Utah Valley interfaith: Linked by the act of believing

Published: Sunday, July 21 2013 8:00 p.m. MDT

From left, Dixie Tangren, Regina Fink and DeLoris Longstrech from the Rock Canyon Church attend a Utah Valley Interfaith Prayer Service at the Provo Community Church in 2004.

Dan Lund, Deseret News

HIGHLAND — Linda Walton is a word person.

A 1976 graduate of Utah State University in journalism and public relations, she has made a career of using words to inform, educate, motivate and inspire as a newspaper reporter, public relations professional, community activist and teacher. As president and owner of the Walton Group, a Utah County-based public relations and advertising company, she worries about words — heck, she worries about syllables — knowing through decades of experience that using the right word at the right time in the right way can make all the difference.

So when she says she prefers one word to another, you tend to listen.

“I know what people are talking about when they refer to religious tolerance,” said Walton, who is chaplain for Utah Valley University’s Interfaith Club and is chairwoman of the Utah Valley Ministerial Association. “And religious tolerance is certainly a value to be cherished. But when we’re talking about interfaith dialogue and activity, I just don’t think ‘tolerance’ is the right word.

“You tolerate Brussels sprouts. You tolerate that loudmouth at the office. But you shouldn’t tolerate someone for what they believe. You should love them and respect their beliefs and their ways of worship, even if they are vastly different from your own.”

Walton’s feelings are reflected in the theme of the Utah Valley Ministerial Association: “Tolerance to love.” According to the organization’s website, “the Utah Valley Ministerial Association cooperates through interfaith and social service agencies to move from tolerance to an attitude of love in the Utah Valley community.”

“It’s really all about love,” Walton said.

Interfaith conversation and interaction has been going on in Utah County for decades, with varying levels of success. While Walton said they have identified about 38 different faith groups in the county, it is an unavoidable fact that county demographics are dominated by one religious denomination: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Utah County is the second-most Mormon county in Utah — and the entire United States — trailing Morgan County by just a fraction: 88.9 percent to 88.6 percent.

For some, the preponderance of one faith group in Utah Valley makes any attempt at interfaith dialogue seem futile.

“There are some who sort of figure, ‘What’s the use?’” Walton acknowledged. “Others just don’t want to mingle.”

Having grown up in Utah County as part of the religious minority (“As a chaplain,” she said, “I don’t designate what I am”), she understands the non-LDS perspective. But she doesn’t see the LDS influence as “a big issue.”

“My perspective is, ‘Yeah, there are Mormons here. Get over it,’” she said. “You have to adapt, wherever you are.”

And UVMA is adapting.

“There are always those who don’t want to play together in the sandbox,” said Tami Harris, a past UVMA president and current chaplain at Heritage Schools Inc. “But I think that is more rare now. During the past few years we’ve really seen relationships improve as we’ve spent more time together learning about each other.”

And that, according to Walton, is the key.

“We’ve really tried to focus on educating each other,” she said. “So many times religions are identified by stereotypes. So anything we can to do educate people about different faith groups is going to increase understanding, and understanding leads to compassion, and compassion leads to love.”

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