How diverse are we really?
This past Sunday, we had guest speakers in our sacrament meeting. The female half of the husband and wife duo marvelled at how diverse our ward was. And I confess that I had to stifle a laugh. Given the fact that I’ve never seen her before in the ward (although I have been out of town for the past three Sundays), I was forced to concluded that she was referring to racial diversity, since she probably didn’t know very many people in the congregation. Because really, we’re not that racially diverse … I may be one of about 15 members of color in my ward. And we’re not really that diverse when it comes to socio-economic status either … mostly middle to upper-middle class. And not even really diverse when it comes to education … mostly college educated. She might have been referring to marital status, since there are a rather large number of single (never married or divorced) sisters in my ward, but somehow I don’t think so. Or, she might have been thinking about the age spread, although even that is pretty much bell-shaped, with very few children or markedly aged members.
So, I was forced to conclude that when she mentioned diversity, she was talking about racial diversity. By my own account, there really is not much racial diversity in my ward, but it’s exciting to think that there is in the LDS church as a whole. I know that I was personally thrilled when the “more members outside the US than in” horn was tooted. And yet, I sometimes worry that our claims of diversity ring false when the church imposes culture alongside doctrine.
Racism has become such a dirty word. No sane person I know will admit to being racist. And yet, it’s there, simmering just below the surface of each of us. In my most honest moments, I recognize it as a fear of the unknown and/or unfamliar, and that I have a piece of it inside of me. A few years ago, I decidedly remember walking around a set of escalators at the SLC airport in order to avoid tow middle eastern men dressed in turbans and flowing robes. I remember because I chastised myself even as I did it. Served me right to have to backtrack because the path I’d tried to escape to was blocked off.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also had a checkered past in regard to race relations . And while I do think that we get better generationally, I also think that racism has become more insidious because we place a veneer of civility over the top. Yes, we’ve learned to interact with those of other races with less fear, but we’re also better at hiding our prejudices. We’ve learned to hide it better. Now, instead of singling out one portion of humanity out, we’re just counselled to leave behind the traditions of our fathers behind in order to embrace Christianity in general, and “mormonness” in particular. And while it may be conforting that Mormons are thought of as the nice young men who wear white shirts and black name tags when they knock on our door, wouldn’t it be better to be known as men and women of God who are dedicated to serving humanity?
I’m reminded of a couple of second generation immigrant friends. In their zeal to become American, the parents had abandoned many of the traditions of their homelands. It wasn’t until much later that the adult children tried to travel to the countries of their forefathers, and learn the language, that they were able to piece together and understand the societies that nutured their parents, and even do some genealogy. I worry that in the zeal to convert investigators, we ask them to assume a culture that cannot ultimately satisfy. Yes, the gospel can satisfy, but church culture many times fails to.
I believe that we shouldn be looking to incorporate as much as possible from the many cultures of the world, instead of cutting off. i wish that, instead of prescribing what we look like (dress codes, limitations on jewelry, body art and hair, etc) we could be more unified in doctrine (being kind, charitable and loving). I wish it were possible to to reduce the gospel of Christ to a strong core of beliefs, have those be our guiding principles, and be able to leave off all the extraneous fluff.
I distinctly remember an Institute class on the New Testament. The teacher was describing the numerous intricacies of Judaic laws regarding the keeping of the Sabbath. And I was amazed at the restrictions on travel, work, etc. The teacher likened the onerous laws to a restrictive series of pasture gates (culture) to keep a central area (faith) separate. The gates/laws were in place to protect the mindless herd animals. And yet, when Christ came, he did away with the debilitating gates. Abstaining from work did not equate keeping the Sabbath holy. It was enough to say that his disciples should keep the Sabbath holy, and let each decide what it meant, and grow through those decisions. Which begs the question: Can’t we just approach the faith and leave the culture aside?
As the church continues to grow, and indeed, to keep whatever new members may be converted, I think that the church will have to become more international in scope as well as membership. I hope that we can carry the message of the gospel abroad in such a way that will let members from far-off and disparate places keep the best parts of their heritage, and combine those things with the best that the gospel has to offer. And I hope that we will all be humble enough to learn and love and accept all of those best things, as opposed to thinking that we all have to be the same. That would be a truly wonderful way to celebrate the diversity that is inherent among God’s creations.