When I left the Mormon Church in October of 2016, my world flipped upside down. Everything I had known and believed about the church I had once revered and adored, albeit for only five years, melted away as the shroud of delusion fell. I felt cold and scared. Although I had only been a member for so short a time, I had done just about everything that a Mormon my age could do. I had advanced through both priesthoods, gone on a two year, foreign language mission to South America, left my family behind again to live in “Zion”- Utah, been a Sunday School teacher, and acted as an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple. Despite how my Evangelical friends and family felt about it, I had been one-hundred percent invested in the Church.
Over the years, I had had many try to sway me and help me see the “error of my ways”. It only made me dig my heels in deeper. Although I now appreciate their efforts at trying to warn me, at the time, it felt more like a personal attack not only against Joseph Smith and my religion, but against me! I just knew it was all true! I had my testimony, my experiences, and my warm, happy feelings as I read The Book of Mormon. Whenever I had any doubts, I would either ask the missionaries and usually be content with their answers, or I would simply ignore it for a time. I really loved being a Latter-day Saint!
It wouldn’t be until the latter part of my mission when things began to slightly unravel for me. I had been placed with a very spoiled and loud-mouthed companion who made short work of turning my district, zone, and mission against me. I literally wanted to die, he had made me so miserable. I began to ever so slightly doubt what the Church taught about Jesus Christ’s Atonement. It took me months to pull myself together, but the damage with the Church had already been done.
Upon returning home, I surprised my family by announcing that, once again, I would be leaving them to move to Utah. I set out in November of 2015, only a month after coming back from my mission. For me, it was like living in Zion… for a little bit, anyway. I slowly began to notice just how uptight and unfriendly many people came off. I often reflected at this, baffled that people living in the center of what I considered the greatest religion in the world could act so cold and far from the teachings of Christ. I became so disappointed in them, that, only a few months into my new ward in September of 2016, I went “inactive”- I quit going. I still believed in it all, but nobody was friendly there. What’s more, my more zealous Mormon co-workers adamantly rejected working on Sundays, leaving me to have to hold the fort. They didn’t care who had to break the Sabbath, as long as it wasn’t them. When I got home at 10 in the morning, dead tired from my shift, I just didn’t have it in me to attend with the people who acted so coldly. Meanwhile, I began to feel abandoned. Everyone who had once encouraged me to move out to Utah, and gave the impression of wanting to be close to me there, went silent. This manifested itself most poignantly at a mission reunion. We celebrated the Indepencence Day of the country we had served in. I had one of my childhood friends from back South visiting me. I had never noticed any racism in the Church until we went to the party. We stopped along the way to get him some cream soda, which he bought in bottles. When we arrived, absolutely nobody spoke to us, except one person from Ecuador. I quickly began to feel awkward, and the time ticked away. We waited until we’d eaten dinner and danced a bit. Suddenly my friend came up to me.
“I don’t feel comfortable here,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Everyone’s glaring at me, and I think it’s because they think I’m drinking beer.”
We instantly left. That incident weighed on my mind for weeks after his departure, as well as why nobody wanted to speak to me. I began to think back to my mission and how my companion had poisoned the watering hole for me. I began to feel depressed. One day, out of curiosity, I Googled something along the lines of “LDS Missionary horror stories”, just to see if anyone else had gone through my experiences. That led me to r/exmormon. At first, I read objectively, not agreeing with their opinions with the church. But I discovered that I secretly agreed with them more than not, in regards to church culture and policies. It stunned me, but I almost felt addicted to the site. I came back for more, all the time maintaining my beliefs, but finding it therapeutic to have someone say what I’d low-key bottled up for years.
One fateful day in late September, I went on and found a huge document leak dumped by a man who had lost his testimony and been fired from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. I was so confused, but read the comments about each file. My heart sank, my shelf broke. Inside I found documents about expenditures and budgets of general authorities. They had allotted thousands of dollars for the best furniture for homes where the “Lord’s Anointed” would be staying in their travels. Laid out in spread sheets and registers were policies about how long a flight would have to be for them to fly first class. It discussed how the children of mission presidents would get full scholarships. Worst of all was a scale of how faithful members were considered to the higher-ups. It was based off of income. Despite all I had done for the Church, the sacrifices I had made, and how much effort I had made to be a “good Mormon”, according to their numbers, I was one of the weakest members.
I was done. I knew that I could never go back to be the Mormon I had been. Too much had been tarnished from these document leaks. I no longer saw the Quorum of the Twelve, nor Thomas S. Monson as the Lord’s spokesmen, nor even just good men. I kept thinking about Matthew 8:20, where Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” What made them think they deserved better than their boss? I thought also of how Jesus approached Jerusalem in His “Triumphal Entry” on a humble donkey. Yet these impostors get to fly first class? My mind swirled as I remembered living several months of my mission in what was called “the container”, an incomprehensibly small home with space only for two to live in. I felt angry and betrayed- and I would for a long time. I will never forget the day when someone on Facebook posted a picture of Thomas S. Monson and all I wanted to do was release my stinging tears and scream.
A few nights after the document leak, I had a panic attack at work. I got through it, but later tearfully tried to get a hold of one of my good friends for a blessing. He didn’t answer, so I called one of my old missionaries who lived relatively close by. I went over and gave him the whole spiel. He berated me, to my horror, for getting into “anti-Mormon sources”. He explained away the documents as being forgeries, and told me I knew better. I ended up getting the blessing, but I left his house knowing that things would never be the same. Shortly after that, someone on r/exmormon told me to read No Man Knows My History. Until that point, I had held out hope that Joseph Smith at least would be a good man, and the modern leaders had been the ones to lead the church astray. The book ended up acting as a cannon, aimed directly at the last of my testimony, and firing point blank. I was horrified at what I read, but understood that it was factual and the truth. I decided to quit paying tithing, quit wearing my garments, and quit being Mormon.
I felt almost gross and sticky, oddly enough. My eyes had been opened to the rotten core of that which I had put all of my belief and being into. I delved farther and farther into Mormon studies, and came across more and more relics of information that had been suppressed. I began to look into the sources I had once vehemently pushed away and disregarded. I had undoubtedly been lied to, and had inadvertently lied to yet others. I had to talk to someone, and badly. Up to that point, I had nobody to speak with about this catastrophic event. I reached out to two friends of mine who had been very good Christians. One was a missionary for the Baptist Church, the other a youth pastor at a Pentecostal Church. To my great disappointment, for all of their imploring and pleading for me to leave over the years, I found them either unequipped to deal with someone leaving the Mormon Church, or indifferent. Both gave me platitudes (“Oh, how terrible! I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this!”), but didn’t really do anything to help me or alleviate my suffering. In fact, it almost felt like they were saying, “Didn’t I tell you that being Mormon would only lead to heartache and betrayal?” Even my own family failed to offer any real help. All of them had been so focused on trying to get me out that they hadn’t thought about what I would need when I did.
When someone leaves Mormonism, the odds are against them. A survey conducted on r/exmormon a few years ago showed that a little over three quarters of those who leave the Mormon Church wander into atheism or agnosticism. Less than 11% find themselves in a Christian Church. On one occasion, I got to hear Lynn Wilder, of Adam’s Road Ministry, speak at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry. As she discussed her newest project, a book about professors and well-known degree-holders who left Mormonism and found the real Jesus, she bemoaned to us that so many had become at best agnostic. In all of her searching, she found only four others who had become Christians, one of whom declined her invitation to be a part of her project. It’s truly a sad epidemic.
I have considered my experience as something of a real-life version of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:30-37. Here I was, the traveler, just going about my way. I had been robbed, beaten, and stripped of everything, including my identity, by the Mormon Church, whom I would obviously consider the robbers of the parable. Along the way came a Priest and a Levite, whom I would consider my family and friends in the ministry- people who should have been able to help me and pull me up, and could have, but failed to for whatever reason. Along would come some very important people that would act as the Good Samaritan.
After Elder Ballard threatened members of the church that they’d have nowhere to go and would be nothing without the church, I remembered having read about a woman who published many books on Mormonism, and had gotten heavy criticism from the Church. I found the address to the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, and set off immediately after work one day. I sat down with Sandra Tanner a mere two weeks after leaving. She was the first person I had talked to face to face about my departure from the church. I felt incredibly nervous going to speak to her, because her reputation certainly preceded her. However, once she sat me down at her desk, the hours flew by. I opened completely up to her, about all of my fears, my anger and feelings of betrayal, my doubts and criticisms of the church. Speaking with her was honestly better than any interview I had ever had with a bishop. Her wit calmed me down. She helped me figure out what I could do to start my life off fresh and free from the bondage of the LDS Church. I discovered from her that those tiny doubts I had had, but shelved years ago and on my mission, actually had solid reasoning and were in fact worth being concerned about. I ended up buying one of her books, Major Problems of Mormonism, and took several copies of her newsletters. I devoured them.
In short time after that, while searching for info on the temple, I clicked a link that took me to Latter-Day Sense Evangelism Ministry. I didn’t read any of the articles, but I did read the biography of Adam Dommeyer. I was impressed at his story, since I had been in his shoes but not backed out. I sent him an email, and a few weeks later, we chatted for a few hours on the phone. I cannot describe how healed I felt when I got off the line. He listened to me rant, tell of my story, doubts, he laughed with me, sympathized with me, and answered any questions I had, right down to what Bible translation would be a good one to get- and where to find one in Utah.
Both Sandra Tanner and Adam Dommeyer became my Good Samaritans. Had it not been for them and their subsequent conversations with me, who knows how things would have gone?
I feel strongly that Christians have every good intention. I have since gone to two non-denominational churches and found nothing but love and ready fellowship from the body of Christ. Christians understand the dangers and sad path that Mormonism presents to it’s adherents. However, I also feel that they’re unprepared to help them out.
At the risk of sounding like Elder Jeffrey Holland, who once told us in a devotional I attended that we were living in an unprecedented time… we’re living in an unprecedented time. There are almost daily blows against the church now. From what I have seen, they are getting antsy and nervous. The game is up. More and more people are fleeing the church, and it’s a trend that I don’t think is going to end. As Christians, we need to be better prepared to receive them. We need fewer Levites and Priests, and more Samaritans- and you’d better believe that Mormons, though they’d never say it, feel the same towards you as ancient Jews did towards their neighbors. There are more and more innocent travelers, traversing this life, who have been beaten and robbed by the LDS church. If we leave them like the two aforementioned groups, the odds are likely that they’ll slip away.
This begs the question- how can we be Good Samaritans to those who make the excruciating decision to be true to themselves and leave the church? I think it would be good to answer that with examples.
What did the Utah Lighthouse Ministry and Latter-Day Sense Evangelism Ministry have in contrast to the missionary and youth pastor? In a word, empathy. Whereas I almost got the vibe that the former two couldn’t be bothered with my time, Tanner and Dommeyer understood where I had come from. They didn’t just yearn to yank another person from the Mormon Church, they took time to listen to my issues, console me (because, believe me, leaving Mormonism almost has to be treated like the passing of a loved one), and see to it that I would be alright- just as the Samaritan did for the traveler by cleaning his wounds, taking him to an inn, and making sure he’d be taken care of. Just as the Samaritan returned later to check up on the traveler, I would get occasional texts and calls from Adam to see how I was doing. When I’d return to Sandra’s book shop, we would converse as I perused the shelves. I never heard from the other two again. A while after, I told an Evangelical co-worker of mine about how I left, and she invited me to her church, introduced me to her pastor, and has given me a near-constant shoulder to cry on. She frequently passes me reading suggestions in the Bible and has become more scholarly with Mormonism, so she can help me and others.
It seems to be a retelling of the famous joke about the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who knock on so many doors, only to be speechless when let in- they try and exhort, and do their best to help the Mormons see the truth, but don’t know what to do when they actually leave.
Be there for them! It’s that simple. Don’t assume that because they seem fine one day they’re past the trauma and heartache. It comes and goes. Help them along every step of the way to coming to the real, Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ. Talk to them, share your love and appropriate Bible scriptures. Help them learn Christianity. Be their friend and confidant. Adam and my co-worker have been life-savers to me, because living in Utah has meant needing to live in near-silence about my situation. Often times, a person will go into the stages of grief. I was blessed to have people walk me through my anger stage, and lift me up enough to help other friends out as well. I am now ready to move back home in very short time, find myself a good, Bible-believing church, and put Mormonism completely behind me. That doesn’t happen to many people, and I suspect most of that is due to the majority of ex-Mormon circles essentially being psych wards being run by the patients. An Ex-Mormon has to restructure everything about themselves when they leave. I have been to both Christian and secular post-Mormonism meetups, and can say without a doubt that those who decided not to give up on the Lord after leaving seem to be much better guided, have more hope and optimism, and are better-grounded. They seem excited about life. An incredibly sad number in the secular circles seem to stay perpetually in the anger stage.
Please entertain the idea that, if you know anybody struggling with Mormonism, that the Lord has placed you in their path. Be the Good Samaritan that they so desperately need. You could be the one that helps them find the More Abundant Life. If you’re currently helping someone questioning the teachings and doctrine of the LDS church, please be patient with them, and be prepared to help them through every single step of the way. Help them understand that even if they have been betrayed by wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Lord is still there for them, ready to give them authentic love and rest. I am so incredibly grateful for the people that the Lord has placed in my path to be able to overcome the abuse, heartache, and fear from the church. I have been able to find real and true peace since leaving through Jesus Christ. I hope that more of those in my shoes may also know these feelings.