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No matter your religion or belief system, it is always hard when someone you know makes the choice to leave. It can happen suddenly, seemingly without reason, or come at the end of a long journey. You may not know what to say or how to react when someone tells you they are leaving the Church. On one hand, there is a natural (and often well-meaning) desire to convince the person to stay. On the other, there is a need to respect agency and gracefully accept diverse opinions on faith and religion.
While each situation is different and we need to follow the Spirit’s guidance, here are five things that may be helpful to say when someone tells you they are leaving the Church.
I still love you.
The greatest commandments of God are tied to love and service. This love is meant to be unconditional. Many people believe they will be disowned or rejected for their decision to leave the Church. We need to reaffirm our constant love, no matter what someone may choose. While we should never stay in a relationship that could be harmful, most people who decide to leave the Church are still good and kind and deserving of love. We need to express this love in a clear and confident manner. It is also important to be genuine in these expressions.
I respect your decision.
Whether we mean to or not, we often have condescending thoughts when someone tells us they are leaving the Church. We want to say, “Well, have you prayed about it?” or “You need to do more research.” We need to assume someone who is leaving the Church is an intelligent person making what they feel is the best decision for their life. By expressing our respect for their decision, we create an atmosphere of emotional safety and vulnerability for all parties involved.
I want us both to feel safe in discussing our opinions.
When people feel respected and safe, healthy discussions can happen. It is still important to express our own opinions and bear our testimonies when we feel it is appropriate. Despite what the world may say, two people with differing opinions can have a civil and fruitful conversation about faith. Both can learn something, even if opinions aren’t changed. Avoid contention. Seek to express God’s love in all your communications. This will help create confidence and trust when you feel you need to be bold. It will also help the person leaving the Church to feel like they can talk with you.
You’re still a part of our community.
As a Church, we have a very powerful and expansive community. Many friendships, social activities, and community service is tied to our membership in the Church. This can be hard to give up and someone shouldn’t have to if they still want to be involved. Invite others to parties, activities, and events. The goal, however, should not be too reactive the person or ambush them with questions about their faith, but to offer a genuine hand of fellowship.
Please respect my decision to live my faith.
We should be able to live our own lives of faith and testimony without fear. We should respect others and they should respect us. That respect includes the freedom to continue to express your faith. If someone who has left the Church wants to fight with you or does not show you the respect you are trying to offer, ask them how you can move forward together in a civil manner.
Whatever happens, it is important to pray for the guidance of the Spirit and to do your best to love others as Jesus loves you. How have you built up and maintained relationships with someone who has decided to leave the Church?