From the Atlantic to the Pacific it’s easy to see how far diversity divides America. Obama vs. McCain, Democrat, Republican, abortion, guns, marriage, immigration, vouchers, climate change, dark beer vs. light, the Yankees, and so on. But often these differences reside on specific issues. In Salt Lake City, “The Great Divide” is determined by membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints —Mormon vs. Gentile, as is often said here, jokingly.
On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, the prophet successor to Joseph Smith and leader of the Mormon Church, made his famous “This is the place” deceleration as he entered what is now the Salt Lake valley. At that time, the land was a disputed part of Mexico and outside the reach of US control. Shortly there after, non-Mormons, including traders, businessmen, and the soldiers sent to keep a watchful eye on the situation entered the valley. And The Great Divide began splitting one community further away from the other.
There’s no shortage of stories about The Great Divide; many fascinating historical examples have found their way into books, both for and against the respective sides. Present day examples include the constant struggle over liquor laws, zoning of LDS owned city developments, the Utah vs. BYU rivalry (which unlike most rivalries, feeds on the difference of religion rather than physical location), two news papers— the Mormon owned and the other, adoption policies, businesses open on the Sabbath, Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, and the street preachers who stand on Temple Square and scream vulgarities at the Mormons in the name of God.
How we handle these issues either work toward bridging The Great Divide or widening it; and I believe followers of Christ have a greater responsibility to bridge the chasm to our neighbors.
It would seem that this holds true for almost every community with a difference of religion.
So, when the missionaries knock on my door, I don’t prepare for battle and I don’t start working out my plan to convert them with word traps and mind games. I simply set myself to be the most hospitable home they visit that day. Wouldn’t that be the expectation when visiting a Christian? While I stand on what I believe, I don’t try to trample their beliefs. I seek the common ground and save the rest for another time, maybe once we've gotten to know one another better.
When topics of religion come up with Mormon co-workers or neighbors, I first try to understand the definitions of the conversation. As it turns out, sometimes we don’t have the same meaning for commonly assumed ideas; and better understanding what a person is saying shows a greater respect for that person, even if you don’t agree with her statements.
Engaging in the community, even if it’s different, is a good way to first understand and than change or influence from within. Often in Salt Lake, The Great Divide is the strongest between the Mormons and other faith-based communities. There are people who won’t let their kids trick-or-treat certain houses, clicks at work are often Mormon or Non-Mormon, community events tend to lean extremely one way or the other with no consideration for the community as a whole, and on and on. It’s a ridiculous way for a community to grow when one group sees that other group as a cancer.
I wonder how many other cities have issues similar to Salt Lake? I’m guessing most. So why then haven’t the followers of Christ figured out how to be better neighbors? Maybe we'll get it someday, hopefully more sooner than later.