I’m beginning to understand the frustration non-Mormons in Utah feel with the political influence exerted by the dominant religion. The Republican presidential nominations for the past several cycles have been dominated by evangelicals. Now, I have nothing against evangelicals—some of my nearest and dearest adhere to that faith—I’m just reluctant to have them choose a major presidential candidate. I mean, how can I trust a group that thought George W. Bush was God’s gift to America?
The upside is that, nationwide, evangelicals are a minority. No matter how they influence the Republican Party, the other party offers another choice.
Not so in Utah. Utah has not elected a non-Mormon governor since 1928. No non-Mormon senators and congressmen have been elected in Utah in my memory. Approximately 60% of Utahns consider themselves Mormons, but close to 90% of state office holders hold to the faith. Gerrymandered voting districts keep mostly Mormon Republicans in office in all but two counties.
Non-Mormons chafe at Utah’s liquor laws which are directly influenced by Church leadership. Many believe Thomas Monson is the most influential person in Utah politics. Legislators, however, don’t always bow to requests from 50 N Temple. The concealed weapons law did not respect Church wishes to exclude churches from places gun toting is allowed. With the current exception of a humane stance on immigration laws and a firm policy against gay marriage, Church headquarters keeps silent about most political issues.
For some reason—possibly because of long-harbored resentment against lack of government protection during the Missouri and Illinois persecutions, the invasion of Johnson’s Army, and subsequent persecution of polygamy—most Mormons are right-wing Republicans with a distrust of government. Mormons also have a strong aversion to taxes—possibly feeling their heavy Church donations are all they can afford—or that volunteerism can provide for all a community’s needs.
Church leaders may not be responsible for all political views of their followers, but the Church is judged by its members. And non-Mormon Utahns blame the Church for a state government which excludes them.
“I think I’m losing my masculinity,” George said yesterday after attending a League of Women Voters meeting with me. “I’ve been doing the Susan Komen Race for the Cure—even wearing the T-shirt with pink logo. Now, I’m thinking of joining the League of Women Voters.” (The LWV has included male members for several years). George even gave up deer hunting several years ago when he saw the deer’s eyelashes through his rifle scope.
George’s lament made me think of my brother’s comments at our dad’s funeral. Dooby talked about our dad functioning as both mom and dad after our mother died leaving him to raise a 10-year-old, 8-year-old and 2-year-old alone. Dooby talked about Dad working long hours in his grocery store while juggling meals, child care, parent-teacher conferences, doctor and dentist appointments. “He showed me what it is to be a man,” Dooby said.
Dooby’s right. Being a man isn’t about killing animals, building biceps, or forcing others to submit to his will. It’s about doing what needs to be done—whether he wants to or not.
Likewise, being a real women isn’t about bra cup size, reproduction, or cupcake decorating. A good friend undergoing chemotherapy last summer wrote me about three women in her ward who showed up to do her yard work. These women didn’t ask the bishop to send over the priesthood to help their friend. They saw a need and took care of it.
I really did have a neighbor once whose husband worked out of town—sometimes for weeks at a time. Her family spent the whole winter slipping and sliding on snow-packed sidewalks and driveway—apparently because neither she nor her three teenage daughters could figure out how to operate a snow shovel.
Thank heaven our culture has moved beyond the stereotype of rigid gender roles. And more power to NFL football teams who wear pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A teacher friend told me the junior high in an older neighborhood of our suburban town has slipped from top spot in the district. When enrollment declined due to an aging population, students from a newer, less expensive housing development were bussed in. Many homes in the new development have been foreclosed and are being bought by families from Salt Lake City’s lower income neighborhoods. The junior high in the privileged neighborhood must now contend with a substantial increase in fights, thefts, drugs, and gang issues.
My immediate response, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. What if “these people” move into my neighborhood and lower the value of my house? It’s easy to believe that minorities and other lower income people should have the opportunity to move into better neighborhoods where their children can attend good schools—until it’s our neighborhood they move into.
For six decades, middle-class whites have responded to this situation by moving to ever more distant suburbs. This option has closed for many young families. Laden with huge student loans, and faced with the reality of an economy not providing jobs with adequate salary and affordable health care insurance, many young couples cannot afford the segregated, middle-class neighborhoods of their parents.
This may not be entirely a negative. In the past Americans did not isolate themselves by economic status as religiously as we do now. Schools in small towns today have more diverse populations than those in suburbs—and kids benefit from mixing with people outside their family’s small circle. Part of the problem with failing schools in lower income neighborhoods is that resources are seldom divided equally. Administrators tend to allocate more funds to schools with actively involved parents—and to shuffle low-performing teachers into schools where parents don’t complain.
Regardless of who wins the next election, it’s unlikely the economy will bounce back to the boom of the ‘90s anytime soon. The middle-class lifestyle of their parents will continue to elude many young couples. A possible social benefit may be the improvement of lower-income schools and neighborhoods as these families insist on good schools, parks, community recreation, and law enforcement for the communities in which they can afford to live.
Minority and low income parents also want good schools and a healthy environment for their children, but most lack the skills to deal with local government. Educated residents of lower-income neighborhoods could make a positive difference.
Last Sunday at the Big Heart Zen Center, Minverva, the discussion leader, used Big Mind techniques to facilitate a look at the “Giver” aspect of our personalities. Several of us were confused when she asked us to identify as the voice of the Giver disowned by the Self.
In Big Mind workshops, we usually identify a negative aspect our Self has disowned. Why would the Self disown the Giver? Everybody knows it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, someone volunteered, “My Self disowns the Giver because it finds the Giver exhausting.”
Bingo. We could all relate to the fatigue of giving more than our strength allows. To the guilt from never feeling we’ve given enough. To the resentment of thinking our giving is unappreciated. To the neediness of giving with the expectation of receiving something in return—praise, gratitude, or just that warm, cozy feeling.
Then Minverva asked us to speak as the voice of the Giver fully owned and accepted by the Self. “How can the Giver, fully owned, help the Self?”
Another light switched on for me: When fully accepted by the Self, the Giver can give to others without being attached to the outcome. The Giver can give contentment to the Self—allowing the Self to give without the need of recognition or to feel she has solved every problem.
What wonderful insight I received from Big Mind and the hour spent at the Big Heart Zen Center Sunday morning. My thanks to those who made it possible.