When I think of the shelf, my mind goes either to Christmas, with its “elf-on-the-shelf” silliness or to John Prine, whose equally hilarious song “Linda Goes to Mars” includes these wonderful lines:
“Now I ain’t seen no saucers ‘cept the ones upon the shelf;
And if I ever seen one, I’d keep it to myself.”
Now, I must add a third, but this one is not funny.
“I started sitting things on the shelf,” a woman said, speaking into the camera. Her testimony was posted on TikTok, and I watched it. Her’s is one of many first-person accounts of people giving up on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known as Mormons or simply LDS.
“Sitting things on the shelf” is a phrase that means what others call “deconstruction.” By that is meant the process of asking questions about what we believe and confessing (to ourselves) that we really don’t believe some of it—or any of it—any longer.
Now, to be clear: people who quit church (of any kind) are not necessarily repudiating all the ideas and values of religion. Much of the “I’m outta here” attitude has to do with specific people that disappoint or particular events that contradict the stated ideas and values.
But mostly, people seem to be pushing back against the secrecy of religion, especially in the LDS, and authority, which is a very big deal in LDS, and to a lesser extent, in Evangelical life and also in Roman Catholicism.
This particular video version of LDS deconstruction also drew attention to the Book of Mormon and whether it was in any sense legitimate history.
Two other things have shaped this wide-spread abandonment of religion. First, the modern world brings us together so that we are aware of other ideas, other people, other religions. And other critiques of our religion. Second, the recent development of reels, videos, and personal media channels have given people a censure-free platform to confess their doubts and profess their freedom.
Go to the TikTok app and type in any version of this: “leaving Mormon church.” Then scroll down page after page of video testimonies. Same for “leaving Christianity” and “leaving Evangelical Christianity.”
Catholics: same thing. One video I watched recently began with this testimony. “My questioning the Church began when I was 16. I was really involved in the Church. Loved Jesus. Still love Jesus.”
That picks up a common thread. Many people who quit church still love Jesus and still claim the “Christian” designation. It is just the institutional expression of Christianity they are rejecting, especially its dogmas, damnations, and unholy deeds.
This repudiation of institutional expressions is what makes the music of the John Prine so appealing to so many. Just this morning, a friend sent me a video of a band in Alabama practicing for an Episcopal Church worship service featuring Prine music.
What were they singing? Why, “Spanish Pipedream,” of course. It tells the story of a soldier who takes a seat in a bar featuring topless women, one of whom whispers to him the secret of life: “Blow up your TV. Throw away your paper. Go to the country. Build you a home. Plant a little garden. Eat a lot of peaches. Try and find Jesus on your own.”
Who needs the priest, anyway!
But if you are giving up on the LDS you might need some professional help. Turns out, it is a lot more complicated to get your name off their membership rolls than down at the local Baptist church. Mostly, an afternoon phone call will do the latter, but with the Saints, not so much.
You may need professional help and you can find it at quitmormon.com which reads: “Resigning from the Mormon church … can be a tedious and painful process. …. resigning on your own can result in unwanted contact from church leaders and multiple requests before your resignation is finally processed. We provide a free service that lets you resign without the hassle.”
In the midst of my musings about these things, I received an invitation to participate in a survey of retired ministers. Some curious scholar wants to know if I still believe all the doctrines of my youthful discipleship and if I still practice all the rituals of my professional career.
I couldn’t decide whether to click on the link and add my answers because, mainly, I’m not sure I qualify. I still preach every Sunday calling the good people of Providence Church to worship God, read the Bible, love each other, and follow Jesus.
But I confess: I’ve got some things sitting on my shelf. Don’t you?