I’ve been swamped the last few weeks, but a reader contacted me and asked about the hurt and sadness and anger that come from losing faith in the LDS church. She writes:
I’ve basically reached the same conclusion that you did, which is that the church can’t possibly be what it claims to be. On some level this was a relief, but it has also left me feeling very sad and confused. I wondered if you had put together any common experiences from the survey you were conducting a while ago as to what people do who leave the church? How do people handle the feelings of anger and grief and emptiness after leaving? What are their beliefs? I’ve noticed that feelings of sadness were also frequently mentioned by people writing in to the Mormon Stories blog, too, although I haven’t heard any practical suggestions on what to do about it yet.
I’ve written about this subject before, so I’ll repost something I wrote about 3 years ago in hopes that it will help:
The Right Way
Given the discussion my readers have been having about how it’s wrong for exmormons to be angry or feel hurt or whatever and that they should just walk away and shut up, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what the right way to behave is for someone who leaves the Mormon church.
Is it wrong to be angry or hurt? Absolutely not. Many of us gave everything to the LDS church, our deepest commitment, our faith, our lives. It would be absurd not to feel some hurt or anger when you find out the reality behind the church you gave so much to. It’s OK and probably quite healthy to go through a period of being angry. I know I did, and most exmormons I know went through that stage. On a very simple level, you can see losing your faith as a major loss worthy of grief, and most people understand that anger is part of the grieving process. But as I said, the sense of loss is compounded by the sense of betrayal. It’s as if you found out that your father, whom you love deeply, had been stealing from you all your life.
But the anger plays right into Mormon stereotypes about “bitter apostates.” If we show even the slightest resentment toward the church, we can be dismissed as having been duped by Satan into joining the Ed Deckers of the world with their wild-eyed rants against Mormonism. I’m not ashamed that I was angry. I had a right to be angry because the belief system I based my life around was based on a lie.
So what distinguishes the “good” exmormons from the “bad”? I’d say it’s honesty and respect. I do know of some exmormons so consumed by bitterness that they exaggerate, lie, and distort the teachings of the church to score points. Fortunately, I don’t know any of these people personally, and they seem to be in the distinct minority (Ed Decker is a good example). Almost all the exmormons I know have a very strong sense of honesty and integrity, and it was that commitment to truth that made it impossible for them to stay in the church. They simply could not uphold a lie. Granted, some of the exmormons I know are still angry at a manipulative and abusive institution, but their anger is very rarely focused on people in the Mormon church.
Mormonism deserves to be discussed on its own merits. In my judgment, it fails at every turn in its claims, from the utterly indefensible Book of Abraham, to Joseph Smith’s miraculous transformation from glass-looking grifter to glass-looking scripture translator, to the church’s institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia. Does that blunt assessment sound angry? Maybe to a believing Mormon it might, but I’m not angry. And I certainly don’t need to lie to discuss why Mormonism is not what it claims to be.
I expect honesty and integrity in discussing Mormonism, both from Mormons, exmormons, and nonmormons. Other than that, I don’t care how angry someone is. I don’t go out of my way to attack the LDS church, and most of my exmormon friends don’t either. But we’re not going to shut up about the central facts of our lives because someone thinks it’s unseemly to talk about the church.