Finding out that a loved one has stepped away from Church activity or no longer believes in the Gospel can bring up a broad spectrum of emotions. Intense and often painful emotions can make it difficult to know what to say to your loved one about their choice to leave the Church.
These conversations are particularly painful because our family and community identities, religious rituals, cultural traditions, and vision of eternity are tied to having shared spiritual beliefs and practices.
When Mormons don’t know what to say, we may default to what we’ve been trained to do. We start teaching, preaching, and bearing testimony. This is an important and urgent missionary opportunity, right? Wrong.
Why? Because, even though teaching, preaching, and witnessing come from a place of love and concern for your loved one, it will most likely be perceived as judgmental, condescending, unloving, disrespectful and rejecting to the one on the receiving end. Ironically, in our effort to rescue the perceived “lost sheep”, we are likely to push that sheep farther away.
Personal agency is a foundational principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As adults, we get to fully exercise this agency, including the ability to define our spiritual beliefs religious practices. As active members, we should respect personal agency of other adults, even if it is not what we would choose for them or for ourselves.
Here are 25 things to avoid saying to your loved who is experiencing a faith transition (even if you believe they are true):
1) Are you reading your scriptures, praying, and attending church?
2) You are destroying our eternal family.
3) You are under the influence of Satan.
4) If you leave the Church you won’t be able to be with your deceased child in the
5) How could you do this to me?
6) Your children will suffer and your marriage will fall apart if you leave.
7) I’m so worried about you.
8) I weep for you.
9) I don’t feel the Spirit when you’re talking.
10) Just don’t think about your questions and that everything will work out.
11) I just have faith that it’ll all work out and you should, too.
12) Is there a sin you need to confess?
13) Oh, I’ve been through that phase. You’ll come back.
14) I’ll come visit you in a lower kingdom in the next life.
15) So you’re an “anti-Mormon” now?
16) You’re just choosing to doubt because it’s trendy. Everyone’s having a “faith crisis.”
17) I never thought you would become an “apostate.”
18) You would be able to have another child if you were attending church and paying a full tithe.
19) You will never be truly happy without the Church.
20) I’ve studied Church history, too, and it doesn’t bother me.
21) Your countenance is dark.
22) I hope it doesn’t take a horrible tragedy to bring you back to the Church.
23) You were never truly converted. You must have never had a spiritual witness.
24) I fear for your eternal salvation.
25) It would have been better for you to never be born than to have the Gospel and turn away from it.
A loved one’s choice to leave the Church should never be a reason to reject them. Anyone who shuns their loved one or blames them for ruining their eternal family or eternal friendship are themselves damaging the relationship. The scriptures teach that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). There are no eternal families or eternal friendships without first having…a relationship.
Now that you have an idea of what is not helpful to say to loved ones, here are 25 things to say instead:
1) I love you.
2) We can believe different things and still be close.
3) I trust you to do what is best for you.
4) I want you to be happy.
5) What can I do to support you right now?
6) I know you didn’t make this decision lightly.
7) I respect your integrity and your strength.
8) You will always have a place here, no matter what.
9) I can’t imagine how hard this has been for you.
10) Tell me more about your journey (and then really listen).
11) I’d love to read the Church essays so that we can talk more.
12) You have legitimate concerns.
13) The world needs more people like you.
14) If anyone asks me about your decision, I’ll tell him or her to talk to you directly.
15) Your relationship with the Church has nothing to do with our relationship.
16) My love for you is constant and unconditional.
17) Even though I believe in the church, I believe you when you say you don’t know if it’s true.
18) You’re a good parent, son, daughter, etc.
19) You are a good person.
20) I’m not worried about you.
21) We all have our own unique paths.
22) Agency is an amazing gift.
23) I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but I want to.
24) I don’t know what to say.
25) I am here for you.
The most important things we, as a believers, can do to support loved ones who have stepped away from the Church are to listen to them, to learn from them, and to love them. I believe that those who leave the Church offer active members to learn and grow in significant ways that are crucial to our eternal salvation. By learning how to remain connected to loved ones in spite of disappointments, disagreements, and differences we are afforded opportunities to deepen our capacity to love and further develop our commitment to following the Savior.