'exmo': Life after the LDS faith means redefining oneself
By Di Lewis
May 3, 2006 | You've probably met one, even though
you didn't know it; most look like they did before.
But then you notice no garment lines, knowing
he went on a mission, or the girl with a tongue ring
makes a casual mention of high school seminary.
In a state where the majority of the residents are
members of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, there's a growing community of
former members of the LDS church -- the exmos.
What is life like for those people who consider themselves
ex-Mormons in Utah? What are the challenges, the assumptions
and the adjustments one makes after Mormonism?
It's a huge venture to make a break from faithful
member of the LDS church to nonbeliever. Ideological
changes, missionary efforts from family, losing friends,
figuring out how to socialize in the non-Mormon world
and misunderstanding from others are all part of the
"It's hard because you go from having an organization
that sets a lot of very strict guidelines to nothing,"
Eric Peatross, a senior majoring in speech communication,
said. "You have to start over and create new boundaries
-- figure out what you will and won't do based on what
you believe, not what something is telling you to do."
Many exmos have admitted that their boundaries get
pushed before they figure out what they would like to
set them at.
From a personal perspective, as I have branched away
from the LDS church, friends who I had thought were
very close have seen my leaving as an attack on them
and their beliefs. As a non-LDS friend, Andy Hicks,
a psychology major, said, "I can see now why some
people are bitter when they leave the LDS church. Their
friends and family can't accept their choices and it
can be really hurtful."
While it may not necessarily be a conscious decision,
new friends are often part of leaving the church. In
a state where so many social activities are based on
church activities, it can be hard to maintain previous
"Friends that I made through church, like my mission
friends -- I just don't hang out with them very much
anymore, because we've become very different," Peatross
said. "I wasn't going to Family Home Evening or institute
anymore and so they just were no longer a part of my
Reactions from family are often the most painful and
difficult to deal with. As the daughter of a bishop,
my parents have an understandably hard time accepting
the decision of me, a brother and both of my sisters
to leave the LDS church. People make assumptions about
reasons for leaving the church and find it hard to reconcile
their family member's choices with their religious beliefs.
In a church that teaches families are forever, the
idea that a child might never come back to the church
can be confusing and frightening. Many parents, mine
included, hold to the belief that eventually their children
will realize their mistake and come back. In many cases
it doesn't happen. While some remain on the official
roles of the church, name removal is an option when people
want to make a complete break from their life with the
Aside from dealing with those you know well, it can
be a minor annoyance when the faith is used as the default
setting for conversations. Because exmos are often indistinguishable
from Mormons, it can be frustrating when people assume
you are LDS. Even in an academic setting, mission stories,
references to wards, stakes or general authorities sprinkle
the conversation with the assumption that everybody
knows what they are.
Exmos sometimes feel a need to distinguish themselves
from the Mormon community. Even though it may not be
the primary reasoning behind smoking, tattoos or getting
non-church approved piercings.
It's part of accepting that you've changed, doing things
that you couldn't do before," Peatross said.
I know I sometimes find myself playing with my tongue
ring just to make sure people know I have one as a way
to set myself apart from the Mormon community.
While everybody makes choices and changes once they
leave the church, getting used to the way non-Mormon
socialization is done can be difficult. Some people
turn to Web sites such as Post Mormon or Ex-Mormon to find comfort, understanding
or like-minded people to associate with.
Without the help of a network of people who have gone
through the same experience, wading into the waters
of post-Mormon social life can be daunting.Becky Lewis,
a massage therapist in Salt Lake City, said figuring
out the dynamics of the bar and clubbing scene was difficult
Living life as a former Mormon in Utah can be hard.
Whether it be facing comments from friends and family
or trying to create new boundaries to live by, setting
out in a new life is never easy, but it is interesting,
fun and rewarding.