This week, my wife and I attended the Incubus concert in West Valley City, Utah. Incubus was one of my wife’s favorite bands as a teenager. I also got to see Jimmy Eat World, so it was a win-win situation.
This being our first concert at that particular venue, it was a major throwback to our younger concert-going days. The beer flowed freely. People were blowing smoke left and right (but from e-cigs now). There were at least as many tattoos as concert attendees. Halfway through the show, we smelled the familiar skunk scent that indicated a higher level of enjoyment by some of the people behind us. There was also a broad cross-section of relationships—both traditional and otherwise.
The differences were apparent. They faded away though in the common cause that had brought us all together last night and kept us huddled together during the off-and-on rainstorm.
The community that united us transcended the differences that might have divided us elsewhere.
United or Isolated?
When I read the recent blog post “A Letter to Mormons” by an Arizona mother named Renee, I was so disheartened by her feelings of isolation and exclusion that originated from her LDS neighbors. I could imagine her pleas being uttered by many of the people in my own Utah County community.
In the Church—particularly in places where a high percentage of the population are LDS—we tend to cluster with people who are similar to us. This isn’t unique to LDS culture, by any means. However, the pain of exclusion can feel particularly acute in a large LDS community for a few reasons.
- Our kids spend a LOT of time together. LDS kids who attend the same school often attend the same ward, attend the same seminary classes, attend mutual on weeknights, go to camp together, and then spend 3 hours together on Sunday (not including firesides or other church extracurricular activities).
- Adults spend a LOT of time together. While we don’t go to school together, we home teach, visit teach, serve in callings, deliver meals. And we generally get in each other’s business much more than we might with people who are not members of the Church. Not to mention the fact that Sundays (or 50% of our days off) are spent exclusively in family or church pursuits, often to the exclusion of friends not of our faith.
- We run everything. Some own businesses, we are on city councils, we have a near monopoly on the scouting program. We are on regulatory boards and commissions—basically, we have a lot of say over how things are done in our communities.
Think of the Children
Making friends as an adult is hard enough. Even with all of the built-in social life that the Church affords us. Imagine trying to make friends when all of the other adults around you spend so much of what you see as “free time” devoted to a community organization. An organization that allows them to constantly interact with each other—and never you.
Now, to take this a step further, imagine being a child who doesn’t have any of this perspective or context. Imagine inviting friends to come play and then being inexplicably told that your friends cannot come over—to put it bluntly—because of who you are.
Elder M. Russell Ballard taught the following in an October 2001 General Conference address titled Doctrine of Inclusion:
“Occasionally I hear of members offending those of other faiths by overlooking them and leaving them out. This can occur especially in communities where our members are the majority. I have heard about narrow-minded parents who tell children that they cannot play with a particular child in the neighborhood simply because his or her family does not belong to our Church. This kind of behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot comprehend why any member of our Church would allow these kinds of things to happen…
“The Lord expects a great deal from us. Parents, please teach your children and practice yourselves the principle of inclusion of others and not exclusion because of religious, political, or cultural differences.”
Let Your Actions Speak For Themselves
With all of the demands placed on us from Church, work, and family obligations, it can be difficult to make time to reach out and ensure neighbors not of our faith are included in our community.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in his October 2014 General Conference talk titled Loving Others and Living with Differences, offered six suggestions on how we might incorporate these kinds of actions effectively in our lives:
- Live in the world. Regularly spend time in places where you will interact with people not of our faith. Demonstrate love to those individuals through your actions.
- Choose peace over contention. There’s enough contention in the world—look for common ground with people and build off of it.
- Live the gospel. While we interact with anyone, it’s crucial that we live the standards we know to be right.
- Love, listen, and show concern. Accept that most people hold sincere beliefs that differ from ours—celebrate their triumphs, mourn their losses, and show genuine charity.
- Let the kids play. The Church is not immune to youth who engage in sinful behavior. Distancing our children from people not of our faith will neither protect them from sin nor teach them charity.
- Love, love, love. This is a common thread in all of these principles, but that is because it is a commandment from God. It is also a key to happiness in this life.
Rather than letting our differences divide us, let’s seek out common ground with our neighbors.
You never know—your new best friend could be living next door.