For those who want to stay in the LDS church and want to avoid making people feel pushed from the church if they are struggling, I wanted to give a few thoughts. Steven Covey wrote about how if you really want to communicate a readiness to love people, you have to do it to those who act as if they deserve it the least. That way everyone who sympathized with that person for whatever reason will understand that love means them too. That is the basic principle to keep in mind if you want people to feel loved when they are secretly on the fringe of a community. Here are just a few thoughts about what that might mean.
How does your ward talk about former members or critics of the church? Are they spoken of with love, a desire for empathy, and respect? Or are words and motives assigned to them based on convenience? Are they thought of as a kind of painful constipation that the church really ought to forcibly expel from its body?
The statements of early church leaders regarding their detractors model much of how the church today views its former members and critics. Over time, these one sided stories were warped from reality to become inspirational stories rather than history as is predictable for any history written by the winners of a conflict. This is important because Mormon's having a crisis of faith these days often become obsessed with church history and might know a lot of background information about these issues. Does your ward talk about historical ex Mormons and critics with respect, a desire for empathy, and a willingness to research beyond the motivational stories to truly understand? Or do they view historical ex-Mormon's and modern ex-Mormon's by extension as bad people fighting against the church because they are filled with a evil spirit?
Do your ward members express fear of non-members, ex members, or questioning members? Do they talk about the need to keep their children away from non-believers? Do they express beliefs that only the Mormon Church teaches basic goodness? Do they speak condescendingly about the morals of non members or people in places without as many Mormon's in them?
Does your ward commonly conflate its religion and its politics? If someone brings up politics, do they do so in such a way that it is clear that they believe a good person could fundamentally disagree with them?
The LDS church has many external worthiness indicators, which are fertile places for gossip to fester. Does your ward gossip about people who haven't achieved external worthiness indicators like missionary service, taking the sacrament, garments, wealth, callings, and temple service? Would someone who smelled of tobacco smoke be truly and comfortably welcome in Sunday school?
The LDS church talks a lot about an ideal path in life including educational choices, missionary service, heterosexuality, early age at first marriage, number of children, not getting a divorce, women not working, and other issues. Does your ward speak respectfully of people who choose to live differently? How about towards people who live differently through no choice of their own?
No congregation is perfect, but if your ward stumbles on these issues, then probably somebody in your ward is getting a loud message. They hear that they do not belong and would never truly be loved if they showed you who they truly are. If you want your ward to be united in love, these might be some excellent blind spots to start checking. Its not about being politically correct or overly sensitive to nit picky issues. It matters because of what Jesus said in Matthew 25: 44-4: “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”