This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
Latter-day Saints, get off your high horses.
And nonmembers, would you quit “Mormon-bashing” online and making assumptions about those who practice the faith?
These were common themes in comments submitted to The Salt Lake Tribune through a survey in the Dec. 29 story “Tell us your thoughts: Is Utah one happy family, or two warring states divided by faith?”
The survey aimed to explore the amount of “social capital” — which takes the form of implicit trust within or between groups — in Utah neighborhoods.
Here’s a closer look at what church members and nonmembers had to say about those who are different from them.
Do Latter-day Saints trust other members more than those outside the faith?
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints overwhelmingly responded “no” when asked whether they felt they trusted fellow church members more than others.
Holly Franz of Lehi said just because someone is a church member doesn’t make them any more or less trustworthy. Rather, she said, trust is earned.
And Doug DeVore, who lives in Layton, said both “good” and “bad” people are just as likely to be Latter-day Saints as not.
TC Erkelens, a Hooper resident, said he has good relationships with his nonmember neighbors, but that navigating those interactions can get tricky.
For instance, he said he’s been surprised by the assumptions and inaccurate stereotypes people sometimes believe about members.
“Such individuals can be very angry and condescending about me and my faith,” Erkelens said. “And so when it comes to connecting with someone outside of my faith, there is always a fear about how I will be perceived or judged.”
Others said that they felt greater trust with members of their faith not because of differences of religion, but because church membership and activities simply create greater bonds of trust within the flock. Eden Gillespie of Bountiful said she naturally spends more time with other members through church-related functions.
“That overtakes what I have with other neighbors,” she said, “a wave as we pass, or chatting as we each weed our flower beds.”
Do nonmembers trust other nonmembers more than their Latter-day Saint neighbors?
Matters of trust tend to be more complicated among those who don’t identify as Latter-day Saints, according to the survey.
Jeff Marrott of Millcreek said he’s learned that Latter-day Saints are generally honest and trustworthy, and as such, deserve equal trust.
Draper resident Ray Andrus said for him, trust or mistrust of neighbors isn’t based on religion.
And Adam Smith of Sandy said he trusts his churchgoing neighbors until they give him a reason not to, even though, “it is difficult to fully trust a believer when they expect nonbelievers to suffer eternally for lack of faith and perceived sinful living.”
Smith’s answer was one of many that included caveats.
Jo Semon in Sugar House said there are different kinds of trust. She doesn’t worry about her Latter-day Saint neighbors breaking laws or otherwise disrupting the social order, but “emotional trust is another thing.”
Stephanie Tino, who lives in South Jordan, said she chooses to believe in people as a whole, but “it feels like an uphill battle,” she said, “against a very large group who insists on determining how I may live my life.”
Orem resident Scott Stringham wrote that he would loan a tool or give a cup of sugar to any neighbor who asked, “but I would not trust that an average LDS neighbor could come over without judging me and/or turning it into a proselytizing opportunity.”
Other survey respondents, however, said they have little to no trust whatsoever in their Latter-day Saint acquaintances.
“It’s difficult to trust people who assume I’m evil,” said Stephen Atkin in Salt Lake City. “I gravitate toward nonmembers because they treat me like a person.”
Perceptions of trust
Perceptions of trust by others also differed between nonmembers and Latter-day Saints.
Millcreek resident Kristen Pearson said her nonmember colleagues and friends trust her because she trusts them.
“Also, I do not have an ulterior motive (like trying to convert them) for being their friend,” she wrote.
The sense of goodwill isn’t universal, however.
South Jordan resident Neil E. West said his home has been excluded on maps of the neighborhood made by Latter-day Saints; while Eva Cornish in North Salt Lake said many Latter-day Saints won’t wave at her if they walk by, even crossing the street to avoid her.
Respondents in both groups acknowledged that the relationship dynamics between members and nonmembers can get complicated.
Steve Hepworth, a Syracuse resident and Latter-day Saint, said, “assumptions about me, my political ideology and religious inclinations, as well as assumptions about how I might feel towards them, make trust difficult.”
John McKell, a Latter-day Saint in Logan, wrote that many members have an idealized view of their relationships with nonmembers.
He feels that in reality, there’s a “distinct lack of trust” between the groups, resulting in “two separate, insular societies.”
What would build trust between members and nonmembers?
According to Eboo Patel, founder of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, for people of different beliefs to trust one another, they must interact in settings where religion is present but conversion isn’t the goal.
In his organization, building trust between faiths often takes the form of service projects: for instance, a Muslim student association might partner with a Catholic student association to prepare meals for people experiencing homelessness. Each group learns how to accommodate the other and what they can comfortably do together.
Then, when crisis hits, these interfaith relationships are already in place, Patel said.
He referred to the recent hostage situation at Jewish synagogue Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. During the 11-hour standoff, Patel said an area Muslim brought samosas to law enforcement’s command center because they were the hostage rabbi’s favorite food.
“Do you know the favorite food of people from the house of worship down the street? And in a crisis situation, could you bring it?” Patel said. “It’s just a beautiful little sign of friendship and trust.”
He also said that as societal polarization goes up, trust for those outside of a person’s immediate identity group tends to go down.
That’s why building trust outside your in-group is so important.
“There are not that many places left you can hide in America from diversity,” Patel said. “Isn’t it better that you know something positive about [people who are different from you]?”
What locals think
Survey responses about building trust echoed Patel’s sentiments.
Ken Parkinson, a Latter-day Saint in Springville, said he thinks some of his nonmember neighbors are afraid members only want to convert them.
“Frankly, I would love to share my faith with my neighbors. At the same time, I am very happy to share my friendship,” he wrote.
Murray resident Melodee Lambert said she’s a former Latter-day Saint turned Quaker. She generally feels that there is trust between herself and her church member neighbors, but said she’s upset by some Latter-day Saints who aren’t accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.
She thinks trust would be built between the two groups if Latter-day Saints showed more genuine love to people who are different than them.
“LDS people need to realize that Christ called us to love one another as he has loved us,” she wrote. “He did not say ‘Love one another as I have loved you — except for Black human beings, LGBTQ+ human beings and others not like you.’”
North Salt Lake resident Terese Pratt said all of Latter-day Saints’ socializing is done within wards, or congregations, leaving them little inclination to interact with those outside of the fold.
This could be overcome through events designed for the entire community; however, “there will need to be concerted efforts to make sure these activities aren’t just LDS events in disguise,” Pratt said.
Merri Lee Zaba, a Presbyterian in Holladay, said the issue isn’t trust; it’s respect.
“As long as we can trust [Latter-day Saints’] motives, that they aren’t trying to change us, all is fine,” Zaba said. “[Utah] is a great place to live as long as we live and let live.”