Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a person who has been a member in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chooses to leave the Church. Common reasons for leaving the Church include suffering an offense caused by another member (often without the offender even realizing it), choosing a lifestyle that differs from the standards of the Church, marrying someone of another faith, or just simply drifting away from activity. Termed “ex-Mormons,” or “ExMormons” by some, including themselves, the Church has but one view towards them: one of love and open arms when and if the former member returns to full fellowship in the Church. Even if a member of the Church is excommunicated for behavior which opposes the Savior’s teachings, the attitude of Church leaders is one of love and support, encouraging that person to repent of his or her sins and seek a return of all the blessings that are offered to all faithful members.
When an Ex-Mormon Becomes Anti-Mormon
Most ex-Mormons still have a fondness for the Church and its teachings, and maintain a spiritual connection, even though they don’t attend church or serve in a calling in the Church (the Church of Jesus Christ has a lay clergy, so all active members serve in some capacity). A number of celebrities fit this category; they were raised members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but drifted away (Katherine Heigl, Amy Adams). However, a few ex-Mormons become anti-Mormon, hardening their hearts against what they believed and practiced before.
When the Primitive Church of Jesus Christ was restored, the Lord gave several revelations warning His people against the dangers of apostasy. In the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says,
“And the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:14–15).
Early revelations given to Joseph Smith said that these would be “turned over to the buffetings of Satan” and even become his servants.
In the days of Joseph Smith, there were several instances of people who had been in good standing, even holding high leadership positions in the Church, who apostatized and turned against the Church and became anti-Mormon. One of the most notable and tragic instances was that of Thomas B. Marsh, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife while they were living in Far West, Missouri. Marsh’s wife had an agreement with another woman by the name of Harris to share their milk, taking turns receiving both portions, so each woman could make more cheese than would be possible with the milk from her own cow(s). However, Sister Marsh broke the agreement by keeping all of her own cream and sending only the milk to Sister Harris. When confronted, Sister Marsh took the matter to the bishop to be resolved. When he found in favor of Sister Harris, Thomas Marsh declared he would support his wife. They took the matter up the chain of command to the high council and then to the First Presidency. Each time, Sister Marsh was found in error. Thomas Marsh left the Church with his wife, and Marsh went before a government official to falsely declare that the Saints were hostile towards the government of Missouri. His statement went far in encouraging Governor Boggs to issue his extermination order, which drove the Saints from the state of Missouri, with all of the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed (see Lesson 24: “Be Not Deceived, but Continue in Steadfastness”, Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 134).
Another instance of an anti-Mormon concerned a man by the name of Symonds Ryder, whose name was spelled incorrectly in a revelation Joseph Smith received to extend an assignment to him. Ryder became convinced that the Spirit of God, through which Joseph received revelation, would not have spelled his name wrong; thus, he concluded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could not be true. Ryder later led the mob that dragged Joseph and Sidney Rigdon from their homes in the middle of the night to tar and feather them.
Other ExMormons, those who left the Church and became anti-Mormon, fought against the Church and testified falsely to the government that Joseph and the Saints had committed crimes and that they were hostile towards the government, neither of which was true. These accusations caused increased persecution towards the Saints, and culminated in their being driven unjustly from the state of Missouri. The accusations towards Joseph ended in his murder and the murder of his brother Hyrum.
Those who leave the Church and become anti-Mormon are seldom content to let things lie. Elder Bruce R. McConkie remarked, “If apostasy enters [a person's mind] and the spiritual light turns to darkness, ‘how great is that darkness!’” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p116). Those who have had the light of the gospel in their minds and then reject it are often filled with anger and resentment. These people often find it easier to justify their actions and ease their consciences by finding fault in what they have left behind, whether in leaders or doctrines, and are not content until they openly fight against it.
Still, there are those who leave the Church for other reasons who do not hold any animosity towards the Church. While there is a difference between exMormon and anti-Mormon, any who wish to return to the Church are welcome to do so, as long as they repent of any sins they need to repent of. This does not mean that members of the Church who remain faithful are sinless; quite the contrary. All of us make mistakes and need the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives, but those who have become disaffected from the Church sometimes need a longer repentance process to return to full fellowship. True, complete forgiveness requires complete humility, no matter what sin a person has committed and regardless of his or her standing in the Church.