Why we choose to stay
In the Latter-day Saint worldview there is only one church that offers the knowledge needed for salvation and exaltation, along with the only valid priesthood authority. People who have been taught these ideas all their lives often think that there is no sacrifice too great if it leads to the real truth about God and redemption. And as missionaries, many here have urged investigators to turn away from their habits, their traditions, even their friends and families, to embrace the truths of the Restoration. When you find Truth, the theory goes, you leave wherever you're at to follow it. So when they themselves decide that the LDS church does not, after all, have a corner on Truth or Authority, or Spirituality, one of their first impulses is to get out quick.
Most of us at NOM have lived through those sensations. Most of us have explored, at least in thought, the possibility of different church affiliations, and some have ultimately followed that route. But others of us have decided, as one of our posters has written, that "the darn church ain't so bad, after all."
Below is an explanation of some of the main reasons people choose to remain in fellowship with the Latter-day Saints, with approaches that help make this palatable.
The most common reason for sticking with the church is the promotion of family harmony - especially between husbands and wives. In this quest, we have opposition coming at us from both sides. From the churchly side, there is the idea that there cannot be an "eternal" marriage between two people unless both of them embrace the teachings and ordinances of the Restoration. From the worldly side, there is the idea that individual satisfaction and fulfillment is the most important concern of any sane human - even if families are destroyed in pursuit of it. Advice from both these directions suggests to couples that the best course is to get out of this mess as soon as possible, and try to do better the next time. At NOM we don't usually think this is the best solution, especially when conflicts about church are the only real problem, or when children are involved.
A few spouses are understanding and sympathetic about a wife's or husband's questions regarding church teachings or practices, but more often (it seems) they feel threatened or frightened. Since we are the ones who have changed, and seemingly reneged on promises we made at marriage, it becomes our responsibility to emphasize how much we value our spouse and children, how much we want to hold the family together through this difficult transition. Sometimes this effort will include participating in church activities when we would rather be doing something else. A frequent topic of discussion around here is how to deal with these situations. And sometimes it even gets to the point where we can start to enjoy church again, while seeing it as an interesting human institution, rather than the Kingdom of God on earth.
For thousands of years - perhaps even millions - most humans lived in the sorts of small communities where everybody knew everybody, where people helped each other in times of trouble and rejoiced together on happy occasions. In our busy, fragmented urban world, an LDS ward is one of the places where that sort of community still survives. Yes, satisfying communities can be found elsewhere, but, for a lot of us, this is the one we're used to, filled with people we've grown fond of. The church often gives us a chance to serve people whose troubles we'd never know about otherwise. And even the geographic arrangement of wards and stakes can do good by bringing together people who might never meet each other if they could choose a congregation that suited them, and by giving those people encouragement to appreciate and serve one another.
Most of us have encountered LDS members who have seemed to be exemplars of genuine Christian love and service. And in spite of common distractions such as genealogy and the Word of Wisdom, Christ remains available in the LDS church as a focus of our worship, as an example for us to follow. Many of those who become disillusioned about the Restoration (with its colorful cast of characters) remain committed to following Jesus Christ, whether as Savior and Son of God or as an enlightened teacher. Even so, we are often uncomfortable with denominations that suggest that Mormons are hell-bound for believing in the "wrong" Jesus. Indeed, the whole heaven/hell dichotomy often sets our teeth on edge. Others have tried the more liberal Christian denominations, the ones that don't put as much emphasis on hellfire, and found them…well…too liberal for them.
Even if it's only for a few minutes during the Sacrament, and in the singing of a few hymns (and once every four years learning from the New Testament in Sunday School) Latter-day Saints do have a chance to learn about and devote themselves to Jesus of Nazareth. We can emphasize his words in lessons we are asked to teach, and in teaching our own children. We can focus on the beliefs and activities at church which seem to us most in keeping with his message.
One of the things that people come to dislike about the LDS church is the strong exclusiveness in some of its practices and teachings: only those who accept LDS baptism can go to the Celestial Kingdom and be sealed to their families; only the Latter-day Saints have the gift of the Holy Ghost, (rather than just occasional visits or the mere "light of Christ"); only "worthy" LDS members can be present at temple weddings. To people who have been raised this way, all this seems perfectly normal. But as we develop close associations or real friendships with people who are not LDS members, we often come to see that some of them are just as charitable, just as spiritually attuned (if not more so) as anyone we have encountered among the Latter-day Saints. Then it seems absurd to suppose that such people lack something called "the gift of the Holy Ghost," or would be unworthy to enter God's temple. As we pull away from the milieu of dogmatic Mormonism, a lot of us find ourselves inclining toward universalism - toward a conviction that "all God's chillun got wings," and that you have to do a lot worse than choose the wrong religion to make God (or Goddess) disapprove of you.
Almost everyone believes that his or her own choice of religious tradition is the best one. Universalists are no different. Sure, they're willing to attribute goodness to Hindus and Muslims and Scientologists (well, sometimes) but they also think the world would be a better place if only Muslims and Scientologists and Mormons weren't so certain that their own path was the correct one - if they were … well … a little more universalistic. The trick, then, is to find ways to appreciate Mormonism from a universalist perspective, rather than just being annoyed that it isn't as universalistic as we'd like. This can be challenging, particularly when we are newly aware of some of the church's shortcomings. But the church does make an ongoing effort to do good things - even in the realms of family, community, and Christianity. If we don't leave the church, then we don't have to concentrate on all the bad stuff just so we can justify our choice to leave.