One of my online LDS groups recently had an energetic discussion. The original topic was a woman sharing how out of place and alone she felt in her Utah ward (she was a recent transplant to the area). The conversation grew from there, many others echoing her feelings, others becoming downright nasty regarding the Mormons of Utah, and others speaking up in defense of those Utah Mormons. I don’t think even the worst remarks put the conversation into the halls of toxic online conversations. But back in college I was told I needed to kill myself for being a Mormon from Utah and ever since then discussions of “stupid Utah Mormons” gets me admittedly seeing red.
After all, I’m a reasonably nice person. I have friends and acquaintances from a variety of backgrounds. I am friendly to strangers in public (a side effect of working five summers at Scout Camp). I welcome new people at church. I find anyone from outside my county charmingly exciting. Oh, and I’m also not from that goofy Utah County or a crazily wealthy Mormon Instagramming my perfect life like everyone there–
Are there experiences out there I don’t fully understand? Am I guilty of having my own biases against people?
In this thread of conversation, most of the nastier remarks about Utah Mormons came with a qualifier of “Well, of course I’m not talking about EVERYONE…” To which I would think, what a backhanded way of maintaining your mean comments. The defenders including me would rather than acknowledging others’ experiences would leap right to that defending, probably making us look like those stupid Utah Mormons. Fortunately there were a few chime-ins of how this was a great opportunity to listen to each other.
The whole seemed appropriate in the line of my recent RS lessons on ministering. The past couple of months has had me blabbering on about finding ways of serving each other and really getting to know each other and open up and all that. And there I was whimpering about how one person hurt my feelings over a decade ago.
One definition I give ministering is attempting to serve others as Christ would. Christ wasn’t defensive. Christ didn’t make passive aggressive statements. Christ didn’t try to qualify His feelings to be manipulative.
The reality is I am a Mormon in Utah, born and raised. I may be a wonderful, delightful person. Good for me. I should keep that up. But I also don’t get to speak for others. I’m not perfect. The non-Utah transplants aren’t perfect. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes people feel lonely and unwanted. Sometimes this happens a heck of a lot more than sometimes.
Explanations in this thread came up. Culture was oft mentioned, such as the concept that outside of Utah, the Church tends to be your family while in Utah, your family is your family. I know I hang out with my family and my-inlaws a fair amount. We do stuff together. Women said that it’s not uncommon out of Big Happy Family Utah for families to be more geographically distant and the communities to become, well, community. In places where the Church is the minority, wards and branches really band together and support each other. I like to think we do that in Utah, but perhaps it blends in or perhaps more people just rely on that family we have.
Perhaps when Church members come to Utah, they’re hit with that culture shock. That awesome close-knit support of past wards fades away. Historic wards have already build their culture and just don’t let others in, out of ignorance or xenophobia. Maybe the wards are what I would deem perfectly nice, but just not up to what the ward members had in mind. Or Utah Mormons really are a bunch of horrible people. Or transplant Church members give us mixed messages of how Utah Mormons are supposed to behave.
It looked like a mess after awhile. To stick it all in black and white, most Utah Mormons were hypocritical snobs and all the other Mormons filled their children’s head with terrifying lore of the evil horned Utah Mormons.
Wow, us. Wow.
It shouldn’t be like this. Satan is attacking the Church, and this could be a manifestation of that. Could this be a reason for this fresh focus on ministering?
No one moving to Utah or Minnesota or Florida or wherever should feel shutout from her ward. No one should be rejected or even kindly tolerated for being from the wrong state. We should all be able to look past different cultures, even accept those cultures as okay, and truly love one another and serve each other.
A few Sundays’ back we had a great discussion about how to step outside of our comfort zones and to find new ways of ministering to others. So much of this was changing our thoughts from the lesson and prayer method of Visiting Teaching to finding what our sisters and neighbors needed and going all the way to becoming their friend.
I’m something of a hermit. If a transplant to Utah wanted me to hang out with them all the time because that’s what she did in her last state, I might have to put a stop on that. And she might have to accept that being me and not because I’m a snob. But we can certainly be friends! We can chat on social media and sit by each other and chat at Church. We could do a playdate every now and then or even have a game night. Heck, we could be sure each other got invited to random church and neighborhood activities even if we would up skipping out. We could become instant bosom buddies or we could slowly work on our relationship with caring and kindness over the years. But we wouldn’t leave each other out.
Don’t put up your defenses too quickly. Don’t enjoy your butthurt bias too much. Realize that the Church is still a diverse place even within a small region. Put yourself in another person’s shoes as you minister: is that woman lonely in a new church culture hoping for the same intensity and closeness as her last ward? Is she comfortable in her support system outside of the church and you’re not granting her that grace? Don’t quickly throw an assumption at any group of people.
Do what Christ would do. Get to know them. Don’t expect them to fall fully and immediately or even ever in your particular world view. Don’t feel you have to excuse or feel guilt for your own culture, but don’t be too closed off to new ideas.
Smile at them at Church and around town.
Send them a text.
Go out for lunch.
Offer to take their kids for a few hours.
Ask if they wouldn’t mind taking your kids and you would totally owe them a favor.
Bring them a treat.
Show interest in their background. Utah’s probably not that bad and New Jersey and Alaska probably aren’t that bad.
Remind them about the random Church event going on that evening.
Zion’s stakes are far beyond Utah these days. Work with it.