August 25, 2008

They leave the Church but can't leave it alone

Seth R. Payne's 2008 Sunstone paper on the ex-Mormon narrative discusses three general "exit roles" and the types of organizations from which they spring. He places these roles in the context of people who leave the LDS Church. The "Defector," an inactive member uninterested in attacking, just uninterested in general, the "Whistleblower," a generally dissatisfied defector who makes some noise upon leaving, and the "Apostate," who "undertake[s] a total change of loyalties by allying with one or more elements of an oppositional coalition...[the narrative serving to document] the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate's former organization."1 It should be noted there are former members of the Church who are capable of "leaving it alone" who fill the "defector" role. Still, it seems there are others who cannot jettison their former faith. I believe some may have more difficulty due to family or friend relationships, or because of where they live. There is a very vocal group who would fill the "apostate" role, though I don't intend to use the word as a pejorative, but in the same way Payne uses it in his paper.2

I believe the statement regarding people leaving the Church and not being able to leave it alone is not universal, though I believe it does represent some former members with accuracy so I decided to discover where the statement originated. With help from Reed Russell, I believe the exact phrase itself originated with Elder Neal A. Maxwell, though the thought goes back to the early days of the restoration. From his 1979 book All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience:

The Prophet Joseph spoke of how apostates often bring severe persecutions upon their former friends and associates. "When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors." (HC 2:23.)

Strange, how often defectors leave the Church, but they cannot leave it alone!3

That same year the statement was made by Hugh Nibley in an essay he wrote for Dialogue:
Apostates become sometimes feverishly active, determined to prove to the world and themselves that it is a fraud after all. What is that to them? Apparently it is everything--it will not let them alone. At the other end of the scale are those who hold no rancor and even retain a sentimental affection for the Church- -they just don't believe the Gospel. I know quite a few of them. But how many of them can leave it alone? It haunts them all the days of their life. No one who has ever had a testimony ever forgets or denies that he once did have it--that it was something that really happened to him. Even for such people who do not have it any more, a testimony cannot be reduced to an illusion.4
It's possible that Nibley or Maxwell coined the phrase, though it seems that Maxwell was the first to publish it, and it seems very Maxwellian. He used it in a conference address in October 1980:
Newcomers, you may even see a few leave the Church who cannot then leave the Church alone. Let these few departees take their brief bows in the secular spotlight; someday they will bow deeply before the throne of the Almighty, confessing that Jesus is the Christ and that this is his work. Meanwhile, be unsurprised if, as the little stone seen by Daniel rolls relentlessly forth, some seek to chip away at it. 5
Two other examples from Maxwell's conference addresses:
[There are a] few eager individuals who lecture the rest of us about Church doctrines in which they no longer believe. They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, except of themselves, of course, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone.6
In 2004 he coupled some instances of seemingly intellectual apostasy with behavioral lapses:
In later years, I saw a few leave the Church who could then never leave it alone. They used often their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses...7
I reiterate: I believe there are some who leave the Church over "behavioral lapses" which can lend into intellectual issues, etc.

Several Conference addresses by others have touched on the subject, for example, James E. Faust:
Among the assaults on families are the attacks on our faith, for which parents should prepare their children. Some of it is coming from apostates who had testimonies and now seem unable to leave the Church alone. One, complaining of Church policy, was heard to say: “I am so mad: if I had been paying my tithing I would quit.” Persecution is not new to the devoted followers of Christ. More recently, however, the anger and venom of our enemies seems to be increasing.8
Glen L. Pace:
It seems that history continues to teach us: You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone. The basic reason for this is simple. Once someone has received a witness of the Spirit and accepted it, he leaves neutral ground. One loses his testimony only by listening to the promptings of the evil one, and Satan’s goal is not complete when a person leaves the Church, but when he comes out in open rebellion against it.9

Pace discussed apostasy more in-depth than most of the addresses I found. Because of the extra detail, his address seemed more expressly aware of nuances.10

There is also some precedence in LDS scripture for the idea that "apostates" have sinned, though I believe taking the verses too literally is problematic (see Luke 11:24-26; Alma 24:30; D&C 93:38-39).

Maxwell's phrase is very similar in meaning to an 1892 account by Daniel Tyler on Joseph Smith:
When the Prophet [Joseph Smith] had ended telling how he had been treated [by apostates], Brother Behunnin remarked: "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 great Seer immediately replied: "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."

He emphasized the fact that a man or woman who had not taken sides either with Christ or belial could maintain a neutral position, but when they enlisted under either the one or the other they left the neutral ground forever.11
This account was included in Pres. Mary Ellen Smoot's 2001 Relief Society meeting address:
Even though we were instructed regarding the difficulties we would encounter on earth [in our premortal state], I doubt we understood or could have known how demanding and trying, how tiring and even sorrowful at times this mortal existence would be. We have no doubt all, at some point, felt that what we were experiencing was just too hard to bear. Yet the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When [we] joined this Church [we] enlisted to serve God. When [we] did that [we] left … neutral ground, and [we] never can get back on to it. Should [we] forsake the Master [we] enlisted to serve it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and [we] will follow his dictation and be his servant."12
Finally, the story has received a fair amount of notice in various LDS publications. For example, see Hyrum and Helen Andrus, ed., They Knew the Prophet, (1976) pp. 53-55; Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet, (1991) pp. 52-53; Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, (1996), p.95.



FOOTNOTES

[1]
Seth R. Payne, "Purposeful strangers - A Study of the Ex-Mormon Narrative," Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 9, 2008. See p. 6.

[2]
Payne, pp. 3-4:
Recent ex-Mormon narratives...focus on the description of a fundamental shift away from what is perceived as rigid literalism to an unbounded scientific rationality. In this sense, members of the emerging ex-Mormon movement should be sociologically considered apostates although I hesitate to employ this label due to the extremely negative connotations this word has within the LDS community...I use this word purely in a technical sense and in no way intend to attach inherent negative connotations to its meaning.
[3]
Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, 108.

[4]
Hugh Nibley, "How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So," Dialogue, Vol. 12, No. 4, p.33 (Winter 1979).
[5]
Neal A. Maxwell, “The Net Gathers of Every Kind,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 14. Maxwell was then in the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy. As Reed Russell discovered, the statement would appear in at least three more Maxwell books:
Newcomers may even see a few leave the Church who cannot then leave the Church alone. Let these few departees take their brief bows in the secular spotlight; someday they will bow deeply before the throne of the Almighty, confessing that Jesus is the Christ and that this is His work. (Notwithstanding My Weakness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 84.)

Willful dissent ages ago produced yet other symptoms that are worthy of our pondering today as life confronts us with determined dissenters who leave the Church—but who then cannot leave the Church alone: [cites Alma 47:36] (Plain and Precious Things [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 72).

Then there are the dissenters who leave the Church, either formally or informally, but who cannot leave it alone. Usually anxious to please worldly galleries, they are critical or at least condescending towards the Brethren. They not only seek to steady the ark but also on occasion give it a hard shove! Often having been taught the same true doctrines as the faithful, they have nevertheless moved in the direction of dissent (see Alma 47:36). They have minds hardened by pride (see Daniel 5:20) (Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 4.)

[6]
Maxwell, "‘Becometh As a Child’,” Ensign, May 1996, 68.

[7]
Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign, May 2004, 44).

[8]
James E. Faust, “Enriching Family Life,” Ensign, May 1983, 40.

[9]
Glenn L. Pace, “Follow the Prophet,” Ensign, May 1989, 25

[10]
Pace, ibid. For example, he said:
Criticism always hurts most when we deserve it...We would eliminate the most painful criticism from responsible nonmembers by simply internalizing and living what the Church teaches. The second category of critics is former members who have become disenchanted with the Church but who are obsessed with making vicious and vile attacks upon it. Most members and nonmembers alike see these attacks for what they really are...Hopefully, however, they make us more sensitive and extra careful not to make light of the sacred beliefs of other denominations.
[11]
Daniel Tyler, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 15 Aug. 1892, p. 492.

[12]
Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Steadfast and Immovable,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 91.

15 comments:

Ardis Parshall said...

It's always good to track the development of statements that become almost proverbial -- in part because that lets us go back to the context when their axiomatic use sometimes distorts the original meaning. Thanks for doing this.

Besides, anything that lets us revisit some paragraphs from Elder Maxwell is a good thing!

LifeOnaPlate said...

Agreed! I hope to find the statement in an earlier book by Maxwell in the future.

Joseph Addison said...

Thanks for this, I was wondering as to the origin of the phrase -- I wonder if Elder Maxwell in turn got it from someone.

Hans said...

"Secular spotlight" is so Maxwellian, but "departees" sounds very Oaks-ish. I wouldn't be surprised if Maxwell really was the first to coin the phrase, even if the idea originated so much earlier in our history.

LifeOnaPlate said...

If anyone finds an earlier incarnation of the quote you win a free cookie. I couldn't, but I think there might be one in an early Maxwell book.

Reed Russell said...

Found this from Nibley:

How Firm a Foundation!
What Makes It So

Hugh Nibley

Dialogue, Vol. 12, No. 4, p.33 (Winter 1979)

Apostates become sometimes feverishly active, determined to prove to the world and themselves that it is a fraud after all. What is that to them? Apparently it is everything--it will not let them alone. At the other end of the scale are those who hold no rancor and even retain a sentimental affection for the Church- -they just don't believe the Gospel. I know quite a few of them. But how many of them can leave it alone? It haunts them all the days of their life. No one who has ever had a testimony ever forgets or denies that he once did have it--that it was something that really happened to him. Even for such people who do not have it any more, a testimony cannot be reduced to an illusion.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Excellent find! Now I need to see if I can find an earlier quote by Maxwell.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Added.

Bull said...

Is this meant to represent your views on the question or just an investigation into its origins? I could give some insight into some other alternative explanations for the phenomenon that don't involve being a "defector", a sinner, or selling out to Belial.

LifeOnaPlate said...

This is mostly meant to be an investigation on the origin of the phrase and how it is used in higher channels of the Church.

Bryce Haymond said...

I found another scripture which relates:

"Now these dissenters, having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites, yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord, nevertheless, it is strange to relate, not long after their dissensions they became more hardened and impenitent, and more wild, wicked and ferocious than the Lamanites—drinking in with the traditions of the Lamanites; giving way to indolence, and all manner of lasciviousness; yea, entirely forgetting the Lord their God" (Alma 47:36).

Reed Russell said...

Blair,

This is what I've found - in chronological order:

(Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 108.)

The Prophet Joseph spoke of how apostates often bring severe persecutions upon their former friends and associates. "When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors." (HC 2:23.)

Strange, how often defectors leave the Church, but they cannot leave it alone!

= = =

Neal A. Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 84.)

Newcomers may even see a few leave the Church who cannot then leave the Church alone. Let these few departees take their brief bows in the secular spotlight; someday they will bow deeply before the throne of the Almighty, confessing that Jesus is the Christ and that this is His work. Meanwhile, let us not be surprised if, as the little stone seen by Daniel rolls relentlessly forth, some seek in vain to chip away at it.

= = =

Neal A. Maxwell, Plain and Precious Things [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 72.)

Willful dissent ages ago produced yet other symptoms that are worthy of our pondering today as life confronts us with determined dissenters who leave the Church—but who then cannot leave the Church alone:

Now these dissenters, having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites, yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord, nevertheless, it is strange to relate, not long after their dissensions they became more hardened and impenitent, and more wild, wicked and ferocious than the Lamanites—drinking in with the traditions of the Lamanites; giving way to indolence, and all manner of lasciviousness; yea, entirely forgetting the Lord their God. (Alma 47:36.)

= = =

(Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 4.)

Some members maintain only cultural ties to the Church. Often these people have had valiant parents but they themselves live off the fruits of discipleship banked by those parents and grandparents. They make no fresh, spiritual investments; they have neither new earnings nor an inheritance to pass along to their own posterity.

Then there are the dissenters who leave the Church, either formally or informally, but who cannot leave it alone. Usually anxious to please worldly galleries, they are critical or at least condescending towards the Brethren. They not only seek to steady the ark but also on occasion give it a hard shove! Often having been taught the same true doctrines as the faithful, they have nevertheless moved in the direction of dissent (see Alma 47:36). They have minds hardened by pride (see Daniel 5:20).

= = =

(Cory H. Maxwell, ed., The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 68.)

Church members will live in this wheat-and-tares situation until the Millennium. Some real tares even masquerade as wheat, including the few eager individuals who lecture the rest of us about Church doctrines in which they no longer believe. They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, except of themselves of course, they leave the Church but they cannot leave the Church alone. (Ensign, May 1996, p. 68.)

LifeOnaPlate said...

Reed, you just saved me a good hour or so's worth of searching through my Maxwell shelf this weekend. You are the man. I'm going to incorporate your findings into the post.

BHodges said...

By the way, Bull, there is nothing inherently wrong with being a defector or a whistle-blower depending on the situation.

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