Many times when discussing our thoughts on Mormonism, extended family or friends ask me the often repeated Mormon phrase, "If you left the church, why can't you leave it alone?" Since now I've both left and been kicked out I thought it would be a good time to detail my explanation and have something to point people to when they ask so I don't have to have the long conversation over and over again.
Calling out the church on its problems
Let's start off with "I'm just doing it to follow the prophets." :-)
Despite the many problems I have with Mormonism, one of the things I love about it was the prophet of my young adulthood, Gordon B. Hinckley. He was a great man and tried hard to connect and love people. He famously said, "Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing." (1) Combine that with what the wonderful J. Rueben Clark said (BYU Law School was named after him), “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” (2) This was my mantra in life, which unfortunately led me out of the church. The more I investigated it, the more it fell apart until I no longer could believe it was God's one true church anymore.
Taking in all of the above with the strong push we get as Mormons to be member missionaries and share the good word, how could I not want to share what to me is the good word? Doesn't it also seem
a little very hypocritical to send people out on missions, encourage members to share the gospel with their neighbors, even push to do it on social media and then think that I can't do the same? It would be like a non-member telling a recent Mormon convert, "You can leave the world, but you can't leave it alone."
I have an idea as to why members say this phrase, despite its obvious double standard. Most members are good people doing good things. My problems are a lot more with the system than the people. Everyone I've talked to that will be honest with me admits there are things in the church and its doctrine that bother them. They choose to put those items on the proverbial shelf and not deal with them. When someone leaves the church and especially if they point out the problems that made them leave, this brings those items off the shelf and puts it right back in front of them creating cognitive dissonance. This makes them feel uncomfortable, those issues are on the shelf for a reason. Rather than deal with them its easier to just vilify the person making you feel that cognitive dissonance and put them back on the shelf.
Talking about the church without attacking it
Beyond that, if you sit back and think about what Mormonism is to a person, especially someone (like myself) who is born in, raised in and almost everyone you know is in the church then it makes up your world view. The ways you think and act are Mormon. Finding out the church isn't true, deciding to leave "your tribe" and changing your world view are extremely difficult things to do. Is it any wonder that people spend some time deconstructing the church? Many ex-Mormons want very badly to become ex-ex-Mormons, meaning they've moved beyond Mormonism and live a regular life. This is very hard to do for anyone leaving an extremely dogmatic and conservative religion. It takes a while to get it out of your system. Jehovah's Witnesses go through exactly the same thing (if not more) and I don't see Mormons saying that it's proof that church is true as well.
Finding out the church isn't true has been described to be as painful as finding out your spouse is cheating on you with your best friend or losing a child. Many that have experienced either of those and left the church say that the latter is harder. Experiencing something so traumatic as that is going to make them go through the five stages of grief, one of which is anger. Of course people are going to spend some time processing such a dramatic change in their life, and yes, some of it is going to be done with anger for most people. Its really, really hard not to feel powerful anger and lash out.
Mormonism has created a story-telling people. We dedicate one full worship service a month to getting up and telling our religious stories to each other. We're asked to share them often in many meetings, even at home. Humans naturally are story-telling people, and Mormons tend to tell their stories even more. Deciding the church isn't true is not going to make this long developed personality trait suddenly disappear.
Probably one of the most important reasons why people who leave the church can't leave it alone is because we love you and think you're in a bad system. We want you to move on to something better, like we have. Our desire to share our new found happiness motivates us to tell you about it. My life is so much better in so many ways, but the one way it definitely isn't is in some of my relationships. Some family and friends who are still members have isolated me, spoken badly about me, and assumed terrible things about me. That hurts. We want those relationships back, but for people who won't accept the new, authentic versions of ourselves, it's just not a possibility. It is our hope that by sharing with you things you most likely don't know, that you'll come to a similar conclusion, and we can all be happier together!
Here are some funny examples of the irony I find in members using this trite phrase on me. There are so many ways they don't leave ex-Mormons alone, I can't understand how they can say the phrase knowing how much they hound less-active and post-Mormons while keeping a straight face.
I'll make members a promise - when they stop sharing their good word, I'll do the same. Until then, let's keep searching for the truth because "the truth will set [us] free." (3) and "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation." (2)Also see our other post on how we are happy to be branded as apostates - http://bitly.com/WeAreApostates
1-Loyalty, Conference, April 2003.
2-J. Reuben Clark, D. Michael Quinn: The Church Years. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1983, p. 24, emphasis added.