Friday, September 12, 2014

ExMormon Etiquette - Lesson One

Last Sunday, at our monthly ExMormon gathering at the San Francisco Ferry Building, we welcomed some newcomers who had recently left the LDS Church. Like most emerging ExMormons, the first question on their lips was, "What should I tell my believing family?"

It's a common dilemma. So common that the better part of an excellent book about leaving Mormonism is devoted to the subject. But lucky for you, Gentle Readers, I happen to be an experienced expert on this and all subjects pertaining to ExMormon etiquette! In that spirit, I invite you to read my 2 SIMPLE RULES FOR DEALING WITH YOUR BELIEVING MORMON FAMILY:

I know it's counterintuitive. As a newly escaped Mormon, you've spent the better part of your life both privately and publicly explaining everything from your recent masturbation lapse to the mysterious tan line on your mid-thigh. But really, you don't owe anyone an explanation for why you decided to leave the one and only true church. Leveling with your mom, dad, siblings, etc. may seem like a satisfying means of closure, but all it usually does is open the door to further argument and more hard feelings. It's best to agree to disagree on matters of religion and stick to safe subjects.


Exception A: If your family/loved ones decide to change your mind by arguing their point, sending you pro-Mormon literature, quoting the Book of Mormon, etc.
- In this case, ignore SRN1 and say, "Here is my counterpoint - my favorite factual book about Mormonism - the Shakespearean play that is the source of that scripture." That usually shuts them up pretty quickly.

Exception B: If your family/loved ones decide to go behind your back and reconvert your young children by arguing their point,  sending them pro-Mormon literature, quoting the Book of Mormon, etc.
- Again, ignore SRN1 and say, "Here is my counterpoint - my favorite factual book about Mormonism - the Shakespearean play that is the source of that scripture." And if you ever approach my children with your bat s**t crazy a**ed propaganda again, I'll lurk outside church on Sunday, ambush your kids, bring them back to my place and force them to watch Cosmos." That usually sends them sprinting down the street screaming in terror.

Exception C: If you have teenaged children who still believe.
- Then it is your DUTY to ignore SRN1 and explain all of your misgivings about Mormonism. Sure, they'll resent you for leaving, for embarrassing them in front of their friends, and for not having a single brain cell left in your daft head. Face it, they're teenagers, you're a clueless adult, and it's going to be at least 10 years before you've learned anything. Given that by then they'll have swapped out a mission for study abroad or put off having kids for a career or tied the knot with their same sex partner, my guess is "I hate my parents for leaving the LDS Church" will no longer be among their common refrains.

Exception D: If you have adult children who still believe.
- In this unfortunate situation, my best advice is to fall back on that well-honed skill you acquired from Mormonism and LIE. Statements like, "even though it's not for me, I completely respect your dedication to and sacrifice for the one and only true church" may leave a bad taste in your mouth. But consider it a small price to pay. Otherwise be prepared for annual visits with the grandkids who will wretch when you kiss them because "Grammy and Grampy are a couple of perverted psychopaths but we love them anyway because we're Christians."

Do you see how simple this is?

Again, it's counterintuitive. After years of hiding your caffeine consumption, R-rated videos, and that mysterious tan line, it seems only natural to stash the beer and coffee pot when the TBM family drops by. But don't do it. The sooner your loved ones accept your decision as permanent, the sooner they can move on to Stage 1 (definitions below)

- Disclaimer: while the following course of events does not play out in every family scenario, after reviewing over 100 test cases, I have found their occurrence to be surprisingly typical. Because, let's face it, obedience to all of those heavenly rules doesn't commonly lead to earthly success, much less overall sanity. -

Stage 1: Your loved ones - let's say your parents - understand you're never coming back to church, write you off as losers, never talk about you to family and friends and spend the better part of your conversations extolling the accomplishments of their believing children and grandchildren. (Unless, of course, you experience some unfortunate luck. They'll be sure to bring that up.)

Stage 2: Your parents stop extolling the accomplishments of their believing children and grandchildren, opting for subjects like sports, the weather, and even an occasional query about your kids.

Stage 3: You discover that your parents' favorite believing child is getting a divorce/has been fired/is leading an expedition to Kolob next year. Or that their favorite believing grandchild is pregnant again at 15/has a sexually explicit tattoo on his face/is so self-righteous nobody can stand to be around her. Only you don't hear about this from your parents. The revelation comes via a mutual acquaintance, or because you see your nephew being arrested on reality TV, or because you pay a surprise visit home and discover that your brother-in-law is living in your old room.

Stage 4: You parents rarely talk about their favorite believing children and families and now spend their time boasting about you and yours to both family and friends - leaving out that tiny detail that you've left the church.


Exception A: SRN2 only works under normal LDS circumstances. If you grew up in a family of General Authorities, Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, etc., if you're employed by the LDS Church or NuSkin, are a student at BYU or BYU-Idaho, or if you're a longtime resident of Utah County. . .
- I not only suggest you hide, I urge you to change your appearance and your identity and disappear under the cover of darkness.

More simple rules to follow.    


  1. This was a fun read! "Grammy and Grampy are a couple of perverted psychopaths but we love them anyway because we're Christians" should be printed on bumper stickers and T-shirts.

    In all seriousness, I like the "don't explain" part of your advice. No one should have to justify their beliefs to anyone, and an ex-Mormon shouldn't feel pressured to explain themselves to Mormon loved ones.

    I've seen this with non-Mormon Christians as well. On several occassions, believers have asked me, "Why aren't you Christian?", and I've replied that I don't have to justify my agnosticism to them. I wonder if the question is part of some rote proselytization technique they've been taught.

    1. Maybe so, asking why is a great way to put folks on the defensive. I like your response, Ahab.

  2. I think my dad has, over the years, synthesized these the hard way. how nice it would have been for him to have been handed a list like this one when, at the age of 21, as a newly-returned-and-no-longer-believing missionary. The rules are funny and tongue-in-cheek at times, but they're still spot-on.

    Why recreate the wheel on such a regular basis? This is excellent work and should be made available for a small fee. I'd pay to have the pamphlets to hand out to relatives making their way out.

  3. I am, unfortunately, one of the "exceptions." trust me, the cover of darkness doesn't work. they will trace you through work, neighbors, and now with the Internet they will "love bomb" you 'til the day you die. Even tho' love's got nuthin' to do with it. I am officially an embarrassment, pariah, apostate- yet still the boxes of Mormon publications land with a thump on my doorstep and the grandkids have to be escorted everywhere lest the TBM's try again to "rescue" them from eternal damnation. sigh.

  4. @Alexis, ha! I never thought I'd author a pamphlet. But you're right, I wish I'd had somebody to help me navigate things way back when.

    @Anonymous, I'm so sorry you still haven't managed to escape. I think the love bombing may be even more annoying than the judgmental lectures. You're right, there's no love involved.

  5. I wish I'd have taken your advice to "don't explain." I had many an awful conversation with my parents, and looking back I think I just wanted them to see what I'd discovered- but that didn't happen.

    1. Heather, we had that conversation too and wish we hadn't. Mormons like to assume that people leave because they were offended or want to sin. And at first those who leaves want to prove that's not the case.

      Nowadays when I talk to people who have recently left the church I advise them to either say nothing or to tell their loved ones, "I was offended and want to sin" and leave it at that. Of course, that's not the answer they want to hear.

      But when you think about it, it's sort of true. I am offended by the lies about the church's history and the bigoted doctrine and church policies. Also, since "sinning" constitutes sipping a cup of coffee Sunday morning and then maybe taking in an R-rated movie … sign me up for that too.

  6. I recently bought a TBM relative a nice flashlight for a gift. When he called to thank me, he used the opportunity as a teaching moment: The Brother of Jared from the BOM discovered the technology for the modern flashlight about 4,000 years ago. (It's much more detailed and "scientific" than that but hardly worth going into.) So he thanked me for sending him a "Brother of Jared light." Arguably, he crossed a line. But I found myself saying only, "Uh huh."

    More and more these days I find myself treating TMBs more like the people I interact with at the state mental hospital (i.e., the patient who received messages from God via her fortune cookies; or the patient who talked to cockroaches that came to visit her via the heating vent in her room; or the man who talked to God via his television).

    I used to be all about setting boundaries with the believers. I still do as needed. But mostly these days I have a hard time not seeing them as broken.

    Thanks for making me think. : )

    1. AT, you just added a new exception that I don't think I have a solution for -- how to deal with the ones who are just flat out insane.