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What serving a Mormon mission taught me about religious respect

By Loren Brewer

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Sept. 6 2013 1:30 p.m. MDT

A returned LDS missionary shares five lessons he learned about showing respect for those with different religious beliefs.

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Having been a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve learned a thing or two about tolerance and respect for religious belief. It took me a while, but I learned to respect personal belief. Whether the people I met were Catholic, LDS, Buddhist or atheist, it didn’t matter. I respected them. As I learned, I came to understand five great ways to show that I respected people and their beliefs.

Listen

One of the first things I learned was that I had to understand people's views and beliefs. If I wanted to understand, I had to listen — I mean really listen. Not just hear the words flowing from their lips but actually comprehend what was being. This is a part of communication and a good foundation for the exchange I would have with my brothers and sisters from other faiths.

The lack of listening usually resulted in me making false assumptions about the other person's beliefs and revealing my general lack of knowledge. I learned that spouting off nonsense about something I didn't understand not only made me look bad but usually led to me being disabused very quickly of those assumptions. It all comes back to the fact that nobody likes to be misunderstood or misrepresented by erroneous assumptions. As a Latter-day Saint, I get annoyed and flustered when people spout off nonsense about my church, so why wouldn't others be bothered when I do the same?

It took a great deal of training, but I got to the point were I felt I was a pretty good listener. This made a world of difference. I made a lot more friends when that happened because people believed and trusted that I was actually listening to them.

Focus on what is similar in your beliefs

Following listening, I found that people were more willing to talk to you about what you both can agree on.

I’ve made a friend with a minister of another faith. I honestly don’t agree with most of his beliefs, but we are still friends because we can agree on a number of things. It’s actually amazing how many things we can agree on.

You will probably find that you will eventually disagree, but who said you ever had to focus on that disagreement? In fact, I would contend that it would be better to move on. That doesn’t mean you have to hide from each other your beliefs. Rather, think of it this way, friends are friends not because of their differences but what they have in common.

Never compare the worst to the best

Thirdly, I discovered there are all kinds of people in the world. Some are good and some are bad. In religion, though, it becomes easy for us to look at the worst kind of people in a religion and think that they are all that way.

Even worse, sometimes we tend to compare their worst to our best. It’s really a great disservice to everyone. Case in point, I served in the Philippines as a missionary where one church in particular had a bad reputation. I am sad to say, I actually thought that this reputation was true.

But one night, I was traveling home with a very sick man. We weren't sure he was going to make it home. Suddenly, a stranger offered us a ride home. I was shocked to learn that this man was a member of that church. I ate a bit of humble pie at that moment. Sure I had had plenty of experiences with that church to develop a pretty negative attitude toward them. But I realized my attitude was misguided. There are some real bad people in that church but there were some really good guys too.

Respect what others hold sacred

I also learned to not mock what people find sacred. I am not a Jew, so I eat pork. But I’d never offer pork to a Jew nor would I make fun of a Jew for not eating pork. Sometimes we tend to laugh and have fun at other people’s expense because of their beliefs. That’s not right.

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