While researching a book that I am writing, I recently ran a survey on my website for Ex-Mormons who left the Church while married to a Mormon spouse. This survey is biased, I plainly confess, because rather than find quantifiable data about how likely Mormon marriages are to survive a crisis of faith, I was looking for useful, uplifting and applicable information of how marriages like mine can be saved.
I’m Joe Rawlins and I am an Ex-Mormon who is wildly, madly in love with a Mormon woman that I am proud to say has been my faithful wife for 10 years. In fact, while I write this, I am in the hospital where she is resting with my newborn son, our third baby.
Rather than using a multiple choice questionnaire, I asked open-ended questions in my survey with open fields that allowed them to address issues that specifically came to mind for them, un-prompted by the survey, itself. Searching through the results for key terms, I have been able to reap remarkable insight into how Inter-Faith Mormon marriages survive or don’t survive at least one spouse leaving the Faith.
In the most surprising and encouraging result, in almost every case, the spouses have remained married, one way or another.
Consistent with other studies into why Mormons apostatize, the most common reason that Mormon spouses say that they leave the Church was related to the Church’s secretive history (nearly every participant in the survey said that it contributed). Particularly, spouses lost faith in the Church over the controversial past surrounding the Church’s polygamist Founder, Joseph Smith. But other issues addressed shed light on how Ex-Mormons are keeping their spouses and what regrets might help future doubters to keep their own nuptial vows longer and maybe have Forever Families, after all.
In the most surprising and encouraging result, in almost every case, the spouses have remained married, one way or another. In 26 cases, the marriage resulted in separation or divorce, leaving nearly 100 cases of people who have so far managed to stick it out. Of course, these marriages are varied in how long they have been married and for how long since confessing their disbelief as well as other factors like children, Church callings, etc.
Long term success often means that the other spouse also ultimately leaves practice of the Mormon faith or – in a few rare cases – they learn to think of themselves as an inter-Faith couple, setting hard-fought boundaries on religious ceremonies, raising children and being sensitive to one another’s most intimate spiritual feelings.
“I thought I was being ripped in half,” said one man, a returned missionary for the Church who said that Prop H8 was the primary factor in his deciding to leave.
Out of more than 120 participants to that survey, 23 of them specifically mention the Mormon Church’s participation in “Prop H8” in California or other instances of the Church’s crusade against LGBTQ rights as contributing factors to their quitting Mormonism.
Because the survey was more qualitative than quantitative, this does not necessarily reflect how many other participants also had to confront their feelings on the Anti-Gay Church’s stance against equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
“I thought I was being ripped in half,” said one man, a returned missionary for the Church who said that Prop H8 was the primary factor in his deciding to leave. “It felt like someone reaching in and ripping out my heart. I thought my wife would leave me. It definitely strained our marriage.”
Keeping feelings about the Church’s position on gay/transgender/queer identity and orientation a secret proves to be remarkably corrosive to relationships, driving a wedge between unorthodox spouses and their still-believing husbands and wives who sometimes silently share their spouse’s feelings on the Church’s anti-Gay agenda. A yoke of doubt for one spouse – terrified of the prospect of a lifetime of carrying the burden alone in order to save their marriage – suddenly becomes easier when carried by the two.
In the end, the confrontation that he so dreaded was what actually saved his marriage. “It forced us to be more communicative,” he says. “That is what saved us. The hardest part was when we were not completely open about our feelings. So far nothing has been insurmountable. Many things have been difficult, but we have worked through them all.”
Ultimately, his wife also left the Church. “It was a huge relief to have her leave,” he said.
“[My husband] was on his mission in California during Prop 8,” said one participant whose husband was the spouse to leave the Church, “and that disturbed him…He shelved it, finished his mission, came back, and married me in the temple. He eventually researched these things, and lost a lot of his testimony, but didn’t tell me about it. I figured it out from some sarcastic remarks he made, and confronted him. He said that he had some issues but he was planning on staying. A couple months later with no encouragement or pressure from him whatsoever, I decided that in order to be a good wife I should try to understand him. Without his knowledge, I started to look into reasons why people leave the church and watched John Dehlin’s video on the top five reasons and myths why faithful members leave, and that opened a whole can of worms.”
The Church’s expulsion of high-profile Unorthodox Mormon opinion leaders were a small but passionate factor for spouses who have left the faith. Seven participants specifically mention the excommunication of Ordain Women’s founder Kate Kelly or Mormon Stories Podcasts’ host John Dehlin, who delivered a TED Talk on how he came to evolve on the Church’s homophobic dogma while still remaining a believer in the premises of Mormonism.
Kelly and Dehlin have both appealed to the Church’s First Presidency to have their membership reinstated. While Dehlin’s appeal is pending, Kelly’s appeal was returned only to be turned out of the Mormon fold a second time.
No doubt about it: the Mormon higher-ups’ stance against Equal Rights for Gays and for Women is coming around to bite them in the ass.
Mormon women have been the constantly marginalized majority in the Mormon Church, where they outnumber Mormon men at a shocking 60% according to one Pew poll. So it is sometimes surprising that they can remain stalwart and faithful to a Church that treats them as second-class citizens.
Coming out as a woman who thinks that she deserves a role in the Mormon Priesthood (all males age 12 and older are ordained) can be hard in a Church where some 84% of women say that they do not think that women should be ordained. In a sad showing of how patriarchy in the church effects the self-esteem of girls and women, it turns out that no one keeps Mormon women down like other Mormon women. But how to face that same dilemma in her own bedroom proves even a greater challenge for a woman taught to believe that her husband is her righteous steward whom she is to rely upon by obeying as he obeys God.
“It was awkward for a long time,” said one woman who cited Joseph Smith’s polygamy, LGBT rights and the fight of Ordain Women as principal factors in her disaffection. “We avoided contact and confrontation simply by giving the cold shoulder and not interacting at all for a good 6 months…I was trying to figure out who I was now that I wasn’t a Mormon. Who was I if I wasn’t LDS? He doubted everything I brought up because it was contrary to everything the Church said.
“He wanted to prove me wrong. [I] worried about ‘eternal family’ status, [that my] petrified husband would divorce me because we were not ‘equally yoked’. I changed the rules and without his consent and was positive he would be pressured to find a more suitable ‘Celestial’ companion.”
But, again: keeping her feelings to herself, which seemed to have insulated her husband from her doubts, proved to be the wedge between them and a little trust in his forgiving heart saved their marriage.
“He decided he should listen to what I had to say. It was obvious something had bothered me…and he was willing and believed he should hear me out before shutting me out. He saw more of who I was than I had known of myself. He saw honesty and integrity in me as a person rather then solely as an extension of the religion.”
Ultimately, her husband also stopped practicing the Mormon faith and the pair of them resigned from the Church, together and remain together, still. If you are considering also resigning from the Mormon Church without disciplinary proceedings works, see this boilerplate letter. You can also read fantastic stories about the experience of others at PostMormon.org.
LDS women who are worried to come out in truth to their Priesthood-holder husbands for fear of retaliation are not unfounded in their fear.
One woman says that “Going through the temple and realizing how sexist the covenants were triggered me to look afresh at everything. LGBT issues and gender inequality convinced me that the church is wrong on those issues today. Then I looked at historical issues and completely lost my faith.”
Her husband, at first, reacted angrily.
“For at least two years, it was a major source of stress. He threatened to leave me. He could not or would not listen to any concerns I had. We saw a marriage counsellor and somehow I was able to get through to him that I respect his faith even if I don’t believe. We’re still working through these things but it’s coming.”
Sadly, the fate of their marriage remains in limbo.
No one has done more for the rights and fair treatment of Mormon women than Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, who is inarguably the largest Mormon feminist movement in history. After her excommunication and the rejection of her appeal, Kelly is embracing life as an Ex-Mormon and recently came out with an appeal to Mormon women and their male allies to give themselves permission to leave the Church if it does not “spark joy”.
In this survey, lesbian daughters have particularly played a role in Mormon Moms’ coming to see the Church’s anti-Gay agenda as misguided, whether or not they remain practicing members.
Fear of raising children in an anti-Gay atmosphere drives some Mormon spouses to decide to leave as families or at least for the remaining spouse to become flexible or outright rebellious in their Mormon beliefs. But in this survey, lesbian daughters have particularly played a huge role in TBM Moms’ coming to see the Church’s anti-Gay agenda as misguided, whether or not they remain practicing members.
“It was hard for her to quit paying tithing, which I insisted on,” says one man whose wife remains a member. ” I firmly refused to allow any of our money to go to support the institution. She made the leap of faith (that God won’t punish her for sticking with me). When our daughter came out as gay, my spouse was absolutely the perfect mother.” His advice to making it work is to marry the right person to make up the difference in tolerance, Mormon or otherwise. “Someone has to give more than 50%. If you’re not willing to be that person, you have to hope your spouse is.”
“One of our daughters is gay,” says a man who still attends Church with his wife, though he considers himself agnostic. “My wife supports her totally and doesn’t buy into the LDS church’s position.” He says that his greatest regret is that he wishes he had invested his tithing money into his 401(k), instead!
“My lesbian, gender fluid sixteen year old has a couple Mormon friends,” says an Ex-Mormon Atheist. His advice to Unorthodox LDS parents who want to stay together is: “Move away from the ‘Mormon Belt’. It’s a terrible place to raise kids that you want to believe in themselves instead of the FSM [Flying Spaghetti Monster] .”
(The Flying Spaghetti Monster is an atheist superlative for mythical gods invented by Atheist writer and speaker, Richard Dawkins.)
His wife eventually left the Church, also: “She eventually decided that the church spending years teaching my kids that their father is a bad father and is going to freeze in outer darkness wasn’t worth making her awful parents happy.”
“Recently, our oldest son let us know that he was gay,” said another man. “This forced my wife to see things from a different perspective which has also helped us in our marriage.
“I never had any challenges since we brought our kids up when I was still TBM [True Believing Mormon],” says one man who also left primarily because of the Church’s appropriation of Church funds to finance California’s Prop H8. “Both of my kids will eventually leave the church since they have done their own research and are disgusted by how they [the Church] treat gays.”
An eternity of damnation as an honest person is a better gamble than an eternal paradise as a sanctified liar.
Lastly, there is still a problem to be addressed and forcefully.The results are not all roses and sunshine and some marriages do not survive. What my survey found was that the drive to kill Inter-faith Marriages are not from the Ex-Mormon community but from within the Mormon community and particularly the Priesthood leadership, itself. Advice of Mormons to the spouses of Ex-Mormons are almost invariably to quit trying to make it work.
The more that I bring it up, the more that I am told “that does not happen in our Church.”
Bullshit! There! I’ve said it and I will repeat it again: Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!
In several of the instances where the couple wound up divorcing, the offended believing spouse turned to vindictiveness as a defense mechanism, particularly when it came to sex and in many case, this was buoyed by the support of other Mormons to sabotage their marriage because they see the spouse’s crisis of faith as abandoning their wedding vows.
“When I finally did tell him,” said one woman who left after reading Jeremy Runnells’ infamous CES Letter, “he spent the night crying in his office. Then he spent the next two weeks drilling me about why I no longer believed and what I was going to teach the kids now that I no longer had any morals. Over a month went by where almost every time he looked at me he’d start bawling. I threw away my garments secretly and he found the bag in the trash bin, took it out, and hid it for ‘when I decided to come back’.”
But a Mormon doesn’t choose to lose faith. The Church loses their faith and Mass Resignations like the one from last Saturday are the natural and deserving consequences of the Church’s own actions. Mormons choose to leave the Church because they gather the courage to do something about their disaffection, convinced that an eternity of damnation as an honest person is a better gamble than an eternal paradise as a sanctified liar.
“He was passive aggressive a few times and irrationally angry,” says one of the women mentioned earlier. “For example, he was so angry about me going to the Book of Mormon musical but refused to say why, but he was furious and withheld affection. Whenever the church came up, he threatened to leave me if I said that I didn’t believe.”
“Withheld affection”? Wait! As in sex?
“[I was] shut out emotionally and physically,” said another woman, who is now divorced from her Mormon husband and remarried to another Ex-Mormon. “Sex and love withdrawn for punishment but desired when it suited [his] needs…If I refused then he would make the days horrible for the kids and I. [I was] financially shut out as well.”
That ostracizing, she says, soon escalated to slut-shaming.
“[He] quickly turned to my TBM parents and bishop with all my sins and cornered against me rather than trying to love and understand me and my questions and perspectives. I became the sinner and the one at fault for everything going wrong. My sins destroyed my eternal family. Everything became my fault and only I needed to make changes.”
Finally, there was no resolution.
“I went to a non-LDS Christian counselor who told me that I was a level headed woman and definitely not at fault for all that was breaking the marriage. My ex came to one session of counseling with me and then to the bishop to confess all my wrongdoings. I was told to change or divorce and I offered counseling and mutual changes from both sides to survive the marriage and he still filed divorce…Private details of my marriage issues should not have been shared with my parents and bishop but worked on together to grow closer rather than divide.”
“My spouse left when [her] bishop repeatedly failed to address concerns or provide honest help, instead counseling her to divorce me,” says one man, who has become an Atheist since leaving the Mormon Church. “She adopted generic christian standpoint for quite a while, not recently has professed more of an agnostic view. “
There is no “after all that we can do” in a marriage. It’s working or not working is about two people more interested in “sparking joy” in one another than in themselves.
One day, a long time ago, after my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child, we talked late into the night in our miserable studio apartment.
“If you had to choose between me and the baby to live, which would you choose?” She asked.
You’re not supposed to ask that, right? Well, we do stuff like that. If you think it, then say it.
“You,” I answered without equivocation. “We would grieve with losing a child. We can cope. I don’t know what in the world I would do if I lost you.”
After our daughter, Scarlett, was born, I went back to Church so that I could bless her in Sacrament Meeting and the Bishop told me that all I would need is an ordinance permit sheet of some kind and I could perform the Blessing in spite of having long lost my Recommend due to “inactivity”.
“What are you going to tell him?” My wife asked as I tied on a tie for the first time in years.
“I know all the answers,” I said with a smile.
“You’d be lying,” she said “to a Priesthood leader!”
I looked at her with wide eyes. Well, of course I would! This was a cultural Mormon thing. Not me returning to a Church that I loathed but me trying to play the part to keep the peace with her family and with mine.
“I thought that we were on the same page, here, Babe,” I said. “What exactly is it that you want me to do?”
“I want you to tell the truth,” she said bravely.
I asked her if she was prepared for the consequences of that. She was. She had made a vow to stay with me and to love me and our children and she meant to keep it. Nine years later, she does so, every day. Whether we will make it to the end of our lives having grown old together or not, I cannot say. But today, she is a Mormon and I am not and we love each other and we are raising a family together. Our love isn’t surviving – it is thriving. That is in no small part given to the fact that my wife is such a kind, patient and loving soul.
“Do you believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost?” The Bishop asked me in his office.
“No,” I answered frankly. The rest of the Bishopric was called in and my conflict with the Church began.
The details of this journey can be found in my book, The Korihor Argument; A Missionary’s Journey Out of Mormonism. Enter your email below to get updates about the release of the book and a companion book based on this survey and my experiences: Honey, I’m Leaving the Church; 100+ Ex-Mormon Inter-Faith Couples Fight to Find Healing, Forgiveness and Love.
In Christian faith, we are told that the Grace of God is what brings salvation to undeserving mankind “after all that we can do”. But that is a relationship between human beings and God – and those relationships fail all the time. As romantic an idea as it sounds, God does not swoop down and save marriages that fail to make up divided ground with patience, tolerance, compassion and understanding.
If I have learned anything in my own inter-Faith marriage, it is that a house divided against itself certainly will fall. But a marriage that disagrees on politics, sex, raising children, belief in God does not need to be divided. If nothing else, my common ground with my TBM wife is that I am more interested in her happiness than in her coming around to by Reason and Logic and her vows are to my happiness and not my making it to the Celestial Kingdom with a harem of blonde-headed Mormon trophy-wives. (Shit. Come to think of it, maybe I did make a mistake…)
A marriage is between two people. Deal with it! There is no “after all that we can do” in a marriage. It’s working or not working is about two people more interested in “sparking joy” in one another than in themselves and there is no “God of Love” who will swoop in and do the work for you.