Citing what they describe as their difficult and emotionally painful journey away from the Mormon church, a group of people have started a “former Mormon” support group to share stories, provide friendship and talk about their new faith, which for most is fundamentalist Christian.
“I lost every friend I had, and my husband was the only person I could turn to in this area,” said the group’s founder, Melissa Thiring, 25, of Medford. “I started this group to raise awareness and bring healing for people who may be going through the same thing.”
The support group meets at 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month at the Upper Room Cafe’ at Ashland Christian Fellowship, at Hersey and Oak streets in Ashland. The next meeting is Saturday.
Mormons believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true church on the face of the Earth,” said Thiring, and those who leave are “deceived.”
Said Thiring, “one is very often faced with being disowned or divorced.”
Another group member, Robert Kiser, 48, of Medford, left 15 years ago and is now a fundamentalist Christian. His family “wrote me off,” though they would still speak to him, just not about religion. It was painful, he said, but he’s “grown accustomed to it.”
Thiring said her conversion came from a running dialogue with her husband, Matthew Thiring, also a fundamentalist Christian with whom she was “always talking about religion” since they met six years ago, she said.
“We talked about his Christ and my Christ, and he would share his testimony with me and read to me from the Bible,” Thiring said.
Thiring said her father, a Mormon bishop in the Grants Pass area, was “hurt, sad and disappointed and is still devastated” about her leaving the faith.
He declined to comment for this article.
“I’m very lucky my family has been loving to me, even though they were sad and upset,” Thiring said, referring to her parents and four siblings, all active Mormons. Family members are talking, but not about religion, she noted, although she and her father still exchange e-mails on the topic.
Mormon Bishop Dean Cropper of Ashland said that when members leave the Mormon church, it’s almost always because they’ve been offended by someone.
“I don’t tell them they’re deceived,” said Cropper. “We’re going to treat them as nicely as we can. Our job is to love people and be open and caring. Our arms and hearts are still open to them, and we see them on the street and say ‘Hi.’ “
Another support group member, Lynn Zurligen, 49, of Central Point, left the LDS church and joined his wife’s church, the Assembly of God in Central Point, a Pentecostal faith.
The move hurt family members, he said, adding they are in good communication — but like the others, they don’t discuss religion. Family members inferred that he converted to save his marriage, which was marked by “a lot of arguments and fights” about religion, he said. “It got real bad for a while and it wasn’t till I got saved and baptized that it all fell in place.”
Zurligen said his wife, Juliana, “woke me up a lot and made me doubt things I took for granted all my life” and that he “got converted through the pastor” (of the Assembly of God), who taught him that “we are saved by faith, through grace, not by works. There’s not anything we can do. Christ did all the work for us when he died on the cross.”
About the support group, Zurligen said, “I just couldn’t believe it — just being able to talk to other former Mormons, to talk about our conversions and how we changed before, during and after, has been great. After I got saved, everything changed. I needed to find a new walk with Christ.”
Their leaving was theological, not personal, group members said. Kiser said he began questioning what he perceived as differences between Mormon doctrine, which dates back to its prophet Joseph Smith in the 1830s, and the Bible.
Cropper said Mormons study the Bible intensely and adhere to it. As to whether LDS is the “only true church,” Cropper said, “Yes, we believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints is the true and living church of Jesus Christ on this Earth, that teaches the fullness of his gospel and has the authority to perform ordinances of salvation.”
Thiring’s group offers support, she said, for former Mormons who are “having a hard time in the beginning finding happiness, trusting others, including God and dealing with the change that has reshaped almost every aspect of who they are and what they believe.”
The group does not require that members become evangelical Christians, she said, but helps them answer the question, “What now?
Former Mormons often face a vacuum, she said, because they have believed the LDS church was “so big and fabulous, could there be anything better?”
For Thiring, “Christ alone is better,” she said. “I am determined to reach out to those who are going through what I had to go through alone.
“I felt that a support group is highly needed in this area,” she said, “and my hope is not only support for those leaving LDS church, in dealing with everything from doubts, questions and damaged relationships, but also to show them that truth does still exist, God still exists and that peace and happiness can be attained.”
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com