Ex-Mormons and Belonging

A friend pointed me to an interesting article in Newsweek about ex-Mormons.


I thought I’d share my initial reaction.

The article speaks of an organized community of ex-Mormons who actively “recruit” people away from the LDS church with such things as pass-along cards and billboards. I know a few people who do things like that, and Jeff Ricks is a good friend of mine, so I’m well aware of what he does. I’ve never been part of that active effort, but I will say that I don’t think Jeff and people like him are trying to pull people out of the LDS church so much as letting them know, as Jeff’s billboards put it, they “are not alone.”

This is, I think, the important thing to take from that article: as Mormons we lived a highly scripted (for want of a better word) life within a defined context and community. After leaving the church, I realized just how much my life had been built around the church: all day Sunday, seminary, YM/YW, Scouts, cleaning the chapel, firesides, conferences, temple attendance, scripture study, and so on. Leaving the church necessarily creates a huge void in a person’s life, so these support groups are helpful in that, as the therapist in the article mentions, they “parallel the church in the sense that they meet every day … so they can transition out of one community and into another.”

That’s the key for me. Whether I’ve wanted to admit it or not, I had that big void in my life, and I filled it by becoming part of the ex-Mormon community. And I thank God they were there to understand and support me when I needed it. I’ve met some of the greatest people I know in that community, and as different as they are, the one thing they have in common is integrity. I have never met a group of people with as much integrity in my life. I think their integrity is part of what led them to leave the LDS church in the first place: they couldn’t just go along to get along or pretend or quietly sit in the pews. They did what they thought was right.

I laughed at the meetings devoted to learning how to drink alcohol or purchase underwear, but these silly things illustrate just how jarring the experience is and how much of your life you have to figure out, even to the level of what kind of underwear you’re going to wear (boxer-briefs, in case you were wondering).

I’ll always be part of that community, I suppose, simply because I share a common experience with that community, and of course, I have many friends who are active in that community. But I’m never going to be an active participant or organizer or leader because I just don’t care that much anymore. I don’t define myself by the label of “ex-Mormon,” though I may have at one time. Two summers ago I participated in a Sunstone panel about ex-Mormons, along with Jeff Ricks, Carol Hamer, and a couple of other people. It became apparent to me quickly that, for Carol and me, Mormonism no longer generated the emotion or passion that it did in the others. Carol still writes about her Mormon experience, though she’s been out far longer than I have. So, like I hope I am, she’s part of our community but not defined by it.

The other day someone asked me why I have never finished my sarcastic “Concise Dictionary of Mormonism,” and I realized that I wrote those posts during a time when the LDS church was causing a lot of tension in my home, and when I’m annoyed or angry, I tend to react with extremely sarcastic humor. I got to the letter “N” and then stopped. Why? Because the stress had passed, so the motivation passed. Sometimes I think I’ll just finish it off just for some closure, but it’s a good metaphor for my existence after the church. I just don’t have the passion to be angry or hurt or sarcastic anymore. The most I can do these days is to write about specific things that interest me.

I’m glad people like Jeff Ricks are out there to help people who are struggling. Me, I’ll just write what I think, no matter how many people tell me to shut up.

16 Responses to Ex-Mormons and Belonging

  1. Robin Bishop says:

    Is it fair to say that those who bind themselves as “ex-Mormon” have not as yet become strongly something else? It just seems to me that defining yourself as not being a child after becoming an adult is ludicrous…except if there is a large part of an adult who really misses being a child in the form of the Peter Pan effect.

    I don’t see it as healthy describing oneself as not being this or that and forming your identity around not being.

    I suggest you research the topic of post traumatic growth. It may lead to some insightful writing of your own. It plays a part of my doctoral dissertation which is almost finished.

  2. Robin Bishop says:

    I have a hard time with the idea that growing beyond 4% of the population to mix with the potential of 96% need be an ongoing personal tragedy so as not to become something that you find more valuable.

    I’m with you in this. Move forward in becoming and write about it.

  3. Jews have just as scripted (more so in my opinion) lives based on their religion, have more history, and have centuries of oppression for their beliefs to deal with psychologically, and have just as important family ties. To abandon their beliefs is to turn their backs on that history, to remove huge portions of the activities from their lives , and to turn their backs on the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their faith.

    But they do it all the time. I know plenty of very observant Jews who stop being Jewish, in an observant sense (they are still ethnically Jewish), and they do not need support groups, ex- movements, or message boards, at least not with the ferocity of ex-Mormons.

    They stop being Jewish, have a bacon cheeseburger, don’t pray, don’t observe the Sabbath, etc… Why are ex-Mormons different?

    • Brandon says:

      JOSEPH, I think you are over simplifying the Jewish experience. But moving on is an important topic. Just, not so easy as you make it out to be.

    • runtu says:

      My Jewish sister would completely disagree with your depiction of Judaism. That said, a more apt analogy to Mormonism would be the Hasidim, and not surprisingly, there are support groups and communities of ex-Hasidim and ex-Haredim.

      In my experience, the difficulty in leaving is directly related to the effort and devotion one has given the religion in question. Most Jews I know (I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and at least half my high school was Jewish) practice the religion casually, observing the rituals only at the high holidays. In Mormonism, that would be like Mormons who attend the church at Christmas or when a relative is going on a mission. It’s not hard for people like that to walk away quietly.

      Either way, I think you’re reading more into my blog than there is. I don’t feel much animosity toward the LDS church, and my posts are rarely driven by that emotion, though as I’ve said, it surfaces on occasion when something is going on IRL to stir it up.

      • I sincerely apologize, I am not ignoring you, but I am just insanely busy. I will try to respond in a while, but I may just be out of pocket for a few weeks. You sincerely responded and I do not want to seem rude.

      • I forgot about this, but saw it again recently. I am curious how you compare Mormons to Hasidim?

        Dress: Mormons dress somewhat conservatively, but still wear most of what is commonplace amongst the populace. My entire family shops at most stores, I have banned Hot Topic, but that was personal distaste more than anything else. Hasidim have a far more strict dress code.

        Communities: Most Hasidim live in very isolated communities and only associate with other Hasidim. Having never lived in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, California, or anywhere with a Mormon population, I cannot see any Mormon specific communities in any of the 11 states I have lived in.

        Association: Hasidim associate with other Hasidim, rarely outside of the community. Having lived in non-LDS majority areas, the opposite applies. Most of my friends and associates are non-Mormon.

        Education: Hasidim have a strict educational policy, rarely secular topics. Most Mormons do not go to LDS educational institutions (BYU) and attend elsewhere. Most study some sort of secular subjects.

        And so on…

        I am not sure how being Mormon is like being Hasidic at all.

        As for your animosity, you write “The other day someone asked me why I have never finished my sarcastic “Concise Dictionary of Mormonism,” and I realized that I wrote those posts during a time when the LDS church was causing a lot of tension in my home, and when I’m annoyed or angry, I tend to react with extremely sarcastic humor. I got to the letter “N” and then stopped. Why? Because the stress had passed, so the motivation passed.” yet you have progressed to “O” recently.

        There is an association between continual negativity and other associated difficulties. Have you considered that there may be a connection in your case? This is not to say you should be Mormon, but perhaps your animosity is more damaging to you personally than you think?

      • runtu says:

        Well, I promised a friend a long time ago I’d finish the dictionary. No big deal. Maybe Hasidism isn’t the best analogy, but I had some Jewish relatives spend Thanksgiving with us, and working around the dietary and other restrictions definitely reminded me of Mormonism. I don’t have a problem with either.

      • Yet you keep a blog dedicated to pointing out that you think is wrong with the religious beliefs of your family and loved ones. You focus to a disproportionate degree on the negativity you associate with Mormonism.

        How is this healthy? Are you aware of the connection between negativity and depression?

      • runtu says:

        I’m not going to get into this with you, as I have much more important things to do and to think about. You might want to read about my uncle’s life, which is what I’m thinking about right now. As sad as I am at his passing, I have felt a lot of comfort in remembering this genuinely great man and the impact he’s had on my life.

      • That is sort of my point. You clearly see the benefit of dealing with emotionally difficult situations by focusing on the positive aspects instead of the negative, but with Mormonism you wallow in the negative and somehow claim that it is positive and therapeutic, despite the clear evidence to the contrary.

        In any case I am sorry for your loss and hope you can find comfort in the pleasant memories.

      • runtu says:

        Well, thank you for your concern about my emotional and mental wellbeing.

  4. Robin Bishop says:

    My offering to your question is that leaving the LDS Church is counterintuitive where leaving Jewish traditions is easier to personally swallow. The difference in growth and decline.

    The membership trends are quite opposite with both religions. That also explains why there is no stigma in leaving any of the “orthodox” Christian denominations. My wife and I tithed in a First Christian Church for 8 years. Finding no resource there in leaving, we didn’t even get a visit by the minister in spite of the fact we were paying his salary. It was a tiny church but didn’t care anyway in spite of our former leadership positions there.


    • cynth says:

      What an unusually expressed opinion. Hopefully, what you are meaning to say is that YOU find it counterintuitive when others leave the Mormon church, which is understandable given your rigid approach. Sadly, your “leadership” was not recognized by your previous church, but as a non-Mormon maybe I can enlighten you that most small Christian churches are much more interested in acts of service. Focusing on making sure those who serve get “credit,” and are properly “recognized,” is a Mormon story that I am seeing more and more frequently of late! It is an unfortunate trend for your religion.

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