In what has to be bad timing for Mitt Romney, a group of 150 Mormons joined together Saturday to formally quit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They gathered at a park in Salt Lake City and hiked up Ensign Peak, from which Brigham Young once surveyed the site where the city would be built. At the top, they shouted “Freedom”, hugged one another, and placed their letters of resignation in a basket, to be mailed to the church. In the spirit of the country’s approaching holiday, they also signed a document entitled the ‘Declaration of Independence From Mormonism’.
Leaving the Mormon Church can be difficult because the church is built on a culture of obedience. The faithful are promised eternal relationships, but those who decide to leave are many times shunned as well as denied social, business, and family connections. Participant Alison Lucas said, “I don’t know if I would have had the courage except in a group.” The pressure can be intense because, even after submitting their letters, the individuals are required to participate in exit interviews before their names are removed from the rolls.
Other members gave a variety of reasons for leaving. Robin Hansen said she quit because the church’s teachings on obedience create a “culture of abuse”. Her husband won’t follow, however, because his job is dependent on him maintaining his membership. Some saw inconsistencies in the way the church reports its history, for example in its explanations of polygamy or in a timeline of events that didn’t make sense. Resigning member Michelle Hobbs said, “It’s just all man-made. It’s very disappointing.” Some are at odds with church doctrines, including the official opposition to gay rights, or teachings that are perceived as racist or sexist.
Kris Fielding, a sixth-generation Mormon from Phoenix, decided to leave after questioning a church leader about the religion’s history of polygamy. The man responded by calling Fielding’s wife to tell her she needed to find a new husband. The wife is too afraid of their families’ reactions to also leave the faith, but Fielding is just relieved. He said, “The monkey’s off the back … I don’t feel like I have to explain myself or the positions of the church anymore.”
Event organizer, Zilpha Larsen, noted that, “It’s been a hard journey and this is a symbolic end.” Her hope is that the effort will boost others in being able to make a decision they feel comfortable with. Saturday’s participants led the way with ample courage, aimed at defying the ‘culture of obedience’.