Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

The care and feeding of Mormon trolls: A guest post by Stephanie Lauritzen

Guest blogger Stephanie Lauritzen
Guest blogger Stephanie Lauritzen

Guest blogger Stephanie Lauritzen

Even before the bloggernacle exploded last week with discussions/arguments about the LDS Church’s response to the Ordain Women movement, I had asked Stephanie Lauritzen to write a guest post about Mormon trolls.

As the founder of “Wear Pants to Church Day” in late 2012, Lauritzen has seen the dark side of trolldom. Some fellow Mormons questioned her eternal worth — and even threatened that she’d be entering said eternity sooner rather than later because they would shoot her dead with the guns they brought to church.


So in the spirit of fostering greater civility, Lauritzen shares three ways to disagree with fellow Mormons online in healthy ways. — JKR


By Stephanie Lauritzen

The world of online Mormonism is weird.

As Mormons, we believe we must “stand as witnesses of God in all times, and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Where better to stand as witnesses of God than online? The Internet is public, and you don’t even have to leave your couch! Furthermore, for Mormon feminists, LGBT allies, or other non-traditional Mormons, the Internet often represents the only place we can express alternate opinions freely.

Odds are, if you’ve shared an opinion about recent events in Mormonism, from Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage to the ordination of women, you’ve experienced a degree of backlash.

A friend of mine recently discovered the “other” inbox on her Facebook account, and was horrified to read dozens of messages from strangers criticizing the online profile she’d submitted to Ordain Women. Many of the messages insisted that she leave the church. Some included vague threats of violence, both physically and spiritually.

I’ve received similar messages over the years, including death threats, and they break my heart. Underneath an armor of snark lives a sensitive spirit, and I don’t do well when online criticism turns from constructive dialogue to meanness.

In many ways, I’m ill equipped to give advice on how to navigate Mormonism’s online world. My go-to reaction is overwhelming sadness. I often feel like a failure when I’m not strong enough to respond to criticism gracefully or bravely. During the first Wear Pants to Church Day event, I made the mistake of believing and internalizing each message.

However, over time I developed some healthier responses, and I rely on these every time a troll shows up in my inbox.

1. Realize that people are complicated.

The interesting thing about nasty Facebook messages is seeing the accompanying profile photo.  I’ve often wondered how someone with such a beautiful family or lovely wedding picture could so easily condemn me to hell. People are complex. Very few are truly awful or unkind; rather they are normal human beings who sometimes make mistakes. I’ve learned to try and see my detractors as whole people, not just villainous writers of hate mail. Choosing to view people with compassion doesn’t mean I agree with them, but it helps diffuse the pain when I realize the person writing me is inevitably hurting too. Happy people don’t threaten people they disagree with, but broken people do.

2. Understand that most people see others as a mirror of themselves.

It’s an unfortunate existential reality that we never really know what the world looks like for another person. I recently described how the lessons I learned from Mormonism eventually led me away from activity in the church. Many readers accused me of claiming that anyone who stayed in the church was a mindless drone. They didn’t read the article as the personal narrative I intended, but as a direct criticism of their life choices, and they were angry. But I’ve been guilty of this too. I recently read a blog post by a friend detailing how her testimony helped her decide to quit her job and stay home with her child. I hated her post. Despite the fact that she was very clear that her decision was personal, I believed she was criticizing working mothers as less devout. Had I chosen to write a nasty comment, it would have reflected my own insecurities, not her choice. I realized that my reflection and my friend were not the same person. Nasty comments are rarely about you, but the reflection you represent.

3. Believe in the goodness of humanity whenever possible . . .

. . . especially when dealing with family and friends. When I found a blog comment written by a friend accusing me of apostasy, I wanted to write something mean in return. Instead, I wrote her privately, explaining why her comments hurt me. She responded with an apology, and we salvaged our friendship. It is easy for people to write mean things online because they can’t see the face of the person they attack. Reminding people of your humanity reminds them of their own.

When all of these suggestions fail, take a walk. Get off the Internet for a few days (or hours, you addict.) Remember that your relationship with the divine does not reside in the comments section or your inbox, but in your heart.  And when you despair, remember how God feels about those with broken hearts and contrite spirits. It is going to be all right.


Stephanie Lauritzen blogs at Mormon Child Bride and is a high school English teacher by day.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • You shame me as I often is less gracious with hard of heart postings on the net, its seems i like my universe black and white cleancut high and mighty, me right the rest all to wrong and wretched to have a place anyware outside of hell. If not for my maners I would be a troll, oh well I make do as a goblin 😉

  • Stephanie it’s a shame that you left. The church is worse off without you in it. My fear is that since the church culture drives off so many intelligent people capable of thinking for themselves we’ll eventually be left with only the hardliners and a type of groupthink church.

  • I think one of the worst things we can experience is for someone to misunderstand us and our motives. We want to be understood.
    And that makes me think of our being created in the image of God. God also has revealed Himself to us and doesn’t want to be misunderstood. It is important for us to understand Him, what He says about us, and His remedy.
    That would explain His anger towards someone who would corrupt His message to us. That corrupt message would not accomplish in the lives of people what He wants to accomplish.
    So, though I have been called a troll, a liar, an anti-Christ, a deceiver, my purpose online has been to tell others what I had to learn: The Gospel was never lost from the earth. The Gospel that saves a person from judgement is purely by the grace of God and doesn’t depend on a person’s performance. The Gospel presented in the Bible is the Gospel.

  • Everyone is free to believe what they choose and either remain a member or leave the church, but what you don’t seem to understand is that your personal choices have led you to make public comments about the church that are extremely offensive and hurtful to its members. Your comments are then amplified by the vast and vocal anti-mormon echo chamber which is the only voice ever heard by the media and the public at large. This is not a game. Your words have repercussions and consequences are far more caustic that you can imagine.

  • Isn’t it just a tiny bit ironic or inconsistent that the person giving a lecture on civility with “fellow Mormons” is the same person who made a very public, Mormon-bashing resignation.

  • I am struggling to comprehend a situation where any member of the Church I have ever known in the dozens of wards I have lived in who would ever in a million years threaten the life of another member simply because she chooses to wear pants to Church. First off, any person who made such a threat to my wife would be paid a visit, and in would report them to the bishop of the ward for disciplinary action. Secondly, I have ever only know one person ever to carry a gun to church, and he was a deputy sheriff mandated by law to always be armed.

    I simply do not believe this claim. I am sorry Lauren has left the Church. But it has been by her choice, and I can only hope that someday she will see that what the Church offers that is good and beneficial far outweighs the idea that wearing pants to Church is vital.

  • Stephanie, I like that you are asking us all to be “kinder and gentler” in communicating our cares, hurts and foibles. My Father’s favorite saying was, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”
    You also have touched on an extremely universal psychological principle called projection. We can only see in others what we see in ourselves. As the little playground saying goes, “It takes one to know one.”
    The penultimate authority, however, is in the truism, “As you judge so shall you be judged.” It is a matter of simple Karma–what you put out comes back to you–good or bad. And even the physics law of cause and effect applies here–whenever their is an action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is the recoil of a high powered rifle against the shoulder.
    Another notable saying my Father used often was, “The Church has two great purposes (1) to comfort the afflicted and (2) to afflict the comfortable.”
    Along with the serenity prayer I pray that we can come to know the difference between these two purposes and use them wisely.

  • @Brian – I didn’t see her public resignation, so I can’t comment on whether it’s similar in tone to some of the things Stephanie’s found coming her way.

    But even assuming she did write something that hurt people, there really wouldn’t be much that’s inconsistent with what she’s written here, since she’s acknowledging that even good people sometimes lash out at others.

    There’s arguably some asymmetry in the article title and the way the advice is given: trolling and nasty things certainly don’t come from inside the body of the church alone. But that may well be where Stephanie has had most of her experience, and I think her advice seems to generalize pretty well if you turn it around the other way.

    @Stephanie – in case it’s not obvious by my defense, I like your piece. There’s one bit that seems odd to me:

    “Happy people don’t threaten people they disagree with, but broken people do.”

    “Broken” is a pretty strong judgment. I suppose it’s hardly inadmissible when describing death threats and other verbal abuse that you’ve received, but it does seem out of place in the context of a nuanced paragraph about human complexity. I’d like to understand what you meant better.

  • Sadly, this actually happened, and hate-filled, violent messages continue to be received by some members and ex-members of the Church. Of course these perpetrators are a small minority. Most Mormons (and people in general) would never resort to violent rhetoric like that to protect an institution they love, let alone to violent action. But there will always be a small group of extremists who believe that anyone who disagrees with them is an inherent threat.

    I was fascinated recently to read the new research about “trolls” who make violent statements online. It turns out, probably not surprisingly, that these are the same people who have a record of violence and mental instability in real life.

    Your statement that you “simply do not believe this claim” is followed by an assumption that Stephanie (whose name is not Lauren, incidentally) left the Church simply because of pants. That would indeed by rather silly. If you will take the time to read her other writing, you will see the issue is far more complex than one of pants or skirts, and it is unfair and reductionistic to assume otherwise.

  • There are “E-Holes” in every walk of life. Anonymity seems to bring out the worst in some people.

  • Jana, if this happened, I would encourage you to bring it up to the bishop of the individual at fault. This is unacceptable behavior for anyone, especially one claiming to be LDS.

    My apologies to Stephanie, I should have scrolled back to the top to see her name rather than go from memory. I did make a generalized statement about her reason for leaving the Church, but it was based only on the most recognizable stance she has published. Again, my apologies for not including all of her reasons.

  • I must agree with Kelly that I have never known anyone at church who would threaten a life over this, but every organization has its wackos unfortunately. We all know this kind of behavior is NOT what we teach. Has anyone considered the possibility that some of these online trolls are actually not LDS, but posing as LDS? We certainly have our enemies who would not be above doing whatever it takes to make us look bad.

  • ” . . . what you don’t seem to understand is that your personal choices have led you to make public comments about the church that are extremely offensive and hurtful to its members.”

    Okay, I seriously don’t get it – what did she say that was untrue? And if everything she has said is true, then how could anyone have a “problem” with that? How could “truth” be offensive?

    It seems some are understandably disturbed by so many facts which are being shared among the exmo community. Nobody was as fiercely protective of the organization as I was until I began confronting so many of these facts – nobody can change the truth but please don’t hate me for not believing God commanded Joseph Smith to marry a fourteen year old girl, sixteen year old girls, and women who were already married – all facts my dear brothers and sisters.

    If you want to continue pretending these things didn’t happen, or that a real god would command those things, then that’s perfectly fine with me but please don’t hate me for having enough common sense to call “Fraud” when clearly, without any doubt, that’s exactly what’s going on.

    The number of equally “disturbing truths” could be counted in thousands – this was just one of so many, many instances the organization refuses to “share” with the general public, let alone its own members.

    But, by withholding so many essential facts – critical to understanding the complete history of the organization – the organization, by its own definition, is deceitful.

    I hated leaving – it hurt just as it would if I had discovered my spouse had been unfaithful. And some people wonder why exmo’s have a chip on their shoulder? What about the years of service, the years of diligence, the years of laboring in the temple, and doing everything I was told to do only to discover it was all a scam?

    Brothers and sisters, if you’ve never walked a mile in my shoes, if you’re totally ignorant of the plethora of damning facts which over and over and over again expose an organization that clearly isn’t what it claims, then please don’t hate me for simply having experienced things that are real, things which, apparently, you seem to be very fearful of.

  • I am curious how it is that the Church has hid so many “truths” from the public and it’s members and yet you still seem to know about them as factual. Help me understand.

  • There are some mentally and emotionally disturbed people in any normal population. But they are anomalies, and do not represent the population as a whole. During my work as a prosecutor, I have known of people who were nominally Mormon but also criminals. They were criminals in spite of their Mormon interactions, not because of them. In some cases, people who are social misfits are attracted to the LDS Church because we make an effort to be open to people from all backgrounds and income levels. We believe people can be transformed if they sincerely repent and ask God fir help.

    When I saw reports that someone had made death threats over the wearing of pants to church, I knew that they were not coming from Church leaders or any member who sincerely tried to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So it disturbed me that such threats were made the focus of news stories about the reaction of Mormons to “pants in church”. It was a.mistake to think that such threats came from a normal Mormon. It was a kind of slander to imply that the threatener revealed something about the inner thoughts of ordinary, sane Mormons. While you are striving tyo be honest with yourself about what you believe, I would appreciate it if you would be honest with the world about what real Mormons believe, including that anyone not officially insane who makes death threats is a candidate for excommunication. I hope you are not using the evil or insanity of such a person as a means of validating your criticism of the LDS Church and its overwhelming majority of members who seek to follow Christ.

  • Hi Raymond!

    I’m sorry for the delay in response. I tried very hard in my piece to explain that it was more than the death threats that broke my heart. It was also emails from believing Mormons who called me to repentance and condemned me to hell. Some of them came from friends and people I knew personally. This is also why I included thoughts on how to have meaningful conversations with people in order to clarify any misunderstandings. I think I was very honest in explaining the various ways Mormons interact online, and how to make those interactions better. I hope this clarifies some of your concerns, I in no way suggested that all Mormons are issuing death threats, or that it is considered normal or acceptable behavior by anyone.

  • Hi W!

    I hope you find my comment after a bit of delay. To clarify by what I mean by “broken,” it is my understanding that most people are good, but usually experiencing some type of heartache or pain that colors their interactions with others. Sometimes when people are hurt or threatened or sad (broken) they say things they wouldn’t normally say, myself included. I like to remind myself that people who say mean things to me online are probably dealing with more troubling issues, and need compassion for a broken spirit rather than meanness. I am not perfect at it, but I am trying to be better. I am also a broken person in many ways. It was not meant to be a term of degradation.

    Also, I have not formally resigned from the church. I am inactive.

  • Thanks Stephanie. I’m glad it’s not a pejorative, and that’s a “broken” that’s personally familiar.

    (And the not resigning would explain why I didn’t see a resignation, I suppose. 🙂

  • Wait a minute. Some nut job made death threats about something trivial and you assume that says anything at all about the entire religion that person came from?

    Seems kind of shallow. Why even talk about it? That just gives additional voice to the unstable person who made the threats.