25 Things Not to Say to a Loved One Leaving the Church (& What to Say Instead)

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., LCSW is the owner/director of Wasatch Family Therapy, a popular blogger, an online mental health influencer, and a local and national media contributor.

Finding out that a loved one has stepped away from Church activity or no longer believes in the Gospel can bring up a broad spectrum of emotions. Intense and often painful emotions can make it difficult to know what to say to your loved one about their choice to leave the Church.

These conversations are particularly painful because our family and community identities, religious rituals, cultural traditions, and vision of eternity are tied to having shared spiritual beliefs and practices.

When Mormons don’t know what to say, we may default to what we’ve been trained to do. We start teaching, preaching, and bearing testimony. This is an important and urgent missionary opportunity, right? Wrong.

Why? Because, even though teaching, preaching, and witnessing come from a place of love and concern for your loved one, it will most likely be perceived as judgmental, condescending, unloving, disrespectful and rejecting to the one on the receiving end. Ironically, in our effort to rescue the perceived “lost sheep,” we are likely to push that sheep farther away.

Personal agency is a foundational principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As adults, we get to fully exercise this agency, including the ability to define our spiritual beliefs religious practices. As active members, we should respect personal agency of other adults, even if it is not what we would choose for them or for ourselves.

Here are 25 things to avoid saying to your loved who is experiencing a faith transition (even if you believe they are true):

1) Are you reading your scriptures, praying, and attending church?
2) You are destroying our eternal family.
3) You are under the influence of Satan.
4) If you leave the Church you won’t be able to be with your deceased child in the Celestial Kingdom.
5) How could you do this to me?

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