I met Dave when he worked at a sandwich shop in Maynardsville, VA. My two missionary companions adored him. He was a really nice guy. Very personable, very friendly, outgoing, full of life. He liked to drink, smoke, and lead an immoral lifestyle. He appeared to be happy and content.
Dave had been raised in the LDS Church – and whether he ever felt a part of it or not, I do not know. I’m guessing he did. I know he had lots of friends in the Church. And out of respect to them, or perhaps for his mom, or maybe it was the Church itself, he decided to have his name removed from the membership records.
He hadn’t necessarily stopped believing the things he had been taught for most of his life. He had just chosen a path that wasn’t very wholesome for a staunch and devout member to be on. And he knew that. He knew he had disappointed many by spreading his wings – by taking the road that seemed more popular. And it worked for him. But he knew that his choices were not the right choices for people to see. He didn’t want people to say, “He’s a Mormon” and mar the image of what some people would believe that Mormons were (or are) and so he asked for his membership to be taken away.
He did not go into great detail about his disciplinary council. He said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He said if he had been thrown into a room with a bunch of strangers that it would have been so much easier. But the men in the room were his friends – or had been at one time or another. He felt like he had failed them and his mother. But it was just something he felt he needed to do.
He could have remained an inactive member. The Church doesn’t excommunicate those who are inactive – even if they have a questionable lifestyle. Active members and missionaries are asked to work with them and “bring them back into the fold” and eventually there is a repenting process – but not drastic like the active members who have done something within question that results in excommunication.
When I heard Dave’s story I was in awe. What a great guy to give up his membership (hard as it was) so that he could honestly tell people that he wasn’t a Mormon nor had membership there. Of course, the ideal thing (according to thousands of members) would have been just to give up his “wicked” lifestyle, repent and return. But would the lessons that Dave received out of life been any different? Surely his experiences would not have been the same, and he wouldn’t have grown into the man that I met two years later.
Since I had arrived in Maynardsville, the small branch had made a goal to get 75 members to attend their Sunday meetings. And each week we had between 62 and 67. We worked with non members as well as inactive.
I served that area for three months. That makes at least twelve Sundays. On the last Sunday I was served in that area, there were a number of visitors that came to the ward. Among them were Dave’s mom and new step Dad. They came in at number 73 and 74. Dave walked in right behind them. He had helped them reach their goal! He was number 75!
I was released from my mission five months later. And two years after that I had just returned for a visit. My former landlady and I had gone to the strip mall to visit Dave at the sandwich shop. Only he was no longer working at the Sandwich shop, but at an electronic franchise next door. He had given up the green shirt and apron (which matched his tattoo) for a three piece suit (which hid his tattoo)
He was living with a girl who he’d come to love and wanted to marry. He wanted an eternal marriage – not a worldly one. He had developed a love for Joy and wanted to embrace life with her. He wanted her to learn about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
He told us about Joy and he asked us to dinner so that we could meet her. And then he asked if we could arrange for her to meet with the missionaries. He wanted for them to both become members and to be sealed in the temple in another year. I didn’t get to see it. I had heard from a few members though.
Dave came back. He was a strong member. He brought with him an understanding for giving into temptations and overcoming challenges. He had a calling to work with the youth. He could relate to them. He had a firsthand account of what it was like to be in the Church and what it was like to be on a worldly path.
Dave and Joy were married in the temple a year after the branch president had married them civilly. The little branch grew into a ward and Dave served as a counselor to a bishop who had also been an inactive member.
Sometimes leaving the Church goes wrong for many people. But there are just as many who become even stronger in the gospel and can build up testimonies because of their outside experiences.
I’m not advising to go outside just for experience. It’s not my call. Often it’s not your call either. But if we put our faith in God and rely on him and communicate with him, we can have our own empowering experiences.