In the last blog post, someone suggested that the reason BYU expels former LDS students is because BYU doesn’t want “anti-Mormons” around:
I understand your argument and intuition on why you believe this is wrong for BYU to expel students based on a change in beliefs. However, it doesn’t take long in the Book of Mormon before you read about how people who leave the church typically do not just leave, they turn against the Church. This is the reason why BYU has the rule that they do. It has nothing to do with “religious freedom” it’s because we shouldn’t have to deal with anti Mormons (who are mostly people who were once of our faith).
I’m writing this post to address that issue. In my profile, I describe some of the frustration I experienced while struggling with my beliefs at BYU. But I didn’t write my profile recently. I wrote most of it a couple years ago, while I was finishing up my senior year. There’s no way I could have written it today.
You see, when I was at BYU, I was convinced that none of my friends or family members would want anything to do with me. I’d heard too many stories of families who’d ostracized their own to be comfortable telling my own family about my apostasy. In my mind, I really was alone, trapped in a sea of potential Honor Code spies who were just waiting to turn me in.
So yes, for a while I absolutely resented the Church. The characterization by the commenter above probably would have described me pretty well. I saw the Church as an immovable force that kept me in the apostate-closet, and forced me to keep secrets from my own friends and family. It’s hard to see the benevolence in that.
But it was tremendously unfair of me. Slowly, my friends began to guess my beliefs, and sought me out to talk to me about it. To my great astonishment, they didn’t reject me. If anything, the revelation of my deconversion only brought us closer together. Thanks to a few exceptional Mormons who I still count among my closest friends, I realized that I was the one keeping myself closed off from the world, not the other way around.
Don’t get me wrong, I still couldn’t be open about my beliefs while at BYU. To my classmates, I still appeared as an active, believing Mormon. But I learned that BYU’s exclusionary policy was the exception, not the rule, and that most Mormons wouldn’t hold my changed beliefs against me. I decided to slowly open up to Mormon friends and family members about my beliefs, under my new assumption that they wouldn’t reject me for what I believed (and that they wouldn’t turn me in). This assumption proved to be more true than I ever could have imagined, and today I can’t think of a single relationship that I’ve lost due to my lack of faith.
I don’t attend Church or believe in the specific tenets of the LDS faith anymore, but I still feel at home in the more abstract concept of “Mormonism”. I feel the same sense of belonging speaking to active Mormons now as I did when I counted myself among them. And I’m tremendously disheartened to see relations between Mormons and ex-Mormons today.
Are ex-Mormons excluded by closed-minded Mormons who don’t wish to associate with them? Are Mormons turned off by disrespect and resentment they feel from ex-Mormons? I have no idea. I do know, as someone with feet planted firmly in both camps, that there’s too little overlap between these groups. Many ex-Mormon friends of mine have lost all contact with the Mormon world they grew up in, and many of my Mormon friends don’t have any ex-Mormon friends aside from me.
It’s a well understood psychological principle that it’s easier to discriminate against people in a certain social class when you don’t know anyone in that group. Harvey Milk understood as much when he urged closeted gay members of society to come out, saying it “… would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine.” Befriending open-minded Mormons ended my prejudice against them. Isn’t it likely that this phenomenon would occur more broadly?
To put it another way, BYU has been sitting on the greatest opportunity to improve relations between Mormons and ex-Mormons that could ever exist, and it has squandered it spectacularly. Instead of encouraging bonds between Mormons and ex-Mormons during their most formative years, BYU expels anyone who changes their belief system to ensure that these groups never interact. It’s no wonder that so many ex-Mormons feel excluded. As a matter of policy, they are!
If you’re an active LDS BYU student, imagine attending a school where not only were you not allowed to share your religious beliefs with your classmates, but you were forced to actively pretend to be of a religion that you didn’t believe in. That’s the exact scenario that ex-Mormon BYU students currently face. Can you really blame them for resenting the institution that forces them into such a situation? How would you react?
So is it true that ex-Mormons very often oppose the Church they grew up in? Probably. But instead of using this as an excuse to shut yourself off from anyone who disagrees with you, why not look at this as opportunity for shared understanding? 20 year old Tucker would have wished that were the case.
A lot of my ex-Mormon friends tell me how lucky I am, and that it’s much more normal for ex-Mormons to lose their LDS friends and family. While I know that I’ll be forever grateful for the truly outstanding Mormons who reached out to me out of love, rather than distrust, in my own dark hours, I don’t actually think that’s the case. I have a feeling that most Mormons, given the opportunity, would demonstrate the same compassion that I was shown. Unfortunately, with BYU’s policy in place, we may never find out.