Monday, February 28, 2011

Mormons need to do better…

I wanted to address something that I have been thinking about for quite some time. In my previous post I told of the story of a lady who said, “I could never be friends with a Mormon”. I personally consider it shallow to purposely avoid being someone’s friend just because their religious beliefs are different than their own. However, I do want to say that I realize that Mormons are not the perfect example when it comes to the inclusion of others. The majority of us do not intentionally exclude those not of our faith, but I do know that many times we tend to stick to our own kind and might unintentionally exclude others.

In the past, there have been a few occasions where I have heard people not of our faith make comments that helped me come to the realization that we as Mormons need to do a better job in the inclusion of others. I know that some people see us as “cliquish” and feel that we only socialize with our Mormon friends. In hopes of shedding some understanding on the matter, let me give you my point of view. It is human nature to flock towards people who are most like yourself…people who you share commonalities with. It’s what we all do isn’t it? And I’m sure that most would agree that doing so is not an effort to purposely try to exclude others. It’s more about where you feel most comfortable. There are times when Mormons feel like outsiders because of those who wrongfully judge us and don’t accept us and our religion. Therefore we might sometimes wrongfully assume that those not of our faith would rather not associate with us, because we are Mormon (as is the case in the aforementioned story). So for some Mormons, it might be easier and more comfortable to stick with the people whom they know will love and accept them. But one of the biggest reasons why Mormons tend to mostly socialize with their Mormon friends is simply because…it’s who we know. People naturally become friends with those whom they associate with most. The Mormon culture is very social. We are simply together a lot. We are together at church every Sunday and we are together for various activities throughout the week.

I know that especially in Jr. High and High School, the majority of Mormon kids will spend most of their time with their Mormon friends. I personally was fortunate through Jr. High and High School to have amazing and wonderful friends both Mormon and not. I felt just as accepted amongst my friends who weren’t of my faith as I did my Mormon friends. But I do know that it is common for Mormon kids to mostly socialize with other Mormons…for the same reasons mentioned above. But I know how this must look to the other kids in school. It definitely appears cliquish and maybe even gives the message that Mormons don’t want to have anything to do with those that are not Mormon. In most cases, that’s not true. I will admit that my high school aged daughter hangs out with Mormon girls on the most part. Is she purposely avoiding friendships with those that aren’t Mormon? No. Am I as a parent forbidding her to befriend kids that aren’t Mormon? No. In fact, I would love it if she were to open up her circle of friends to include those that aren’t of our faith. Once again, it’s not about intentionally trying to exclude others. It’s really not. We just don’t realize (especially young people) that we are causing others to feel left out. Believe me, the majority of Mormons would gladly welcome any decent person, Mormon or not, into their circle of friends if they knew that they so desired.

Hopefully that sheds a little light on the subject. However it doesn’t give Mormons an excuse to continue this behavior. We are taught in our church to love and accept all people, and I personally think that those of us who are members of the church need to be more aware of those around us and make more of an effort to include all people. And if there are members of our church who purposely exclude or are in anyway unkind or unfriendly to those not of our faith, shame on them! They are most definitely not in alignment with the teachings of our church. Let me share with you what our church leaders say about the inclusion of others…

In speaking to members of the church, M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of the church has said this,

Perceptions and assumptions can be very dangerous and unfair. There are some of our members who may fail to reach out with friendly smiles, warm handshakes, and loving service to all of their neighbors. At the same time, there may be those who move into our neighborhoods who are not of our faith who come with negative preconceptions about the Church and its members. Surely good neighbors should put forth every effort to understand each other and to be kind to one another regardless of religion, nationality, race, or culture.

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. I have been a member of this Church my entire life. I have been a full-time missionary, twice a bishop, a mission president, a Seventy, and now an Apostle. I have never taught—nor have I ever heard taught—a doctrine of exclusion. I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.

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.

“Doctrine of Inclusion” (October 6, 2001)