Based on interviews I conducted a couple of years ago with former Latter-day Saints, I discovered several reasons why people find it difficult to make the transition into a new church community after Mormonism. One set of obstacles has to do with the difficulty of shedding one religious and cultural identity and adopting another. The second type of obstacle involves negative personal experiences.
For example, many former Mormons have a hard time attaching themselves to a new church because of their experience of feeling betrayed by LDS church, which they had previously trusted with their lives. They may be angry or bitter, feeling that they have been deceived or manipulated by an ecclesiastical institution, and thus are unwilling to trust another church. One respondent told me, “I want God, but I don’t want churches.”
“Trust is a huge issue for me, even after having been out [of Mormonism] for 13 years. When I first came out…I didn’t trust:
1. Myself. I felt very vulnerable. I didn’t have an identity anymore. I had no idea what “I” felt, believed, thought, wanted, needed…, etc.
2. Pastors: Were they really hirelings of the devil? Were they only pastoring churches for a living? Did they care about just my tithing money? Were they teaching the truth? How would I know if they were? Was their preaching biased? It really helped when one pastor took time to personally get to know us, and would show he cared.
3. The Bible: How was it really translated? Which version was correct? Was I understanding it correctly? Was it preached correctly? Was it just another rule book set up by religion?
4. The church: I was afraid they were set up like Mormonism. They would ask me to do a calling. Send over home/visiting teachers. Basically I was afraid they would use the same tactics that the Mormon church used to indoctrinate new members.”
It’s not hard to understand this feeling of mistrust. As the maxim says: once burned, twice shy. It seems to me that this can only be overcome by congregations and pastors acting with genuine care and integrity, consistently and patiently, over a period of time.