Left the Church? 25 Things NOT to Say to a Believing Loved One (& what to say instead)
A week and a half ago I published a guest post on By Common Consent titled “25 things NOT to say to a loved one leaving the faith (and what to say instead).” The post sparked some great discussion among commenters on the blog and on social media. Some of the critiques or concerns about the article echoed themes similar to the following reader comments:
“That doesn’t mean harsh judgment should be harshly given but we shouldn’t tenderly love people out of the church either. All you need is love isn’t our mantra without understanding that true love can’t be divorced from commandments and covenants. The list of that 25 ideas is flawed if it doesn’t come with the expectation that ultimately any movement away from the Lord is a tragic mistake.”
“I was not in an emotional state to start saying anything on the “what to say” list for the first 3 years after he (my husband) left the church. This is a much deeper, personal, more human conversation than one can have on social media so I’ll thank you for the lists for what they are, continue to learn more about myself and my husband, and live by the age old advice “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.”
Many of the concerns came from individuals whose spouse had left the Church. I want to validate the intense pain and betrayal that is felt when a spouse or other intimate family member leaves the church. Conversations about this situation and many others cannot be reduced to a simple list, of course. My aim in creating the lists was to spark interactions about these difficult conversations, and to give people a place to start. These lists are by no means the end of conversations with adult loved ones about their choices to leave the Church or to continue believing and participating.
Loved ones who leave the Church sometimes end up doing the very things they accuse their believing loved ones of doing — judging them and belittling their choices. Trying to convince a believer that your conclusions about the Church are right is the same version of believing member trying to help you “see the light.”
The feelings and needs of believing members of the Church are equally valid and important as the feelings and needs of those who leave the Church.
Leaving the Church is not a reason to dishonor or dismiss the things that your loved one still holds dear. Based on clinical and personal experiences, those who leave often want to share their truth to help others and to seek support. If the feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness one feels after leaving the Church are left unchecked and they can damage relationships with believing loved ones.
If you are leaving or have left the Church and want to preserve your relationships, remember to respect the agency, emotions, and faith of your believing family members.
Here are 25 things NOT to say to believing loved ones after you leave the Church (even if you believe they’re true)
1) You’re being lied to.
2) I just don’t know how you still believe.
3) You HAVE to read the CES letter.
4) How can you still go to a Church given what’s said in the Church essays?
5) How can you justify belonging to a corrupted organization?
6) I used to think the way you do. Now I see things clearly.
7) When are you going to start thinking for yourself?
8) Do you know how much the General Authorities get paid?
9) Did you hear about the recently leaked videos?
10) I left because I didn’t want my kids to be brainwashed.
11) I feel so sorry for you.
12) How can you stay in such a sexist organization?
13) What you’re saying is a logical fallacy.
14) Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with the Church today.
15) If you knew what I knew about Joseph Smith…
16) I can’t respect you if you believe in the Church.
17) You’re complicit in every hurtful thing the Church does.
18) Do you know where all of your tithing goes?
19) Believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc.
20) How can you keep your name on the rolls of an evil institution that hurts so many people?
21) Think of how many people the Church could have helped instead of investing so much in real estate.
22) If you really loved me, you’d listen to all of my concerns.
23) I can’t see how someone as smart as you can be fooled by such crazy beliefs.
24) You believe in the Church because it’s easier than questioning and studying.
25) Religion is the opiate of the masses.
(Thanks to Dr. Kristy Money from Mormon Journeys for helping to compile list)
Here are 25 things TO say to a believing loved one after you’ve left the church:
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 don’t take your religious commitments 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 continue to pray with the family.
12) You have legitimate reasons for staying active in the Church.
13) The world needs more people like you.
14) If anyone asks me about your belief in the Church, 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 don’t believe in the Church, I believe you when you say you do know it’s true.
18) You’re a good parent, son, daughter, etc.
19) You’re 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 why you stay, but I want to understand.
24) I don’t know what to say.
25) I am here for you.
You’ll notice that this is almost an identical list to the list of what TO say to a loved one leaving the Church. That is because we all want the same kind of love and respect, connection and compassion even though our spiritual and/or religious beliefs differ.
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her book The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide for Women are available now.