Friday, October 21, 2005

Ex-Mormons are people too...

The second-most famous couplet in the church, and possibly the only one which we still believe in is, "people can leave the church, but they can't leave the church alone." I used to think the same way. Now, I'm not so sure.

A recent thread on M* about the Church's efforts to track down members with no known address (like yours truly) elicited the usual comments about how if people don't want to be tracked down and visited, then they should just get their names removed from the rolls of the Church. Notice how they never use the word "excommunicated"; no, getting exed from the Church is apparently just like getting an unlisted number. You do it one weekend and then you never think about it again. (Please note: some people do just that, but this post isn't about them.)

Some believers (and I used to be one of them) just can't understand how anyone could be conflicted; there are only two options. Either the Church is true, and you should give it your all, or it's all a sham and you should immediately stop talking about, thinking about, or being interested in the Church that dominated a good chunk of your life. What strikes me is this almost neurotic desire to always be in control about what people are thinking about the Church. You should either think good things, or not bother thinking about it at all. This is more than a little unfair to those who suddenly find themselves unmoored by disbelief.

All I'm asking for is a little compassion. You can't possibly know what kind of familial and social pressures people are dealing with. Aggressively suggesting that inactives remove their names from the rolls is thinly disguised ideological bullying: you don't believe the exact same things as I do, so you must renounce Mormondom, cut all your ties, and stop discussing us. No matter how much tithing you've paid, how many hours you've spent in meetings, or how many years you served a mission, none of this can be part of your life story if you're not one of us.

I'm sorry, but I am one of you. No, I don't keep my name on the rolls to have something to complain about, I do it for my family. Heck, maybe I am trying to hedge my bets come Judgment Day, but I doubt whether my name is in an outdated computer system under a granite mountain will make much of a difference to Jesus. As I remember, he didn't much like bullies either.


Ben S. said...

"Notice how they never use the word "excommunicated"; no, getting exed from the Church is apparently just like getting an unlisted number."

They didn't use the word "excommunicated" because beign excommunicated is different from having your name removed. One is initiated by the Church and the other by the member.

B Fife said...

Sorry Ned, with all due respect, I cannot buy it. I have a hard time understanding how someone feels the need to hang onto a belief system that they no longer subscribe to "for the sake of the family". I believe that a man needs to be decisive about his life and not allow others to dictate his path.

If you no longer believe the LDS gospel then it is time to move on. Stop dwelling on the issue and find another topic to comment on.

Note: I was raised Irish Catholic in PA and converted at the age of 19. I understand the "for the sake of the family" stuff. I just didn't let it dictate my life or my identity. I participate in Catholic activities when I am bonding with my family. Otherwise I live my life as a Latter-day Saint. I don't go onto Catholic blog sites and constantly lament my Catholic upbringing. I chose to go to BYU and on a mission and have no regrets about moving on. Stop looking backwards and start moving forwards. For God's sake, get a spine, man!

Walker said...

I've been party to a number of conversations like this. One thing I've noticed is that (at least the ones I've heard) they are directed to the inactive member who comes to the door with a shotgun and tells the new home teacher to never come by again. We happen to run into that a lot in my area for some reason.

To me that's where the dividing line should be. If you are so opposed to the Church that you react with anger at the sight of a member coming to visit, you should remove your name. If one is inactive and doesn't hold that kind of grudge against the church, I don't think that its as big of a deal.

My 2¢ anyway...

Serenity Valley said...


I know exactly what you're talking about--I've heard it before. I find such talk about those who've left to be offensive, having once been one of those who left.

I don't know if it will relieve your irritation to hear this, but I have to say I always find some comfort in the idea that there are people who leave the church, or cease activity in it, and remain connected. It doesn't matter whether someone's name is still on the rolls for family reasons, or whether they simply continue to find church history interesting. etc. I take such behavior as a sign that our community is still important to the person who left; he or she still, in some sense, belongs. To me, it means that we are more than an insignificant blip in each others' lives. I find that comforting.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ben, I think that's a mere technicality. The process for reintering the church is the same whether you were excommunicated or left of your own free will, and it wasn't that long ago that the only way to leave was by excommunication (which could be initiated either by the church or by the member). Also the theological implications within Mormon thought of leaving by name withdrawl are the same as the implications of excommunication. So I don't see much difference in anything but vocabulary, do you?

Susan M said...

I have a lot of ex-Mormon friends. One had his name removed from the church when he left home.

Another went inactive after coming home early from his mission, but has recently started attending again. I think getting out of Utah made a big difference for him.

Another hasn't had his name removed, as far as I know, but he's a buddhist now and never really had a grasp of the gospel. He's still full of misconceptions about what Mormons believe. Not bitter towards the church at all, it just seems to me like he never really fully understood it.

My husband was inactive for years. He always knew the church was true, he just didn't have the faith to live it. I think most inactives fall into this category, but I'm not basing that on anything really.

lchan said...

I know what you're talking about and it can be really disheartening. I think the toughest thing is when you haven't made up your mind about what you believe or at least how the church fits into all of it.

I never considered taking my name off the rolls even when we were inactive, because I still didn't know where the church was going to fit into my life. More than that, I just didn't know if it was true. I still don't. But, I know the church is a good place for me to be and it's my church.

Anyway, I think that the whole issue gets blown out of proportion. It's not that hard to tell other people the truth about where you're at with the church and if they don't understand, it's their problem, not yours.

Jared* said...

I tend to agree with Walker. Think of the flip side. Once these people are located, some poor guy has to go try to talk to the complete stranger. I've got better things to do than try to talk to someone who can't even discuss their membership in a civil manner.

Sometimes people won't even let you explain that they have the option of removing their name--thus condemning themselves and others to continued unpleasantness.

If someone's membership means enough to them that they want to keep it, then they should. But they should at least be among those who are polite to visitors from the church. Retaining membership means inevitable periodic contact.

Having said that, I know of cases where people have tried to remove their names and it has not happened due to lack of follow-through of local leaders. That is just asking for trouble.

Nate Oman said...

I think that every effort should be made to keep everyone's name on the records of the Church whose name has been place there. I don't understand why we would want to persuade someone to give up all connection with the Church. Such a position, in my mind, seems prima facie inconsistent with our baptismal covenants.

RT: Is it really the same procedure for returning to the Church for those who are ex-ed and those that have simply asked that their names be removed? Do they need to be rebaptized? Do priesthood holders have to get FP to reinstate their priesthood? Do those who have been through the temple have to get the FP to reinstate their Temple blessings?

I don't know, but I have always assumed that having one's name removed was simply an administrative matter: The Church would no longer track the person or keep their names on the rolls, but it didn't act as any sort of a cancellation of ordinances, etc.

NFlanders said...

B. Fife-- I think we've tangled on this subject before, but I doubt we'll ever agree. While I admire your convert zeal, I don't know if your situation is the same as that of former Mormons. You have supplanted your previous religion with a new one, one that has filled that space inside you. I submit that part of the reason you don't dwell on Catholicism is because you are too busy thinking about and exploring Mormonism. I'll overlook the spine comment, only because I feel sorry for beating you so badly in fantasy football (if this is who I think it is).

Walker & Jared-- I agree; I don't want to defend anyone's bad behavior. There are lots of crazy ex-Mormons (as many as there are crazy current Mormons). While I understand frustration if you've tried to remove your name, threats and unprovoked rudeness are never justified.

SV-- I like your community idea, and I do find it comforting. Even if I am a dormant part of the community, it's nice to know that I can come back at any time.

Susan M-- I think getting out of Utah can be very good for one's testimony.

Laura-- Thank you, as always, for your support. I really didn't mean for this post to be about me, but I kind of got sidetracked. I meant to say that it's silly to demand that people either love it or leave it alone. A lot of good people have had bad experiences, and I think we need to respect that.

Ben, RT, & Nate-- This is a really good question. I had just assumed that removing your name from the rolls would automatically cancel any ordinances that were performed. I really can't imagine that it wouldn't.

Whether everything can be restored at once, instead of redoing each ordinance, is another good question. Where is the GHI when you need it?

RoastedTomatoes said...

If the church weren't so vigorous about removing copies of the CHI from the internet, I'd be able to provide specific citations showing that the exact procedures Nate mentioned are necessary to reverse getting your name removed from the church records. Since I can't readily do that, let me instead say that I know this to be the case from an experience in my own family.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, it isn't a matter of redoing the ordinances--other than baptism. The rest are simply a kind of divine paperwork in the end; the hierarchy decides to restore blessings and they are restored.

D-Train said...


I mostly agree. I do think there should be some way to deal with the paperwork issues of respecting individual wishes and organizing the ward's need to reach out and minister. Obviously, the Church has dropped the ball there so far. The DNC list isn't perfect at all and the removal of the name is a pretty big step.

I also agree with the thought censoring that tends to happen so frequently. You're dead right that so many LDS just want to create a hegemonic bubble around the Church. I'd say that we need to figure out a way to work the paperwork to harmonize the above concerns and let those that actively ask about it know what they have to do to get out formally.

I would say, though, that the Church's records aren't indicative of what your life story is. Just as you say that you don't think the records are important for your salvation, I think it's reasonable to maintain that position with regard to your own experiences. Even if your name's off the records, your experiences are yours. No ex-Mormon or inactive Mormon or whatever need allow administrative actions, forced or voluntary, to interfere with the telling of their life narrative. I don't think you need to be mad about that. I think what people mostly worry about is that apostates/ex-members/non-believing members will speak as if they're as active and faithful as the apostle next door. If one is honest about one's experience with the Church, I don't see that concern coming into play.

Anonymous said...

I think the ambiguity comes because of the Church's teachings on excommunication. If one is excommunicated, that means one's name is "blotted out" and s/he is "cast out", right?

So if someone voluntarily removes his/her name from the records, this person is doomed... or at least must be reinstated/rebaptized/readmitted into the kingdom.

Some people never wanted to be LDS in the first place==baptzed at 8 without thir knowledge of what it entails, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ned,

I completely and wholeheartedly agree. I wrote on this here:


Ann said...

A lot of people who "can't leave it alone" do so eventually, after working through their pain and anger and depression, sometimes publicly. It ain't easy, and it takes time.

Those who expect them to just get over it and move on remind me of those who urge abuse victims to forgive and forget - not because the victim is ready, but because the victim's pain and suffering makes THEM uncomfortable.

Dave said...

Ned, I don't quite understand those who go around recommending "name removal" to inactive or doubting Mormons. The point is to keep these people around, not get rid of them. Bishops and local members ought to willingly grant "name removal" when requested, but it seems rather cold-hearted to go around recommending it to inactive Mormons.

The CHI direction to local leaders that "name removal" should not be granted when there is some sin lurking behind the request is odd -- if the result is the same (official separation), why should it matter whether it is by excommunication or by name removal? The institutional bias in favor of excommunication whenever possible speaks to a need to label the departed as "sinners" rather than as voluntary separations. Maybe the word "excommunication" should be scrapped in favor of "administrative name removal," a complement to "voluntary name removal" for member-initiated separations.

Ann said...

The CHI's statement is a little misleading, though, in that once a member submits a resignation letter, that person is no longer a member. Period. That the church chooses not to recognize this does not make the church's position correct.

If a member resigns, and the local authorities pursue an excommunication afterward, then that local unit risks a lawsuit.

The church only has the authority a member surrenders to it.

Steve EM said...

"the inactive member who comes to the door with a shotgun and tells the new home teacher to never come by again"

Why wait for the guy to remove his name? If pulling a gun on a HT isn't grounds to ex somebody what is? Mormons are so weird.

NFlanders said...

Davis-- I don't know how I missed your post at M*. (I was moving at the time, but that is no excuse.) Your post communicates what I was trying to say much more clearly than I did. I have to say though that I am surprised it was on M*.

Ann-- That is a very good point. I don't know very many Mormons and even fewer ex-Mormons. It makes sense that it takes time to work through the anger or hurt before moving on.

RT-- I think it is very interesting that baptism has to be re-performed but that the priesthood and endowment can be decreed. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

D-Train-- You are right that they can't erase Mormonism from my life. Even so, I am not planning on having my name removed and can't really foresee a circumstance where I would.

Dave-- I think we already have a two-tiered system: excommunication (involuntary) and removal of name (voluntary). I think this is a good development, but I think this has also lead to members thinking that we should tidy up the books with a little name removal, since it's not as drastic as ex-ing. My argument is that even though it is nice to be able to say that you chose to sever your ties with the Church, we shouldn't forget that in practice, the two procedures have equivalent outcomes (i.e. cancellation of baptisms and sealings).

Steve EM-- Good point.

Anonymous said...


Do you read M* regularly? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Either way, I think there's a bloggernacle-wide misconception about what we (or at least most of us) believe and blog about. The unfortunate label of "conservative" puts us into a box where I don't think we really belong.

NFlanders said...

I do try to keep up with M*, though I admit that I don't keep up with the comments (which often bug me).

I'll agree with you up to a point: Tanya, Elisabeth, Bryce and Davis are not conservative at all. However, Geoff and Adam are so virulently conservative that it skews everyone's perception of M*. Also, the commenters are often infuriatingly narrow-minded about church issues, such as Mike Parker, Daniel Peterson, & B. Bell. If you want an example of the worst of M*, check out the current ex-Mormon thread.

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...


Geoff and Adam are conservative, no doubt. But they are 2 of 12. And I do agree that the comments are often over the top. However, the same could be said of many other places. Still, I do envy T&S the diversity of their readers and commenters. I think both M* and BCC have suffered for being labeled, which in turn causes the more extreme readers to cluster there.

NFlanders said...

"I think both M* and BCC have suffered for being labeled, which in turn causes the more extreme readers to cluster there."

I totally agree, though I hadn't noticed it at BCC. However, I am naturally drawn to BCC, so maybe I have a blindspot there.

I don't know that there is anything you can do at this point about the labelling of M*. If Geoff and Adam hadn't been so vocal during the first few months of existence, perhaps things would have been different. (They are both very quiet right now.) The problem is that even if you don't want M* to be the "conservative" blog, a proportion of your readers definitely feel a need for a conservative or orthodox place to go.

I think M* permabloggers gradually joining new group blogs (like the Bloggernacle Times) is the only way things will change.

But, in the future, I will take more care not to judge M* by a fraction of its contributors or readers. M* permabloggers are people too!

Ryan Bell said...

Ned, I guess it was my post that elicited your thoughts here, so I hope I can offer a bit of a clarification. You've set up a false contradiction in your post by saying that some members think you have to be completely active and gung-ho or leave the church completely. My own belief couldn't be farther from that statement. I would welcome every person to participate at whatever level they are comfortable at, as any level of activity is better than complete removal.

The actual intent of my statements was that people shouldn't avail themselves of whatever psychic benefits they retain from remaining on the church's roles, and then complain virulently when the Church undertakes to keep looking after them. It's not make up your mind if you want to be in the church or not. It's make up your mind whether you're willing to accept the consequences of remaining on the rolls. If you're going to complain about how someone from the church is visiting every six months, realize that you can't really expect anything else, given that you remain on the rolls, and that you have it in your power to do something about that if you wish. Does that difference make sense?

NFlanders said...

Ryan-- I agree that getting worked up over occasional HT visits doesn't do anyone any good. However, we should ask ourselves WHY they are so upset. Is it because they desperately want to get their names off the rolls but haven't been able to? If that is the case, then let's streamline the removal process. Or are they upset because they don't want to be visited but can't remove their names because of family considerations? In this case, I think we should have a better and more comprehensive DNC list.

What I objected to in your thread was the idea that these people are sticking around on the rolls to have something to complain about. Sure, there are some weirdos out there who may stay for this reason, but they are a tiny minority. In the majority of cases, there is something else going on, and we should try to figure out what it is.

My main point was very similar to your brother's: that it is unrealistic to expect people leave Mormonism alone when they've invested so much in it.

john f. said...

Your link above to the current exmo thread links to a bird's eye view. I think this might be a mistake.

Ryan Bell said...

I get that, Ned. I certainly agree that there probably aren't a whole lot of people who purposely remain on the rolls in order to complain about the church. And yes, it probably ought to be a bit easier for someone who truly wants to leave, to get his name off everything. I just think the church is in a tough spot, stuck between people who want to be left alone, and God who wants them to stay in contact with everyone. And I think they are probably right to go with the latter. Still, it's not an easy line to walk.

NFlanders said...

John Fowles-- Sorry about that, I really thought I had linked to M*, but I must have been reading your site and mixed it up.

Ryan-- Good point. I agree. I think this is the way all threads should end.