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Before I left Mormonism, I was a semi-popular Mormon blogger who earned people’s trust and a little bit of pocket money talking about my religion. I’ve always expressed myself in writing and think standing up for what I believe in is important, so writing publicly about my beliefs—the thing I cared the most about—felt like an obvious thing to do.

When I found myself unable to continue believing in the LDS Church because of research I’d done and my changed perspective on valid methods of truth determination, I switched to ex-Mormon blogging almost immediately after leaving.

In the beginning, I was still dealing with the fallout of a loss of worldview, which meant I regularly felt angry toward Mormonism and the people in it—who I felt were rejecting valid evidence because they’d been taught that it must be false or misleading. My anger came through often in my writing, I think, and while I did try to remain respectful of Mormons, I certainly didn’t hold back when discussing them and the things they believed in.

As time went on, I grew less angry at Mormonism, and began to recognize it for what it is—just one small religion in a world full of religions. I no longer felt bitter toward Mormons for their beliefs, but instead recognized that all of us have our beliefs shaped and even determined by our life experiences and the things we are taught. I realized that I wasn’t “stupid” for converting to Mormonism, just uneducated on the psychology of religion and religious conversion, as well as the history of the LDS Church. (As in, I wouldn’t have joined had I known then what I know now—I’m not suggesting that all Mormons are uneducated on church history. Many know more than me about it, and believe apologetics offer valid justifications for the things I cannot accept.)

Now, I have a body of writing and other content that I’ve put out there online. Some of it no longer reflects me as a person anymore, but I still get messages from people saying that it helped them, so I’m not really sure what to do about it. Instead of dwelling on all the things I’ve written that I wouldn’t necessarily write now, here is a list of what I think are productive things ex-Mormons can do to make a difference in the Mormon and ex-Mormon community.

1. Change the narrative about ex-Mormons

The biggest obstacle most ex-Mormons face when leaving the Church is maintaining healthy relationships with their friends and loved ones who are Mormon. We’re up against almost two centuries of Church leaders demonizing ex-Mormons and those who dare to speak out against Mormonism, and when your loved ones value the words of LDS Church leaders more than yours, creating mutual understanding through constructive dialogue can be extremely difficult.

Katie, an active Mormon whose opinion of ex-Mormons has been changed since her brother left the Church, says ex-Mormons should try to be as gentle as possible when talking to their Mormon loved ones about the loss of their faith. “We are told our whole lives about people who leave and anti-Mormon literature and how terrible they are,” she explains. “It’s hard to chip away what you’ve been taught about being associated with those things.”

There’s never been a better time to be an ex-Mormon than 2017. Attitudes toward “apostates” are changing, and many Mormons—especially the younger generations—are a lot more tolerant toward people changing their beliefs than Mormons have been historically. But we still have a way to go if we want to be seen as decent, moral people who simply followed their conscience and left a religion they no longer believed in. We have to think carefully about how we engage with Mormons if we’re going to bust pre-conceived notions about who and what we are. Recognize that what seems perfectly reasonable to you may feel like an attack to Mormons, and will put them on the defensive. You may have to be more gentle than you feel is necessary if you’re going to change people’s minds about those who leave the Church.

“The thing that changed for me once I was closer to ex-Mormons is that it really opened my eyes to beliefs and lifestyles that were different than mine, and how they aren’t all bad,” says Katie. “It sounds kind of bad to say now, but it helped me see that there are good people who are also not in the Church, and don’t want to be, and that’s ok.”

2. Engage in respectful dialogue with Mormons

Disaffected members are the most effective way to get people out of high-demand religions and cults. That being said, your goal when engaging with Mormons shouldn’t be to change their beliefs or get them to leave the Church—only to humanize yourself and maintain positive relationships.

Err on the side of softness and respect as much as possible when talking to Mormons, but don’t be afraid to tell people that you resigned from the LDS Church or no longer believe in it. We need people to know ex-Mormons personally (and actually like them) if we’re going to change hearts, and you’d be surprised how many people want to talk to you about your change in beliefs when you don’t make them feel attacked.

“The big thing is making sure we know that we aren’t your next convert,” says Katie. “Just ask if we want to talk about it, then respect our answer. Forced conversation usually isn’t received well.”

When I first left the Church, I thought throwing facts and quotes at Mormons would somehow change their minds about things, which it didn’t. When people attack our beliefs, we defend them, and nothing changes. The best thing you can do when discussing things with Mormons is make them feel safe. Questions like, “So how do you personally determine what you think is true?” are much more productive than accusations like, “How can you believe that a man who coerced 14-year-old girls into marrying him was a prophet?”

The best conversations I’ve had with Mormons are ones where I simply asked for their perspective, using questions that forced them to think critically about their beliefs. (I even had one friend say she felt anxious after talking to me because I’d created dissonance in her mind with the questions I asked. I don’t delight in my friend feeling anxious, but I’m glad I was able to open up her mind a bit toward ex-Mormons and why we left, without needing to attack her beliefs or throw information at her that was critical of her beliefs. It’s interesting that feeling more sympathetic toward ex-Mormons made her feel anxious. I also made sure she knew that I respected her perspective and wasn’t trying to tear down her beliefs.)

3. Don’t facilitate “Us vs Them” tribalism between ex-Mormons and Mormons

While you were Mormon, you probably saw ex-Mormons/anti-Mormons as the “Them” that you were fighting against, spiritually speaking. Don’t fall into that same trap once you’ve left the Church. The world will never become peaceful if we don’t stop “otherizing” those who think differently to us, which means we have to learn to criticize beliefs without criticizing the people who hold them. (Unless they’re, say, public figures or Church authorities, who I think should be held accountable for their words and actions.)

4. Move on

I reject the Mormon notion that those who leave the Church should “leave it alone”, because it’s completely normal to remain attached to a Church that had so much control over your life, at least for a period of time while you heal. But creating a life outside of Mormonism is crucial to living joyfully after the loss of faith, and I think Mormons need to see more ex-Mormons living joyful lives. (It’s only recently that it’s been even remotely acceptable to admit you’re ex-Mormon, and the internet has opened everything up immeasurably, so ex-Mormons are finally being humanized, albeit slowly.)

There are those of us who feel compelled to speak out about the LDS church, which keeps us somewhat tied to it, but you shouldn’t feel any kind of obligation to do so. You don’t have a responsibility to try and fix a church you longer want to be a part of. Many ex-Mormons will always define themselves at least in part by their experiences in Mormonism because it shaped who they are, but you don’t need to dwell on your Mormon past any more than you feel is productive. Once the wounds have healed, focus on jumping forward into whatever future you want to create for yourself—you shouldn’t feel obliged to stay updated on all things Mormon or try to get loved ones to accept what you now believe if they’re resistant to it. It’s not your job to change anyone’s beliefs.

Most of us read ex-Mormon forums like Reddit regularly when we first left the Church. It’s nice to feel understood by others after your worldview collapses, especially when you’re faced with a bunch of new problems you didn’t expect to ever have to deal with. But if, at a certain point, you notice that reading those things is no longer useful, it’s healthy to step away from them.

I’m a lot less interested in Mormonism than I was when I first left it, in that I’m no longer interested in talking or reading about it regularly. This has freed up space in my life, which I’ve filled learning about other things that interest me—things that have benefitted me a lot more than an interest in Mormonism.

 

Do you have any advice you want to share? Leave it in the comments below!

 

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Samantha Shelley
Samantha Shelley
Samantha is a freelance writer from England, known in the Mormon blogosphere for co-founding Millennial Mormons and Whatsoever is Good. She has guest blogged for LDS Living and Mormon Women Stand, and worked as a social media intern for Deseret Book. She hated writing all of that in this bio. You can Venmo her money for sandwiches using @Samantha-Shelley-1, and follow her on Twitter @TheSamspo for half-assed jokes and opinions.

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