Am I My Neighbor’s Neighbor?

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This essay was published in my local LDS ward’s (congregation’s) newsletter in October 2013 and was adapted from a similar publication elsewhere several years earlier.

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Sometimes in the Church we think about being good neighbors to our neighbors only in terms of missionary work, as if our only role as neighbors were to get people into, or back into, the Church. Missionary work is very important, and it’s wonderful when these things happen, of course, but being a good neighbor is a separate duty.

We don’t shun a neighbor if we see him smoking a cigarette or if he offers us a beer (which we politely decline), or if she plays music we don’t like while she works on her car on Sunday afternoon. We don’t shun a neighbor whose speech is sometimes laced with profanity. We don’t shun neighbors who have chosen to live together without the legal sanction of marriage. We don’t shun a neighbor who rejects our missionary advances or even our neighborly advances. When we do these things, we look like hypocrites – because we are.

Truly, there are great rewards available in God’s Church, in making and keeping covenants and obeying commandments in the process. But do you think God only cares about his children if they join the Church and attend meetings regularly? What about the ones who choose not to, for whatever reason, or who simply aren’t interested right now? Don’t you think he wants them to be good and happy, too, and to have strong and loving marriages and raise decent, hardworking children?

Of course he wants them in his Church, but he doesn’t just give up on them if they refuse. He does not wish for them to be cold or hungry or ill or alone. He wants even his non-LDS children to have good neighbors, even in Utah. In fact, he welcomes to Zion not just the Latter-day Saints, but also any other good people who wish to live among us. We must do likewise.

President Hinckley often spoke of this. In October 1997 he said, “We must be more neighborly. We cannot live a cloistered existence in this world. We are a part of the whole of humanity. . . . Let us . . . love our neighbors. Let us banish from our lives any elements of self-righteousness. . . . Let us be friendly. Let us be helpful. Let us live the Golden Rule. Let us be neighbors of whom it might be said, ‘He or she was the best neighbor I ever had’.” In April 2005 he said, “Wherever we may live we can be friendly neighbors. Our children can mingle with the children of those not of this Church and remain steadfast if they are properly taught.”

No matter what their faith – even if they have no faith — and whether or not we like their dress, their habits, their music, their body art, or their landscaping, we are to be our neighbors’ neighbors. We don’t have to send them e-mail spam or savor the spam they send us. We don’t necessarily have to join their business ventures or take their medical or legal advice. We don’t have to agree with their politics; sometimes it’s more fun and instructive if we don’t, assuming we all behave like adults. We don’t have to lend them money or let them pirate our software. We have to be their neighbors.

Among our neighbors we will occasionally find a good friend. But even when we don’t, we need to know who our neighbors are, and they need to know who we are. We can look out for them. We can be cordial with them. We can look for ways to help and include them – usually in small, ordinary things that are non-threatening to them and only slightly inconvenient to us – and we can let them help and include us, if they choose. We can make sure that we do all these things with neighborly, not evangelical, motives.

Even if our neighbors move away after a few weeks or months, as sometimes happens, our neighborhood can be a place they will remember fondly, because here we were their neighbors. Does this not change the world?

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