When I let a fellow exmormon coworker know I’d left the church, his response echoed a thought I’d had myself for a very long time. We are both logicians. We spend our careers formally analyzing systems. So why, he asked, did I stay in the church so long despite seeing its obvious flaws?

During the last couple of years, I have wondered the same thing myself. I’ve compiled a few reasons I stayed in the church as long as I did, and perhaps you can relate to them.


The church was all I knew. Everything I thought I knew about the world and my place in it came from the church. I wanted so badly for it to be true that my mind did all the gymnastics it could to keep me faithful. I learned how to compartmentalize and label anything that went against what I believed as “anti-mormon lies”. I invented possible ways that scientific discoveries might be compatible with church teachings. As many church members do, I got very good at justifying anything that felt wrong. I simply refused to think that if something smelled fishy, it was probably fish.

Thought-Terminating Statements

People often talk of thought-terminating statements in terms of cult indoctrination. I don’t know that I want to go as far as making that argument in this section, but I do want to point out a few key thoughts – mantras if you will – that kept me from really questioning what I was taught to believe my whole life:

  • I am surrounded by smart people who all claim that the church is true, so I must just be missing something
  • “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith”
  • People who leave the church “fall away” or “go inactive” because they are lazy and unintelligent, or they want to sin
  • God hasn’t revealed everything yet, maybe this is just a trial of my faith
  • I’ve already invested so much into the church, it would be a shame to abandon it
  • “Where will you go?”
  • Bear your testimony until you believe it
  • If you only want to believe…
  • Have the faith not to get an answer
  • Pray for a testimony

A Support Network

I have, throughout my life, met most of my friends at church. The church felt like a safety net and support system. This started to degrade when, while we were dealing with a significant personal crisis, ward members only talked to us in the context of church. When we couldn’t make it to church for several weeks due to medical issues, we received a visit from the primary presidency, who let us know they missed us in primary and shared a scripture about the importance of serving in the church.

But despite this, I felt like if things ever got desperate, I would have a support network.

There’s a Lot of Good

I regularly told myself, especially when something didn’t seem quite right at church, that despite its shortcomings, there’s a lot of good in the church. It does a good job keeping kids off of drugs. It kept me safe from STIs and harmful behavior as a teenager. By leaving the church, I felt I would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Especially if we ever adopted kids, how would we keep them healthy and safe without the church?

Fear of Letting People Down

If I left the church, I felt I would let down people I cared about. My parents had invested enormous amounts of time and money raising me in the church, and it felt like a shame to throw that away. I felt like leaving the church, whether or not it was the right choice for me, would disappoint my parents, my former and current church leaders, and (most importantly) my wife.

Fear of Losing Blessings

I have overall lived a privileged life. I attributed much of that to my obedience in the church, and I was scared that if I left the church, my finances, health, and the rest of my life would go to shambles because I lost God’s blessings.

Mission Trauma

While on my mission, I had completely equated my personal safety with obedience. Any disobedience was triggering to me, and it seemed easiest to stay in the church rather than risk my life being disobedient.

What if I’m Wrong?

Leaving the church means betting against all of its truth claims. By leaving, I was gambling away my chance at exaltation. Even if the church wasn’t true, I could have sat in 2 hours of church every week and lived an acceptable life. Staying in the church felt like a more strategic move for my afterlife.