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Today's word on journalism

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"[F]ew things are as much a part of our lives as the news. With the advent of sophisticated mass communication, the news has become a sort
of instant historical record of the pace, progress, problems, and the hopes of society. On the other hand--and here's the puzzle -- the news provides, at best, a superficial and distorted image of society. . . . The puzzle, simply put, is this: How can anything so superficial be so central to our lives?"

--W. Lance Bennett, political science professor, 1988

Utah '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 transition.

"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 friendships.

"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 socialization."

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 church.

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 at first.

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.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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