Indirect Message

Episode 9: Confessions of an Ex-Mormon

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What’s up you guys? Happy New Year! I hope your 2020 is off to an amazing start! Minus the whole...world war three bit. As we all collectively turn our eyes toward the future this month, I wanted to take a quick jaunt through the past. I have a really personal topic for you today, one that is really close to my life. And before I dive in to these personal, emotionally loaded things...I just wanted to emphasize that the episode today is not meant to be a condemnation or a criticism of people of faith. My purpose today is to humanize these conversations and to share the stories of what happens after people leave mormonism. 

 

As some of you already know, I am ex-mormon. I was raised a faithful Child of God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I practiced devoutly until our tumultuous break up when I was a teenager. My reasons for leaving were straightforward: I disagreed with the antiquated gender roles and the homophobia. Plus the more I read about the history of the church, the more sinister it became. I tried to ask the adults in my life about this aspect of the church, but I was stonewalled with meaningless platitudes. Just believe. Just have faith. 

 

Eventually teenage me thought...nah.

The angst and isolation leaving the church brought to my life was also a new beginning. A taste of freedom; physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and especially: intellectually. The world suddenly felt huge, a world of knowledge at my doorstep. It was this period of my life that prompted me to start making YouTube videos. I felt free, but very alone. I was seeking community and hoping to find like minded people. Back then, there were very few faith crisis groups online -- but my first YouTube channel became a baby hub for the young and formerly devout who were also going through it. In the 10-15 years since then, there’s been a massive explosion Mormon defectors and faith crises as a result of the information available online. So today’s episode is about resilience, to moving forward, and how different people have used the internet to pick up the pieces. 

 

Chapter I: OPERATION MORMON ADS
In late 2017, an undercover mission called MormonAds took over Facebook. It was a delicate operation, orchestrated by an anonymous man in Southern California. He had recently left the Mormon church, and like many apostates to their religion, he was desperate to be heard by his friends and family about the real reasons why he had left the church. 

 

Unable to reach them through the usual venues, he t00k an unusual approach: by stealthily placing ads on their Facebook timelines. He used their email addresses to target the ads and dressed them up to look like Official Latter Day Saint ads, LDS for short. He used stock photos featuring smiling families and glamor shots of Mormon temples. The page names were neutral:  “LDS essays”. “LDS Answers”. Using careful framing, he hoped to bait his family to read about the real history of Mormon Church and their controversial beliefs.
 

“Why did Joseph marry a 14 year old girl? The church has answers. Read them here.”

 

One ad read. 

 

“What is polyandry and why are mormon millennials leaving the church over it? Fairmormon tackles this question and defends the faith!” 

 

He had to be careful. He had a split second to get a click. If his targets suspected the article was criticizing the church, they’d simply scroll on.

 

MormonAds was ambitious on its face -- but to truly appreciate just how ambitious, a little context is necessary here. Being a True Believing Mormon means not listening to critics of the church -- unless it is to convert them back to faith. To listen, and truly consider another perspective, is considered a sin. 

 

Because of this, as you might imagine, meaningful relationships between ex-mormons and True Believing Mormons are difficult. Both parties end up feeling misunderstood. It’s a dynamic that often plays out between family members when one leaves the church. This type of tension is familiar, but I’m not sure it has to be painful. 

 

My dad and I, close as we are, carefully avoid serious conversations about faith. He holds a leadership position at the church. Meanwhile, I’ve aired my frustrations with Mormonism publicly. My dad and I talked about our differences in depth exactly 1 time. When I was 18 or so. 

 

While the rest of our family was out of town, my dad and I took a weekend trip to Tahoe to hang out at the lake. On the trip, he listened intently to my questions about Mormonism and the nature of God. He was unusually patient with me, and gentle, but still seemed strained. Looking back, I wonder if he thought his window to save me was closing. Our conversations that weekend would meander in the woods and pickup again over dinner. Until, at one point, he interjected abruptly. He told me he couldn’t discuss it any more -- his faith was in jeopardy and he had reached his limit. This was a turning point in my relationship with my dad. He had tried, truly, and at that moment I decided...that was enough for me. I never brought the topic back up again. And neither has he, really. But over the following years, our relationship slowly moved toward a healthier place, in spite of our differences.

 

I consider myself lucky. Not every raging heathen apostate gets to be heard, truly heard, by their devout family or finds real closure - in fact, most people don’t. And so, desperate times call for desperate measures. Which brings me back to MormonAds.

 

The project began to spread as other ex-mormons who were also eager to reach family members got involved. They’d send him long lists of email addresses, make donations, and then he’d run the ads for them. About half of those targeted by MormonAds would actually click on them - which is a pretty huge success by Facebook standards. But eventually, there was a conflict within the ex-mormon community itself: is this...ethical? Is it moral to plant thoughts and ideas for a targeted list of unsuspecting strangers?

If you’re pretty much any tech company, the answer is yes. This is, more or less, how hundreds of ads are served to each of us online every day. But tech companies are hardly a reliable moral compass. MormonAds wasn’t selling clothes or gadgets, it was selling ideas. As we have seen in the fallout from the 2016 election, using Facebook ads to sell ideas is a dubious practice. But the intention of MormonAds wasn’t world domination; it was to be understood. Where is the line? For some members of the exmormon community, MormonAds had crossed it. The project was ousted from it’s major lifeline -- the ExMormon SubReddit community-- and it shuttered a few months later.

 

Mormons are, of course, not the only faith community going through this stuff. In 2000, about 6% of Americans identified as non-religious. But today, in 2020, that number is over 25%. It’s a sharp incline that picked up right as social media made its way into the hands of the masses. While we can’t chalk it all up to the internet, because these things are rarely that simple, it’s probably the largest contributing factor. But there are others as well. Like the rise in individualist attitudes amongst millenials - we tend to favor individual choices (and consequences) over collective decision making. There’s also the role of community. Churches are no longer the community hubs that they were in the past, and for better or worse, many people are going online instead. Whatever the causes may be, or how aware the public is of what’s going on, future humans will probably look back on this era as a turning point for crises of faith. Like Mister Rogers says, in times of crisis, look for the helpers. 

 

Chapter 2: Over The Covenant 

 

Before we dive in to today’s interview, a little love for the sponsor of Indirect Message: Sweet Pea Dating App. In a world that uses addictive algorithms to keep people swiping for hours, Sweet Pea is taking a new approach:. just help people connect over the things they care about. With features that aim  to replicate dating offline, Sweet Pea helps us build quality connections through meaningful conversations. So by the time you go on your first date, it feels more like your second or third date. Start your 2020 with a new approach. You can give it whirl by downloading Sweet Pea for free on the App Store. Thanks so much for your support guys.

 

Today my guest is John Dehlin, creator of the Mormon Stories Podcast. He’s a family man and national leader in the post-mormon community. In the past 10 years, he’s shared over 1200 hours of the stories of mormons all over the world. But John has paid a serious personal price for his work. His story is compelling and human. I’m so grateful to call him a friend. I hope enjoy our conversation.

JOHN:
I was born and raised a Mormon, a, we call that under the covenant. My ancestors, my Mormon ancestors were pioneers and you know, go. My, my, my grandmother was, uh, was the daughter of a polygamous marriage. I knew my grandma's so I could actually talk to my grandma about what it was like to, to grow up in a polygamous household is the daughter of a, uh, second or third wife and I served a Mormon mission in Guatemala and you know, went to Brigham young university. That was the only school I applied to. And I was living the Mormon dream. Got married in the Mormon temple in Washington, D C had four kids and was really thriving in Mormonism until around 2001. When, uh, I started studying church history in depth for a calling I had received in church to, to educate high schoolers in a, in a program we have called early morning seminary.

And I started studying Mormon church history to be a better teacher to these high school Mormon students. And it was while I was living in Seattle working for Microsoft. I had a great career, great job making, you know, six figures and all that. And uh, I had met with bill Gates, I, you know, had worked with the CEO of Microsoft and everything was going really well. And, but then I had this faith crisis where I learned all this stuff about the Mormon church that I had never learned before. Like the Joseph had, uh, Joseph Smith had over 30 wives and some of these wives, some of these wives were 15, 16 years old, that eight or nine of them were married. Other men at the time he married them. And that led me down this path of studying Mormon history in depth. And my faith just sort of unraveled and it was a really traumatic thing to experience.

No one in my family wanted to talk about it. Not my parents, not my brother. No one in my local congregation was equipped to talk about it and uh, there was nothing on the internet at the time that, that could support people in faith crisis. And uh, I just, I, I got really depressed. I went two or three years just like not shaving, wearing Birkenstocks to work in a church like, uh, it was a dark time. My, my wife was kind of worried about what was going to happen to me. My kids felt like I was distracted and to shoveled and I just, I realized something bad and something good, something bad was everything that I based my life upon, uh, was no longer true. What was good is I, I found a purpose in life, which I was searching for and I realized that my purpose was going to be to help other Mormons go through this because I, it didn't take me long to realize that people could get divorced over this stuff.

Uh, people could get estranged from their family and friends, they could lose their community just like any high demand, religion or cult that you might study, whether it's so Scientology or Joe was witness or you know, Orthodox Judaism, uh, you lose your faith in your religion and it can, it can be the end of so much that you hold dear and love. So I literally just, uh, I, I resigned from Microsoft in spite of the glowing career that I had. I moved to, to Logan, Utah, uh, in 2004 and by 2005, I had discovered podcasts and I started my own called Borman stories. And the podcast has been going strong for almost 15 years. And the whole purpose of it was to, to support Mormons who were in faith crisis or faith transition to help prevent divorces, to help prevent depression and suicide, to help keep, you know, families from splitting apart, but also to help maybe indirectly, not only educate Mormons but, but maybe get the church to become more educated and to be more humane about how they dealt with people who are going through what I was going through.

LACI:
So there's a lot to unpack there. Can I ask about your marriage? Did it put any strain on your relationship with Margie?

JOHN:
Yeah, so fortunately Margie was very openminded. So even though she was devout in, in the church and she was a convert to the church, she had joined the church when she was eight years old. So when I, I, and I, and I chose her partly as a spouse because I, you know, I wanted, I wanted a spouse that was going to love me first and not the church first, just in case I, cause I had some questions at BYU before I really, um, everything unraveled. So fortunately, Margie was very supportive. She cried when I told her I didn't believe anymore. But then I had her read this book called no man knows my history by Fon Brody and you just read that book and you know, it's kinda game over for an Orthodox testimony. So she read that and she was like, all right, what do we do?

And oddly enough, oddly enough, we stayed in the church after we lost our faith for another 13 years. And yeah, yeah, because I had studied Judaism and I had learned from Orthodox Judaism that you don't have to believe in Moses or God to be a Jew. You can just be a cultural Jew. You can, you can be a reformed Jew, right. Or reconstructionist Jew. And I thought, well, I love Mormonism. The church had treated me really well. And if Jews can do it, we can do it. So I thought, well, let's just, we'll have the best of both worlds. We can stay in the church, we can keep the community, we can raise our kids in it and I can sing and you know, all that stuff, but we don't have to believe. And so, you know, part of, part of the adventure that Mark and I went on was this, this idealistic quest to say maybe you can be a Mormon but not believe, and maybe we'll start this podcast together and maybe we'll actually transform our church and make our church more progressive. So Margie became my partner in all of this, uh, in pretty short order.

LACI:
And I imagine that's a happier ending than a lot of people have.

JOHN:
Oh, I was, I was super lucky because many of the people that I deal with, they tell their spouse, inaugural no longer believe and within short order they're served divorce papers and they're ostracized and alienated from everyone they love and care about. And the kids are become, you know, objects of a custody battle and yeah, leaving Mormonism can end your life as you know it, uh, just like in Scientology or the Jehovah's witness organization, um, it's not always that way, but it's often that way.

LACI:
Do you think that's, that happens to couples who put faith is the more most important aspect of their life and their relationship is secondary or is it fear? I mean, what separates you from people who ended up divorcing over this?

JOHN:
Well, that's the whole thing is that if you, if you're, if you're doing Mormonism as you should, you should put God in the church over, um, over your family because the church teaches that the whole purpose of this life is to get to the celestial kingdom, which is the, the highest degree of heaven, um, where God lives. That's the whole purpose of life. And so if your Mormons would believe that, if your spouse can't take you to the celestial kingdom, then you need to find a spouse that can, and so you really, most most Orthodox Mormons to get married, they married the church. Uh, they mutually marry the church, um, more than they marry each other. It's sort of like you serve your, to your mission, your 20 or 21, you get home, you find the first, you know, woman or man that you're attracted to that as a heartbeat. And within a month or two, you marry them. And it kinda doesn't matter whether you're best friends, what matters is, are you attracted to them? Are they worthy? Are they righteous? Will they raise healthy, righteous children and will they stay committed to the church? And so if you're doing Mormonism right, it, it will wreck your family if, if your partner leaves the church because the church comes first. Does that make sense?

LACI:
Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of ironic because so much of the Mormonism Mormon experiences about family, and I think that's what draws a lot of people in is the focus on the family, the family home evenings, um, a lot of doctrine about what family means in the afterlife. So it's kind of disturbing that, you know, everything can, can just kind of go up in smoke so easily.

JOHN:
No, that's, that's what's ironic is that the, the, the Mormon, any, any Orthodox Mormon will tell you that family is, is among its eyesight. God, church and family are the most important things. But that's, that's the rub because Mormonism destroys families. It, you know, it's a great foundation to build a healthy, happy, vibrant family, assuming everybody's on the same page. So if you're, if, if everybody's on the same page, everybody believes it's like the garden of Eden. It's beautiful. It's, it's, it's literally perfect. It's like the Osman family. It's Donny and Marie. It's, it's, it's, it's motherhood and Apple pie and all goodness where it goes off the rails as if the kid is gay or if a kid loses their faith or if dad or mom doesn't believe everything, then all of a sudden it can become the worst nightmare of your life.

LACI:
So when you set out to sort of maybe change things from the inside by being a cultural Mormon, as you're kind of describing, what kinds of things were you gutting for?

JOHN:
One of the main reasons why people lose their bourmas lose their faith in the 21st century is because of Google in the internet. Um, you know, if you go back 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, you know, there, there were historians that knew there were problems with the, with the church's history and with its founding and with its truth claims. But anytime a historian or a scholar or an activist would talk about those problems, they would, they would be excommunicated from the church. So the author of that book, I mentioned Fon Brody, who was the niece of Mormon prophet, David O. McKay. She came out that book in 1945 it's called no man knows by history. And, and she was a legit scholar. She had studied at the university of Chicago. She went on to be a professor at UCLA, one of the first real legitimate female historian scholars in the 20th century.

Well, she was actually excommunicated within, you know, what, five years of publishing that book. And so immediately that book was branded as subversive. And then Mormons knew not to read it. And if you go to any decade of Mormonism, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, you'll be able to find people that tried to speak up about the problems with the church and were summarily, uh, excommunicated. And so what you would have by, by the year 2000 is, uh, is, you know, you know, millions of Mormons who were raised Mormon, who were six generation Mormons, who, you know, spent years in church education and had no idea about the, even the most basic things that most people know about. Mormons that Joseph Smith, um, you know, married 30 women that, you know, the things that I mentioned before that they were married to other men, that they were 15 year olds.

You know, some of the ways that Joseph Smith, those dishonest, the fact that he perpetrated fraud, the fact that some of our founding scriptures are literally disproven by science as being objectifiable. He non historical and false, but you'd get Mormons in 2005 who didn't know any of this because they only read correlated, approved versions of church history and were warned to stay away from anyone who taught any version of the history or the doctrine of the theology that wasn't supported by the top church leaders. And again, they would punish and excommunicate anyone who, who tried to teach the legitimate factual history. And so I think job one for Mormon stories was to educate Mormons about their own history and doctrine and theology. But, but oddly, I wanted to do it in a way to where they can still maintain faith. And that was, you know, because the Bible has got problems.

Moses is, you know, Moses kills somebody. Noah gets drunk like Peter denies Christ. Like if you read the Bible, you'll find all sorts of prophets and apostles doing all sorts of crazy things. You know, people hold slaves in the Bible. And so I had this naive idea that people could still know all the factual history and the doctrine of theology about Mormonism and still believe and so job, what a Mormon stories was to, was to educate Mormons about their own history. You know, I suffered in silence. So many people I knew were suffering in silence and I thought we need to be able to connect with each other. And if our bishops or our wives or our leaders or siblings or our parents won't be able to talk to us about these problems, well then let's form these communities of support. So the Mormons in Seattle post, Mormons in Seattle can support each other in London, in Brazil, wherever you are. Let's use the internet to make it easy for people to find community. I was probably the, maybe, maybe in the end that was the biggest thing that we tried to do.

LACI
Yeah. And you have succeeded in doing that. But you were not able to do it while being a friend of the Mormon church, right?

JOHN
Yeah. So we, we created literally hundreds of Facebook groups. You know, we definitely have succeeded in creating communities all over the world for post Mormons and progressive Mormons to connect with each other. But, but yeah, the church gets really uncomfortable when Mormons meet and talk and connect outside of its approved channels. So the long story short is the church, um, initiated an investigation of me, uh, various times throughout the life of Mormon stories. But the third time it started an investigation in 2014, it, it actually ended up holding a disciplinary council, um, like a trial. And it ended up excommunicating me in 2015. And the reasons, the stated reasons that I, that I was excommunicated were number one, they wanted me to shut the podcast down and stop talking openly about Mormonism. I told them I couldn't do that. They wanted me to stop having any meetings with, with stop creating support groups for Mormons to talk to each other. They wanted me to stop speaking out in favor of feminism and women's rights, and they wanted me to stop speaking out in favor of LGBT people. And I told them I couldn't do any of that. And so they ex-communicated me. So, yeah.

LACI
So by that point, were you kind of ready for what happened? You'd been investigated multiple times, or was it still kind of a shock?

JOHN
Uh, it was awful. Honestly. I mean, I, from the day I bought the microphone in 2005 because I had seen so many people get ex-communicated, I knew that that was a real possibility. But unlike a lot of people that become activists and Mormonism, I didn't become an activist because I hated Mormonism or wanted to burn it down. I became an activist because I love Mormonism. I love the Mormon people. The church had been very good to me and that's part of the reason why I didn't want to leave it. And, and of course, let's just talk about privilege for a second. The church was made for me. I'm a six foot six white, heterosexual, cisgender educated male, like who didn't love Mormonism under the those circumstances. And, and I looked at my activism is the tax I had to pay to remain, you know, a member when there were so many problems in the church.


But, but because I loved the church so much and had so many fond memories of it, and it helped me through lot of hard times, even though I knew excommunication was a high likelihood, I still had this naive belief that somehow I would escape it. And when it happened, I found it to be incredibly barbaric and inhumane and medieval and cold and UNHCR [inaudible] and it was deeply traumatic for me, for my wife, for my kids, and for the Mormon community. Um, my, my excommunication was covered in the New York times. It was global news and it was awful for, uh, four years. And I think my family is still recovering from the trauma of that. Excommunication

LACI
I'm really sorry to hear that. There are so few people in the world that have hearts like yours, John, and they really did lose, um, such a beautiful asset to the church. And I know you know that. But I think it's important to remember that and I think it's really amazing what you've done in the aftermath and how you, you're really a shining example of how you can turn something that traumatic into something productive and healing, not just for yourself. Um, I dunno how much this has helped your own healing process, but for a lot of people, um, and it seems like this whole, the podcast itself and the thrive conference, um, you know, maybe you've had your own faith process through those projects. Can you speak to that a little bit about how it is influenced and contributed to you, your current state of belief or feelings about the church?

JOHN
Sure. I've actually done surveys of people who leave Mormonism and, and Mormonism is different than, than Protestant, let's just say Protestant or mainline Christianity. If you, if you're a Presbyterian and you decide Presbyterian is not working for you, you often will become a Methodist or a Lutheran or a Catholic. Like a lot of mainstream Christianity is kind of interchangeable. What I've found with Mormonism is that that more often than not, if you leave Mormonism, you lose faith in, in God and Jesus kind of all together. It's, it's, it's such a, it's a religion that kind of ruins you in the sense that it teaches you that it's the one true church on the face of the earth. Your, your leader. You know, the prophet, the Mormon prophet speaks directly with God. It's not just like, Oh, it's your pastor given his best opinion. Well, you know, when you, when you listen to and obey the Mormon prophet, the Mormon prophet literally speaks with God, has a bat phone and tells you what God's thinking of what God wants for you.


And so, and, and it's the one true church. And, and when you die, you get to become a God someday up in heaven to rule over your own worlds. Like Mormonism has got this theology that can't be really, um, in terms of what it promises you. And so if you leave, if you lose your faith in the Mormon church, it's basically like you're ruined that you have no appetite for any religion whatsoever. You, you don't want to hear any pastor because you're like, well, you're just probably just making it up just like Joseph Smith did. You don't want to read the Bible because you're like, well, the Bible is just as corrupt as the book of Mormon and just as flawed. And, and in the end, you just lose all taste for any religious tradition whatsoever. So I don't identify as an atheist or agnostic because I find those terms too often to be divisive and to separate people.


But I will say that I don't, um, I don't spend a lot of time any more thinking about God or, or Jesus or religion in the sense of like personal belief. I kind of have shifted to this more secular Buddhist position that nobody knows what's going to happen in the afterlife. Anybody who tells you they know what's going to happen in the afterlife either probably wants money from you or sex from you or something kind of fraudulent, um, because nobody knows we're all guessing. And so now my spirituality is literally living in the present moment, living day by day and dedicating my life to being healthy, having a healthy marriage with my wife, raising my kids, and then finding a career that helps people that alleviate suffering in the world right now. And that helps to make the world a better place. And that's my religion now.

LACI
That sounds like humanism.

JOHN
Yeah, I think humanism is definitely a, again, that's a term that's been corrupted. You know, if I think about growing up in the 80s with the Reagan kind of revolutions like second or humanism is, is evil. So I think it's very, it's a very humanist approach, but I assure you terms like humanist, atheist and agnostic because then I find people turn their ears off, they stop listening because of the negative associations with all those things.

LACI
Yeah. 100%. Um, similar thing with like feminist, you know, don't really use that term as much anymore cause it means different things to different people. And so if I'm using a term humanist, feminist, whatever, it's not necessarily how they're using the term. Right? So I think bypassing the labels when it comes to stuff like this is helpful because it forces people to parse out what they really mean by those terms. And that's really the only way to come to a mutual understanding. Even people who usually share descriptors may not see things the same way. Yeah.

JOHN
You'll, you'll find women in Mormonism that are like, I absolutely believe that men and women should have equal opportunity, but I'm not a feminist.

LACI
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or people who think that, I don't know. I also just feel like there's so many different kinds of feminism, especially with the internet exposing us to all colors and stripes of feminism, that it's not even really a useful term anymore. Um, even if we do agree on a very basic principle, the way that we parse out those complications is probably different. Absolutely. So something that's really interesting to me about you and something that I feel like I can learn from you about is you have this big community of people who are coming from all different, you know, experiences and their life. They obviously have shared experiences, but they might be at different places in processing that experience. Some people are really angry. Um, they're lashing out, they're mad, they feel like their time or their faith or their relationships have been taken from them. And some people in your purview, it seems are maybe still Mormon even, um, who just want to have a conversation who are more open minded about their faith and don't necessarily want to hear the angry wrath of people. Um, how, how have you managed to create space for both those groups, um, in all of the ones in between those groups?

JOHN
That's a great question. Um, so there are very few moments in my life that I'm in a claim sort of a brilliance or, but, but there's one really good idea that I had in 2005 and that was to, um, may my podcast Mormon stories and to focus Mormon stories. Not on ranting, not on pushing some agenda, but, but to focus my podcast on long form stories where people just, just tell their stories. I am a huge believer and I think you probably agree with this, that stories are among the most powerful things in the human existence where I think we, we evolved to sit around the campfire and listen to stories. I think we've all have to understand the world in terms of stories as humans. And there's something, there are a few things about stories that make them incredibly powerful. One is that they're interesting. Everybody wants to listen to a story and you know, nothing makes, you know, that's what is Hollywood. Hollywood is a bunch of movies that are basically telling stories and that's the whole entertainment industry. So stories are the best medium that I think we've discovered as humans to get people to feel. And, um, and the final thing that's cool about stories is you really can't argue with someone's story. It, you're less defensive because they're just sharing their experience and they can, the stories can hook you emotionally.

LACI
What are some of the unifying experiences that people have? The gritty humanness of it, it doesn't really matter what someone's background is. Are there things that everyone shares?

JOHN
I think everybody shares either a current or a former love of Mormonism because as culty and as weird as Mormonism may seem to people on the outside at times, um, most people who have been Mormon at one time or another deeply loved and cherished it.

LACI
Sometimes people don't really understand what it's like to really be a Mormon. They think it's like some weird sexual cult or something. Um, what the Mormon culture is actually really beautiful. Um, can you speak to that a little bit?

JOHN
Yeah, there's so much. So here I can, I'll probably, you'll have to stop me, but here we go. So, number one, um, it's a great support for families. Mormons tend to have really close to families on average. And so you've got, you know, you almost always have three to, you know, three to six siblings. Your parents are committed to your family and your family's really tight knit. You, you, you pray regularly with your family. Like daily, morning and night. You study scriptures together as a family. You have family meeting, which is where your family gets together every week on a Monday night and you play games and you talk and you laugh and you eat, you know, cookies or brownies or jello. If you're living the Mormon dream, you have this congregation, uh, of members that, that, uh, you've known for long, long time. Uh, for all your, all your close friends are in the church.

They all believe like you do and you've got this community of, of families that all want to help you. So if you, if your mom gets sick, they bring you casseroles. If your dad loses this job, they'll help you find a new job. If you, if your house, you know, if your roof needs repair, 20 Mormons will show up and fix your roof. And if you, if you need to move Mormons where you're living, where you're moving from will show up and help you load your truck. And then wherever you go, whether it's down the road or to another state entirely, wherever you arrive, you let the Mormons there know that you're arriving and Mormons will show up to unpack your truck and, and move all your stuff into your house. That's not fiction. That is the Mormon experience is a Mormon. You believe that you're part of God's one true church.

So you have this identity of being one of God's chosen people. And it feels great to know everything because Mormons believe that they know what, where we came from before we came to this earth, why we're here and where we're going and all the important truths of life. Mormons know it because we have this thing called the plan of salvation or the plan of happiness, which tells us why we're here and where we're going and your rights and everybody else's wrong. So you're better than everybody. Like what's not to love? I don't get why people don't see that as amazing.

LACI
Well, when you put it that way, it makes it easier to understand and I just wonder why we can't have that without church.

JOHN
Yeah, no, I, I've spent a lot of time trying to create secular community, like everybody's trying create community, but religion and especially a high demand religion, like Mormonism has some very significant advantages over secular groups because they have guilt and shame, right? It's one thing if you're a bunch of liberals, a bunch of godless liberals sitting around saying, Hey, let's spend some time together. It's like, okay, well let's meet on Sunday. And the Sunday rolls around and it's like, ah, I don't know. I'd rather go to Starbucks or I'd rather sleep in or binge watch Netflix. Like, but if you're Mormon, you know, if you don't pay your 10%, you're not going to go to heaven. So the churches well-funded, right? And then if you don't serve in the church, you're not going to go to heaven. And then of course you're trying to repent of all these sins because you may a masturbator, you may think of women as you shouldn't, or you may be gay or whatever it is.

You may have problems and you need Jesus to make you whole. And the only way to have access to Jesus is through the church. And so guilt and shame become an increase. An absolute truth. Claims become very, very compelling binding forces for community members. And so you've got to do everything the church tells you. And that's why the Mormon church, as of you know, 2020 is worth over $200 billion. That is crazy. Yeah. I mean, with all that said, why, why are people leaving then the, the short answer is Google because, um, because for the first time people are able to learn about the church in ways that they weren't. When you find out that your leader was not just not the most amazing person who ever lived, but instead was a fraud and a charlatan, that's hard to maintain your belief. When your scriptures become open to scrutiny, scientific scrutiny, and they fail to stand up to scrutiny, that becomes hard.

And then more and more people are becoming sensitive to, to feminism that becoming sensitive to the LGBT issues. The church made some really draconian, awful, uh, policy decisions, uh, around gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the past five or 10 years. And, and the church has policies around gay, lesbian people has caused a mass defection, uh, within the church. And then a lot of, a lot of millennials are leaving religion in general. You know, it's hard for an organization led by 80 and 90 year olds to stay relevant and to stay in touch with is fast as though as the world is moving in the internet age and so on, multiple fronts, the church is hemorrhaging. Um, but it still has 5 million active members and it still has more money than, than God. And so, uh, you know, that bodes well for the church's future. And if the Catholic church can survive systemic pedophilia, you know, the Mormon church is not going anywhere, but, but it will become, it will become richer but smaller in, in membership. Does that make sense?

LACI
Yeah. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I mean, we've talked about how people find more information than they can bear sometimes with Google, but what role does, you know platforms like Facebook play?

JOHN
Facebook is definitely worth talking about. And so, so is podcasting and so is Reddit, honestly, so more Mormonism has the most vibrant podcasting community of all religious traditions that I'm aware of. There are dozens and dozens of Mormon theme podcasts and, and Mormons are active podcast listeners probably more than any other religious tradition in part because we started so early and so, so many people have been able to, you know, it's just hard to process a faith crisis. It's hard to make sense of it all to get your bearings to not, you know, so many people who lose their faith feel like they're crazy and they feel like they're totally alone. And so podcasts become this fantastic way because nobody knows what you're listening to. I cannot overstate the importance of podcasting as a medium for reaching people. And one of my prayer, my secular prayers is the Judaism and Scientology and Joel was witness, you know, evangelical Christianity will develop vibrant, progressive and post religious communities, a podcast communities because podcasts are incredibly powerful way to reach people's hearts and minds in ways that are confidential and private that that helped them learn and become emotionally healthy without the immediate need for community, which is a more tricky thing.

There's also global support groups on Facebook and Facebook just makes it really easy for, for people to connect, find community, find role models, share information and learn that they're not alone. And so we were able to literally find a venue, pick a date, advertise on Facebook and through the podcast. And then we had 1700 people show up and that was the largest in-person gathering of progressive and post Mormons in the history of Mormonism. Families are becoming best friends, families are doing cookouts and picnics and book clubs together. They're finding people to do life with and that's probably the most valuable part of these communities. If you could just find three or four or five close friends or couples who live kind of near you, you could watch each other's kids, you can deliver each other casseroles, you can help each other move. You don't need some Orthodox, you know, fundamentalist religion to have community.

LACI
The last question I wanted to ask you is just about um, you know, advice for people out there who might be questioning or having their faith crisis. Um, obviously your podcast and community is a wonderful resource for people who are ex Mormon. But um, more generally

JOHN
if you're, if you're going through a faith crisis, once you get angry and, and it's easy, it's easy to burn bridges, it's easy to, to, to uh, go on your social media and condemn your religion and all its followers to burn every bridge and ruin every relationship you have. And um, you can wreck your marriage that way. You can get isolated. You can get isolated from your own children. You can ruin your relationship with your parents, with your siblings. And so try to not let your shock and your anger destroy your life. Don't let your religion when in that sense, take it slowly, find healthy ways to process and cope with the change and, and access the resources you need to help you navigate it in a healthy, constructive way. Um, because you want to burn as few bridges as possible and you want to maintain as many relationships as you can.

LACI
That's really good advice. I did not take it slowly.

JOHN
I thought, I thought of you. I thought of you a little bit when I've said that

LACI
I think 30 year old Laci would have approached things much more closely to what you're describing.



That's enough of the past for now. On the next episode of indirect message, the season one finale, we'll discuss the future of politics online. I want to go back to the drawing board about the urgent task we all have of mending our broken social media conversations. We're definitely capping off with a bang and guys, and I hope to see you there. Have a great week!

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