People do indeed leave the Mormon Church (correctly called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and they leave the Church for many reasons. They may end up in many doctrinal places. Some become atheists or agnostic. Some join other churches. And some, often those who leave the Mormon Church and feel a bitter opposition to it, call themselves ex-Mormons.
Some ex-Mormons are actively anti-Mormon, and their presence is especially notable on the internet. Ed Decker’s organization is probably the most famous “ex-Mormon that is also anti-Mormon” group. His organization goes by several names – “Recovery from Mormonism,” “Saints Alive,” and “Ex-Mormons for Jesus.” Decker was excommunicated from the Mormon Church in 1976.
The attacks he makes against it are sensationalist enough to be condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. Decker’s language is hyperbolic, exaggerated, and the claims he makes to further his cause have no evidence or basis. Because of his excesses, other ex-Mormons and critics of the Mormon religion reject his conclusions and his style, but he’s not without some influence online, still.
Many bloggers who describe themselves as ex-Mormons also describe themselves as secular humanists. They’ve rejected belief in God entirely. Their attacks tend to focus on what they perceive as the greatest problems with the Mormon Church, such as some kind of enforced conformity that denies freedom of thought to its members. Or hypocrisy – for some ex-Mormon critics will see any sign of weakness among Mormon leaders or members as hypocrisy. If anyone with any authority, or anyone who purports to be trying to live the gospel, makes a mistake, some critics will pounce on it as proof that Mormons don’t practice what they preach.
Ex-Mormons may also claim to have been tricked by the Mormon Church, or that the Church lied to them and brainwashed them. They may claim to be too intelligent to believe those beliefs of Mormonism any more and that those who do believe can’t or won’t deal with reality. Or, they may claim that the leaders of the Mormon Church lust after power – they may go so far as to claim that the Mormon faith is a cult or a conspiracy.
The Mormon Church never promises that whoever joins it will immediately become perfect, or that everyone that you run into will be perfect, or that only perfect people become leaders in the Church. No. The Church is full of imperfect people – only one perfect person walked the earth, Jesus Christ. And failures are inevitable when standards are high. The goal is to repent of sin and keep striving to be better – and everyone is going through that same process.
Mormons hold a wide variety of political beliefs, jobs, hobbies, and interests. They disagree with other members on many personal matters.Some ex-Mormons accuse the Church, its members, or Mormon missionaries of lying to them, instead of showing them the “truth” about Mormon doctrine. Mormon doctrine is published widely (although those books officially published by the Church are more likely to be accurate).
Additionally, people part of the Church, or investigating it, are encouraged to ask questions about any concerns they might have. Beyond that, no one is forced to remain a Mormon after becoming one. This would appear to be obvious. If the Mormons were really interested in silencing critics, they would be pretty bad at doing it. There are, after all, plenty of ex-Mormon voices out there.
But why are ex-Mormons so very angry at the Mormon Church? It may be that although members can leave the Church at any time, leaving a community (especially if it’s one you grew up in) is always difficult. Former members may leave behind a whole set of religious traditions and religious culture and strain ties with family and friends. Leaving Mormonism can make one feel alone, after all the tight ties Mormonism promotes are no longer as present. And while Mormons are supposed to be tolerant of others, they don’t accept things that they see as sin as not sin. Someone leaving the Church because they want to do something that the Church doesn’t allow may feel further uncomfortable.
In closing, people do leave the Church – the Church isn’t comfortable for everyone. They may take issue with Mormon theology, they may have been offended by other members, they may want to behave in ways not allowed by the Mormon Church. However, the anti-Mormon ex-Mormons are not the best source for information on the Mormon Church as they often distort its teachings.
Another factor is one that might not be so obvious. Joseph Smith claimed that a person sinning and trying also to maintain church membership, will soon leave the faith and become an enemy to the faith. He explained that once a person has had a witness from the Holy Ghost that the Church is true, he must remain faithful or fall from grace. Once a person leaves the Church, he is spiritually unable to remain lukewarm. Once, a man said to Joseph, “If I should leave this Church, I would not do as those men have done: I would go to some remote place where Mormonism had never been heard of, settle down, and no one would ever learn that I knew anything about it.”
Joseph Smith replied, “Brother Behunin, you don’t know what you would do. No doubt those men once thought as you do. Before you joined this Church, you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposing masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church, you enlisted to serve God. When you did that, you left neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant (Daniel Tyler, in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, Aug. 15, 1892, pp. 491-92).