05 September 2022

Leave "Utah" and Scatter Yourselves: There are Individuals Far Afield that You Need to Touch

I wrote this bit of an essay some years ago.  It came to mind several times since and I shared the concept of "the Utah cultural center" with others recently and there was general agreement that it rang true with their experience in LDS-dominated places.  "Utah" here can mean an LDS-dominated place (like the State of Utah) or the attitude of only associating in a significant way with certain Latter-Day Saints of the same background.

Many people think that where they live and the occupation that they pursue are the basic manifestations of themselves. Can I redirect you into a different way of thinking? Over the years, I have become convinced that it is who we are (our background), who we are striving to become (our attitudes and activities), and (perhaps most importantly) the people that we touch which should be the attributes that define us the most and steer our future plans.

Each of us need an ultimate goal to attain, a goal that defines our lives and give purpose to our passions. This is usually tied up in our religious devotion and already determined by the God that we serve. For instance, my God offers me the attainment of his status. My devotion to him is the personal adoption of his goals as my own. The subordinate goals I set for myself, if I do things properly, should always be at least '''in-line''' with the master goals and most of these should actually work toward the accomplishment of that highest attainment. (Newer comment - this is the seed-thought of the "Agenda of God" video series.)

There is also something to be said for eliminating distractions to the attainment of one's ultimate goal, such as working for riches for their own sake, acquiring status and possessions only to aggrandize oneself, working long hours for a more comfortable retirement, among so many other motivations. Each of these can also be necessary subordinate goals to a higher one, but so many people make such base activities their end goal. The great danger of the act of amassing means (which is what these things do) is their diverting ability. One can easily lose sight of and interest in the ultimate goal in the heady rush of accomplishment that rewards us with riches and fame.

Can I offer a thought on how one might find a higher purpose and work to do? It might not be immediately lucrative or satisfying to baser desires, but it might align people closer with the work of Christ.

There is a natural inclination among like-minded people to congregate together to draw strength from each other. This has been a very positive force for inculcating a pervasive culture of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed by Joseph Smith and as promulgated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in children and youth. This was a part of preaching for many years to "gather to Zion", which was often interpreted as a physical relocation to places where there were many church members in the Rocky Mountains region of North America, primarily in the state of Utah. This encouragement to geographically gather officially ended nearly fifty years ago, replaced by the charge to build up Zion where church members already live. Where once there were isolated pockets of believers outside of Utah, one can often find vibrant communities of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) called wards or branches who strengthen their members and welcome visitors seeking a stronger relationship with God and Christ.

The spread of the gospel in the world has been predominately carried out by young Utah men temporarily acting as ambassadors from a distant land and culture and faith. These have been remarkably effective in helping people discover the church and the gospel we preach. Sadly, many LDS congregations where I live outside of Utah function as little more than "Utah cultural centers" that are run by and for Utah expatriates. Such can easily be identified when they send their children back to the Utah homeland to find mates rather than encouraging them to marry into local convert families. It hearkens back to the biblical story of Jacob who traveled back to his mother's homeland to find a mate in Rachel. Such behavior is understandable, but it promulgates the idea that the Latter-Day Saint community is a rather closed society that often doesn't see recent local converts as authentic covenant equals. The gospel is for all people and cultures, but that might be hard to see given the behaviors of many members who, as the example highlights, only see the "Utah-bred" as acceptable mates. As nations and regions become less welcoming of outsiders and influences that might be viewed as corrupting and foreign, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints might increasingly find itself also unwelcome, such as in Russia. I think it's important to discover new attitudes and adopt new ways of living in a new place while also sharing the gift of Christ's gospel with our neighbors.

I have considered for a long time the concept of spreading ourselves and therefore Christ's gospel across the globe. In every hamlet and village, there should be at least one authorized holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood who is openly sharing the gospel with their neighbors in a culturally appropriate way and providing the ordinances necessary for exaltation to people in that area. Those who have been made strong in the gospel from a pervasive Church influence in places like Utah might make conscious choices to relocate themselves to isolated parts of the world, not just as some assigned short-term "mission", but permanently and by their own volition.

Such "settlers" could find local jobs and, as much as local culture allows, integrate into their new community as thoroughly as they can. For instance, as local families accept and make gospel covenants, their children should become prime candidates for marriage to the children of families with multi-generational experience in the gospel. Ties to the old homeland might take second-place to the relationships being forged today that help the local community see their Latter-Day Saint neighbor, the gospel, and the Church as their own. It is sad to find that wards and branches seem like foreign enclaves where local converts become strangers in their own hometown and second-class citizens in the household of Christ.

Wherever you are, you can integrate into the community around you and touch lives for good. Love and neighborliness are universally accepted and influential. As neighbors find and embrace the gospel that they see in you, let these relationships continue to grow and bind us all together, sharing the gospel and our lives as equal partakers. What is often lacking in many parts of the world is a first and firm Latter-Day Saint neighbor (firm in location and faith). You could fill that void by choosing to leave "your Utah" behind while clutching onto your more-important faith and simply making your chosen destination into your authentic home.