– Guest post today from Desire Truth, I hope you enjoy her perspective as much as I did!
In the LDS church, certain assumptions are commonly made about people who leave the church, especially if they were very faithful believers prior to making the decision to leave. Some of these assumptions include being offended at people in the church, desiring to “sin” and leaving so that we don’t feel guilty for doing it, or that we simply don’t understand the doctrine well enough or we would stay. Honestly, every single one of these assumptions is incredibly insulting to our intelligence and decision-making capabilities. Please give us more credit than that. For those of you who are still faithful and believing, there are some things that those of us who have left need you to know and try to understand, and we would still appreciate your support, friendship, and love. In general, most of us respect your decision for yourself to remain in the church, even if we do not agree with it. We ask for the same respect from you.
One of the primary issues with this expectation of respect from the active believer is that believers actually must go against their own church doctrine, in one way at least, to truly be okay with this concept. On the one hand, you have the teaching that the LDS church is the one true church on the earth, that it is restored by God himself and that every single individual who has ever lived, does live, or will ever live on the earth must choose this religion and be baptized either during this or the next life in order to achieve the highest of blessings that God has for his children in the next life. On the other hand, there is the concept of agency. So while an ex-Mormon can look at a believing, active Mormon and think and actually believe, “Hey, they are making the right choice for them. That’s totally okay with me,” the active, believing Mormon cannot look at an ex-Mormon without thinking, in some part of their mind, “It is so sad. They are making the wrong choice because this church is the only true church. I can respect them for their right to agency, but I am still going to know (think) that they are wrong in that decision, no matter what the reasons for that decision.”
Then when a believer asks a friend or family member who has left for the reasons that they left, but is not okay with listening to anything negative about the church, they are not really asking for answers. All they are doing is searching for confirmation that their own biases and assumptions about people who leave are correct. Then when that person who leaves tells them, “I did not leave the church for its positive aspects, I left it for the negative things I found out about the church,” that believing member can justify their preset biases.
Fortunately, not all church members do this. To those of you who have stuck with your friends or family even after they leave the church, whether or not they are public about their dissent and problems with it, we sincerely thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Leaving the church that many of us were raised in and that was such a massive part of our identity is difficult and heart-wrenching. We have to completely redo ourselves from the ground up in terms of belief, practices, identity, and moral standards. Please know that we did not make this decision lightly, nor was it the easy way out. The very real potential of being shunned and at times, outright disowned, by family and friends is daunting. The church is very exclusive in many ways, and the leaders of the LDS faith continually urge members to attempt to befriend, with the hopes of converting, people they know or meet who are not members of the LDS church. Moreover, upwards of 80,000 missionaries are sent out nearly worldwide continually to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in this pursuit. Please do not attempt to silence us in our need to discuss the church, in both its good and bad lights, if you continue to support and participate in these practices of member missionary work as well as worldwide proselytizing attempts.
As a good friend of mine said recently:
“Just as you would never tell a freed slave not to discuss their difficulties as a slave, or tell a freed prisoner not to discuss the condition of the prison, or tell a woman who has escaped an abusive relationship not to discuss her abuse, or a tell a returning astronaut not to talk about space, do not tell a person leaving a life encompassing religion to just move on and not talk about their experiences within the religion. To do so is asking them to deny and hide a fundamental piece of their story.”
Now to address some of the misconceptions often perpetuated about those of us who leave. As someone who grew up in the church, and who has come into contact with thousands of ex-Mormons, the following are generally true of nearly all of us, though each of us has a different reason or combination of reasons that ultimately caused us to decide the church was not for us. These are what we really need you, as our family and friends, to try to understand.
- Far from leaving hastily or quickly, or from being offended, please understand that the majority of us took time and some serious effort to research the church, from many sources including church published references, before we decided to take this leap. We did not make this decision in haste, nor without also looking at what the church and its supporters (including well-studied apologetics) had to say regarding the most controversial and troubling issues. In general, we did not consult only “anti” literature. We consulted many sources, both supportive and non-supportive, scientific and otherwise, before making our decision. Just as you would not submit a serious research paper for a college assignment that only had one source and supported a single view of the topic, we did not take that approach in our research efforts. I do have a question for those who believe. What do you define as “anti” literature? Is it a scientific article debunking something commonly taught at church? Is it evidence by secular professionals, with no stake in the church, that show how the origins of certain things is entirely different than what prophets have taught? Is it evidence-based research compiled by ex-Mormons who use church sources to show that practices that are no longer done were once called doctrine over the pulpit at conferences by multiple general authorities? Is it direct quotes from previous prophets that contain doctrines, defined as such, that are now completely buried, and most of them unknown by current church members? Or Is it simply anything that shows the church to currently have, or that it has had, negative aspects or results from its practices or doctrines? Please respond in the comments if you can clarify.
- For most of us, our intent is not to drag you down. I have heard that very phrase, or ones similar to it, from more than one person. First, “don’t drag me down with you” implies that you are at a higher or better level of being than I am. It is insulting and presumptuous. The irony is that many of us can tell a believer over and over how much happier and at peace we are, and most of them won’t really believe us, even if they pretend to be okay with it. The reason for that comes from your very own scriptures: “Behold I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.” 1 So even if we have a fantastic life, things are going well for us, and we are generally happy and at peace, many of you do not see it that way. You truly believe that because we are not faithful to the church, that we are somehow secretly miserable and are just hiding it. You also assume, as the scriptures say, that we will all be judged. So perhaps you can make peace with it now that we seem to be happier, but you may still fully expect us to be chastised and punished in the next life. Alma 41:3, “And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works;” and then in verse 8 of the same chapter, “Now, the decrees of God are unalterable.” Your very own church’s canon of scripture condemns us for making what we see to be the right choice for us. Those of you who can rise above this and be sincere in your love and support of us, especially when we are doing nothing to intentionally harm other people, we greatly appreciate. Yet you still believe that God will ultimately punish us for making this decision if we do not go back to church at some point. I would hope sincerely that those who believe can at least put this aside enough to love and support friends and family who leave. More about what we really need from you soon.
- Thirdly and finally in terms of misconceptions, those of us who have been church members for any length of time, especially those who were born and raised in the church from infancy on, are fully aware of what we are “giving up” in terms of blessings, both those that are considered earthly blessings and those that the church teaches will be the blessings in the next life for those who stay the course. There is a fundamental issue here that we would like you to try to understand. We do not believe this anymore. While not believing does not make it untrue, I would argue in return that believing does not make it true. The simple fact of this matter is that not a single one of us know absolutely what comes after death. There are stories of NDEs (Near Death Experiences), but they vary somewhat and can also be explained by scientific principles. My intent is not to discount those experiences, but to simply state that we do not know of a certainty that there really is a next life for us after we die. Please do not tell us that you do know these things. Believing does not equal knowing. Regarding current blessings and trials, or positive and negative circumstances and events in a person’s life, you can point to individual people and claim they are blessed or are having trials at any point in their life. But the simple matter of this is that life is often messy. We do not understand the whys of everything. We do not know why a particular individual can smoke for their entire adult life and live to a ripe old age, and on the other hand, an innocent child can contract cancer and pass away from it. Church members are no more exempt in general from problems in life than those who are not church members. Please understand that a few of the claims and common things we hear related to this are incredibly offensive. They include statements such as the following:
- “I can see a darkness now in your eyes/countenance.”
- “Satan has a hold of your heart because you have made the wrong choices.”
- “I cannot believe that you would hurt your parents/family by leaving the church you were raised in.” (The intent is not to hurt family. The purpose of leaving is to find our OWN happiness. We are not responsible for your happiness, just as you are not responsible for ours. Please understand this. In general, we do not blame parents and family for their teachings; most of the time, they were teaching what they knew and believed, and we can see and appreciate that.)
- “You aren’t REALLY happy, you are just trying to convince me/yourself that you are.” (No one gets to judge a person’s happiness level but that person. This is both insulting and demeaning to say to any person.)
- “You just don’t understand the doctrine, and that’s why you left.” (Try us. See if we can’t point out the doctrine just as well as you can, and you may see that a lot of the time, leaving has caused us to do much more research into the church than ever before, along with concentrated prayer and scripture study because it’s what has been taught to us that will give us the answers that we wanted. We are often extremely knowledgeable and well-versed in both current and historical claims, practices, and events in the church.)
We love you, our friends and family. It is true that I would love to see people leave a church that I find incredibly harmful to people who do not fit its very narrow mold. However, even with that sentiment, I am completely willing to respect your decision to remain in the church. Please respect the decision that I, and other ex-Mormons, have made to leave. Whether or not you understand it, know that we made the right decision for us. Please understand that we see things from a different perspective now, but that we understand your perspective. We were there. Many of us were very ardent in our defense of issues that we saw people bring up with the church. We know the church’s answers for all of the issues that plagued us before we decided to discard it as all together more harmful than good, and simply false.
As another wise friend stated:
“I want to tell [active LDS members] my beliefs in no way threaten yours. I am not attacking you as a person because you believe. I am discussing why my feelings have changed.” – Alice Maxwell
Finally, please try to understand that we simply want your love and support, your true friendship. We know the church keeps you busy. Please be a friend to us. Please don’t be scared that our apostasy will somehow rub off on you. If you have questions, please ask us. And most of all, please understand that we have and are still going through some serious emotional trauma in leaving the church. Especially for those of us who were born and raised in the church, or born and raised into other fundamental or Christian-based religions and then converted to Mormonism, there is a lot of learning we still have to do, a full remaking of who we are, and finding ourselves outside of the religion(s) that were all encompassing for so much of our lives. If we speak out in hurtful tones about the church, it is because the church’s practices and doctrines hurt us or others that we know. We have ultimately decided that there is enough negative in the church and we do not want to be affiliated with it any longer. Please be patient with us. Understand we are not directly attacking you. We have serious problems with being lied to by trusted leaders throughout our life and at times, that anger and sense of betrayal can spill over into our tone and comments. Ultimately, we simply want to try to be loved and understood. As Mormons, do you not want the same thing? Does it not bother you when people have misconceptions about the church or its members, and do you not work to correct those? Do you appreciate it when people tell you to be silent about your faith or beliefs? If not, please do not ask it of us. We want to bridge that gap, but in general, we are unwilling to risk the happiness and peace we have found in leaving the church to come back to the church itself. Please do not require that of us in order to still love and spend time with us. Love should triumph over all.
- Alma 41:10, Book of Mormon ↩