Last revised 4/16/2013
If you are a Mormon, once you realize that Mormonism is not what it claims to be, you are faced with the problem of what to do about this realization. What you do will depend on your own situation and your own needs, which may be very different from those of others in a similar situation. There are several possibilities:
1) Simply say nothing about your change of belief. Continue to go to church and do what others expect of you. This option is most attractive to those whose families (spouse, children, parents) are very devout Mormons. It avoids the possible (almost certain) disruption of those relationships. However, this requires you to live a double life, to keep your important feelings secret, and most people not only find this difficult, but also somewhat dishonest.
2) Tell those Mormons closest to you (spouse, family) how you really feel, but continue to do the minimum required of a church member. This option has many of the disadvantages of options 1) and 3), but allows you to feel somewhat more honest with yourself.
3) Become completely inactive (give up your church callings, stop attending meetings, etc.), but maintain your official membership. Many people choose this option, rather than option 4), because they dislike the finality of leaving the church, with its consequences of being labeled by friends and family as an "apostate." Or they simply feel that it doesn't really matter whether their names are still on the church records as "members," and they don't want to jump through the hoops to get their names removed. This option is also frequently chosen by those who want to avoid hurting Mormon family members but also want to be honest. It has three disadvantages. First, as an "inactive" member (the church now refers to such people as "less active"), you become the target for church efforts to "reactivate" you, with missionary visits, invitations to social events, and other "fellowshipping" efforts. Second, as a member you are subject to "discipline" by the church authorities, who may summon you to a church court. Third, by allowing your name to remain on the records as a member, you allow the church to include you in its total membership number (currently about thirteen million) with which it wishes to impress the world. Many people choose option 4) rather than 3) for this reason alone.
4) Resign your membership and take your name off the church records. The price for selecting this option may be high, if, as a result, you alienate family and friends. Divorce by a Mormon spouse and/or disownment by Mormon parents is not at all uncommon. Loss of Mormon friends is almost certain. It also has the disadvantage that you may feel suddenly alone and alienated from your cultural roots. Many people are not prepared sufficiently to deal with this unexpected emotional void, and need a support group (see listings below).
This fourth option has the tremendous advantage, however, that you are free as you have never been free before, that you can be confident that those who remain close to you truly love you for yourself and not just because they are supposed to love you, and that nothing now is holding you back from determining your own destiny and finding your own path through life. Most people who have taken this option, even though it may have cost them dearly in lost relationships, would not wish for a moment that they had chosen something less.
Former Mormon Brian C. Madsen explained why he chose this ultimate option:
I can think of two really good reasons [for having my name officially removed from the church records].
One is emotional closure: by having my name removed, I've drawn a line in the sand and said, "At this point, it's over." There's a finality to it. There's no lingering thought (either in my mind or my family's) that maybe I might come around later and see the light and come back to church. With my name officially removed, it's over, done, finis, schluss jetzt, end of story, that's all she wrote.
Another is that it makes it a lot less likely that some home teachers or zealous elder's quorum presidencies are going to knock on my door and invite me back to church. I'm not on any ward lists, and so when zealous new EQP's decide to "reach out to their less active brethren", I don't get included in that effort in any way.
In other words, with my name removed, I'm free of them in a more concrete way than I would be otherwise.
A further argument for option 4 is well expressed by Sam Keen (although he was not writing specifically about Mormonism):"To my mind, a kind of mild-to-severe schizophrenia results from trying to keep one foot in and one foot out of an authoritarian church or belief system. A person, like a nation, cannot long exist half-slave and half-free. If we nibble at the fruit of the tree of knowledge but still cling to the security of Authority, we are caught in the impossible position of trying to take a journey and stay home at the same time." - Hymns to an unknown God, p. 102, New York: Bantam Books
Occasionally someone chooses not to resign membership officially, even though no longer believing, saying: "In one sense resigning acknowledges authority that I don't believe the church actually has."
This kind of statement shows an ignorance of legal facts. Resigning does not grant any kind of authority, but rather recognizes a legal fact: you are officially and legally enrolled as a member of that church, and legally the church does have authority over you to discipline you according to its rules.. That is a fact which (like all facts) remains a fact whether you personally acknowledge it or not. (See the cases cited below.)
Resigning has the effect of removing the church's authority, rather than acknowledging it. It is by NOT resigning that you are acknowledging the church's authority over you, its right to count you among its however-many million members, and its legal right to discipline you.
Most of the remainder of this article is for those who decide to leave (i.e., those who select option 4), with a few suggestions added at the end for those who opt for one of the others.
HOW TO LEAVE
The church does not make it easy for members to leave. Its attitude is that it knows better than you do what you need to be saved, and it wants to protect you against yourself. Mormons believe that you are just going through a phase, that Satan is tempting you, that you are committing eternal suicide, and that they will have to answer to God at the Last Judgment if they allow you to do so.
Until a few years ago, the only way to leave the church was to be excommunicated. That changed when one man, Norman Hancock of Mesa, Arizona, brought an $18 million lawsuit against the church in 1985 for refusing to let him withdraw voluntarily. The church settled the case before trial, and the next edition of the General Handbook of Instructions after the resolution of the Hancock case included provisions for voluntary withdrawal without the stigma of excommunication. But the authorities still make it difficult. The procedures are found officially only in the church's handbook of instructions for local church leaders, which is not generally available to members; only church leaders have copies, and those copies are carefully guarded. (For a detailed discussion of the Hancock case, see the long article in "Reports of the Mormon Alliance", which also discusses the importance of resigning rather than requesting "name removal.")
In 1999 Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Utah Lighthouse Ministry were sued by the church for posting on their website the passages from the Handbook telling Mormons how to remove their names from the church records, contending that such posting was a violation of the church's copyright. The suit has now been resolved with an out-of-court settlement and the Tanners removed their quotations from the secret handbook.
HOW TO END YOUR MEMBERSHIP OFFICIALLY
DISCLAIMERThe following should not be relied upon as a definitive statement of the law. Your situation may differ, and on legal questions you should obtain legal counsel only from your own attorney. Although I am a retired attorney, because of my retirement I am no longer authorized or licensed to give legal advice. I am speaking as a lay person only, and only in reference to the laws in the United States.
There are two parts to ending your membership in the Mormon church, and it is important that you do not confuse them, because they are not the same. They are:
1. Resigning your membership.
2. Getting your name removed from the church membership records.
1. RESIGNING YOUR MEMBERSHIP
In the United States, and in most democratic countries, you are guaranteed the freedom of association and freedom of religion. That is, you may associate with whom you wish, may join organizations or churches, and you may freely end those associations. To end such an association, such as your membership in a church, all you have to do is to notify them that you have resigned. Your resignation is effective to end your membership as of whatever date you indicate, such as the date of your letter. (You cannot, however, make your resignation retroactive.) It is like resigning from a job. The church has no legal right to determine when or whether or how you may resign.
Once you have resigned, the church has no more authority over you. It cannot summon you to a disciplinary council. It cannot excommunicate you. You have ended your relationship as soon as you notify them that you have resigned. The subsequent removal of your name from their membership records is merely a clerical action which changes their records to reflect what has already happened, namely, that you resigned.
However, your resignation, to be effective, must be by some positive, unambiguous act, such as writing a letter. You cannot claim to have resigned simply by becoming inactive. And until you resign, you are subject to the disciplinary procedures of the church. See Guinn v. Church of Christ, 775 P 2d 766 (1989) (click here to read this case) , Hadnot v. Shaw, 826 P 2d 978 (1992), and Serbian East Orthodox Church v. Milivojevich 426 US 696, 96 SCt 2372, 49 LEd 2d 151 (1976), as well as the discussion of the Hancock case cited above.
2. GETTING YOUR NAME REMOVED FROM THE MEMBERSHIP RECORDS
Since the membership records belong to the church, the church has the right to determine how it keeps those records and what information it has in those records. (European law is much stricter in this respect than American law, and limits how much personal information an organization may keep in its records without that person's permission.)
Even after your name is removed from the membership list, the church will still keep a record of your former membership and the fact that you resigned, so that in case you should ever decide to join the church again, the church would know that you should go through the "extensive interview" prior to rebaptism, and so that you may have your church blessings "restored" rather than having to go through each ordinance individually.
As long as the church provides a reasonable procedure to have your name removed from their membership records, and as long as they follow that procedure, you probably have no legal or moral basis for not following that procedure.
Many people view it as unreasonable that the church keeps the details of its procedure for name removal in the Church Handbook of Instructions, which is not available to the public or even to general members. There are only a handful of copies of this handbook in each ward, and in order to read it, a member must make an appointment to inspect it, and must do so in the presence of the custodian of the handbook (usually, the bishop). For quoting the pertinent passages from this handbook on their website, the Tanners were sued by the church, as mentioned above.
However, the steps are known, and are not difficult. They are contained in Chapter 15 of the Church Handbook, on pages 148-149, and the following is a summary of them (direct quotes are not used, so as not to invite a lawsuit from the church):SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS FROM HANDBOOK, CHAPTER 15
The member, if adult, must write a letter to the bishop, requesting the name removal. The letter should not appear to be a form letter.
The bishop is then required to make sure that the member understands the consequences: cancellation of baptism, priesthood authority, temple blessings, and that, if the member should ever wish to return to membership, a thorough interview and a rebaptism would be required.
If the bishop is convinced that the member knows the consequences and is firm in the request, the bishop completes an administrative form and sends it to the stake president with the member's letter and membership record.
The stake presidency reviews the matter, and, if they concur (presumably that the member is sincere), they request the bishop to write a letter to the member, stating that the member's name is being removed and repeating the consequences. The letter must inform the member that the request may be rescinded if the member notifies the stake president within thirty days. That is, the stake president will hold the request, without forwarding it to Salt Lake City, for thirty days. If the member does not rescind the request, the stake president forwards the request to the church records department in Salt Lake City, where the name is removed from the membership records. (As of the 2006 revision of the CHI, the stake president should not wait the thirty days if the member requests immediate action.)
A minor over the age of eight must follow the same steps, and must also have the request countersigned by the parent or guardian having legal custody of the minor.
Only one letter is required for members of the same family.
A threat of legal action by a member requesting name removal is to be forwarded to the church legal department.
The fact that there is evidence for possible disciplinary action against a member is no longer a justification for delaying a name removal.
Once the person is no longer a member, the bishop may inform those local church leaders who may need to know that the person is no longer a member. The bishop may not use the term "excommunication" and must state that the person voluntarily requested the action.
You will notice that these provisions leave many details unspecified, which leaves an individual bishop or stake president much leeway in complying with your request. You will also notice that the (false) impression is given that one is a member until one's name is removed.
IMPORTANT UPDATE (9/25/10)!
Several people have reported that they have been able to resign via e-mail directly to Membership Records. If so, this greatly simplifies the resignation process. Your e-mail should include identifying information and a mailing address for the confirmation letter. The following is a suggested form (omit the bracketed material if you do not have it available):To: "Mr. Greg Dodge, Membership Records" <email@example.com>
Subject: Resignation of membership in LDS church
My full name is ______; my date of birth is ____________ . [I was baptized on ___(date). My membership number is ______.] My residence address is _______ [in the ________ ward/branch].
I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, effective immediately, and request you to remove my name permanently from your membership records. I wish no further contact from representatives of your church except to confirm that my name has been removed from your records. I expect to receive that confirmation within a reasonably short time.
In preparing your letter (often called an "exit letter"), you may expedite compliance with your request by following these guidelines.
Send the letter to the bishop of the ward where you are now living, even though, if you have moved, this may not be the ward where your membership records presently are. (If you send the letter directly to the Confidential Records department in Salt Lake City, it will simply be returned to you with instructions to send it to the bishop, saying that it is a "local ecclesiastical matter." For dealing with that, see a good response at the RfM discussion board.) If you don't know the bishop's name or address, you can telephone the church records office in Salt Lake City at 801-240-3500, or toll-free from outside Utah 800-453-3860, extension 23500, give your address, and ask for the name and address of the bishop in whose ward you are living. You may also be able to find his name and address in the telephone directory or by telephoning any ward in your town.
Sign the letter (with other family members also signing, as necessary). If the bishop does not know you personally, or if you think there may be a possibility that the bishop will doubt that the letter is actually authentic, you may have the letter acknowledged ("notarized") before a notary public. Your bank may provide this service at no charge.
Send the letter to the bishop's home address, not to the address of the ward.
Send the original letter to the bishop as certified mail with return receipt requested. This will be proof that you sent the letter, in case the bishop claims he never received it.
You may wish to send copies to the stake president and to the church headquarters, Members and Statistical Records Division, 120 North 200 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103. However, this is not really necessary. (Overseas members may want to FAX the letter, to save time: 801-240-1565.)
The letter should include the full name, sex, address, and birth date for each person requesting removal. Dates of baptism, priesthood held, dates of endowment, etc., are not necessary.
The letter should also include the following statements, in your own words, and phrased so as to include other family members as appropriate:
A SAMPLE EXIT LETTER The following is a letter for an individual resignation. Minor changes can adapt it for a couple or a family.
- You are writing this letter to notify the church that you have resigned your membership in the LDS church, effective immediately.
Comment: This is legally the most important part of your letter. As soon as the bishop reads this notification, you are no longer a member of the church, no matter how long they may take to remove your name from their records. Be careful to word this statement unambiguously; i.e., do not say "I want to resign," or "I intend to resign" or "I am going to resign" or "I want my name removed."
- You request the bishop to do the paperwork to have your name removed from the church membership records, that is, to change the records to show that you are no longer a member.
- You have carefully considered this step, over a long period of time, and it is your own firm unalterable decision.
Comment: The bishop is required to act only if he is convinced of your determination and that he cannot dissuade you. Word this paragraph strongly enough to convince him that you are firm in your decision.
- You are aware that according to church doctrine this cancels all blessings, baptisms, ordinations, promises, covenants, and your hope of exaltation.
Comment: The bishop is required to make certain that you understand these consequences. By stating it clearly in the letter you can avoid a visit from the bishop.
- You request that no one representing the church contact you for any reason other than to confirm that your request is being processed.
Comment: This prevents the bishop or others from attempting to dissuade you.
- Because the bishop is required to put on his form your "reason for leaving," you should insist that the reason be "At member's request" or "Doctrinal reasons," and you should make clear to him that he should not put there any reason which may be derogatory to you.
Comment: You may want to include a sentence (not more) to indicate your reason for your decision (like "After long study I have concluded that the LDS church is a not what it claims to be"), but a long dissertation or list of criticisms of the church or its doctrine will do no good, and may lead the bishop to believe that if these few minor things could be cleared up, you would change your mind.
You may also want to emphasize that you are not leaving because of some personal slight or insult, or because you have "sinned" or are unable to "keep the commandments."
- You insist that, in accordance with the Church Handbook of Instructions, your request be forwarded without delay to the stake president and you will follow up in one week if you have not been notified that your request has been forwarded to the stake president
Comment: Some bishops have interpreted the Handbook to require the bishop to hold the request for thirty days. The Handbook clearly states, however, that once the bishop has determined that you are sincere and not to be dissuaded, he is to forward the request. This statement in your letter may help draw his attention to that fact.
- You waive the thirty-day waiting period during which the stake president may hold the request, in order to give you the opportunity to rescind. Instead, you request immediate processing.
Comment: You might ask the bishop to notify you when your request was forwarded to the stake president, and state that you will contact the stake president to verify with him that he has forwarded it immediately.
- You consider this matter to be confidential, and you insist that no church representative discuss your resignation with any persons other than those church officers who are processing your name removal or those who must be informed to carry out their church duties; that if any church official speaks of this matter outside of official channels, you will consider legal redress.
Comment: Many people are concerned that the bishop or stake president will inform parents or other relatives of their request. To prevent this, you might remind them that the Handbook, at page 150, specifically directs them that these matters are confidential and that such information is not to be given to anyone other than other church officials who need it to process the request. You might emphasize that informing family members of your request is a violation of your privacy and a violation of church regulations, and would make them subject to church discipline and a civil lawsuit.
- If children are included, state that the resignation and request includes them, include their full names and birth dates, and state that you have sole custody of them. If you are a divorced parent, attach a copy of that part of the divorce decree. The Handbook says that the letter should also be signed by each of the children over eight years of age, so have them sign it to avoid any hassle (although legally that is not necessary for minor children).
[Bishop's home address]
CERTIFIED MAIL; RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED
Re: Resignation from church membership of
[Full name, date of birth, present address]
With this letter to you I officially notify you of my resignation from membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, effective immediately. With my resignation I voluntarily sever all my relationship to the church.
I therefore request you to make the necessary changes in the church membership records to indicate that I am no longer a member. I am familiar with the procedures as outlined in the Church Handbook of Instructions, and I request that you fill out and forward the necessary administrative forms as soon as possible.
I assure you that I do not take this step lightly. I have devoted a good deal of thought, prayer and study, over a considerable period of time, to this matter, and I am firm and unalterable in my decision to end my membership.
I am aware that according to church doctrine this cancels all blessings, baptisms, ordinations, promises, covenants, and my hope of exaltation in the Mormon celestial kingdom, and I have made my decision with that consideration well in mind.
I request that no one representing the church contact me for any reason other than to confirm that my request is being processed. In particular I will refuse to speak with anyone from the church who attempts to argue with me about the wisdom of my decision.
It is my understanding that you are required to indicate on your form my "reason for leaving." Please state the reason as "At member's request" or "Doctrinal reasons," since that is, in fact, the reason. I insist that you should not put there any reason which may be derogatory to me. I wish to assure you that I am not leaving the church because of some personal slight or insult, or because I have "sinned" or am unable to "keep the commandments." I have simply come to the very sad realization that the church is not what it claims to be, that its doctrine is false, and that the LDS church is not where I wish to be.
I request that my name removal request be forwarded without delay to the stake president in accordance with the Church Handbook of Instructions. I will check with you in one week if you have not already notified me by then that it has been forwarded to the stake president.
Please inform the stake president that I waive the thirty-day waiting period during which the stake president may hold the request in order to give me the opportunity to rescind. Rather, I request him to process it without delay. Please ask the stake president to notify me when he has forwarded my request to church headquarters. If I do not hear from him, I will contact him to make sure that my request is being honored without delay.
I will consider any unnecessary delay to be a violation of my rights of free association and freedom of religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
I consider this matter to be confidential, and I insist that no church representative discuss my resignation with any persons other than those church officers who are processing my name removal or those who must be informed to carry out their church duties; that if any church official speaks of this matter outside of official channels, I will consider it a violation of confidence, a violation of church regulations, and seek legal redress.
Thank you for your courtesy in honoring my request without delay.
You may find that the bishop and stake president may sit on your request in spite of your insistence that they handle the matter expeditiously. This happens frequently. If so, contact the membership office in Salt Lake City directly at 801-240-3500 or 800-453-3860 extension 22053. Tell them that your bishop / stake president is not processing your request, and ask them to contact them and request that your papers be forwarded. They will do this. (Name removal requests for members in countries other than the United States are handled by the appropriate regional church authorities, not the Salt Lake City office, so foreign inquiries should be directed to them.)
There should be no need, in your initial letter, to threaten legal action. However, you should be aware that if a call to Salt Lake City does not get things moving, a strongly worded letter to the local church authorities may do so. Be careful, however, not to threaten more than you are prepared to undertake, and, if you cite the law or the Church Handbook of Instructions, that you are accurate in your citations and your interpretation.
Some delay may be caused simply by the backlog: so many people are leaving the church that there is sometimes a backlog. They can't keep up. The number of members leaving increased by over 50% between 1997 and 2000.
Other websites with suggestions for name removal, some with sample letters, are:
- Utah Lighthouse Ministry; Jerald and Sandra Tanner's site
- Recovery from Mormonism
- "rpcman" (This website has some outdated information)
- Mormon No More, the late Kathy Worthington's website.This website is now maintained by Jarrod Staffen.
Kathy's website has helped many people to process their resignations. The principal differences between Kathy's instructions and mine (as far as I can tell) are two:
1. Kathy recommends that your letter be sent directly to Confidential Records in Salt Lake City. I recommend that the letter be sent to the bishop of the ward where you presently reside. The reason I recommend that is because letters sent to Salt Lake frequently are returned to the member saying that this is an "ecclesiastical matter" that must be handled at the local level. According to the Church Handbook, that is a correct statement so far as it has to do with removal of the member's name from the records (which is not the same as the member's act of resigning). The returned letter simply drags out the process, in my opinion, since Confidential Records will generally not process any change in the records without a request from the bishop, and the member then has to send another letter, this time to the bishop, where the letter could just as easily have gone in the first place. As to the legal status of the member, the receipt of a resignation letter by ANY church authority effectively terminates membership.
2. Kathy recommends that the letter be notarized. The only purpose this would serve is to authenticate that the member actually wrote the letter, and not an impersonator. This would be necessary only if the member is unknown to the bishop (or other recipient, such as Confidential Records), but is just an added hassle if the bishop knows you or can easily contact you.
Exmormons usually face two more unexpected problems, in addition to the ones discussed above:
1. What do I believe now? If Mormonism isn't the True Church, then what is?
2. Even though I am no longer officially a Mormon, I still carry a lot of Mormonism around with me. What do I do with that?
There are no single, easy answers, but - for what it's worth - here are some suggestions, based on the experience of many former Mormons.
WHAT DO I BELIEVE NOW?
Separating yourself from an organization to which you have devoted years of your life, and which, during that period, played a central role in shaping your goals, your standards, your lifestyle, and your entire world-view, often has the same emotional effect as a divorce from a spouse. All too often a newly divorced person will panic at the prospect of living life alone, and within a few months will remarry the first person who comes along. This is often a disaster. The best advice for most newly divorced people is usually to wait, not to become anxious, not to try to fill that empty space with whatever comes along.
The same advice is probably applicable to the loss of one's religion: don't rush. Don't feel that you must immediately replace one "true church" with another "true church." Take your time to explore, to sample other ways of viewing the world and other ways of shaping your life. Consider the possibility that there is no one true church, that there are many possible paths that all lead to where you want to go.
An interesting short self-quiz to suggest which spiritual or religious path might be attractive to you can be found at the Belief-Net website; click on the "Belief-o-Matic quiz".
As a Mormon you have been accustomed to having the answers given to you, and all that was required of you was to accept them and to obey. Now it is up to you. You are responsible for finding out the answers, and you have rightfully become skeptical of those who want to give you their answers and expect that you simply accept them without question. Of course it is more difficult to make all those moral and philosophical decisions yourself. But that is part of being a mature human being. You will grow immensely by accepting that responsibility, and in doing so you will find that joy that Mormonism always promised you but was never able to give you.
As a Mormon you were probably taught that apostates become bitter, disillusioned, dissolute, and that they end up as skid row bums. That is not true, of course. However, you may still believe that the only reason you were an honest, temperate, faithful, hardworking, family-loving citizen is primarily because the church told you that is what you should be. Some new exmormons do what the church expects of them, and discard all those virtues and qualities because they think of them as "Mormon." But just because the church is fundamentally false, it does not follow that all its teachings are also false. Honesty, temperance, hard work, marital fidelity, and strong families were held to be desirable qualities long before the Mormons began to teach them. Tobacco, alcohol, sexual promiscuity can be harmful.
If you have Mormon family members, you will find that you will best be able to justify your leaving the church if you demonstrate to them by your lifestyle choices that you are still the fine person you were as a Mormon. Especially Mormon spouses become very alarmed at rapid changes they think they see in their newly apostate mates, and this alarm often leads to unnecessary panic and divorce.
HOW DO I TELL MY MORMON FAMILY MEMBERS?
Unless you are the only one in the family who is Mormon, you will face the question of how, when, and even whether you should break the news to them that you have left the church. There is probably no easy answer to this question, and of course every situation will be somewhat different.
But, from what I have observed, and from comments that others have made based on their experience, the key thing in such a situation is the assurance that - no matter what religious beliefs you (or they) hold - the love and respect is still there. It seems that families break up more easily if it was only the glue of Mormonism that held them together. If it was genuine love and devotion, then differences in religion don't seem to matter as much.
Sometimes it helps to emphasize that it was your own honesty and integrity, your own devotion to truth and your dislike of lies that are at the base of your leaving. Mormons are trained to automatically think of leaving the church as bad, evil, etc. Their terms are emotionally charged: "losing faith," "losing your testimony," "breaking your covenants," "weakness," "opening yourself to Satan," etc. It is important that you use emotionally positively charged terms instead. If you say, for example, "I began to lose my testimony when...", then you are using their terminology. Better would be something like, "I began to realize that something was not right with the church when..."
If your loved ones are at all willing to discuss your reasons, then you are fortunate. Most Mormons don't want to discuss why anybody would leave the church. Unless they ask, then, it probably is not a good idea to try to tell them. If they suppose that you left because you were reading "anti-Mormon" books, at least you can say that it was your reading of Mormon materials, listening to statements by Mormon "prophets", studying the history of the church as written by Mormon historians and observing the operation of the church as led by Mormon leaders that led you to question its divinity.
The fear that family members (especially Mormon parents) will learn about the resignation is often a major reason why many Mormons remain on the membership rolls, for fear that the family will "find out" - even though resignation from the church is a confidential matter, and no one need find out about it unless you tell them. If some church official such as your bishop tells your family that you have resigned, that is a violation of your privacy and a violation of church regulations.
What method should you choose to tell your closest Mormon family members? In person? By telephone? In a letter?
How you break the news depends on how you think your family may react. Using a letter to break the news has the advantage that you get to say what you want to say, you can take time to phrase it carefully, and you don't have to be interrupted to field all kinds of questions and arguments that are really beside the point. By the time you are face-to-face, enough time may have elapsed for them to get used to the idea that you no longer believe.
If you do it by letter, you might want to resist the temptation to explain to them in great detail why you have come to this decision. That might be a mistake, because it gives them the idea that if they (or some apostle) could just explain all those things away, you'd change your mind. I think a general statement is enough, just emphasizing that you have been a long time in coming to this decision, that there are multiple reasons that have brought you to this point, that you are well aware of the official explanations for all of these problems and that they are not convincing.
It will not be easy, of course. Your parents and family will suffer just as much or even more than you, since they must believe that someone they love is going to be lost to them for eternity. They will shed many, many tears over you. But you must remember that that is their problem, and the fault of their own false beliefs. You are not responsible for that - it is not your responsibility to protect them from the consequences of their false religion.
Remember, too, that whatever guilt you may feel by leaving will be nothing compared to the guilt that you would have to feel by continuing to pretend. To stay in the church you would have to be continually lying to those you love, making them believe that you are something that you are not. Now that is a sure formula for inducing guilt feelings!
PART OF ME IS STILL MORMONFor a list of the kinds of questions and comments you might get from Mormon family and friends, and for suggestions as to how you might respond, click here.
Unless you were a member for only a short time, in a sense you will always be partly Mormon. You cannot change that, and you probably should not try.
If you were born in the church, and especially if your ancestors were Mormon, your family heritage is inextricably entwined with Mormonism. That is nothing that you should wish to deny or erase, even if you could. The Mormon achievement in settling the West and establishing a strong and vigorous people in the mountains is a heritage of which you can be proud. Of course it is not a history entirely free of blame, but neither is the history of any people. Your ancestors, even though they may have been deceived by Mormon teachings, were undoubtedly pious, sincere, honest and hardworking people of whom you can rightfully be proud. All in all, most Mormons were, and are, good people, and one can be proud to have had them as ancestors, family and friends.
The same thing is true, to a lesser extent perhaps, of those who were converts but spent much of their lives as Mormons. As a Mormon you undoubtedly did much good and touched many lives for the better.
One's fond memories often include memories of Mormon friends, Mormon celebrations, spiritually moving moments that you associate with Mormonism. Especially Mormon hymns and music seem to remain with the exmormons long after they leave the church. All this is quite natural, just as one still has fond memories of the happy days of a marriage, even though it may have ended in a bitter divorce. Cherish the happy memories. To suppress them would unnecessarily create a void in your life.
For a "Twelve Step" recovery program, based roughly on the famous Alcoholics Anonymous program, click here.
For more suggestions, see "The Continuing Journey".
CAN I SUE THE CHURCH?
See a separate article here.
You are not alone. Since the earliest days of the church many of the best and brightest Mormons left in disillusionment, including many of those holding high positions in the early church: apostles, witnesses, even those closest to Joseph Smith. Today, with more information available, especially on the internet, many more are leaving. But it is still difficult, and a new exmormon sometimes needs reassurance from others.
Many find support simply in reading about others and their exodus from the church. The Recovery From Mormonism site has over six hundred such stories. There are many internet support groups available as e-mail lists; here is a sampling:
Recovery From Mormonism; open to all, over 1800 subscribers as of November 2007.
"MIT-Talk"; Mormons in Transition; open to all, evangelical Christian emphasis.
Exmormon Atheists; open to all, atheist emphasis.
"Exmormon Women"; women only
"Catholic Exmormons"; open to all; Catholic emphasis
"Australian Exmormons"; open to all
Xmo.lege.net primarily for Scandinavians (in Swedish)
A free workbook with suggestions on dealing with Mormon recovery is Recovering from Mormonism by Mike Bundrant, a psychotherapist and exmormon.
See also Post-Mormons to locate any Exmormon groups in your area.
Whether you would label Mormonism as a "cult," it is a fact that Mormons who leave the church often have emotional difficulties that are very similar to ex-cultists. For this reason it may be helpful to understand those problems from an ex-cultist viewpoint. Websites on leaving cults:
http://www.shassan.com/ The home page of Steve Hassan, an authority on cults.
Jan Groenveld's Cult Awareness Centre; has the excellent description of the feeling of pain after leaving: "It Hurts"
Marlene Winell's book Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. The website has sample chapters and self-help guides.
FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT LEAVE
For those who, for whatever reason, do not wish to resign completely, there are some other options.
NO CONTACT: Bishops and other church representatives are required by the Church Handbook to respect a request from a member to be left alone. The member's name on the ward membership list must be marked "No Contact" and must be honored. Most members are unaware of this option. It is probably a good idea to make the request in writing to the bishop, mailed to his home address (follow the instructions above for the resignation letter, except that no copies should be sent, and it need not be notarized or certified).
Here is a sample letter:
Dear Bishop [name]:"NEW ORDER MORMONS": For those who have to or want to remain in the church, or are uncertain about how to remain in the church while still having some doubts, a support and discussion group is available at "New Order Mormons". One can participate there anonymously.
Although I am a member of record of the LDS church, I am writing to notify you that I do not wish to be contacted by representatives of the church at my home or work, either by telephoning me or by coming to my home or work, unless I specifically request it. Specifically, I do not want to be contacted by home teachers, visiting teachers, missionaries, persons collecting fast offerings, yourself, or anyone representing the church. My reasons for making this request are personal, and I do not wish to discuss those reasons with you or with any other person representating the church. It is my understanding that you can mark my membership records as "requests no contact" and that my request will be honored.
"VIEW FROM THE FOYER": Another discussion group for those still in the church but with doubts, associated with the Zarahemla City Limits website.
Audio interviews with many Mormons who stay in the church despite their doubts are at Mormon Stories - Podcasts. Listen especially to John Dehlin's (the webmaster) story, podcasts #027 and #028. Click on "Highlights" for the listings. The third installment of his story (#029) must be requested personally by an e-mail to John.
Comments? Questions? (Please, no preaching, testimonies, or hate mail!) To send a comment or ask a question, click here.
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A man is accepted into church for what he believes--and turned out for what he knows.   -- Mark Twain
All religions die of one disease, that of being found out. -- F.N. Morley