Cache Valley man researches why people leave the LDS Church

The Herald Journal, Utah/March 29, 2012

A Utah State University researcher will unveil the findings of a new study exploring why members of the LDS Church lose their testimonies and what happens afterward at a lecture today at Utah Valley University in Orem.

John Dehlin, who has studied under USU's psychology doctoral program, has worked for the past year on the "Understanding Mormon Disbelief" study, which involved a survey of 3,086 disaffected Mormons who have gone through a "crisis of faith."

Dehlin will speak at 1 p.m. in room 120 of the UVU Library's auditorium as part of "Mormonism and the Internet: Negotiating Religious Community and Identity in the Virtual World," which started Wednesday and runs through Friday.

The conference is meant to reflect on how the Internet has influenced the study of Mormon culture and history, how it has affected LDS Church relations with the world community and how it has impacted church growth and individual faith.

Dehlin's survey was sponsored by the Open Stories Foundation and Mormon Stories podcast.

According to Dehlin's research, the information about the LDS Church on the Internet is one of the reasons that's causing the number of non-believers to "accelerate," so his talk ties in with the UVU event's purpose.

The goal of the study, he said, is to bring greater understanding to issues that lead to Mormons losing faith in the LDS Church after holding a firm belief.

"I believe there are legitimate reasons to have doubts about the LDS Church," Dehlin said in an interview. "There are a lot of people who are having doubts about the church, and when they try to talk about their doubts or problems, they suffer a lot of pain. I believe ... more importantly, marriages are being destroyed when people struggle with their faith and are misunderstood."

He continued: "So the reason for this study is not only so Mormons can understand their religion fully; Mormons can come to understand that the reasons for people losing their faiths are legitimate. Hopefully the church will stop punishing people for (leaving for) legitimate reasons."

Respondents of the study cited 15 "major factors" and 13 "minor factors" as reason for losing belief in the church. Among the major issues were a loss of faith in the Book of Mormon, problems with church history, loss of faith in Joseph Smith and conflicting theological issues.

Factors more significant to men who were surveyed included losing faith in God/Jesus, science, anachronisms in the Book of Mormon and problems with the Book of Abraham. Issues more significant to women were the church's stance on women, women and the priesthood, the church's stance on homosexuals, polygamy/polyandry and abuse.

Overall "minor factors" that scored low in the study included the desire to sin or having been offended by a fellow church member.

His survey included some responses from those who still attend church — in some cases, weekly. About one-quarter of respondents were classified as "active."

All respondents in the final analysis reported to have believed at one time that the LDS Church was "the only true and living church." Hundreds of the respondents reported having once held leadership callings in the church — including within bishoprics, stake presidencies, mission presidencies and other leadership positions within respective wards.

Dehlin said he was surprised that 72 percent of the respondents said they had trouble talking to their own bishop about their "crisis of faith." Also, 44 percent reported not feeling comfortable speaking with their own family about their crisis — yet are still actively involved in the activities of the church.

"The fact that so many people are suffering in silence .... is really sad and troubling," Dehlin said. "People feel they are trapped and can't leave because the social costs are too high."

Dehlin said the surveys results brought on some questions he would like to address, including: Why do some respondents still attend church? Why do 50 percent of people who leave the church become agnostic? And why are they scared to talk to their bishops?

The UVU event today will feature two other prominent scholars: Joanna Brooks, a national voice on Mormon life and politics and Alan Cooperman, associate director of research at The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

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