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LDS Deconversion is a process, Irr DisG indicates

April 7, 2009

I read what seemed to be the most OBVIOUS article ever the other day about LDS conversion being a process instead of a one-time thing. What seemed to jump out at me from the article (which was so apparent) was that the article describes conversion to the church as being a process of socialization. Now, socialization happens with any organization, any social institution, etc., So, it’s well known what its parts are…but isn’t it interesting…because we use a different word — “conversion” — with different connotations (those of being religious, highly spiritual, mystical even), we sometimes fail to realize that sometimes, these things have very human, social cycles.

In fact, as I was reading the article, it seemed to me that I could write an article about LDS deconversion using the same framework.

It’s not easy to learn a new culture, doctrine and terminology — just ask new converts out of the LDS Church — one of whom was disappointed to learn that many of the notions about the alleged sinfulness of ‘the world’ didn’t actually lead to massive displeasure. Or the one who showed up in tears convinced that no non-Mormon man would want to marry her because she once was one of those kooky Mormons.

“There is a process of acculturation (for new deconverts),” said Andrew S, blogger and armchair philosopher at Irresistible (Dis)Grace. “Deconversion doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process.”

“The new deconvert ends up in an internal struggle to understand their identity,” said Andrew S, blogger and armchair philosopher at Irresistible (Dis)Grace.

New deconverts face many struggles as they adopt a new culture and way of life, according to the study. Many end up feeling like they do not belong anywhere, neither to the new non-LDS culture nor to their previous belieiving culture.

“Maybe we should have a club for ex-Mormons so we can all have a place to go,” said one deconvert in the study when talking to a friend about the sense of belonging nowhere.

Some converts are rejected by their family for their decision to deconvert, said Andrew S.

“They sometimes have to choose between the approval of their family, intergenerational attachments and traditions,” she said.

According to the study, ex-members and non-members can help new deconverts by being more open and by giving love and acceptance to them, especially as they struggle to learn the way the outside world works and learn the difference between what the church said about ‘the world’ and how the world actually is.

“Love and acceptance is critical. We’re all deconverts,” said Andrew S. “Having never been a member of the church or having been a nonbeliever for longer periods of time doesn’t mean that our experiences have any more validity than those of the new deconvert.”

I like this, of course. I wrote about it a bit in my article about culture, national vs. religious. And it’s been a common thread throughout this blog, but many members think that if someone leaves the church, they should immediately “leave it alone.” However, this is not a one-time event. One has to essentially learn new habits (or unlearn the old ones), change old expectations and explanations about the “world” with how people in the world actually live (oh, wow, so people who drink, for example, aren’t all raging abusive alcoholics!)

And sometimes, one never does seem to be in one place or another. After all, as an ex-mormon, you always have the experience of being a Mormon. You always know the language (but you probably won’t fit in with other believers because you don’t believe). So, you know too much and you act too strangely to be a general non-member, but you act too unorthodoxly to be a good member and keep your personal integrity.

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  1. Andrew, I view “full conversion” as having two parts: theological (a conversion to the core principles and truth claims of the Restored Gospel, understood in whatever way makes sense to each individual and focused at the global, hierarchical, conceptual level) AND social (conversion to the “Church”, primarily at the local, practical level). If one isn’t converted to both, it is easier for the one lacking to override the one gained – IF the discomfort for the one is stronger than the passion for the other. Conversely, if the conversion to either is strong enough, it can override the relative weakness of the other.

    Frankly, I believe our greatest failure as a church lies in our focus on one over the other as the primary conversion – and allowing the theological to be enough for baptism, when the theological is the easier of the two to see weaken. I’m NOT saying we should socialize fully, baptize, then teach; I’m saying we should do BOTH adequately before baptism – unless one is so strong as to be undeniable.

    I know I just weakened my position in a way with that exception, but I do believe there are some theological AND social conversions that are strong enough to warrant baptism on their own – as long as everyone understands what is going on, is open about it with the new member and immediately sets about to address the lacking area.

  2. so, wait…someone who believes in the Gospel, but does not believe in the church (which might be a sizable subset, if the internet is to be beleived at all) is not “fully converted”?

    It seems like the church focuses on the theological aspect of baptism because when you want to talk about conversion as a spiritual activity, that is the core. When you talk about conversion as a sociological activity (from the social aspect), then it really has no differences from any other socialization process.

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