I am Facebook friends with a lot of Mormons from my childhood and adolescent years. Some of them - mostly peers from my teenage years - I befriended. Others friended me - some of the requests were from people I hadn’t seen in years and so I found myself at a loss as to how specific I needed to be about my break with the Mormon Church. Should I be up-front about the issue or should I just assume they either knew or didn’t care?
Within the past few years, as Facebook has become more universal, I have gotten a lot of friend requests from the peers of my parents and older siblings. Some of these acquaintances realize that I am no longer Mormon; others do not. Every time I receive one of these requests, I hesitate before clicking the “Accept Friend Request” button. Do they know that I am no longer affiliated with the Mormon Church? Do I want to open myself up to the possibility of judgment because I am no longer a member? My policy over the years has been to accept these friend requests but to be honest about my identity as a former Mormon - my profile states that I am an agnostic liberal. I was never a heavy Facebook user, although after starting up a blog and establishing an online presence, my Facebook activity has increased within the past few months.
With these Facebook friends comes an added burden - the constant influx of faith-promoting stories that my friends choose to post to their account. The Mormon leaders have urged members to view social networking sites as opportunities to share the gospel to the world - a virtual version of the idea of “every member a missionary”. Mormons treat this directive with the same approach they treat the other instructions from leaders -- some Mormons embrace this advice with enthusiasm while others are reticent to do so. I am reminded of the talk I heard by the former leader of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, in the fall of 20001; I was fifteen years old at the time. In the talk, President Hinckley stated that the authorities were taking a formal stance against women wearing more than one earring in each ear. At the time I had two holes in each ear and I felt uncomfortable when listening to this talk. I never took the second pair out - and felt quite guilty about my disobedience - but by that time, my faith in Mormonism was already starting to crumble. The following years there were additional talks by authorities directing women to obey the prophet’s directive on earrings.2.3 There was a lot of guilt wrapped up into my decision to keep my second pair of earrings.
Over time, I have read a lot of the Mormon stories that have showed up on my Facebook feed. Some of the posts make me cynical - if you are gushing to the world about how wonderful your religion/life is, who are you really trying to convince? Some of the stories have made me quite upset. I knew, when I saw the posts linking to a story about a homosexual Mormon man happily married to a woman4, that this story was going to cause heartbreak to young Mormons struggling with their sexual orientation. Sure enough, a few weeks later on one of the Ex-Mormon forums, there was a story of a young man who came out to his parents, only to have them point to this example and ask him “Why can’t you do this?”. I wasn’t surprised to hear the story used in this manner, based on the adulation I saw on Facebook. These stories, combined with other articles that describe a church I never knew, have stretched and fractured my normal facade, causing me to become cranky and agitated as I compare my own Mormon reality with the mirage that these articles describe. Perhaps my own Mormon journey was unique. Talking with other former Mormons, my suspicion is that it wasn’t.
Every-time I see a post that whitewashes an issue that caused me a lot of pain growing up, I wonder what the best course of action is. Should I speak up and point out either the factual errors or that there are people out there with very different memories of the same issue? Should I reciprocate by sharing some of my own personal experiences? Or should I stay silent and respect online boundaries? After all, even if my friends do not maintain these boundaries, that is no excuse for me to reciprocate in kind.
All of this makes me tired. I am tired of receiving these friend requests and wondering if I am considered a re-conversion project. I am tired of having my Facebook feed littered with stories I don’t agree with, that don’t reflect the reality I grew up with. I am tired of having to decide, every-time I see an article that is misleading or inaccurate, whether to speak up or to stay silent. I do not like choosing between being polite and reminding people that stories such as mine exist. I also know that if I were to speak up - and within the past few months I have started speaking up - that I will end up hurting these people just as much as they hurt me. Mormonism is a religion that teaches its members to fear dissension - by pointing out alternatives, I am crossing a line that most Mormons are uncomfortable with. In spite of all our differences, these are people I grew up with - I do not wish to cause them pain.
The dilemma of what to do leaves me with an irritated, itchy feeling as these stories get under my skin. In my weaker moments, I wonder if the easiest course of action is to just purge my account of all proseletyzing Mormons. But this does not seem any more reasonable a course of action than the alternatives - after all, these people played a big role during my childhood. Mormonism - and the people within Mormonism - were an integral part of my childhood. Is it healthy to purge my life of all things related to my up-bringing? I may not be a Mormon anymore but there are many Mormons that I love.
When I am stressed, I react in a knee-jerk fashion, rather than the studied rationality I have always strived to maintain. My online Facebook activity, especially within the past few months, has been degenerating into the type of behavior that I do not like, either in myself or others. I feel uncomfortable with this new version of me that publicly “likes” ex-Mormon stories and who points out differences in opinions; I was also uncomfortable with the old version that never spoke up. Where is the middle ground, the balance I want to maintain? Balance seems elusive with each new version of a Mormon illusion I never knew.
This is not a problem that is exclusive to my Mormon Facebook friends. I also have friends from other areas of my life that, for one reason or another, view Facebook as a tool for displaying their sentiments about some very personal beliefs. Sometimes I agree with their sentiments. Other times I do not. And this too can be tiring, although in my situation, Mormonism is something that has caused me much pain over the years in a way that political sentiments have not.
I think we all need to step back and remember that although we live in a tidy virtual age, human emotions are still visceral and messy. Everyone has a different point of view, a different story to tell, different convictions that form their character. Everyone has their own trigger points. Facebook is an impersonal media - we throw our thoughts out into the virtual world without understanding the consequences that lie on the other side of the Internet. We fail to see the faces behind our Facebook friends and to understand what our virtual actions do to our friends in real life.
1 “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother”, Gordon B Hinckley, General Conference, October 2000. http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/your-greatest-challenge-mother?lang=eng
2“His Word Ye Shall Receive” M. Russell Ballard, General Conference, April 2001. http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2001/04/his-word-ye-shall-receive?lang=eng
3“Quick To Observe.” David A. Bednar, Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, May 2005. http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1456
4“Club Unicorn: In Which I Come Out Of The Closet On My Ten-Year Anniversary” http://www.joshweed.com/2012/06/club-unicorn-in-which-i-come-out-of.html