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Reader Voices: Loving neighbors regardless of religion

By David Candland

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Cookies, casserole, house plant or just a friendly hello — what IS the best way to greet new neighbors and treat them regardless of religion?

Meg Volk, Associated Press

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Several years ago, while giving a sales demonstration to a woman in Sandy, Utah, I was interrupted by this question: “Are you Mormon?” I responded with “Yes, I am.” She seemed somewhat surprised. “I thought maybe you were, but you seem too cool to be a Mormon.” I wasn’t offended as I’ve heard similar comments before; still, I always wonder if they mean that as a good or bad thing. “You just seem really personable and not judgmental,” she said. I told her it was genuine.

Then the dreaded “Utah Mormon” conversation proceeded. She related how she recently moved from her home state of Montana to Utah and was impressed by how the neighbors came by, said hello and welcomed her. However, once they realized she wasn’t a member of the church or wasn’t familiar with the words “Relief Society,” they became less friendly, and she’s now lucky to get a wave at the mailbox. I was embarrassed and apologized for their inconsiderate behavior.

Come on! This doesn’t happen anymore, does it? She’s exaggerating or has an ax to grind with the church. I would relate similar experiences to my old boss who is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he would say the same things. Unfortunately, they do happen, continue to happen, and this woman wasn’t biased; she was a sweet person who grew up with Mormon friends who were accepting and never had issues with her beliefs. There are some who do genuinely have an ax to grind, and who knows, perhaps lack of inclusion just might be a part of the reason. Not much different than being the kid no one plays with at recess.

My old Scoutmaster, when living in Idaho, told me a family moved into his cul-de-sac and neighbors dropped by to welcome them. One woman baked a loaf of bread and gave it to the mother still warm and told her the ward meeting times. She replied with, “What’s a ward?” The neighbor, realizing she wasn’t one of them, grabbed the loaf of bread and left. Seriously! I asked if he was sure this wasn’t somehow embellished, and he replied that was what happened … the lady literally took her bread back!

As Latter-day Saints, do these stories infuriate you as they do me? Are we doing ourselves or the gospel any favors with this kind of behavior? While these may be extreme examples, the “I can’t play with you because my parents say you’re not Mormon” situations still exist.

One woman who was a Presbyterian told me she had to take her young children across town for play dates because they were the only non-LDS people in the neighborhood. Now I don’t necessarily hear these things all the time, but occasionally is often enough, and I have heard my share. I’ve heard from others who have also felt accepted here. ... I could hear those comments all day.

I find it odd when members who have embraced the title of a “peculiar people” don’t always accept that in others, especially in areas that are largely LDS. For those who have always lived in Utah, the “Utah Mormon” euphemism is truly a negative, and not just toward nonmembers, either. I experienced it in a different way upon moving back as a teenager after having left years prior as a toddler. Before we moved back, my father, who is a Utah native, was somewhat jokingly told by others that they hoped we kept our testimonies after we moved to Utah.

We came from an area with few Mormons — those who were knew everyone else who was. We weren’t a lot different from others except we didn’t smoke, drink and had “Sunday clothes” we wore once a week. Most friends were non-LDS. You did what you did because you wanted to, not because it was expected. Home and visiting teaching as well as collecting fast offerings weren't a walk through the neighborhood, but something that took miles of driving and several hours of your time.

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