Utahns need to be more accepting of others

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Yesterday we celebrated our nation’s birthday. In less than three weeks we will celebrate what in Utah is an even bigger holiday — Pioneer Day. July is the month for patriotic revelry and pioneer celebration. As we think about our past and what others did for us, we should also think about our future and what we can do for others. Narrowing the cultural divide in Utah is a great place to start.

We don’t like to talk about it, but we know Utah struggles with a divide between “Saints” and “Aints.” Utah is a Mormon place with an ever-increasing supply of non-Mormons contributing in marvelous ways. We have a Nobel Prize winner, Olympic athletes, NBA players, well-respected business leaders and everyday Utahns working hard to support their families. The integration of Mormon and non-Mormon thought and practice is at once a beautiful endeavor and an awkward struggle. We want to love our neighbor, but at times it challenges us because of our differences.

My late father had insight on this point. When referring to a neighborhood conflict he told me this: “Now you know why the Lord said to love your neighbor, because if you can love your neighbor you can love anybody.” It’s a clever way of saying what we know to be true — understanding those who are different is important if you want to live a Christ-centered life.

Several years ago I came across a classic quote from a former leader of the Salt Lake Chamber. He said, “Everybody in Salt Lake City 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.”

It’s a funny joke; it’s also out of date. In Salt Lake City, and increasingly in other places in Utah, Mormons are becoming a minority. The Utah of yesterday is not the Utah of today. What once seemed like a provincial and less diverse state is now thriving with variety. During the last decade, Utah experienced the fourth fastest growth among states in the ethnic-minority population. Two of our school districts — Salt Lake and Ogden — are minority-majority school districts. Each year, 1,200 new refugees arrive from far-away lands like Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq. If Utah’s refugee population comprised a city, it would be the 12th-largest city in the state, larger than Bountiful, Draper or Logan, just to name a few. We’ve been melding with newcomers in this state — some Mormon, some non-Mormon — ever since the transcontinental railroad, and the process continues today.

Many community leaders have spoken about the value of increased understanding in our lives. Former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley led the way when he said, “Each of us (from various religious denominations) believes in the fatherhood of God, although we may differ in our interpretations of Him. Each of us is part of a great family, the human family, sons and daughters of God, and therefore brothers and sisters. We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse.”

Dean Singleton, another community leader and owner of the Salt Lake Tribune, said in his 2009 Giant in Our City Address, “I believe the people of this state are proving to themselves, and to others, that indeed we are (better) … what I’m seeing in Salt Lake City is a growing desire to get along, to reason, to compromise.”

My hope is that we can draw from the power of increased understanding to be even better stewards of this place. Our first obligation is to be kind in word and deed. We also need to expand our definition of morality to include how we treat people with different values. Mostly, we — Mormons and non-Mormons alike — should seek ways to warmly welcome anyone of good will who wants to make Utah their home.