With the Mormon church's announcement earlier this month that children of same-sex couples would not be allowed to join the church until they are 18, and that married same-sex Mormon couples could face excommunication, a growing number of church members have begun having second thoughts about the country's most famous home-grown religion. More than 1,000 have gone so far as to renounce their faith in the process.
For most of the individuals looking to cut ties, that process is far more complicated than simply skipping church services.
"You'd contact your local leadership, you will call a bishop and tell them, 'We don't want to be on the records anymore,'" Mark Naugle, a 30-year-old immigration attorney and ex-Mormon, told Mic. "They most likely won't take that well, they'll accuse of sinning, put you on a 60-day waiting period, call you for meetings, send people over from the ward to try and talk you back into it."
Those heavy-handed tactics are exactly why Naugle, who is based near the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City, has spent the last six years helping Mormons leave the institution. Once an individual transfers to him the power of attorney, Naugle can insist church officials to deal exclusively with him, and forbid them from contacting his clients. When confronted with the dispassion of the law, church leadership typically takes a far more conciliatory tone, often confirming the renunciation in a matter of days. "They don't try and contact the family anymore, they go through me and it's over," Naugle said.
Naugle, who requested his practice not be named, said it was his own life story that inspired him to help lapsed Mormons. "I was born into the Mormon church. Both my parents were [Latter Day Saints]," he said. But when he was 15, his family left the church and the experience that followed has stuck with him. "People would come to the door. Sometimes we'd just hide inside because it was too much to deal with."
Naugle said interest in his practice had exploded since the church's new stance regarding LGBT members, but he has continued to work unabated — and all free of charge. Naugle, who typically charges $200 for his services, says he has dedicated 50 to 60 hours of his time to the project since the church announced its hard-line position on Nov. 5. (That's $10,000 to $12,000 worth of free work.)
What the church is doing is "harmful," Naugle said. "It's hurting families, hurting communities and creating black sheep that sometimes never recover," he said.
In a statement to Mic, LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins responded to the spate of defections and expressed regret that anyone would consider leaving the church.
"We don't want to see anyone leave the church, especially people who have been struggling with any aspect of their life. The church exists to build people and help them heal, and there isn't one of us who doesn't need help at some point in our lives. We hope that recent guidance from church leaders and the additional commentary will help provide understanding and context to some who may be considering resigning their membership. It's extremely important that our members read what leaders have said, and do not rely on other sources or interpretations or what people think they have said."
As of this writing, Naugle has successfully assisted more than 2,500 church members in their efforts to break away from the church. He urges any Mormons looking for a way out to email him at NaugleLaw@gmail.com.