The Lost Elders

Feb 04, 13 The Lost Elders

Lesson – Lost Elders

As the newly called first counselor in the EQ I am in charge of the lessons.  When talking about accepting the calling I let the president know of my concerns about correlation and Mormon culture.  I mentioned that I wanted to incorporate some disaffection help and inoculation into our lessons. I teach one lesson every four months. This is the outline I talked from for my first attempt at pulling that off.

  1. I want to discuss a subject that is difficult, but very important to me. With the information age we now live in there is easy access to information that is often true, but difficult for testimonies for various reasons. Some of you might say that this isn’t a problem or that it is only a problem for those with serious sins and this is their excuse as a way out of the guilt from those sins. To make sure everyone is on board with me as we get started today in knowing that this is a real problem I have some quotes for you to consider:
    1. Our stake reported in the early morning stake meeting a couple of weeks ago that the stake has lost an average of 8 elders per ward in 2012 to inactivity that were previously active.
    2. When Elder Marlin K Jensen was asked in a question and answer session: “Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are ‘leaving in droves?’” he clarified later that “leaving in droves” is an overstatement, but at the time he said, “We are aware, and I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care,” he said.
  2. So, we know this is a real problem, it is a problem in the our Stake and the brethren are aware. Why does it exist and what can we do about it?
    1. There was a recent very large study done where people disaffected or who already left the church were asked why they left. The majority of them said that it wasn’t to sin (drink, sex, etc.) or because they started to sin, but because they had issues with church history, doctrine or policies.
    2. We don’t really have much specific counsel from our church leaders yet on how to deal with this problem or how to deal with it in a different manner than previously generally done because that obviously wasn’t working. Previously people were just told to pray more and read their scriptures. If your problem is thinking that God doesn’t exist and the BOM might not be a literal document then these two requests often exacerbated the problem by focusing on the frustration.
    3. Marlin Jensen : “…often in the church, when someone comes with a bit of a prickly question, he’ll be met with
      Marlin K. Jensen

      Marlin K. Jensen

      a bishop who number one, doesn’t know the answer. Number two, he snaps and says, ‘Get in line and don’t question the prophet, and get back and do your home teaching.’ And that isn’t helpful in most cases. So, we need to educate our leaders better, I think, to be sympathetic and empathetic and to draw out of these people where they are coming from and what’s brought them to the point they are at. What they have read, what they are thinking is, and try to understand them. Sometimes that alone is enough to help someone through a hard time. But beyond that, I think we really need to figure out a way to live a little bit with people who may never get completely settled.” EXPAND

  3. I personally feel there are three main causes to the disaffection that makes people leave:
    1. Improper expectations of testimony
    2. Incorrect understanding of church history (learning it incorrectly or putting our cultural expectations on their time)
    3. Cultural practices put forth as doctrine
    4. Having any of these issues and not feeling accepted because of it can be a reason people leave the church. We’ll talk more about this later, but we need to be open to discussing these problems. Like we learned as missionaries. If we don’t resolve the doubt a person has, they can’t advance. We can’t resolve the doubt if we don’t ask and understand.
  4. I have “come out of the closet” as one of these members that has seriously considered walking away from the church. For me it started on the last day of my mission and was only because of improper expectations of testimony and not the other two (explain). Now, after having gone through this experience I can see the other two problems more clearly and have empathy for those that struggle with those issues. As I’ve gotten more confident in my position as someone who has doubts I’ve been more public. As I’ve been more public, I’ve had others talk with me about similar frustrations.
  5. I’d like to talk about why I think these three pitfalls exist, what we can do to help others not fall in them (bridge), what we can do to help others that have fallen into them (people with rope) and what we can do ourselves if we are in one (ladder). After all, isn’t it about leaving the 99 and going after the 1?
  6. As I go through this please resist the urge to comment things like: if you would have more faith it would fix the problem, or they have those problems because of other sins in their life are making them not feel the spirit, etc. As one who hasn’t committed those sins and definitely had this problem while trying for years to just have more faith I can attest that that isn’t always the correct answer and everyone already knows that who has this problem so saying it again won’t change anything. Its like going to the dentist and having him tell you that you need to floss. Also, those 8 men per a ward need something else done to help them so let’s resist the desire to make those comments and move beyond those suggestions to others that might be more fruitful.
  7. Improper expectations of testimony:
    1. why does it exist?
      1. Is there anyone here who feels comfortable admitting in public that they still seek for a testimony to KNOW that the church is true? I do!
      2. Maybe this scripture will help you feel better D&C 46:13-14.
      3. Often we are just told if we pray hard enough and have enough faith we’ll get that undeniable answer. I have lived that way and I haven’t gotten an answer. I have had enough experiences to make me believe, but I definitely can’t say that I know. My wife, who’ve I’ve talked with in detail about this subject has had an undeniable experiences like in verse 13, but I’m a verse 14 kind of person and until recently that bothered me a lot that I wasn’t a verse 13 person.
    2. How do we help others avoid this pitfall or get out when in it?
      1. talk about the Alma 32 tree and we focus on helping the tree grow, not transform into an oak immediately with the recognition that some never get that perfect knowledge. By admitting that it helps in 2 ways:
        1. removes the guilt those feel that never get the sure answer
        2. if you are like me and you try the formula out for several years and it never works and you never question the formula hen the only logical answer is that the church isn’t true and/or there is no God. (as a side note: unlike many other churches, when Mormon’s lose their testimony in the church, they usually lose it in God as well. If this one isn’t true, which one could be?)
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit? See if there are any serious sins keeping us from feeling the spirit. If not, focus on growing the little branches here and there on your tree and don’t worry about it not being a large oak tree.
  8. Incorrect information given our ways in church history
    1. why does it exist? I don’t want to get into examples of what errors are out there, but there are many from minor to large. No everything said by the prophet is perfect and correct. BEFORE anyone lynches me for this statement, hold on for a few quotes from the prophets on this…
      1. I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 268)
      2. When God makes the prophet He does not unmake the man.” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1907, 11–12; see also October 1912, 121; April 1962, 7)
      3. With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 608)
      4. President Harold B. Lee, said, “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write.”(Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974, 162.)
      5. I have many more :-) One more, this about not having to blindly follow: “And none are required to
        Joseph Smith

        Joseph Smith

        tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God … would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves.” (Joseph Smith, Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, pp. 593-95)

    2. How do we help others avoid or get out of this pitfall?
      1. Be open to this fact. There is a funny phrase “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but none of them
        Pope Benedict

        Pope Benedict

        believe it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but none of them believe it.”

      2. Understand that our leaders are imperfect, even if the members don’t always treat them that way.
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit?
      1. This is kind of a hard idea to get across quickly and I’m not very articulate with things like this, but once we accept that the leaders of the church are imperfect just like us, (even if the followers don’t always treat them that way) we can take the responsibility of our spiritual progression on ourselves instead of using the leaders as our crutch. Ultimately, your spirituality is between you and God. When you know that, it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes.
      2. We’re told we need to pray about everything and gain our own testimony of it. We’re also told about how Adam prayed at the altar without knowing why. I think those two things can be compatible. Our leaders allow us to have differing opinions on many subjects.
      3. I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who .. have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. ..but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.” Elder Holland
  9. cultural practices put forth as doctrine
    1. why does it exist?
      1. We want things black and white. “…some quotes are definitive on issues where there is no official answer. People who are more tentative on a subject that hasn’t been revealed or resolved don’t get quoted as much, but may be more in line with where our current knowledge is.”
    2. How do we help others avoid and get out of this pit? distinguish between doctrine, policy, belief, culture. There are very few core doctrines. Many things are assumptions that keep improving as we get more light and knowledge.
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit? remember to distinguish even if others aren’t. Evolution is a big one for me on this. 99% of Mormons with a bachelors degree in an evolutionarily based science believe God used evolution to some degree to create the animals and/or plants on this earth. Despite what you hear the church has NO official position. Most people don’t know that and vehemently go to bat against that. It used to bug me a lot, but I just shrug my shoulders and say, “They don’t have all the information, if they did they would understand.”
  10. If you want to talk more about this or something you think I have wrong feel free to contact me and we can discuss this later.

Carson Calderwood, Born in Idaho, grew up in Utah to red neck father and TBM mother. Served mission in Argentina. Married smartest and most attractive woman at BYU. Raising four kids and three chickens in Maple Valley, Washington.

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  1. Wow! A wonderful and very honest lesson. We need more straight talk like this, instead of a bunch of yes-men as the ship goes down.

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  2. Joshua Richardson /

    Thanks for sharing. The only minor point I would make is that bullet 8.3.2 would probably be more accurate if you said Adam gave sacrifice without knowing why rather than he prayed without knowing why. If I were Adam I would have a pretty good idea why I’m praying: to speak to God. But I would really have questions about why I’m being told to spill the blood of these animals that I’ve been caring for. Like I said, minor point. Enjoyed the post though.

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  3. Cody Calderwood /

    I’m curious as to how your quorum responded to this lesson. Did it go over well?

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  4. Carl Youngblood /

    Great lesson Carson! Thanks for sharing that. How was it received? It seems kind of long. Were you able to cover all the material?

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    • Carson Calderwood /

      Carl and Cody,
      It went very well. The one guy that would most likely bristle at it wasn’t there. Several people came up to me after and said how good it felt to hear those things in church. One guy added a fourth item to the list, mental health. He stated how he couldn’t feel the spirit very often until he got his bipolar disorder in control with meds. No amount of having faith helped until that was fixed. I thought that was good.

      I think the quotes set it up well that if you disagreed, then you were disagreeing with the leaders and those likely to disagree wouldn’t want to go there.

      I think even members who treat everything said over the pulpit as perfect doctrine would admit if presented correctly that the leaders aren’t perfect, but making them process that with the thought of what leaders say in church caused them to nod their head and say “hmmm…” instead of yelling “heretic!”

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  5. Carson Calderwood /

    Joshua Richardson:
    Thanks for sharing.The only minor point I would make is that bullet 8.3.2 would probably be more accurate if you said Adam gave sacrifice without knowing why rather than he prayed without knowing why.If I were Adam I would have a pretty good idea why I’m praying: to speak to God.But I would really have questions about why I’m being told to spill the blood of these animals that I’ve been caring for.Like I said, minor point.Enjoyed the post though.

    Joshua, that is very similar to what I said in class when I went over that part. If he were asked to do something he thought was wrong, he probably would not have done it, but prayed why he should. Since he didn’t seem to have a problem with it, yet didn’t understand, he went forward. Great point!

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  6. Thank you for this. It is very eye opening. Could I get a link to the study mentioned in 2.1???

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  7. Hagoth /

    Great article. Could you share the link to the survey you mentioned?

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  8. Cody Calderwood /

    For those asking for a link to the study mentioned in bullet 2.1, here you go:

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  9. Susan Larsen /

    Thanks so much Carson! You have carefully and intelligently expressed ideas that have rumbled around in my brain (and gut) for years and in such a rational and spiritual order. Keep up the good works!

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  10. REALLY LOVED THIS! I have a family member going through this very thing – she’s “in the pit” and has had lots of questions, including ex-Mormons fueling the fire and adding more doubt to her already confused mind.

    I’ve been tempted to tell her to just read the Book of Mormon (probably did tell her that initially). I’ve been tempted to just yell at her and write her off as a lost cause; but as I’ve studied and read and thought and prayed about things, I’ve come to realize that Christ would love her, he’d listen to her, and he’s have patience with her.

    I hope more people read this article and articles like this. What I like about it is that it isn’t saying the Church isn’t true; it isn’t saying we’re wrong for believing – it’s just saying that all of us are HUMAN, including the prophets and apostles, and that we should be working together on our salvation.

    Thanks again for the great quotes and thoughts.

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  11. Brooke /

    Wonderful lesson! I’d like to share the Marvin Jensen quote (the one in 2.3) and wondered if you had a source?

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  12. Carson,

    Excellent post. I have found that people are really attracted to a new idea when they have some format on how to teach it. I agree with your perception that members will be open to a new concept if you have a General Authority backing your concept up. This was perfect. Thanks for sharing.


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  13. Great post. I’m extremely interested in how these kinds of lessons go over in settings where people are so used to the same basic content each and every Sunday.

    One word on the survey – since it’s not a random sample, it’s not a very reliable source in terms of sizing. In other words, the survey only tells us about those who found out about the survey through Mormon Stories and surrounding networks. In reality, it might only be a case of 1 of those 8 lapsing Elders is leaving due to doctrinal/historical issues while the other 7 are leaving for personal reasons.

    You never know the exact reason people leave the church unless they reveal it to you personally, which is why this inoculation approach is so valuable. Let’s inform the membership of the issues in a constructive setting. Open up the dialogue.

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  14. Garrett /

    Very well written. I would probably enjoy going to EQ of this kind of openness and understanding were shown. I would make one correction for me on the 3 reasons members become disaffected. On the 2nd reason you clarified by saying “learning it incorrectly” as it related to church history. I think using “being taught incorrectly” fits better in this case. …at least for me.

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    • Carson Calderwood /

      Garrett, good catch. That would be a more clear and accurate way of stating it, especially in this case.

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  15. Weston /

    Hey Carson,
    I really appreciate you posting this. Though I tend to fall into the D&C 46:13 category, I’ve long been interested in making sure that I try to understand why others leave or doubt.

    One recurring thought kept coming to my mind as I read your lesson, and I fully expected you to address it. When I did not find it, I wondered if you intentionally left it out or simply discussed it in your comments in class. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how recognizing the spirit plays a role in disaffection. I’ve personally met those who I felt it had the spirit touch their hearts and yet failed to recognize it.

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    • Carson Calderwood /

      Weston, I’ve discussed that in a blog post I wrote about a year ago on this subject, but for this lesson I didn’t have time to get into that. It would likely be a lesson I would do later. Actually, I think I may have hit the subject just slightly when going over the first of the three causes – improper expectations of testimony. I said the reason I stay in the church despite the frustration and problems I had was because I felt positive feelings to various levels before that when put on a scale balanced out enough the negatives that it left me with enough faith to stay and hope for more. In other words, though I can’t say I know, I do believe and I do see little branches and leaves growing from the Alma 32 seed I have planted.

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  16. Jared Behunin /

    Nicely done.

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  17. Melody Newey /

    I suspect there were even more men who felt validated and helped by this lesson than those who approached you to tell you so. My feeling is that “the ninety and nine” is more like “the seventy five-ish.” Many members don’t fit the mold. We need teachers and leaders who know how to speak to the invisible lost sheep within the congregation.

    Well done!

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  18. Carson, have you read “Letter to a Doubter” by Terry L. Givens? If not, you should. It’s amazing, and not some kind of “have more faith” pep-talk. You can read here:

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    • Carson Calderwood /

      Tevya, I have read that. When I found out about Terryl from his Mormon Stories podcast I immediately fell in love with his approach and persona. Great example of Christ-like approach towards those who struggle.

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    • I love the follow two quotes from that letter. One from C.S. Lewis and the other from Givens – actually it may have been a quote from his wife’s book.

      C. S. Lewis wrote that “God allows spiritual peaks to subside into (often extensive) troughs in order for ‘servants to finally become Sons,’ ‘stand[ing] up on [their] own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish… growing into the sort of creature He wants [them] to be.’”

      Givens: I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt, because it gives me the capacity to freely believe. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension.

      I think we all have doubt in some things and we have greater faith and belief and even knowledge in other areas. I like Carson’s branch analogy. I’ve found in my life that focusing on others, developing meaningful relationships and actively walking forward in the beliefs that I have chosen bring me the most joy in this life. I have had experiences that anchor me. I try not to dwell on what i don’t know or fully understand and the humanity of others but seek to develop my faith through patience and letting God unfold precious truths to me as i seek a spiritual connection to him through living his principles and teachings. Sure there are human elements in our church but all humans are learning. I love that Joseph, Brigham and Parly had to learn line upon line. They had to figure out how to use and apply principles and some of their growth came from making mistakes like the rest of us. I love the quote from Joseph about him forgiving us if we will forgive him.

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  19. Carla Hoffman /

    Great read! Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas and feelings with some of us outside of your EQ! Your statement that most supports how I have ALWAYS felt about church leaders is “…we can take the responsibility of our spiritual progression on ourselves instead of using the leaders as our crutch. Ultimately, your spirituality is between you and God. When you know that, it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes.” And, I add: Many, many parts of my life are my business only–between myself and my God. I find some of the temple questions very intrusive. But, as you said, I go along with it all because once we know people are imperfect and make mistakes, we can live with it. Thanks again!

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  20. Azangie /

    Thank you for this. Some different church history truths have become known to me and they have been bothering me. I’ve always been a verse 13 kind of person but now have been feeling guilty that parts of the church’s history have made me uncomfortable. I was feeling like the only way to have a strong testimony was to accept everything as perfection. Along the same lines I have secretly judged a friend that decided these same historical practices make the church untrue. If she heard this lesson or if all our lessons embraced these ideas she probably wouldn’t have left the church. These recent things that are starting to come out that the brethren are making known or changing is really rocking my head but at least now I can look at it all with more clarity, peace and no guilt.

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    • Carson Calderwood /

      Azangie, it really is a paradigm shift and as such can be extremely difficult because it is shacking the very foundation of everything you have based your life on. Glad to hear you are working through it as healthily as one can.

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  21. Great article but i do question the validity of the study.

    As stated “There was a recent very large study done where people disaffected or who already left the church were asked why they left. The majority of them said that it wasn’t to sin (drink, sex, etc.) or because they started to sin, but because they had issues with church history, doctrine or policies.”

    Let’s admit it, most of the men surveyed are not going to admit it was to sin or because of sinning. And many may not even be aware of their own denial. Let me explain with the following example: I have a relative who got into porn. Before we knew it, he was cheating on his wife and soon left her and his 3 kids. Years passed and I recently had a sit down with him. During the which, he stated that he is just “too logical” to ever believe in that “stuff”. This is a common story.

    What i am getting at is that many men are looking to leave the church for sin and they use a historical or scientific issue to justify it. Lets be honest, with the click of a button, you can see a bus load of college girls doing anything and everything imaginable. We have all seen something similar online, but we don’t all recover from it. ARE the men in this study going to admit that? NO, and most wont admit it even them selves. While involved with porn, men get caught up in an imaginary world. They begin thinking they can leave their wives for bus loads of willing college girls. It usually does not take long to release that they are not the studs they think they are. But again, it is easier to blame a historical/scientific issue than to explain or admit all of that.

    I think what you are doing to teach your EQ is great! And i think it will really help build their testimony. Maybe as a future lesson we could have an article/discussion about this point that i have mentioned above and what to do about it.

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