Please feel free to add, but here are some of the central things I’ve learned on this journey that have made being surrounded by ultra TBMs livable. Please note, this list is the flip of my “communication to the exmormon” post on /r/lds, and thus everything here is designed to smooth communication with loved ones. Feel free to ignore if you want to troll, but if you want a good conversation, these pointers have, at least, helped me.
Realize that anything you say is already threatening
Why it hurts – The member has been taught a number of things, and paid attention to many of them, about exmormons. This can range from you being misled, to that you being actively possessed by a demon. Just saying, “hi,” can be a threatening experience. Finding out what they expect of you can be very helpful in disarming the situation.
Reverse – If you walk into a conversation assuming the member is brainwashed, you’re going to feel similarly threatened, and probably respond in a similar manner. Give everyone you meet the benefit of the doubt.
What is better to say – Phrases like, “No matter what we both believe, I still respect you.” and, “I can tell you care about me, I care about you too.” “Thank you for sharing your testimony, I can appreciate how much it means to you.” “I am always interested in other people’s perspectives,” and, “I value your opinion,” can do tons to remove the fight or flight response that is caused by feeling threatened. You are less likely to be accused, attacked, and ignored if you can disarm the situation.
Ask what they consider to be doctrine
Why this helps – Knowing what is doctrine will prevent accidental toe-stepping. For example, if they reject the Journal of Discourses, then quoting it is going to get you labelled anti-mormon or hateful. If they only believe that doctrine is over-the-pulpit at conference from the prophet himself, that’s fine; and then you know not to quote things that will make them uncomfortable.
Reverse – Imagine if a member asked you what you considered good evidence, and then allowed you to explain logical fallacy, the peer review process and how one shouldn’t trust authorities paid by an organization without interrupting. It would be a lot like that.
Ask what the member considers to be anti-mormon
Why it helps – Mostly because members completely become tongue tied when they have to define doctrine, I’ll happily move to this side of the equation. Again, I state that I don’t want to offend, so please, let me know what is allowed in conversation and I’ll stick to it. Most members relax when presented with this option compared to the first, which they may feel is a trap.
Reverse – Again, imagine the member saying, “Please, let me know if anything I say makes you uncomfortable or I commit one of those logical fallacies you mentioned a few minutes ago. I want you to enjoy this conversation.” It’s like that.
Ask the member “If the church was false, would you want to know it?”
Why it helps – First of all, anyone who says “no” to this question is probably not going to listen to anything else you have to say. Their minds are made up, and no evidence is going to persuade. Second, most members haven’t ever even considered this question. Simply considering it greatly increases the chance that they consider other information. Third, if they answer yes, then odds are the conversation will not simply be an attack on you.
Reverse – “If I could prove to you there really was an afterlife with an all loving God, would you give up all your sins to know?” I honestly think every one of us would answer yes to this question. That if there was proof-positive that things were going to be okay, we’d want to know about it. That claim would require extraordinary evidence, sure, but we’d want to try and prove or disprove it. Maybe not everyone, but many.
The better way to say it – “I would like to share with you some facts I’ve learned. These are meaningful to me and my life. Would you consider them, even if they were contrary to the teachings of the church leadership?”
“You seem like an interesting person who is open to trying new things”
Why it helps– This is a magical line. It disarms a person almost completely, and makes them want to learn what you know. They instantly want to fulfill this badge of respect. Here’s the catch. It MUST be thrown in during a conversation that has nothing to do with the church. Some may see this as a trick to fool a TBM into listening, but that isn’t my purpose here. My purpose is to disarm a possibly damaging conversation, and this does that by helping the person want to open up to new ideas.
Reverse – It is the reverse. For members to use this on non-members and ex-members is totally legit. A more open minded society is not a bad thing.
“I value your opinion”
Why it helps – Even if you aren’t going to follow their opinion, or trust their sources, letting them know that what they say is valuable to you as a person helps a situation. DO NOT SAY WITH SNARK or SARCASM, it will backfire heavily.
Reverse – Again, this is a good tool for both sides. Nothing wrong with letting someone know they are a valuable person.
I know how busy your life is right now, thank you for taking time with me
Why it helps – Again, just a good phrase to let the person know you appreciate them. You may hate that they showed up with 10 volumes of church history and a dictionary, but acknowledging that they put effort into you never hurts a relationship.
Reverse – both sides can use this phrase, too.
“Your church is a cult,” “You’re all brainwashed,” “Mormons are stupid”
Why it hurts – It simplifies a very complex belief system into something harmful and damaging.
Reverse – This is similar to “Exmormons leave because they want to sin.”
A better statement– “I’m afraid that some of the practices of the church could harm you and your family. I care about you deeply. Can we discuss some of the harmful behaviors I see?”
Joseph Smith is a con-man/adulterer/treasure seeker
Why it hurts – This is a man that many members revere quite deeply and look upon almost as deity. It would be like someone saying the same thing about your best friend that you’re sure isn’t any of those things. You have evidence that your friend is honest, other people tell you he’s honest, and you feel that you need to defend that position. It places you as an attacker, and draws the line of “us” vs. “them” with you on the wrong side.
Reverse – “I know, with every fiber of my being, that Joseph Smith is a prophet.” Yes, you may have evidence, but members consider their feelings just as valid evidence as any D. Michael Quinn book. The feeling of “evidence” is just as strong, and it’s just about as aggressive a statement on either side.
A better way to say this – Ask to read history with the member. Read what Joseph said and did. Ask their opinion on what he said and did. Let them tell you why or why not that would be harmful, good, bad, permitted by god, etc. Look up further details on anything that they claim they are unsure of. This takes a lot more time, but that time put into it will be appreciated.
The apostles are all liars, the correlation committee is hiding the truth, Boyd K. Packer twists history, Gordon B. Hinckley hides history, etc.
Why it hurts – When Bernie Madoff was arrested, everyone who invested in him was shocked. Friends called and told each other. The initial reaction was almost always aggressive against the dear friend who was presenting the news, even if the person receiving the news had never actually met Madoff. Even with good evidence, it typically took a long time for friends to reconcile that they had lost everything and the person on the phone telling them this was doing it to help them.
Accusing the beloved general authorities of fraud is a lot like informing your friend of Bernie Madoff’s scam. Bernie just had fewer apologists excusing why he went to prison. They are not going to accept your points, they’ll defend their leaders, and they will grasp at any straw of evidence that their future is still there.
This is a very difficult point to get across.
Reverse – This is hard, because typically exmormons don’t have a leadership base quite the same way. Imagine though that a news report came out that actually proved that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens not only signed a pact with the devil, but the Pope had been in on the same deal the whole time. And there is evidence that everyone who had ever listened to them was going to hell, forever. That’s how this feels.
How to say it better – Again, sit down with them. Express you have some concerns because of evidence. Present the evidence. Ask their emotions after each piece of evidence and take time to talk through it. Learn their concerns. Probably most will not want to hear it to the point that they stop talking to you. Possibly for a long time. This is painful and difficult, but realize that it is this way with anyone who is caught in any kind of con. People will spend $250,000, their entire life savings, after spending $3,000 with a con, rather than admit they were had by a con for that first $3k.
Notes: Be gentle. Realize that discussing these things is very threatening and people react badly when threatened. Disarm the situation, share, listen, love.