"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
-1 Corinthians 13: 12
"To be sure, there is a risk associated with learning something new about someone else. New insights always affect old perspectives, and thus some rethinking, rearranging, and restructuring of our worldviews is inevitable. When we look beyond people’s color, ethnic group, social circle, church, synagogue, mosque, creed, and statement of belief, and when we try our best to see them for who and what they are—children of the same God—something good and worthwhile happens within us, and we are thereby drawn into a closer union with that God who is the Father of us all."
-Jeffery R. Holland, Ensign: Aug. 2013, "Standing Together for the Cause of Christ"
- Don't buy into the Seven Common Assumptions about Mormons who doubt, experience a faith transition, or leave the Church.
(1) The individual was bitter/oversensitive, offended by someone.
(2) The individual was prideful, didn't respect authority, wanted authority for him/herself.
(3) The individual was decieved, uncritically studied "anti-Mormon" literature.
(4) The invididual put devotion to 'intellectual' pursuits and/or 'secular' causes before devotion to 'the Gospel' (as traditionally understood by Mormons).
(5) The individual wanted to sin, or was ashamed to return because of sin.
(6) The individual was lazy/selfish, not willing to make necessary sacrifices for God and the Church.
(7) The individual never really had a testimony to begin with.
- Do some research! Even if you ultimately can't agree with them, try to understand them on their own terms.
- Just because their status or opinions may make you uncomfortable, this doesn't mean they are necessarily "in darkness."
-Not everything that makes you uncomfortable is bad. In Mormon culture we sometimes think that everything that is true will make us feel warm and fuzzy - not so... at least not right away.
-Most religious people have too much of themselves wrapped up in the particular claims of their denomination - they have too much of the ego invested in it - to take an honest look at an alternate perspective. The ego gets in the way of real, honest truth-seeking.
-In my experience, the comfort and the peace the spirit brings will come, but only "after the trial of your faith," as Moroni said. And when the spirit does come, it doesn't always tell you what you hoped or expected to hear.
-It is no accident that the scriptures speak so often of the need to have a "broken heart" and a "contrite spirit." The heart often needs to be broken before it can be opened. But once the heart is opened, then the real healing begins, and the real genuine spiritual transformation can happen. Then we can truly be open to people and understand perspectives that differ from our own, because we have let go of the ego's need to be right, and we have removed the hard protective coating from our hearts.
- Don't make them out to be "Anti-Mormons" in your head.
-You may feel the tendency to defend the Church you love, but keep in mind that you are not talking to someone who is out to destroy the Church, you are talking to a friend or family member who is wrestling with tough questions. In the end, they may quite honestly find it difficult to agree with the Church's claims, but they aren't trying to hurt you or the Church, they are just trying to find the truth and live authentically.
- Avoid doing apologetics, unless they ask for your help.
-Even if they are going to one day resume activity in the Church, and/or return to a traditional kind of Mormon faith; before that can happen, there needs to be healing, which means their concerns need to be validated. Only then will they be open to whatever explanations you may offer in an attempt to reconcile their findings with the traditional claims of the Church.
- Have empathy, not pity (there is a difference).
-It is good to acknowledge the difficulty of the transition, but it's not good to assume that they must be miserable because they left the Church. For many people this process is just as liberating and enlightening as it is difficult. Listen to them and follow their cues when trying to determine the appropriate tone.
- Don't assume that they are going to be doomed to a lesser kingdom.
-"Only the Lord can judge...we should not assume that, because we know one or two verses of scripture, that we can figure out who’s going to make it to the celestial kingdom and who isn’t. We should not presume to know when someone has had their chance. It is not our prerogative to determine when or if someone is doomed to a lesser kingdom."
-See my post on "Non-Mormons in the Afterlife"
- Don't just assume that because they disagree with you, they must not have been intently searching, pondering, and praying
-It is possible that they have been doing all of these things, but they still find themselves arriving at a different conclusion than you.
-Remember, people of other religions use a similar process to arrive at the conclusion that their religion is the right one, that is something we all have to reckon with, one way or another.
- Don't automatically assume that Church attendence is what they need at the moment, they might actually need a break from formal Church activities, allowing them the time and space to sort things out.
- They are probably super devoted to finding the truth. God respects that, and so should we.
-"In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves."
-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2013 General Conference, "Come, Join With Us."
- Remember that searching for the truth, even if it means questioning religious orthodoxy, is a deeply Mormon tradition.
-"During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. ...
"In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? ...
"...for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."
-Joseph Smith - History 1: 8, 10, 12
- Questioning Church leaders does not necessarily make you an enemy to God, or even the Church.
-See "LDS Leaders: Mormonism Noncreedal, Questions/Differences of Opinion Welcome"
- Consider this, even if the Church is true (everything it claims to be), it is possible for God to lead people in a different direction during mortality.
-"God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people….We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense....Because of their worldly influence —which would depart if they connected themselves with the Church—many are kept where they are, where the Lord has placed them, and can best use them for the good of all."
-Orson F. Whitney (Conference Report, Apr. 1928, p. 59-60)
-See also "An Interfaith Plan of Salvation"
- Feel free to share your testimony (your personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding what the Church means to you); but don't assume that your testimoney or your answers must also be the right answer for everyone else.
-Because they are still your friends and family, they should still care about you and want to understand you. Furthermore, they could one day be in a position where your testimony really resonates with them and helps them. However, they should NEVER feel obligated or pressured to agree with you. Respect their agency, and their ability to get answers from God for themselves.
- Do not say they are not Mormons, even though they may not be "traditional" in their level of involvement in formal activities, and/or in the nature of their testimonies.
-Many whose personal beliefs have changed still choose to self-identify as Mormons. Perhaps they feel that being Mormon is almost like belonging to an ethnicity, it is a part of their identity that cannot be changed. Perhaps they still identify strongly with their pioneer ancestors, or something about their Mormon heritage feels very much a part of them. Perhaps they still embrace many of the values espoused by the Church or taught by Church leaders in the past.
-If you feel the need to differentiate, you can use words like "nontraditional," or "less conventional," or even "uncorrelated." But I hope we never feel the need to deprive anyone of the titles "Latter-day Saint" or "Mormon."
-As Brigham Young once said:
"Judge not that ye be not judged… We ought to reflect seriously on this point; how often it is said – ‘that such a person has done wrong, and he cannot be a Saint, or he would not do so.’ How do you know? … Do not judge such persons, for you do not know the design of the Lord concerning them; therefore, do not say they are not Saints.”
- Don't call them "Jack-Mormons" or "luke-warm" or anything else that implies a lesser degree of devotion? They may be equally devoted to God and Mormonism in their own way.
*Richard Bushman gives one possible example of a Mormon who is unconventional, yet incredibly devoted:
"It's very easy to feel, in a situation like that, that you're outside the Church; that you've somehow marginalized yourself. You may even get excommunicated, or people cast aspersions on your sincerity or your morality or all sorts of other things. And one way or another you feel like you're not in the Church anymore. And I for one don't believe that. I think, Mormonism is not just home teaching and Bishopric meeting. It's all of these individual souls, wrestling with the scriptures, with God, with their own souls, trying to find out what's right and true, and doing that sort of in this overall Mormon context. And I think people who are struggling, or may be obsessed with these questions to a certain extent, are showing a kind of worship and devotion that is deeply Mormon. I mean, who is more committed to the prophet Joseph Smith than Dan Vogel? Think of the millions of hours he has spent, with very little reward, on the prophets documents, on his life. And even though we think of him as an antagonist, and probably an atheist when it comes to religion. Still, he is engaged to Joseph Smith. And there's a kind of a devotion there that I, for one, think has to be respected. So, while the institutional Church may have to protect itself, and cut people off and label them as agnostics (etc.) - I think, you know, looking at it from God's point of view, that there are a lot of - these people are really, you know, struggling souls. And some may be evil, some may be really trying to harm and destroy, but I think there are a lot that are just trying to find out what they think is right. So, I hope none of them feel like they're outside of Mormonism. They can't be outside of Mormonism as long as they're thinking about Joseph Smith. That puts them inside of the Mormon cultural boundaries, and that's of great importance."
-Richard Bushman, Mormon Stories Podcast: Episode 051 (At about 17 min.)
- Don't call them "apostates" or imply that their religious exploration or faith transition amounts to "apostasy."
-In case it isn't obvious to you, these are very loaded terms! The word "apostasy" has an extremely negative connotation. It implies that they have become the enemies of God and the Church. Many people who no longer believe the traditional claims of the Church remain favorably disposed towards Mormons and cherish the good that they learned from it, long after they stop believing in the Church's traditional claims, and long after they stop attending formal Church meetings. They do not automatically become our enemies. In some cases I am afraid that we make them our enemies when we don't let them leave with their dignity in tact.
- Avoid absolutist rhetoric like, "Either Joseph was a true prophet in every way, or he was the biggest imposter who ever walked the earth"
(Remember, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes.")
-Other examples might include: "The Book of Mormon is literally historically factual, or it is a worthless fraud," "The Church is true, and literally everything it claims to be, or it is a sham."
-These kinds of statements almost make it impossible to be a friend to the Church if you are not a full believer.
-For many people who have looked at the evidence, it does not seem plausible that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate, or that Joseph Smith was a prophet (acting for God in everything that he established). Yet, they find much good in the Book of Mormon, and they are willing to acknowledge the many talents and virtues of Joseph Smith.
-That said, if you force them to choose between these absolutes, they would have to say it is all a fraud. Rethink this strategy!!! Let's not alienate our friends, and make them out to be our enemies, just because they can't quite agree with us on who Joseph Smith was, or what the Book of Mormon actually is. There is room for thoughtful people to disagree on these subjects, and still think highly of Mormons and Mormonism.
- The first thing you have to understand is that you don't understand.
-Some well meaning members get excited when they haven't seen a brother or a sister in a while. So, when they finally have that brother or sister cornered in the hallway at Church on Sunday morning, they can't stop themselves from asking that individual where they have been or why they haven't been around.
-When I have been asked this, I think to myself, how would you like me to sum up a faith transition that has been 2, 3, or 5 years in the making in the time it takes us to get to our next Sunday school class? I cannot do justice to my experience in so short a time.
-Also, these developments are deeply personal, what makes you think I want to open myself up, and share these intimate details, in so casual an environment. I have to know I can trust you, I have to know you will really listen, and that you are a safe person, and an understanding person to talk to.
-Finally, I may be withholding some of the details the led to my faith transition, for the simple reason that I don't want to injure your faith. And the details I am withholding may be the very kinds of details that make a change in my faith so reasonable and understandable.
-For these reasons and more, it is not safe to assume you understand where I am coming from, just because of a few remarks I made to you in the back of the classroom or in the hallways at Church. Even if we spent several hours talking, your understanding of my position and my decisions is necessarily limited. The first thing you have to understand is that you can't understand.
- Put love first! ...before every other act of religious devotion, Meditate on God's infinite, unconditional love
-See "Discipleship Is Love"
-See "Being One With God and Humanity" (Soon to be published)