He decided to post a hypothetical question: What might happen if the President of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, suddenly decided to tell the world that the religion is all a lie.
“There would still be believers,” Nielsen told the more than 35,000 members of the forum.
One followed up by writing that perhaps the religion is more like its own country, providing members with an intimate, safe community for the price of worship and strict lifestyle rules.
Like many of the other members of the Reddit group, Nielsen recently left the Mormon Church. He had been raised in the faith, but resigned soon after he realized he was attracted to men.
He said he has relied on the forum and other online and in-person ex-Mormon groups to get him through the transition. “I can’t really express my feelings here at home with that because it would just cause drama,” said Nielsen, who lives with his parents and younger siblings, all active members of the church. “I have to have some way of communicating with people who feel the same way.”
Nielsen is not alone.
This month marks one year since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) updated its stance on same-sex unions, threatening expulsion for adults in same-sex marriages and withholding baptism for their kids.
Although they updated that stance slightly last month by saying that members who are attracted to people of the same sex are not necessarily sinful, the effects on membership have had an impact.
The immediate result was a group-resignation that involved about one hundred members leaving the some 15-million-member church. Since then, thousands more have followed suit. “The policy came out like a significant bombshell,” said Philip Barlow, who directs religious studies at Utah State University.
But that policy decision is not the only reason people are choosing to leave, Barlow explained. At the same time that the Internet’s fountain of information on Mormonism--some true and some extremely misleading, said Barlow--is making some question what they’ve been raised to believe, there is also an overall shift among young people in the U.S. who have opted to move away from organized religion altogether.
“Undoubtedly this is a historic time,” said Barlow, who is a member of the LDS Church.
Only about 64 percent of those raised Mormon continued to adhere to the faith when they entered adulthood, according to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey. That is six percent less than the numbers in 2007. “This is especially true among Millennials,” said Jana Riess, senior columnist for Religion News Service.
And for those who stay, only about 25-percent of the young, single members are actually active in the faith, she said.
The Mormon Church declined to provide a comment for this article.
No matter why someone decides to leave the church, the process can be fairly grueling. In order to no longer be considered a member, you must submit a letter that announces your official resignation, according to Mormon No More, an organization that is meant to help people leave Mormonism. “WARNING: If you live with people who are members of the church, they will almost certainly be told about your resignation,” stated the website.
Once the letter has been submitted, you’ll likely receive some follow-up messages attempting to change your mind, as well as a visit (through mail or sometimes even in-person) from a local bishop or branch president. The process can take a few months, so lately many members have started to resign through an attorney so that the church can’t contact them.
Nielsen said he opted to go the attorney route. “Doing it without an attorney is a long-winded process,” he said.
There is also a substantial emotional toll that leaving Mormonism can take. The Mormon community is very close and reliant on one another, so breaking out of that group can be fairly traumatic. “Mormonism as a whole is so knit together as a community,” said Barlow.
That’s where support groups come in. From PostMormon.org, a website full of personal resignation stories, blogs and support groups that has more than 10,000 current members, to Postmormons and Friends, a 2,100-member group that meets in Salt Lake City every Sunday morning so attendees can talk about their experience leaving the church, Utah has a wide array of resources.
“I’m surprised at how many post-Mormon meet-ups there are,” said Nielsen. “And subscribers on the Reddit page just continue to grow.”
Natalie Harris, a 24-year-old from Bluffdale, Utah, recently started work as an organizer for two Meetup groups for former Mormons, “Non-LDS Single Parents” and “Non-LDS Singles.” She was raised Mormon, and began questioning the faith when she was a teenager, but it took a few years for her to leave.
She said the groups allow her to be around other people who have gone through the same thing. “It’s nice because we’re all there to support each other,” said Harris.
At some of her meetings, Harris said the Mormon Church never even enters into the conversation. While at the beginning of the transition, venting frustrations and grief can feel very necessary, at some point that begins to lessen.
Many start to adapt to their new life, sometimes with the support from their family and Mormon friends but sometimes not. In either case, this support group and many others like it then transforms--at least for one day--into simply a fun get-together for good friends.
Harris recalled being at a BBQ for Non-LDS Singles a few months ago and meeting a young woman who told her that her parents don’t want anything to do with her now that she left Mormonism. Harris said she completely understood the woman’s pain. So she gave the woman a hug and told her what she thought would help: “If your parents don’t love you for who you are they don’t deserve to be in your life.”