Anderson holds forums aimed at bridging Utah’s religious divide

If Wednesday night’s packed meeting is any indication, there is a groundswell of people who want to heal Salt Lake City’s religious divide.

Mayor Rocky Anderson’s first community meeting on the topic crammed the Main Library auditorium and more listened to the discussion live on KCPW. The 1 1/2 -hour open-mic conversation was punctuated not by verbal bashing between Mormons and others, as was feared, but with applause for comments like this from Susan Deal: “There are many opportunities for me to love much more every day.”

Participants were asked to talk about how they would unite the community and the common answer was by talking to people of other faiths or no faith – visiting Temple Square, chatting with a rabbi or imam – and teaching children to love. The talk touched on the main points of contention: LDS seminary in public schools, dominance of Mormons and Republicans in elected offices, alcohol laws.

Many said they were probably “preaching to the choir” and needed to take the message to peoplewho didn’t attend.

Abdul-Qayum Mohmand suggested the community stop focusing on differences. He said he has noticed Muslims and Mormons share similar views on the importance of family. “We can be one people. God has created human beings. He didn’t create religion.”

Wesley Smith said the rift can be solved. “This divide, not entirely, but by and large is the creation of our own psychosis and not a reaction to real events out there.”

But Jack Gallivan, former publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune, said LDS Church leaders could help heal the divide if they would urge members to practice “genuine tolerance” of other faiths.

Few Mormons spoke up. One was City Councilman Dale Lambert, who said that he has used his “Sunday-school pulpit” to preach tolerance. But during the Main Street Plaza debate, he was told he was part of the “American Taliban because of my faith.”

“Toleration runs both ways. I’ve had friends leave this state, they just got tired of all of the complaining and griping about members of the LDS Church.”

There were lighter moments. Though he didn’t mean to be funny, Bart Getz earned laughs when he complained about the 3.2 percent alcohol content in beer. “I drink beer because I like the way it tastes. I also like the effect it has on me. I just want to buy beer without going to a liquor store. I find it offensive to be corralledinto an area [at concerts] to drink the beer.”

A woman named Julie said people who don’t belong to a religion need respect, too. “I think I have a very fine value system and I don’t have faith. Please don’t leave us out.”

Library director Nancy Tessman moderated the evening and she gave her “credentials” by noting she has a bar owner and a Mormon pioneer in her family history. There were ground rules to keep the dialogue civil: Speak from the heart, talk about personal experiences, listen.

The mayor announced he would start the “bridging the religious divide” project this year, on the heels of the Main Street Plazafight and after his re-election in which the voters were split based on religion, with Mormons backing Anderson’s opponent.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Nov. 18, 2004
Heather May

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