Latter-day Saints should live and let live, Gordon Monson advises Utahns and lawmakers


It doesn’t take much vision to see that people these days — and likely too many other days — glom together with others who are like them. Who either look like them, think like them, worship like them, feel like them, act like them. And they too often reject those who do not look like them, think like them, worship like them, feel like them, act like them.

Sadly, that’s the history of humankind, a history filled with too much prejudice and discrimination and violence and hatred. It starts with fear and ignorance and transforms into scorning those who are different at some level, in some way, and slides downward from there.

While that is unfortunate and objectionable in any direction, it’s particularly that way when it comes to religion, rejecting others in the name of God. Or rejecting others because they believe in God or believe in a different God. The former happens everywhere and is underscored to a greater degree, at times, in a place like Utah, where there is a predominant faith mixed in among rich tapestry of other faiths and, in some corners, no faith at all.

What happens then, as almost everyone around these parts knows, is a separation that occurs between followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those who follow other ideologies. You then have a Utah Legislature that is overwhelmingly made up of members of the aforementioned faith writing and passing bills they think align with principles of their religion, some that go beyond their religion, at the expense of those who are outside — and sometimes inside — the faith.

Bills then become laws that offend and diminish minority points of view in Utah, points of view that have value and, in some cases, are backed by solid research and opinion, but that run counter to biases held by those in power, influenced as they are by certain religious beliefs. Turn around twice, and transgender individuals are banned from certain public restrooms, diversity programs are downgraded or eliminated, and personal health decisions, reproductive and otherwise, are limited or removed from individuals, families and doctors, and placed in the hands of legislators who think that they know better, that they are following a higher law, God’s law.

In a country founded on distinct religious freedoms, including the complete absence of religion, this gets problematic. That’s why when a lawmaker in another state asserts, as happened recently, that his state is a “Christian” state, one that wants to rid itself of LGBTQ “filth,” all Americans, including Utahns, should be horrified. When Christian nationalism becomes a political force, it crosses a line that intrudes on the rights of those who are not Christian. That much should be clear to Christians themselves.

When Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn recently told a group of supporters the following, lovers of the U.S. Constitution should be alarmed and alerted. He said: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.”

Good Lord, what exact religion would that be?

Even those who see themselves as devoted to God, let alone those who don’t see themselves that way, would and should lean against that kind of rhetoric.

This is precisely why divergence of faith and no faith should be celebrated, not denigrated. Space for difference of religious belief or of nonviolent opinion of any kind doesn’t divide a country, it unites it. Should unite it. There’s nothing more American than, “You believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe. Let’s go.”

Don’t force anyone to believe or behave in a specific way just because that’s the way you think that your religious tradition instructs you to believe and behave. Utah leadership has had a history of adopting laws that appeal to what has been an organized, powerful majority here since statehood. Isn’t the proper role of government to protect not just the rights of the majority but also the rights of minorities?

Latter-day Saints should know all about the adverse effects of such happenings, given the early history of their religious group being pushed from place to place under the cruelest of circumstances, to the point that they hitched up the wagons, pulled the handcarts, riding and walking to a safe place in the mountains.

So why lay down laws and propagate attendant attitudes now in this once-supposed safe place that infringe on the beliefs or nonbeliefs of those who either look differently, think differently, worship differently, feel differently or act differently?

Differences don’t have to divide. They can unite. They can secure the notion that in the nation, in Utah, short of harmful extremes, you’re free to be and believe what your mind and heart and body and soul tell you to be and believe.

That arrangement sounds good for you, for me, for everyone, saints and heathens and saints who are heathens and heathens who are saints and whoever falls in between. It’s what the founders had in mind some 250 years ago.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.

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