Love, Accept Those Not of Our Faith
President, everybody up here, I’m a little nervous. . . . In keeping with the learning model, let’s get some class participation here, and I won’t be so nervous. I want you to stand up if what I ask applies to you, and then you can sit back down. We’ll do this for a bit, and see if you can follow.
You are from outside the state of Utah. Good, thank you. You are currently dating or have dated another student at the college. All right. They get tougher, so… You are left-handed. Okay. Now be honest here—this will separate you. You’ve read all the Twilight books. Okay.
Okay, now, these are two of my favorite things in all the world—chocolate milk and Twinkies. Okay, so here we go. Stand up if you would choose the Twinkies over the chocolate milk. Okay, how about the other way around—the chocolate milk instead? Oh, my heavens. All right. Now listen closely here; this will be the toughest one—you are left-handed, have read all the Twilight books, and prefer Twinkies. Okay, I knew we’d separate the…
Two more. President, I know you’re eyeballing this. You are currently a student or a member of the faculty, staff, or administration of the college. Okay, good. We got a—and I hope, Brother Little and Brother Duvall up there in Room 501, you’re standing, too. Okay, last one. You are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Come up here, you two.
I asked them beforehand, but I want to introduce these fine brethren to you. Go ahead and tell us your name and where you’re from.
Responses: My name is Eduardo, and I’m from Mexico. My name is Rudy and I’m from Haiti.
Okay. Now how many of you knew that we had some people here that are not members of the Church that go to school here? Okay. These are two of them. I pulled the report—there’s about nine of them or ten of them, I think, at this point. So I talked to some of them, Rudy and Eduardo. Oh, by the way, for coming up, you guys get to choose which one you’d like. Don’t they look good?
They’re not embarrassed. I asked them if they would be okay with that, but it ties in with what I’d like to share with them. Talking to them and some of the other students who come here to the school that are not members of the majority religion, I asked them how their experience has been here. And for the most part—correct me if I’m wrong, you two—they’ve felt accepted; it’s been positive. There have been times they have maybe felt or were made to feel maybe not quite the same, maybe a little bit different, maybe not quite as informed as those of us who have the font of all knowledge. One sister in particular, who is not here, said, “You know, it’s hard for me when you call people to pray in class. I’d rather have you ask for volunteers, because I’m uncomfortable.” So let that be a lesson to our instructors, to either find out ahead of time who may be willing to pray out loud or ask for volunteers.
Another one said—and this person joined the Church just a few weeks before she started school here, but when she was admitted she was not a member. She actually had a twist to her story. She said when it was found out that she was a fairly new member, she actually had people talk to her about being too much of a “Molly Mormon”, if you can believe it.
Many of us have been, in our lives, in a small minority of something. A lot of you that stood up and said you’re from outside the state of Utah have had in your life, I’m sure, times when you’ve maybe been made fun of or felt alone, because of your religion. Of the seventeen years between 1981 and 1998, fourteen of those my family spent outside of the state of Utah. I worked for corporations and lived in New York City; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; San Mateo, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and finally, on the Monterey Peninsula. And in all those locations, other than in Las Vegas, we were part of the minority religion.
So every April in General Conference, I always like to hear the statistical report to see how big the Church is getting. And this year, we will probably surpass 15 million members. That’s impressive. Let me see if we can get this technology to work. There we go. [Images appear on screen.] That’s the United States. The Mormon minority—so even though we have 15 million, we represent less than two percent of the population of the United States. One out of every 52 Americans is a member of the Church. Okay?
Now let’s go to what the world looks like. We represent about one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population, or one out of every 467 human beings on the earth are members of the Church. So what does that tell you? We may be a vast majority here, but worldwide, we are a minority. A big minority. Now, we may be physically isolated, too. Those of us that are members of the Church in the United States, most of us live in five states—California, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. We can also be socially isolated. Think about who you interact with on a daily basis. Don’t we spend most of our discretionary time with those that are just like us?
No wonder that, in my experience, we are frequently viewed by those who are not members as cliquish, insulated, judgmental, even secretive and mysterious. I think many of them see us as extremely busy, always trudging off to a meeting, too busy to engage them as neighbors or acquaintances, unless we see them as “golden contacts” and potential converts.
If this observation is correct, it does not seem to be in the spirit of one of our 13 Articles of Faith. The 11 th one actually says: “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
In fact, we were told by another modern-day prophet that Heavenly Father needs to rely on more than just members of the Church to bring to pass His work and His purposes. He needs those of other faiths, too, who worship how, where, or what they may. Early apostle Orson F. Whitney said this: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people.” (from Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59, quoted in “The Lord Uses Good Men to Accomplish His Work,” Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, July 1972, 59, http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Quotes/CivicStandardsETB.htm)
I have a good friend named Christopher Tracy. He worked for me in California, and when there was a job opening here in Ogden, Utah, for the call center for AOL, I gave him a recommendation and he was hired there. So ten years ago, he and his family, not members of the Church, moved to Kaysville, Utah—population 22,000, of which probably 21,500 are members of the Church. Okay? Now, many of you know Christopher; he has been a guest speaker in many of my classes—just last week, in fact. And he actually voluntarily serves as an adviser for our management programs here at the college.
He has related to me many times how he and his family first felt when they moved into their neighborhood. They were immediately accosted by many of their neighbors, but when they found out, these neighbors, that the Tracys were not interested in hearing the missionary discussions, what do you think happened? Many of these “friends and neighbors” ceased to have contact with them. He says he and his wife learned very early on who were their true friends and who simply had ulterior motives.
He wrote me once in an email, “I’m bothered by all the righteousness that ultimately leads to the judgment we place on each other. Honestly, I believe that’s the last thing Jesus wanted from us, and why he always warned of the religious high priests, their rules and judgments.” He went on to say, “But yet, it often feels like a trapping of all religions. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it slips in as ‘they can’t quite be good,’ or ‘I feel sorry for them that they don’t go to the same church, wear the same clothes, follow the same rules.’ So this righteousness drives us to go prove, force, or convince others that they are wrong and we are right. And this seems to happen with all religions.”
I’m happy to say that the Tracys are still in Kaysville. They have survived and prospered this last ten years, and they have many close friends. They’re still not members of the Church. They value the friendships they have with those that are. They are open-minded, and they see many positives of our religion. Christopher told me the same things that I’ve been told by many people who are not of our religion over the years—they respect the LDS people for our high moral values, for being so family-oriented and service-minded, for our organizational skills, our loyalty and patriotism, and strong work ethic.
A recent article, just three weeks ago in the Deseret News, there was a study done, and it said this: “Despite the report’s… findings that Mormons are hard-working, civic-minded, and emphasize family life,” this study found that “the Mormon lifestyle itself is what makes Americans uncomfortable.” It went on to say, “Just as Mormons seem to be ideal Americans, they also provoke typically American fears. No matter how much Mormon behavior conforms to what most consider admirable”—even though we look wholesome—“…some are convinced that Mormons secretly [wait for]… an opportunity to take over the world.” [Laughter] (Mormonism still raising questions among Americans, in New York Times forum,” Joshua Bolding, Feb. 3, 2012, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700221757/Mormonism-still-raising-questions-among-Americans-in-New-York-Times-forum.html?pg=all)
So our secret’s out—world domination is what we’re after. Now certainly there are those who fear us, don’t understand us, stereotype us as religious fanatics, non-Christians—have you heard that?—racists or polygamists. While working in California in the 1990s, one of my bosses would always greet me with this question: “So Newman, which of your wives cooked you breakfast this morning?”
And I would always come back with a joke like, “You know, it’s not bad having multiple wives; it’s the multiple mothers-in-law that’s the problem.”
But it wasn’t always a joking matter. When I completed grad school I was hired by American Express to go live in New York City. They hired several of us out of the University of Utah and BYU, and our job was to go back to New York, learn the business, spend a couple of years, and then help move the Traveler’s Check division for that company from New York to Salt Lake City. My boss explained to us, as we were together those first weeks, she said, “Your job is to be normal. You are not only to learn the business, but you are to show to these New Yorkers that Mormons are normal—you have no horns, you have no multiple wives—because we want to convince some of these New Yorkers to move to Utah when we move the division.”
She especially cautioned us to be very sensitive about preaching our religion and proselyting to those in the company. I’ll never forget the day that we were invited to go to the 40 th floor of American Express Plaza for a cocktail reception with the CEO and president and much of his executive team. Now, two of the members of our group said, “Oh, we’re not going to go. We’re not going to be in a room where alcohol is served.” Now, that is their right. I wasn’t one of them. I went, along with five others of my group. And I can remember standing there for what seemed like hours with a glass of 7-Up in my hand—those of us who have been to cocktail parties for years know what that’s like.
Over the 25 years, I was able to strategically hold that 7-Up very well. And the next morning our boss called us into the conference room and reamed us—chewed us up one side and down the other—almost fired one of us and ended up putting that person on severe written warning. It seemed that that coworker had gotten into a conversation the night before with one of the executives. And when the executive found out he was from Utah, he asked if he was LDS. So the conversation pursued a little bit, and my coworker mistook just plain curiosity for sincere interest, and told the executive that he would have the missionaries come to his house, and wanted his phone number and address.
Lesson learned. We can live our religion but don’t make it a career-ending opportunity, like this person did. My wife and I are grateful for those years that we spent outside of Utah, for the friendships we formed. While we always had our branch or ward family to be around, most of our best friends were not members of the Church. We felt accepted, we felt included, and, for the most part, rarely judged. There was a time when our daughter was in junior high, and she had a friend come up to her and say, “I can’t be friends with you anymore. My parents found out you worship the God Mormon.”
We believe, however, we’ve been made better people because of those experiences that we’ve had, more open-minded. It reminds me of what you heard Elder Christopherson say just a couple of weeks ago in the Worldwide Leadership Training meeting, where he told us all that he was a better man for having been around people who weren’t members of the Church and serving with them.
By far most of the associations we had outside of Utah were almost of a protective nature where people, friends of ours, wanted to protect us from the evils. Knowing we were members of the Church, they would be careful not to offer us drinks or let anybody else offer us drinks if we were at a party. They’d invite us to dinner and tell us where to go and not go, and I think back on those times and I’m reminded of the story in the Book of Mormon where a people were baptized by Ammon and the sons of Mosiah, and they called themselves the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Not that they were anti-anything, but that was just a prefix meaning they were included in those people. They’d sworn not to take up arms, remember that? And never one of them fell away. But their brethren, the Lamanites, would come to battle against them. And since these people had agreed not to fight, many of them were slain—to the point where Ammon and his brethren decided to help these people be protected.
In the 27 th chapter of Alma we read about Ammon and his brothers taking these people. I just want to quote here a few verses from Alma 27: “And it came to pass that the chief judge [over the Nephites] sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
“And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea . . . and this [is the land] . . . we will give unto our brethren for [their] inheritance.
“And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon.” (Alma 27:21-23)
And then they go on to say, “And . . . they [will inherit this land]; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies.” (v. 24) Now think about that, as you ponder those verses. Here was a people that had committed murders against the Nephites, and yet they found protection. They were accepted. Think about, have you ever reached out to be accepting and inclusive to those who are different from us in the way they look, dressed, believed—be willing to even protect them in word and in action even if they had harmed us—or do we stay confined to our majority, to our group of friends that we know and love?
We Mormons do stick together. We work together, we pray together. We even vote together. That’s what led to a lot of the early persecutions. But in 1846, we fled the United States to seek refuge in this valley, far away from those who would harm us, so we could establish Zion. Brothers and sisters, for many members of the Church today, it is still 1846.
I’ll share a story about one of those members and how his and his family’s eyes were opened. His name is Mike; he is a good friend of mine. He sits on the high council with me in our stake. About six years ago, he accepted a job to be a coach and a teacher at the faculty of Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia. Many of you may have known about this college. It’s about 700 students, mainly LDS, in a community of about 6,000 residents. Mike told me that he knew the school was predominantly LDS, but the community was not. So he and his wife had to prepare their children and themselves to go into a community they didn’t know much about and where they were certainly not part of the majority religion.
Let me quote from what Mike said: “I had always been taught that ours was the only true church in the world, and, unfortunately, I had taken that to mean that people who belong to other churches were totally wrong. I can remember wondering how my children would do in schools where they were the only “chosen” ones, and how would my wife and I help them live honest and chaste lives amongst the heathens. Boy, I was pretty messed up.
“As soon as we moved in, we went to find out about Little League sports, and I attended my first community meeting. I was shocked as I sat down at the city offices to hear a city recreation director turn to someone and ask them to give the opening prayer. He was not of my faith, but he was also not of the faith of most of the people in the room. There were nineteen different chapels and congregations in this town of 6,000 people, however, everyone in the room bowed their heads and said ‘Amen’ at the end. My eyes began to be opened.
“This began a three-year journey for my family of learning acceptance and learning how to reach out, desiring to be included in a community of faith. Our community of God was not about what we believed or what chapel we went to; it was about how we acted as people, how we accepted our Savior, and how we modeled our lives after Him.”
What exactly is involved with building a community of God, or Zion, as we call it? We’re instructed through the scriptures that the Lord has decreed there are at least three elements or ingredients to create Zion: purity, unity, and equality. In 1833, the Lord spoke to the Prophet Joseph saying this, “Therefore, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” (D&C 97:21)
We know of three times in the earth’s history when a Zion community was or will be established on earth. The first was the City of Enoch. The second we read about in the Book of Mormon after Christ’s visit to the Americas. And the third will be right before and during the Millennium. Now let’s focus a bit more on the second time, that we read about in 4 th Nephi. What a glorious time it was. For almost two hundred years, the people flourished in a Zion society with all of those ingredients present: purity, unity, and equality.
Let’s read out of 4 th Nephi for just a second: “And there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (verses 2-3)
“There was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness.” And I love this: “…Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
“There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there any Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (verses 15-17)
I love that piece where it says, “Nor any manner of –ites.” I love “the children of Christ.” Sadly, you know the rest of the story. Zion in the early Americas did not last. The Evil One took hold and turned the hearts of the people and they became prideful, wicked—they developed a class society, and the “ites” came back.
I want you to think about some of the “ites” we have today. Look at all these “ites” that we read out of the scriptures—Mormonites, Jacobites, Zoramites, Israelites, Mulekites. We still have some today, yes—there are termites, parasites, Shiites, neophytes, smelterites (if you’re from Murray High School—I had to get that one in for my wife), stalactites, and President Richards’ go-fly-a-kites. He loves kites.
Seriously, imagine living in a society in our day and our neighborhood where people are not judged by what they drive, how they look, or to whom they pray—no poor, no contentions, but instead a pureness of heart. As Saints, we are cautioned not to be light-minded. We should also strive to be not "ite”-minded. I made that up, I thought.
My wife and I serve in the Salt Lake Temple, and one of the great things about the temple is sitting there all in white and not having any idea who is the doctor, who is the electrician, who is the stake president, who is the Primary chorister. Consider your own neighborhood or house or apartment complex. What goes on there? Is it inclusive or exclusive, tolerant or intolerant? Is there real Christlike action, or just pamphlets and hollow words? Would your neighbor come to ask you if they had a question about the Church? Do you see everything through the lens of Mormon versus non-Mormon?
By the way, how would you like to be called a “non”? How many “ites” do you see in your world?
The ideal of Zion took some time to build. There are places we can start today. We can try to become a Zion community right here. We may not get all the full ingredients, but we can do something. Look at Buena Vista, Virginia, and look at what happened in my own neighborhood just four weeks ago. This is a flier that went out. The women in our neighborhood—some members, some not—got together and planned a women’s night. It was held at a local elementary school. The purpose was just to bring the women together in a spirit of unity without concern over religious denomination or an effort to proselyte. What a wonderful experience it was. Over 350 women attended. My wife was there. It was great, she said.
This was not planned by the Church folks, and then we invited our non-member friends. Most of our activities—we like to reach out. We plan it and then we say, “Oh, by the way, we’ll invite everybody.” Most of our nonmember friends see right through that
That event, I think, is a start of what Zion could be like here in Utah. In our stake we use this ladder, on what Zion in Utah could be like. The first rung of the ladder is 1846: establish Zion away from the world. Okay? Flee to the west; live away from everybody else. May I suggest that the time to flee to the mountains is past? The physical dangers that forced us to leave have decreased. If you still feel that way, ask Heavenly Father. The Brethren certainly don’t feel that way.
The second rung of the ladder is to safeguard Zion from becoming the world. So we live parallel lives with our neighbors here in Utah. But I think that time is past too. I think we can be Zion to the world. Okay? That’s the top rung of the ladder, and part of our stake vision. We can live interactive lives and strive to break down and make win-win situations.
I know we’ve all heard for years, “Live in the world, but not of it,” but I almost think that might be more part of a second-rung type of a thing. Not that that’s not important, but I think that we can beyond just being protective, I think we can reach out. Face it, we have been a truly sheltered people. Just how sheltered? As a Church, we are currently spending millions of dollars spreading through the world that we are normal. We have a campaign going on in major cities across the U.S. that we are normal. It kind of reminds me of my boss at American Express 30 years ago.
I’m a Mormon. Hey, I’m on billboards, and taxi cabs, and buses and subways. I’m even on Broadway. And—come on Mitt—I may be in the White House. We don’t know that for sure. But I’m Mormon, and I’m a normal person. There are Mormon movies, there are Mormon sports stars, there are Mormon American Idols. We can and should be Zion to the world. We can embrace the Christopher Tracys, the cities of Buena Vista, Virginia, the Eduardos, the Rudys. We can consecrate ourselves to becoming the pure in heart and living and loving those around us.
Let me conclude with a call to action. I’m going to give you six suggestions that we can do, all of us.
Attend the cocktail parties. Grab a 7-Up and enjoy yourself. Mingle.
Break out of your comfort Zion—it’s a play on “zone,” but Zion doesn’t have to be just what’s in this room, so break out of it. Get to meet some new people. Be open-minded.
Take advantage of the LDSBC service opportunities. Most of those that are offered here serve people that are not of our faith. So get involved. The student council knows about them.
Invite others to help plan activities. Don’t just plan it and then invite people; have them in on the planning. That’s what made this women’s conference that night in our neighborhood so successful.
Look under your nose. In my own family, our oldest is a professed atheist. He followed his natural father and you can imagine what Sunday dinners are like. But we love him and we accept him. Many of you probably have that same thing going on in your families.
And finally, pray for an open mind and heart.
President Monson says this: “I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.” (From Church News, April 6, 2008, http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51834/President-Thomas-S-Monson.html)
I testify that we can build a Zion community within our hearts and within our homes. We can be inclusive and open-minded versus being “ite”-minded. I testify that God lives. He wants us to be the pure in heart. I love the Savior. I love this gospel. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.