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Life after the Church: Former Mormons reflect on their decision

January 8th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

Story and Photo by Heidi Hansen

LOGAN—Why would anyone leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? For church members who are happy with their faith, this question is often answered with dismissive stereotypes: “They just want to sin,” or “They were just offended by someone at church.”

But out of 13 million LDS church members, nearly two-thirds are inactive or no longer consider themselves Mormon. Their reasons for leaving the church are often complex and varied.

Post-Mormon students at USU struggle to be understood by their faithful peers and family members, but many have nonetheless found peace with their decision to leave the church.

In an effort to bridge the canyon of misunderstandings between former and current LDS church members, four students in the USU Post-Mormon Club opened up to the Hard News Café. In an un-testimony meeting of sorts, they discuss why they left the church and how they feel about their choice today.

For art student Jane Miller (a pseudonym), who grew up in a predominantly LDS community and a church-going family, the struggle with faith began in her teens. “I figured it was just my circumstance and the church was perfect, but the people are not,” she says.

However, after getting married and having two children, Miller questioned her faith more, and found it increasingly difficult to attend church.

“When my first kid was transitioning into primary, he was having a hard time,” said Miller, 26. “In his first lesson, I listened as the teacher talked, and I came to the realization that I didn’t want him to learn what she was teaching.

“I didn’t want him to be taught something that I didn’t believe myself,” Miller said. “I didn’t want him growing up feeling alienated and constantly guilty as I had.”

David Phillips, 23, agreed that one can feel alienated growing up in a predominantly LDS family and community without faith. “Without active membership you simply did not fit in,” he said.

For Phillips, the desire to be true to himself had to trump fitting in. Now a business student at USU, Phillips said he left the LDS church a few years ago for two main reasons: faith and logic.

“As a child, I trusted my parents to know the truth,” Phillips said. “In that sense, I believed because they believed. I never have had a personal faith, but more a faith through them.

“I have never once felt the spirit,” he said. “This includes at church meetings, baptisms, priesthood ordinations, when tithing, or when talking to church officials. I prayed and fasted, hoping for some form of confirmation. It never came.”

The lack of faith felt by Phillips prompted him to study the church and its history more thoroughly. In doing so, he found what he described as “concerning things.”

These concerns include: Masonic rituals, scientific contradictions, polygamy and marriage of 14-year-old girls, secret handshakes, changing temple ceremonies, failed prophesies, the Book of Abraham, Brigham Young’s racist quotes, and changing accounts of “the first version.”

After verifying the information with church authorities, Phillips said, “I simply concluded that the church was not true.”

Pre-nursing student, John Albertson (not his real name), 28, went through a similar process of de-conversion while researching church history to prepare for an LDS mission 10 years ago.

Born and raised LDS, Albertson says he always tried his best to live according to Mormon standards. When he turned 18, as he prepared for a mission, “I felt I needed to study more about my church to become a better teacher,” he said.

In his study, he came across a video about the Book of Abraham, what he had previously believed was the writing of the Biblical prophet Abraham as translated by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. The video showed that the papyri used in translation were nothing more than Egyptian funeral texts.

“I knew my church was true, but I couldn’t figure out how to rationally explain this discrepancy,” Albertson said. He decided to research more and spent the next year-and-a-half engrossed in church history.

“Yet, the more I read, the more questions I had,” he says. “It seemed like Joseph Smith’s life was full of questionable events that I had never been exposed to.
“Joseph Smith was a mortal man,” he said. “Mortal men make mistakes. The big question is: Did he make the kind of mistakes a true prophet of God wouldn’t make?” Albertson said. “For me that answer is yes.”

For Albertson, “The night I had that thought was the night I stopped believing in the Mormon Church.”
For other former church members, however, problems with church culture itself were the first sign that they might not want to be part of the LDS church anymore.

Lindsey Adams (a pseudonym), a 22-year-old physics major, was raised as part of a large LDS family in rural Utah. She describes herself growing up as a “true blue Mormon.”

“I had read all of the Book of Mormon and Bible and studied it thoroughly,” Adams said. “I was the girl who spoke up in Sunday school all the time and wept during fast and testimony meeting.”

But when she left for college and began attending the singles ward, everything felt different.
“I was horrified that instead of feeling spiritual, I felt like I was in a meat market,” Adams said. “Every lesson was on marriage. It made me really uncomfortable.”

“I’m not anti-marriage,” she says. “I’m a romantic. But I felt like the ‘settle down and make babies’ attitude meant that some people settled for whatever they could get in the shortest amount of time possible, rather than what they deserved in a relationship: true love—Princess Bride-style.”
Now married herself, Adams says this realization caused her to examine her views on virtually every tenet of the church. “A lot of my previous reasoning fell apart,” she said.

“The church’s views on pornography, premarital sex, homosexual relationships, the place of women, and tithing—to name a few—are really misguided and don’t feel right,” Adams said. “It doesn’t jive with me, morally speaking.”
When students have made the heart-breaking decision to leave the LDS church, they become caught with a new set of questions: How do I react to people who assume I’m Mormon? How do I find a place to fit in socially? And most nerve-wracking: How do I tell my family?

Groups such as Post-Mormon and Ex-Mormon have sprung up to provide support for former LDS faithful trying to make sense of their questions.

Albertson is a member of the USU Post-Mormons group.

“It is a group where the members understand what the others are going through,” he said. “Having a club to help support them can ease the difficulty of transitioning out.”

Miller, the 26-year-old art major, says the transition can be difficult both personally and socially. “It can be hard to be post-Mormon at USU,” she said. “People generally assume that as someone who grew up in Utah, you are a Mormon. I have corrected them sometimes, but for the most part, it’s not really imperative that your classmates know.”

But Miller says “I am honest when asked directly” about her faith.

The other students say they have similar dilemmas in relating to peers who simply assume they are LDS.

“Generally people here assume that I’m Mormon,” said Phillips, the business major. “I commonly get asked which ward I’m in, who was my favorite conference speaker was, if I have a temple recommend.

“This has happened in general conversation, during dates, and even during a job interview,” he said. “Although the intent isn’t bad, it forces me into a dilemma: should I lie and pretend or should I be honest about my views and be seen as an outsider?”

Albertson said that when classmates learn that not only is he an atheist, but a former Mormon, their reactions are generally negative.

“Maybe they don’t want to associate with me anymore or they want to change my mind in some way,” Albertson said. “On the one hand, this makes it easy to figure out who my true friends are.”
Not everyone shuns him when they learn of his faith decision, however. “The reaction I get from non-Mormon classmates is primarily favorable,” Albertson said. “We have this instant bond and understanding for each other that is difficult to explain.”

For many former Mormons, the most intense inner struggle is to figure out how—or if—they will discuss their newfound non-religious situation with their families.

Miller left the LDS church two years ago, but she said she has yet to figure out how to discuss it with those beyond her immediate family and close friends. She says she doesn’t know how to tell her extended family. “I know it will hurt them and that is the last thing I want to do,” Miller said.

But David Phillips says he has been open with his family about his decision to leave the church, although it was awkward to discuss it. But he was relieved to get it all out.

“They were curious why I left, and discussed the reasons for it,” Phillips said. “Although I can tell many of them are disappointed with my decision, I have not felt a loss of love from any of them. I am very lucky.”

Having recently made an announcement on Facebook of her intention to leave the church, Lindsey Adams says she also was open with her family and friends about her choice to leave the Mormon faith. But it’s been a slow process, she says.

“Only rarely does a member of my family want to talk to me about it,” Adams said. “For the most part, perhaps with the exception of my parents, the conversations have all been mutually respectful and appreciated.

“And while my family doesn’t necessarily understand my choices and the fact that they will most likely always think there’s something ‘wrong’ with me for my decision to leave the church,” she said, “I’m really happy to report that I’m loved unconditionally, even if it’s a bit rough on both sides sometimes.”

Phillips recently chose to have his name officially expunged from church records. “I felt it was hypocritical to have my name associated with a belief that I found false,” he said.

This process is fairly simple: an individual must obtain a signed and notarized letter and send it with delivery confirmation to the church membership division in Salt Lake City. A local church authority must confirm the request; this often involved a short discussion with the individual as to why they want to leave the church.

After sending his letter, Phillips received a house call from his bishop. “We had a respectful conversation on the matter, and he agreed to follow through with my request.”

After leaving the church, Phillips said he began studying other religious beliefs and lifestyles. Though he identifies himself as an atheist, he said this process has helped him see the world and life in a new way.

“I discovered how much hate I had held onto before, and felt as though the weight of it all had been lifted off my shoulders,” Phillips said. “This rediscovery of life has been a great help to my adjustment to the post-Mormon life.”

Adams also found that her life has had a net gain from no longer being part of the LDS church.
“I have never been in a better place spiritually than where I am now,” she said. “My relationships are happier. I’m a more loving, accepting person, and the friends I have—LDS and non-LDS alike—are some of the best people I could ever hope to meet.”

Miller said she still struggles with guilt over how her decision will make her family feel and with turning her back on what she was raised to believe, but she says she’s comfortable with her decision. “When I decided I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I knew I was in good standing.”


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  1. 4 Responses to “Life after the Church: Former Mormons reflect on their decision”

  2. By Tim Russell on Jan 9, 2012

    Great feature, loved it! Solid writing and presentation.

  3. By jen on Jan 12, 2012

    Thanks for putting this out there.

  4. By Tim H.Henney on Jan 17, 2012

    The Post Mormon piece is the most thought-provoking, refreshing, honest college journalistic effort I have seen during 17 years of USU-watching. We left Logan after 10 years convinced that the LDS \"church\" is a dangerous, devious, criminally managed cult whose history and present has been and remains driven by legal sexual predation (by LDS legal standards) and incredible public relations skill. (It wasn\’t a \"mob\" that nailed Brother Smith in the Carthage jail but farmers, shop keepers, teachers, community leaders who feared for the safety of their wives and daughters — and with good cause. Yet the world thinks otherwise). The \"church\" is a deceitful, nasty, highly profitable social cancer. Was and Is. Nice job, Heidi Hansen. Watch your back.

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