I cannot claim a clear understanding of what the cruelest forms of discrimination feel like. I do not know what it is like to be forced to the back of a bus because of the color of my skin. I’ve never had to use segregated bathrooms, or drinking fountains. I’ve never sewn a star onto my clothing, indicating my heritage or religious preference. I’ve never been turned away from a restaurant. I’ve never had crosses burned in my front yard. I’ve never been forced from my home, or driven to a strange land in search of life free from religious persecution.
I hope our country has come far enough that no one will ever have to endure such vile and intolerable treatment again. After all, we are a country that just elected a black man to the highest office of government, when just sixty years ago, men of similar heritage could not even attend school with the general population. We are a country that preaches tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of living. I believe, as a nation, we are better than such discrimination. But perhaps, as individuals, our tolerance and love is still lacking.
I do not want to set myself up as a victim. I live in a country where I am free to worship how I please, free to raise my family in this wonderful land, and send my kids to school where I know they won’t get punched because of their religion. I’m grateful for that. In the grand scheme of things, I have little to complain about. Except, maybe my kid will get punched because of his religion. I grew up here in the south, and can, if I felt so inclined share numerous stories where I have been treated differently because of my faith. There are millions of Mormons all over the world…
NOT so many in this here part of the woods.
Just today I went to sign some paperwork at an attorney’s office. He was a kind, generous man who told me he appreciated that I stay at home with my children. He loved that I’m a Tarheel fan and that I’m raising my kids to love the Tarheels too. We spoke for a few minutes about family, touched on politics and then mentioned religion. When he learned I was a Mormon, his kindness went from open and sincere to forced and a little uncomfortable; an educated, well respected individual treated me differently because of where I worship on Sunday. Weren’t we done with this kind of behavior decades ago?
Here’s the thing about the Mormon faith: I would guess near 50% of what those outside of our faith know about the Mormons isn’t actually true, and the other 50% is simply misunderstood. And that is frustrating. I wish, instead of treating me differently, that attorney today had told me why he found it so disturbing that I’m a Mormon. Seriously. Let’s discuss it. Because I do not deserve to go through life being relegated to the emotional backseat of everyone’s opinion. I don’t deserve to have notes left in my locker telling me I’m going to hell, or have boys tell me they can’t be my friend because their preacher told them I worship a different God than they do.
Lest I give you an ill opinion of the south, it’s worth mentioning that not all apples in the basket are rotten. There are plenty of respectful, tolerant, accepting individuals who do not consider one’s status as a Mormon as reason for disdain. And I’m certain that ill judgment heaped upon the Mormons is NOT exclusive to the south, though I’d guess it is a bit more prevalent here.
The thing is, when I’m done cataloging the frustrations of being misjudged and quite frequently misrepresented, when I’ve vented over the ridiculousness of unfair claims and assumptions, and occasional mistreatment, if you ask me if it’s worth it, I’m still going to say yes. If you ask me if I want to go live in a part of the country where Mormons live in large quantities, where congregations number in the thousands, rather than tens, and youth groups are large enough for eight team basketball tournaments instead of two on two volleyball, I think I’d still say no. Not because there is anything wrong with those parts of the country. I’m sure they are perfectly lovely (and probably have their own unique set of challenges), but here… here, you have to decide really early whether or not the persecution is worth it. You have to decide that no matter the opinions of others, you know what you know, and there isn’t any changing it. You have to stand on your own two feet, planted firmly on the doctrines of your religion. If you try to sit the fence, you’re most likely going to fall off.
And who wants to do that?