I was amazed after my recent move to Missouri at how different things were out here. Inside the church people have a much more friendly and functional attitude and outside the church people have a much more friendly and inclusive attitude. Laura asked why it is that Mormons – who ought to be the friendliest and most helpful people should be so closed in an area where they are so dominant (Utah). I think I have finally figured out what is going on – in Utah and in Missouri.
In Missouri, within the church, it is necessary to be accepting of people who do not share all of our values and beliefs because most of the people around us don’t. In Utah, within the church, it is easy to not associate with people who do not share our values because they are in the minority.
In Missouri (and I hear that most of the Midwest is like this) people are open and friendly and non-judgmental. That stands in stark contrast to the way things are in Utah. Society is very closed. It divides all to sharply along ward and stake boundaries and there is little association with anyone outside you religious circle – especially, but not exclusively, with anyone who is not a member of the church. There is some exception to that as people intermingle with others outside their wards and stakes at school and work, but that mixing occurs in very small doses when compared with the frequency of association within ward groups.
Some people might think that this is all a bitter exaggeration, and it may turn out that my memory of society is not entirely accurate, but even if my memory is imperfect there is another, more sinister, indicator of the cliquishness of the society in Utah. We are often taught that Mormons are persecuted throughout the world. That teaching is technically accurate, but it has the undesirable effect of making people paranoid and closed to outsiders unless it is tempered with the accompanying fact that 99% of that persecution comes from a group of people that is no larger than the membership of the church (which is less than 2% of the population of the United States and less than .2% of the population of the world.
Telling stories of persecution is supposed to make us resolve ourselves to stand firm when things get tough, but maybe we need to spend more time talking about standing firm and less time saying “poor picked-on us.” It seems that we are prone to forget that others are also picked on and it also seems to promote our inadvertently picking on others. The result in Utah, where Mormons are in the majority, is that Mormons tend to be closed to non-Mormons and non-Mormons are not inclined to become more trusting of Mormons than they were before.