Within the ex-Mormon community…or at least, the ex-Mormon community as it thrives online, on websites, blogs throughout Outer Blogness, forums, etc., there seems to be this common exit narrative. (Daymon Smith has a post deconstructing the synthesis of this new identity, but I couldn’t decipher his blog post well enough to summarize the findings for you.) Here’s my attempt at a summary:We were (collectively or generally speaking) righteous, serious folk, who lived our religion to the best we could. Mormonism, at least for many of us, was a sweater made especially for us, handed down in many cases from generation to generation, across miles that our pioneer ancestors trekked. And even if we were converts, we dived into it fully.
We were proud of the snugness of Mormonism, and many times proud as well of this homemade sweater that was so distinct from what most others in the world were wearing. Maybe others were draped in inferior materials. Maybe others had good material but poor handiwork. Maybe they lacked the guidance, the ultimate revealed truth that we had to weaving it all together.
But no matter. We, as those who bore the truth, would share it with others, so they could bear it too. And so we did.
But then, one day, under some circumstance or another, we stumbled upon a loose strand. It was something out of order in perfection, and so we sought to pull out that loose strand to restore our previous perfection. But following that loose strand, we could not find solace. For instead of finding the end to the strand, we perpetuated the end to our sweater. In the end, with our once-snug sweater unraveled all around us, we found ourselves cold, naked, and vulnerable.
What was the sweater? And what was its doom? …Well, that’s the content of the typical ex-Mormon narrative. The sweater was a religious truth that we felt we had: the truth that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the one true church on the face of the earth, the only one with all the authority and priesthood keys to truly act in God’s name, and the only one with modern-day prophets, seers, and revelators to guide us through a depraved world.
What unraveled the sweater is nearly always described as being doubts to Mormon truth claims, skepticism of Mormon historicity, loss of faith in the hard underpinnings of the religion. As John Larsen summarized why Mormons leave the church (a briefer video than John Dehlin’s own attempt at the same subject, to be sure):
Why Mormons Leave (wmv — but short)
And naturally, that’s what Open Stories Foundation’s survey of Why Mormons Leave the church found as well. From that survey, here were the top selected factors for why people lose faith
- I lost faith in Joseph Smith
- I studied church history and lost my belief
- I ceased to believe in the church’s doctrine/theology
- I lost faith in the Book of Mormon
These stated reasons have been challenged from all sides. As mentioned before, Daymon Smith deconstructs the selection of “factors” for the survey. The heavy intellectual or rational slant of many of these reasons leads some liberal, nuanced believing members in the church to chide that disaffected members believed too much and that led to their faith crisis.
But it’s not just intellectual, about believing in a more orthodox manner than everyone else and then having that fall apart. As I mentioned before, ex-Mormons often also are ones who care about being righteous. As chanson linked to a couple of articles in the Sunday in Outer Blogness before last, part of the reason why some of the “I’m a Mormon” videos are so frustrating is because our experience is of seeing the emphasis on being perfect.
On that subject, I recently got a comment on my blog from John G-W, who later expounded his thoughts on his blog, Young Stranger:
…if you listen to stories like those of the McLays, I think the evidence also clearly supports that the problem lies not in some sort of conspiracy of the Church leadership, but in Mormon popular culture. If you listen carefully to some of these stories, one of the things you realize is that a major part of the problem lies in how the disaffected believer him or herself projected certain perfectionistic ideals both on him/herself and on the Church They struggle mightily to make everything (including themselves) fit with these perfectionistic ideals, and when they cant (of course they cant!!!!) everything comes crashing down like a house of cards.
My first thought would be to say that this perfectionism or cult of false expectations or whatever is more than just in Mormon “popular culture.” But more substantially, regardless of whether it’s institutionally or (merely) cultural, my more substantial point would be that it’s not just the disaffected believer “projecting” these ideals, and as a result, unrealistic expectations are EVERY Mormon’s problem.
In these surveys (and in most discussions with disaffected Mormons), the narrative usually sticks closely to these objective, fact-based reasons. When people try to suggest reasons more…emotional…everyone is quick to decry those claims. We didn’t leave because we were offended. We didn’t leave to sin. Just (about) the facts, ma’am.
But what’s so wrong with these emotional reasons?
Leaving to Sin
The problem with the trope of ex-Mormons “leaving to sin” is ultimately in the viewpoint that this idea takes…it assumes that the Mormon viewpoint (of morality and of sins) is the correct viewpoint to take. But why couldn’t we say that a big part of many people’s disaffections is coming to re-evaluate and redetermine their moralities? Instead of letting the question be begged and denying that sin had anything to do with it, shouldn’t we eventually be trying to argue that we find certain points on LDS morality illegitimate?
I’ll just throw it out there: I find the LDS moral stance on homosexuality to be incorrect. I would suspect that many people who disaffect from the church eventually come to this position (at least, the secular, agnostic/atheist disaffected Mormons probably aren’t all socially conservative anymore…)
Proposition 8 was a big event for me, as I’ve seen it mentioned as a big event for many people who ultimately disaffected from or completely left the church. And this is the case even though I don’t live in California, and neither do many of the people who mention it as a critical factor. For me personally, Proposition 8 awakened me to a particular realization: even if I admired some of the church’s secular traits (e.g., its capacity to prepare people for leadership, management, professionalism, public speaking, etc.,) ultimately, if I don’t agree with its spiritual claims, then all of that organizational acumen would be counterproductive — used for causes with which I disagree.
But in any case, whenever any gay member disaffects from the church and re-evaluates the acceptability of pursuing love and commitment…I don’t think we should be content to play with the “left to sin” rhetoric…we need to find a way to reclaim morality and say that that idea of sin is bankrupt.
Leaving to Offense
This naturally spills over into the next item that people often want to run away from…the idea of being offended. I know it’s trendy for people with privilege to claim that marginalized people are “oversensitive”, but we need to challenge the underlying premise as well: why are we trying to be completely unemotional? What’s wrong with being offended at things that are truly and personally offensive?
I think the reason that people don’t want to own up to being offended is because there are so many tropes of being offended over just the smallest thing…Oh, he was offended because his name was misspelled? Because he didn’t get the milk fat? Or whatever.
But here’s the thing: we don’t need to tolerate our problems being minimized and discounted like to these non sequitur type issues.
Another look at the sweater analogy
Earlier, I described that the sweater seemed to be a snug, comfortable fit for most of us…the problem was that it just came unraveled, leaving us with no foundation, no comfort. But Kiley provided a different look at the Mormonism sweater approach (HT to chanson from the latest Sunday in Outer Blogness for bringing this to my attention):
Having time to dwell on it a bit over the last few days I feel like I have recaptured it. My conclusion… The world inside of Mormonism was shallow and small… Ill-fitting like a sweater that had shrunk too much and chokes you at the neck every time you twist or turn in a funny way… Yep Mormonism was a choky sweater… Scratchy too.
In my church days I was a very binary thinker. I was completely consumed by and fixated on ideas of right, worthy and perfect. The church slogan choose the right was really all that I needed Salvation, happiness, and immortality all came from choosing the right. It was so simple. The right way was to do what the church taught me to do. The wrong way was to stray from what the church taught.
This sort of world view meant that there was no room for error, patience, growth, or mistakes. Mistakes and errors induced so much guilt that growing from them and learning lessons from them was nearly impossible. The guilt was debilitating. Not to mention that my idea of mistakes or errors was very flawed too.
…Ultimately, I recognize that the two reasons don’t have to be at odds. Rather, they may have a sequential nature or a compounding nature. What probably allowed many of us to reconsider morality, start walking away from and working past guilt wasour discoveries about history, about doctrine, etc., In fact, I’ve heard exactly that narrative from so many people as well: that even though they felt terribly in the church, they stuck with it for so long because, well, that was the truth for them. It was only when they came to believe otherwise that they could free themselves up in other ways.