The other night we got a surprise visit from the sister missionaries. We were in the middle of cleaning up from dinner and getting the kids ready for bed, so the timing was pretty terrible on their part. But we don’t have anything against the missionaries. They’re just doing what they are supposed to do so we didn’t mind letting them in for a few minutes. They showed us a quick little video about New Years resolutions that was refreshingly not over the top preachy or Mormon-y. Then they asked us if we would come back to church. We said no. They asked why. We (well mostly my husband, because I was wrangling overly-hyper children) explained that we have some doctrinal and historical issues with the church and that for us, we feel good about the truth we have sought out and don’t feel like the church has that truth. The sisters were very polite and nice about accepting our position and said they were glad to know where we stood. Then they asked if there was anything they could do for us. We said no thank you and left it at that and they left.
Of course, after they left I thought of what I really wish I had said. Because yes, there actually are a few things you can do for me.
First–and I mean this in the nicest way possible–don’t assume that you know anything about how I got to where I am with my beliefs. Don’t assume that of anyone. You don’t know my story. And even if I tell you my whole story, I doubt you will be able to fully understand unless you have experienced a major loss of faith yourself. Don’t assume that my testimony wasn’t strong enough. Don’t assume that I just hadn’t been feeling the spirit at church. Don’t assume that I hadn’t been reading my scriptures or praying or fasting. Don’t assume that I was led away into temptation. Don’t assume that I wanted to sin. Don’t rack your brain thinking of how you can stop others from going down the same road that I have. It is such a personal journey and anyone who goes through it has different reasons and different stories and I don’t think you will find a solution that can effectively stop people from being hurt by church history or doctrine or policies. Don’t assume, just accept.
Second, don’t talk about me and my family in ward council. I don’t want to be the subject of ward gossip, even if it is just among the leadership. I don’t want to be anyone’s project or the subject of pity. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. The only thing I want from church are the people who were my friends before I stopped attending to still be my friends now without judgment and without pity.
Third, stand up for people like me in church. When someone starts talking about their family member who left the church and who’s life has fallen apart as a result, raise your hand and say that is not always the case. When someone makes a comment about the “fence sitters” who choose only what they like about church and ignore the rest, that they need to “pick a side,” please raise your hand and say “we’re glad to have anyone here, no matter what their beliefs are.” When someone calls out people who support women’s ordination and say they aren’t following the prophet, raise your hand and say “everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we want them to feel safe to voice their opinions. It is not up to us to judge. A healthy dialogue is good for everyone.”
That is what you can do for me.