How do we say goodbye to those who choose to leave the Church? We who stay are torn, pulled on the one hand by our faith and hope for salvation, ours and theirs, and on the other hand by respect for their agency and personal revelation.
Do we feel better about people who make a clean break and have their names removed from the rolls of the Church or do we worry that they have renounced saving ordinances? Do we compare them favorably or unfavorably to those who take a more passive aggressive approach, the ones who drop out of activity and refuse to commit to living the gospel as we think it ought to be lived?
The question has a sacred component–the matter of ordinances–and a mundane component–dealing with the numbers in the church: home and visiting teaching statistics and attendance percentages [fn1]. Somewhere in there money and labor enter the equation as well, in the form of lost tithes and offerings and volunteers to serve in callings.
How do we live with true respect and love for others without denying the truth and value of the Church for ourselves? How do we embody the 11th Article of Faith when the ones claiming the privilege to worship differently are those we know and love? And must we even say goodbye, as though we can never see them again? Would a goodbye itself be a disownment, a rejection fueled by a sense of being rejected? What ought we to do?
[fn1] In my branch on Long Island, we had many more people listed on the rolls than ever attended church. I was assigned to go through and call people to see if they still lived within our boundaries and if they knew when and where church was if they had any inclination to come out. Somehow, the “do not contact” notes did not get transferred onto the list, and I was cursed at and even called back (thanks, caller ID) and harassed further for being the hapless person who bothered someone who thought his wife had broken ties with the Church many years and several moves before. That incident made me wish it was easier to resign one’s membership in the Church.