Meet the Utah lawyer helping thousands of Mormons leave their church

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Source: The Guardian

For Utah attorney Mark Naugle, helping Mormons leave their church is a cause that hits close to home.

Naugle was just 15 when his parents decided to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the world’s largest Mormon denomination.

“We started the long process of leaving the church in 1999 or 2000,” Naugle, 30, recalled. “Probably 96% of our neighbors and the kids in my school were LDS. That was a painful process. The Church sent people over, the bishop came over on multiple occasions wanting to speak with us. It was a very painful process.”

When he graduated from law school in 2009, Naugle decided he would help Mormons wishing to formally leave the church by filing their paperwork free of charge – hoping to make their experience easier than his had been. He estimates he filed around 375 resignations between 2009 and October 2015.

But in the past two weeks, he’s filed thousands.

“I’ve just now got four emails in my inbox,” Naugle said approximately 10 minutes into an interview over the phone. “They were coming in about one a minute for the first week or so.”

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather to resign their membership.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather to resign their membership. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

The wave of resignations follows the release of an “instructional letter” regarding the children of same-sex marriages released by the LDS church. The letter said that children living in same-sex households could not be blessed as babies or baptized as members until they turn 18. They would also have to denounce same-sex cohabitation and leave their parents’ house.

Since that letter was released in early November, Naugle has filed more than 2,600 resignations, representing Mormons from across the US and Europe, as well as from India, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Mexico. He filed paperwork on behalf of the hundreds who attended a mass resignation event over the weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the LDS church is headquartered.

“Most people just say they can’t believe they’re doing this to the children,” Naugle said. “A lawyer doesn’t need to be involved, but they’ll have to deal with local backlash.”

For Lori, who asked that her last name be withheld as many who are resigning from the church fear backlash from their communities, the church’s policy was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“I believed in it. I was raised in it. I’ve given over 45 years of my life to the church,” the 45-year-old resident of Salt Lake City said. “After this latest policy announcement, I can no longer be associated with such a hateful church.”

Lori said the LDS church today is not the same church she was raised in. When she was a kid, she said, all the songs she learned were about Jesus, not the church’s modern prophets who were in the songs her kids were learning. A good friend was excommunicated in the 1970s for being gay, she said, and she almost walked out of worship the day church leaders asked members to send money to support Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative to repeal same-sex marriage in California.

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