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".