Since I announced recently that I left the Mormon church, I’ve received hundreds of responses from people expressing their opinions, their love and support, and their own journeys with me. The post has been viewed over 2,500 times (most of that within the first 3 days), and there’s a thread about it on my Facebook timeline over 100 comments long. Many people have told me they’ve shared my document with others through email. Undoubtedly, this is a hot topic, and opinions on it vary as widely as can be imagined.
It’s been fascinating to hear others’ experiences and beliefs on this topic, and to have the chance to clarify my own views as I’ve responded to questions, accusations, and praise for my decision. I admit that I was afraid at how others might react, but am pleased to report that most of the responses were positive, and that many of my relationships have deepened as people opened up to me like I opened myself up in the document. I’ve also met some new friends both in and out of the church. This has been a wonderful learning experience for me and has taught me more about myself, human nature, and why people believe what they do.
It’s also made it even more clear to me how each of us see the world through our own filters of reality, and how difficult those filters are to remove. Even when we think we’ve removed them, we usually haven’t. I’m reminded of the common mistakes we all (including me) make in our thinking, so well explained in the book Don’t Believe Everything You Think which I reviewed last year. It’s a great book that really increased my awareness of how our brains work and how we form our beliefs.
I thought it would be interesting to summarize the most common responses I received to my announcement. While each response was as unique as the person writing it, there were some common themes that kept coming up. Each of the items listed below is an idea I heard several times in the responses I received. I think this list demonstrates that people have their own minds, experiences, opinions, and emotions that vary greatly even within the same belief system. Personally, I think that kind of diversity makes the world a more interesting place to live and probably helps us grow more than if we all felt the same way about everything. That is, if we can all learn to love and accept ourselves and each other with all our differences.
Here are the most common responses I received:
- You’re an anti-Mormon, deceived by the devil, and are just trying to destroy people’s faith.
- You will regret this at Judgment Day when you’re forced to humbly kneel before Christ.
- I know you left just because you wanted to sin / have more free time on Sundays, etc.
- I’m really sad and disappointed in your decision. You must be very unhappy. I will pray for you.
- I know the church is true. It brings me so much peace and I can’t imagine going through life without it.
- I’ve heard it all before, and I’m still strong in the church.
- I don’t agree with what you said, but I still love you.
- You will always be our friends. It doesn’t matter to us what you believe.
- Your document was well-written, but your logic is flawed because you’re not taking into account the witness from the Holy Ghost.
- I think you over-thought some of these things, and intellectualized yourself out of the gospel. You’re “too smart” for the church.
- I’ve had more powerful spiritual experiences than the ones you describe that I could never deny and they prove to me that the church is true.
- You were an inspiration to me growing up and helped strengthen my testimony through your example. I’m really shocked to hear this news, but I still consider you my friend.
- I can tell you’ve really thought this through. Here are some other questions you might want to consider.
- You’ve caused me to think a lot, and you’re right about many things. But I still believe in the church.
- I don’t believe everything the church teaches, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or false because it makes me a better person and/or it’s what I’m comfortable with, so that’s why I believe.
- I want to believe the church is true. It’s really scary for me to think that it might not be. But I have to know the truth. I’m going to find out for myself. Thanks for sharing your journey.
- It’s so nice to know I’m not alone! I feel the same way as you do, but my wife/husband/brother/mom/etc won’t even try to listen to my concerns.
- Your article makes perfect sense and I completely agree with everything you said, but I still go to church to keep my family together (my spouse would divorce me if I left, and my kids would disown me).
- You’ve really helped me at a crossroads in my life and your document brought me so much peace and has given me courage to do what I know I need to do. Thank you!
- I left the church years ago for many of the same reasons you did, and have been so happy ever since. You put into words beautifully what I was never able to articulate, and it really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
- We’ve been trying to figure out how to tell our family and friends that we left the church, and your document really helps spell it out in a non-offensive way. I’m going to share it with them / use some of your words in my response.
- I just want you to know that you’re not alone and that despite how some people will mistreat you for this decision, there are thousands more who support you. It’s great to see you being true to yourself.
- You should write a book about this and publish it! There are so many people struggling with these issues who feel so alone and afraid and they need your help.
- Writing that took amazing courage and integrity, and you handled it with such grace! Well done! You inspire me!
What a spectrum of responses! Do you see your response (either thought or written) in the list? Of course there were many more, and some went into great detail, but this is a summary of the most common ones.
Interestingly, when we decided to sell our material possessions a couple years ago and travel the world as a family, we received similar backlash and support from various people (although the severity was on a different scale). Some people thought we were crazy and stupid. Some were concerned about our health and safety. Others felt like we were living the dream and wished they could join us. Some ignored us. Others were inspired by us and made preparations to do the same thing themselves. I suppose whenever we make a radical decision, or a choice that breaks the barriers of culture and “normal” expectations, people will react differently, according to where they’re at in their own life, their own fears and desires, their own experience and expectations. These reactions say much more about the speaker than they do about our decisions or about us as individuals, but we can learn something about ourselves from each response if we choose to, and help each other grow.
We’ve been fortunate to come to a place inside of ourselves that we’re very happy and content with. We’ve realized that we don’t have to live to meet others’ expectations, and that’s not what ultimately brings happiness to anyone. Instead, we do what ignites our passions, fills our lives with meaning, and makes the world a better place in our eyes. My hope is that we can all do just that, in our own unique ways.
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”