The Story is Not About How We Left

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

At this April’s Bi-annual General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson made some curious statements about those who have left the church. In his talked titled “Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains,” President Nelson said:

“Your mountains may be loneliness, doubt, illness, or other personal problems. Your mountains will vary, and yet the answer to each of your challenges is to increase your faith. That takes work. Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith.”

President Nelson goes on to assure us that the way to move our own personal mountains is to study the scriptures, choose to believe in Jesus Christ, act in faith, partake of sacred ordinances, and ask Heavenly Father for help. To me those are the typical, Primary answers I received my entire life when I had doubts and other personal problems. 

Many of us who have left the church did study. We did choose to believe in Jesus Christ (many of us still do). We did act in faith. We did partake of sacred ordinances and kept our covenants. Many of us spent hours on our knees crying out to Heavenly Father to reconcile our doubts.

The story is not about how we left. The story is about how long we stayed. 

I can assure President Nelson that if he humbly sat with those who have left he would find that many of us were not lazy learners nor lax disciples. Many of us did everything we could in order to stay. I think back now at the heartache and wrestling with my values I did with how the institutional church treats and regards our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters and wished I had just been lazy or lax. I wish it had been easy to take off my garments, hand in my temple recommend, and turn back on my church and community. If only I could have been lazy and lax when I abandoned the faith of my ancestors to follow the dictates of my own conscience.

I can’t help but think of all the incredibly thoughtful and intelligent ex-members I have met who have spent hours on their knees in prayers and years mourning their church and how the two words I would never use to describe them is lazy or lax. 

When I read President Nelson’s talk one thought came very clearly to my mind – Giving your church’s faithful followers the same five pat answers we’ve learned since Primary when facing real crises of faith is what I consider lazy and lax leadership. 

My story is not about how I left. My story is about how much I endured, abdicated, and compromised to stay as long as I did. I was never lazy and I was never lax.

Risa

Risa has a Masters and Bachelors degree in Social Work. She is an Associate Therapist who has worked in child abuse prevention, adoption, and volunteers as a CASA . She is a mother of 4 and in her spare time she is a voracious reader, snarker, and subversive cross-stitcher.

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22 Responses

  1. Fairy says:

    That’s so insulting and makes me so angry. There wasn’t anyone in the whole stake who studied as hard and much as I did. There wasn’t anyone who tried harder to go by the rules. There wasn’t anyone who prayed as seriously as I did. I can’t even say any more, it makes me so furious!

  2. Em says:

    It was not a kind way to describe a faith crisis, nor is it accurate. Perhaps it is comforting if you’re afraid you will fall away from the Church to imagine that those who do were just sloppy. But it’s never okay to assume that someone else’s faith choices are motivated by laziness.

  3. johal521 says:

    I am with you on every step of your journey. I have been there, I am there. And we are not alone.

  4. A lax disciple says:

    This post is gold.

    Lazy learners refuse to listen to people with doubts and people who leave to truly understand them. They would rather make quick, self-validating assumptions and wipe their hands of it.

    Lazy learners refuse to study what social sciences and biology are telling us about LGBTQ folks, and gender, and consider whether they ought to revisit their previously-held assumptions based on further light and knowledge.

    Lazy learners refuse to dig deep into Church history and find the nuance and the mess and realize that maybe we are in some nuance and mess now too, and that since we changed things in the past nothing prevents us from changing them again.

    Lax disciples refuse to make hard changes that might challenge their own authority in order to better serve those whom they claim to lead.

    Lax disciples refuse to think creatively about our theology and come up with ways to actually, fully include those we currently marginalize, or figure out ways to spend their vast resources to better the world and planet.

    Lax disciples confuse discipleship as meaning “do what the Church says” when it really means “follow Christ.”

    Lazy leaders and lax disciples don’t lead, they manage.

    • Risa says:

      100% to everything you said.

    • Anon for This says:

      So why is simply turning the hateful language around and pointing at those that think differently than you any better? The irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

      • A lax disciple says:

        Well first of all, I guess that unlike the man who spoke these words to millions of people over the pulpit, I am not claiming to speak for God. Maybe this isn’t how God would want us to talk to or about each other in general and I fully own those are my words not God’s – an admission that would be great to hear from someone in the Q15 when they say hateful stuff.

        Secondly, I do think God is good with us calling out bullies and defending rather than attacking the marginalized. So no, not equivalent. Not ironic.

      • Tash says:

        Nice, the whole “don’t be offended trope” he’s the prophet and should do better. It was an intentional jab and deserves to be criticized.

  5. scooby says:

    Honestly, I think people are misreading President Nelson on this one. He did NOT say that EVERYONE who struggles with faith is or was a “lazy learner” or “lax disciple.” Rather, he said that “lazy learners” and “lax disciples” will struggle with their faith.

    His remarks leave open room for the reality that there are many who struggle with their faith who were not “lazy” and “lax”. In other words, while he may be stating that ALL who are “lazy” and “lax” will struggle, he is not saying that ALL who struggle are “lazy” and “lax”.

    Nonetheless, many are interpreting his remarks to say this. This interpretation is not supported by a careful reading of his talk. In fairness, I don’t think those of us who have had faith struggles need to read this as an indictment that President Nelson automatically thinks we are “lazy” or lax.”

    • Lax disciple says:

      sure you can interpret his remarks that way, but the words are being weaponized against doubters and he should be more careful if he doesn’t intend that to happen. I’m not giving him a pass. It was sloppy and careless at best; cruel and unsympathetic at worst.

      I personally don’t care at all what he might think of me but I do care about the impression he’s leaving with my community.

    • Brycr says:

      I know several lazy learners and lax disciples who DON’T struggle with their faith. So it’s false no matter which way you want to interpret it.

    • Risa says:

      One thing I don’t miss about church is being gaslighted and words don’t really mean what we say they mean.

      • A lax disciple says:

        Yes! If you have a problem with someone said in church obviously you are the problem not the speaker! Yuck yuck and yuck.

  6. grandscoobah says:

    Well said. The other bit that bothered me was his bit about “rehearsing one’s doubts with other doubters.” This irritated me for several reasons: 1) doubters are frequently shut down when they try to discuss their doubts at church or with the faithful, 2) without a place in the church for members to candidly discuss their doubts, where else do you think they will go?, 3) the characterization of discussing one’s doubts as rehearsing them is toxic and cruel, 4) what is a testimony meeting if not “rehearsing one’s belief with other believers?”

    That last one is bit tongue in cheek, but it illustrates the way this language is a gross characterization of those who openly discuss their doubts with the only people who will listen to them without trying to trivialize their experience.

  7. Mike H. says:

    When I think of “lazy learners”, I think of members that feel they know so much that they doubt if they can learn anything else. Or, the kind that love to harass those teaching lessons, for a cheap laugh.

  8. Wendy says:

    Powerful post, Risa. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about how untrue President Nelson’s statement is. His use of the belittling, name-calling words “lazy learners and lax disciples” is a striking example of an attempt to exercise coercive control over his audience. It’s something leaders of high-demand religions and groups often use to control their members. This behavior is in direct conflict with Joseph Smith’s declaration to “teach [people] correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

    Criticizing those who choose to leave the LDS Church is the opposite of supporting people’s agency. When Church leaders bully former church members through name-calling they are sending the message that it’s okay to openly judge, mock, and berate those who think and believe differently than we do.

    When a leader of an organization with millions of members worldwide models this kind of harm, it has a trickle down effect that can damage relationships church members have with former church members in their families and communities. It can also lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness for individual church members who find themselves questioning church teachings and doctrines. Depression is a common outcome for this kind of self-loathing which can debilitate people’s lives, and at times can be fatal.

    Thank you, Risa, for calling out this kind of harm. It is vital and taxing work and a gift to your community.

  9. JC says:

    It is erroneous to assume people have left the church because they were “lazy” or “lax” in their learning and worship.

    As others have mentioned, I have found the opposite to be true. Many of the people I know who left the church were the most consistent and devout in their worship, prayers, scripture studies, and service they gave to others. They experienced complete burnout and fatigue due to being either the ONLY one or part of the VERY few doing ALL the heavy lifting in their wards and stakes. These people were not “lazy” or “lax”. They literally gave everything they could until there was NOTHING left to give.

  10. Mindy says:

    This post resonates with me so strongly. Oh, how I feel those last lines un my bones.

  11. Tina says:

    Here is my take: It’s Easter morning and Pres. Nelson’s talk starts out talking about Jesus as is appropriate for Easter (or any church gathering). Then his talk veers off into this odd message of if you have mountains, they can be moved if you *just* work hard enough. Except for those people in Tonga who still had to sit through a meeting in the rain. They worked hard (but they must have not worked hard enough is implied because the rain didn’t stop) so then they had to work hard to endure the rain. Huh. Then this now infamous line about lazy learners. Where is he coming from? What experiences are driving his comments? I don’t know.

    For me, the problematic part of the line about lazy learners is that he being a bully. He doesn’t like that people still have mountains or doesn’t like the some people’s actions in handling those mountains so therefore he concludes that those people must be lazy and tries to bully people into behaving as he wants them to behave. People seemed to have reacted in one of two ways: 1) they offer proof of how they actually have worked hard or 2) they double down with eagerness to work even harder than before to prove that they are, in fact, dedicated. Both of those types of reactions can be seen in the comments prior to mine. Either way, it’s not healthy because people are put in the position of justifying themselves to him. His comment was not kind nor helpful.

    I have learned that I can sustain him as a prophet while most of the time that sustaining support looks like not ‘feeding the beast’ by engaging emotionally with what he says because so often what he says mirror this talk – good stuff about Jesus at the beginning and end of the talk with a whole lot of crap in between.

  12. Sally says:

    What a beautiful reframe. Thank you. For some reason this brings to mind that Adam Ruins Everything clip on divorce where he says (paraphrasing) “divorce doesn’t ruin a good marriage, it ends a bad one.” Walking away from an institution that has been harmful is also ending a, on balance, bad relationship.

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