When I came home from my first semester of college, my sister-in-law asked me about college and if I liked the people at church. I looked at her, puzzled, until I realized she didn’t know. “I haven’t attended church in over a year.” I told her.
My sister-in-law looked shocked and then, looking around her, lowered her voice – “Don’t tell my children about this.” I have honored my sister-in-law’s request – I do not discuss my reasons for leaving in front of her children. I do not want to be the trouble-maker.
When Mormons leave, an odd thing happens. Mormons refuse to talk about the issue, creating a cocoon of denial around a person’s decision to leave. There is an almost universal desire among Mormons to ignore the fact of apostasy. I was never asked about my reasons for leaving, although there were a lot of people who tried to convince me to go back to church. Apostates are branded as angry, sinful, or deluded. The Mormons that love you don’t want to believe that you have joined the ranks of apostate – so they don’t ask, preferring to think that you are simply confused. The Mormons that don’t know you also refuse to ask, assuming that your apostasy was for the stereotypical reasons. A member’s inactivity is viewed as a temporary lapse of sanity, one that can be gently corrected by the faithful.
Ex-Mormons don’t talk about leaving because doing so will be a spark of anger in an already tense situation. If we talk about the issues within Mormonism that caused us to leave, then we are branded as the stereotypical angry apostate. Faithful members fear that we will corrupt their children or shake their belief in Mormonism. My family does not want to hear why I left and I do not want to force my opinions on an un-willing audience. There is a communication chasm between Mormon and ex-Mormon that cannot be breached.
An unfortunate effect of this impasse is that ex-Mormons have a difficult time finding each other. We cannot speak about our doubts in public and few Mormons will acknowledge our apostasy, creating a shroud of secrecy around the existence of ex-Mormons.
A couple months ago, I discovered that one of my brothers is inactive. His church attendance has been wavering for a long time, with periods of activity followed by inactivity. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this, in spite of the fact that this has been going on for years. My brother is thirteen years elder to me; he moved to Utah when I was four. Other than a couple of years spent living near my parents when I was eight, my brother has spent the majority of his life living in the Utah/Idaho region. This was happening in my own family – and I never knew. No one told me and I didn’t think to ask. The cocoon of silence surrounding ex-Mormons runs deep, even within families.
The reason I heard about my brother’s inactivity is because my family is making a concerted effort to get him to go back to church. A couple months ago, when I was talking to my brother on the phone, he had to hang up because the bishop had arrived.
“The bishop’s here - he’s going to try and convince me to come back to church.” my brother said, sounding gloomy about the prospect.
Wait, he’s not going to church? I thought. I knew that my brother is responsible for driving his children to seminary and that his eldest son is preparing to leave for a mission – this is the gossip I have heard within the family circles. The fact that my brother was no longer attending was not part of the family narrative.
“Oh, I’ve been there before.” I said. I wanted to talk more but my brother had to hang up. I sent him an e-mail, letting him know that if he ever wanted to talk, I was happy to listen. He has not replied. I am silent because I do not want to cause a rift in my brother’s family or be labeled as the corrupting apostate influence. I assume my brother is quiet for similar reasons; I am the baby, the little sister he doesn’t know well enough to trust. Even within my own family, we are doomed to isolation because we fear the retaliation that results from speaking against Mormonism.