Via blog reader Tim, I learned that yesterday about 150 Mormons in Salt Lake City publicly declared that they were leaving the church. They committed a mass symbolic act of filling a basket with formal letters asking that their names be removed from church rolls.
Leaving the Mormon church is not easy because apostates can face repercussions and shunning from their families and the church, so making a public act of renunciation as this group did takes some courage.
There were a variety of reasons given for the defections, ranging from concerns about the church’s history of polygamy and racism to its hateful attitude towards the LGBTQ communities to more esoteric doctrinal issues. There are reports that the Mormon church is losing members in droves.
[Mormon Elder Marlin] Jensen, the church’s official historian, would not provide any figures on the rate of defections, but he told Reuters that attrition has accelerated in the last five or 10 years, reflecting greater secularization of society. Many religions have been suffering similarly, he noted, arguing that Mormonism has never been more vibrant.
“I think we are at a time of challenge, but it isn’t apocalyptic,” he said.
The LDS church claims 14 million members worldwide — optimistically including nearly every person baptized. But census data from some foreign countries targeted by clean-cut young missionaries show that the retention rate for their converts is as low as 25 percent. In the U.S., only about half of Mormons are active members of the church, said Washington State University emeritus sociologist Armand Mauss, a leading researcher on Mormons.
Sociologists estimate there are as few as 5 million active members worldwide.
Most disaffected Mormons likely leave quietly, shedding their magic underwear as the main symbolic act of defiance.