I had to comment on the Salt Lake Trib’s forums on the following column:
Two teenagers, a 16-year-old female and an 18-year-old male, vandalized a local church, causing $1 million in damage. They broke in and ran amok, destroying things with a baseball bat, spray-painting epithets and sacrilegious symbols on the walls, and, finally, lighting the building on fire.
The members of this church, which has seen more than its share of persecution, were shaken and heartbroken.
For 16 months the congregation relied on the hospitality of another church that rearranged its schedule to accommodate their friends. For nearly a year and a half, both churches shared one building for worship and myriad meetings during the week.
When the vandalized church was ready to reopen, they threw a big party to celebrate, including the whole neighborhood on the guest list. My husband Chris and I got a nice flier on our porch inviting us, as did other neighbors who, like us, are not members.
I didn’t give a thought to attending, but I was glad for them. If I was invited to a party for the Jewish synagogue, Muslim mosque, or Hindu temple closest to my house, and if one of those congregations had been vandalized, had been victimized by people motivated by hate, I would never pass up the opportunity to celebrate with them as they returned to worship in their own renovated, resanctified building.
Yet I have to admit that since the wronged congregation was of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I was less interested in attending their celebration.
For most of my life, especially that crucial early part, I couldn’t have imagined Mormons as people who had been persecuted. Quite the opposite; they were persecuting me. Ask anyone who grew up non-Mormon here in the ’60s (for example) and you’ll hear the same.
We all had a few friends who were Mormon, but the scars inflicted by Mormons as a whole run deep. So I’m predisposed to have a bad attitude about Latter-day Saints. Like any form of bigotry, I try to resist this, to rise above it.
I’ve made my peace with much of what happened back then. I’m grateful for the painful interactions that caused me to strive to befriend people who are different. I am happy to have become in some small sense someone who speaks out on behalf of other people. However it happened, Mormons gave me that.
Nearly 30 years after I left public school, Salt Lake City is a different place. The world has arrived. Even my old suburban neighborhoods have evolved past the time when a brown-haired non-Mormon white girl constituted a level of diversity, if not outright novelty.
Today, there are LDS people whom I love like family and my unpleasant experiences have dwindled until they mostly involve the most ridiculous members of the Utah State Legislature, the type who spend their time worrying about issues like “discrimination toward the white, family-oriented Christian male.”
Late last month, the phone rang and I got a special invitation from my friend Carolyn to attend the party at the ward house. For a lot of reasons, it would have been easy to skip it. But sometimes when a bell goes off like that, it’s because someone needs to learn a lesson. This lesson: You can encounter a group that’s different from you in some way, yet you can find the faces of friends and friendly faces there. That day, that lesson was for me.
Congratulations to the members of the LeGrand Ward and thanks for the invitation. I wish you many years of safe worship.
* BARB GUY is a regular contributor to these pages.
I have to admit that I’d feel a similar lack of interest in attending a rededication celebration at an LDS house of worship, over just about any other denomination (including Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, whatever). It’s a reaction to past perceived hurts that’s almost on an instictive level – I was rejected, therefore I reject. If I were invited to some kind of bridge-building event like this, I’d struggle with the decision. It would really depend on the circumstance and whether I had some personal connection with person doing the inviting.
And here are the comments for that particular piece: very typical of discourse “across the divide” in Utah, but there’s more reason and less lather on both sides nowadays. Still, Barb Guy is accused of being a bigot. For some reasons, this always happens to people who’ve suffered bigotry; they get accused of it if they have difficulty forgiving the hurt.
Mine starts out on the second page:
I was a red-haired, non-LDS tomboy in the 60’s on the East Bench. I think I was initially singled out for abuse in grade school because of the way I looked and dressed, and the fact that I didn’t have a ready-made group of friends from primary gave my tormentors carte blanche. Otherwise, *how did everyone seem to know that I wasn’t LDS?* It’s the nature of children to pick on loners, but it all gets mixed up with the dominant religion *whereever you are*, and for me it’s still hard to let go of the anger and accept and love family members who converted to the LDS Church…
It goes on from there. Suffice to say, I’d be a much, much happier person if my dad had never moved us to Utah in the early 60’s. Being a “not” kid in Utah guarantees a lot of problems with socialization, self-esteem, and conflict – both interior and exterior. Even leaving doesn’t solve them.
I started out reading the piece thinking it was going in a different direction. I assumed that it would be about a non-LDS church, because I
When I was in high school, some teenage kids got into the nearby Wasatch Presbyterian church building and vandalized it, then started a fire that gutted the sanctuary. It was a huge deal and some of the kids apparently took off via my neighborhood, because I was “sleeping out” that night (too hot to sleep inside) and some kid came through the yard and woke me up – scared the crap out of me, frankly, but I yelled aggressively at him and scared the crap out of HIM in return.
I could hear sirens. He seemed kind of freaked out, and I asked him what he was doing in our yard and who he was. He said he’d heard something “kicking around” (me, sleeping on the yard swing settee thing we had) and had come into the yard from the alley to see what it was. And it came out that he had been up by the church on the hill with some other kids, and now they were scattering for home because “something happened.” He took off and I didn’t get his name. It was all very weird, and then the news of the fire was the big thing the next day. Mom was totally ranting about the vandals and how it had to be “Mormon kids” and all that. She went on and on, and asked me very closely if I’d heard anything the night before.
Well, it had to come out, because a vandalized church was a big crime and so I told Mom about the teenaged stranger kid that came in the yard in the wee hours. Teenager solidarity just didn’t apply. She reported it to the police, but I don’t recall ever talking to a cop or giving a description. The church rebuilt, and then added on, and then more recently they completely rebuilt their education wing again – they seem to be going great guns.
Church arsons seem to happen all over, but in Utah they get all mixed up with the majority/minority tensions across the religious divide.