I’m an Ex-Mormon: Why leaving the Church is so difficult

Several weeks ago, I received a text from an acquaintance asking me if I wanted to hang out. Because this individual had never previously expressed any interest in me, I was surprised–but responded, “Sure.” As it turned out, he was asking if I wanted to attend an LDS fireside.

 

Shortly before that, I attended a Stake Conference in Provo for a friend. One speaker announced a serious problem: In the whole of Utah County, there are several thousand Utahns who are not LDS. “Bring them to the fold,” he said. “That is far too many.”

Throughout my time writing as a columnist for the Statesman, I have been asked these questions more times than I can count: You’re angry, aren’t you? Do you hate the LDS Church? You have a serious bone to pick with the Mormons, don’t you?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

These are difficult questions, with difficult answers; explaining what it’s like to be an ex-Mormon is complicated and fraught with emotional hang-ups. Explaining how something that makes you happy also makes me miserable is almost impossible; even more difficult is reassuring you that I know that the Mormon Church is not true, as equally as you know it is. I’m going to try anyway.

One of the primary reasons being an ex-Mormon is difficult is illustrated in the first example I gave: somebody who has zero interest in my personality is inviting me to Church functions. Because a fundamental part of the Mormon doctrine is the recruiting of non-members, this is a fairly common occurrence. But if all you can see in me is the potential for bringing a lost individual salvation, it cheapens our relationship and demeans your intentions–and any ex-Mormon can tell you how it feels to be ignored except for spiritual invitations.

We’d actually prefer to be let alone completely. But, as the second example illustrates, that doesn’t happen because the Mormon Church is everywhere. There is absolutely no getting away from it here. Pictures of caucasian Jesus hang in every window. Missionaries are sent by neighbors who have never taken the trouble to meet me.  My friend group, my dating pool, and my entire college experience is marginalized because I am not Mormon. The constant exposure is incredibly frustrating.

This is compounded upon by another common experience many ex-Mormons share: ostracization from family and friends. Often, in sacrament meeting, stories are told in which individuals overcome extreme familial hardships when joining the Mormon Church, and just can’t understand why their families don’t accept the transition. These individuals are made out as martyrs, who are unjustly punished for making a decision that brings them happiness.

Unfortunately, the pendulum doesn’t swing the other way. Although ex-Mormons hear from many of our Mormon friends that they still love us, we want to ask them: Then why don’t we talk anymore? Why can’t you empathize? Ex-Mormons don’t get invited to family reunions, life-long church-going friends abruptly lose contact, and false rumors spread like wildfire–will you pretend there isn’t a correlation?

Often, the rude behavior of Church members is brushed off with the mantra of, “The members may not be perfect, but the doctrine is.” Au contraire, my friends. The doctrine tells parents their gay son is living a sinful, intolerable lifestyle. The doctrine tells youth only to associate with those who hold the same “standards” as they do. The doctrine allowed racism to continue so far past the Civil Rights movement, and the extreme sexism to continue today.

No, the length between the Civil Rights movement and our reluctant acceptance of human rights has nothing to do with the fact that everyone in the General Authority Quorums are wealthy, racist, white men. Why would you think that?

No, the length between the Civil Rights movement and our reluctant acceptance of human rights has nothing to do with the fact that everyone in the General Authority Quorums are wealthy, racist, white men. Why would you think that?

Is that doctrine perfect to you? Because it seems only perfectly hateful to me.

Sometimes, ex-Mormons are told to leave Utah if we hate it so much. But if my church history isn’t much mistaken, it was the Mormon themselves not long ago that were systematically purged from entire states because they believed differently. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, I am leaving. But that won’t change the fact that I do have issues with the Mormon Church. I think it is a force most often not for good, and it does make me very angry to watch it wrong the people I love. I think the sexism, racism, and homophobia is intolerable and you’re damn right I have a bone to pick with anyone who promotes that kind of behavior.

Unfortunately, though, my time with USU has come to an end and so does my angry, bone-picking column writing. I would like to express gratitude to my editor for his patience, and my supporting readers who have encouraged me onward when I’ve wanted to flush my laptop down the toilet. If you’d like to follow me in the future, you can find my writing at lizeverything.com, but in the meantime–don’t psuedo-swear, harass porn users, or get married; but do cross-dress, tip your server, and keep those damn fraternity boys in check.

8 thoughts on “I’m an Ex-Mormon: Why leaving the Church is so difficult

  1. Haley

    I think you just like being angry. I’m an ex-Mormon whose family still invites me to every function, I still get gifts for Christmas, & when an ex-wardie invites me somewhere all you have to do is say no & move on. These people believe what they believe & you believe what you believe. The fact that you sit around preaching to them how what they do bothers you, you become them. Trying to tell them how they’re wrong = them trying to tell you how they’re right. If they “harass” you, block ‘em. You have issues with em…good for you, you don’t have to be one of them. It’s really quite simple but I think the fact you so much enjoy confrontation & singling out people means you kind of enjoy the crap.

    On a closing note, try having a little optimism. You’re like… the Queen of Buzzkill & cliche writing.

    Reply
    1. mennagirl

      How nice it must be for you to live in the wonderful Land of Ex-Mormon Oz. As for the rest of us who live in reality, leaving Mormonism, especially in Utah, its not “really quite simple.” You are judging the author for judging others; do you see the hypocritical contradiction?

      Reply
  2. cjwinstead

    As a former born-again Christian (BAG), I can somewhat empathize with the process of disassociating yourself from a lifelong religion, especially one that still includes friends and family. Most ex-religious people experience a period of growing doubt, followed by a desire to quietly separate from their congregation. After living in Utah for more than 20 years, I can see some clear differences in the ex-Mormon experience. For one thing, the LDS church is unique in this country in that it has a sweeping geographic presence in every neighborhood of the state. There is no other single denomination with such omnipresence. Another important factor is that the church keeps files on its members and shares membership information among locations, so that prodigal members are effectively tracked by the church organization. When I left my church, it was only necessary to avoid the actual people from my congregation. There was no file, no database, and therefore no pursuit; I could withdraw painlessly from the embarrassment of my former beliefs. I have known a great number of ex-Mormons in this state who continually face strangers at their door — who sometimes have very personal information about them. Most Mormons seem unaware of or indifferent to the sense of menace that this can create, as though the church has become a collection agency that chases you everywhere over a debt you don’t owe, and there’s nothing you can do but stand your ground.

    One of the tragedies of organized religion is the way it masks the individuality of its members, and obscures the shades of grey that differentiate “believers” from “non-believers.” Several surveys have found that active, believing Mormons comprise less than half of Utah’s population. Up to a third of the state are nominally Mormon, and many may claim the label if asked — but it would be wrong to assume that all these people are united in thought, that they form one grand “we”. Therefore when people say “those who don’t like it should leave,” I’m not sure who they are talking about. In the philosophy of knowledge, one of the fundamental realizations is that people cannot choose what they believe. We can choose to study, to think, to “pray”, to re-consider — but belief itself is something that happens or doesn’t, like a smack to the back of the head. I am certain that the majority of Mormons, if they have the opportunity to listen and to understand the difficulties faced by those who are unable to believe, and unable to pretend, would choose a more compassionate and inclusive approach toward them.

    Reply
  3. Ryan Allred

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic. I have experienced anger and frustration on the topic also. Sometimes active mormons are insensitive to people like us who don’t share a belief or commitment to mormon dogma or practices. I’ve learned that speaking your mind and expressing your feelings when such instances occur can help prevent it from occuring again. And saying no to invitations, likewise, puts an end to invitations from someone. I will say, though, that dating in mormon Utah, for a person who still lives a similar lifestyle, but lacks the religious beliefs and practices, is damn tricky. It is the difficulty of finding similar friends that is still frustrating.

    Reply
  4. Krista

    I love this. I would consider myself a somewhat active Mormon, but your post has perfectly worded everything I have felt about some of the people and teachings in the church. People have told me as well that “the members may not be perfect, but the doctrine is.” I feel that’s just a way of saying, “I have no answers for your questions, so I’m just going to say nobody’s perfect.” However, isn’t the point of the LDS church that our doctrine comes from modern day prophets who know God’s will? Shouldn’t their revelation be perfect, since He is? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post. Thanks for your insight.

    Reply
  5. thatguyyoufuckinghate

    I know this is an old article, but I don’t care, I want to say something. Although I never officially left the Mormon church (having never belonged to it in the first place, except as a toddler, which I thankfully don’t remember), I have a very good sense of what the associated ostracization must feel like. I’ve had to watch it happen time and time again to various people, and seriously, it was fucking painful just to witness. Any institution that promotes outdated dogma and doctrine over long-standing fellowship is just not okay in my book.

    Someone commented that pointing out the flaws in the LDS church is exactly the same as a Mormon preaching about the church’s teachings, and why those teachings are “right.” I have to disagree completely, given that one party in this example works to create change, while the other party attempts to maintain stasis. By design, pointing out a problem in someone else’s system inevitably entails an attempt to correct the problem, and to open people’s eyes to both the possibility and viability of change; by contrast, one who outlines only the positive points of one’s own system, while ignoring or–indeed–refusing the existence of flaws within it, is essentially claiming to belong to a perfect or pseudo-perfect system that requires little or no change. Perfection in a made-by-man, run-by-man institution? What an utterly ridiculous concept.

    There’s this computer program called MoMo (not to be confused with MoJo) that’s designed to spread Peace and Love; problem is, the program wasn’t designed very well, and has about a trillion-and-a-half security loopholes that enable agents of chaos to exploit the program (for the purpose, quite obviously, of perpetuating Hatred, Blind Patriarchy, Greed, Seizure of Wealth, Infinite Brainwashing, and, occasionally, the drinking of evil Spirits {rum, whiskey, blood of virgins, etc.}). Oddly (and sadly) enough, many of these agents of chaos are High-Ranking Official viruses that have become almost inextricably tangled within the program code itself! (Good Golly Gosh, MoMo, your inner workings are like … so darned smelly! It almost makes me want to–dare I say it?–swear!! I’m going to do it. Oh GEEZ, I’m going to do it!!! Here we go! Sh… shi… shhhhi…. shhshshshhhh…. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!! Oh, goodness, that felt so liberating). I think–though I could be wrong–that Liz is a grey-hat hacker who finds these security loopholes, and then alerts some of the people laboring under MoMo’s programmers that they need to Wake The Fuck Up and be aware of these issues that turn an otherwise benign program into a cancerous tumor masquerading as Jesus. (Yes, I just mixed my computer program metaphor with a bodily-illness-turned-Messiah metaphor. And I see no problems with that). Being a grey-hat hacker, Liz also points out these same security loopholes to some of the “outsiders” who don’t give two shits about the integrity of the MoMo computer system, that they may go forth and do with that devious knowledge what they will. And I see no problems with that either.

    God bless everyone!
    Sincerely,
    An atheist
    (wow, that was ironic! a-hyuk).

    P.S.
    There is nothing wrong with being Angry at an establishment one perceives as Evil. Truly, if you AREN’T angry at something you believe to be Evil, I’d say there’s something very Wrong with you.

    Emphatic capitalization ftw
    I’m going to write a bunch of inconsequential shit now
    yaaaay
    woohoo
    i’m a leprechaun

    okay bye then.

    Reply
  6. Julie

    People can and will be unfair, disagreeable, sneaky, rude or just turn their back on you completely.
    Spending your life hating them for it is like taking poison and then expecting them to die. It only makes you more unhappy.
    Why not find out what you do believe in then base your life upon that instead.
    You may want to consider that maybe they harbor some doubts themselves and lack the strength to change their current situation.
    Their behaviors toward you may be the only responses they know.

    Reply

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