Latter-day Saints leaving their faith might seem like an unremarkable occurrence to Utahns, but it’s news for Hulu. The four-part documentary series “Mormon No More” — produced by ABC News — is now on the streaming service.
The documentary focuses largely on two women who were faithful members of the church, married in the temple and were raising multiple children until they met and fell in love. Sally Osborne (who was born in Utah) and Lena Schwen came out, got divorced, moved in together — along with their seven children — and, over the course of the docuseries, they’re planning their wedding.
They’re also dealing with the trauma they say they experienced as the result of their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “On the outside, I was putting on a good face … but I was sad, lonely and repressed just beneath the surface,” Lena says.
“This is a feeling of grief and just the pain of change. And just the pain of not being naive anymore,” Sally says. “It’s hard to know the truth.”
The documentary covers a wide range of issues, including the church’s origins, what a ward is, the belief in three kingdoms in heaven, the belief that Jews sailed to the Americas hundreds of years ago, temple garments, the “curse” of dark skin, and temple weddings.
It’s not just dispassionate recitations of the fact. Lena’s mother says it was “really horrible” when she couldn’t attend her daughter’s temple wedding. And, years later, it still makes her cry.
Lena and Sally are the linchpin of the docuseries, but they don’t carry the four episodes, each running about 50 minutes, by themselves. Their story is not always the most interesting part of the documentary.
The producers have built a narrative that includes several people who have appeared on Lena and Sally’s podcast, “Peace Out,” including:
• Matt Easton, the BYU valedictorian who came out while delivering his graduation speech in 2019 — a speech that was well received until two years later, when LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland criticized Easton while giving a talk at BYU.
“So after he said that, it did really hurt,” Easton says. “But I do think that that just shows that it is so critical that … people just keep pushing pressure on BYU.”
Matt also tells the story of Harry Fisher, a gay classmate who took his own life.
• Several BYU students — their faces obscured to hide their identities because they fear reprisals — talk about the school’s Honor Code. One says he was reported for hugging a friend. Another says she’s heard professors make homophobic comments in class. Several students talk about at least thinking of suicide.
• Utahn Brad Talbot, a 2021 BYU graduate, is the man behind the peaceful protesters who lit up the block Y on the mountain with gay and transgender colors, prompting BYU to threaten to arrest the protesters.
Viewers see Brad, his parents and his many siblings at their home in Pleasant Grove. “Both my parents were as supportive as they could be. But it took us a long time to kind of see eye to eye,” Brad says.
• Utahn Brock Aiken recalls “sobbing” and “pleading” with God to be able to overcome his “same-sex attraction.” And he thought that “suicide might be a better option.”
He turned to therapist David Matheson and “reparative therapy,” which only worsened his depression and anxiety. And, later, David left his wife and came out as gay.
“I was livid,” Brock says. “I just felt like he was a fraud.”
• David, who also lives in Utah, says that he practiced reparative therapy for 20 years, seeing 500 to 700 patients — many referred to him by Latter-day Saint bishops.
He convinces Brock to meet with him, and he apologizes. But he doesn’t entirely take responsibility, saying, “That is what I was taught to believe. … I was a cog in a larger machine and it really goes back to religion and so forth, but I still played my role.”
Brock is remarkably forgiving. Not all viewers will be that kind.
• Utahn Polly Choque-Mendoza, a lifelong member of the church, fell in love with a non-Mormon. Multiple bishops told her to end the relationship. And when she got pregnant at the age of 27, her bishop told her she should give the baby up for adoption.
“For a church that claims to be all about families, they sure wanted to break mine up,” she says tearfully. “It was so painful because I was so excited and so happy. And everyone else around me was so ashamed of me.”
Polly, whose father was an Indigenous Bolivian, also says she was taught that the dark-skinned Lamanites in the Book of Mormon “were my ancestors. … I believed this very racist narrative of dark skin being a curse.”
Their stories are captivating and, at times, horrifying. They’re more interesting than a lot of the time “Mormon No More” devotes to Lena and Sally.
Not that their family dynamics aren’t, at times, fascinating. Lena’s ex-husband, Paul, is accepting of the women’s relationship, friendly with Sally and remains part of the family.
Sally’s ex-husband, Shane, has a great deal more difficulty dealing with what’s happened. He remains friendly with Sally and is a good father to his children, but he doesn’t have — and doesn’t want to have — any relationship with Lena.
His attitude is completely understandable, and it doesn’t seem to be the result of homophobia. A lot of us aren’t interested in having a relationship with our ex’s new spouse. And Lena doesn’t come off looking great because of her inability to accept that.
Sally’s family — her parents, Rod and Nan, and four siblings — are another fascinating dynamic. Rod says there is “no organization in the world that can bring a family together [and] keep them together like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Sally counters, “that works well until it doesn’t work well,” and adds that it “sucks” that her parents pay tithing to “an organization that lobbies for inequality.”
As the documentary progresses, Nan says she was “devastated” when Sally left the church. And Rod and Nan end up in a place you wouldn’t expect early in “Mormon No More.”
But a lot of time is spent showing us Sally and Lena in conflict with each other and stressing out about their impending wedding, which feels way too much like a lowbrow reality show. Maybe the point was to show us that a lesbian couple is like any other couple, but it’s too much.
There will be, no doubt, Latter-day Saints who will see “Mormon No More” as an attack on them and their church. And there are certainly ex-Mormons in the documentary who are bitter about their experiences.
But active members of the church could get a lot out of the docuseries. If only they’d watch it, they’d see how their words and their actions can create that bitterness, even unintentionally.
Lena and Sally will be in Salt Lake City for two screenings of the first episode of “Mormon No More” to benefit The OUT Foundation.
When • Sunday, June 26, at 2:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Where • Brewvies Cinema Pub, 677 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $20, available at Eventbrite.
Meet and greet • Lena and Sally will be at Why KiKi (69 W. 100 South) on Sunday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. A $5 donation is suggested.
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