It’s no secret. People of other faiths, or not of any particular faith, are wary when moving into a predominantly LDS area. It almost seems there is an underground network of people ready to warn them about being cautious of accepting that first plate of cookies.
It’s also no secret that, yes, Mormons love their faith so much that they want everyone to feel the same happiness that it has brought them.
But it has created the notion that people of other faiths quickly become “projects”, you know, because they are “non-Mormons.”
I think there is actually some truth to that.
In our zeal we can become zealots, putting forward a full-court press because these people are pretty wonderful and we can clearly see them as happy, fully serving members of our church.
The problem seems to come when these wonderful people can’t see themselves as happy, fully serving members of our church.
What comes next?
Too often we are off to work our magic on the next new family who has moved in, leaving those other really wonderful people wondering just what they did to have the friendship cool down.
When people get the label of being a “nonmember” they can too easily fall into one of two categories: these people show promise and we are quietly “working” on them, or they just aren’t interested and become the neighbors we wave at when we see them across the street.
This isn’t exclusive to the LDS culture. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a pretty assertive missionary program. Many people are wary of them. But then Baptists can be wary of Catholics, Catholics of Protestants, Christians of Jews, and pretty much most people of Muslims and Mormons.
Not very tolerant of each other.
We all can seem pretty strange to the others as we try to help each other to see things as we see them.
I think there could really be some middle ground.
And for most of you, there probably already is and I’m just way too slow to catch the vision of being, well, just a good neighbor.
In my own case, I’m sure part of it is that this mental illness thing makes me dream of being a hermit, happy to see my wife pull in the garage at night but otherwise very content to avoid all other human contact – Mormon or otherwise.
But I also think part of it is that three hours of church on Sunday, meetings before and after church, choir practice, firesides and devotionals, relief society, priesthood service projects, mutual, home and visiting teaching, etc., etc., etc., kind of fill up all my social time allotment. Not to mention of course, career, family, soccer games, yard work and the occasional night out with our spouse quickly soak up the rest of our time.
It’s a wonder we ever get any sleep.
But being the question asker that I am, it leaves me with the thought: Am I too busy within the structure of my church that there is no time for being outside it?
I’ve thought how I would feel to move back to Boston and be labeled by all around me as a “non-Catholic.” I would much rather be seen as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is who I am. That helps others understand what is important to me.
I don’t want to be defined by what I’m not; I want to be defined as what I am. I want others to ask me what I believe in and then to be respectful of that.
I bet all those “non-Mormons” out there may feel the same.
The attack on religious freedom is very, very real. If we don’t open our eyes and pay attention, pretty soon we will find government mandating just how we can and can’t worship.
No one benefits from that.
Rather than having members and nonmembers of any geographic area or religious affiliation, what would happen if we identified each other for what we are? A Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Protestant, a Jehovah’s Witness, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.
We break down the “us and them” frame of mind. All of us can be recognized as a unique person of faith, with many things in common. I know I have much to learn from those of other faiths; I also think I have a thing or two that may benefit them.
The point is that we must protect the freedom to talk openly about those commonalities. And then to respectfully celebrate them.
So next time we meet someone new, and we discover that they aren’t a member of our particular church, let’s take it a step further and ask them what faith they do belong to. Sincerely discussing each other’s faiths lets us find the many ways that we are similar, rather than each of us labeling the other as “non”.
We take the religious dialogue out of the closet where we feel we must only whisper about anything religious (because even mentioning religion, faith, or beliefs somehow crosses that uncrossible line that separates church and state) and bring it back into the open. We make it comfortable again to share with each other the things we deeply believe in and love.
It’s not threatening; it’s unifying.
And when that new neighbor politely says “Thank you, but no thank you”, we continue to walk across the street to share what is in our garden, to check on how their children are doing, to visit for a few minutes while the sun is going down on a long, long day.
Freedom of religion doesn’t just mean that I get to practice how I want to. It means that everyone gets to practice how they want to. And it means that we are respectful to all people of faith, not just our own.
We all know that.
But do we practice it?