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Ex-Mormon, sometimes abbreviated as Exmo, is a term used by former members of the Mormon Church, properly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to describe themselves. There is no one group that can be described as “Ex-Mormon,” since those who leave the Mormon Church do so for a variety of different reasons. Dissenters range from liberal atheists to committed Evangelical Christians. While technically anyone who leaves the Mormon Church could be described as an “Ex-Mormon,” the term is generally reserved for people active in the ex-Mormon, and frequently anti-Mormon, world especially on internet blogs.
Perhaps the most famous of these self-described ex-Mormon groups is Ed Decker’s organization called variously “Recovery from Mormonism,” “Saints Alive,” or “Ex-Mormons for Jesus.” Decker was excommunicated from the Mormon Church in 1976. He has become quite controversial for his sensationalist attacks against Mormonism (which were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League) his hyperbolic language and unsubstantiated claims. Other ex-Mormons and critics of Mormonism have rejected his work and his style, but he remains influential particularly through the internet.
The majority of those who describe themselves as ex-Mormons and participate in the various on-line ex-Mormon blogs are secular humanists who reject belief in God altogether. Many of these writers attack Mormonism claiming that its leaders discourage freedom of thought or force conformity. Many assail what they perceive as hypocrisy among Mormons. This latter argument is very popular among agnostic critics who see in every weakness or failing an instance of hypocrisy. They relate ad infinitum accounts of Mormon bishops or Mormon missionaries doing something contrary to their own beliefs. There is a disturbing schadenfreude in their attacks on every human failing of faithful Mormons. Many ex-Mormons describe feeling duped or tricked and to justify their having believed in it, they accuse the Mormon Church and its culture of brainwashing and lying. Many also evince a very egocentric outlook in concluding that since they no longer believe in Mormonism, then any other intelligent person should consider Mormonism absurd. They conclude that other Mormons are either lying or deluded or simply after power.
Mormons have never made any claims to being perfect nor is its message contingent on the perfect conduct of its members. Humans are fallible and anyone who holds high ideals is bound to fail from time to time. Furthermore, charges that Mormonism is a cult or that it coerces conformity can easily be disputed when one looks at the Mormons in the United States and around the world who live in many different circumstances and work in many different fields. There are Mormons holding high positions in several government and major corporations just as there are millions of Mormons living quiet lives in every conceivable occupation. Ex-Mormons try to portray Mormons as behind some vast world-wide conspiracy, but fail to show any proof beyond their paranoid, anecdotal rantings. Believing in the Mormon conspiracy is just as much a matter of faith as is believing in Mormon doctrine.
Other ex-Mormons frequently make circular arguments resting upon nothing other than their testimony. They claim that Mormon missionaries and members constantly lie about “true” Mormon doctrine to dupe unsuspecting outsiders. This presupposes some vast conspiracy among Mormons that even the most credulous should find hard to believe. Mormon doctrine is freely available in many books and investigators of the Church are encouraged to ask questions and satisfy all their concerns before joining. Moreover, once a member, a person is not forced to remain so against their wishes as the very existence of extensive ex-Mormon groups and blogs proves. If the Mormon Church really was out to silence its critcs and really prevented members from leaving, then it would necessarily follow that the critics and ex-Mormons making the arguments should not exist.
The question remains as to why ex-Mormons and some others feel such vehemence against the Mormon Church. Unlike many Churches, Mormonism teaches a strong sense of commitment to the community of believers as a whole. Furthermore, Mormons encourage tight-knit families. Mormonism’s unique history has engendered many traditions peculiar to the Church and these are often the focus of much of family and community life for Mormons. This means that transition out of Mormonism is a break with religious conviction, culture, and sometimes from family life since a Mormon family would have many traditions revolving around the Church. This profound sense of loss and feeling of having been duped makes it difficult to break away and so many ex-Mormons sadly become bitter and refuse to move on with their life. This same difficulty and sense of loss would come to any person transitioning between cultures whether it be through a religious conversion, marriage into another culture, or a move to a new country.
The fact remains that every culture teaches its values and traditions to its children. Even those “freethinking” individuals who assault Mormonism likely teach their values to their children. This is not brainwashing, but culture. Finally, it should be noted that tolerance properly understood requires enduring the presence of something that one opposes. By definition, a person cannot tolerate something they condone for that is acceptance. Mormons are thus quite tolerant since they allow others, including their critics to continue their activities. However, tolerance does not preclude seeking by peaceful and non-coercive means the end of something that one opposes. Mormons thus continue to oppose practices and policies they view as contrary to God’s commands, just as secularists and others seek to end practices they oppose.
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