Just recently a friend of mine joined the Church. She attended Mutual with me and was very impressed with the kind of young people she found there. After reading the Book of Mormon and having the missionary discussions, she felt she had found heaven on earth. Her parents gave their permission to her baptism after they saw what a wonderful change the Church was making in her life. Now that my friend has started to attend meetings regularly, she is noticing how some members of my ward talk and criticize behind people’s backs. They carry grudges sometimes and seem to let the gospel affect their private lives very little. The first few weeks of a new member’s activity in the Church are very important. How can I counteract or explain what she is seeing without becoming critical of others myself and doing more harm than good?
“Possibly one of the best things you could do for your friend is to explain to her one of the most basic and possibly most overlooked aspects of the gospel—that it is the gospel plan and its principles that are perfect, and that Church members are still striving for perfection.
“The gospel is on the earth to aid mankind in his journey to perfection. If some of the members choose to behave in a manner unbecoming a good member of the Church, it still doesn’t take away from the truthfulness of the gospel.
“By letting other members stand between us and the Lord, we allow them to be closer to him than we are!”
“It would do more harm to let your friend think about this problem by herself than to talk with her openly. Gently remind her that she was baptized because of her love for the gospel—which is perfect. Because of the human imperfections that we are all here to master, we must be careful not to judge the Church by men instead of by the testimony of Jesus Christ obtained through the Holy Ghost.
“Maybe you could ask her advice on how to deal with this problem and work on it together.”
Idaho Falls, Idaho
“I know when I joined the Church, I too expected everyone to be perfect. It was quite a shock to realize that they weren’t. I began to hear talk, rumors, and criticizing. Then a nonmember friend who had been coming to Church with me regularly commented on some of the backbiting. She said she didn’t think that Mormons were allowed to act that way. The only thing I could think of as an answer was to explain that we all have faults, but I’m not concerned about the faults of others. It is more important for me to do what I know is right and be a good example. In this way I may encourage others to live the gospel more fully. No feelings were hurt with this explanation, and I did not prejudice her against anyone else in the ward.”
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
“A few words from another recent convert: First, your friend must know for herself that the gospel taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. If she depends on another’s testimony, she may be disillusioned by circumstances.
“Second, she must participate in Church activities and programs. She should go to all the meetings, attend the activities even if she has to go by herself, join the choir, and become involved in service to others.
“Third, you will help and support your friend most by simply loving her and setting a good example for her. When I joined the Church in South Dakota in January 1977, there were two people, one sister and one missionary, who truly loved me into the Church and into their lives. That is enough.”
Lois Ann Baker
Salt Lake City, Utah
“Your friend sounds as if she feels very much like I felt at one time. Luckily, I too had a friend who wanted to help me understand. First, I think you should tell her that although some members may seem to have diminished in her eyes, she should remember that the Church and its teachings have not. Indeed, her feelings for the Church should become stronger.
“Members of the Church are striving every day to live closer to the Lord. Sometimes we slip, but always remember that the reason we are put upon this earth is to better our lives and do the things that will allow us to one day return to our Father in Heaven. We do not find healthy people waiting in a doctor’s office!
“You have a duty to the members of your ward. Make your bishop aware of the problem and perhaps ask if you could give a talk on the effect that members have on new converts. I would like to tell you what my parent’s missionaries told them: ‘Do not put your faith in any one person, as they may stumble, but put your faith in the gospel because it is true and will never change.’ You will not only be helping your friend, but you may also be helping your ward members.”
“I would tell my friend that all people are human. It’s true that we have the true Church and that we should be much better, but there are weak members in all organizations, including the Church.
“What we have to do is be Christlike enough not to judge others and put them down for their faults. I would take the ward members aside and let them know the effect they are having and let them know that my friend wants to look up to them as examples of how to live.”
“A talk with the bishop of the ward would be a help. He is placed there as the leader of the ward and will want to help straighten out any bad feelings that exist.
“Always remember to live as you should because your friend will not only look to the other ward members for progress in the gospel but also to you.”
Jersey City, New Jersey
“There is a saying that the Church is not a showplace for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Hurt feelings, backbiting, and grudges are often caused by feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. A ward can be a supportive network where one person’s strength helps heal another person’s weakness. Through service, you and your friend should strengthen your ward family.
“Go out of your way to greet these needy members. Discover their admirable qualities and compliment them. Radiate your love and enthusiasm.
“Look for ways to serve without being asked. Get service suggestions from home or visiting teachers.
“Persevere if your initial efforts are rebuffed. Feelings may have been building for years, and members might have been approached before by people who seemed insincere or had a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
“Your prayerful, sustained service will not be easy, but it will be rewarding, especially for your friend. As she continues in activity, it is highly probable that sooner or later she will feel hurt or critical herself. Now is the time for her to learn that ward members are accepted in spite of weaknesses and are supported in efforts to improve.”
White Plains, New York