When I interviewed transitioning Latter-day Saints about the obstacles they faced in trying to become incorporated into a new church after Mormonism, the response fell into two general categories. One set of obstacles had to do with the difficulty of shedding one religious and cultural identity and adopting another.
For example, it simply takes time for loyalties and a sense of identity to shift. A person may be hesitant to affiliate with a local church because of a lingering sense of being connected to Mormon culture. One woman attended a congregation for six years before accepting a ministry role. During the first half of that transition period, she consistently spoke of herself as a Mormon – even though she was no longer involved in the LDS community in any way. A young woman once asked me: “Do I have to stop being a Mormon to come to your church?” She had not been involved in any LDS activities for some time, nor did she believe LDS teachings. Yet she still considered herself a Mormon in some significant sense. It takes time for transitioning Latter-day Saints to sort out a new self-understanding, and how that new view of self relates to a relationship with a new church.
One of my respondents put it like this:
“The hinderment [sic] I feel comes from within myself, not from others. I DO feel isolated. I feel like I don’t know how to relate to others. I have only known Mormon culture almost all my life—looking at life and EVERYTHING through the filter of Mormon doctrines; so trying to figure out what reality is is still somewhat of a problem. I don’t think that people understand that. Too many Christians think that leaving the Mormon Church is no different than switching from a Lutheran Church to an Episcopal Church—no big deal. They don’t understand that it is so much deeper. It would be like a middle-class American being put into a non-English speaking village on the other side of the world whose customs, beliefs, and lifestyles are completely different. How do you adjust? Or like finding out that you were kidnapped as a baby and were raised by aliens. You would wonder what was real and what wasn’t; what and who could be trusted; could you even trust yourself? I don’t think people understand that.”