When I was little, I viewed people who weren’t members of the Church like they were in some way irreconcilably different from the people like me. I viewed them way I would lepers, aliens in disguise, or Democrats.
They were different from the others in my predominantly LDS community. Some people had tattoos; others had earrings in odd places. Some people just smelled different — a clear indication that they weren’t on the straight and narrow.
I remember when the first family of non-members moved into our subdivision. I rode my bike past them with furtive glances over my shoulder, as if their dark influence might cause my tires to explode, leaving me at their mercy.
My parents were and are great examples of tolerance, but I still couldn’t get over the way non-Mormons were simply different — and that made nonmembers scary.
A mission was an eye-opening experience. Most of the people I met weren’t LDS, and many of them could totally have passed for such. In my two years of service, I encountered hundreds of amazing, wonderful people who either hadn’t had a chance to find the gospel or simply weren’t interested.
Still, these people loved their families, went to work every day, watched Star Wars, called themselves Americans, used deodorant and ate regular food. They went shopping at the mall, drove cars, spoke English, celebrated holidays and got irritated when people played hip-hop at full volume in the middle of the night.
They did not, however, sacrifice goats to their demons gods, plot the hostile takeover of peaceful neighborhoods, eat babies or soak their tentacles in specialized alien fluid every night to keep their skins moist in Earth’s atmosphere.
In other words, these people really were normal human beings.
I went to General Conference recently, where the protestors against the Church were engaged in their semiannual quest to save our souls. Four years ago, when I attended conference before my mission, I saw the protestors as minions of Satan out to destroy the peace that existed on Temple Square.
Now, I see them as possibly God-fearing, good people who might just see their holy crusade against Mormonism as nothing more than their own version of missionary work.
Then, just as I was coming to appreciate a heterogeneous environment and accept that a world where everyone was a clone of me might not be the ideal situation, I came to BYU–Idaho.
I wouldn’t say that diversity is dead here, but I wouldn’t say it’s alive and thriving, either.
I simply wish we had a little more diversity to even things out and prepare us for the real world, where not everyone is a Primary graduate.
A few weeks ago, I went on a date. It went great, and afterward, I called up the girl’s roommate, with whom I am good friends, to get the scoop. “Oh, she had a great time,” said the roommate, who then filled me on more details.
Certain that I knew all I needed to know, I swooped in and asked the girl out again.
This time, as we were making cinnamon rolls, she blithely informed me that she couldn’t eat sweets because she was on Lent.
Yeah, she was Catholic. Here at BYU–Idaho. I stuffed my cinnamon roll into my mouth, uncertain of what to say.
It seems my spiritual journey had reached an apex — She wasn’t LDS, and yet she shared our morals and values. There really can’t be anything too bad about that.
I love my religion, and I know it’s true. But I can accept that others might have their own beliefs, creeds and faiths.
Here’s to BYU–Idaho, where you can be assured that the person sitting next to you probably shares your values.
And here’s to the real world, where there are still a lot of good people, and where we can all join together and do some good.