I have a confession to make. Yes, another one! I have been a closet Utah Mormon Hater. This will require some explanation.
I was born and raised in Utah and have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) my whole life. I guess, technically, that made me a Utah “Mormon.” However, my first career was working for the Church as a teacher in the Church Educational System. For most of my career, my family lived outside of Utah. We lived in areas that had healthy LDS populations, but we were not in the religious majority. This made being “Mormon” a very different experience than for those members who lived in Utah.
A cute example: After her first day of school in Cashmere, Washington our 11-year-old daughter, Amber, came home and asked her mother how many wives I had. Her new friends (and Amber) seriously wanted to know.
I can’t say we were ever persecuted for our religion, although we were sometime excluded and often scrutinized. This could have been intimidating, but we found it inspiriting. We took it as a challenge and did everything we could to live the letter of the law so our acquaintances would have no excuse to criticize the Church or us as members.
We developed a sinful sense of pride at being better than Utah “Mormons”, who had it so easy. They didn’t appreciate what they had. They drank Colas. They wore two-piece swim suits. They made non-emergency trips to the store on the Sabbath. They went on vacation during Conference weekends. And they didn’t know what it felt like to be in the religious minority, so they were cliquey and not very tolerant of non-members.
We were convinced that if it weren’t for the presence of the prophet of God in their midst, they would all be destroyed by a great earthquake for their slothfulness.
Okay, I am overstating it, but you non-Utah “Mormons” have to confess that you’ve had these thoughts – unless you are among the truly humble. And, yes, I know a few of you truly humble.
The good news is that I have had a change of heart. This also will require some explanation.
In 2003, I was inspired by the Lord to walk away from my 21-year career and move my family to the one place we did not want to live – Salt Lake City. The next 16 years of my life is a powerful personal and sacred episode. It is enough for you to know we came here unemployed, unprepared and clueless and that God has used this time to make me into a different man.
Part of this change has been my attitude about Utah “Mormons”. From my humbled status, I have been the recipient of their kindness and love; I have seen their faithfulness and diligence; I have watched them accept and follow the council of Church leaders to become more tolerant and loving. They are truly becoming Mormon (literally translated: More Good); and I have become one of them.
Utah has received national recognition for its attitude and treatment of undocumented aliens. It has found common ground in the struggle over LGBTQ rights. It has been very welcoming and helpful to refugees from around the world. It continues to lead the nation in the amount of money and time donated to helping others – including the underprivileged of the world.
They have shown themselves to be amazing people in 2020; taking care of each other during the Covid-19 ordeal and earthquakes; responding positively to the instructions of civic and Church leaders to flatten the pandemic curve; and continuing to worship and keep the Sabbath despite the belaying of Church services.
Over the past two weeks, I have been very pleased to be one of them as we have dealt with the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. After just one night of violent protest was skillfully brought to a conclusion by the peace officers of our area, we have moved closer to solidarity with our brothers and sisters in demanding justice and elimination of institutional racism. We have responded to President Nelson’s call to repent of racism.
Now has all this been done by Mormons? Absolutely not! But that is part of my point.
Last week, Salt Lake police chief Mike Brown, after denouncing the killing of George Floyd, took a knee with protesters. I don’t think it was just a photo-op. I believe he really knelt in solidarity with them. I was brought to tears when I saw that. I was so pleased to have him as one of us, representing our love and determination so well.
Then it dawned on me that I didn’t know if Mike Brown was really one of us – a Latter-day Saint. And then if furthered dawned on me that I didn’t care one bit. As a Utah “Mormon”, I no longer feel the need to care. If Mike Brown is a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, he is my brother. That is because loving people for the good they do is now part of what being a Utah “Mormon” is all about.