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I am crazy about my new calling as an Interfaith Specialist in my area. I feel as if I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, and didn’t realize it. When I was a young child my father was a university professor and frequently brought international students home for dinner, often inviting them to prepare a traditional dish from their country. I learned about other cultures, gathered a few pen pals, and felt blissfully immersed in foreign foods and languages.
I might add that, as a diehard football fan, my dad also invited numerous husky students for dinner as well. Merlin Olson and Cornell Greene come to mind. I never paid much attention to skin color, but I definitely saw a difference between my short, diminutive dad and these huge students with legs the size of tree trunks. I recall seeing some of them and thinking, We’re having GIANTS over for dinner.
As a sociologist my dad was determined to expose us to the vast array of people outside “the Mormon bubble” and I had friends from India, Israel, China, and Iran. Their faiths didn’t always align with mine, but we found it easy to share other common ground.
And, as an adult I still seek the same variety. I once threw a party and was stunned when a ward member commended me for “mixing it up” with members and those not of our faith. Wasn’t that just how you did it?
But joining hands with others hasn’t been easy for everyone. You find the exact same fear and hesitation everywhere, not just among Latter-day Saints. We moved to Iowa for three years once, and were viewed by many with great suspicion because we were “Californians.” Yikes, right? Those crazy surfers from “another planet,” I was told.
And the more secluded and insular one’s community, the harder it is to reach out and embrace those different from us. But what enrichment we miss if we cloister ourselves. What wonderful friends we can find when we branch out to those older or younger, richer or poorer, people of all backgrounds.
Elder M. Russell Ballard addressed this beautifully in his Conference talk, Doctrine of Inclusion, of October 2001. He expressed gratitude for those of our faith who do reach out to minister to others, who include everyone at the table. But he also shared heartfelt sorrow over members who miss this message, such as parents who don’t allow their children to play with non-Mormons. “If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times,” he said. “…I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.” He urged us all to practice inclusion, never to exclude someone “because of their religious, political, or cultural differences.”
I attended a wonderful fireside recently, by Robert L. Millet and J.B. Haws of the Brigham Young University departments of Ancient Scripture and Religious Education. They made the excellent point that God cannot accomplish his goals with Mormons alone. He needs all people of faith. When we can join together with these other believers, setting aside our few differences and focusing upon what we have in common, we can make tremendous progress.
By refusing to be fragmented by Satan, and instead by coming together, we can form an unstoppable force for good. When Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Latter-day Saints, Muslims, and (fill in the blanks) work together, society becomes a better place and families are strengthened. At the heart of it, we all want the same things: Good children, safe neighborhoods, thriving communities, unity in crises.
And all of us are needed on the team. Imagine us as the linebackers or the kickers on a football team (here we go again, Dad). And the only other players we allow into the game are the ones who play our exact same position. Disaster, right? Just as would be an orchestra with only one instrument allowed—all trombonists, let’s say. Or all kettle drum percussionists. You wouldn’t have a team, or an orchestra.
Elder Ballard said, “For the most part, our neighbors not of our faith are good, honorable people—every bit as good and honorable as we strive to be. They care about their families, just like we do. They want to make the world a better place, just like we do. They are kind and loving and generous and faithful, just like we seek to be…That is our doctrine—a doctrine of inclusion. That is what we believe. That is what we have been taught. Of all people on this earth, we should be the most loving, the kindest, and the most tolerant because of that doctrine.”
I am heartened by the tremendous progress I see being made all over the world, as people of faith come together in harmony, sharing righteous goals and loving one another. I was honored to speak at a Methodist Tenebrae Service on Good Friday, and to see their choir filled with LDS singers as well. I love it when the local Jewish Synagogue asks my husband to auction items for their fundraiser. And it warms my heart to see our sisters work alongside local evangelical members to prepare humanitarian items. Latter-day Saints have always been awesome volunteers who make a true impact. But we’re even more awesome and the impact is even greater, when we join together with all of our brothers and sisters.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.