Why I Left Mormonism(the church of jesus christ of latter day saints)

My thoughts and experiences

Derek McDaniel
5 min readDec 5, 2017

When I first left the Mormon faith, I had a new outlook on life.
I was hopeful, excited, and optimistic. A faith transition can be very difficult; it is not easy to realize you have been wrong about a core belief your whole life. But I was resolved and committed. My beliefs had to change, because I knew it was the right thing to do — I needed to be honest with myself. I could not make excuses, just to keep doing what was comfortable. It felt like a great burden was lifted from me.

Six years ago, in the fall of 2011, I stopped attending church. I was a student at BYU. At the time, I actually mostly believed or wanted to believe, but I knew it would be intellectually dishonest to not give the alternative a fair chance. LDS church membership immerses you in a vibrant community, and the beliefs any of us espouse are strongly influenced by the people around us. In order to fairly evaluate the possibility the church was “untrue”, I needed to take some time away.

After I stopped attending, it became abundantly clear, that the things I loved about the church, had nothing to do with the beliefs the church taught or the claims it made, and which it expected us as members to support and defend. The process of observing religious practices, repeating rituals, and most of all, embracing core beliefs with your heart and actions, is very powerful. I think it’s something that’s easy for us to connect with, and we end up building our lives around it.

I distinctly remember telling myself, “Do I have to pray to know the church is true? No! It is perfectly okay to avoid that question.” Just because I had been taught and accepted these ideas, that didn’t obligate me to continue believing, or have a definitive opinion either way.

Despite countless positive and important life experiences in the church, I felt strongly that these decisions had been forced on me unfairly, using inappropriate and abusive tactics. What we are expected to believe and commit to as members of the church, I realized, is not a small thing to ask.

This was years after my first disorienting experience as a church member, when I attended the temple the first time. I felt I knew what the church was, I knew what it was about, and it was a part of me. I was wholly committed. But going through the temple, doing the rituals, repeating the vows, making the signs, wearing the clothes, watching the movie, giving the handshakes, I was lost and confused. I looked at my Dad next to me and my Mom on the other side of the theater. I wanted to scream in my head “What are they doing? What is this? Where did this come from?”

While that was a jarring experience, it was brief, and I quickly got past it. It was not hard to keep being devoted member. After I got my mission call I would listen to the Book of Mormon in Spanish and memorize verses, as I had done before in German. I still recall how, during my first job, while still in high school, I would recite verses in my head as fronted groceries in Allen’s:

“Ich will hingehen und dass tun, was der Herr geboten hat, denn ich weiß das der Herr den Menschenkindern keine geboten gibt, ohne ihnen einen Weg vorzubereiten, was er ihnen geboten hat.”

Now I had to memorize that in spanish, which I actually can’t recall at the moment. I would listen to audio when I used my family’s third car, and I would make notes on a polyglot printout of the Book of Mormon that I studied before bed most nights.

It’s easy to get lost in the process of being a church member, there is always something to do, which makes participating in church feel important and it makes you feel valued. But in reality, it is very alienating, from everyone else who does not practice the same things and the rest of society.

There are two main things, that the church asks you to embrace: a man named Joseph Smith, and a book called “The Book of Mormon”.

I’m done acting like it’s okay with me, that people in my life believe these things. While I recognize your autonomy to organize, and practice spirituality how you see fit, these two pillars, the man and the book(not the creation, fall, and the mystery of the atonement), are doing you real harm.

We have recently seen how men in public life can behave despicably and abuse the trust they are given. Let’s not have the source of our ideas about who we are, as people sharing this earth, rely on someone we didn’t know, who lived nearly 200 years ago, whose character we will never know first hand. They lived in a different time.

My decision to stop participating cost me a lot, and even though most things could’ve been easily replaced in the time since I left, I had a poor understanding of the challenges of finding a place in society, and the importance of the community and relationships that I had previously relied on.

Most of my struggle to be a functioning adult isn’t directly related to the church or my transition, but whereas I was hopeful and excited when I first left, I’ve become discouraged and confused. I’ve learned that employment is a precarious privilege in modern society, and that our relationships and position in society do not come easily or for free.

For those of you who still feel, as I did, that the church is a valuable and beneficial force in your life, I would encourage you to ask yourself “What would I be without the church, or what would I lose if I left?” Perhaps what you see as benefits, are also punishments for leaving. I find a lot of courage and strength in the stories that celebrity actress Leah Remini has shared about leaving scientology, and while that organization is clearly abusive and nefarious, it has more in common with the LDS church and Mormon religion than you might think.