A few weeks ago, Jeff Lindsay posted a humorous discussion of the “Exmo” computer virus that turns otherwise sane people into spiteful, obsessive anti-Mormons. In the comments on his blog, many ex-Mormons offered thoughtful and reasonable discussion, and objected (politely but firmly) to his apparent characterization of all ex-Mormons. This in turn led to a revision, where Lindsay suggested that perhaps a better title would be the “Rare Former Mormon Who Becomes a Raving Anti-Mormon Quite Unlike Most Ex-Mormons Who Are Really Nice and Intelligent People virus.”
I agree with the comments on Jeff’s blog, to the extent that they demonstrate that many former church members are reasonable, nice, intelligent, and happy people. I have friends who are former church members; we’ve got some very nice blog commenters who are former members, and at least one very nice commenter who may be in the process of leaving the church. It is clear to me that many former members are decent people.
Which is why I’m always disappointed to see vivid demonstrations of the lunatic fringe, the ones Jeff Lindsay parodied, the ones who are spiteful, ranting, and clearly uninterested in any sort of intelligent dialogue. We got a slew of comments from one today, with all the usual trappings: Members referred to as “sheep”; glee in the death of apostles; suggestions that church members commit suicide en masse.
I don’t attribute the views of the lunatic fringe to my rational and friendly ex-Mormon friends. Such comments are not an attempt at communication, and quickly and easily placed where they belong.
I do feel a bit for my friends, because I suspect that they are embarrassed about the screeds. They are probably offended as well — I certainly would be, if I were in their position, and the existence of the lunatic fringe made it relatively easy for church members to dismiss any serious or well-thought concerns I had. And that is, alas, one of the negative consequences of rants and screeds: They color all Mormon perception of anti- or ex-Mormonism. There may be a world of difference between, for example, Ed Decker and Mike Quinn — but the existence and notoriety of virulent anti-Mormons like Decker serves to undermine the legitimacy of people like Quinn, who appear (at least to my eye) to be trying to ask serious, thoughtful questions about the church.
I know that rational discussion between members and former members is possible. But I suspect that as long as the lunatic fringe exists, such dialogue will not be particularly common.