SALT LAKE CITY — The Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, is a smiler.
He loves to laugh, and those who know him best say he can tell a joke with the best of them.
But there is one form of humor that always puts a frown on his face.
“I don’t like jokes that are hateful toward any one group, especially jokes that are hateful toward a religious group,” he said. “In my baptismal covenant I pledged that I would ‘work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.’ Statements of hate, regardless of who they are generated against or how humorously they are intended, are not part of what it means to me to be faithful as an Episcopalian. So I say, don’t do it.”
Bishop Hayashi is not alone in that sentiment. Last month Pope Francis wrote a personal message to the world’s Muslims — whom he referred to as “dear friends” — to mark the end of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. He called upon Christians and Muslims to each “respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values.” Speaking specifically to both Muslim and Christian youth, Pope Francis urged them “to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”
Similarly, President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has encouraged the LDS faithful to “show kindness and respect for all people everywhere.”
“The world in which we live is filled with diversity,” President Monson said. “We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.”
Recently, however, Bishop Hayashi has taken his concern to a new level, specifically addressing the subject of anti-Mormon humor.
“As bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, I have travelled throughout the United States for meetings,” Bishop Hayashi wrote in one of his daily inspirational Facebook posts. “When people learn where I am from I hear snarky, unkind comments about Mormons. Jokes about LDS people are also told. I find this distressing.
“We would never allow these comments to be made, or to make them, about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or other religious people,” the bishop continued. “For some reason, it seems to be ‘okay’ in the minds of people to say unkind things about people who are LDS. I believe it should stop.”
During a recent interview in his office in the Episcopal Church Center of Utah in downtown Salt Lake City, Bishop Hayashi said the idea for the Facebook post came to him after being asked to offer the invocation during Merrill Osmond’s Youth Pioneer Pageant that is associated with the Pioneer Days celebration in West Jordan, Utah. After spending the evening with Osmond and other members of his family, which produces the pageant each year as a fund-raiser for the Olive Osmond Hearing Fund, Bishop Hayashi said it occurred to him that the Osmonds, being Mormons, are the kind of people being joked about in anti-Mormon humor.
And that didn’t sit well with him, or with his wife, Amy.
“We have lived in Utah for nearly 12 years, including eight and a half years in Ogden as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, and three years here as bishop,” he said. “During that time, we have both had such wonderful experiences with people who are members of the LDS Church. And Amy said, ‘It’s just not fair that people say such terrible things about Mormons, especially when many of those who say them don’t know what they are talking about.’”
So Bishop Hayashi decided to put something on his Facebook post to say, “This should be off limits. Regardless of any philosophical or doctrinal differences we may have with the LDS Church, making hateful statements about these good people — even if it is couched in humor — should stop.”
That feeling was echoed last week by Bryn Terfel, the world-renowned bass-baritone who has recently released an album called "Homeward Bound," which features a number of songs he recorded with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. After spending some time in Salt Lake City with Tabernacle Choir leaders and members, Terfel told The Independent that he rejects the mocking portrayal of Mormons that is usually seen in the media.
"They're good people and they welcomed me with open arms," Terfel said. "If you're not moved in a spiritual way when that choir sings the hymn, 'God Be With You Till We Meet Again,' there's something wrong."
Although both Terfel and Bishop Hayashi acknowledge the value of some types of humor in religious conversation, the bishop says there is a limit to how far that humor should go.
“As an Episcopal bishop, I feel entitled to tell jokes about Episcopalians, and I tell them all the time,” he said. “And if an LDS person wants to tell jokes about being LDS, that’s fine with me. But for anyone else, it’s off base — especially when those jokes become hateful and make light of that which is held to be sacred by Mormons.”
And that’s exactly what happens far too often these days, he said. For example, while doing Internet research he has noticed a disproportionate number of offerings featuring anti-Mormon jokes, T-shirts, bumper stickers and websites.
“What bothers me is that anti-Mormonism seems to be condoned for some reason, like it’s OK in people’s minds,” Bishop Hayashi said. “They say things about Mormons that they would never say about Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists. Maybe because the LDS Church is so predominant in Utah it feels like it’s more acceptable here somehow. And unless someone says it’s not OK it will continue to be OK.”
Hence, his Facebook post.
“I’m not trying to lead a crusade or any great movement,” he said. “I just hope that people will read my post and say, ‘Here is a leader of a religious community here in Utah who is simply saying that it is not right to behave badly toward LDS people just because they are LDS. And you know something? He’s right.’”