There’s a myth out there that people leave Mormonism because they can’t cut it — that they’re taking the easy way out. There definitely are people who leave the Mormon Church because they can’t stop smoking or something like that, but there are many others who lost their faith long before they stopped praying, or attending church, or reading the scriptures.
If you live in Utah and you fit into the latter category — a Mormon who continues to live the faith, but who no longer believes — the easy way is to just stay Mormon and pretend that everything is fine.
Those Who Leave Aren’t on Equal Ground Anymore
When a Mormon decides to leave his faith, he isn’t in imminent danger of losing his life. He isn’t shunned either. (At least not very often.)
But his choice to leave Mormonism does jeopardize personal, and business relationships for himself and his children.
At the very least, he will have lost some respect in the eyes of those around him. Many will think of him as having fallen into darkness. They believe he has made one of the worst decisions a person can possibly make. Most will feel that they can no longer relate to him or trust him. Some will even be afraid of him.
I’m a very happy person. I have an amazing, beautiful, sweet, supportive, and understanding wife. I have four wonderful children who I adore. I have a career that I love and that keeps me engaged. Not much else to hope for in life.
But for me, leaving Mormonism has definitely been a challenge. The reason is that I live in a Mormon world that believes that being Mormon is about the most important thing in life. Even with this understanding, I’ve struggled to grasp why logical people care what I believe, or what kind of underwear I use. These things seem superficial to what really makes a person. Why should they make a difference in your opinion of me?
Why do you treat me differently now even though little has changed besides my religiosity?
I think I know why.
Leaving Mormonism is Seen as a Terrible Decision
Mormons believe that their Church is the only true Church on earth. To them it’s literally the kingdom of God on earth and that you can only go to heaven if you’re Mormon.
So naturally, to Mormons it’s really important to be Mormon. To them, it’s just about the most important thing about life. It’s even the mission of their Church.
So when someone leaves the Mormon Church, they’re not just choosing beliefs, they are choosing their eternal standing! Being Mormon is a really big deal to Mormons.
Of course Mormons are taught to treat former Mormons with love but it’s always within the context of getting them to come back, never acceptance of their choice to leave or of their different beliefs, or even consider that they might actually be happy.
Mormons are taught that those who leave live in darkness — that they are under the influence of Satan — that they have committed just about the worst sin that can be committed.
So, is it any wonder why former Mormons might struggle in a Mormon world after leaving?
Here are just a few ways that the Mormon doctrine of absolutism can negatively impact those who leave the Mormon Church.
- Your Marriage Is at Risk: Most Mormon marriages are thrown into crisis when a spouse announces that she no longer believes. “Is she no longer my eternal companion?” “How can I teach our children alone?” “How can I go on without sharing the most intimate and important part of my life with my spouse?”
- Children Are Confused: From a very early age children are taught and clearly understand that leaving the Church is a “terrible” decision. So when a parent leaves, some children feel overwhelmingly conflicted. They might see Mom and Dad argue about it. But they love both parents. Must they choose a side? Most adults don’t handle ambiguity like that very well — how could a child? Some children will begin to act out because they choose to side with the parent who they’re told is rebelling. Others will choose to “love” yet marginalize the parent who no longer believes, because they side with the Church.
- Relationships with Friends Change: To many friends you are no longer on equal ground when you leave Mormonism. You are now someone who is lost and needs to be saved. Maybe they no longer trust you or feel like they have much in common with you.
- It’s Harder to Make New Friends: Almost everyone I am close to is Mormon, so I relate to Mormons. It’s my culture. It was my world view for my entire life. And since that culture is not very inclusive, I don’t really relate to the non-mormon culture in Utah. Mormons are civil to me, but I never really feel like friends. And I just don’t have a lot in common with non-mormons. It’s a bit of an identity crisis.
- Your Children’s Friendships Will Change: Some parents will kindly direct children to play with children from “good” families that have the same beliefs. As a kid my bishop asked me in interviews who my friends were. When I told him that they were pretty much all Mormon he was satisfied.
- Family Relationships Change: My youngest brother is a great person but has never really been Mormon. Many years ago I heard my mother refer to him in her retelling of a conversation. She said something like this: “She told me what great children I have and I said ‘Well, six out of seven isn’t bad!’” This attitude isn’t rare.
- Your Career Might Be at Risk: If you’re a student at a Mormon School and you decide to leave Mormonism, you will be expelled. If you also have an on-campus job, you will be fired. If you have on-campus housing, you will be “asked to leave”. A friend of mine had his transcripts placed on indefinite hold. He lost all of his years of work and decided that starting over at another school was just too much. He never graduated from college.
- You’re Not Prepared: Some find that Mormonism has stunted their ability to use reason in making life choices. They are used to making big life choices simply because the prophet told them to or because the Spirit told them to. This can make you a bit vulnerable and ill-prepared to make wise decisions without the LDS Church.
You’re probably thinking, “Wow! Leaving Mormonism sucks! Why not just stay?” Honestly, if it weren’t for my kids I almost, certainly would have stayed — just pretending to believe and taking advantage of the good while ignoring the other stuff.
In Utah, it takes a lot of courage to leave the Mormon Church because your family, your social network, your culture, your worldview, etc. are likely all to be Mormon. You will be thought of as a lost soul and pitied by most of the people you have grown to respect and love. You need to choose and travel a path that — in some respects — goes against the currents of most everyone around you.
But it’s not as simple as choosing everything that’s not Mormon. (That would absolutely be a path to disaster.) No. Since there’s so much good that comes from Mormonism, you need to choose to keep or somehow replicate those things that are good, while excluding those that aren’t.
It’s not an easy path… I haven’t entirely figured out how to do it for me and my family yet.
Thank you for sharing your experience and observations. It helps understand all what the mormon on transition in Utah has to go through.
Hi Daniel. You’re welcome. Thank you for reading.