Pandora Brewer has an essay in the summer issue of Exponent II in which she expresses the wish that she could be friends with church members who visit in hopes of reactivating her. Although no longer a believing Mormon, she’s a nice person and ward members would probably like her if they could forgo their messages and just enjoy her friendship.
Being a less-than-committed Mormon myself, I sometimes feel the pain of being considered a project rather than a person. I do, however, understand the active members’ frustration. I offer little to the ward. Some members may have two callings while I have none. My name on the rolls drags their statistics down. This hurts the ward financially since money is disbursed to the wards from the general fund based on attendance.
These are partial barriers to friendship with more devoted members, but the more important reason faithful members cannot be friends with non-believers is the very real risk of having their testimonies undermined. Testimonies are fragile. Mormons are counseled to nourish, share, and safeguard these precious possessions. Safeguarding pretty much means secluding oneself from people of differing beliefs—unless the conversation can be limited to non-religious topics or framed in a gospel-sharing manner.
The risk is real. Former members who have lost conviction in some or all church teachings definitely have the potential—intentional or not—to instill doubts in a member’s testimony. It’s tough to listen to a church member say, “Don’t worry, your son will come back to the church,” without offering the possibility that maybe God doesn’t care which church we attend, so long as it helps us live a better life. And how moral is it to hear a Mormon bash gays as sinners without offering an alternative opinion?
Unlike Judaism, Mormonism is not conducive to debating religious ideas. Doctrine comes from a higher authority and is not disputable. Generally, only two choices exist: Follow the prophet or follow the adversary. Mormons must avoid those who may lead them astray. Friends share ideas and thoughts. So, no. Unfortunately, we can’t be friends.