In 1844, several disaffected associates of Joseph Smith published the Nauvoo Expositor, which exposed the polygamy and polyamory Joseph had been practicing (and denying) for years, including his attempts to seduce and coerce young girls into marriage. To highlight how totally secretive Joseph was about his polygamous practices, here’s a statement made by the “prophet” earlier that year:
“…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411)
Two days after the Nauvoo Expositor was published, Joseph Smith and his fellow city council members declared the paper a nuisance, and ordered both the paper and the printing press it came from to be destroyed. This, of course, didn’t jive with the First Amendment, and Joseph was later summoned to court on charges of riot and incarcerated in Carthage Jail.
I saw a tweet today that I’ve seen in hundreds of slightly varying forms over the years. It said:
“If you have left the Mormon church and you spend more time engaged in Mormonism than most Mormons, maybe it’s time to find other hobbies.”
I take issue with this tweet for the following reasons:
Silencing the voices of critics is a common tactic employed by cults and high-demand religions. Those who dissent are always marginalized by such groups, and any doubts a member might have about the validity of their group’s teachings are considered their problem — never the problem of the group. Today’s “Ex-Mormons can leave the Church but they can’t leave it alone” is yesterday’s “Kill the apostates in the name of the Lord”, just like today’s “admitted in a Church essay” is yesterday’s “anti-mormon literature”.
Throughout history, Mormons have inflicted physical and psychological violence on apostates. Brigham Young once said he wanted to “unsheath my bowie knife” on those who had left the Church, and said they were angels of the devil — child’s play compared to the actual harm he inflicted on people. In a letter to Apostle Orson Hyde, Sidney Rigdon once wrote that, “…it was the imperative duty of the Church to obey the word of Joseph Smith, or the presidency, without question or inquiry, and that if there were any that would not, they should have their throats cut from ear [to] ear.” This sentiment was also reflected in the temple ceremony, which previously required members to mime slitting their own throats to symbolize what would happen to them if they left the Church.
In the early days of the church, both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were involved in a vigilante group known as the “Danites”, which were used by both “prophets” to carry out barabarous acts of murder, rape, and theft of anyone who got in the way of Mormonism’s agenda. They did not take kindly to those who left the Church. If you don’t know anything about them, learn more here. Here are a couple of quotes from Joseph Smith’s diary:
“We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of very great evils which hath hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings & persuasions.”
“I sent [Orrin] Rockwell [leader of the Danites] to kill Boggs, but he missed him, it was a failure; he wounded him instead of sending him to Hell.”
Luckily, LDS Church censorship of apostates is no longer done through violence, but teachings about disaffected members still cause immeasurable damage. In 1981, Boyd K. Packer warned BYU students about associating with ex-Mormons, telling them to, “Remember: when you see the bitter apostate, you do not see only an absence of light, you see also the presence of darkness. Do not spread disease germs.”
You can imagine the impact these kinds of teachings have on relationships between Mormons and ex-Mormons to this day.
In modern progressive societies, it is generally considered wrong to delegitimize a person’s experiences for one’s own gain. You wouldn’t tell a victim of racism or sexism that their experience didn’t matter — or even didn’t happen — because you feel more comfortable believing that racism or sexism is over. (Some people do still do that, but they suck.) Yet we continue to see ex-Mormon voices — even those that have suffered endlessly because of deliberate dishonesty from the LDS Church — silenced and belittled within Mormonism, thanks to tribalism and LDS leadership’s desperate attempts to contain the amount of information that becomes known by its members.
It’s a losing battle — there are only so many dishonest essays the Church can write in response to controversial issues, and there’s only so much inoculation leaders can attempt to give members. Mormonism is a very easy religion to prove false, because we have so much historical information about its birth compared to older religions such as Islam and Christianity. Unfortunately, psychological wiring is hard to get rid of, so Mormons will continue to belittle the voices of ex-Mormons and even demand their silence, as cults and high-demand religions have done throughout history. All we can do is call it out when it happens and keep trying to legitimize the voices of Mormons who are hurting.