There’s nothing easy about moving away from a community that’s been part of your identity.
How do you tell people you love that you no longer share their beliefs? There is no LDS Sunday School lesson titled How to leave the fold while maintaining fabulous relationships with believing family and friends! (That would be a lesson worth attending!)
There is no one right way to tell others about a change in faith. You get to decide when you are ready, who you want to tell, and how you share it. Here are some ideas to consider.
When you’re not ready to talk
You may be afraid of being asked questions you aren’t ready to answer. If so, you are not alone. Here are some examples of responses you could use if you are ever caught off guard:
- Thank you for being concerned about me. It’s nice of you to notice I haven’t been to church. I have a lot of my mind that I’m not ready to talk about. How have you been?
- You’re right. I haven’t been to church lately. Don’t worry — no one’s offended me and I’m doing great.
- Thank you for stopping by. I know you care but I’m not up for visitors.
- It’s really hard for me to know what to say. The nicest thing you could do for me right now is not asking me questions. I just need some time.
- That’s a good question. At this point, I don’t have an answer for you.
- I have a lot of anxiety when I think about church. I’d rather not discuss it.
- There are some things I’m working through. I’ll let you know if I want to talk about it.
When you’re ready to let others know
You may want to talk to some people in person or on the phone. When I did that, I said something like this:
I have something I want to tell you that still isn’t easy for me to talk about. Since you are important to me, I want to be upfront with you –OR- I wanted you to hear it from me.
What I want you to know is that I no longer see the church the way I used to. I’m not attending anymore, but I love you just as much as ever.
I know the church is important to you and I’m not expecting you to be any different. In our relationship, you always get to be you. You can still talk about the church or whatever you want just like you always have; please don’t feel you have to censor yourself for my sake.
I know my leaving may be confusing to you. I certainly never expected to be in the place I am now. I’m open to questions if you want to ask and it’s ok with me if you don’t. What’s important to me is that I’m honest with you and you know you can always talk to me.
All of the conversations I had in this way went far better than I imagined. Even though some were sad about my decision not to go to church, they were happy that I took the time to tell them.
For me, letting friends know about my inactive status brought me relief as well as a new-found confidence. I knew I was living my values and being the friend I wanted to be.
When you want to tell many people at once
You may also want to use social media or write a letter. I never wrote a public Facebook post about my change in beliefs, but some people find that’s the easiest way for them.
About a year after we stopped attending church, my husband and I decided to write a group email to the family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.
The following is the exact letter we wrote:
To our dear friends and family,
We have something that is difficult for us to share and may be difficult for you to hear. However, we believe it best if this news comes directly from us.
We no longer believe the truth claims of the LDS church and are no longer attending.
If you are confused or saddened by this news, we don’t blame you. There was a time when we felt the same way about those who stepped away from the church. Honestly, before last year, we couldn’t even imagine being in the place we are now.
If you want to understand more, read on. If you don’t want to hear more, we understand.
[A while] ago, [our oldest son] came across some information that led him to lose his testimony. He plummeted into a severe depression, unsure how to talk to us or anyone else about these things. Fortunately, he was amazingly brave and opened up to us. We began looking for answers to his questions so he could make sense of and find peace with what he had read. This search led us to the Gospel topic essays on the official LDS website.
Believing we could trust this information, we carefully read each essay. However, the more we read, the more questions we had. We read all the footnotes, original documents, and books referenced in these essays. What we discovered was surprising, confusing, disheartening, and ultimately devastating.
The amount of historical evidence which conflicts with or contradicts our understanding of LDS doctrine and history was too significant to ignore. More consequential was that the new narratives presented in the church essays do not line up with the spiritual experiences we have had.
We saw a pervasive pattern, from the beginning of the church up through the present, that led us to determine that the church was not the trustworthy source of information we had believed it to be. We realized that the church has been using the very same tactics of which it has long accused so many “anti-Mormon” voices.
For the sake of our sanity and integrity, we needed to step away.
We know this is confusing to many people because—according to the church—people like us are not supposed to lose our testimonies. We studied scriptures, said prayers, magnified our callings, attended the temple, paid tithing, and were actively giving all we had.
Losing our testimonies has been both a terrible and beautiful experience. There is more we could say, but unless you have walked this path, what we would share wouldn’t make much sense. Much of what we are telling you now wouldn’t have made sense to us a couple of years ago either.
It’s ok if you don’t understand or don’t even want to understand.
However, we do very much hope that you will stay in touch. We love hearing from you. We care about you as much as we always have.
If you have questions for us, we are completely open to talking about anything. If you know someone who has left the church and you are having a hard time understanding the situation, we may be a good resource for you.
If you don’t have questions, that’s OK, too.
We are in a good place.
We send our love!
Michael and Claudine
P.S. Many of you will want to know about [our missionary son.]…He knows we are no longer attending church and that we 100% support his decision to be on a mission. We will continue to respect his future decisions — no matter what they are. As you all know, [he] is a fabulous kid and we trust him to make the decisions that are best for him.
The responses from our email
The most common response (by far) was silence. We sent the email out to over 80 people and got about 16 responses back. One response was simply a crying emoji, but the other responses sent messages of love; a few people asked questions. Here are some excerpts:
“I really appreciate hearing about your decision from you. It means a lot. I respect it and expect we’ll continue to be friends. I believe our friendship was never really based on our religious beliefs.”
“…May you find peace in the path that you have chosen and know that this doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“Thank you for your honesty. That must have been a difficult choice. That does not change my opinion, respect, or love for you and your whole family. You are always in our hearts.”
“I haven’t been a believing Mormon for more than twenty years…I took my name off the church records about four years ago and have felt SO FREE since then.” [This was news to us!]
“I was just thinking about you both and wondering how you were. This update is not what I expected, but as you know, I’ve had questions of my own about the church over the years…I’m not one to cast stones as I think we need to find our own truth.”
“I have my views on things and I admire anyone who is brave enough to follow the dictates of their own conscience…I am not dismayed, but I am intrigued. I would very much like to know what documents you researched and what questions they raised in your minds, and what conclusions you came to. I have known a few others, family, and friends who have gone through a similar process you describe, but I have never learned any specifics from them.”
“Thank you for the email. I thought it very considerate of you to let us know of this change directly instead of waiting for it to filter its way through the grapevine to us. And yes, confused and saddened would be a decent characterization of our feelings. Naturally, this has raised some questions on my end, and I would very much like to understand better where you are and how you got there.” [This response was followed by a list of questions.]
We welcomed and savored every message of acceptance we received.
We also understood that many probably had no idea what to say. But maybe someday, they will. Because we always want to keep the door open, we wrote an additional letter to friends and family on this website. [This letter gives no details about why we left and describes what we’d like people to know about us now.]
As you think about what to say to friends and family, my suggestion to you is to focus less on what they will think of you (which isn’t in your control) and more about how you want to show up with them.
What kind of friend or family member do you want to be? If someone is important to you, how will you let them know? What do you value and how will you live those values in your relationships?
These are the questions that are worth taking time to think about. Getting to know yourself is a crucial part of a healthy faith transition and a key to maintaining healthy relationships.