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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

Moving here was an eye-opener. I discovered there were young men who went on missions because of parental pressure or their girlfriends wanted them to, not because of their own desires. Some members didn’t adhere to the Word of Wisdom or moral standards like they should during the week but put on a good front come Sunday. I didn’t see these things as much living out of state.

I found foul language used more loosely by members than I’d heard before. And it was interesting to hear the phrase, “This is a great business opportunity because a leader in my ward is involved.” My old ward took easily a good half hour to clear out in the pre-block-time days after sacrament meeting, whereas here, people generally leave as soon as it’s over — no need to visit in the foyer because a given member is most likely your neighbor.

Growing up Mormon in the ’70s and out of state, everything was done big: we had marvelous Mutual opening socials (like youth conferences), road shows were produced annually, ward dinners seemed to happen at least once a month and a trip to the temple was actually a trip — a good 10-hour drive by bus or car. Going to Mutual/MIA was something to look forward to — you didn’t just see those you saw daily at school, but members who went to several different schools and lived across town. It seemed the things I looked forward to there were not as big a deal here.

It isn’t my intent to give the wrong idea about Utah or to overgeneralize, for there are many great things here. It is the headquarters of the church, and you’ll find some of the finest “salt of the earth” people with whom you will ever rub shoulders. Temples are abundant, access to genealogy, church materials, facilities and seminaries and institutes are plentiful, historic landmarks and diligent people of like mind are everywhere.

Two highly regarded institutions of higher education — BYU and the University of Utah — were both founded here by the church. There’s a diverse physical landscape, and it’s unique to live in a desert that actually gets lots of snow. I think it’s a great place to live and raise a family.

Like any place, it’s not perfect. A mission companion of mine spent a decade living in Virginia before moving back to Utah. I asked him if he noticed any difference. He lived in a ward with the biggest financial disparity he’d ever seen. There were the extremely wealthy who commuted daily to Washington, D.C., and there were those who were considerably lower income. Regardless, he said they all got along very well and there weren’t any cliques. Everyone stood shoulder to shoulder.

Conversely, that isn’t always the case here or other areas with higher LDS populations. There can be a fair amount of keeping up with the Joneses and unwanted piety. Some of the treatment nonmembers receive is no different than that of active members who may not be in the same social class, have a prestigious job, or live in a nice neighborhood with a nice car. Even the amount of children one has or what calling one is serving can make a difference. I have seen this at times, and it is disappointing.

A person very close to me served in the military in the late ’80s on an island in the Pacific where there were many members. He is a fair-haired Caucasian and subsequently was not treated well at church. He tired of the subtle and not so subtle swipes at the white man in general. It seemed there was an unwritten caste system in place, and because he wasn’t a local, he was at the bottom.

On Sunday during priesthood meeting and after one too many flip comments about “Haoles” (an invective slur to describe outsiders), he got up and left. He went over to the Relief Society, motioned to his wife, and they walked out the door and never came back. At the time, she was barely a convert, and he had been less active. For a church that withstood criticism for over a century regarding the priesthood and the blacks, this behavior is mind-boggling. It’s not the church, it’s the people … and unfortunately, people are imperfect.

There is no room for pretenses or juvenile non-acceptance games in the church — none whatsoever. That doesn’t mean we have to be best friends, but we do need to be cordial and respectful to all regardless of their station or influence. I feel fortunate to belong to one of these wards.

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