What’s Wrong with Being “Peculiar”?


One of the great passages of scripture is found in the first book of Peter wherein he tells us what kind of people we ought to be. I think of this especially in reference to young people: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

I don’t know whether all young people understand what is expected of them as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but we are a chosen generation, having been called out of the world by the knowledge of the restoration of the gospel to live strictly in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We become a royal priesthood as we are blessed and sealed by the ordinances of the gospel to other people on the earth.

“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations” (Abr. 2:9).

We are made a holy nation by the blessings that have been administered to us. We can count them up, beginning soon after we were born when we were given a name and an elder’s blessing. Thereafter we were given the blessing of baptism and confirmation in the Church, followed at an appropriate time by a patriarchal blessing to guide and direct us in our pathway through life. Young men receive the Aaronic priesthood, which later on is expanded as they are blessed with the higher priesthood. Women receive the blessings of the priesthood in their homes, in their wards, in their marriages, and in their temple experiences. All members of the Church are entitled to special blessings through the hands of their father, in the administration of the sick, or at various other times in their lives. This does make us a holy nation.

The last part of Peter’s explanation says that we are a peculiar people. I don’t know whether all young people would appreciate it if I were to say this might mean they are “oddballs.” That, of course, is not always a complimentary term; but the fact is that we are not just like other people, and because of this difference, some people would call us “square.”

I have had many experiences that help me to understand that being known as a “square” is not always that bad. The experiences to which I refer took place during the time I served in the air force during the Second World War. While I did not go into the war zones, I had many experiences living during four years with men who were not members of the Church. Most of this time, very few if any of my associates in the military service were members of the Church. I learned to fly airplanes and became an instructor, but my relationship with my companions was universally enjoyable. I found that the young men with whom I associated were generally fine people, and while we often engaged in playful banter and teased each other, I never found myself being ridiculed for being a Latter-day Saint. In fact, I came to realize that my companions respected me even though they did not live like I did.

My military experience came after I had returned from a mission. My companions knew that I had been a missionary, which meant, to them, a minister. I remember lying in my tent, bunked next to a young fellow from Tennessee who would often look at me with a wondering expression. When I would ask him what was troubling him, he would say: “I can’t believe it. As I grew up through my childhood, ministers were people so highly respected that we hardly dared speak to them, and here I find myself sleeping next to one in this tent.”

As some of my companions engaged in practices that Latter-day Saints don’t think highly of, such as smoking or drinking, profanity or immorality, it was evident that they didn’t concern themselves about what the Lord would like them to do. When moments of stress came, however, their attitudes changed. I remember when one of these boys, who was not particularly impressed with the life of a former missionary, was scheduled for what was called an elimination flight, and he knew that if he failed the test that day, he would be eliminated from flying in the United States Air Force. He came to me in a very solemn mood and quietly said with tears in his eyes, “Bill, please pray for me. I need it.”

One day my instructor was giving an explanation to five of us in the ready room. In order to explain a certain maneuver, he went to the blackboard. Inasmuch as he was smoking a cigarette, he handed it to me to hold while he made the demonstration, and by this means I had the “privilege” of holding my first cigarette. After he had finished his demonstration at the blackboard, he took his cigarette back, and then he said, “Mr. Bangerter, I apologize for handing you my cigarette. I know you don’t smoke, do you?”

I said, “No, sir, I don’t.”

He said, “You don’t drink either, do you?”

I said, “No, sir.”

He asked, “Do you drink tea?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you drink coffee?”

“No, sir.” He turned to the other four students standing together and said, “Now, men, that’s the Word of Wisdom. We would all be much better off if we lived that way.” You can appreciate that I felt uplifted by that experience.

Another day I was riding in the airplane with my squadron commander. I was about 23 years old, and he was about 40. He was a man of fine manners and polite expression. After we had finished our flight and had landed the airplane, we were taxiing back to the parking area when another airplane came driving past in a way that my squadron commander did not appreciate. He looked over at the other pilot and said to me in a disgusted voice, “Where does that so-and-so think he is going!” And he uttered an oath. We parked the airplane and shut off the engine. As I climbed out, he turned to me and said, “Mr. Bangerter, I am sorry I spoke the way I did back there. I forgot for a moment it was you who was riding with me in the airplane.”

Of course, I realized throughout those years that I was considered different. Some people may have thought me strange. Those with whom I associated, however, frequently expressed admiration for the way I lived. I never found it necessary to break my standards, to remove my garments, or to apologize for being a Latter-day Saint. On more than one occasion during our training, my classmates gathered together for a farewell party or some other special event and had a dinner that, of course, was liberally supplied with liquor. Several of my companions would come to me before the dinner and ask me if I would please be so kind as to drive their car home for them because they would not be able to trust themselves at the conclusion of the party.

I can honestly say that no nonmember of the Church has ever tried to induce me to discard my standards. The only people I remember trying to coerce me to abandon my principles or who ridiculed me for my standards have been non-practicing members of the Church.

I know it is a blessing to stand up for the principles of truth and righteousness. People who value their character and their reputation will be honored to be of the chosen generation and to stand out as representatives of a peculiar and a noble people. I hope I may always find young people who are square. They are the solid kind, and their foundations are secure.