Over the years I’ve heard several theories from believers as to why people leave the LDS church, but the common theme is that we left because we wanted to leave for some reason. We were looking for an excuse to leave, or so I’ve been told.
Whether we were offended or proud or wanted to sin or whatever, we allegedly embarked on a downward spiral of doubt and sin that led to our eventual break with the LDS church. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell believers that this was not the case with me or with most of the ex-Mormons I know. They know better; they know we wanted out.
I was thinking that a good measurement of where ex-Mormons were when they left is whether they held a valid temple recommend, so I asked on a couple of message boards frequented by ex-Mormons.
As I expected, the vast majority of ex-Mormons (more than 90%) said that they had held valid temple recommends when they left, and they tell me that they were worthy of the recommend. I know I was. Here’s what a friend of mine said: “When I stopped believing, I had one, and was fully worthy to have one, too. For many months after I stopped believing, I was still worthy to have one, if you had a liberal interpretation of the word ‘testimony’ in the questions that started with, ‘Do you have a testimony of …?'” And another good friend said, “Not only did I have a recommend, I was a full-on, set apart ordinance worker when I stopped believing. Talk about your uncomfortable positions. … I was completely worthy of that recommend when I realized that the church simply wasn’t true and that whole gordian knot unraveled. I didn’t even reframe the testimony questions when I did the recommend interviews. ”
For most, it wasn’t a gradual downward spiral. One described it as his brain having “flipped a switch.” One respondent describes attending “attending the temple regularly at the behest of my BP to salvage my testimony.” Another said, “I had a valid recommend, and I used it one last time to go to the temple and pray and meditate about my impending departure.” I did that, too. Another respondent said, “Yes. When I gave [the bishop] my resignation, I turned in my recommend.”
The interesting thing to me is the common theme of desperately fighting off the doubts, trying to salvage belief. “I don’t think I’m the only exmo in the world to leave, wonder if they’ve made a mistake and come under pressure to try again, only to become stronger in their disbelief.”
One of the few respondents who said they did not have a recommend when they left said, “The only reason I did not have one was because the bishop asked for it when I separated from my ex (for extreme emotional abuse and beginnings of other types of abuse — known to the bishop and admitted by ex). The bishop told me that any couples that were separating or going through divorce were not following their covenants in some way and were not temple worthy.”
I’m not posting this as anyone’s exit story, but I would hope that believers might get past the easy stereotypes and talk to ex-Mormons. We’ll get along much better if we at least try to understand each other.