A local writer, whose name I won’t mention as there is no point in promoting someone like this, recently accused me of attacking her based on her previous religious beliefs (in addition to calling me a “petty bitch” and other equally charming names). For the most part I choose to disregard things like this because this person isn’t worth responding to, but on the issue of religion, I have to take a stand. I don’t attack people, and most certainly I don’t attack their beliefs. I defy anyone to find a specific example of me ever doing otherwise.
I grew up as a religious minority in two states, which is rather an accomplishment. I was born and raised as a member of the Congregationalist Church living in LDS-dominated Utah. I spent most of my summers in North Carolina (a Baptist stronghold) where my grandfather was a Methodist minister. He was the pastor at Webbs Chapel in Sandy Bottom, North Carolina, right until his death in 1985. I was very close to my grandfather, and he was one of the most spiritually influential people in my life.
Growing up, I had friends who were Mormon and friends who were not. I didn’t choose my friends based on the church they attended, though some of my friends and their parents did not extend that same courtesy to me. I had a friend in third grade who told me that she couldn’t be my friend any more because her mom told her I was going to Hell because I wasn’t Mormon. In high school I dated a boy for a month and was told by his parents that if I wanted to continue going out with their son, I’d have to at least come to their home when the home teachers came. One boy told me he would like to ask me out, but that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to serve his LDS mission if he dated me. Hmm.
My grandfather came out for my high school graduation. While he was visiting he suffered a minor heart attack and wound up in the hospital. I went over to visit him one afternoon and found that a family friend had stopped by. This man was an LDS Bishop, and as I entered the room, he and my grandfather were praying. I waited outside, and after the friend had left I asked my grandfather why he had allowed this man to pray with him.
“Why wouldn’t I?” my grandfather asked, truly puzzled by my question.
“Because he’s Mormon,” was my reply.
“And . . .” my grandfather said.
I remember struggling with what to say next. I didn’t know why it bothered me at that moment, but of course I understood it much later.
“What do you think a prayer is?” my grandfather asked.
“It’s a message to God.”
“How many Gods do you think there are?” he asked.
“Well, there’s just one,” I said, as in “well, duh.”
“So if people of different faiths all talk to the same God, isn’t it okay if they sometimes do it together?”
“Yeah, but, the Mormons are so different than us,” I said. “They think that only their church is right.” I proceeded to tell him the encounters I had had over the years.
My grandfather shook his head. “The history of Christianity is filled with people who want to say they have the only answer, but the truth us, we’re all just doing the best we can because no one can truly know what God thinks is best.”
I knew that what he was saying was the truth, but it was hard for me to swallow at that time.
“You can’t judge a whole group of people, like the whole Mormon church, by the actions of a few people. You can only observe an individual and try to figure out what motivates his or her actions.”
It took a few years for this advice to sink in, but ultimately, he was right.
I continued attending the Congregationalist church until just a few years ago. I was actively involved in my church: singing in our band, teaching Sunday school, serving on committees. I briefly attended the Quaker church – for just a few months – and currently I don’t attend a church. Over the past few years I’ve discovered that my personal spiritual beliefs don’t really line up with any one organized religion. I mention this because, in addition to being accused of attacking someone’s religious beliefs, I was accused of changing my religion as often as I “change my hair color.” I’d say 40 years in the same faith is fairly consistent, with a brief participation in something similar for a few months. I’d hardly call that rapid turn over.
As for my view of Mormons – all through college, my best friend and roommate was LDS. We frequently had missionaries and home teachers at our apartment, and I learned a great deal about the faith. My husband was raised in the Mormon church, and although he is no longer a member, his family is still very active in their ward. Two of my closest friends, Carol and Sandra, are both LDS. And at one very difficult point in my life, Carol’s husband Drew was kind enough to give me an LDS priesthood blessing which, at the time, gave me great peace and comfort despite the fact I don’t believe in his religion.
I have friends in the Muslim community as well. One man is a former Afghan soldier who served during the Soviet invasion of his country, survived the early efforts of the Taliban to rid that country of anyone who did not bow their oppressive ways, and whose son dated my daughter. A student of mine with whom I’ve developed a friendship is a Serbian Muslim who escaped the genocide of the 1990s when Bosnia collapsed. When I teach the Introduction to Humanities class at school, I often have her come and speak on what being Muslim is truly about.
And my dear friend Brenda, who I have known for more than 20 years, is Jewish. Her daughter is also a friend of mine and is part of a dual religion family (she is still a practicing Jew and her husband is LDS). Mina is a Buddhist, and a writing friend; Garrett is Wiccan and a former student. The point here is that I don’t select my friends based on their religion, nor do I judge religions based on individuals. And I most certainly do not attack people based on their religious beliefs. I never have, and most certainly never have in the last 20 plus years. Again, I defy anyone to provide evidence to the contrary.
Quite frankly, I could care less what this person has to say about me. Her opinion of me matters about as much to me as the weather report in Taiwan. However, I am an avid believer that we must speak out for religious freedom and tolerance. The growing divide between the religious right and people of other faiths is one of my greatest political and community concerns. In my classes I teach respect and tolerance, and when someone makes such a blatantly false accusation, I won’t ignore it. Call names all you want to, but who does all of this truly reflect poorly on?
Point clarified – ’nuff said.