Cutting a Little Slack for Ex-Mormons

In spite of having long spoken in defense of the Church against the criticisms of the “antis,” including some outspoken former members, I’d like to confess that there is room for increased respect and tolerance among LDS ranks for those who have left us and even rail against us. And I personally wish to improve and be less hasty in judging intents and criticizing positions of those who have left.

Remember the story in the Book of Mormon about the Nephite group who leaves Zarahemla to go back and live in the original land of Nephi? They spied on a Lamanite group living in the area, and the Nephite leaders prepared to attack. But some of the Nephites saw that those Lamanites were decent people and argued that it was wrong to launch an offensive war against them. Bloodshed erupted among the Nephite group and a handful of survivors returned to Zarahemla, their expedition having been a tragic failure.

I offer a weak parallel to this story in pointing out that many ex-Mormons, even some who show a lot of bitterness toward the Church, may be much more honorable people that we have realized, and may have entirely logical reasons from their perspective for leaving. In fact, it is not hard to find reasons to reject Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any past or modern prophet, or to find doctrines and practices that one can strongly object to.

Many who leave do not do so because the moral standards were too high or because someone snubbed them at Church or because tithing was too painful or they just got sick of home teaching or were victims of gossip or had a serious moral sin that they wouldn’t quit. It is understandable, in fact, that people would get upset over polygamy or several other things in LDS history or even in the Bible that would lead them to reject the Church or organized religion in general. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made and often no simple answers.

I am sad that they left. I think there are rich spiritual dimensions to the LDS experience that they will miss, or perhaps were already missing during their time of membership in the Church. I had one person tell me, after twenty years of membership in the Church, that he had never experienced a real answer to prayer. That pains me. I wish their experience could have been more like mine. No, I can’t explain polygamy, either in Joseph’s day or Old Testament times. It makes no sense to me and aspects of it offend me, even if some of the marriages were “dynastic” marriages that did not involve living together as man and wife. All sorts of things offend me, from the Old Testament right up to 2006. But I cannot deny what I have experienced, and indeed, what I know. There is a power and a reality to core parts of the Gospel. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. The Book of Mormon is real and divine. The Temple is divine. Prayer “works.” The gift of the Holy Ghost is real. The blessings and miracles associated with Church service are real.

Something is going on here that cannot be explained by any hypothesis that begins with Joseph as a charlatan who fabricated the Book of Mormon. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything the Church has done, but there is at least something going on that needs to be considered.

But there are other ways of looking at the external evidences, and plenty of ways to miss the evidences of the divine. Those who leave because of their interpretation of history or evaluation of the evidence may be entirely sincere and rational. In fact, that may apply to the vast majority.

Those who choose to leave may still be our friends and neighbors. They may still be reasonable, kind, loving people with differences that we can accept. I hope we can have some degree of mutual respect and less nastiness.

Given the fallibility of man, it is almost certain that some things that any person accepts as truth will be wrong. In the end, the most important thing has got to be the gift that is the greatest of all, charity. May we have it in abundance, even toward our enemies, even toward those who choose to revile us and accuse us of all manner of stupidity. I need it more, and apologize when I have been too rash or harsh or quick to judge those who have offered criticisms here.

May we feel charity even for those who shout at us and wave garments in our face. But may we also see past our religious differences and realize that some of those who leave our Church do not stand shoulder to shoulder with those who taunt and defame us. Some feel we have been duped and defrauded, but mean us no harm and respect the good that they can see in us. We need not assume the worst in them, and instead should see the best that we can.

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine converted to the Church, and I was very happy for him. Then he ran into anti-Mormon literature and was swayed and began to speak against the Church and had his name removed. Understandably, my bishop encouraged several of us to be careful and to avoid religious discussion with him. I was uncomfortable with him and we grew apart. But now, many years later, we’ve teamed up again, though we are states apart. He’s an amazing person, vastly interesting, and though we differ in many topics, I am pleased to count him as a friend. He is no longer an “anti” but quietly tolerates my religious beliefs (with a few good-natured jokes, of course), though he thinks it’s all a lie and believes there is no God. I realize that he is every bit as important to God as I or any member of the Church, and perhaps more so, given what he has endured and overcome.

In appreciating him and his friendship, it is so clear that there is much more to life than simply whether one is or is not a member of any particular religion. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ is divine and is a marvelous tool meant to bless the children of this planet, but there is much outside our tiny Church that we have yet to appreciate. This life is a journey, and there are treasures to be uncovered for all and in all who seek the Good, even when they – or we – have gotten some things wrong along the way.

May we be civil one to another, even as we debate our religious views and contend for the cause of truth as we see it.

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

139 thoughts on “Cutting a Little Slack for Ex-Mormons

  1. Natalie Collins always said you were one of the good guys. Nice post, Jeff.

    I’ve argued back and forth here in the past and have never felt I was an “anti”, but I am disaffected. Polygamy seems to be one of my hot button issues. I appreciate civility and return it in kind.

    My LDS neighbors and I remain good friends, despite my issues with church history and doctrine. It really only takes a little tolerance from both parties, but there is always that unspoken elephant in the room. Not much you can do about that.

  2. I think you make a good point, Jeff; there is absolutely room for us all to be more open, respectful, and friendly.

    As for the comments offered here, we should be especially careful with our responses as some come here with the sole purpose of making people upset, for their own chuckles or for some more complex reason.

    This is not to suggest that this represents everyone disagreeing with the church, or even a majority, but this kind of behavior does exist. If we are always kind and respectful as we ought, we will avoid being suckered into a destructive, contentious spiral.

  3. Those are fine thoughts, Jeff. If we take them to heart, we’ll all raise the level of our conversations and interactions with those critical of LDS faith claims, whether they be ex-LDS, Christian, or secular.

    At the same time, it’s fair to point out that it should be a two-way street. If we can give LDS critics the benefit of good motives, they ought to be willing to do the same for Mormons. Too many of them see the ideal modus operandi as Mormons always, always giving them the benefit of good motives while they have the permanent dispensation to dish out jabs, jokes, and insults.

    My good-natured tolerance reached its limit when I observed a Jesus-loving anti-Mormon yelling offensive remarks and uncharitable Jesus slogans at busses of Mormons (including the one with my family on it) attending a temple open house in California. I now have much less compunction in pointing out how bigoted and intolerant many Evangelicals (the primary pool of such deluded do-gooders) are toward Mormons. Those who sympathize with such activities and whose megachurches and bookstores push blatantly inaccurate, even hostile, depictions of Mormons in pamphlets and books are as tainted by those activities as those who participate directly. I don’t advocate reciprocating in kind, but it is simply impossible for me to paint their motives as generous, sincere, or charitable.

  4. A thoughtful, sound peice of advice Jeff! Thank you. I apologize if I have been too fiesty in my posts.

    Sincerely,
    Shawn

  5. Jeff makes several excellent points. I would say (IMO) that the overwhelming number of exmo comments (whether harsh or not) have the intention of “waking up” mormons to the supposed fact that they are being duped (as they feel they have been). If you can get past the harshness, I really believe this is the intent.

    Shawn,

    Your restraint has always been admirable. YOU have no reason for apology.

  6. Yes yes–excellent post.

    I think a lot of LDS folk online are too easily riled, and feel the need to fire back when somebody comes in trashing our religion(this is a problem with me as much as anybody). I’ve noticed that we also sometimes become upset when somebody honestly inquires about our religion, or offers criticism of any kind(I’ve lurked here for a couple of months, and I’ve seen Bishop Rick get unfairly trashed. For the record, Bishop Rick, I like your posts and you have a cool username).

    I know it’s upsetting that there are so many anti-mormons spreading hate online, but being rude to anybody won’t help us at all. Arguing won’t get them to like the church. The only thing we can do at this point is live our lives well, and be a good example to them. Hopefully someday they will come around.

  7. Jeff writes,

    Many who leave do not do so because the moral standards were too high or because someone snubbed them at Church or because tithing was too painful or they just got sick of home teaching or were victims of gossip or had a serious moral sin that they wouldn’t quit. It is understandable, in fact, that people would get upset over polygamy or several other things in LDS history or even in the Bible that would lead them to reject the Church or organized religion in general. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made and often no simple answers.

    Cutting a little slack to Ex-Mormons starts with a better understanding about why they left, as opposed to the stereotypes you seem to have. It could be something so simple as that some look at LDS Church theology, compare it with orthodox Christian teachings, and arrive at a realization that the two do not match.

  8. Bishop Rick,

    Thank you for your words, that people may have “the intention of ‘waking up’ mormons to the supposed fact that they are being duped.” When people come at me with venom, I try to ask them their motivation for such, um, enthusiasm. If they have a good purpose, like what you mentioned above, I take a lot more interest in what they have to say, because at the very least they’re sincere. It’s the other kind, commonly referred to as trolls when online and jerks in real life, that I wish we’d be polite and brief with, emphasis on brief.

  9. Yes, indeed. Jeff is often the voice of reason. Often, some Mormons (it takes one to know one–like myself) have as much of a penchant for argument as any “anti.” We like to be right and often go too far to achieving that.

  10. As a long-time reader and first-time commenter, I can only thank you for your kind message. This month marks the 25th anniversary of my baptism into the Church. This quarter-century includes an eight-year period of inactivity. It pleases me to know that during that time, I never said anything negative about the Church. Who was it that said, “People just keep leaving the Church, but they just won’t leave it alone.” ??

    I hope that we can all think more than twice before bashing any other belief system and I feel that your blog is a marvelous resource for those who want to know more about who we are and why we believe as we do.

  11. Orin Ryssman, what stereotypes of Jeff’s were you referring to? His list that you quoted was criticizing common stereotypes, not endorsing them. Disagreeing with the theology is akin to disagreeing with past or present practices, as in the example of polygamy he cited.

  12. Strangely enough Jeff Lindsey’s website convinced me that there was a historical deception going on amongst the church hierarchy and other apologist sites. When researching information on Mormonism especially on the Internet one must exercise extreme caution because there are plenty of people out there posting stuff that isn’t true.

    While I do not agree with Mr. Lindsey’s views, I respect anyone who will gleefully display on his site arguing the case for Mormonism groups he’s won from anti-Mormon groups to mock them.

  13. Well, Jeff, once again you have proved me right.

    After several exchanges and discourses, and some “gentle” poking of fun, which is my stock in trade, I discovered you to be a remarkably upstanding, genuine person who truly BELIEVES what you write and “testimonize” about. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a word, but hey, it fits.)

    This post just confirms all of that.

    We will probably never agree, but I came to realize you aren’t judging. You are just trying to SHARE what you believe to be a great blessing.

    That I don’t share your belief is just the way things go, but WOW, what a big step toward ex/former/jack/anti-Mormons and Mormons. I’ve been waiting years to see it happen. You give me hope.

    Kudos, Jeff.

  14. Oh, and I just have to say that I am often accused of bashing the LDS Church on my blog. I hear this a lot, especially in nasty emails from active Mormons. I won’t put my blog link here, because Jeff does not like that much. But I don’t play games. I tell it all. That’s not always considered a GOOD trait.

    Just a few days ago I received an email from a Mormon poster who wished me to “drop dead.”

    And that could happen. After all, people drop dead every day!

    The truth of me, and my blog, is that I tell it like I see it, but I have NEVER told someone to drop dead. Even the real idiots. And I can see a good person and can acknowledge that person as such, despite their religious belief or association.

    I’m sorry that some people don’t want to consider the other side. But it’s there. I tell it all, good, bad and ugly. It’s just life. I don’t believe Mormonism is true. But I like Mormons. Two of the NICEST and most GENUINE people I know are very active Mormons. They are great friends. I would call either one of them in a pinch. I think they would do the same for me. They know how I feel. I know how they feel. And yet we get along.

    My mom is very active Mormon, and you wouldn’t or couldn’t meet a NICER person.

    I do not hate Mormons. I didn’t leave the Church because someone made me mad, or because I wanted to sin. I truly do NOT believe it to be true.

    I wish that could be accepted.

  15. Recently my parents made the choice to quit the LDS Faith. I appreciate this post Jeff. Your perspective has helped me realize that my parents are making decisions based upon their perspective.

    Despite what is right or wrong, it doesn’t make it easy to deal with family making decisions that you don’t approve of. I don’t think anyone can understand what it is like to go thru what I’m going thru unless you’ve had parents who have made a similar decision. It would really help if anyone out there in the bloggosphere could share with me how they dealt with a similar situation.

  16. My thoughts exactly…

    As Gordon B. Hinckley said once,

    “Live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. there is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies…We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we do not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry”.