For entirely understandable reasons, the recent LDS General Conference received broad media coverage in Utah, and saturation coverage in the LDS-owned Deseret News and KSL Channel 5. No sensible person would complain about that; after all, the state remains two-thirds LDS, making the LDS Conference, which attracts international visitors, a uniquely newsworthy event.
Yet there's another related conference being held in Salt Lake City on October 9-11, 2009 which is receiving absolutely NO media coverage as of this post. The Ex-Mormon Foundation is holding their annual conference. Themed "No Price Too High", it begins late on Friday October 9th with a social hour and a welcoming speech, then continues through October 10th and 11th with a series of speeches by other notables in the ex-Mormon world. In reviewing the agenda and the bios of the speakers, it appears this conference is designed to promote responsible discourse and dialogue rather than to be a "bashfest".
The conference is taking place in the Embassy Suites Hotel located at 110 West 600 South in Salt Lake City. One of the speakers, Peter Danzig, has previously been discussed on this blog. Peter and his wife Mary are former LDS members who resigned from the Church after Peter allegedly was threatened repeatedly with excommunication for his views on homosexuality and the lack of protections against ecclesiastical abuse within the LDS church. Prior to their resignation from the LDS Church they both served full time proselytizing missions and were founding members of the Orchestra at Temple Square, performing in that calling for seven years.
Another speaker of note is Charles M. Larson, a former LDS member for approximately 10 years who attended BYU and married his wife in a temple. Larson will be talking about “Challenging the Anti-Mormon Label...". Many LDS automatically equivocate Ex-Mormon with Anti-Mormon, but the two labels are not necessarily synonymous. Hopefully Larson will put forth ideas on how ex-Mormons can avoid becoming anti-Mormon; both sides incur an equal obligation to keep the lines of communication open.
Perhaps what is needed is an operational definition of "anti-Mormon" that is fair and flexible. A person who legitimately criticizes the Church, its doctrines, and its practices, without resorting to inflammatory name-calling and relying disproportionately on hate sources such as Ed Decker, should not be considered anti-Mormon. But when a critic crosses the line and starts using terms like "the Morg" and "cult" and "un-Christian", it's at this point where they can be considered anti-Mormon.
Many of us who are Latter-day Saints ask "Why can't these people simply go their way and leave the Church alone?". There are three reasons why this can be difficult for ex-Mormons. First, many experience a sense of personal betrayal. They over-react when they read unsanctioned literature which questions the actions of Joseph Smith or the origins of the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price. Instead of accepting such "imperfections" as part of the mortal process, they allow them to re-define their perspective. To better understand how these people think, visit PostMormon.org and read the posts on their forums. The moderators strive to keep the criticism within reasonable bounds.
Second, ex-Mormons who come from families who are mostly Mormon feel a sense of isolation at family gatherings. Since Mormon families tend to talk extensively about Mormon experiences, the ex-Mormon can feel left out. And sometimes well-intentioned Mormon relatives will nag the ex-Mormon about leaving the Church. This supplements isolation with anger and resentment.
Third, being an active Mormon consumes a disproportionate amount of time. Consequently, when one leaves the LDS Church, that frees up a considerable amount of time. The ex-Mormon's social life may suddenly contract catastrophically. This can mean a painful adjustment for an ex-Mormon until he or she finds a new social network.
Ex-Mormons need to better respect the right of their loved ones and friends to remain in the Church. In return, we as Latter-day Saints must respect the right of ex-Mormons to go their separate ways and find a different form of religious expression, while at the same time NOT accepting abusive behavior by anti-Mormons. Let the Spirit be our guide.