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Changing Our Culture

Members of the LDS community represent a disproportionately large percentage of the world’s repairers.

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I recently met with several fellow members of the LDS/Jewish Dialog Luncheon group. We do this each month in alternating venues—including the I.J. & Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center and the Brigham Young-built Lion House—to discuss and share our common values.

This meeting's topic was humanitarianism and how much each of our two cultures devotes—in volunteer time and financial donations—to help those in need around the world. One retired judge in our group voiced how similar Mormons and Jews are with regard to faith teachings and cultural emotional ties to do what we do. Jews call this tikkun olam, which means "repair the world" through, as I understand it, human acts of kindness such as philanthropy. It is no secret that members of the LDS community, both through the church and individually, represent a disproportionately large percentage of the world's repairers.

At this luncheon, I noted that we must not heap credit on ourselves without sharing the kudos with many other cultural groups that do the same. We discussed my recent return from Red Cross deployment to flood-ravaged northeast Arkansas where Catholics, Southern Baptists and members of over a dozen local Christian churches stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of us to provide aid and comfort. We all agreed that, when working together to face down all manners of trouble, we get to observe the very best of humankind.

So, we all open our hearts when a hurricane or flood attacks our "family members of humankind," regardless of their religious faiths. And yet, we respond quite another way—sometimes with hostility and downright hatred—when our extended family members choose to embrace an opposing political philosophy.

I'm on many political email lists that include warlike messages from both Democrats and Republicans. On each side, they absolutely always have the answers to the world's problems as they couch their language in phrases that border on, and sometimes cross the line into, venomous hatred of the other. In the recent Democratic campaign to choose a new state party chair, the venom was turned against some of their own and was so egregious as to be, well, undemocratic.

The GOP has no cause for gloating. They, too, quite often pick on their own when they are not demonizing the Dems. Utah Republicans have said terrible things about each other. In each party, the other side is not only the rival party, but any person, group or philosophy that is not in political alignment with the person lobbing those virtual F-bombs.

So, here's the bottom line: Many, if not most, of the progressives and conservatives—who, in Utah, are Democrats and Republicans—are both kind and wonderful humanitarians, as well as nasty, vicious, hate mongers, depending on which emotional switch we flick on at a particular point in time. Does this mean the world is schizophrenic and we all are kinda nuts? Of course it does. In light of this, is there any hope for humans at all?

For me, salvation from our crazy political inhumanity is found in those monthly LDS/Jewish dialog luncheons. We leave our politics at the door and reinforce good in our respective cultures.

A growing group of faith-based leaders from around the world is reminding us to remember our human roots of love and kindness. A few recent online quotes from Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, are examples:

"Let us learn to live with kindness, to love everyone, even when they do not love us."

"To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us."

"Today, too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!"

Recently, Apostle Dale G. Renlund (of the LDS church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and his wife were quoted in ldsdaily.com from their speech at the International Religious Freedom Symposium in Costa Rica. Through their words, they reminded us to help build a better world by embracing tolerance and rejecting hate speech, saying, "A truly civilized, well-functioning society depends on an accepted code of moral conduct that is based on a belief system that teaches that there is something greater than self."

We could go on and on with the many other faith leaders. The lessons are the same. Like the Jewish tikkun olam, "repair the world" is a constant refrain among all faiths and cultures except, of course, our political culture. Here's a hopeful thought: Let's all get together and change that.

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