Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm still in shock as I just recently found out one of my older siblings no longer believes in the church. Especially because several years ago my sibling was doing everything- studying the Book of Mormon, doing family history, going to the temple, ministering, etc. One of the things I looked up to about my sibling was their testimony. But I never knew that they were struggling as they kept it to themselves. We aren't super close though.
I found Board Question #60760 to be quite helpful as I feel like that reader. Except I've never experienced an immediate family member or friend who no longer believes. I'd love to hear if anyone had any similar experiences. How they coped, what they did to genuinely show love to the person, and what brought you comfort.
I know this story isn't about an immediate family member, but I think it might help provide consolation. A few months ago, a convert from my mission decided to move in with former members of the Church. She said she still believed in the Book of Mormon, she knew the Church was true, and was going to continue to go to church regularly. However, I had a feeling it wouldn't quite turn out that way. In just a few short weeks, she was doing drugs, drinking, having premarital sex, bashing the Church, and bullying missionaries in her area. At one point she sent me pornographic texts just because she knew it would be hurtful to me.
I was feeling so down that I asked my Elder's Quorum president if someone else could teach the next day's EQ lesson. On Sunday evening, my wife and I went to my parents' house for dinner. While there, I talked about this convert and how I was feeling and my mom said something that I knew but never really vocalized. She said that this convert's story isn't complete yet. There are still more chapters to come and Jesus Christ loves unfinished stories. I don't know if that provides any comfort to you, but it did for me. I love the thought that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are aware of each of our circumstances and that they are willing to help us finish our incomplete stories.
I have hope that this convert will come back to the Church. I pray for her, I sorrow for her, and I sometimes doubt it will ever happen, but I believe that God knows her more than I do. He loves her more than I do. And He wants her to be an active participant in the gospel of Jesus Christ much more than I ever can.
I hope that helps.
-Sunday Night Banter
Your sibling is still the same person. Their feelings and experiences are still as rich and full as before they decided to stop attending Church. Their ability to have deep and meaningful relationships is not diminished in any way. They are no less able to love you and have a relationship with you.
One last thing. Whatever you decide to talk to them about, please realize that asking them to come back to the Church is the equivalent of them asking you to leave the Church.
It can be hard to come to grips with something like this. It's always hard to lose something you have in common with someone, especially something as deep and defining as religious beliefs. I can relate. I grew up in a pretty typically idyllic Latter-day Saint family, but today all of my siblings except for myself and my younger sister are no longer active for one reason or another. At first, when they started actively transitioning out of the church, it was really, really hard on me and on the rest of the family. Some of them left quietly and privately--others were less considerate, and for a while the atmosphere at home was really strained as heated arguments with respect to Church history or doctrine or practice would break out rather frequently.
It's most important for everyone on both sides of a faith transition to remember that we're all still the same people regardless of affiliation with the Church. Yes, my inactive siblings now drink coffee and alcohol and stay home on Sundays instead of attending church--but really, there are more important things to remember first. They're still good, kind, genuine people. They're still the goofy family I've known and loved my entire life. "The truth" is never more important than a healthy familial relationship (or a friendship). I use quotation marks there not because I believe that truth is ultimately relative and subjective--I don't--but because I feel quite strongly that there's absolutely nothing to be gained by sinking a relationship of any kind over pointless arguments about ultimate truths regarding God and the universe. "He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil," says the Savior in His ministry to the Nephites, and I see no parenthetical aside by Mormon suggesting that He gave leeway to anyone--believers or not--to ignore that warning for the sake of proselytizing to someone. As hard as a faith transition can be, it in no way relieves us of our obligation, in the words of Brigham Young, "to understand men and women as they are, and not understand them as [we] are."
So I would suggest that you look to your older sibling and watch for those good qualities that you know they had and still have. It's okay to take some time to hurt and to process how they've changed, but it's important to realize that they haven't become "other" than who they are because they no longer believe in the Church. You might well disagree with their reasons for doing so and their new beliefs on God and spirituality, but those things don't have to be a cause for contention, and you don't have to agree with each other to learn from one another. Insofar as I've had discussions with my own siblings about their beliefs regarding scripture or the Church's handling of its history or whatever other pastoral issues may come up, I've largely disagreed with them. I don't agree with the way they characterize scripture or their interpretation of the evidence on (for example) polygamy. But much more importantly, I don't think that means they're deluded by Satan, and they don't think it means I'm brainwashed by institutional loyalty or cognitive dissonance. Intelligent people acting in good faith can read evidence two totally different ways; granting this fact is in my view the foundation of every decent discussion. (If perchance you do believe that your sibling is deluded by Satan, I would suggest praying more earnestly for charity and taking the opportunity to really listen to and understand how your sibling feels.) I've had remarkably good conversations with my nonbelieving siblings on Church policy or scriptural questions, even though we bring a different set of metaphysical assumptions to the table. I think there's value in that perspective. And at the end of the day, we still do the same things together that we always have; my siblings are always down for a vicious, spitefully competitive night of Mario Party or Mario Kart. You had a relationship and common hobbies and interests before; that hasn't changed, even if some of the contours of that relationship have. My brother and I don't discuss the Church much, but when it comes to political discussion or building Super Mario Maker levels or challenging my dad to a good old-fashioned game of Age of Empires, he's as animated and brotherly as ever.
As for what brings me comfort, I confess I'm something of a quasi-universalist these days. I believe in a God who is perfectly just and merciful, and I find solace in the fact that while I can't fully understand the viewpoint of my family members (and friends) who have left the Church for another path in life, I know that He does and that the question of salvation is thus going to be eminently fair and kind. I believe that God cares a great deal more about the deepest desires of our hearts and what we're striving to become, rather than whether or not we assent to a set of proper historical, theological, and sociological propositions. I believe in the restored gospel and the covenants I've made, and I live my life striving to fulfill those responsibilities because I believe that God will ultimately one day ask each of us if we strove to be, and to do, the greatest amount of good with the best of the knowledge we had. That applies just as equally to those who, for reasons of their own, can't make sense of a historical Book of Mormon or an inspired church. I don't think God will shrug and say "Sorry, you had bad history or bad sociology or bad theology" as they're directed to a lower kingdom by celestial security guards. I think He will ask, "Well, given what you did know and what you did believe, what did you do? What did you want? Did you strive to know me better? To make the world a better place? To do good for your fellow men?" Ultimately, those who seek after goodness will be rewarded, I think. It's not my responsibility to worry about precisely how to judge them according to their knowledge and understanding. I couldn't do it fairly even if I wanted to, because I'm not them. But I find it enormously comforting to know that it is God's responsibility, and he is more understanding, merciful, fair and just than I could ever hope to be.
I hope something in my experience helps you. If you'd like to talk about your experience more personally, you're more than welcome to send me an email at nines(at)theboard.byu.edu.
Chances are you love a lot of people who were never members of the Church. You don't obsess over those people's membership statuses--you just love them for who you are. Do the same for your sibling. I know those aren't totally comparable situations, but don't treat your sibling differently just because they are now no longer a member. They're still the same person you've known and loved for years, and what they believe or don't believe doesn't change all the good about them. Chances are they had some doubts even as you were looking up to them for their testimony, and that doesn't mean that you're bad at picking up on signs or anything, but just keep in mind that your sibling really hasn't changed, they're just being more open about who they are now. And you can still admire their conviction to do follow their conscience and do what they think is right. That may no longer align with your conscience and your belief of what's right, but you can still admire the fact that your sibling has the moral courage to follow their own heart.
Recently I was reading 1st Corinthians 13, which is all about charity, and verses 2 and 13 really stood out to me:
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing...And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
According to these verses, charity, or giving pure and unconditional love, is more important than even faith. I think sometimes in the Church we have a tendency to use our faith to justify treating others worse, because we just know that we're right and they're wrong, so therefore we have the moral high ground and don't need to treat them as well as we would treat someone who's up on that high ground with us. But that's totally wrong. According to Paul, charity trumps faith--it is never acceptable to use faith to justify treating someone worse or differently. I'm not saying you're planning on treating your sibling worse now or anything, but I just think these verses are a good reminder that almost every member of the Church could do with more often. Regardless of anyone's belief system, everyone deserves love and kindness. Just treat your sibling like a normal human who's a lot more than their religion.
Good on you for wanting to love your sibling no matter what.
I don't have a lot to add in terms of personal experience, but I did want to link to this article: "25 Things NOT to Say to a Loved One Leaving the Church (& what to say instead)." It's pretty good, although I do hope that most of the things "not to say" (and some of the things to say, like "I love you") kinda go without saying.
I like that this article reflects the advice given by Elder Soares in this past general conference: "It is hard to understand all the reasons why some people take another path. The best we can do in these circumstances is just to love and embrace them, pray for their well-being, and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!" I especially like that Elder Soares says to "rejoice with them in their successes." Leaving the church may mean that your sibling's idea of "success" has changed. That's okay! You can still rejoice with them <3 Best of luck!
My older brother is going through the same thing right now. One thing that I have seen that has been really hard for him is the transition out of the church because of how large of a part of his life the church was. The church contributed a lot to his social and mental framework, and now he is working to figure it out for himself, which is tough. Often the decision to leave the church comes as a result of other struggles in life, meaning that there might be other things are important to recognize when trying to help. I have learned that one of the best things to do is to love them and to do all you can to help them in the aspects of life that they are struggling with. And to love them, you must first understand them, which means meaningful talks about how they're doing and what they believe, being open with them about what you both feel about what is going on, and reaffirming your love and acceptance of them. Continue to support them, but know that their transition may be much harder than the transition that you are experiencing with them.
Honestly, it can be hard for a while for both of you and for others. I like what the other writers said, though, that the individual's not believing in the church does not change who they are or your relationship with them. Because you love them and still believe in gospel, you will want to help them believe again, and for me, this means waiting until my brother starts searching for what he believes in and helping him with that, even if he doesn't come back to the church. I am content with praying to receive guidance about how to help and doing all that I can to continue to be a good brother.
I don't know your circumstance, but I would love to help. Email me at inklings(at)theboard.byu.edu and I can try to answer any further questions you might have.
Wishing the best to you and your sibling,