Helping Ex-Mormons Quit the Church

ExitSign

I last wrote about Reddit’s ex-Mormon forum back in April, when I mentioned the pivotal role they played in exposing BYU’s grotesque policy of punishing rape victims under the campus “honor code”. Now they’ve done it again, announcing that they’ve helped around 22,000 people officially leave Mormonism through QuitMormon.com, a website that offers free legal support for people who want to resign from the LDS church.

To understand why formal resignation is such a big deal, this needs some context. Obviously, no one needs anyone’s permission to quit this or any faith. If you cease believing Mormon doctrine and stop attending Mormon religious services, then you’re no longer a Mormon, whatever the church might have to say about it.

However, if you don’t go through a formal process of disassociation, the church may keep your name on its membership rolls and continue counting you as a member. In a small way, this contributes to the ability of LDS apologists to boast that “there are 16 million Mormons in the world”. Making sure you’ve been removed from the list prevents your name from playing even a tiny part in that propaganda. It’s also a clear and unmistakable way of delivering a formal protest against the LDS church’s theology and actions (as in this case).

There’s a second, more pressing reason why an official resignation can be important. This was news to me, but apparently the Mormon church is known for engaging in aggressive pursuit, bordering on stalking, of people who try to quit. Here’s one comment that explains the problem:

They also will track you and frequently send members or missionaries to try to reactivate you unless you resign. If you move, they have committees who will contact people you know trying to get updated info on your location. They don’t necessarily mean to be stalker-ish, but low-level clerks are told how “important” it is to have accurate info on file.

Resigning stops most of that. For the most part.

I stopped attending church at 20 and moved in with my atheist boyfriend. My parents continued to voluntarily give the church my updated address every time I moved until I resigned at 24.

Or another:

I personally wasn’t going to resign until the relief society president (women’s organization that is “run” by women who answer to men…) told me that unless I resigned I would continue getting visiting teachers (assigned female friends for other Mormon females) and other church visitors. This was after stating I no longer wanted church contact.

…Resigning makes it so they won’t track you down anymore because you are no longer an official member. Is it stupid? Absolutely. But it’s just another way they try to control your life narrative. I wouldn’t have resigned if my no contact request had been respected.

They even target children, like this commenter’s son:

Parents were telling their kids to “befriend” him and then start asking why he wasn’t coming to church.

The local primary (kids version of sunday school) started sending letters addressed to him where they had all the kids in the class sign a “heartfelt” we miss you message. Most of them have never met him… He’s not close with any of them.

Having missionaries constantly come to your door to guilt-trip you about coming back to church is exasperating, of course, but some people have more at stake than that. To ex-Mormons who are trying to stay in the closet about their deconversion, whether because of fragile mental health, family pressure, fear of losing a job or whatever other reason, it could be frightening, even dangerous.

And this is the part that shocked me the most. If you try to cut contact by moving away, changing your phone number or taking steps to conceal your contact information, the church, like an obsessed stalker, will go to extreme lengths to find you again and resume their pursuit. Here’s the LDS’ official guide to finding members and ex-members who move without leaving contact information. I have to emphasize, this isn’t something written by a critic of the church, but the church itself explaining the steps they take in such a case:

To find members, visit the last known address:
• Talk with neighbors, a building supervisor, manager, or owner, if known or available.
• Contact other family currently living at the member’s last known address.
• Contact the new individual or family living there.
• Contact neighbors adjacent to the member’s last known address.

Or use the telephone:
• Call the member’s last known phone number. It may be a cell phone that they still have or the member may have notified the phone company of their new number.
• Contact known relatives in the area.
• Contact the phone company information service or operator and ask for new phone listings in the area that may not have been published to online phone directories.

Within the ward:
• If the member was in the ward or area for some period of time, seek information from other ward members who may know the member.

Via the postal service:
• Send a letter to the member’s address asking for their new address and expressing your concern for their welfare. In the United States, to find whether the member has given the United States Postal Service (USPS) a forwarding address, add the words Return Service Requested to the envelope. This instructs the USPS to not forward the mail, but return it to the sender with the forwarding address attached.

The LDS page also suggests trawling social media like Facebook, submitting a request to people-search websites like Spokeo, looking up court records and legal filings (“This is a very reliable method of finding people because by law they must provide the courts with accurate contact information”), voter registration rolls, property tax records, and even public records of car sales (“This can be used to find a relative since cars are often sold to family members”).

This is creepy, obsessive and unethical beyond belief. You can’t imagine a more thorough compendium of instructions for would-be stalkers. That the church makes this information public, nonchalantly listing it as their usual procedure, speaks volumes as to their mindset and their presumed right to control the life of anyone who was ever counted as a member.

When ex-Mormons submit a request to QuitMormon.com, the site, run by Utah lawyer Mark Naugle, sends the church a form letter explaining that the person is officially resigning from the church and that that any further contact must be through him as their attorney. This is an effective way to stop missionary harassment, since it puts the church in legal jeopardy if they disregard that clear instruction.

And the enthusiastic response shows this is a service that ex-Mormons wanted and needed. Another Reddit commenter does the math:

22k people that [Mark Naugle] has personally helped exit the church is about .55% of an estimated 4 million active Mormons.

The church, obviously, has a vested interest in making the resignation process as drawn-out and difficult as possible. By making it easy and fast, sites like these tip the balance in favor of people who were thinking about disassociating. As the word gets out, even those 22,000 ex-Mormons who’ve already walked away may prove to just be the first few drops from a cracked dam that’s springing bigger and bigger leaks.

Image credit: Sharat Ganapati, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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