away these issues on the surface, but the moment that members want to take the "deep dive" into history, the truth will prevail.
Among the final points are making sure those with doubts are in callings so they remain active members and to counsel spouses of non-believers to stay together in marriage. That is a bit of a change from previous teachings where it was taught that those who fall away are not worthy and as such will not be with you in the afterlife. We have quotes from Joseph F Smith teaching that a woman who has a husband that leaves the church will be given to another man in the celestial kingdom. Again, the past teachings about marriage with an unbeliever do not match what is being suggested here.
I hope that they do continue to improve here, because I do believe there is a lot of hostility towards those who leave. In fact, the church scholars make a great case in this report about the role cognitive dissonance plays in our inability to talk with those who leave about the issues in detail, because our bodies are trained to block out things that make us uncomfortable or question deeply held beliefs. They are well aware of hos this works, and as we have discussed in our various annotated Gospel Topics essays, the church uses the idea of a spiritual witness as a way to channel the cognitive dissonance into ignoring the problem altogether.
The final conclusion begins by saying that "Urgency is needed. But it should also be acknowledged that there is a risk in publicly recognizing that such Faith Crisis issues exist. Some saints who might never know these faith-eroding issues may become vulnerable when these issues are publicly examined."
The church knows that if they were to give members the honest, uncorrelated truth that many would leave. They can not afford to tell members that the Book of Abraham is taken from papyrus that have nothing to do with Abraham, that Joseph Smith never used the gold plates when translating the Book of Mormon as we know it, or that the DNA of Native Americans proves that the Lamanites were not the descendants of Native Americans.
They will never discuss on a public level that Joseph Smith married the wives of faithful LDS members, taking away their chance of a forever family. And they can't afford to discuss how the Doctrine and Covenants were changed when Joseph Smith's theology appeared to change about polygamy, priesthood, and his role as a prophet.
There are a lot of apologetic sites and the church has put up a lot of essays and videos to try and reshape their narrative, but the fact remains that if you go deeper in your research than those essays you quickly see why they don't work. And as the church has stated, the cognitive dissonance is a massively difficult force to get past, but once you do, I hope you will research these topics on our websites and then compare them to the essays, to FAIR, and to church talks. We try our best to start with the apologetics and work from there, because once they are presented side by side, you can see why theories like the lost scroll with the Book of Abraham just do not add up in any reasonable way.
This report has been so eye-opening for me and yet so painful, because I have read so many others who are going through what I went through and the pain that is caused in families and marriages because of it. I truly hope that more spouses read these pages and are willing to take the deep dive -- maybe they come out of it with a stronger testimony, but either way, they'll know everything about these issues beyond the surface apologetics from sites like FAIR, the Gospel Topics essay, or even the more antagonistic ones we mentioned earlier.
I know this was a long post, but the reality is that I would love to add a lot more. This report has really hit me in a hard way at a rough time, because I have a lot of anger towards the church for their dishonesty with history, but much more pain because I know how isolated it feels to know all of this information and have family you love not want to investigate it with you. And on the flip-side, I know how painful it is for believing spouses to have this info thrown at them, and the church clearly does too. In the end, it sucks, but the truth is worth the journey and I encourage all of you to take the church's recommendation and "thoroughly research" these issues beyond the safe spaces of apologetic materials.
For those that are struggling, please reach out and I can send you some resources to connect with others in your position along with some good websites, videos, and podcasts that can help teach you not just about church issues but allowing you to process them all.
One last point - as we mentioned at the beginning, this report was done for the church, but as far as we know was not directly commissioned by the church. This happens sometimes with organizations, corporations, etc where projects are handed off to outside groups so that there is not a direct connection or it could also be that this group decided to undertake this project without the consent of the leaders. We do now know this information, and want to make sure we note it twice on this post in the interest of fairness, because while the writing style indicates these issues are well known within leadership (at least within those making these kinds of decisions on 'correlating' the materials), we can not say with certainty which leaders are aware of what issues unless they go on the record to clarify further.
Last, if you want to read the report in its entirety, you can find it by clicking here.