A few weeks ago, I learned on Facebook through a friend of mine that there is a group of Mormons who left the LDS Church. He linked me to one group. Someone on that group's page asked where everyone was from, how old people are, and what they do for a living. I was stunned to see quite a few in Portland, Oregon, so last week, I posted a comment about those in Portland who might be interested in meeting. Someone told me that there was already a group that meets and gave me an actual website to look at. I noticed on that website that there was a meeting on Sunday, 12 February in a restaurant in John's Landing (I ate there once or twice before). This was conveniently on the way back from church, just south of downtown Portland (in fact, John's Landing is where I hope to live next...hopefully by the end of summer).
The friend of mine who alerted me to the ex-Mormon group is an ex-Mormon himself who found our church and joined. I only met him on Facebook and I'm quite surprised by his enthusiasm for the church. He's in his 20s and I thought he was an actor (because he has the face of someone I swear I've seen in a movie or TV show before). He lives in the Los Angeles area and is currently involved in a new initiative by the Community of Christ to reach out to former Mormons who might still be looking for a faith community. It's called "Latter Day Seekers" and I'm very intrigued by it and might see about getting involved for the Portland area (the Apostle who is supposedly part of this initiative is going to be in Portland next week).
Anyhow, I heard that most Mormons who leave the LDS Church actually become atheists and want nothing to do with any religion. This baffles me and was primarily the reason why I wanted to attend the group. It's my old morbid curiosity at play again! So, after church, my ride dropped me off at the Buffalo Gap, a cool restaurant in John's Landing. There were two people already there so I introduced myself. Slowly, people trickled in. Just when I thought the room was crowded enough, more kept coming. One guy, who was a leader, had an amazing personality. He has incredible energy and extroversion going on, as well as being quite the jokester.
I had to share some background info on myself a few times, to each new person. As soon as I told them that I was active Community of Christ (RLDS), they seemed to get suspicious. In a way, I'm not surprised. It brought back memories of my BYU experience, which is namely, the old LDS snobbery against the RLDS. The reaction never seems to change. I can understand in a way, because the LDS Church lies about our church all the time (as I learned at BYU in classes whenever my church was brought up, which wasn't often but always startling when it happened). The LDS are purposefully given misinformation about the Community of Christ because the LDS Church is fearful that if Mormons knew the truth about our church, they might leave and join ours! I know this sounds like a brag, but it really isn't. The Community of Christ is a small church that is mostly liberal and non-creedal. Members aren't required to believe anything put forth. The focus is on fellowship and building Zionic communities wherever we are. If our church has a difficult time with anything, its getting people to our church. I think most members are leery about proselytizing others and we feel that this church is more of an extended family, as many members are "heritage members" (going back generations). Whenever we meet someone who joined our church from another denomination, especially one not associated with the larger Latter Day Saints movement, we are flattered and surprised. The question inevitably gets asked: "How did you find our church?"
One man, who happened to sit next to me, asked if the Community of Christ believes in eternal marriage. I told him no. He then asked an even more bizarre question (though it reflects his Mormon "training"): "Does your church believe there's sex in heaven?" The only groups I've ever heard talk about sex in heaven are Mormons and Muslims. I told him that the Community of Christ doesn't talk about the afterlife very much, but I would say that most people believe that we become beings of light in the afterlife and that would make sex irrelevant. I did not tell him about my own experience in 2001 when I had a moment of "enlightenment" in which I felt ecstatically blissful for two weeks. The love was so intense that I thought my body was going to explode. That experience could be called "the ultimate orgasm", as I have never felt anything as great as that experience before or since. To me, I believe that feeling I was permitted to experience is the natural feeling or energy vibration of the spiritual realm, so when you have that constantly, there is no need for sexual gratification. Also, because sex was designed for reproduction and I don't believe souls are "reproduced" in heaven, the whole idea of sex in heaven just seems kind of silly.
Another guy seemed really skeptical of me when I mentioned being an active member. He asked me what I believed about Jesus and when I said that I did not believe in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, or that Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice, he nodded his sign of approval. I guess I can understand their skepticism. They have all left the controlling and ultra-conservative religion that is the LDS Church and the last thing they want is to be proselytized by another church. They don't have to worry about me. I won't be making invitations to church. I'm just looking for new friendships with people who have similar backgrounds (I did attend BYU, so I know all about LDS culture). Hopefully, it will be a fun group.
When everyone was in the room (at least 30 people), we had to take turns standing up and sharing our story. Everyone else shared what led them out of Mormonism, which made me feel out of place when I admitted that I'm still an active Community of Christ member. I did mention my years at BYU and that my brother joined the church last year and disowned me. That got some sympathy "awwwwws". I haven't spoken to him since then. I'm certain that the LDS church has filled him up with all kinds of lies about the Community of Christ and his "apostate" family members. I'm certain that his bishop probably has no problems trashing me (without knowing me) because I went to BYU and still did not join "THE ONE TRUE CHURCH". However, there is no way you can sit through the illogical beliefs and not question it (unless you've been indoctrinated since childhood).
It was very interesting to me to hear what brought these people out of the LDS Church. One lady said it all happened when some Jehovah's Witnesses came to her door and told her that Joseph Smith, Jr. had multiple wives (which she had never heard before). Another said that it was her majoring in Sociology at BYU and learning about different cultures. One guy had a copy he secretly filmed of his ex-communication hearing.
So, why do these formerly believing, upstanding Mormons become atheists after leaving the LDS Church? As a few explained to me, it is because the Mormon church always talks about your feeling, such as "you will know it's true when you feel the burning in your bosom." Yes, I've heard that expression many times! Usually, its in reference to the reading the Book of Mormon. I never had a "burning in my bosom" when I read the Book of Mormon, but I did experience such "burning in my bosom" when I read the novel What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (about one man's journey to heaven and then saving his wife from hell). Because of this reliance on feeling as validation for "truth" and that they actually did feel those feelings regarding Mormon doctrines, when they intellectually examined these doctrines and realized things didn't add up or make sense, they have to ignore their heart and go with their minds. They can no longer trust feelings, and as I'm all too aware, atheism is strictly a scientific-rational view of the universe. Very fact based.
Naturally, I disagree because I think they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because they no longer believe that the LDS Church is true doesn't mean that no other church out there is true. The LDS Church is a very authoritarian and conservative religion. They are stuck in a bad place because the more knowledge humans gain, the more holes in Mormon history and doctrines become apparent. For example, through DNA mapping, it is now possible to disprove the central claim of the Book of Mormon: that the peoples of this book were immigrants from ancient Israel (600 B.C.) who founded a new civilization on the American continent. Actual DNA testing shows that Native Americans have blood ties to the people of the Far East, not the Middle East.
As I heard about their atheism, I felt conflicted. Part of me felt sad for them to have experienced such hurt about being lied to and deceived, and having to go through the painful experience of leaving not just their church, but their culture, their families, their friends, their whole worldview. This is why they need a group for ex-Mormons, because they can all commiserate and share stories with one another and give each other strength, becoming a new family in their own right. Because of their experiences, they have a negative view of religion overall and reject ALL of it.
My experience is completely the opposite. Because I grew up in a loving church and have experienced the ease of friendship whenever I attend a new congregation in a new location I happen to be living in, not to mention the glimpses of "heaven" I have experienced at summer camp, retreats, World Conference, and reunions, I don't have a negative view of religion. True, I don't like fundamentalist / conservative evangelical Christianity (because of meeting so many judgmental, ignorant and hateful fundies), but my own church is an extension of family for me. In fact, I call it my tribe. I don't see myself leaving it because exciting things are happening in the church (I'm really excited about the Enduring Principles and the Mission Initiatives). I wish these ex-Mormons could have experienced the positive aspects of religion like I have, to be a part of a church that does not impose doctrines on you to believe at the threat of disfellowship or excommunication. But, I'm not going to be promoting my church. If someone has a question, I'll answer it. Mostly, I just want to talk about some of the strange Mormon doctrines I was exposed to at BYU and get a straight answer for once (which I could never get at BYU).
When we were winding down (the meeting lasted about 3 hours, which is the same period of time as a typical Mormon church meeting) and I got up to leave, a few asked if I would be coming to the next meeting in March. At first, I thought this group wasn't for me (because I sensed a natural skepticism towards me for not being a "true Mormon" and for still being active in my church) and wasn't intending to commit to another month. But when they said that they are a welcoming bunch and accept people where they are and that they hoped I would come again, how could I say no to that? A few people seemed familiar to me, even though I have never met any of them before (this could be a sign that I am meant to be a part of this group from a spiritual foresight point of view). I like some of the personalities I saw and I didn't get to talk to everyone (such as a young lady I found attractive who was with her friend the whole time). So, here's to another month!
As I waited for the bus to downtown Portland, I called my good friend Matt, who is a Temple-worthy Mormon and was my best friend on BYU's Washington Seminar program (we were roommates for that semester in D.C.). I told him about my meeting with ex-Mormons. He seems cool about discussing some controversial stuff like that. Basically, I mentioned that I'm surprised that ex-Mormons end up as atheists and don't seem interested in exploring any spiritual ideas (even non-threatening ones like Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age spirituality). I'm in an interesting place, though. I made about 6 great friendships with active and believing Mormons on the Washington Seminar and value their friendships. I admit that I am much more respectful to them than I was to the typical Mormon classmate at BYU. Back then, I wasn't afraid to ask the nearest Mormon about some of the stranger beliefs I learned about. I also have a strange view that if people love their church, they should stay. I have never encouraged any of my Mormon friends to leave their church. I actually like that they are Mormon and I'm glad that we are friends. When I visit any of my Mormon friends, I'm always willing to attend church with them. I don't have the negative view of the LDS Church that the ex-Mormons have. There is much that I admire about the LDS Church, even though I could never be a Mormon (in this lifetime, anyway).
But I also commiserate with those who have left. My experience at BYU was mostly negative, but I'm glad I went because I learned a lot. My biggest problem with the LDS Church is its authoritarian nature. Its a church run by old white men who force conformity on members and insist that members believe the doctrines are absolutely true. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do in the Information Age when knowledge can be had at one's fingertips. I much prefer the approach of the Community of Christ, which embodies what the principle of "agency" or "free will" is all about. Members are left to decide for themselves what they believe is true or not true. What really matters is the fellowship, the community, and working towards a common goal.
So that is where I am at. A Community of Christ member who loves my Mormon friends as they are (no change required) and looking forward to developing real friendships with these former Mormons. I guess its a natural progression since the Community of Christ in Portland lacks young adults or people my age to hang out with. It'll be an interesting year. Maybe I can meet a single ex-Mormon woman to marry! That's my true objective (hahaha).