Former Mormons Gather to Share
Why do former Mormons need to get together with others who share their views and history? This question is asked often by faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly when they learn that ex-Mormons have become vocal in the last few years, forming foundations, bulletin boards, having conferences, and scheduling retreats.
In all of this, there is a factor of fear for believing members of the Church. They believe that anyone who has voluntarily left the religion is an anti-Mormon.
When I first began writing about issues related to Mormonism, patriarchy, polygamy, and other aspects of LDS life, I heard one refrain over and over: “If you don’t believe in the Church anymore, why don’t you just leave it alone?”
The answer is not a simple one.
I was born and raised a member of the LDS Church, and I have lived in Utah all of my life. This is my home, my family still lives here, and my own children were born here. My ancestors crossed the plains with the other pioneers who settled Utah.
My parents and most of my brothers and sisters are still active members of the Mormon Church, and to them I am an enigma. Oddly enough, they do not realize that I see them the same way. I don’t understand how someone could look at the facts, simply disregard them, and go on a feeling akin to heartburn that tells them what is truth and what is not.
In this respect, we are strangers to each other. And while I love them dearly, I often feel like a pariah in my own family. Several years ago, in early October, an historic conference was held in Salt Lake City, at the same time the LDS Church held its own semi-annual General Conference. A group of former Mormons met and spent time together, laughing, crying, and telling their stories. It was a huge relief to stand among others like myself, who have found themselves the odd-man-out at family functions, at weddings, and in neighborhoods dominated by the LDS religion. That conference has since become a yearly event, allowing like-minded people to gather together and share ways that we can function as Ex-Mormons in our very Mormon culture. (For more information on this conference, visit http://www.exmormonfoundation.org.)
When I was interviewed on the Tom Barberi radio show before that conference, he asked me a question something like this: “Well, why do you form a group that is about what you AREN’T. I mean, I don’t like zucchini, but I have not joined an anti-zucchini group.” I responded, “Yes, well zucchini doesn’t show up on your doorstep trying to bring you back into the fold, or call you, or love-bomb you trying to get you back to Church.” We both conceded that during the summer growing season, zucchini does get pretty aggressive, showing up unannounced on people’s doorsteps and forcing church-going Mormons to lock their cars during Sacrament Meeting, in order to avoid a car full of squash that the neighbor can’t get rid of without stealth maneuvers. However, I think I made my point. I cannot leave Mormonism alone, because it cannot leave me alone.
The bottom line is, we ex-Mormons still love our families. We want to share in their weddings, instead of standing on the outside. We want to feel comfortable at family functions where nothing but religion is discussed. We want to be accepted, loved, and tolerated for our choices, as they expect us to be of theirs.
Unfortunately, especially in the past, this has rarely been possible. We are warned of the “eternal consequences” of giving up our Church memberships; family members and well-meaning friends send missionaries and Church leaders to our doors; we are “fellowshipped” by ward members, until it becomes apparent that we have no intention of returning.
Then we are ignored. We are the ones they wish to forget.
For this reason, we meet with other former Mormons.
I do not picket at Temple Square. I do not hand out anti-Mormon literature to innocent passersby. I am, however, vocal about the problems I see arising out of a system built around patriarchy and a cloudy past. I am not a fan of revisionist history and hiding the truth. Only in addressing these issues and seeking change can things be made better.
The year our historic Salt Lake City conference was held, in 2002, we saw history in the making. I listened as Elder Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told LDS faithful “I have heard about narrow-minded parents who tell children that they cannot play with a particular child in the neighborhood simply because his or her family does not belong to our church. This kind of behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Elder Ballard also suggested that Church members delete the words “non-member” and “non-Mormon” from their vocabulary.
Maxine Hanks, who was excommunicated from the LDS Church for her feminist writings, hopes to see the LDS Church also reach out to ex-Mormons in the way it is now embracing a more respectful view of other peoples and their religions.
“We’re seeing the Church sincerely doing more interfaith work, and it is only a small step after that,” she said.
I was born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was raised within the confines of the religion, and it will forever be a part of me. I spent many, many years trying to destroy that part of me, feeling tainted and ugly, ignored by the faithful, and ostracized by those who have never been Mormon.
Why do former Mormons feel the need to get together? Because as long as we stay apart, things will never change, and we will never have a voice. We will always be sitting on the outside.
There are far too many of us to let that happen.