The Angry Ex-Mormon

When I was still orthodox and attending, I often saw the stereotypical “angry ex-Mormon,” often from the very groups the church tends to think of as “dangerous,” those who are:

1. Intellectuals

2. Feminists

3. The LGBT+ community

Angry ex-Mormons stereotypically spent their time “trying to destroy the church.” They wrote essays (that were published in real paper books or newspapers back in the day) to proclaim all the problems they saw with the church. They talked about church leaders who had done bad things (“Joseph Smith was a pedophile”), about factual distortions in church history (“lies”) and also mentioned personal grievances in plenty about their own experiences in the church.

I often simply shrugged and chalked up their anger to them leaving the church, choosing to do evil, and following Satan. After all, Satan was always angry. Christ and His people were always happy. That was emphasized each week in church. “Wickedness never was happiness,” and the converse was also true, which is that righteousness always brought happiness.

Not happy? Well, then do more righteous things. Read your scriptures more. Pray more. Go to church more. Serve in your callings more. Go to the temple more. Do more genealogy. Pay more tithing. Find more service to do outside of your calling.

Of course, it couldn’t be the fault of the church. Or the gospel, which is perfect. So it had to be you. The answers couldn’t be wrong. You just had to find more of them. More rules to follow, and more ways to follow them absolutely all the time, and with whole-heartedness.

Now I’m in the position of the “angry ex-Mormon.” And I see both parts of this phrase differently. Am I angrier than I used to be? Actually, I’m not. I feel so much happier now that I’m able to let go of my own self-judgement of never being enough. I’m happier because I don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time and I can talk about my real feelings. I’m happier because I’m making my own choices and am no longer struggling constantly with questions that I have to suppress.

But I acknowledge that to current Mormons, I may look angrier. This is because the passive-aggressive Mormon happiness culture doesn’t allow anger (or any other so-called “negative” emotions) to be expressed openly. If you’re grieving (which I still am), something is wrong with you. Repent because there’s nothing to grieve about if you’re truly faithful. Everything will come right in the end if you trust God (and the church and its leaders).

I think that I was terrified of people who showed their emotions because I didn’t know how to experience my own. I only knew how to shove them down. I’ve heard people say that it makes your positive emotions dim if you do this, but what I found was that it made me out of touch with my own body in many ways. It made other people more aware of my own signals of my negative emotions than I was. “You look mad, Mom,” my kids would say. And then I would tell them I wasn’t mad. I was “frustrated” or some other synonym for anger that I couldn’t face squarely.

I also realize that to Mormons, who like to focus their energies on getting stuff done, there’s a confusion about ex-Mormons who spend so much time on processing their emotions and their experiences. There’s very little space for that in Mormonism, since there’s no guarantee that will lead to confirmation of the church’s truth claims. Bear testimony, sure, but don’t spend too long doing it.

This leads to the accusation that many Mormons have about ex-Mormons, that we “can’t leave it alone.” Well, sometimes that’s true. We’re still processing for years after, trying to understand ourselves and those around us. But it’s ironic sometimes that if we’re not talking about Mormonism and just going about a new non-Mormon life, we’re also accused of doing evil and turning our back on all that we once “knew” was true. So it’s not like we can win acceptance either way. That’s not how the church works.

In the end, maybe I shouldn’t spend too much time or energy worrying about being called angry. You do your thing and I’ll do mine.

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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