Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Australian Rules Football Star Israel Folau Leaves The LDS Church, Joins The Assemblies Of God

While we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints express pride and joy at the number of people who choose to go beyond salvation and strive for exaltation by joining our Church each year, there are those who decide Mormonism isn't for them. Many exit under acrimonious circumstances and vent their spleen on websites such as Recovery from Mormonism. They may even become full-blown apostates, such as Ed Decker and Steve Benson. However, some choose to take a higher road and make a clean break with a minimum of recriminations.

One such person is Australian Rules Football star Israel Folau. Two years ago, he was a devout member of the LDS Church with a cast-iron testimony. In 2008, he even seriously flirted with the idea of fulfilling the customary two-year proselyting mission for the Church before deciding in 2010 to defer a mission for at least five years. So imagine my surprise when I found out from The Australian that Israel Folau has now left the LDS Church and attends Tongan-language services with the Assemblies of God; he and his immediate family made the decision earlier in 2011. To his credit, Folau has neither attacked the Church nor embarked upon some silly, hysterical personal crusade to "rescue people from Mormonism"; instead, he merely states that he researched the history of Mormonism, and reached some unspecified conclusions to which he could not reconcile himself. He also claims he never had an experience with the Holy Spirit while he was a Mormon, but that he now feels a spiritual connection to his new church. From The Australian comes his own explanation:

"I had a personal experience with the holy spirit touching my heart. I've never felt that before while I was involved in the Mormon church -- until I came to the AOG church and accepted Christ.

"It's been an amazing experience for me personally and I know a lot of people on the outside have been saying stuff about why we left. And some people (are) assuming that we left because of money, and all that sort of stuff.

"I know for myself that it wasn't. But I guess at the moment, the people on the outside don't really know the main reason why we left."

It is interesting to speculate on whether or not Folau would have left the Church had he served a mission. Most people who serve missions report that their testimonies are strengthened by the experience; perhaps a mission would have given Folau the additional spiritual armor necessary to successfully reconcile Mormon history with his conscience. The Famous Mormons website will undoubtedly find it necessary to delete Israel Folau's name from their Rugby list.

One reason why Israel Folau's exit from Mormonism appears to have been relatively uneventful is because he immediately found a substitute religious community. Because being an active Mormon requires a substantial investment of time and resources, people who leave the LDS Church often find themselves suddenly marooned without a supportive community; until they find a substitute community, they often lash out in frustration. An ex-Mormon who lives in a predominantly Mormon community can feel particularly isolated. But most ex-Mormons eventually make the transition, which is why we should be cautious about assuming that an ex-Mormon is an anti-Mormon. If we automatically treat ex-Mormons like anti-Mormons, it increases the chances they will become anti-Mormons and even full-blown apostates. So long as an ex-Mormon respects my desire to remain a member of the Church, I'm willing to respect a person's decision to leave the Church.

That's because an ex-Mormon can always return at some time in the future. One example of such is Michael Crook, who left the Church for a while, ended up nearly hitting bottom, then returning. He documents his experiences in a new book entitled "Leaveth Not Zion: A Re-Mormon's Experience". Looking through his blog, you can see that because he came back after falling away, his testimony burns brighter and hotter than ever; he takes issue against the spirit of revisionism and political correctness creeping into LDS ranks. However, while his testimony is heavy on justice, it's a bit light on mercy; in this post, Crook says he would not pray with a gay LDS member, give to or receive a blessing from a gay member, or serve as a home teacher to a gay member. This strikes me as being different than the attitude Jesus Christ would take, and is contrary to the counsel given by Church leaders in which they state that celibate gay Mormons are to be considered members in good standing.

Nevertheless, just like the rest of us, Michael Crook is a work in progress, and it is enough that he repented of his past and rejoined our ranks. Besides, his voice is a welcome contrast to revisionists like Joanna Brooks and Jana Riess, who truthfully named her blog "Flunking Sainthood".


tweedmeister said...

Too bad you dismiss RfMers as mere "spleen-venters." Apparently you are unaware of the difficulty in leaving Mormonism, the family rift, the condemnation by leaders, having the bishop recommend divorce to your husband or wife, being marginalized from a marriage of your own child. It turns out that, in the end, Mormonism can be very vindictive and not very "Christ-like."

Jack Mormon said...

From having read RFM on a regular basis, I have seen that many of the people who post there do so primarily to get their anger out and then ultimately move on. There are indeed other issues, and Church leaders have repeated urged the family members of departed Mormons not to be vindictive.

tweedmeister said...

I am hoping that you are a person who appreciates dialogue. You seem to be, in contrast to those LDS people who want to hear only the sunny side of Mormonism. Thinking about your response, one should remember that although there is no particular guidance to pursue and sometimes persecute those who leave the church, the LDS church allows each bishop and stake president has his own latitude to decide whatever he pleases. Supporting all bishops and SPs is paramount to the LDS church running properly. The result is that often a resignation from the church, in addition to hailing the end of a lifestyle for many a good person, has been met with vindictiveness and downright evil actions by local leadership. It would be far easier in most situations to be excommunicated for some perceived sin. In the end, it matters little what the Handbook advises, as the SP will ultimately do what he wants. And what would the former member do? After all, there are no appeals, and no recourse is entertained.

tweedmeister said...

Forgive my second comment, but I didn't want to mush it together with the first. You name Joanna Brooks as "revisionist," which gives me no little trouble. I'm not so sure that being a revisionist in a revisionist church does not equal out. Revisionism is whenever a person believes in or makes up a revised outcome of actual events. The LDS church has been guilty of this very thing since its inception, re-writing major events as early as the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society, the dedicatory events at the Kirtland temple, Zions Camp, reasons for expulsion from Missouri, the Mormon Battalion, and especially polygamy. Very recently we heard the LDS president deny (and thus revise) an important LDS belief right in the international media, and Scott Trotter continues this time-tested behavior when he speaks to the press. So it is especially unfair to label a person who seeks to point out flawed LDS revisionism as a revisionist herself.

I never seek to rub one's nose in stuff, but I hope I am doing a favor to a person wallowing in misunderstanding when I am able to explain the actual details of events in order to replace fabricated-but-uplifting stories seeking merely to make us feel good rather than to make us informed. I would argue that this doesn't make me revisionist. This is The Thing which led me out of the LDS church, finding that much of the church's so-called history and origins are demonstrably false.

Jack Mormon said...

I referred to Joanna Brooks as a revisionist because, in my opinion, she's become excessively solicitous of gays in the Church. She attached more significance to the calling of Mitch Mayne than I believed was appropriate.

Mitch Mayne is to be commended for his courage in choosing to remain celibate in order to maintain his membership. But Joanna Brooks and some other progressive Mormons seem to act like he's the second coming of Joseph Smith.

One of the benefits for me in regularly visiting RFM is that I've become much more tolerant of ex-Mormons, except for those few who actually lead public anti-Mormon campaigns. It bothers me when people who leave the Church report being oppressed by Church members; it actually violates one of our Articles of Faith where we proclaim our respect for the principle of worshipping "how, where, or what they may".

tweedmeister said...

I appreciate the observation. Indeed, that does violate on of the church's Articles of Faith. But it's violated regularly, notwithstanding.

One things that continues to enrage ex-Mormons everywhere is how they are painted as being simply "offended" or as having committed some "sin" as a reason for having left the church. But the reasons are always deeply rooted and more solid. I should have been offended when my bishop tried to sexually abuse me while simultaneously telling me of my father's death. Yet I endured and went on a mission and raised a family in the church, even if his attempted sexual abuse was a real offense of all that is supposed to be held worthy in the LDS church. This is what we're up against in Mormonism in general, real problems that are laughed off, the burden of which is then placed on the shoulders of the hurt and offended. Many of us carry lasting damage from our splits with the church, which we sooner would not have made but for the necessity of it all. We lose children, we lose spouses, we lose siblings, and often with the help and even encouragement of church leaders.

Plus, it--The Church--just ain't true. That, unfortunately, is quite demonstrably so. But I can forgive people for religious belief. I'll admit that none of the various religions have any more truth than the next, but some people seem to need religion, regardless. But having to deal with corrupt, arrogant, and bungling LDS leadership is another thing entirely. Just you knowing that the ex-Mormons I know and deal with are standing on solid, moral ground is enough for me.

Anyway, it's good to have someone who at least looks on the other side of the argument and can make informed remarks, so I really appreciate that.


Anonymous said...

You do realize that Michael Crook is a fraud and a clown, right? Sure, today he's a "Mormon", but it'll most likely only be until he gets bored and needs to attack someone again. Michael spent most of the last decade being as objectionable as is humanly possible and he still to this day makes no qualms about it. Just last year he was actively shilling his Holocaust-denial book, attacking car crash victims via his "blogs", ripping off customers who believed he was a "search engine optimization" expert, filing frivolous lawsuits after being scolded for using the wrong parking spot, pretending to be drunk and getting arrested for DUI, threatening local police officers, and too much more to even list here. Wait and see if this new "transformation" lasts through the year before taking this weird nitwit seriously.

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