I have thought quite a bit about exit narratives in the LDS church since writing about John Dehlin’s recent interview. In fact, I have tried to construct in my head what I’d say if someone asked me why I have switched affinities from traditional Mormonism to Eastern Orthodoxy (though I am still very much in flux). I have no idea what I’d say at this point. I know what I wouldn’t say, though:
Q: Did you lose your testimony from reading “anti-Mormon literature?”
A: Not really. I actually read more “anti-Mormon” stuff when I was a very conservative, “true-believing” young Latter-day Saint, and I found it more and more distasteful the less conservative I got. I think lots of that stuff is dumb. I find ex-Mormon websites terrifying, angry, dark, and they generally make my day worse when I read there. I really don’t read that much “anti-Mormon literature.” I just read the best of Mormonism, the best of Eastern Orthodoxy, and prefer the latter. In fact, I could probably promote this blog quite a bit better if I haunted the DAMU blogs, I just don’t like being there nor do I really like the personalities I see there either.
Q: Were you ever “offended” at church?
A: Like most Homo sapiens, I am offended from time to time. Sometimes by people at church. But no more than anywhere else. I rather like Mormons actually. And in my experience, if you pick a random active Mormon, a random active Eastern Orthodox, a random Protestant, or a random atheist, the Mormon is more likely to help you, reach out to you, care for you, or give you money/help/a ride/dinner if you need it. Mormons are awesome. So no, I did not lose my testimony because I was offended.
Q: Do you remember the moment when you “deconverted” from Mormonism?
A: Not really. It’s been a very, very gradual process, and I wouldn’t characterize myself as having “deconverted” from Mormonism – but more on that in a second. I was born a Mormon and first learned about Eastern Orthodoxy when I was 11 years old or so. I read lots of Mormon apologetics as a teenager and spent a lot of time explaining and defending my faith on Internet message boards. But I gradually got more pragmatic and universalistic in the way I look at religion. When I was a missionary I thought I was an “expert” in early Christian history and all the other missionaries would come to me with questions about this, and then one day I tracted into an Eastern Orthodox deacon (I believe) who completely humiliated me by pointing out that I actually knew very little about the early Christian church – and he was right. I first attended an Orthodox church a few years ago. All these were “markers” on the road but none of them really “deconverted” me from Mormonism. Going to graduate school for social psychology made me become more self-aware of the little ways that people manipulate and influence each other, and that made me break some bonds that were preventing me from looking outside the church for truth. But that didn’t “deconvert” me either, it just made me more diligent in separating a “burning in the bosom” from the feeling of obligation and investment that I have in the church and the people I know and love in it.
Q: Was there some doctrinal issue that caused you to doubt the Mormon church?
A: Not really. There are doctrinal issues that I have with Mormonism, but I don’t think any one of them really caused me to doubt Mormonism. In fact, I don’t actually have very many arguments against Mormonism now that I didn’t know way back when I was a teenager. For instance, I knew that Christians had problems with the view that there could be more than one God, but I did not think they were good arguments. Now I think they are much stronger arguments. The argument stayed the same, but my opinion of it changed gradually in a sort of “Gestalt switch.” The arguments against Mormonism that I once found unsatisfying gradually became serious arguments, and the arguments in favor of Mormonism gradually lost their influence on me.
Q: Did some historical issue cause you to doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet? Was it that you stumbled across some unsavory historical fact you didn’t know before?
A: Not really. I’ve been reading critical opinions about the church since I was a teenager, and I was pretty well familiar with most of the unsavory historical issues since that time as well. There are plenty of historical issues that bother me, but I don’t really think one of them tipped the scales, so to speak. Every church has unsavory historical problems, Orthodoxy included.
Q: Did you begin to doubt Mormonism because you wanted to sin? Such as drinking, smoking, pornography, etc.?
A: Not really. I mean, I want to sin as much as the next guy. But I’m an older guy with a wife and kids, and I’m way past the point where it would be socially advantageous to drink or smoke to be cool. Additionally, a lot of Mormon kids I know have experimented with alcohol, smoking, pornography, whatever. You don’t have to leave the church to try those things. But I think that having to justify one’s self on this point is pretty insulting. My whole moral worldview isn’t going out the window if I leave the LDS church, because my moral worldview was never based on the church in the first place. My parents raised me better than that.
Q: Did you begin to doubt Mormonism because you are socially liberal on such things as gender roles, same-sex marriage/homosexuality, moderate political views, etc.? Or because of your non-literal, pragmatic view of scripture (for instance, a belief that Genesis should be viewed as myth and that evolution is true)?
A: If that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t be moving towards Eastern Orthodoxy, which in many ways is even more socially conservative than the LDS church. If anything I’m making it way harder on myself on some of these fronts. So, no.
Q: So are you “deconverted?” Did you “lose your testimony?” Are you an “ex-Mormon” or an “anti-Mormon?”
A: Not really on all counts. Though I am sure some that read this blog would think so. In fact I think those labels are either inaccurate or insulting (or both). When a Baptist listens to the Mormon missionaries and gets baptized, we as Mormons don’t say that’s when the person “deconverted.” We say that’s when they became a Mormon, taking all the truths they learned before and incorporating them into their new identity. The terms deconversion and ex-Mormon denote a kind of negative identity – that a person is defined by what they used to be. I don’t ever want to be that. I would rather be an Eastern Orthodox Christian than an ex-Mormon. Similarly, I don’t think I ever “lost” my testimony – it’s not like a remote control that disappears in the couch cushions – it’s just that my testimony gradually changed, matured, and shifted.
So as you can see, I don’t think my “exit narrative” is very easy to categorize in a way that could be put on a bumper sticker. Obviously, I have brought up numerous points of criticism of the LDS church on this blog already, but none of them really caused me to doubt the LDS church as far as I can tell. They are just ideas that have been floating around in my head now that my attitude has changed towards the church. So if some Mormon apologist were to try to get me to believe in Mormonism again, they might say, “What are your problems with Mormonism?” and then they’d go through them, point-by-point, trying to resolve each of my concerns. But those concerns aren’t the core of my transition. It is just that I have been praying for about a decade (and actually more than that) for God to show me what the right religion for me is, and for me to have an inner conversion and strength that allows me the courage to follow that motivation wherever it leads – whether it’s the LDS church, or some other church. I’ve gradually found myself more and more pulled towards Orthodoxy. Whether that’s a problem of mistaken correlation vs. causation, or some other influence entirely, I don’t know. I simply feel like the word of Orthodoxy was planted in my heart at some point in my life maybe a decade ago, and I’ve been following Alma 32 by nourishing and watering it, and over time it has enlarged my soul and given me so many insights and lots of joy. The seed of Mormonism simply hasn’t been doing as well over that time, despite my best efforts to water it and nourish it.
Now certainly with all these factors there is a complex psychological web within me. It’s possible that I’m not in a very good position to tell you what really causes my opinions or testimony to shift and change. I’m sure many reading this have their own opinions. But that’s why I continue to pray that I am doing the right thing.