Eighteen Famous or Successful people and why they left Mormonism


"... to put it bluntly, they left because of the meanness they found in Mormonism"



Leaving the Fold
Candid Conversations
With Inactive Mormons

By James W. Ure

In 1967, Stewart Udall, born and raised a Mormon and secretary of the Interior in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, said, "Well, I occupy a national office. They'll have to listen." So he wrote an article, "An Appeal for Full Fellowship for the Negro," calling on his church to end its discrimination against blacks.

"I got very stern rebuking letters from Spencer Kimball," Udall says. Also, "I got a lot of hate mail from Mormon people, and it was painful."

For Udall, the church's position on blacks was both an embarrassment and an intellectual impediment to feeling fully comfortable as a Mormon. But today, he says, "I'm a Mormon and always have been and I'm proud of that heritage." (Kimball, would later become president of the Mormon church and reverse its position of refusing to admit blacks to the priesthood.)

Udall's is one of 18 interviews conducted by James Ure in his book about inactive Mormons, Leaving the Fold. For reasons Ure does not make entirely clear, he limited his interviews to famous or successful people. Among those interviewed are Calvin Rampton, three-term governor of Utah; Levi Peterson, perhaps the finest living Mormon novelist; Paul Rolly, the Tribune columnist, and Rod Decker, one of the state's best known television newsmen.

The interviews are revealing in their repetitions. When Ure asked Udall, for example, "Do you believe the story of Joseph Smith and the gold plates?" he's told, "I don't go out of my way to wrestle with that -- the kind of thing that to me is not the heart of Mormonism." Ure's mother, Helen Bowring Ure, the first woman to chair the Utah Board of Education, when asked a similar question, replied, "It all seemed more or less like a fairy tale."

Ex-governor Rampton said, "Probably my principle problem with the LDS church [is] I have a hard time accepting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon stories."

Yet, the strongest impression left by the book is not that these men and women, all of whom are clearly intellectually gifted, became inactive because of the ideas of the church, but rather that they became alienated from it because of -- to put it bluntly -- meanness they found in it.

-- Mrs. Ure: "The Mormons have a superior way of clinging together and keeping out people who aren't Mormon, especially children . . . that feeling that's just embedded in the Mormon culture that if you're not a Mormon you're not as good as they are."

-- A "government administrator," who doesn't give us his name but who, we are told, "holds a position of power and responsibility in government": "I truly believe my parents did the best that they could, but they just didn't have the skills. So when they put their primary interest and love into their religion and made their children feel that they were second best, that there was nothing more important than the church, then I think we quit playing with the church."

-- Levi Peterson: "The sense of unpurged guilt and the doctrine of blood atonement that says that human beings are beyond the pale of Christ's forgiveness . . . there are sins that it doesn't have any effect on; you've got to pay for them by letting your own blood... I wrote The Backslider [his best-known novel] as against that kind of guilt . . . all the book adds up to is quit harassing yourself over trifles."

-- Paul Rolly: "Mormon young boy's clubs, and Primary, and then Mutual, and then Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, can be the most vicious, mean groups of people around."

Although every single interviewee has at least a small positive tidbit to say about the church (Decker: "Mormonism is like a dance step; it helps you to move gracefully to the music and time"), these men and women did not come to these interviews to praise the church. Nor, really, did they come to condemn it. They came more, and Ure sought them out for this reason, to explain, not the excommunicated or those who quit the church, but those who remained in it, willingly inactive.

Ure, in an introduction, says that of the two million people in Utah, 1.4 million are Mormon, and of that number, only 770,000 are active; 280,000 are "somewhat active" and 350,000 are inactive. He extrapolates: of the 10 million members claimed worldwide by the church, 2.5 million must be inactive. So, except for being famous or successful, these interviewees represent a sizable minority within the church.

Ure offers "a personal note" about his own status in the church that encapsulates much of what the interviewees say: "it [is] no longer important if I [am] active or not . . . Belief in doctrine is not a prerequisite to giving or receiving love and respect."


Page Modified March 15, 2000

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