Note from the author: If you are one of the Reddit users quoted in this post, and would like attribution, just let me know! I know most users on exMormon subreddit aren’t open about who they are, for personal reasons, so I didn’t want to label them just in case.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done an excellent job at demonizing those who leave, quickly attaching the label of “anti-Mormon” to anyone who makes negative claims about the church—regardless of how much evidence they’re based on.
Someone on Reddit today suggested that it’s time for exMormons to “turn the tables”, so to speak, and I completely agree. It’s time we stopped letting the church control the dialogue about why people leave. Members typically have an inaccurate view of why people choose to leave the church (see: Top 5 Myths and Truths About Why Committed Mormons Leave the Church).
It is simply not fair that exMormons are judged into silence by many church members when they leave. Bitterness is a natural reaction to feeling like you’ve been deceived, and exMormons don’t deserve to be treated like they’re bad people because they took an interest in church history and investigating the church’s claims.
ExMormons are currently in a defensive position, thanks to these factors. The church asserts that we have made a wrong choice. So here are some ideas for turning the tables on that idea, and generating a more correct narrative of disaffected members.
1. Don’t be afraid to announce your resignation, and why you made that decision.
Everyone has a different situation when it comes to leaving the church, so for some this one just might not be possible. But for those in a semi-decent position to do so, resigning with openness and honesty can be a powerful tool in helping members of the church want to understand the real issues, and judge less. Cult experts (whose logic also applies to high-demand religions) agree that former members are the most powerful tool for helping members of a high-demand religion or organization “wake up”, or in this case—simply open their minds to the possibility that what they are being taught doesn’t hold up to investigation.
If you decide to be public about your transition away from the church, don’t make it all facts and logic. Unfortunately, these aren’t super effective at opening minds (shockingly). Make sure you explain the emotional process of leaving, and how you’ve felt throughout what was probably a really difficult journey. While combining that with actual information, of course.
2. Don’t let people shame you into feelings of guilt.
Feeling weird, unexplainable guilt can be common when someone leaves a high-demand religion, however solid their reasons for leaving may be. Even the most strong-minded exMormons can be left with remnants of guilt for crimes they know logically they aren’t committing.
State your situation and beliefs with confidence, making it clear why you can’t stay. You are not a bad person for refusing to praise a man who married his foster daughters, or for not believing in a book that is provably fictitious. In fact, you are probably exercising more moral courage than you ever have before, by refusing to accept the moral relativism Mormons exercise by accepting terrible things church leaders have said and done.
3. Be kind.
Mormons typically believe that you don’t need religion to be a good person, and that there is truth and goodness in many places, but this doesn’t always show in their reactions to people leaving the church. Many members, especially those who have only ever experienced life in the church, don’t understand what life and people are like outside of the church. They have been taught to think that leaving the church only leads to unhappiness, sin, and generally becoming a worse person. Essentially, they afraid of life outside th church – as many of us also once felt. It’s important to show Christ-like compassion (your beliefs in Christ aside!) to make it obvious that you don’t become some evil sinner once you decide to sever ties with the LDS church.
Also, people respond to kindness. If you seem attacking/bitter/mean/negative in any way, most members will shut you off, refusing to acknowledge your concerns as legitimate. So let’s do our best to be nice. 🙂
The ideal outcome of exMormons being open about their transition is members beginning to think for themselves as they investigate their claims. It’s not about trying to get people to leave the church, but trying to open up their minds, become more compassionate, and develop a more correct understand about why people leave.
Let members know that you understand why they may choose to stay. As you have been on both sides of the fence, you have the advantage of empathy, while members probably only have sympathy at best. You know how scary it is to have to search out answers for yourself instead of relying on authority figures, so don’t incite any additional fear in members close to you by pressuring them. Be calm, be collected, and as we just said—be kind. If members do decide to leave the church someday, they need to feel like they have some support, because many will have next to none.
One of things many exMormons dislike most about the church is how it preaches agency while seemingly removing it. Of course members feel that they make 100% of their own decisions, but do any of us really make our own decisions 100%? Or are we all affected by outside influences, pressures, societal standards, and culture?
Unfortunately, many of us find that no matter what legitimate information we present members with, they will dismiss it or minimize it. (Because cognitive dissonance.) When they are truly not interesting in hearing what you have to say, let it go. Don’t make it your life mission to get people to leave the church. (Though you can certainly be actively engaged in spreading truth in the most respectful way possible… difficult sometimes, I know.) Be loving and understanding above all else.
One good tip I saw on Reddit was to avoid religious jargon, and break down the church’s claims etc. using regular language with meanings that are universally agreed upon. Here’s what they said: