Today, many Latter-day Saints are experiencing the mists of darkness described in the Book of Mormon as those things which “hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.”
As a friend or family member of someone who is seriously questioning their faith and standing as a member of the Church, it can be hard to communicate in a way that is edifying and appropriate for both parties. It is easy to think, “What could I possibly say to someone who is considering leaving the Church?” We often get defensive, dismissive, or overly-determined, trying to force faith back into someone with our good intentions.
So, what can members of the Church do when someone they know is questioning their faith? How can we express both our loyalty and our testimonies to our loved ones without alienating them? Here are five ways we can respond more like Christ would and be edified together, no matter the outcome.
One. Validate Their Concerns.
Everyone is different and so are their struggles and questions. On the outside, the questions and concerns your loved one has about the Church may seem small or unfounded. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. However, we often say in the Church that if something matters to us, it matters to Christ. We should adopt the same attitude. Christ cares about people’s questions and doubts. We may not have the full story; perhaps a Church leader really did do something terrible to them. Maybe they really have tried their best to get answers. Maybe they’ve been treading in deep, Gospel waters for a long time and they’re exhausted.
No matter the reason or your own personal feelings, lend a listening ear if you feel you can do so without judgement. Some skills of a good listener are to repeat back what the person is expressing, offer validation of how it makes them feel, and provide a safe place for the person to talk.
For example, you could say, “I can tell you’re really hurt and upset by this decision from the Church. That must be really hard. Do you want to talk about it?”
It is also important to gauge if the person is actually seeking input or opinion, or if they just need to talk. Readily offering solutions or advice can often turn people off or push them away if they aren’t ready to hear it.
Two. Assure Them of Your Loyalty and Love.
While it isn’t a good idea to stay in relationships that could be seriously damaging to your own spiritual health, it is possible to continue to foster friendships when people are struggling with issues in the Church. For many people, facing ostracism and hatred for their thoughts, questions, and struggles is one of the worst things Church members do, whether it is on social media or behind closed doors. Such actions and attitudes are the quickest way to stifle discussion and break relationships.
If someone feels safe enough to share their unpopular feelings with you, assure them of your love and their worth, regardless of their opinions. There is no need to condone and accept serious transgressions or sins, but there is a great need to love and stand by those you care for as far as you able.
Let them know they will still be a valued part of your life, even if they are facing serious doubts and concerns about the Church. If they choose to walk away, you can express your own disappointment or concern but commit to loving them anyway and continuing to build the relationship.
Three. What Do They Still Believe?
It is often a habit to throw away everything we believe when something comes into question. Just as one principle can help start us building a strong testimony, a single principle can unravel an entire life of belief.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it is important to lead with our faith. If someone has lost in faith in a certain principle, try to find the ground they can still stand on. For example, many struggle when they learn about polygamy or the racism that existed among past Church leaders. Do they still believe in God? Do they still believe in Christ? Find a place to start and invite them to act on the knowledge they have. If they still believe in prayer, encourage them to continually seek answers that way.
If appropriate, the invitation to come unto Christ is always the most powerful. In the scriptures, we learn it is the foundation of Christ that offers complete safety and strength from the storm. By honoring whatever faith we do have, we are more likely to grow it.
Four. Offer Up Similar Experiences.
This can be a bit tricky. Not everyone likes to hear other people’s experiences because they feel their own are being ignored or belittled. However, shared life experiences help people feel connected and not so alone. If you feel it is appropriate, share any personal experiences you feel are relevant. Perhaps you’ve struggled with some of the doctrines and principles of the Church. How did you find an answer? Do you still have questions? How do you move forward in faith?
Humility plays a big role. It can be easy to come off as superior if we try to flaunt our own faith in other people’s faces. Letting your loved one know you have questions and don’t understand everything can help them feel better about their own situation.
Five. No Discussion At All.
Words are too much sometimes. Words can call attention to a question of faith and make it seem extremely serious when it is really an opportunity for amazing growth. Simply loving a person and doing your best to live your own faith can be more powerful than anything else. Seek Heavenly Father’s help in understanding where they are coming from. Cultivate a slow-to-anger attitude and evaluate the way you treat people in every aspect of your life. No matter what someone chooses to believe, as members of Christ’s Church we have covenanted to act like he would act.
Every situation will be different. Antagonism and anger towards the Church is real and often comes from dark places. However, many people in the Church are full of love…and doubt. By entreating Christ for help, we can work together to get safely home to Him.