Sunday morning: I sit in my recliner perusing a Buddhist text. Through my window, I see my neighbor Jamie backing from her driveway. Our Mormon ward sacrament meeting begins in ten minutes. Jamie, a single mom, will be hugged and welcomed at church. Her 3-year-old and 5-year old will be greeted by name and made to feel important.
After sacrament meeting, Jamie will get a 2-hour respite from parenthood while her kids are in Primary and she attends Sunday School and serves as Relief Society secretary. Jamie will return from the 3-hour block spiritually fed and emotionally refreshed.
Our ward substitutes for Jamie’s missing husband and for the dysfunctional family in which she was raised. The Church strengthens Jamie and other members. We all need love and support, and Mormon wards are organized to provide that quickly—even to new move-ins.
Active Mormons don’t always understand that not everyone needs the kind of succor they offer, and that other places exist from which to draw spiritual and emotional sustenance. Less-active members don’t always appreciate persistent invitations to attend meetings. More tolerance and understanding from both sides would help.
Jamie receives peace and comfort from attending Sunday meetings. My peace and comfort come from uplifting reading, meditation, and nurturing the plants in my garden. Both Jamie and I keep the Sabbath in our own way—the way that is holy for us.
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.