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Ex-Mormon refers to a disaffiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any of its schismatic breakoffs, collectively called "Mormonism". Ex-Mormons, sometimes referred to as Exmo, typically neither believe in nor affiliate with the LDS church. In contrast, Jack Mormons may believe but do not affiliate; and Cultural Mormons may affiliate but do not believe. The distinction is important to some ex-Mormons, many of whom see their decision to leave as morally compelling and socially risky. Many ex-Mormons experience troubles with family members who still follow Mormon teachings. Aggregations of ex-Mormons may comprise a social movement.
Most ex-Mormons leave Mormonism and the LDS church because specific intellectual or spiritual reasons have led them to a conviction that the religion is false. The foremost reasons are disbelief both in Joseph Smith as a prophet and in the Book of Mormon as a religious and historical document. Reasons for this disbelief include issues with anthropological, linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence for the Book of Mormon in the New World. In addition to rejecting the Book of Mormon for such reasons, the Book of Abraham and other Mormon religious texts are rejected on similar grounds.
Individuals leave Mormonism for a variety of reasons, although "single reason disaffiliates are rare among former Mormons." Research shows that 43% of Mormon disaffiliates left due to unmet spiritual needs. Other reasons for leaving may include a belief that they are in a cult, logical or intellectual appraisal, belief changes or differences, spiritual conversion to another faith, life crises, and poor or hurtful responsiveness by Mormon leaders or congregations. Of former Mormons surveyed, 58% switched to other faiths or practices.
A minority of ex-Mormons cite their personal incompatibility with Mormon beliefs or culture. A Princeton Review article described a conformist atmosphere at church-owned Brigham Young University. Liberal views and political attitudes that challenge this conformity, and occasionally sexual orientation, are cited as reasons for leaving Mormonism.
In recent years the LDS Church has become more politically active, particularly with regard to legislation barring civil marriage for same-sex couples. Official LDS involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign was highly controversial, causing some LDS to stop attending church.
After their decision to leave Mormonism and the LDS church, ex-Mormons typically go through an adjustment period as they re-orient their lives religiously, socially, and psychologically.
An online poll of ex-Mormons found that a majority of ex-Mormons do not self-identify as a member of another faith tradition, choosing to describe themselves as agnostic, atheist or simply ex-Mormon. Some can also become apatheist. Others either retained belief in God but not in organized religion or became adherents of other faiths. Among ex-Mormons with no current religious preference, 36% continued the practice of prayer often or daily. Ex-Mormon attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism vary widely. Some ex-Mormons actively proselytize against Mormonism, while some provide only support to others leaving the religion. Other ex-Mormons prefer to avoid the subject entirely, while still others may try to encourage healthy dialogue between adherents of their new faiths and active Mormons. Attitudes of ex-Mormons also differ regarding their church membership. Some formally resign, which the LDS church refers to as "name removal," while others simply become inactive.
Ex-Mormons who publicly leave Mormonism usually face social stigmatization. Although many leave to be true to themselves or to a new belief structure, they leave at a cost; many leave feeling ostracized and pressured and miss out on major family events such as temple weddings. Based upon a belief that those who leave are in danger of negative eternal consequences (see Latter-day Saint views of ex-Mormons), Mormon peers, church officials, and family members may criticize those who leave and pressure them to return. Family members of some may express only disappointment and sorrow and try to reach out in understanding to their new belief system. Some stay under threat of divorce from spouses that still believe. Still, many ex-Mormons are completely shunned and have given up spouses, children, and the ability to enter Mormon temples to witness life events of family members. Ex-Mormons in geographic locations away from major enclaves of Mormon culture such as Utah may experience less stigmatization, however.
Most ex-Mormons go through a psychological process as they leave Mormonism. Former Mormon bishop Bob McCue described his disaffiliation as recovery from cognitive dissonance. Reynolds reports that leaving involves a period of intense self-doubt and depression as disaffiliates confront feelings of betrayal and loneliness, followed by self-discovery, belief exploration, spiritual guidance and connection as they leave Mormonism. He argues that leaving may provide a renewed sense of self, confidence and peace. One ex-Mormon compared his disaffiliation experience to leaving a cult, while others called it close to overcoming mind control or adjusting to life outside of religious fundamentalism. Still others compare their symptoms to divorce from marriage. Ex-Mormons may also have to cope with the pain of ostracism by Mormon employers, friends, spouses, and family members.
Depending on the circumstances of an ex-Mormon's departure, Latter-day Saint views may range from considering them apostates to viewing them as individuals who have simply strayed from the path. The LDS church teaches that people leave for a variety of reasons, but that regardless of the reason the underlying cause is deception by Satan. Reasons range from trivial to serious (including doctrinal disagreements). Latter-day Saints view turning from the influence of the Holy Spirit as having potentially devastating spiritual consequences, and they generally hope ex-Mormons will "return to the fold."
The reasons given for a person leaving the church vary according to who is offering the opinion. LDS Sunday school manuals say members leave because of unwarranted pride, committing sins which drive them to alienation from God, or because they have taken offense to something trivial. The manuals also claim members leave because they have been deceived by Satan who according to LDS scripture is actively seeking to destroy the souls of men. Furthermore, those who "depart from the truth" will be judged in the final judgment for falling prey to this deception. The deceptions that Satan uses include acceptance of a false prophet, pride and vanity, being critical of leaders' imperfections, being offended, rationalizing disobedience, and accepting the false teachings of the world.
In the Book of Mormon, a figure named Korihor preaches disbelief and challenges prophecies and church leaders. He then demands a miracle and is miraculously struck mute for the acts. One Mormon scholar likened the philosophical analysis employed in an essay compilation edited by an ex-Mormon to Korihor's tactics. Church authority and popular LDS fiction writer Gerald N. Lund compares any reasoning that leads to disbelief in God or Mormonism to Korihor.
Mormon historian B.H. Roberts wrote of an account of a member leaving the LDS church over the misspelling of a name in church records. The LDS church uses the story of Frazier Eaton (who gave $700 for the Kirtland Temple but left after being unable to get a seat at the dedication ceremony) as an object lesson on how members can leave after being offended.
Latter-day Saints may view ex-Mormons as stronger candidates for eternal damnation based on their former devotion to Mormonism, since those who were never adherents will be judged more lightly. In addition, one who goes so far as to deny the Holy Spirit could become a son of perdition and be cast into outer darkness. Outright apostasy of members will lead to a church disciplinary council, which may result in disfellowshipment or excommunication. However, members who ask for their names to be removed from church records or who have joined another church are not subject to a disciplinary council.
Former President of the LDS Church Brigham Young taught that members who openly disagree with church leaders are potentially cursed or condemned and that those who reject LDS doctrine or authority outright are "apostate". An early Mormon epistle teaches that apostates have "fallen into the snares of the evil one."
Young also said that "[if] there is a despicable character on the face of the earth, it is an apostate from this Church. He is a traitor who has deceived his best friends, betrayed his trust, and forfeited every principle of honor that God placed within him. They may think they are respected, but they are not. They are disgraced in their own eyes. There is not much honesty within them; they have forfeited their heaven, sold their birthright, and betrayed their friends."
Tight-knit local and Internet-based support group communities exist for ex-Mormons to help them cope with the strains of leaving their former belief system and building a new life. Specifically, Internet-based communities range from historical forums and blogs to sites dedicated to recovery from Mormonism, membership resignation, newsgroups, and satire. The communities found at ExMormon.org and reddit.com/r/exmormon are the most popular ex-Mormon communities.