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Salt Lake City Does Have Religious Diversity

Almost nine years ago, I came to Salt Lake City to serve the Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City as Minister of Religious Education. I came from Washington, D.C., where I was part of the majority. Non-Mormon, that is.

When I accepted the position, I knew quite well that Utah was predominantly Mormon. I also knew that I would have my work as a liberal cut out for me. And that has proved to be true. I have protested, held vigil at the Capitol, testified, all in the name of justice for all people. My co-religionists and I have disagreed on about everything there is to disagree about. I have done so as a Unitarian Universalist whose principles teach us that each and every single human being has inherent worth, dignity and value. We respect all religions, the use of the democratic process, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We are also committed to working for a just, fair and free world for all. That is why I am writing today based on my experience as a member of the Inter-faith Religious Panel for the Salt Lake Olympics.

The media and others have characterized these as the Mormon Olympics. This implies that the rest of us have no place, power or ability to participate fully in the proceedings of the Olympics. If we accept that label, we build walls of separation, making it "us" vs. "them," labeling Mormons as the enemy and the rest of us as the victims of an all-powerful theocracy. That labeling disempowers our own ability to be partners and respectful adversaries. Yes, the reality is that the LDS Temple is the center of this city, just as the Vatican is the center of Rome. However, when the Olympics were held in Rome, they were not labeled or known as the Vatican Olympics. Yes, the reality is that Mormons are the majority, Mormons do wield a lot of power here, and the Mormon Church has money. Mormons advertise and proselytize. However, we can and do still work together.

The Inter-faith Committee, or Religious Roundtable, has been doing so for two years, finding ways to include everyone. Lay and ordained leaders of many faiths in Salt Lake -- including Ba'hai, Christian Science, Catholics, Episcopalians and others -- treat each other with mutual respect. We have one goal and one goal only: to ensure that those who come to Salt Lake City for the Olympics have the best and the safest experience we can provide using all the resources available to us as religious leaders in all faiths.

As co-religionists, we have the right and the ability to fight for what we believe: We can vote, protest, do what needs to be done. That does not exclude finding common ground where it exists with the people around us. I am proud to live in Salt Lake City, knowing the principles that govern my faith and my ministry require that I value differences of opinion and theology while also working for peace and justice in the world. There is enough religious bashing and hatred in the world to last many lifetimes. May we be the ones to stop it here -- where we live -- with our own neighbors.


The Rev. Silvia R. Behrend is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.

©Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune

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