Recently I participated in a Facebook discussion that was started on the Affirmation Facebook group when a young gay Mormon posed a simple question: where could he "come back to church" now that he was married to a man?
The ensuing discussion reminded me a little bit of the Joseph Smith story, "some crying, 'Lo, here!' and others, 'Lo, there!' Some ... contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist." Well, not literally for Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists... But the general thrust of the discussion seemed to be creeping toward a debate over whether to stay in the LDS Church or go over to some other more "gay-affirming" non-LDS Church.
I still find it a tad weird that in a group for LGBT Mormons there are folks actively making the case for leaving the Mormon Church entirely and joining some other Church. I wonder how the good folks at Reconciling Works: Lutherans for Full Participation would take it if I hung out on some of their on-line support groups and started encouraging folks to leave Lutheranism! Or if I did the same in one of the many other spaces that have designed to provide support for LGBT Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, UCC'ers, or even Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists.
I was a member of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) from 1986 until 1994, and during that time I was an active member of Lutherans Concerned and worked for some time with Lutheran Churches in Minnesota to help them become more LGBT affirming in my capacity as the director of the "Reconciled in Christ" program. As long as I was a member of Lutherans Concerned I worked for and within the Lutheran Church to make space for faithful LGBT Lutherans. I am no longer involved with Reconciling Works, because I am no longer a Lutheran.
I think LGBT Mormons are smart enough that, if they decide they no longer want to be Mormon, they can (through a quick, easy Internet search) find other groups that will support them in whatever spiritual path they do choose. But, for some reason, individuals who no longer affiliate with the LDS Church feel obligated to evangelize on the Affirmation Facebook group.
I actually sort of get it. I get that the LDS Church doesn't operate like other mainline denominations. I get that because of the LDS belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has unique authority from God (which is a belief I embrace), and because of the tendency among Mormons to believe that true happiness is only possible safe within the fold of the LDS Church (which is demonstrably false), certain dynamics exist among ex-Mormons that you don't find among former members of other churches. I think it's quite possible that ex-Mormons evangelize because as Mormons they were taught to evangelize. As Mormons they tended to view the world in terms of absolutes, in terms of black and white, good and evil. Individuals tend to join the LDS Church because they believe it is the true Church, so it stands to reason that when they leave it, it is because they believe it is a false Church.
There's no question that I experienced trauma during my last years in the LDS Church. It was painful enough that I almost committed suicide. Mormon culture (just like every culture) has a dark side. Authoritarian attitudes and mores in any culture create unhealthy dependencies, and dangerously weaken the individual confidence and self-esteem that people need in order to be healthy and happy and to make good choices. So wherever we find ourselves, it behooves us to reinforce the positive aspects of the culture around us and to work at ameliorating what is negative.
I left the LDS Church for a time because that was what I needed to do. I didn't find it possible to function in that setting in a healthy way. But what I gradually discovered over time was that even when I was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and, later, when I was a member of a United Churches of Christ congregation, I was still basically a Mormon. My worldview was Mormon. My way of thinking about morality was a very Mormon way of thinking about morality. My way of relating to God was a very Mormon way of relating to God. I once had a Lutheran pastor who counseled me for a time, and tried to point this out to me. He wanted to help me see how I had never really stopped being a Mormon. This was not necessarily bad from his point of view, it was just a reality. But I was in denial about it, and my denial was making it difficult for me to function healthily in other religious settings.
Gradually I realized that in running away from Mormonism, I was avoiding doing the real work that I needed to do. I couldn't work through the dark side of Mormon culture by being a Lutheran or a UCC'er. I could only work through the dark side of Mormon culture within the framework of Mormon culture. And I realized that in doing so, I might not only be helping myself -- becoming a healthier, happier, more truly Mormon me -- but that I might also be able to help other Mormons as well.
Religion is a complex phenomenon. And at some level, I think many of the distinctions we make by affixing labels to ourselves (like "Mormon" or "Presbyterian" or "Methodist" or "Baptist") are false distinctions. One way of looking at it that I find helpful is to think of a religion as a discipline or practice that we use in order to explore the world and grow. A religious community is a place where we commit to work together using a similar vocabulary and set of practices. Ultimately it is the growth and the exploration that matters, not necessarily the techniques we use to achieve it. That's one way of looking at it.
Another way of looking at religion is to see it as providing us a set of hypotheses about how the world works. We test those hypotheses by practicing the religion. We know that a hypothesis is only a model. But as long as that model gives us an effective way of interacting with the world, we'll keep working with it. We can revise the model, add layers of complexity to it. We might, at some point, find that it no longer functions well for us as a model, and then we might be obliged to find a different hypothesis or model.
"Mormonism" hasn't stopped being useful to me as a working hypothesis of the world.