Leaders of Utah's other faiths praise late Mormon leader
Their beliefs and ways of worship may differ from those of Utah's dominant faith, but current and former non-Mormon religious leaders on Monday collectively praised LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who died Sunday evening.
Hinckley's generous and welcoming spirit and his oft-repeated message encouraging Latter-day Saints to respect those of other faith traditions proved a source of comfort and an inspiration, they say.
"It was a challenge to us to be as open and respectful as they were being to us," said Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, who spent 11 years as bishop to Utah's Catholic community. "I'm praying for and hoping for a continuing of that spirit."
As the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hinckley set a respectful tone and established a "harmony of vision and purpose" within church leadership that Niederauer expects will carry on. He's not alone in feeling this way.
"He laid the groundwork," said Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of The Episcopal Diocese of Utah, who credits Hinckley for bringing "neighborliness to the whole faith community" in the Salt Lake Valley. "I have no doubt President [Thomas S.] Monson would want to continue that."
Irish points to the 2002 Winter Games, when the LDS Church refrained from proselytizing, and "the shared ministry" practiced in 2005 - when her church, the LDS Church, and so many other religious communities reached out, as one, to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina - as examples of Hinckley's influence.
The Rev. Steve Goodier of Christ United Methodist Church sees that influence in himself.
"I find myself more heavily involved with other faith communities in Salt Lake City than I ever was in other places I lived," he said.
Hinckley was key in "opening up dialogue between the LDS Church and other communities . . . and in encouraging us to talk to each other," added Rabbi Tracee Rosen of Salt Lake City's Congregation Kol Ami, who, like so many other religious leaders in the area, had a face-to-face meeting with Hinckley soon after her arrival in 2003.
Even if she or others took issue with various church policies, the rabbi said Hinckley, as a human being, was someone to honor.
"I found him to be exceptionally charming, clearly very, very bright . . . and wonderfully gracious," she said.
His ability to find common ground with others nurtured relationships and put people at ease. For Rosen, it was Hinckley's interest in Israel. For Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel, of Salt Lake City's Kanzeon Zen Center International, it was talk about travels in Japan and Hinckley's acknowledgment that even if the two men subscribed to different beliefs, "We are both doing our best to help people be the best human beings possible," he remembered Hinckley saying.
That level of acceptance and respect was "light years ahead of the general Mormon population," said the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City's First Unitarian Church. "He opened the windows, let some fresh air and some light in, and I think Mormonism will catch up to President Hinckley's vision eventually."