When asked what an ExMormon actually is, two Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the misnamed “Mormon Church” is officially known) responded with the following statements.
It is my opinion that an ExMormon is a person who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for reasons that may be personal or as a result of action taken by a priesthood court. Personal reasons could range from simple disbelief in church doctrine and abandonment of the Mormon lifestyle without taking official action, to asking that one’s membership records be removed from the records of the church.
Another case that could make a person an ExMormon would be if he or she has previously made sacred commitments to live certain standards and then broken those commitments. If a person has been determined by a priesthood court to be unrepentant of infidelity, child molestation, or other serious sins, they may be excommunicated. but only after the situation has been reviewed by a group of worthy men who pray for guidance and have the individual’s best interest at heart.
Each case where an individual has to go through this process is treated with the utmost kindness and love. The church does not want to have a church member become an ex-Mormon. Priesthood leaders are counseled to use everything possible to love, understand, and to forgive anything that a person may have done to help that person remain in the church. If, however, a person remains unrepentant or antagonistic in his or her actions against the doctrine of the church, then he/she may become an ExMormon.
To join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you meet with missionaries, then get baptized and confirmed. This, and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all that is required for membership. Yes there are more details than that, but that’s for another discussion.
If a person wishes to leave the Church, all he has to do is request that his name is removed from the records of the Church. Others who become disaffected simply stop going to church and living the standards of the Church. While they are technically and officially still members, they may consider themselves to be ExMormons.
Then there is the more confrontational method of becoming an ExMormon: excommunication. This happens when a member is consistently rebellious and openly hostile to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its doctrines, standards, practices, etc., or has committed a serious sin such as adultery. What happens in this case is the member is met with several times to remedy the situation. If no resolution can be made, they are stripped of their membership. This is the full extent of the authority of The Church of Jesus Christ.
In any of these cases, one could call himself an ExMormon. The term simply indicates someone who used to be, but is no longer a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The method itself, along with the reasons for the person leaving, vary with every person. It can be due to a change in beliefs, loss of faith, lack of obedience to LDS Church standards to an extreme degree, even the above-mentioned open rebellion against the LDS Church itself.
One of the beautiful things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of our core beliefs or tenets; “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
We absolutely believe in freedom of religious belief, and we include our own members in that. In order to be a member, there are doctrines that must be accepted by the individual. However, if they aren’t accepted, we do not force membership upon anyone.
An important aspect of excommunication to understand is that it is an integral part of the repentance process, not a method of punishment. The process of excommunication releases and individual of his or her covenants. Excommunication is reserved for only the most severe sins, and is really a blessing for the individual. Covenants hold those who have made them to a higher standard. If those standards are broken, the consequences are more severe than for someone who never made the covenant making the same mistake. By being released from his or her covenant, the individual is also released from those more severe consequences. This can make it easier to repent and return in humility to the Savior.