AS I WRITE THIS, there's a swirling debate about whether to sell — or not sell — liquor on Sundays. And several commentators have been quick to cite the famous "divide" — the split between Mormons and the artists formerly known as "non-Mormons."

The "divide" was brought up during the Main Street Plaza debate, the dust-up over the Legacy Highway and even in the gay-marriage issue.

But 30 years ago nobody ever mentioned a "divide." It was not on the radar. And that has led some to see those days as sunnier times, days when people got along.

They see the state moving from harmony to disharmony.

I see just the opposite.

The word "divide" might not have been common 30 years ago, but Utah was hardly paradise. Things got pretty ugly at times.

"Saturday's Voyeur," the revue that takes its name from "Saturday's Warrior," is about quirky personalities and politics now. But years ago it was all about the LDS Church. And the humor was acid. LDS missionaries, mothers, even sacred attire got lampooned as fed-up

souls in the audience slapped their knees and sipped Merlot.

They were angrier times.

And not without reason.

Thirty years ago, "cast-iron halos" were more prevalent in LDS circles. Members feared "outside" influences might contaminate their faith. They stayed away from people of other religions and steered their children away from friends who didn't share their "standards." Confusion and pain were often the result.

But if the "Saturday's Voyeur" crowd has matured, so has the "Saturday's Warrior" crowd. Mormon Tabernacle organists now give concerts at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is getting awards for "going green," and there is a new sensitivity — prompted, in part, by President Gordon B. Hinckley's advice: Don't just put up with others, put your arms around them.

Both sides have grown. And the "divide" that was once wider than the Grand Canyon is down to, well, about the size of the Snake River Gorge. With luck, it'll soon be the width of the Jordan River.

Pessimists say things stink — that we optimists lack information.

We think they need to take a second look.

We see a state coming together, not coming apart.

The continents may be drifting, but Utah's people are pulling together.

Do abuses still occur? Of course. But — as with racism — mean-spiritedness is no longer acceptable. The ugly side of the divide is being driven into the shadows, where it belongs. Ridicule Mormons — or "non-Mormons" — at your peril.

So, to those who see the battlefield today and wonder, "How can we ever bridge this divide?" — keep in mind some of us, longer in the tooth, are less worried.

We remember when the divide was a real battle zone littered with land mines — a battle zone that was seldom, if ever, mentioned.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.

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