The Intellectually Ousted

I have been thinking a lot lately about ex-Mos. In so doing, I imagine what their excommunications are like, or what their mindset was like when they petitioned to have their ‘records removed.’ I even know some ex-Mos; some who have taken the long way back into membership, others who have left the church, and others who have left the church but cannot leave it alone (There was a great post at BCC over this, but I can’t find the link). Instead of concentrating on the ex-Mo himself, I have been thinking about all the people affected by the ex-Mos departure (assuming he/she decides to stay out and not seek a way back).

I may sound reductionistic, but it seems like there are two kinds of ex-Mos: 1) those who commit a sin the church considers egregious and are excommunicated, and 2) those who leave without committing serious sin, or who leave for intellectual reasons. In both cases, membership is revoked (ie, I’m not discussing the habitually inactive). It seems to me that the group who fall into the first category are generally welcomed back, given the hand of fellowship, and receive a lot of help along the way. However, I have known a few people (mostly from my days as a missionary a long time ago) who left the church for intellectual reasons. Their faith could no longer support Mormonism’s claims. With this latter group, I almost never saw the same heart-warming reactions among those affected by the ex-Mo’s decision to leave. Instead I noted contempt, disdain, abandonment, and often ridicule. Sometimes I wonder if things might have gone easier/smoother if the person who fled over intellectual disagreements had instead confessed to an (imaginary?) egregious transgression in order to avoid some of these post-membership complications.

Again, I know I might appear like I’m being overly reductionistic, but I do believe there is a kernel of truth in this. (If I could steer the comments, I would ask only those who have observed the same thing or something very similar to respond). In my sincere heart of hearts, I wonder why those who choose exile over intellectual incompatibility seem to receive ill treatment over those who fall victim to their passions.

Any suggestions why this may be?

24 Replies to “The Intellectually Ousted”

  1. Dave,
    You are right. If I were ex’d for adultery there would be much disappointment all ’round, I’m sure, but my name would not be whispered across the interwebs and through the grapevine as it would if I were ex’d for writing some book or another.

  2. Could it be that those of us who are intellectually on the outside threaten people in a way that moral failings do not? Packer’s ‘Don’t spread disease germs’ sermon seems to suggest that intellectual dissent is an illness, moreover it is an illness that anyone can catch. We can usually separate ourselves from the moral failings of others (those things are of the world) but intellectualisms boundaries are less defined. Since education is so highly valued in the church, the idea of being educated out of the church is rather threatening and difficult to guard against. There is no way to say ‘Don’t read x books’ because many of those books include basic foundational Mormon texts.

  3. I think it is because those who leave due to transgression are usually in some way sorry for leaving or are on some level embarrassed by their transgression. Those who leave for intellectual reasons typically want to talk about their reasons for leaving and try to bring others with them, as it were. Further, those who leave due to transgression, in a twisted sort of way, justify the beliefs and rationale of those who stay(stay in the church or that will happen to you), while those who leave for intellectual reasons challenge the beliefs and rationale.

  4. Interesting question(s). I agree with the comments above. I think a helpful analogy might be to think about how a known child-molestor would be treated. We might have genuine compassion, but we would also likely become very protective of our own children b/c of the threat a repeat offense would entail. It seems the intellectual is analogously threatening in a way that, say, adultery is not. The threat the intellectual poses may not be so much a direct threat against my belief (I’m putting myself in the hypothetical unwelcoming member’s role here, not saying how I’d act–it’s easier for me to empathize with intellectual apostates than otherwise sinful ex-members, or simply inactive ones…), but I might be more leary that the intellectual is going to always be challenging beliefs. Also, related, I think the intellectual tends to be viewed as someone who “sins against greater light” (perhaps like the Nephite apostates in the BOM?)—that is, it’s easier for most members to relate to a “sin of the flesh” b/c we have more experience with fleshy temptations and appreciate the difficulty of withstanding such sins and relate easier to the repentance process, however, members are more skeptical about an intellectual apostate being truly repentant b/c they have a harder time relating to the sin in the first place and are more skeptical of true repentance occurring.

  5. I always did wonder why Korihor was so universally reviled while Corianton got off with a stern shake of the finger. ‘Nigh unto murder’ and all that rhetoric, he still appears to be redeemable Korihor did eventually repent but still gets abandoned and stomped to death. Not the most hopeful depiction of screwing around v. intellectual dissent.

    One more reason… As a self described intellectual I am really uncertain as to what role, if any, I do have in the LDS church.

  6. I’m working my way around to the idea that this situation is part of the idea I blogged on last week that we really have no good ways to deal with the religious Other that don’t involve killing, converting, or ignoring them. This situation is not precisely analogous since a “conversion” approach is more palatable here than in professional Biblical circles but it feels a bit similar.


    I also initially reacted negatively to Robert C.’s analogy but after some rereading and some thought I think that he’s really working on a comparison of the fear engendered rather than the merits of the two behaviors. In any case, he’s a nice guy and not, I am sure, trying to stir things up.

  7. angrymormonliberal:

    It’s not the intellectualism that’s the problem, of course. It’s the dissent. The two are not inseperable, of course.

  8. I recognize the context in which Robert was making his comment. It’s still an unfortunate analogy. I have no desire to stir things up either… which is why I’m limiting my comments to ‘unfortunate’.

    However, as an analogy it does capture a very pertinent perception of the intellectual dissenter.

    I remember the feeling attached to taking High Priest’s on splits when one is a missionary, one is always afraid that they will go off on their own theory of Kolobian Gravitation. Perhaps that is similar to the anxiety engendered by intellectual dissent in the church. It’s a fear for those that we know are not as ‘strong in the gospel’ as we think we are.

    My personal opinion is that this underestimates the maturity of members and those joining the church.
    I’m thinking of John Dehlin’s latest podcast with Nate Oman, aware of the ‘messiness’ but still LDS.
    At what point is this defensiveness harmful? Is it?

    Interesting questions raised here.

  9. Since so much about church membership hangs off of the teachings of the prophets, living and otherwise, perhaps the contempt comes from the perception that those who leave (or not) based on lack of faith in these teachings are setting themselves above the leaders. The leaders teach x…they don’t believe it. Who are they to think they know more than the Inspired Ones do?

    Sometimes, ex-Mormons are assumed to be arrogant and prideful. Sometimes, they are! The “if you weren’t so stupid and willfully blind you would see what I see, you mindless sheep” attitude is alive and well, even among some of the ex-Mormons who aren’t really angry. Let’s not pretend that putting on a pleasant demeanor and outward appearance of open-mindedness doesn’t sometimes mask serious contempt. Maybe Ex-Mormons are rejected because the mindless sheep are smarter than they think.

  10. Hello Ann,

    Could you perhaps clarify the point(s) you wish to make?

    Perhaps I am over/undereading, but I find it interesting that the hotlink on your name takes the reader to the New Mormon Order New Order Mormon homepage while your post seems to denigate those who might be likely to find a site such as yours interesting.


  11. I think the lines can be a little blurry on this, in terms of reaction. As some comments have noted, there are different ways of being excommunicated. According to my former-bishop friend, there are three reasons:

    a. Conduct unbecoming a member of the church (so-called “moral” transgressions)
    b. To protect the good name of the church (embezzlers are out. Not clear why this doesn’t come up in the “moral transgressions” category, but that’s another subject…).
    c. To protect the innocent (child molestation, other forms of abuse).

    It is unclear where “apostasy” falls in this rubric (apostasy is an actual, technical term defined in church handbooks as something like: teaching or preaching false doctrine in the name of the church). It could fit under all three, or any one. I suspect that it’s actually #2, although #3 might fit as well.

    It is not clear to me what the most common response is to someone excommunicated for “apostasy” vs. someone who withdraws. In many cases those excommunicated for apostasy don’t want to leave the church (else they would opt for #2). What is interesting to me is that in many accounts the ecclesiastical leaders seem to treat those excommunicated for “apostasy” differently from those excommunicated for “conduct unbecoming”. (They’re not supposed to, according to the manual. Bishops are given the charge to work to bring the transgressors back into full fellowship.) This could be because the disciplined (now ex-) members are not about to change their stance, to “repent”, in order to return.

    What think ye?

  12. “In many cases those excommunicated for apostasy don’t want to leave the church”

    While I agree that this is true in “many” cases (in reality, there are extremely few excommunications for apostasy), there are also many cases of willful martyrdom, where excommunication is sought as a vindication.

  13. TT,

    Good point, but how can we tell their motives, other than what they say? I agree with you that there probably comes a point at which one sets one’s jaw and may even force the issue, but to what extent do you think one asks for martyrdom?

  14. I think a fairly simple argument could be made in terms of submission to power/authority. Those who recognize they’ve done wrong, confess their wrong-doing, make effort to change (roughly those “standard” steps of repentance) are “given the hand of fellowship” in making the return. In short those willing to submit to the power/authority of the church in going through the “recovery” process are welcomed. Those unwilling to conform are shunned.

    To speak in over-generalized terms, those caught up in “moral transgressions” are more likely to submit to the authority of the institution. Often they “know” they have been doing wrong and were caught in “moments of weakness”. At some level they still have a “testimony”. Those exed for intellectual reasons, on the other hand, are probably less likely to submit to the power of the church and thereby looked at as if in “willful rebelion”. To me it’s a power issue and not an unequal treatment of “transgressions”.

  15. SmallAxe,

    So (if I understand you correctly) you think the power issue, or rather how the “transgressor” is perceived to respond to power, is the driving force behind how members respond to that person? (Lots of hypotheticals in there, I know.)

    Hypothetically speaking, would there be a similar reaction if the “moral transgressor” didn’t submit to authority?

  16. I think smallaxe is correct. Moral transgressors know that they are sinning, and it can be a relief when their embezzlement or fornication comes to light and they can make confession. That involves a sense of contrition and regret, an acknowledgement that their behavior is wrong. Incidentally, the CHI says that a presiding officer should take into account whether a confession was voluntary when deciding upon the severity of the discipline to impose. A fornicator who refused to acknowledge his sins or the authority of the church to judge him would certainly feel the wrath. But I guess it is an open question as to how much a church disciplinary council scares anybody.

    Those who find themselves at odds with the church over matters of doctrine or practice usually don’t see themselves as engaging in some furtive activity that needs to be kept secret, so they are genuinely surprised when the bishop wants to chat about their beliefs and offers correction, so it all starts out on the wrong foot and gets worse from there.

    I do have a problem, though, with the way we talk about people who are ex’d for their published beliefs. Does writing an article that attracts the attention of your bishop make you an intellectual? Not in my book. I think our willingness to apply the intellectual tag confers a sense of martyrdom that doesn’t necessarily fit. There have been thousands of people officially removed from the church for their beliefs since the Sept.6, but we still behave as though those 6 people were the only ones standing up to the Spanish Inquisition, and their courageous willingness to nail their 99 theses to the door is all that is keeping the bookburners from running rampant in the church. Is the guy who, through diligent study of the OT and D&C, concludes that he should have multiple wives, any less of an intellectual than, say, Grant Palmer? Again, not in my book.

  17. Hypothetically speaking, would there be a similar reaction if the “moral transgressor” didn’t submit to authority?

    I think I actually should have qualified my last statement as follows: To me it’s mostly a power issue and not an unequal treatment of “transgressions”.

    Because of course there is more at play. However I would say, “yes” to the above question, generally speaking. Although I think if someone were to rebel by continuing to fornicate for instance many members would deep down hold to the belief that they themselves knew it was wrong (which is implied in Mark IV’s comment), and might some day come around. But in the immediate situation, they would probably be ostracized all the same. With rebels of the intellectual sort, there may not be that same type of hope; but I do not believe they would necessarily be treated all that different (at least in the short run).

    Those are some random, undocumented, and perhaps premature thoughts.

    If I were forced to sum up my position on the issue it would be, “Submit to authority and stay in. Buck authority and be marginalized.” The broadness of this general statement leaves the possibility for all kinds of complexities such as how motives are perceived (why do two people who hold the same ideas, have one who is exed and one who stays in?), the difficulty of insincere submission to authority (could someone just be faking it?), the different power structures positioning themselves for control of the individual (local leadership and General leadership), and a lack of uniform policy as to how authority is enacted (differing local standards of leeway for heterodoxy).

  18. All good comments (#4 and following). After reading what you all wrote, I’m inclined to think that it is the threat posed by the intellectually ousted that brings upon them such ire.

  19. angrymormonliberal: I didn’t mean the child-molestor analogy as it probably came across, I was just thinking of the two points that have been articulated by others more clearly: the threat members feel and the “sinning against greater light” that smallaxe has explained nicely (a third, related point, was simply that it’s hard for most members to identify with intellectual apostasy so they are less forgiving—the reasons for this I think are complex and intriguing, and basically the heart of this post; perhaps think of another analogy aobut Christ talking compassionately regarding “moral sinners” but pretty much always critical of Pharisees would be enlightening, but then I’d probalby just be digging myself into a deeper hole!).

  20. My personal feeling (and my experience in the church) closely mirrors my gay cousin’s attempt to define his identity in the church. It’s as if a fundamental part of you is viewed as wrong. Indeed, you come to see it as wrong if you stay in that cultural environment long enough.

    You know, I find the Pharisee analogy interesting. The Pharisees where the establishment. They were the political power of the day. They were the religious leaders. They defined the ‘earring rules’ the ‘R-Rated movie rules’ and the ‘no beards at BYU’ equivalents of the day.

    So, the intellectual dissent in the Church is not the Pharisees. Their more like the Essenes, Manicians, the Gnostics. This dosn’t make them better, saner or more ‘right’ in any way. There’s a fond statement in the DAMU, “Heresy is the lifeblood of religions. It is faith that begets heretics. There are no heresies in a dead religion.”

    The heretics, the dissenters are the people who the church (intentionally or not) is not reaching. (Which of course explains the Fundamentalists, a far more numerous kind of excommunicant)

  21. I’ve noted that frequently intellectual dissent is frequently viewed as a manifestation of the sin of pride. I’m not denying that this might well be the case in various situations, but I think that viewing cases of apostasy solely through that lens is too narrow an approach. It leads to the situation alluded to by many of these comments in which dissenters are viewed in a different category because of a perception that they are unwilling to humble themselves and admit to their sin. In other words, the only way to be welcomed back to the community is to follow the narrative of renouncing one’s pride. And I see this as a problem because while all of us (whatever our relation to the Church) could likely stand to do a better job of giving up our pride and being humble, I’m not convinced that the only conceivable reason one might choose to dissent from Church teachings is because one is excessively prideful.

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