Here's yet another take on the Dutcher situation, which I commented over on the Sunstone blog:
I’m sure there are many cases when a person has left the church, learned some valuable things about life, and then returned stronger than ever. In fact, I left for two years while a teen, and without that time away I never would have understood enough about the world and about spiritual realities to come back and embrace Mormonism.
However, for every prodigal who does come back and regain or exceed their former faith, I would bet there are two or three others who don’t ever make it back or only make it partially back. So it’s an extremely risky thing, in my view, to look upon leaving the church as a benign, acceptable thing that can be wise for one’s spiritual growth and development. Everyone’s case is different, of course, but the successful prodigal is very much the exception rather than the rule, I would argue.
And I worry about Dutcher, frankly. I was a teen with no responsibilities, but he’s a 40-something grownup who has a wife and children and a sizable audience of people who looked up to him, including not only fans of his films but many Mormon aritists who saw him as a rolemodel of someone who could be faithful and still push artistic boundaries. I don’t want to sound judgmental here, so I’ll just say that I’m very concerned about his decision and wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.
His cavalier remarks on By Common Consent about drinking beer alarm and disappoint me too. Obviously alcohol lowers inhibitions and opens the way for other sins, especially sexual, so I hope he’s careful. And I would argue it deadens spirituality as well. If Dutcher thinks it’s cool to drink beer, then my concern for him increases. (I think he was partly kidding, but I’m not sure.) I have other friends who left mainly because they liked to drink beer or look at pornography, and I don’t think those are good reasons, even if they’re only secondary reasons.
So I think we have to find a way to keep ties with these people who leave without condoning their leaving as a pathway that might be good for others to try too when they’re feeling so inclined. Like other spiritual disorders, things like disbelief and apostasy tend to become contagious, and I hope Dutcher doesn’t take too many people with him. I know there’s a big part of me that would LOVE to let go of the rope and go have a beer with my ex-Mo friends, but I’m sure that would be the beginning of the end for me spiritually. (I do drink nonalcoholic Sharps with them from time to time, though.)
I hope Dutcher learns whatever it is that he needs to learn and eventually comes back and fully repents and teaches us how we can avoid the same pitfalls, whatever they might be. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on it, because the odds are against him.