My father was raised Amish. The majority of my family on my dad's side has remained Amish or belong to the similarly doctrinal based Mennonite or Church of the Brethren faiths. Very few have strayed.
My mother's family attended a variety of churches as a little girl, mostly non-denominational or pre-denominational. Today, most of her side of the family remain non-denominational followers, with a few Catholics and Southern Baptists thrown in the mix.
I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as "Mormon."
Tracing my family's lineage, we are primarily white folk. We come from Germany, Switzerland, Wales, England, and Ireland. Although we've had lots of other ethnicities marry into the fold over the last couple hundred of years. Native American, Japanese, Filipino, Polish, Jewish, Latino, African American, etc.
While many of my adult relatives are married, others have been widowed, divorced, never married and/or living with a life partner. We have cousins with deformities, physical disabilities, and even mental handicaps due to disease, birth defects, and genetics. My family tree has all kinds.
I was raised by my parents to be loving to all of them. It did not matter that my grandparents drove a horse and buggy and spoke another language. I never felt embarrassed when we'd take my cousin with severe cerebral palsy out in public even though she couldn't walk and it took us twice as long to interpret what she was saying because she wasn't always easy to understand.
Perhaps it was because of my kaleidoscopic upbringing that I was raised "color blind" to many of our differences. I never looked at my relatives and saw, "Fat, Thin, Black, Brown, Gay, Divorced, Deaf, Learning disabled, Catholic, or Mormon." I saw, Grandma, Grandpa, Cousin, Aunt, Uncle, and so on. I think this is how it should be!
As a result, when I entered Kindergarten, I didn't think twice about the demographics of the kids in my class; all I saw was a room full of new friends. My mother recounts a time when I wanted my new best friend to come over and play. I talked about this friend non-stop. I told of how tiny and cute she was. I told how funny she was and how we'd play together at nearly every recess. It caught my mom off guard a little when my friend finally made it to our first play date, as she had some obvious facial disfigurement and she was completely bald. My mom wasn't shocked at my friend's appearance, but rather the fact I had never mentioned it. Another time she was surprised when a dark-skinned boy knocked on the door and asked if I could play. Again, it wasn't the fact that my friend wasn't white that caught her off guard. It was that I had talked about this boy many times, and never mentioned his ethnicity. Things like that just didn't occur to me back then. I think this made my mom proud, not to mention it's a great compliment to my parents for how they raised me, and that was more than 30 years ago!
One would think that in 30 years tolerance and acceptance for our differences would have vastly improved. Yet, there is still a long way to go.
The father of my older three children is Filipino. Perhaps that is why they are easily accepting of those who are different. Of course, I secretly hope I've had a positive influence in that field as well. I'll never forget the time an uppity woman from church called me early one morning to "share" her concern with me over my oldest son's choice in friends. He was 16 at the time and she "noticed he was hanging out with other boys who did not go to our church". She thought this was a bad thing because "they might lead him astray." (We lived in a predominantly LDS neighborhood at the time and a majority of our neighbors went to the same church.) I was LIVID.
The phone call woke me from a dead sleep, so hearing this just lit my fuse. I answered something to the following effect:
As a matter of fact, you are right. Not all of Keenan's friends are Mormon. Isn't that great?! [overly enthusiastic tone on my part] Actually, two of his friends are LDS and they just live over on the west side, so they go to church there - not that it matters. Two of his other friends are devout Catholics, and one of those two actually lives around the corner from you. I'm surprised you didn't already know they attend mass religiously every week. Literally. And his other friend is Buddhist. Well, his mother is Buddhist, so I don't know if that really counts, but well, I just think it's wonderful! What a great thing that these teenage boys can embrace their differences. This gives Keenan an opportunity to share his beliefs with others and at the same time learn about theirs in a respectful manner. And after all, isn't that what Christ wanted? Isn't that how Christ lived his own life? Wasn't it Jesus who said to love everyone?
She hemmed and hawed and said she just wanted to make sure I was aware. And then, not in my most gracious moment, I hung up on her. Like I said, I was livid. (I've since repented.)
Fast forward to last year, when the hubs and I got married and I became a step mom to his little first grader. A few months into it, we were planning his 7th birthday party. I asked my step son who he wanted to invite to his party. He mentioned he sort of wanted to invite a certain boy, but he also sort of didn't. Upon further questioning, I found out that my stepson did not want to invite the other boy because the boy was not a Mormon (gasp) and he was under the impression he was only allowed to have Mormon friends. I was shocked. My husband is not like that at all. And I am way not like that. So we talked about it and learned that it was a conclusion that he had formed in his little 1st grade mind since up to that point all of his friends had been Mormon. Well, gee, we live in a cookie-cutter predominantly LDS community, so most of his friends probably are LDS. And he did not have enough life experience under his belt yet to learn about other faiths, religions, and that different doesn't mean bad, it just means different.
How many other children falsely think their parents believe things like this? Do not assume your children know what you believe or expect unless you tell them! And if you are one of those parents who forbid your children to play with other children solely based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability, familial status, social status, etc. then Shame On You!
This year, we had a new experience. At my youngest's school they have a birthday celebration lunch each month. The students having birthdays in that month can invite a special guest to come and eat lunch with them at the special birthday table in the cafeteria. My hubs took our youngest and while there, a few of his classmates came over to sit by them. In the course of the conversation, one of the other little boys says something to the effect of, "...at my other mom's house... because I have three moms." My son was of course curious, and the other boy explained, "Yeah, cuz my first two moms got a divorce and now my second mom is married to my 3rd mom." And of course, what does my stepson blurt out? "That's weird."
Thankfully, my husband gently corrected him saying, "It's not weird. It's just different." To which the other little boy responded to our son, "I know you have two moms, right? Your mom who died and now your new mom who married your dad." I love that this other little boy was not offended, and instead tried to find common ground.
We did have a more in-depth conversation with our son that evening. We talked about our lifestyle choices in comparison to others. We discussed that even though we are all different and make different choices, we are all children of God, and therefore deserve to be treated as such and to treat others as such. We talked about our cultural attitudes, religious beliefs, and personal opinions. We talked about the golden rule. It's okay that we're different. It's okay that some of us are a little "weird", because in the end we are probably more alike than we are different.
In our church's semi-annual general conference this past weekend, one of our Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks said it best:
"On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).