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Ex-Mormon, or ExMormon, sometimes abbreviated as Exmo, is a term used by former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes casually called the Mormon Church, to describe themselves. There is no one group that can be described as “Ex-Mormon.” Persons who leave the Mormon Church are a very heterogeneous group ranging from liberal agnostics to the most conservative evangelical Christians and everything in between. Some simply choose to leave the Church and join another denomination, and while technically speaking these people are “ex-Mormons,” the term is generally reserved for people active in the ex-Mormon and frequently antimormon world. In other words, they are former Mormons who are active in trying to refute Mormon doctrine and discredit the Church.
Perhaps the most famous of these self-described ExMormon groups is Ed Decker’s organization called variously “Recovery from Mormonism,” “Saints Alive,” or “Ex-Mormons for Jesus.” Decker was excommunicated from the Mormon Church in 1976. He has become quite controversial for his sensationalist attacks against Mormonism (which were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League), his hyperbolic language and unsubstantiated claims. Other ExMormons and critics of Mormonism have rejected his work and his style, but he remains influential particularly through the internet.
The majority of those who describe themselves as ex-Mormons and participate in the various on-line ExMormon blogs are secular humanists who reject what they see as anti-rationalist, superstitious, and group-thinking within Mormonism. These groups portray the Mormon Church as a mind-controlling cult. These critiques, however, assume that conformity, which is actually not as pervasive within Mormonism as either Mormons or ex-Mormons believe, is necessarily the result of coercion, brain-washing, and so forth, rather than the volitional assent and agreement by free-thinking individuals. The accusations by ExMormons are often virulent, and if ExMormon internet sites are typical, crude or obscene. Their claims belie the fact that studies consistently show that "Latter-day Saints who live lives consistent with their religious beliefs experience greater general well-being, greater family and marital stability, less delinquency, less depression, less anxiety, and less substance abuse than those who do not."
Mormonism holds individual agency as a primary principle of human life and believes that persons cannot be excommunicated or disfellowshipped simply because of their beliefs. Within the ranks of the Church are millions of people at millions of points of progress in their thinking and behavior, all of whom are members of the Church, and who are not in danger of excommunication. Mormonism does not have a concept of heresy similar to other Christian denominations, but has instead an idea of apostasy which refers to internal rebellion, not to doctrinal dissent.
Apostasy must therefore be a volitional act. Most of those who apostatize do so because they disagree intellectually with Church doctrine and practice. (A few find fault with doctrine in order to justify sin.) In Mormonism, an individual is free to think and believe as he chooses, so long as he does not attempt to usurp authority or teach his beliefs in place of Church teachings. If a person disagrees with Mormon doctrine or practice, then he is in all likelihood no longer a believer in Mormonism, and hence should not find it troubling when the Church wishes to remove his name from its records through excommunication. It should be understood, however, that with apostasy, feelings can become more inflamed after separation from the Church. The ExMormon finds many reasons to hate the Church, even if the reasons are made-up or erroneous. ExMormons perpetrate many lies in relation to Mormon doctrine and culture, and these perpetuate misconceptions about the Church.
While the Mormon Church rarely chooses to fight back against its ExMormon attackers, preferring instead to teach its message in a positive spirit, faithful Mormons have not remained silent in the onslaught of anti-Mormon hate literature which has grown exponentially since the 1960s. Beginning in 1979, Mormon Scholars established the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, commonly called FARMS. This organization consists of believing Mormon scholars who defend the claims of Mormonism and respond to attacks against the Church. Since then, other organizations and websites have appeared to defend the Church, including FAIRLDS, whose aim is to disseminate Mormon apologetic literature proving that the claims of Mormonism can stand up to rigorous intellectual critique and debate.
- See Daniel K. Judd, "Religiosity, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints: A Preliminary Review of Literature (1923-95)," Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members, edited by James T. Duke (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 473-497.
- Daniel Peterson on ExMormons
- About Ed Decker's efforts
- Anti-Defamation League's denunciation of Ed Decker's work
- Secular Humanist ExMormons
Other Mormon Apologetics Sites: