The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
. . .
When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
Given that they are taught this by their church leaders, whom they revere as prophets, seers, and revelators, it is perhaps not surprising. A second reason active member of the LDS church avoid contact with former members is that associating with folks like me would put the lie to the doctrine. For I am demonstrably not "darkened" or manifesting "wickedness" or experiencing misery and anguish. To the contrary, I have never been happier, never felt more peace, never been more free, never felt more alive. And I know many ex-Mormons who feel similarly. The world didn't end for us when we left the church; we didn't turn into hobos and vagrants and vagabonds. The grim picture painted by church leaders of the woeful apostate is as distorted as the rosy picture the church paints of the idealized Joseph Smith. If members of the church associate too much with former members, they will begin to see that their church leaders are, for lack of a more accurate word, lying to them about the "danger" of disagreeing with church leaders about anything and everything. And if their leaders are not truthful about that, members may begin to question some of the other things their leaders have told them to "take on faith" because once the prophet has spoken, the "thinking has been done."
I consider myself Exhibit A in the case against the LDS church's doctrine that apostates are bitter, miserable, unhappy creatures destined to "burn their fingers and go to hell." Here is my personal testament, nearly one year after resigning my church membership, to how apostasy has been "berra berra good to me."
One of the best things to come out of my leaving Mormonism was the profound relief that I was finally free to be me, to embrace what I truly value and who I really am. I recaptured my identity as I broke free from the shackles the religion had fastened so tightly to my soul. Changing my world-view was at times disorienting, and I felt some sense of loss and even sadness upon recognizing that the church and god to which I had given my heart and mind for nearly twenty years was not what it claimed to be nor what I thought it was. But at the same time, I was liberated from church-imposed self-doubt, guilt, fear, and shame—freed from the cognitive dissonance that was my constant companion as I became increasingly frustrated trying to reconcile my knowledge about the way the world really is with church dogma.
Coming to grips with the realization that the Mormon church was not, in fact, the “only true and living church on the face of the whole earth,” as it claims, and that it was not, in fact, led by a true prophet who receives wisdom and guidance and instruction directly from a resurrected Jesus Christ, was a difficult process. It was emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining. And for whatever reason, my spouse was unable to help me through that time. Initially, she added to my pain and confusion, reacting angrily when I tried to tell her about my doubts about the church, accusing me of destroying our family. She made it clear that there were limits to what she was willing to hear from me on religion. After that initial negative reaction, I felt like she had closed the avenues of communication on the subject. She eventually softened, to a degree, but I never felt safe confiding in her my deepest thoughts, concerns, questions, feelings. We continued on in our relationship: cordial, amicable, but never again truly intimate emotionally. We got along fairly well, I suppose, but on the surface only.
I needed support, and I found it, through the development of deep friendships with fellow travelers on a spiritual journey out of Mormonism. I found online a community of caring, thoughtful men and women with shared experiences who could relate to me without judgment or condemnation or disappointment. They provided intellectually stimulating conversation on topics of great interest and importance to me. And they provided emotional support, without which my leaving the church would have been a painful, lonesome experience. Instead, I can say “apostasy been berra berra good to me” because of the rich, abiding friendships I have gained. Through almost two decades of active involvement in the LDS church, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of lasting friendships I enjoy with true-believing Latter-day Saints. Mormons often are friendly on the outside but can be, with some notable exceptions, iron-hearted within. Exmormons, I have found, are the opposite: at first blush, they can appear hostile, but inside can have hearts of gold.
While I was forging friendships and re-discovering my core identity, I was also working a lot. And so was my wife. She and I only rarely talked about my disaffection from the church, and even then only in a superficial way. To avoid contention, we simply took the topic off the table. Mostly we talked about the kids and our schedules and the mundane things of life. I tried to get her to read my blog or join me in meeting my online friends on those occasions when we would get together “in real life.” She wouldn’t (or if she did read my blog, she would not discuss it with me). While I was getting support from others in my journey away from the church, she was alone. She stopped going to church—she felt understandably uncomfortable as the woman with an apostate husband. Many of her so-called friends shunned her; only a few made more than a token attempt to maintain contact and friendship once she stopped going to church.
But though on the outside we now appeared to be united in our disaffection from Mormonism, underneath she was resenting me for leaving the church myself and making it too uncomfortable for her to continue activity in the church. She felt stuck between two worlds, not at home being without an organized religion but unwilling to subject herself to the pain of continuing involvement in the LDS church. But we didn’t address it, and her resentment and anger toward me festered. Our interests diverged—I had my work and my online friends; she started working out and became friends with her personal trainer, a young Muslim man. The number of hours we spent together dwindled, and when we were together, we either fought over substantive issues or ignored them, focusing instead on laundry, shopping lists, and coordinating the kids’ extracurricular activities. She secretly became very interested in Islam; I secretly became very interested in one of my online friends (who has a blog called Thoughts by Sister Mary Lisa) in another state.
Lisa and I had become fast friends when she first entered the DAMU (Disaffected Mormon Underground, the loose confederation of blogs, discussion boards, and web sites populated by Mormon doubters, heretics, and apostates) sometime in 2006. I had started this blog that year and was on a quest to find as many disaffected/exmormon blogs as I could to add to my blogroll. I wanted people to be able to come to Equality Time and link to every good non-evangelical web site or blog critical of Mormonism. In gathering this list, I stumbled on her blog, and was impressed by both its content and her writing style. I left comments telling her so. And she would visit my blog and do the same. We seemed to have a similar take on a lot of things. She began posting at FLAK (Further Light and Knowledge), the discussion board where I’d hang out with so many of my fellow disaffected Mormon friends. Sometimes she and I would email each other. I admired her intellect, her humor, and her compassion. And, I would find out later, she admired me as well. For many months, we were “just friends” with no thoughts of being anything more. She was going through a divorce; I was beginning to question the long-term viability of my own marriage. She left her husband in early 2008; I found my own place to live in August. My wife had converted to Islam, and I had been away for six weeks working on a big civil trial. When I came home in mid-June, we decided to go our separate ways, believing we each would be happier living apart than together, and that our children would fare better with two happy parents living singly than two miserable parents living together.
After Lisa moved out and filed for divorce, we began communicating more often. Over the course of 2008, I fell head over heels in love with her, and she with me. I discovered in her someone who loves me fully, without reservation or hesitation. And I feel the same for her. I discovered someone in whom I could confide my deepest thoughts and feelings. With her, nothing is off limits, no subject verboten. I feel totally comfortable with her in a way I have never experienced before. And she feels the same with me. I feel no need to “put on airs,” to pretend to be something I am not. I feel no need to hide my true self. I can be me and she loves me, the real me, as I am right now; I don’t need to pretend to be “righteous” or self-censor my thoughts and feelings out of fear of her disapproval. And she knows that I love her for her, the real her, as she is right now. She doesn’t need to pretend to be anything she’s not or self-censor her thoughts and feelings. We are able to talk about anything and everything. The power of the love we feel for each other is stronger than anything either of us has experienced before; the intimacy deeper; the connection tighter. This is beyond infatuation, beyond a mere crush. We feel that magical connection given expression by poets and artists throughout time—sappy or corny as it sounds we feel true love.
Lisa and I are now engaged to be married. Our relationship has its complications. She lives four states away. We both have children from our previous marriages. We are not unmindful of the challenges we face. But we are very happy and look forward to facing whatever life throws our way together. If I had never left Mormonism, I never would have found myself. I never would have found so many good, genuine friends. And I never would have met my true love. I’ve never been happier than since falling hopelessly in love with her. I’ve never felt more comfortable with who I am and what I am doing. I’ve never felt more loved. I’ve never felt better about my self or about the world around me. I don’t second-guess my decision, thoughtfully and carefully and deliberately made, to leave the Mormon church. I have no regrets; indeed, it is among the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve never been more at peace. And I’ve never felt more alive than I do right now.