Do You Ever Stop Being Mormon?

I know only a handful of former Mormons who don’t think of themselves as “ex-“ or “post-Mormon.” I think most of these blank-slates left at an early age. And even for them, I sometimes wonder if they’re admitting the truth to themselves, which is that I’m not sure any of us ever really leave Mormonism. It’s bred into us so young that we spend the rest of our lives just identifying the things that are Mormon within us, let alone figuring out what other ways of looking at the world might be and trying them instead.

Here are some examples of what I see when I look at the ex/post-Mormon community:

1. Searching for “prophets” or people who have all the answers, generally white men.

2. Looking at the world in terms of “right” and “wrong,” often in reverse of what we were taught in Mormonism.

3. Being obsessed with proving ourselves “good” on some level, often adopting new strictures that aren’t Mormon. (For me this was veganism for a time.)

4. Worthiness measures — judging other people constantly based on whatever new internal rules we’ve developed.

5. Seeing God as a punishing father, which often infects our way of seeing government figures, and even the environment.

6. Bearing “testimony” of the falseness of the church, and generally using proselytizing skills learned as Mormons.

7. Views of gender roles that infect almost every interaction.

8. Belief in yourself/your identity as a static thing.

9. Continued pressure to produce because of a Mormon work ethic.

10. Marriage/family values that persist even after the doctrine behind them has been rejected.

I’ll admit that some of these are also part of American society, so they become even more difficult to distance ourselves from and to examine more objectively (if objectivity is even a thing to be desired, which I question).

I’m not trying to say it’s necessarily bad to do/believe any of this list of things, only that I think many ex-/post-Mormons do it without seeing how Mormon it is. Year by year, many of us begin to identify different parts of our deep belief systems that we hadn’t realized were connected to Mormonism. For many of us, we’re disgusted with these ideas and try to stomp them down and reject them entirely. Then they pop back up again and we stomp them down again.

My purpose here isn’t to shame any of us for this. I’m in the midst of it right now. I’m trying to be gentler in terms of looking at the things that are still very Mormon in myself and examining whether or not I want to keep them. And also acknowledging that just because I keep them now doesn’t mean that I have to keep them forever. I’m trying to find pleasure in the project itself, in the uncovering and undoing of myself, if that makes any sense. I’m trying to let go of the easy Mormon tendency to judge everything as good or bad immediately.

But the longer I’m at this, the more I begin to see that for me, this process may never end. I may never come to the end of finding the deep Mormon parts of myself. And I’m not going to judge myself so harshly for it. Some Mormon parts of me are good. And I don’t need to feel so upset that I gave myself over to Mormonism so much that I can never entirely reclaim myself. That’s not how selves are. We’re not this one thing to fight over. We’re enmeshed in systems and we always will be.

So, no, I’m probably never going to stop being Mormon, even if I remove my name from the records of the church. I was born into it. It’s in my DNA. And more important, it’s in my psyche. Hey, there, Mormon Mette. I see you!

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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