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Hanging out with family or friends can inevitably lead to topics where opinions now differ because one has left Mormonism. It can be difficult to work through the feelings and share concerns. But there is a healthy, helpful way to do it and there is a demeaning, relationship-straining way. If you really want to talk about it, there are five things a believer should never say to a non-believer, and vice versa.


1. You aren’t trying hard enough.

Believers: Try to think back on a time when you struggled in making a choice. What did you do? Pray? Read the scriptures? Fast? Now multiply that by one hundred, and you’re getting close to what your non-believing pal feels she has done while trying to reach a decision about leaving Mormonism. This was a monumental struggle for her and if she says she gave it all that she had, believe her.

Non-believers: It’s frustrating to feel like an outsider. Friends and family may shut you down before you can really give them an explanation for why you left. You may feel like they won’t even try to understand. Give them time. Be honest about your feelings but let them come to you with their questions rather than throwing information at them.


2. You can’t trust those sources.

Believers: There is a lot of unreliable information on the internet, to be sure. But there is also a lot of really dependable information – your high school history teacher wouldn’t have allowed you to use it as a source for your report otherwise. Your non-believing friend has probably been studying a lot, from many sources. Lots of ex-Mormons only ever studied “church-approved” resources in their journey to seek truth. Don’t make them feel like their intense search isn’t good enough.

Non-believers: Remember how it felt to hold your scriptures dear and rely on them as God’s word for guidance in everything. Even if you completely reject those teachings now, your believing friend still feels in his heart that they are true. Don’t be an insensitive jerk and use words like “lies,” “false,” “wrong,” etc. when describing the scriptures.


3. You’re wrong.

Believers: You have strong convictions about the church. You may have had spiritual experiences that have strengthened those convictions and it is hard for you to imagine giving that up. But your non-believing friend used to feel the same, and she has found evidence that has unraveled her testimony. It was a difficult process for her. Despite your strong belief, don’t tell her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Non-believers: You may feel your believing friend is wrong or underinformed about practically everything when it comes to Mormonism, but if you want him to listen to your story, don’t tell him he’s wrong – ever. People don’t respond well to that. Try to remember what it felt like to believe, and be sensitive to the events that led your friend to his testimony.



4. You just need to… [fill in the blank].

Believers: Your faith has probably been tried before and it’s likely you followed the instruction of prophets and apostles to pray, read the scriptures, fast, pay tithing, serve others, and visit the temple. Obviously, you made it through your trial, so it is probably pretty clear to you what your family member needs to do. Believe him when he says he feels he has exhausted those resources. He didn’t take his faith lightly. If he doesn’t feel God has answered him after struggling for so long, then maybe God really hasn’t. Try to understand how that might feel and show support instead of criticism.

Non-believers: You know that if your believing family member would just study some of what you have, she might start showing you some real understanding. But she doesn’t want to hear those things. She has had experiences and witnesses she feels she can’t deny. Respect those feelings. Focus instead on the relationship and nurture it, showing your family member that you are still a good person, and it is much more likely that some day she will start to understand and support you.


5. Your experience isn’t what you think it is.

Believers: The Spirit is a powerful tool in your life. It is a guide and a comfort to you. It seems ridiculous that your non-believing family member could deny and reject that idea. But try to understand that it wasn’t easy for him. He has not come to his conclusions without a lot of searching and prayer. Allow him to describe his feelings but don’t label them. Don’t belittle his journey.

Non-believers: Your connection to the Spirit has probably been strained. Perhaps you have studied psychology or emotions and come to the conclusion that there is no spirit. But that does not change the experiences your family members have had nor convince them that emotion and spirit are one. Believe them when they say that they have strong feelings about something. Accept their testimonies as a witness of those feelings. Remember that their intentions are good.


There are two sides to every story. Listen to each other. Be thoughtful. If you value the relationship you have with a person, her goodness, or his loving heart, are more important than the religion he or she belongs to. Believers and non-believers alike can learn to be sensitive to each other and maintain those important connections. Don’t let this one thing break your friendship or family ties. It’s just not worth it.

Porter Rockwell
Porter Rockwell
Porter Rockwell was the personal bodyguard of Joseph Smith. He's sort of like the Wyatt Earp of Mormonism. He writes for Zelph so others know it's not the end of the world to leave the LDS Church.
  • Richard R. Lyman

    Great post, Port!

    • fides quaerens intellectum

      *nickname swag*

  • Amy Condie

    Thank you for this. Just what I needed to hear before writing an email to a believing family member.

  • Sam_Millipede

    All of your recommendations in the post share a common theme that is well known to those who intervene or assist with those who have been in intensive sects. That theme is that logic, reason and facts are not the way that people inside sects are persuaded to leave them. They didn’t enter those sects through logic, reason and facts; they won’t leave or return through that route either.

    Rather, people leave sects more readily when removed from the enveloping and controling support environment. Of course, the faithful Mormon family is often the provider of that controling environment, and all of the ex-Mormons who have posted articles retain their deep love of strong family structures. So, what to do? It’s not a situation that affects me personally, I don’t have direct experience to share, but my guess is the path is through gently exposing the family to the fact that non-Mormon life is both fun and beautiful too, and that moral depravity doesn’t immediately flow from ditching holy books.

    Perhaps a shorter version of the article would be: in an argument about religion in a family, there are never any winners. So politely and gently avoid argument.

  • Arwen Undomiel

    Thank you so much for this article. This is a good reminder to be patient and sensitive when talking with family about these church issues. I needed a reminder. Everytime I talk with my mother we end arguing. It’s very hard for me not to lose patience at this point when we talk about things, because I know she has no idea about anything. I ask her questions about church and she has no idea. Her only reference is what she hears leaders say. But you are right, it doesn’t matter if I present her with facts, she will not believe me.

    Is there a way for my mother and friends to find out the truth about this church some other way? A way that doesn’t involve me telling them about it? A way that doesn’t end in discussions? Your article is good but it’s more about avoiding argument and being patient, and while it’s helpful, it doesn’t address the issue that we all have. Sooner or later we are going to have this talk with our families. We cannot avoid talking about it.

    • Kayla L

      I agree that there are not a lot of good ways to discuss feelings and “why I left” topics without bringing in some of the facts. And the real problem seems to be that we need to discuss these things with each other, otherwise it festers and increases animosity we may feel. I think the most important thing a person can do is share their story, from their own perspective, without getting too far into the details (unless a believer asks). I think it’s probably okay to say “I learned about the Book of Abraham and how it came about, and I just can’t believe it is true,” but unless you believing friend asks, it’s likely to do more harm than good if you reveal everything you know. I would use lots of “I feel” and “I think” statements, rather than “You don’t” and “You should” kinds of statements.

      • Arwen Undomiel

        Yes, it’s more effective to talk in these terms to avoid argument. On the other hand, there is a time when things need to be said more directly. But I wouldn’t be direct before asking permission from the other person to do this.

        It is hard to be sensitive to others feelings and at the same time be sincere and honest about why you disagree or believe to know something is true or not. Feelings are always going to be part of the communication process. I think we can all learn to control our emotions when we communicate to maintain the conversation civil and genuine. I know some us need more time than others to do this, since I can be a very emotional person myself. There are days I can talk about these topics with not much trouble and others I feel that animosity you talk about. Blogs like this one helps us to learn those skills and make us feel better to know that we are not alone in this process learning true mormon church history. Thanks again for all you do. Keep writing.
        Sent from my iPad

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