Neighbors, Strangers, Pilgrims, Friends

I talked recently with some non-LDS friends and neighbors in Utah Valley. They’ve lived here for years, and they know us Mormons (officially, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) quite well. In speaking of their experience here, they praised us for welcoming their particular religious minority among us. I gratefully add that they were philosophical and forgiving about our occasional clumsiness and outright failures on that score over the years.

Welcome to Utah sign

When we truly welcome others into our towns and neighborhoods – and homes, hearts, and circles of friends – we’re not just being nice. We’re obeying two key commandments. Both are literally as old as Moses.

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?