When I first told people I was leaving the church, my best friend unfriended me on Facebook. I haven’t spoken to her since. She was the first person I told, and she was the first person to reject me for being vulnerable.
The reason I had approached her before anyone else was because she’d never been super active in the church (though she wasn’t inactive) and because she was my best friend. One time she told me she didn’t know if she believed in Jesus. So I figured if anyone could understand, she would. I was wrong. The psychological tendency to double down in your religion when someone you know leaves it took away my hopes for compassion from her.
In the coming months, friends both close and distant removed me from their social media accounts, made passive aggressive posts about me, and did nothing to stop me from feeling alone and unloved. This situation only worsened the more time went on and people realized it wasn’t just a phase they could bring me back from. (Though I didn’t talk about it publicly much.) There were others who were wonderful—don’t get me wrong—but too often those people were not my close friends, the ones I had relied on and trusted.
One friend wrote a post about me on his blog about why I was anti-Mormon. His reason? I had made him a “target” by answering his questions, responding to his passive aggressive attacks, and sharing honestly what I believe with him when it came up. Though he had been the one seeking out contention with me, I was to blame because I apparently gave the wrong responses. (Aka, not LDS ones.)
It didn’t stop there. Even after we both removed each other from every social media platform (with me blocking him so he wouldn’t be able to attack me anymore), he continued his tirade against me. He posted tweets about me that I’d never see, but those I knew did. When my husband asked him to leave me alone and stop being unkind, he said, “You allowed her to take you away from your covenants. That’s the most unkind thing I can imagine.” He apparently felt justified in his attempts to publicly shame me because of his belief in Mormonism, all the while unaware of how depressed and anxious his knives were making me feel.
Throughout this, one huge problem I’d never noticed about Mormonism became strikingly clear—the tendency for members to think that their idea of what’s “right” is more important than being kind. (And I realized I’d done the same thing in the past.) By using Christ as a justification in the same way Islamic terrorists cite the will of their God, some less compassionate Mormons feel that like Joseph’s marriage to a 14-year-old can be justified or minimized, their cruelty is somehow justified if it means it brings people back to the church.
Presumably. I find it more than a little bizarre that some members seem to think unkind comments, passive aggression, and the removing of friendship will bring someone back to the church. Maybe that’s not even their motivation, and people really can just be that nasty. So here’s a piece of advice for Mormons, and I’ll use the words of one of your best prophets, Gordon B. Hinkley to illustrate it:
Kindness may be the most pervasive argument for that which we believe.”
You would never treat someone you’re first teaching the gospel to like you treat people who have decided to leave it. Remember that justifying unkindness with your religious ideals makes you no different from any other religion you look down on for doing the exact same thing. Also I don’t know what Bible you’ve been reading, but I don’t recall a time when Christ kicked those who were down in the name of God.
Leaving the church is an intensely fragile time for someone, especially when almost everyone they know is Mormon. They feel alone and afraid. They are usually grieving what was once their entire world. A world they didn’t ever want to leave.
It is not, contrary to popular LDS belief, my fault that I lost my testimony. It is not my fault the missionaries didn’t tell me about Joseph’s 40 marriages to women who weren’t Emma, including teenagers and already married women. It is not my fault no one ever told me about Brigham’s teaching of blood atonement or Adam-God theory or the doctrine that interracial marriage is and always will be a sin. It is not my fault that I can’t accept Thomas S. Monson, a man who has never displayed any signs of being a prophet, seer, or revelator, as having some divine connection with God that no one else has. If honesty means not deliberately giving a false narrative, and repentance means making restitution for wrongs, then I think the church has a lot of work to do.
People who leave the church feel utterly deceived and depressed. And somehow members think it’s ok to make them feel even worse. They fling around accusations of “anti-Mormonism” with no understanding of how awful someone’s journey out of the church has been, or how much they care about those remaining in it. (Not to mention the fact that most of us have never read anything “anti-Mormon”, only actual accounts from church history. There’s not a team of people just INVENTING crap about Joseph Smith. Accounts from witnesses, court proceedings, and even generally accepted church teachings damn him fine on their own.) No one likes seeing people they love be deceived. Think about The Matrix—would you be able to knowingly keep those you love deluded? For some people, the answer to that question is “yes”, because they think happiness is more important than truth. But don’t judge those who don’t think like that.
I have never talked about my disaffection to someone who has told me they don’t want to hear about it. Friends who have asked me not to tell them my reasons for leaving—I didn’t tell them. I respected them. I have censored myself, avoided being authentic to a certain degree, and hidden the deep pain I am feeling all in the name of trying to retain relationships that are important to me. I have been willing to surrender being understood in the name of staying connected. I don’t think it’s too insane to ask for a similar level of respect back. Or at least to not have unkind things said to me and about me.
It’s easy to think leaving the church is “the easy way out” when you have absolutely no idea how painful and difficult it is, and what moral courage it requires.
If I had left the church because of sin, or being offended, or any other less-than-solid reason, people being kind to me might have brought me back. People being cruel never would have. While I believe there was very little chance of me coming back to the church once I decided to leave, that chance is even smaller after experiencing what I can only describe as emotional abuse from certain members.
Be kind. Please. There is so much you don’t understand.