The day after Thomas S. Monson died, I taped a radio program in downtown Salt Lake City. As I interacted with people at the station — both LDS and non-LDS — I noticed a divergence in their views about the LDS prophet’s passing. Understandably, they viewed President Monson’s death as a main event for participating members of the LDS faith, but not a big deal for others. I disagree.
Utah is a Mormon state, but Salt Lake City is not a Mormon town. For several years now, members of the LDS faith have been a minority. Utah is diversifying and changing in other places, as well. It’s a beautiful thing as people have flocked here to enjoy all Utah offers. But let’s be clear, members and nonmembers of the LDS faith benefit when the LDS Church has great leadership.
President Monson is a transcendent figure because of his length of service (54 years as an LDS apostle) and his contributions during his ministry. I will leave ecclesiastical contributions, of which there are many, to those called to the formal ministry, but highlight pivotal public leadership moments during his final years of service. He used his stewardship to make Utah better for all Utahns.
In 2010, community leaders developed the Utah Compact, a declaration of five principles to guide immigration policies. The LDS Church supported the effort and issued a statement saying the Compact is “consistent with important principles for which we stand.” The Compact served as a forerunner to Utah immigration laws that balanced the need for enforcement with compassion. Approximately a dozen states have replicated the Utah Compact in some form. The Compact made Utah a more inclusive and compassionate state, and it is part of President Monson’s living legacy.
Female missionary service
In 2012, President Monson joyfully announced that LDS women are eligible to serve as full-time missionaries starting at age 19 (instead of 21). This change aroused a sleeping giant in young women eager to serve. The number of women serving as full-time missionaries doubled. The change has empowered young women in the church, increased their self-awareness and confidence, enhanced their leadership and language skills and expanded their experiences. Missionaries from Utah return here ready to serve and make our state even better. Female missionaries are part of President Monson’s living legacy.
In 2015, the state passed landmark legislation that balances religious freedoms and protections against discrimination of LGBT people in the workplace and housing. It was a monumental step for civility, compassion, freedom and fairness. It elevated Utah to a better place by granting protections for religious freedom and fairness in housing and employment. It affirmed that discrimination and denial of a person’s right to believe as their conscience dictates are wrong. The LDS Church supported this legislation, and it is part of President Monson’s living legacy.
In 2016, the LDS Church launched the “I was a stranger” effort to assist refugees in their own communities. LDS leadership asked members to help refugees in their local communities. The effort caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which opined, “With welcoming stance, conservative Utah charts its own course with refugees.” Approximately 60,000 refugees from more than 20 countries live in Utah. Many have been kidnapped, beaten and tortured. They are strangers in need of friends, and we have a moral responsibility to lend aid. Refugee aid is part of President Monson’s living legacy, not only in Utah, but around the world.
There’s an old saying: “Everyone in Utah is a Mormon. They're either an active Mormon, a former Mormon, a jack Mormon, a future Mormon, a non-Mormon or an anti-Mormon — pick your moniker.”
This play on words need not be true. Great leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good for the whole state. We are one state doing our very best to keep Utah beautiful, prosperous and neighborly. We occasionally fall short, but we keep trying.
When a community leader passes regardless of their faith tradition, I harken back to the well-known John Donne poem: “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."