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Leaving the Church but not leaving it alone

26 Jun

This was already a topic I was planning on blogging on because it’s something that’s so frequently asked.  When I publicly announced my blog on Facebook I pretty quickly got the following two responses.  Because they ask what is so often asked, in a way that it is so often asked I’m going to use their posts as a springboard for this discussion.  Formatting is mine.

Comment 1:
What has always interested me is: I know no of no other group that is so verbal about moving on from their previous faith, as those who have left the LDS church. I have found this to be true with every person I have ever met that has ‘left’ the church. Conversely, I rarely if ever hear anything from people who have left Judaism, Christianity (of other flavors), etc.. Etc…. All if these whom I’ve met, are quite proud of their heritage, and rarely speak cross of it. They usually say something like, “it just didn’t work for me”. In fact, the only other group I know that are as passionate about ‘leaving their religion” are atheists. I cannot understand why someone would move on from something, and never stop talking about it, and cannot leave it alone. If it does t work for you, great. Move on, be at peace. Focus energies on positive activities.

Comment 2:
 I wish people who leave the church could leave it alone. I understand that’s not so cut and dry though, as Karena points out. I do take exception though that the church wont leave you alone. They do and will if you remove your records correctly and in my experience they are hardly hateful. In my experience the people who truly practice their religion and faith of the Mormon church are some of the most humble, and respectful and upstanding members of society that i have ever met. It’s hard for me to keep extending friendship with people who i care about when they constantly denigrate a religion and revelations that have truly enlarged my soul and spoken to me like nothing else in this world ever has. Obviously they have had a very different experience. If i can’t pray to God in the name of Jesus and trust in the marvelous revelations and confirmations that have followed, then there is nothing that is not relative in this world.

So let me list the points of complaint/discussion:
1. No other group is as verbal as people who leave or stop believing in the LDS church.
2.  Other ‘ex’ religious members rarely if ever speak ill of their faith traditions.
3. Except atheists
4. Why dwell on it? Why not move on and be at peace?
5. I wish people would leave it alone.
6. The church will leave you alone if you remove your records- and they aren’t hateful about it.
7. Mormons are great people.
8. I have a hard time being friends with people who speak ill of my religious beliefs
9. If I can’t pray to God nothing else matters

7. Mormons are great people.
I’m going to start with #7 because I think this is a good point.  Mormons generally ARE great people.  I agree.  I come from a large family of Mormons, grew up surrounded by Mormons, married a Mormon, and WAS a Mormon for a long time.  Mormons are generally great people.  But this doesn’t change that I feel their religion is false.  My issues with the LDS church are largely based on the structure, hierarchy, bureaucracy, corporate structure and most importantly the history and founding of the LDS church.  Not with the LDS people.

There is another common saying within the church that you’ll probably recognize, “the church is perfect but the people aren’t.”  I prefer to think that the people are doing their best with what they’re given (the day to day people and lay people, not the top guys- that’s a whole different story.)  In my experience the people are fabulous- but in my experience most people are- regardless of religion.  I don’t think that being Mormon or not Mormon changes your chance of being a good person.  I know a lot of really great people who aren’t Mormon as well. Being a good person generally transcends religion.

1.  No other group is as verbal as people who leave or stop believing in the LDS church. 
The commenter then clarifies that he has found this to be true with every person he’s ever met who’s left the church.   I contend that he needs to get out more. ;) Okay, teasing. But he does live in Utah.  He works in Utah and goes to church in Utah.  If he lived in a different part of the country or world he’d meet a lot fewer ex-mormons and a lot of ex-other-religious people.

as well as

2.  Other ‘ex’ religious members rarely if ever speak ill of their faith traditions. 

Some examples of other vocal “ex-members” of other faiths- not speaking positively of their experiences (which is why they’re ex-members).

There are ex-Jews who write books:
Product Details

Ex-Muslims who also write books:
Product Details

Ex-Catholics who give TED talks and have hour long presentations about leaving their faith:

Books by Ex-Amish
Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish LifeGrowing Up Amish: A Memoir

as well as Ex-Scientologists
Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

We can’t forget Jews for Jesus and that the entire Protestant movement is based on one man protesting the Catholic church.

There are forums for those leaving the Jehovah’s WitnessesSeventh Day Adventists, and Ex-masons (which isn’t exactly a religion… but has a lot of religious basis.)  You can Google any religion and find books, blogs, podcasts, forum and essays from those who’ve left and are discussing the reasons, which usually includes what they feel is wrong with the religion.

So- people who leave the LDS church aren’t the only ones with booksvideos,podcastswebsites and forums.  It seems that speaking out and seeking support are common when people leave the faith of their childhood and feel like they were betrayed by and organization they were taught to trust.  Talking about WHY those faith traditions were wrong is also common.  If you live in a highly concentrated LDS/Mormon area (and are Mormon) then you’re bound to run into more ex-mormons than ex-anything else. I suspect in other areas of the country with an extremely high concentration of another religion you’ll run into more ex-members of that faith tradition.

There was one caveat: 3. Except atheists

keeping quiet

Why should atheists keep their opinions to themselves?  Why is it that conversion stories are only acceptable for those who convert from one religion to another?  Within the LDS religion it seems the only happy conversion story is the one TO the LDS church, not one FROM the LDS church.

4. Why dwell on it? Why not move on and be at peace?

Let me compare something for a minute.  If you look at the last couple years of my life as a ‘conversion story’ then by talking about it I’m simply baring testimony in the same way that converts to the LDS church do.  Converts that examine their current faith and decide to convert to the LDS church.  You’ve got a couple of those converts in your ward (or are one) who when they bare their testimony share the WHY they converted.  How the church changed their life.  How if they’d not converted their life would be so different in some way?  People who leave the church feel the same way.  I left the church and it changed my life for the better.  I talk about it because I am so much happier, so much more at peace.  I talk about my conversion FROM the LDS church in the same way that others talk about their conversion to it.  Maybe it’s just deeply ingrained to be a missionary from being Mormon for 32 years. ;)

But just because I talk about the church, the historical inaccuracies, the problems I see with it, Joseph Smith’s 33 wives, Brigham’s blood lust, the current money issues and lack of compassion for anyone different than the prescribed ‘norm’ doesn’t mean I don’t have peace.  Quite the contrary actually.  I talk about leaving the LDS church because it’s how I’ve FOUND peace.  It’s how I’ve found greater happiness then I ever had inside the church.  It’s how I’ve learned to be my authentic self- by not trying to be who they’ve said I’ve needed to be.  It’s a beautiful thing.  If I can share that with others why shouldn’t I?

8. I have a hard time being friends with people who speak ill of my religious beliefs

I’m sorry.  But you’re in for a rough go of things if you  need friends who only say things you agree with.  If you don’t like reading someone’s opinions on Facebook then unsubscribe.  If they’re talking about religion in person then change the subject.  But if you expect to bare testimony in person and not have them respond in kind- but with their own beliefs or opinions… that’s just not how the world works and you’re probably better off only being friends with other Mormons.  But you’ll be missing out. ;)

I’ve found that the people who are the most upset about people saying anything negative about their religious beliefs are the ones who generally speak the most about their religious beliefs, especially to people they know don’t share them.  If you don’t want to know then don’t engage.

9. If I can’t pray to God nothing else matters

This statement confuses me.  I don’t know why my (or anyone else’s) lack of belief stops a person from praying.  According to the Bible and the Book of Mormon you’re supposed to pray in secret anyway. But don’t expect me to pray with you, that’s as disrespectful as me asking you not to pray.  If I’m at your house for dinner and you want to pray before eating I will sit quietly while you do so, and have taught my children to do the same.  But if you come to my house don’t expect to offer a prayer- that is completely disrespectful to how we run our home.

 5. I wish people would leave it alone.

Let’s take a minute and define what “leave it alone” means when LDS members state it.  From what I’ve gathered it means never speak of the LDS church again.  Never. Unless you’re going to speak positively and in a faith affirming way.  Drop it.  Pretend like it doesn’t exist in your life.

Thirty-two years.  That’s a long time.  Being raised in a very orthodox LDS home the Church touched every part of my life.  Every part.  We went to church every Sunday without fail unless we were on our death beds, even while on vacation.  We read scriptures daily, prayed multiple times daily, held family home evening, visited church history sites, graduated from seminary, attended mutual  and took institute classes when in college.  Rules were followed to the letter of the law and with exactness and without deviation.  My father held personal priesthood interviews with us as children and we received blessings before starting school.  We watched every session of General Conference and were expected to take notes and had ‘Conference Quiz’ sessions afterwards to see how closely we paid attention.  As a teenager I read Jack Weyland, Anita Stansfield, The Work and the Glory and The Storm Testament.   We kept the Sabbath Holy in the most extreme ways possible and I never tasted a caffeinated beverage until I was a senior in high school.

Because of the teachings of the Church I married young, had babies young, didn’t have a career, dropped out of college when I got married and made other life changing decisions based on the ‘Truths” (and culture) of the church.   I’m currently living in Utah in a city that has a high percentage of Mormons, in a family where 7 of my 8 siblings still identify as Mormons, and have a mother who is a Mormon missionary and sends letters fully of missionary experiences and testimony regularly. A high percentage of my friends are Mormons, my neighbors are largely LDS and some treat me (and my children) differently because I’m no longer an active participant in their ward. When I go to school the Church is a part of the conversation in classes, even if only as an undertone.   Because I live in Utah the Church also has a heavy, and in my opinion unhealthy, hand in politics.  I expect that if I were to leave Utah it would be a little easier to leave the church ‘alone.’  But right now moving doesn’t work for my family.  My husband has a job here and I’ve got another year left of school here. Picking up and moving isn’t really a viable option (yet).

It’s little unfair to say, “never speak of it again.”  It’s also more than a little unhealthy I think.  It’s part of my life.  I’ve given a lot of my life to the church in time, money, emotion as well as blood, sweat and tears. When I was a member I was 150% a member. I have ownership of my experience. Not the corporate church.

In the same vein I don’t expect my friends and family to stop speaking of the church in my presence either.  It’s part of their lives. But I’d like the same freedom to discuss the things I’ve been learning as well.  Typically that’s not well received though.

It’s like saying to a person who divorces to never speak of their ex-spouse again.  Even though they have children together and will continue to interact for the foreseeable future- they aren’t allowed to every say anything about them again. Period. Now pretend the spouse was abusive.  Would you say they are never allowed to process that?  The LDS church feels like an abusive ex-spouse on a lot of levels.

Pretending like there was never a relationship there is completely unreasonable- and unhealthy.

The church isn’t very good at leaving people alone either.  First of all there is the missionary effort.

missionaries

I find it more than a little ironic that an organization that sends out 50,000 missionaries a year to knock on strangers doors and tell them that they should change religions finds it disrespectful when people say that their church is wrong.  Especially when the story of the first vision (which last I heard was still the first discussion) entails Joseph Smith going into the woods and being told directly by God that ALL OTHER CHURCHES ARE WRONG.  Yet people saying the LDS church is wrong is offensive??  Really?  How does that work?

doubting your religion

Then there are articles like this one from Meridian Magazine stating that “not leaving people alone” is just “how we roll.”  That regardless of the person’s individual wishes that’s just too bad because everyone else’s wishes override yours.  That they will continue to knock on your door, call you, mail you stuff- because your wishes are irrelevant.

In the comments after receiving some replies that not leaving people alone when they’d asked to be left alone the author of the Meridian article responded in the same way as the last point:

6. The church will leave you alone if you remove your records- and they aren’t hateful about it.

First of all- the only reason that the church removes peoples records now in a manner that isn’t “hateful” is because they were sued by people who were trying to leave the church and couldn’t without being excommunicated.

Secondly- many people have many reasons for not removing their names from the church records.  They shouldn’t HAVE to remove their names in order to be left alone.  A simple, “please stop sending people to my house” should work. People don’t remove their names because of the additional pain it would cause family members, because they have a believing spouse still etc.

Sidenote: for me it hasn’t been an issue.  I haven’t removed my names from the records of the church (yet) and the local ward has largely respected my wishes to be left alone on a church level.  We’ve not been bothered by home or visiting teachers, no drop-ins by “priesthood”, after sending a note in our fast offering envelope we were removed from the route for fast offerings, after asking to be removed from the text notifications for Young Woman’s we were. They’ve been very respectful of our boundaries and I appreciate it.

So why do I talk about it so much?

For several reasons:
1. For me it’s a new hobby.  It’s more intellectual than anything else now.  I spent my entire life learning one version of events, only to find out when I really started studying that there is a (as Paul Harvey would put it) “rest of the story.”  The version of church history that is taught is very one dimensional.  The characters are all very “all good” or “all bad” and the stories are very neat and tidy.  It makes church history very, very boring.  But when you dig into academic biographies, actual journals, and the full story it becomes a real story worth reading and studying.  It’s completely fascinating on multiple levels.  The stories of people who actually lived, how the different parts of the beliefs came together and speculation on past doctrines and beliefs.

2. Not everyone is happy in the church.  When I started questioning and struggling I felt so completely alone.  I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to.  I talk about it, post about it and am open so that people know I’m a safe place to turn. It’s a lonely process and completely terrifying when your shelf of  ”I’ll just figure that out when I die” comes crashing down and you start examining all the things that just don’t make sense any longer.  People shouldn’t have to do it alone.

3. I believe in full disclosure.  I don’t have a problem with people being actively LDS.  But if you’re going to devote your life then you should know the accurate information- not the information that’s been changed and watered down to be put into manuals.  The church taught me that lies of omission are just as bad as lies of commission so if you’re going to give 10% of your income for life, leave your grandkids to go on mission after mission, put off college for 2 years for a mission, miss your kids first steps because you’re working full time and devoting 30 hours a week to being bishop etc then you should know the full information about the following (for starters):

Multiple (conflicting) Versions of the First Vision
100% inaccurate translation of the Book of Abraham
Failed prophecies of Joseph Smith
Polygamy of Joseph Smith
-33+ wives married to Joseph while he was alive
-Emma was not the first wife sealed to Joseph- nor was she informed of most of the wives
-Some wives were as young as 14
-At least 11 wives were married to other men before and during their marriage to Joseph
-Joseph lied about polygamy his entire life.  (We believe in being honest?)
Problems with the ‘missing’ 116 pages
Translation of Book of Mormon using seer stones in a hat- not using Urim and Thummim like taught
The Kinderhook Plates
The Magical worldview
Problems with the witnesses to the Book of Mormon
The myth of ‘no paid clergy’
Blood Atonement
Mountain Meadows Massacre
Priesthood Restoration
Kirtland Bank Scandal
Danites and why the Mormons were kicked out of Missouri
Problems with the Book of Mormon Translation
Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith never followed Word of Wisdom
Top Ten Mormon Problems Explained

For my likeminded friends- why can’t you leave the church alone?

For my faithful friends- can you see where I’m coming from at all?

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4 responses to “Leaving the Church but not leaving it alone

  1. cocacolafiend

    August 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I currently live in a house with other Mormons, and I think we manage to balance things very well. All the same, it can be frustrating when they say certain things, or not being able to tell them about parts of church history I’ve discovered that are less than accurate. However, since they’ve always been quite respectful towards me, I err on the side of politeness. Some of their friends have been a little more pushy, but I deal with that as it comes.

     
  2. Zara

    August 12, 2014 at 4:26 am

    Fantastic post! Sometimes I think Mormons want ex-Mormons to “leave the church alone” because they are afraid Mormons will look even more “peculiar” to outsiders, the more the public knows. It makes it harder to fit in, and to do missionary work.

     
  3. Tariq Khan

    August 12, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Great post. Thanks.

     
  4. Baura Kale

    August 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Every year in Sunday School there is a lesson about “apostasy.” Those who leave Mormonism are characterized as petty, selfish, and easily offended. Those who leave Mormonism are demonized by their family and friends. Those who leave Mormonism are contacted and urged to return. It’s not the exmormons who won’t leave it alone–it’s the Mormons.

     

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