No Prodigal Son: A young man who stopped believing Mormon teachings is rejected by his parents

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Austin cropped

Last weekend, I spoke at the annual ExMormon Foundation Conference. The organization supports those who have left, or been excommunicated from, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The “ExMo” conference is always held in “Mormon central,” or Salt Lake City. Many attendees came from Utah but I met people from all over the US.

The youngest attendee was a twenty-one-year-old man named Austin, a college undergraduate studying cognitive neuroscience in Houston, Texas. Austin grew up in the LDS Church and was an absolute believer until he entered his teenage years. When he was sixteen, he summoned up the courage to tell his parents that he could no longer believe Mormon doctrines. Despite the church’s proclamations about the importance of supportive families, Austin’s parents did what many Mormons do when a relative no longer believes—they emotionally disowned him.

I asked Austin about his story, which is one of both tragedy and hope.

 

HEIMLICH: What was it like for you growing up in the LDS Church?

AUSTIN: There was a lot of emphasis placed on living the commandments of Mormon doctrine and following the teachings of the prophet. Central to those ideas is serving a two-year mission (for men), to get married in the temple, and to have many children. These ideas were taught for as long as I can remember. To satisfy these goals, we had to adhere to strict moral guidelines. For example, drinking either coffee or tea is verboten. There is also a lot of sexual shaming in the church, such that members are taught to avoid sexual urges at all costs.

I seemed to take those teachings a lot more seriously than the other Mormons around me. I genuinely believed in following the scriptures of the church, and I felt a profound sense of guilt when I broke even a small rule. This became especially traumatic when I was going through puberty. Essentially, I was genuinely terrified of being attracted to a girl because I thought that attraction was the first step on the slippery slope to “sexual sin.” Even though I no longer believe in sexual sin today, that fear is something I still struggle with.

HEIMLICH: Did family life center around the church? How would you describe your parents’ religiosity and how did that affect how they interacted with you and your siblings?

AUSTIN: The church played a significant and central role in my family life. My father served in the local church leadership, as did my mother. I always thought that my mother was much more religious than my father, as she would always make time for the church, whereas he was slightly more distant from it. Since my mother was the one homeschooling us, she was always sure that we maintained a proper standing in the church, morally and spiritually. She always made sure that we completed the little “milestones,” such as “Gospel in Action and Duty to God.” This milestone requires children to memorize scriptures, the LDS articles of faith, and a few other things, while teenage men must perform community service and reach out to youth who are not very active in the church.

HEIMLICH: Were both your parents very devout believers?

AUSTIN: I think if it weren’t for my mother’s intense involvement in the church my father wouldn’t have been involved in the church at all. But even he went along with the church’s expectations of children. For example, perfection is something that is heavily emphasized in Mormonism, since the end goal is to become as perfect in this life as possible so that believers can then be fully “perfected” in the next. This belief of the afterlife actually affected my life as a child, because if I slacked off on doing chores, completing schoolwork, working in my Boy Scout group, or carrying out church-related activities, my parents would deride me and tell me that I was irresponsible, while ignoring past instances of when I successfully accomplished my tasks. It was as if I could do no good. To this day, I struggle with the belief that I am not living up to some unrealistic standard.

HEIMLICH: How young were you when you began to question whether what you were being taught about the belief system was the truth? Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you realized that you didn’t believe any of it or was it more like a slow drip-drip of doubt?

AUSTIN: My parents and I had a really close relationship until I stopped believing. I actually found myself questioning the teachings of the Mormon Church accidentally. I was about thirteen or fourteen and spending a lot of time on the Internet arguing with people on discussion boards about politics and other things. Inevitably, the subject would turn to religion and Mormonism came up. People were attacking the church that I believed in. I was determined to prove them wrong, so I ended up researching the history of the church. I didn’t realize that my search for “the truth” would end up proving myself wrong. When I stopped believing in Mormon theology, I was terrified of my family finding out. Given their emphasis on perfection, I didn’t think they would take it well, so I ended up hiding my true beliefs from them for the next two years. As these years passed, I grew more distant from my family.

HEIMLICH: When you were sixteen years old, you decided to be honest with your parents and let them know your feelings about the church’s teachings. That must have been a very vulnerable moment for you. How did they react? Did their reaction surprise you?

AUSTIN: When I was preparing myself to tell my parents that I no longer believed in the church’s teachings, I didn’t expect them to react well, but I was completely unprepared for the way they did react. I wanted to tell my mother first, since I felt I could better predict her reaction. She was absolutely shocked when I told her and asked me how I felt I could still be a good person without believing in the church. Later that week, both of my parents confronted me. My mother accused me of practicing satanic rituals, and they both told me that they would no longer love me nor consider me a part of their family if I didn’t believe in Mormonism. They also told me that I had to stay away from my siblings and ordered me to remain confined to my room. I obeyed, not wanting to further inflame the situation.

HEIMLICH: I can’t imagine what that must have been like, isolated in your room, knowing that your parents didn’t want to have anything to do with you.

AUSTIN: The situation was so traumatic, I can’t even remember just how many days it went on for. It could have been a week or two, but I honestly don’t have a sense of time for those moments. I was so incredibly shocked, so hurt, I didn’t know what to say. There I was, sixteen years old, hearing my parents plainly state that their love for me was conditional—that it hinged on me completely adopting their beliefs. After a while, I couldn’t withstand the pressure any longer, so I decided to lie to my family and pretend that I had renewed my faith in Mormonism. I lived this double life until I was eighteen.

HEIMLICH: You left home right after you graduated from high school. What was life like for you once you were on the outside?

AUSTIN: Life on the outside was both difficult and freeing. It was difficult because I had just left my home, my younger siblings who I love, and everything I was familiar with. My parents also did everything in their power to prevent me from leaving successfully, such as trying to alienate me from my friends outside the church by threatening to sue them. Fortunately, I did find some very good, caring, and generous people who were willing to look out for my wellbeing and who found a home for me. I maintained contact with my family via email for the next two years, but my parents were so verbally caustic that I had to cease contact.

Life on the outside has been freeing, because I can now live my life without the constraints of Mormonism. I can now live my life honestly and authentically. Despite the pain that I went through after leaving home, the past three years have been the happiest I have ever experienced. I have wonderful friends who accept me for who I am—unconditionally. There are still many wounds left to heal, but each year my life gets better.

HEIMLICH: How much do you attribute church teachings to the way your parents treated you when they found out you were not a believer? I wonder if some Mormons reading this will say, “His parents were not ‘true’ believers. No ‘real’ Mormon parents would do that to their offspring.”

AUSTIN: The Mormon Church implicitly and explicitly encourages Mormon families to alienate relatives who no longer believe. There are also similar messages about not doing so. Mormon doctrines are so contradictory that a member can take either a hardline stance or a fairly relaxed one and still feel devout, so I think the “true believer” label is a bit of a misnomer. Interestingly, I heard through the grapevine that some of the Mormons who knew my parents thought that their response to me leaving home was cruel. But I think these reactions are made at an individual level. How a given family responds depends on which parts of Mormon doctrine they listen to and take seriously. For example, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of ex-Mormons whose families have treated them with kindness. But I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting an even greater number of ex-Mormons whose families treated them horribly.

HEIMLICH: What kind of relationship (if any) do you have with your parents or other family members?

AUSTIN: My parents saw to it that I didn’t have a relationship with family members or friends by lying to them about why I left. For example, my parents said I left home because I was jealous of my younger siblings, or that I wanted to prove to everyone “how much of a man” I was. The last one particularly surprised me since the only thing I left with was a backpack filled with clothes and a duffle bag of books. I am hopeful though that I will one day reconnect with all of my siblings.

HEIMLICH: What kinds of changes do you think need to happen in the LDS Church to prevent other kids who have doubts or flat out don’t believe in the doctrines from suffering the same kind rejection from their parents and other difficulties? Or do you think that all religious organizations should be done away with?

AUSTIN: That’s a tricky question because of how conflicting a lot of Mormon teachings are. On one hand, the Mormon Church claims that it’s all about strengthening families. But on the other hand, Mormons who want to be considered worthy of entering the temple must state that they do not associate with “apostates” and that includes apostate family members. So, aside from a significant shift in doctrine and culture, I don’t think there is much that can be done to prevent others who leave the church from having similar experiences. I do think that religious organizations provide important social utilities, such as community and group identity, but I don’t think that theology is necessary to provide such benefits. I think that any tightly knit social organization can provide the same benefits that religious organizations do. And if they can do that without dogma and zealotry, all the better.

 

Are you someone who feels lost after having left or been rejected by the LDS community? Or are you still in the church and looking for a way out? If so, here are websites that offer support:

http://www.lifeaftermormonism.net/

http://exmormon.org/

http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/

https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/

And feel free to join my closed Child-Friendly Faith Facebook group.

Comments

  1. whoinventedfreeride@gmail.com says:

    Great interview. A courageous young man. I didn’t leave the church until I was in my 30s, but I can identify with much of Eldridge’s story.

    • I didn’t leave the church until late 20’s. This story reminds me of my two brothers, who were alienated when they decided not to be part of the faith. Its sad to see people rejected by the people that should love them the most; a silly subjective opinion on faith in a religious deity should never stand in the way.

      Forgiveness needs to be exercised on both sides, since you only have one family! Time may need to pass before reuniting, but I’m betting as fundamental parents age, they will have a change of heart, and want to be around their family. Hopefully grudges and hard feelings can be healed, and families can be reunited, despite varying religious beliefs.

  2. His last answer brings up another contradiction within Mormonism. The questions asked to determine the worthiness of members to enter the temple are sometimes ambiguous, and are not fully explained. The question about associating with apostates was originally meant to identify members who associate with polygamist groups. Over time that specific meaning has been lost. I’ve heard people interpret this question to mean everything from associating with the Democratic party to visiting other churches. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that some people have understood this question in a way which requires the shunning of friends and family. Church authorities do nothing to correct these interpretations.

    • Oliver,
      Thank you for this insight into the history of shunning and excommunication within the LDS Church. The threat of possible ostracizing is clearly a terrifying one for members, and so I don’t doubt that the church is better able to control members by not clarifying the original purpose.
      Janet

  3. I would give anything to have found out the truth at your age.

    • You have my empathy because I feel the same way; unfortunately, I wish I had some multi-million trust fund so if my parents threw me out of the house, I would still have money to rent a place, put clothes on my back, and food in my stomach.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    You made it! Good for you. I could have easily substituted Jehovah witness for Morman, took me 61 years to find out what you found out at 16. Wow! Witnesses are exactly the same as your treatment with some minor variations. Take Care

  5. Whilst I believe the church has dodgy history and current ‘strange’ practices I think this particular story is extreme. This to me is a case of bad parenting Vs religious background! I believe in living and let live through respect and appreciation of individuals and their inner souls, not their chosen lifestyle…..Perhaps if the world abolished the word religion there wouldn’t be so much hatred.

    • No, its really not that extreme. I’m Exmormon as well, and stories like Austins happen far too often within the Exmormon community. I myself fear that where Austin is now family situation wise, I will be in a few years.

  6. It is ironic that Mr. Eldridge sought to defend his organization by looking for the truth, and then he could no longer defend his organization when he learn the truth.

  7. JoAnn Anderson says:

    I knew this young man and his parents when he was young. I think that the journalist is portraying only one side of the story. I thought a true journalist would try to discover the truth and not strive for a sensational story at the expense of the truth. It is difficult when a child rejects the beliefs of his parents–but shunning, locking him in his room, oh my goodness. That did not happen. How could his father accuse him of stealing a car when the father was driving the car????? That doesn’t make sense. What about the other side of the story—- a young man who leaves home while his mother is in the hospital with a baby less than a day old, a young man who has no contact with parents who love him and care about him—a young man who turns his back on a sister and a brother who love him and a little sister he has never seen? What about that? There are two sides to this story and you are being told only one side. And for the record, I love this young man, I consider him a close family member, I would gladly welcome him with open arms, share emails with him, anything, just to know that he is OK. I am proud of the accomplishments he has made in college since he left home but I am disappointed in the way he is treating his parents and siblings.

    • Marshall says:

      ” a young man who leaves home while his mother is in the hospital with a baby less than a day old, a young man who has no contact with parents who love him and care about him”

      When parents abuse, neglect, minimize and attack a child in order to feel better about themselves, the child has every right to leave that situation. Abusive parents are not loving parents and do not deserve honor, respect or acknowledgement. If the abusive parents want to reconcile the relationship, the parent must take inventory of their abusive behaviors and step into therapy.

      As for your claims about what happened and didn’t, how would you know? Are you a member of the family that personally witnessed every moment of interaction? Are you a friend of the family? Did you know most narcissists construct a very different view of who they are to outsiders and are opposite within the family circle? Sounds like you could use some enlightenment about such behavior and conditions.

      “a young man who turns his back on a sister and a brother who love him and a little sister he has never seen? What about that? ”

      Estrangement is a survival tactic against parents and family dynamics that are hostile, violent, abusive and harmful. Again, you need to expand your comprehension of real life, abuse and how this stuff works.

    • I’ll have a public discussion with you, JoAnn, as one last attempt to see if we can perhaps have a chance at reconciliation. Also because I think getting the perspectives of outsiders would be helpful.

      To begin: “It is difficult when a child rejects the beliefs of his parents–but shunning, locking him in his room, oh my goodness. That did not happen.”

      I’m sorry, JoAnn, but you weren’t there. It’s really hard for me to understand this argument from you and a few others in the family, because none of you were present when these things happened. I’m also really interested in hearing exactly why it is you think I would fabricate these things.

      “What about the other side of the story—- a young man who leaves home while his mother is in the hospital with a baby less than a day old,”

      Yes, I did leave home while my mother was in the hospital, and I wish I could have left at another point. There were a number of reasons I left home at that time. I was scared because I was suicidal. They were going to enroll me and pay for classes at a community college close to home as quickly as possible and I felt trapped in their abusive home. I felt that I couldn’t leave home if they had already paid for classes at a school close to them. I felt I couldn’t get away. The decision I made may not have been “rational” or “good timing”, but I was committed to killing myself graduation night if I didn’t do something to get away.

      “a young man who has no contact with parents who love him and care about him”

      I have no contact with them because every action of theirs ever since I told them I was no longer Mormon has not demonstrated to me that they love and care about me at all. At this point I don’t feel that I need to write anymore, because you do not find it conceivable that they would be abusive towards me in the first place.

      “a young man who turns his back on a sister and a brother who love him and a little sister he has never seen?”

      Leaving my siblings behind (who I will not name here out of respect) hurts me to this day. You write with the subtle implication that I have no regard for them at all. I miss not seeing them grow up and being a part of their lives, and thinking about them is painful for me. I tried to have a dialog with my sister this past fall because she was interested in my side of the story. When I told her my side she ceased communication with me. At that point I realized it was pointless trying to have any dialog with my family.

      “And for the record, I love this young man, I consider him a close family member, I would gladly welcome him with open arms, share emails with him, anything, just to know that he is OK.”

      And I appreciate you being open to that. However, it’s very difficult for me to have a dialog with you when you approach the conversations with a perception of me as a liar and a hateful person. This is why I have stopped communicating with my parents and sister via email and this is why I have stopped communicating with you.

    • > I knew this young man and his parents when he was young.

      Do you know him now? If not, your statement is completely irrelevant.

      > It is difficult when a child rejects the beliefs of his parents

      Part of being a parent is letting go when your kid is an adult and allowing them to make their own decisions, even if you don’t agree with them. Seems like Austins parents, and my parents, for that matter, missed that memo.

      > but shunning, locking him in his room, oh my goodness

      Saying “my goodness” is right!! It’s horrible to treat your kid like crap cause they make different decisions.

      > a young man who has no contact with parents who love him and care about him

      A parent can SAY they love their kid all damn day, but if the parent doesn’t back up their claims with ACTION, then they are full of CRAP. My parents and siblings CLAIM they love me, but they treat my girlfriend of over 2.5 years like crap and pretty much pretend I’m still single. Does it sound like my parents really love me or respect me, JoAnn?

      > a young man who turns his back on a sister and a brother who love him and a little sister he has never seen?

      Don’t even try to paint this exmormon as being a heartless prick. First, remember again that assertions of love mean nothing if not backed up by ACTION. Second, why don’t you do some research about how establishing and enforcing boundaries works. You seem to think Austin is just doing this to be a jerk. Do you have any clue at all how hard it is to put distance between you and a family member to protect yourself? I’ll take your ignorant comments here as a fat NO. Let me tell you something: it frickin’ HURTS. I know from experience. I could fill up many pages about the painful interactions I’v’e had with my family, like Austin, and hundreds of other Exmormons could no doubt

      > There are two sides to this story and you are being told only one side.

      No, I am fully confident I know BOTH sides of the story, since I was born and raised Mormon, then left when I was 26, 3 years ago. I ask that you spend some (preferably more than some!!) time researching the Exmormon side of the story. Start by going to some of those links. I’m also happy to share more of my own experiences with you, so you can be better informed about all sides of the story.

      > I love this young man, I consider him a close family member, I would gladly welcome him with open arms, share emails with him, anything, just to know that he is OK.

      Do you REALLY love him? Do you love and respect him enough to accept that he makes different decisions than you do?

      > I am proud of the accomplishments he has made in college since he left home but I am disappointed in the way he is treating his parents and siblings.

      Perhaps you should be disappointed in his parents/siblings instead, as they are the ones who can’t seem to respect Austins right to choose his own path in life.

    • > I think that the journalist is portraying only one side of the story. I thought a true journalist would try to discover the truth and not strive for a sensational story at the expense of the truth.

      Yes, this piece only reflects Austin’s side of the story. That is the entire point of the post, to hear the perspective of the person that left the church, and how it affected them. This puts forth a personal, sensitive, very painful and traumatic experience that others going through the same thing would relate to. The author of the post is not sensationalizing anything, and it isn’t at the expense of the truth. This piece wasn’t used as a cover story anywhere to boost views, site hits, or anything else. Not only that, but she quotes Austin directly, not twisting what he said to make things sound worse than they were. She very clearly states that this is Austin’s story, and she presents the information he gave on the things that he went through. There is a local congregation, as well as an enormous religion full of people on the opposing side. If people want that perspective they don’t have to look very hard. Support for those that have had experiences like this are few and far between. It was a courageous thing for him to be willing to put this out there.

      > What about the other side of the story—- a young man who leaves home while his mother is in the hospital with a baby less than a day old, a young man who has no contact with parents who love him and care about him—a young man who turns his back on a sister and a brother who love him and a little sister he has never seen? What about that?

      Him leaving home while his mother was in the hospital with a newborn is irrelevant actually. As he stated in his reply, he did use this time to his advantage because he felt trapped. However, despite that fact, I fail to see how this relates to him or his leaving. Who is “sensationalizing” things now? If his mother had given birth a few months later, Austin would already have been gone. If it had been a few months earlier, he would have left home while his mother was home tending to a 2 month old. So what? Is Austin in some way responsible for the new born? Or is it that Austin is responsible for the OTHER siblings while the mother is having the new baby? In reality – NONE of that is accurate. He is not a parent, he is a sibling. Zero responsibility. As for turning his back on those siblings? Really? You say you knew him when he was young, and yet you seem to have no concept of how gut wrenching the decision would be for him, and the difficulty of life without those siblings he cared so deeply for. Or maybe you do, and you just have no sympathy for it because YOU only care about one side of the story – and quite obviously NOT his.

      > There are two sides to this story and you are being told only one side.

      You keep going on and on about there being two sides to the story. This is absolutely 100% true. However you are not any more impartial than the piece that was written, you just happen to adhere to the OTHER side of the story only. Again, there is plenty of support for that side of the story. Unfortunately, many of the things Austin experienced are limited to his family alone. THAT is the purpose here. So that others that have had these experiences, or are currently going through some of the same, know that they are not alone. Giving hope to those that feel hopeless is not a bad thing.

      > …but I am disappointed in the way he is treating his parents and siblings.

      He is not treating his parents or siblings in any negative way. Not having contact with them is not something being DONE TO them. It is something being done BECAUSE OF them. This is a heart breaking choice for anybody to have to make and live with. It is not some petulant silent treatment being done to them to get some desired outcome. It is a sad but necessary life choice in some cases, and obviously that applies here. Have some respect for the young man that has accomplished so much IN SPITE OF what he went through. Have some compassion for this young man that you consider “a close family member”. Don’t just say that you “would gladly welcome him with open arms”. At least try to understand what he has been through, how he feels, the difficult choices he had to make, and have some respect for that. Adding to the negativity with a public guilt trip doesn’t do any of that, and out of everything on this page that is the only thing I see that is truly disappointing.

  8. SallySeeTruth says:

    This young man doesn’t have his facts straight. His family did not emotionally disown him. Period

  9. It seems that neither side can provide evidence to either case. Seeing as how one side of the story is missing (and was not sought out), one can’t assume they know the entire situation precisely just because they had one experience with their own family. The things stated by Austin are sincerely different from the true events, but neither he or my family can prove differently. My intent for contacting my brother was to refresh memories that were dear to me that were jogged from other events, and that was plainly stated in my emails to him. I ceased communications with him because his verbal attacking of my family caused more and more pain and less focus on the things required of me. I reached out to him because I missed my brother, not because I wanted to hear him tell me how awful he thinks my parents are.
    Whichever story you desire to believe is dependent upon the individual, however many facts were neglected, and the whole truth will definitely not be put on thE Internet for everyone to see.

    • Megan, I’m sincerely interested in finding out how it is that you know more than I do about what our parents said and did to me. I am also interested in finding out exactly why you think I would fabricate such things.

      Furthermore, the content of our email correspondence this past fall did not consist entirely of me “verbally attacking” our parents. It is utterly unfair of you to paint the whole conversation we had together over those few weeks as being entirely me verbally attacking the family. What I did say was that I think that our parents are abusive based on their treatment of me. And, as I recall, and as my saved records of our emails is evidence of, we talked quite a bit about our childhood together and of our current interests, a conversation that I really enjoyed having with you. You eventually wanted to know my side of the story. I told you I was hesitant to tell you because I did not want to jeopardize the line of communication we had opened. At this point, you expressed that you did not want me to treat you like a child and to be honest with you. So that’s what I did. I gave you my side of the story and you cut me off.

    • > Seeing as how one side of the story is missing (and was not sought out)

      As Kat wrote, one side of the story is NOT missing from the article. As she posted already, <>

      I don’t think his intent in talking to you about your parents was ONLY to tell you how awful he thought they are. I think he loves you, and he wanted you to know what was going on in his head and WHY he was acting the way he did. I know that would be the case if I were to discuss my parents behavior with my own siblings.

      I don’t know if you really understand what “verbally attacking” means, Megan. If he were to call them raging scumbags, THAT is an attack. But if, for example, he said that your parents were “verbally caustic”, it’s NOT an attack.

      I don’t think that’s why you stopped talking to him either. I think you stopped talking to him because what he was saying made you feel uncomfortable and you didn’t want to think about the possibility that was he was saying might be true. I suggest you research the idea of cognitive dissonance.

  10. Marshall says:

    “. The things stated by Austin are sincerely different from the true events, but neither he or my family can prove differently.”

    I’m a survivor of parent-on-child abuse similar to what Austin endured. It is absolutely true that it can be proved. Its as simple as identifying the behaviors and demonstrating them for what they really are.

    ” I ceased communications with him because his verbal attacking of my family caused more and more pain and less focus on the things required of me. ”

    This is THE common response of family that happens to be the perpetrator in an abusive situation. When the abusers are called out on their behaviors, they retaliate with claims of being abused (because it hurts to be put in the honest position of being held accountable for behaviors). This actually validates his claims.

    “Many facts were neglected”. This is another tactic of abusers attempting to deflect and minimize their behaviors and actions and paint the victim as evil and wrong and incorrect.

    Looks like you need to take some time to really research and understand what abuse is, how it works, and see things as they genuinely are.

  11. Craig Norman says:

    Dear Austin:

    We plead with you to simply return to your family. I can assure you, they do not care who is right or wrong in this incident – they sincerely only want to again enjoy your love and association. As a member of their LDS congregation, we all simply hope for your return….not necessarily to our faith, but to a relationship with your parents, the brother and sister you remember, and the 3 year old baby sister it appears you do not yet know.

    Children do not come into life with an owner’s manual. LDS parents consider the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the best possible substitutes. Other Christians who may disagree with Latter-Day Saints on our belief in the Book of Mormon are, of course, entitled to their opinions. My own personal experience, however, is that before claiming we are not also Christians, they would do well to read both, cover to cover, and then give serious thought to the doctrines taught in both. We Latter-Day Saints grant unto all men and women the right to believe and live according to their own conscience, and we do not condemn anyone for their heart-felt beliefs – but we simply ask the same, in return, as regards to our belief that the Book of Mormon is simply another testament of Jesus Christ.

    I believe now is the right time in your life to do this, Austin, for one reason: You’re now an adult. Your interview with Janet Heimlich indicates you’re now college educated, and I believe you are 21. You need not fear that any of us will try to “re-convert” you, or that your parents will insist that you do anything against your will. I’ve never found them to be that way as I watch them interact with your siblings. I trust that your now being a mature adult will allow you to control your relationship with them in a way you prefer. I do know they are in pain – and I understand their pain exactly: My wife and I also have 4 children, all of whom have left our faith – 2 of them having had their names removed from Church records. Long ago we learned to love and appreciate any and all associations we have with them. Please give them the chance to show you what true unconditional love looks like – they long to do so, and I’m certain their home is open and welcomes the day you return – and on your own terms.

    • Mr. Norman,

      I have read the comments that have been posted to my blog with concerned interest. Part of me is glad for this debate, as I believe that it helps to educate people about issues that can affect family members in which different people believe different things. I have also been watchful, however, because I would not want anything that is published on my site to be triggering in any way, that is bring to the surface extreme fears or anxieties.

      I am very familiar with cases of sadness, depression, anxiety, and desperation that are experienced about someone has been rejected by their loves ones and community. I say this as a researcher and as someone who monitors a very large Facebook group which includes many survivors of religious child abuse and neglect. I don’t know just what relationship you have with Austin. Perhaps it is a very trusting one. But I am stepping in to voice my concern about your comments as I am very concerned about what kinds of difficulties it might pose to Austin or those who feel that they have been rejected by loved ones and their church community.

      It seems that you are coming from a generally good place — that you wish the best for this family and want them to heal. However, urging Austin in this very public way to take such a risky step as to “return to your family” is not responsible if you are truly concerned about his wellbeing. I would hope that you would come to terms with just what it is you are wanting to see happen, question just how much you know of Austin’s experiences in the past, and make sure that you are taking into account the fragility that comes from having experienced parental shunning. Austin may feel that my words are not necessary which would make me glad. However, I suspect that is not the case.

      I hope you are not offended by what I have written, but I feel the need to do so having seen how so many young people who choose a different path are subtly and not so subtly pressured to return to the nest. I’m sure that this will happen once the nest appears safe. From the comments I have received from family members and those that I have read in response to my blog post, I must question whether the nest appears to be a loving, accepting place and so should you.

      Janet Heimlich

      • Mr. Norman,

        That they do not care who is right or wrong in this incident is indicative of the problems in our family dynamic. That they do not care if I am right about whether they were abusive of me or not tells me that they do not care about my emotional well-being at all. Notice how none of my emotional needs are in this equation and that it is all about them.

        In your second paragraph you wrote about how Latter-Day Saints grant all people the right to believe and live according to their own conscience. I truly wish the same were true of my parents, because when I told them I no longer believed in the Mormon faith, they rejected me and emotionally abused me. Theirs is not a live and let live attitude.

        As for your third paragraph: yes, you are correct. I am a mature adult who can control my relationship with my family in a way that I prefer. And I have chosen to maintain no-contact with them because they do not acknowledge that I was emotionally abused by my parents and because they believe that I have fabricated the entire situation. I do not communicate with people who claim they can speak for my own experiences better than I can.

        I also do not appreciate you implying that I am responsible for this situation in some way. I acted to protect myself and it hurts to have my own self-defensive actions used against me. And, again, I am sincerely interested in finding out why exactly JoAnn, Megan, and you think that I would fabricate this entire situation. If it were true that my parents were not emotionally abusive of me and that they wholly accepted my not being Mormon, why would I leave?

    • Marshall says:

      Mr. Norman,

      I have some words for you.

      ” they sincerely only want to again enjoy your love and association”

      Have you considered what Austin wants? Have you pondered his position and experience?

      “I believe now is the right time in your life to do this” This is presumptuous and arrogant. You cannot know what is good for Austin. Only Austin can. Learn some boundaries, please. Its extremely disrespectful and harmful to assume you know better than others what they need for themselves.

      There’s one thing I’ve learned since exiting the mormon church: mormons and the church do know comprehend what love really is. They can’t since they believe obedience equals love (if ye love me, keep my commandments). This equation is not love. Its conformity and its people-pleasing. I recommend a book to you called “Real Love” by Greg Baer, who happens to be an ardent christian. I suspect that’ll open your eyes (if you’ll allow it) to how real love works.

      That said, I hope you sincerely step back and consider how insincere your post comes across. You’re not acting in behalf of Austin’s best interests. You’re operating with a mass of assumption and for others that victimized him. Encouraging a target of abuse to connect again to an abusive dynamic is frankly disgusting, enabling, and not christ-like.

    • Craig,

      You may mean well, but when you urge an Exmormon to just return to their family, it is painfully clear to me that you know jack squat about exmormon issues. I know that if someone from the ward I grew up in, and that my parents still attend wrote that to me it would NOT be well received at all. It appears that you are excusing all the screwed up crap his parents have done. And don’t even try to tell me all active Mormon families accept those who leave. I know from my own personal experience, as well as that of hundreds of stories written by my peers that it’s simply not true.

      I suggest you take some time to research Exmormon issues, THEN come back and talk to Austin.

    • Marshall says:

      ” We Latter-Day Saints grant unto all men and women the right to believe and live according to their own conscience, and we do not condemn anyone for their heart-felt beliefs – but we simply ask the same, in return, as regards to our belief that the Book of Mormon is simply another testament of Jesus Christ.”

      Wow, wow, wow. You do realize the church isn’t an authority over ANYONE but its members? Right? Mormons don’t hold any authority on what I or others may or may not do with their lives and their choices. This is one of the most agregous and delusional aspects of mormonism – that they hold the power to take away other people’s freedom and choices and choose not to. Lol. Gag.

      Just in-case you don’t understand what I’m talking about Mr. Norman, I’ll rephrase your statement above so you can. “I, Marshall, grant Mr. Norman the right to to worship as a mormon and his mormon god. All I ask in return is that they let me do what I choose because I know mormons persecute and cut down those that disagree with them.”

      Seriously, Mr. Norman, mormons are not persecuted. You’re not being prevented from practicing your religion and disagreement doesn’t constitute persecution.

    • Well Mr. Norman… have a seat, because I have much to say to you, and this may take a while.

      > “We plead with you to simply return to your family.”

      When you say “We”, of whom do you speak? The congregation/ward, the church as a whole? Or do you speak for the offenders in some official capacity? Yes I say offenders, and I mean that quite literally, because they hurt and offend. I’m sure they come cry to you as…what? Home teacher or Bishop – maybe just one of the bishopric counselors? … And because they put up such an upstanding front for the church, you cannot possibly believe that they are anything near what has been portrayed by what they claim is the son that has so cruelly caused THEM such heart break and misery. I mean, they pay a full tithe I bet, and temple recommend holders too, blah blah blah. Am I close? You are being manipulated. Which seems more logical: Austin has something to gain by fabricating this entire thing – or his parents have something to gain by hiding it? Oh, wait – not just hiding it. They are also calling on others to help them publicly guilt and shame Austin, and “help clear [their] good name”? In what way has Austin benefited during this entire situation? By leaving home with nothing, enduring added stress and burden of being on his own so young, having to find work while going to school to cover some of his necessities… All while reeling over the tremendous loss. Despite what his parents did, and continued to do – I can say for certain that there was a sense of loss felt, a feeling like the world was spinning backwards. Would you like to know how I can say such things? Because like Austin, I had to leave home at an extremely young age. In fact I was still in high school. Like Austin, I tried to find some way to keep in contact for a while, and like Austin – there had to come a point where my sanity and well being came before what is the expected NORM of having a relationship with the person that was my abuser – my mother. She begged her bishop to “talk some sense” into me. He also plead with me to return home, on her behalf, much like you are doing here. Do you know why she did this? Not because she cared one spec for me. But because it doesn’t look good when one of your kids goes missing from the ward so suddenly, and people know that child has left home under less than stellar circumstances. For my own mother, the appearance of being caring was much easier to maintain than the actual act of caring. Before you state that these things happen in the heat of emotions, and that during “youth” life altering decisions can’t possibly be made and taken seriously… I have had no contact with my own mother for over a decade – by my choice. Over the years I have earnestly given thought (and yes there were even times back in the day when I prayed over it) and every single time I came away with the same confirmation. Sad as it may seem to those that don’t know, it is absolutely the right decision for me. So whatever song and dance you have gotten, and will get periodically as time goes on I’m sure, remember that this is being done simply to aid in the appearance of “righteousness”. Nothing more. As Austin and others have stated – if Austin’s parents truly cared, then their ACTIONS would be entirely different than they are and have been. Actions speak louder than words – because words mean nothing when they are insincere or false. For one thing, I don’t hear any accountability from them for their part in this. Humility means having to come to terms with your shortcomings, and admit it. Repentance means having to (again) admit what you have done and sincerely apologize to those you have wronged, then seek to do better. None of that happens when you send people to publicly attack and guilt your child on the internet.

      > “As a member of their LDS congregation, we all simply hope for your return….not necessarily to our faith, but to a relationship with your parents, the brother and sister you remember, and the 3 year old baby sister it appears you do not yet know.”

      Why? In what way does the congregation have any investment in his return to a relationship with his parents and siblings? In what way is it any of their, or your business? If some person you didn’t know told you how to raise your children – someone that you had zero personal investment with (so not a member of the general authorities) you would come unglued. Say, for example, they told you it is now required that you sell your children into bondage and give the money to the first homeless person that you see. No? Not going for it? Ok fine, not required… I mean you are NOW an adult and all Mr. Norman. Alright, I’ll just say it is simply hoped for and strongly encouraged. How about now? No? But why? Because you don’t want your children harmed AND because I have no business telling you what to do with your family? Also because such a suggestion is ludicrous? Suggesting and encouraging that someone abused return to their abuser is just as ludicrous. Abuse happens in many forms, and not all of them are as easy to see as broken bones and bruises. People are not going to claim abuse and then subject themselves to years of hardship to gain sympathy, or whatever other flimsy reason you think is behind what you assume is a fabrication. Not only that, but can I just say how sick I am of seeing the siblings being dangled like a carrot? Once upon a time, I was that carrot in my own abusive household – and it upset me incredibly. Later, the table turned and I had the carrot dangled for me as well with my younger siblings. At some point the rabbit learns not to eat the carrot you offer, when he realizes you are just going to punt him like he’s a football. The rabbit didn’t die – but it hurt like hell, so he learned. Doesn’t that seem so wrong to you? Any of you? Using the siblings as bait, how despicable.

      > “Children do not come into life with an owner’s manual. LDS parents consider the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the best possible substitutes. Other Christians who may disagree with Latter-Day Saints on our belief in the Book of Mormon are, of course, entitled to their opinions. My own personal experience, however, is that before claiming we are not also Christians, they would do well to read both, cover to cover, and then give serious thought to the doctrines taught in both. We Latter-Day Saints grant unto all men and women the right to believe and live according to their own conscience, and we do not condemn anyone for their heart-felt beliefs – but we simply ask the same, in return, as regards to our belief that the Book of Mormon is simply another testament of Jesus Christ.”

      What the hell is this drivel all about? Nobody said anything about mormons not being christian or any of your other babbling on. The lion’s share of the problem in this case is not the church itself. If you want to debate that topic – you will find many willing participants, but that probably belongs on another website. The problem being discussed in this case is abuse. Yes – there are a number of people that are part of the mormon religion, just as there are of other faiths, that do just fine raising their children without abuse. Abuse and being mormon are not mutually exclusive. However, that doesn’t mean that there is never abuse in the mormon religion either. Even in the book of mormon it will tell you that “satan” can and will disguise himself cleverly to bring down the righteous. Therefore, if you believe in the mormon church and satan (which I do not, but that is beside the point), then you have to concede that there are occurrences within it that contain “evil”. Even if it is only a few members here and there – it exists. I am not saying his parents are evil – I can’t because I don’t believe in it. I am simply trying to get you to consider the fact that they may not be as perfect and faultless as they claim, by remembering a teaching of your own.

      > “I believe now is the right time in your life to do this, Austin, for one reason: You’re now an adult. Your interview with Janet Heimlich indicates you’re now college educated, and I believe you are 21.”

      Well good for you for believing that it is the right time for Austin to do what you tell him to do. You can believe that all day long. However it isn’t your life, and it is not any of your business. Not only that – but in case you forgot… Legally in the US people are considered adults at age 18. Not age 21. At age 18 Austin was old enough to serve in the military and die for his country, so being the fact that he is 21 as you so cleverly pointed out… He has been an adult for 3 years. Hey, how about that. That is the same amount of time that he has been away from home. Well what do you know?! He made that decision all on his own… AS AN ADULT.

      > “You need not fear that any of us will try to “re-convert” you, or that your parents will insist that you do anything against your will. I’ve never found them to be that way as I watch them interact with your siblings.”

      Hmm… and just how much do you watch Austin’s parents interact with his siblings? Do you have secret hidden cameras in their home to catch any and every conceivable show of manipulation and abuse? You must to speak with such certainty. Let’s que that up… I’ll get the popcorn. No? Oh. Well, I’m sure you see I have made a joke here. Playing off what had to have been a joke you were making of your own. I mean seriously. What abuser shows their true self out in public, especially on a regular basis? Abuse is always hidden. Always.

      > “I trust that your now being a mature adult will allow you to control your relationship with them in a way you prefer.”

      He already is controlling his relationship with them in a way he prefers – by not having one. Wow. That one was easy. NEXT.

      > “I do know they are in pain – and I understand their pain exactly: My wife and I also have 4 children, all of whom have left our faith – 2 of them having had their names removed from Church records. Long ago we learned to love and appreciate any and all associations we have with them. Please give them the chance to show you what true unconditional love looks like – they long to do so, and I’m certain their home is open and welcomes the day you return – and on your own terms”

      I sincerely am glad for you, and that you learned to love and appreciate your children that left the church. Knowing that they matter to you more than your belief system is probably extremely comforting for them. However, I would be willing to bet that your relationships with them did not blossom based on repeated belittling and being guilted publicly on the internet. As much as you are trying to come from a place of good, trying to encourage the healing of this family… Realize that healing cannot take place where all parties involved are not ready and willing. Take that however you would like, which is probably to assume that I mean Austin is not ready or willing. However – the entire goings on of posts from parental sympathizers only goes to prove that they are not ready and willing on their part. If they had any conceivable notion of what hurt they already caused, and if they truly wanted reconciliation and healing, then they would realize (and so should you) that it isn’t something forced. Just as you can’t push a wound shut that needs stitches, and expect it to stay – you can’t push this situation either. Above all, as hard as it may be to conceive of, understanding that healing may only happen separately is going to need to occur. Healing may never ever mean reuniting. I know that no matter what I or any other person here has/will say – those of you on the side of “the parents” will likely never sway. Which is fine, we all don’t have to agree. However, why do you insist on helping keep the wounds hurting? Why rub salt in? Let the healing happen, and quit picking the scabs.

  12. Susan McGraw says:

    Now I understand why you were so careful about what you said to me when I would occasionally drive you to work. If you trust me to keep your confidence I would love to hear from you. I always thought you were a good kid! That hasn’t changed. Whether you contact me or not, I wish you all the best. Stay strong.

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