21947_000_015When I was in the majority, how many times had I unthinkingly excluded someone else?
A trip to Ireland sounded like an exciting vacation to me. I didn’t mind leaving home for a year while my dad taught at a university before returning to his job at Snow College.
When we arrived in Ireland and began preparations to attend school, I realized that not only would my siblings and I be the only Latter-day Saints in the school, but we would also be among the small group of non-Catholic students. This would be a big change from the predominantly LDS school I attended in Ephraim, Utah.
Although I was excited for school to start, there was one problem: we didn’t know what time new students were to arrive on registration day. The registration schedule wasn’t listed in the local paper, and it wasn’t posted at the school. On a whim, we showed up late in the morning.
Although we had guessed and been successful, we wondered how everyone else knew when to arrive, so my dad asked the woman in line in front of us. Her answer taught us a lesson. “Well, they’ve announced it in church the past four weeks.”
The church she referred to was Mass, the Catholic worship service.
Growing up in a predominantly Latter-day Saint community, I hadn’t been exposed much to other religions. And since I had grown up as a member of the majority religion, I now wondered how many times I had unconsciously made the same type of assumption—that everyone was a member of the Church.
I thought of the people I knew at my school in Utah who weren’t members of the Church and wondered how many times they had been left out of activities just because they didn’t go to the same church I went to. I had never intentionally discriminated, but I wondered if they felt excluded.
During that year of school I wore a school uniform every day. I learned Catholic prayers and attended Mass as part of the school curriculum. I took a class about Catholicism and listened each week when the priest came to tell our class stories from the Bible.
All of my friends at school in Ireland accepted me despite our religious differences. And as I learned more about their religion, they learned more about mine. There were times I felt left out because everyone but me knew of a certain activity or had heard a story in church that, when referred to, left me in the dark. But all those times reinforced my decision to be more aware of my classmates at home who were not LDS.
My dad thought it was important for us to understand the beliefs of the two major religions in Ireland so we would understand the people in our community. The topic of family home evenings and family discussions that year was often centered on the beliefs of the Catholic and Protestant churches. My parents taught us to respect the beliefs of others and, at the same time, to live the principles we believed.
At the end of the year none of my friends had been converted to the Church, but my testimony had grown as I tried to live my religion. I did learn that I could be tolerant of people who had different beliefs than mine without endorsing their beliefs. I learned that if I respected the religious differences of my friends and lived my religion in a way that merited respect, my religious beliefs would earn the same respect that I gave.
Although we desire the world to hear the restored gospel, we also respect the right of others to decide if they wish to accept it or not.
The 11th article of faith declares our respect for the right of all people to choose what they believe and how they worship: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [A of F 1:11]
There are many good people who belong to other religions, and we have much in common with them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often works with other faiths on humanitarian projects and other efforts to improve the common good.
But there are many lifestyles that run counter to the revealed teachings of the Church. The line between accepting people and accepting their beliefs and actions can easily be confused. Be careful not to fall for the mistaken belief that valuing other people means you must also endorse their actions or lifestyle.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “We cannot condone the sin, but we love the sinner” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 89). We are all children of the same God, and He loves everyone—the sinner and the saint. We are commanded to do the same.
There are many who simply don’t know the teachings of the restored gospel and therefore can’t live them (see 2 Ne. 9:25). We can’t judge people by what they don’t know. We must try to love everyone as our neighbor.