How do you talk to an Ex-Mormon? Or a less-active Mormon who you bump into at church or a ward activity or the grocery store? Here are some examples of what *not* to say: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t your religious beliefs agree with mine anymore? What serious sin have you committed that explains your change in belief? This general problem is the topic of a post at Flunking Sainthood titled “An open letter to my Mormon family and friends.” The author of the post, an LDS author of some repute, has apparently been on the receiving end of these sorts of intrusive questions. Somehow, despite the best of intentions, Mormons sometimes end up being rude and nosy instead of friendly and supportive. Maybe we just need better conversational skills.
Okay, so try to converse about something not directly related to the Church, listen at least as much as you talk, don’t offer advice or judgment. But I think the problem goes deeper than just poorly chosen topics or phrases. The examples from the first paragraph, which are exaggerated for effect but not by much, reflect a mental attitude that is the deeper problem. It’s a mixture of religious hubris and hypocrisy, an overconfidence in the particulars of our own religious beliefs and a convenient forgetting of any doubts or heresies that we once held (or still do). This hubris and hypocrisy, or even a natural sense of defensiveness, are more likely to come out when chatting with someone who still has or once had ties to Mormonism than with a neighbor or co-worker who has nothing to do with the Church. My sense is that a little humility goes a long way toward the goal of being able to hold a sincerely friendly conversation with someone whose zeal for Mormonism has waned or who expressly rejects Mormon beliefs.
Let me quote just one paragraph from the letter, which suggested Mormons should be a little more aware of personal boundaries in such conversations. I hear the term “boundaries” thrown around a lot. It strikes me that they are essentially conversational boundaries.
I know that Mormonism has taught you that my life is your business, especially men who are used to patriarchy and “stewardship.” It’s not your business if I have a temple recommend, if I’m still wearing my garments, if I keep the Word of Wisdom, if my kid is going on a mission, if I had an affair, or if I had a problem with pornography. Don’t ask me those questions. Don’t ask my kids those questions. It’s not your business.
I’m not trying to overstate the problem — there is plenty of courtesy and kindness practiced in every Mormon ward and in most LDS families. But plainly we, as a community, could do better. Any other suggestions?