An ExMormon, or Ex-Mormon, is a person who was formerly a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but who is no longer a member of the Church. Polls show that in the United States, about half of people change religions at least once during their lifetime. A Pew Forum study conducted in 2009 found the following:
- Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once.
- Many people who have left a religion to become unaffiliated, the group that has grown the most from religious switching, say they did so in part because they stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood faith. Many also cite disillusionment with religious people and institutions as reasons for becoming unaffiliated.
As with all faiths, the Mormon Church loses and gains members all the time. Although doctrines of the Church do not change, policies do, and new policies are considered to be the fruits of direct revelation to leaders of the Church. Some members who leave become disenchanted with the doctrines of the Church, while others may become disenchanted with policies. Examples from history include the beginning of the practice of polygamy in the early 1800’s. Some members became disaffected because they could not accept the practice. When the practice of polygamy ended in 1890 (with the punishment of excommunication being added in 1904), it ended the way it began—with revelation. Yet some Latter-day Saints disagreed with the cessation of polygamy, broke off from the main body of the Church and formed apostate polygamist sects, some of which still exist.
Members have become disaffected over the Church’s stand on women’s rights and gay rights. Some members left the Church because the Blacks did not have the priesthood, and then when the priesthood was extended to every worthy male regardless of race (in 1978—as the result of revelation), a few who disagreed with the new policy became disaffected. Yet, the LDS Church has become the fourth largest religion in America and now has over 14 million members worldwide. Mormon youth are the most likely of any Christian faith to retain the religion of their parents.
As with all religions, those who decide to abandon their Mormon faith have many reasons for doing so. Contrary to rumor, free agency is the central principle of God’s plan for us, and there is no brainwashing or coercion in the Church, although social norms and family expectations do create some pressure to conform, as in any culture, society, or religion. There is a huge emphasis in the Church on learning to recognize and act upon the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to use the gift of the Holy Ghost to personally confirm any message from the prophet or teaching of the Church. Recognizing and living by the Spirit is a challenge for all of God’s children, an interesting journey, and some find it especially difficult. Difficult also, are the times when bad things happen to good people. Spiritual confusion can result from personal setbacks or loss, and this can happen to a member of any faith. Members can also be offended by the actions or words of other members of the Church.
Offenses come in interpersonal relationships, no matter what the setting. An ExMormon might hate the Church, for example, because his bishop or a member of a congregation said something that offended him. The person stays away, sometimes for years, because of something that really has nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. He sets himself outside the blessings of the kingdom in order to nurse his wounds. These people often come back into activity in Church.
Mormonism has a focus on the commandments of God, so the Mormon lifestyle has some requirements that some other faiths do not have. The Law of Chastity simply states that there should be no sexual activity outside of marriage (which is the legal union of a man and a woman) and absolute fidelity in marriage. The Word of Wisdom—the Mormon health law—forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and recreational drugs. Mormons pay 10% of their income in tithes and also pay other offerings. Family life is elevated and central to the doctrine of Christ’s church. So single members may sometimes feel left out. There are many investigators of the Church who believe in the doctrines, but choose not to join the Church because of the “restrictive” lifestyle.
Rarely, members of the Church can be excommunicated from the Church for serious sin. Serious sins are more serious when a person has made covenants in the temple, since he or she is sinning against light and knowledge. Serious sins include fornication, adultery, other serious sexual sins, felonies against the laws of the land, and apostasy. Excommunication is meant to be part of the repentance process, and ideally, the person, his family, and his church leaders work together to help bring the person’s life in line with the commandments of God. Repentance includes confessing the sin to a church leader, making recompense for the sin if at all possible, forsaking the sin, and endeavoring to live in accordance with biblical commandments of chastity, temperance, and honesty. As with all processes in the Church, this one lacks any form of coercion. Therefore, some people choose to commit to a lifestyle that is opposed to recovering Church membership. Some even think the Church should change its policies to allow them to continue in full fellowship in their chosen sins.
The Church can excommunicate a person for apostasy, but not for his beliefs. A member of the Church might have beliefs that are not in line with gospel doctrine and still be an active member of the Church. There is no discipline, then, for “heresy.” Apostasy entails proselyting those beliefs, which is destructive to the well-being of other members and congregations.
It is important to understand how the Mormon Church differs from other churches. The Church is the restoration of Christ’s ancient Church, and its power, authority, and doctrines come from Christ Himself through revelation to a prophet. Thus, if a person disagrees and desires to somehow change the Church to a form more agreeable to him, there is no place for that. The person either accepts or rejects the prophet and the Church. If he is an apostate, he certainly might be happier in another faith or with no faith at all, so he can find his own way, as he desired in the first place. A person who accepts that Mormonism is Christ’s primitive church, now restored and led by a prophet, might still have his problems and struggles with various aspects of the gospel, but will continue to strive to progress in understanding and godliness.
Unfortunately, because Christ leads the Church, it is difficult to abandon the Church without turning against it. Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the restored Church, said,
“There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p321).
Because of this, ExMormons often become anti-Mormon. In their rebellion, they seek to damage the Church and justify themselves. Anti-Mormons often lie about the Church and its doctrines and practices. In Joseph Smith’s day, ExMormons who lied about the Church, its policies and doctrines, brought serious persecution upon the members of the Church, resulting in loss of life and property. As the Prophet said, these were the ones who had received the most light and then turned against it.