I regularly receive letters from very brave members and leaders of the Church who have realised and accepted that the foundational claims for the truthfulness of the LDS Church are false. I know from personal experience that it takes an incredible amount of courage to write these letters, because one inherently feels disloyal to the Church and one’s family & friends within it, as well as feeling guilty for questioning the faith.
They also risk their changing beliefs being revealed to other people, both known and unknown, if confidentially is not maintained by the recipient of the letter. Plus there is the risk of being forced to go through Church Discipline, often leading to excommunication for apostacy, if one’s disenfranchisement is discovered by higher authorities in Church leadership.
I know how important confidentiality is, particularly where family members feelings are concerned, so I am very careful to maintain absolute discretion.
It takes amazing humility and a desire to live with integrity and honesty to try to live an authentic life following their change of beliefs. I empathise with the dilemma they face, so much so that I am often driven to tears as I read these letters remembering my own experience three years ago.
One of the dreadful aspects of changing one’s beliefs about Mormonism is how we are held hostage by the Church regarding our family relationships.
Many members and leaders of the Church are leaving their former faith, including some who were Bishops, Stake Presidents and counselors. They feel a desperate need to reach out for emotional support during the painful crisis of faith and transition out of Mormonism. I realise the feeling of being trapped by a sense of responsibility to those we are called to serve in priesthood leadership roles can be almost overwhelming as one’s beliefs change. I felt like a hypocrite for weeks as I anxiously sought for the truth of the new information I was discovering about the historical foundations of the First Vision etc. whilst I continued to serve the members of the Ward to the best of my ability.
At the time of my own faith crisis I desperately wanted to communicate with other bishops who had been through the same process of faith transition in order to gain insight into my situation and how I should handle it.
After a frantic search on the internet I did come across a few Bishops whose own stories inspired me. Chris Tolworthy’s, Simon Southerton’s, Ken Clark’s and Bob McCue’s stories inspired me and gave me hope. As did many other members’ transition accounts including Lyndon Lamborne, Arza Evans and my own brother David Bloor.
What I didn’t realise at that time was just how many ex-Mormons there were and how many wonderful support groups there are for transitioning and ex-Mormons. John Dehlin and Mormon Stories was very helpful just after I resigned as a bishop
Unfortunately many people are so afraid of a backlash of repercussions from the believing members of their family should their identity be revealed, that they don’t join any support groups.
I believe that the fear demonstrated in this situation is a sure sign of a belief system which does not optimise human wellbeing and foster the best in relationships. Surely any system established by an all loving Heavenly Father would value His children’s freedom of expression and would encourage their individual efforts to think rationally. I believe any God who places conformity & obedience above individuality and agency is an oppressive dictator who deserves to be despised like similar human counterparts. Any religious system which claims to be established by such a repressive and despotic God should be considered in the same way we now regard the brutal totalitarian regimes of the past. They do not foster the best human wellbeing.
There is a desperate need in people to be open, honest & authentic. The Church belief system creates a culture of shame, guilt and fear if a member doesn’t follow the prescribed and expected path of thought and behaviour. Rather than fostering the best in human emotional & psychological wellbeing, it promotes obedience and fearful compliance. Holding to hostage the most intimate of relationships in a person’s life on the simple basis of a change in beliefs about God and the afterlife. Holding itself up as the paragon of virtue in regards to promoting family values and familial bonds above all others, yet at that self-same moment undermining those things which support them; honesty, integrity, trust, authenticity and confidence, and replacing them with feelings of guilt ridden hypocrisy, nervous anxiety and fear.
These wonderful people who have the courage to recognise and accept truth, are left cowering in the shadows instead of enjoying their new found freedom from false beliefs and superstition.
It’s a cynically cruel & twisted form of control which denigrates & corrupts the idea of agency, and tries to force its victims to cower & conform.
I am reminded of the inspiring quote by Daniel Goleman:
“Self-deception operates both at the level of the individual mind, & in the collective awareness of the group. To belong to a group of any sort, the tacit price of membership is to agree not to notice one’s own feelings of uneasiness & misgiving, & certainly not to question anything that challenges the group’s way of doing things. The price for the group in this arrangement is that dissent, even healthy dissent, is stifled!
“In order to break through the cocoons of silence that keep vital truths from the collective awareness you need courage. It is the courage to seek the truth & to speak it that can save us from the narcotic of self-deception.
“It is a paradox of our time that those with power are too comfortable to notice the pain of those who suffer, & those who suffer have no power.
“To break out of this trap requires the courage to speak truth to power!”
Members in this frightening situation need our utmost respect, empathy and support.
Please let me reassure everyone in the position of facing this transition of belief that, like a rebirth, transitioning out of Mormonism is initially painful, but life Post Mormon is wonderful!
No one can walk their paths for them, and no one can judge these members in the direction they choose. Each journey is personal and unique.
What should each person do as a member or leader in the Church with new disconfirming knowledge?
It’s a really tough decision to make when trying to pursue a path of integrity whilst at the same time wanting to avoid hurting loved ones.
Many people feel trapped by the situation and often stay silent, whilst internally they are being torn apart with guilt because they know they are not being truly honest with themselves and those they love the most.
I tried to do this myself, but I only managed it for a couple of weeks. The emotional strain proved too much for me. In the end it’s a very personal decision. The only people who know what to do in any particular situation are those it affects, taking into consideration how one’s close friends and family will react.
My only advice to them would be to “take one’s time & be very understanding and gentle with others who don’t yet know what you know.”
Having previously been faithfully committed True Believing Mormons, those who are now transitioning are in the favourable position of knowing how True Believing Mormons think. Sadly TBMs don’t know how a disenfranchised member thinks. Which means we have the ability to show them compassion, even if they react defensively and aggressively to what they perceive as a threat.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to always react positively because quite often, especially at the beginning of one’s transition, there is a lot of emotional frustration and even anger at feeling conned and abused. Almost every human being is susceptible to amygdala hijacking where the automatic fight/flight mechanism kicks in and we lose our calm composure.
But I found that being forewarned of the potential difficulties is reassuring and increases the likelihood of success in one’s interactions with member family and friends.
Though the situation for transitioning Mormons is difficult, it is full of promise and wonderful new opportunities.
Just like in Plato’s Allegory of The Cave, those who leave The Cave are shocked by what they saw of the beautiful real world outside, so too will the transitioning Ex-Mormon. There are many parallels with the story of Plato’s Cave to Mormons in transition, including the way in which our member friends and family will react.
Living outside of the Mormon Bubble or Cave is worth the effort, frustration and pain of making the transition. And just like in childbirth the initial pain experienced by everyone involved is soon replaced with overwhelming joy by most of us.
There is often a temptation of rushing back into the Church (like in The Cave) to try to continue living the Mormon fantasy. We remember the good times we had with friends, the wonderful experiences of compassionate service to others, our emotional highs and connections to other people within the Church, and some of us just can’t bear to tear ourselves away. It’s completely understandable.
Personally I think truth matters. There is more than enough to experience in this world that is real without forcing ourselves through psychological contortions in an effort to make a religious con work for us.
I believe authenticity is paramount in relationships. Developing non-judgemental, compassionate, patient, honest & loving relationships with others is my goal. And that includes with Church leaders who try to exert their assumed authority over me. It’s not always possible due to amygdala hijacking on one or both sides, but I try.