I've never been able to get the following Deseret News article from December 30, 2012, out of my head. Here's an excerpt from the author relating a story from her husband's proselyting mission in the late 1960s:
My husband served his mission in the Washington, D.C., area during the late 1960s. At one time he was assigned to a ward loaded with political and military bigwigs. One day while tracting he knocked on a door that was opened by a long-haired, wild-eyed young man encircled in sweet smelling smoke. The 12 or so “hippies” drifting in and out of the house thought it “far out” when he asked to share a spiritual message with them. He and his companion did so and returned three more times. When several began to read the Book of Mormon, he invited them to church.
They came late, but they came — and by that time my husband and his companion were already seated and the meeting had begun. Five or six wandered in wearing sandals, psychedelic T-shirts, peace signs and torn-up bell bottoms. They were sporting headbands and long-flowing hair. They parked themselves by the missionaries for the duration of the services. After sacrament meeting ended my husband was called into the bishop’s office and chastised for inviting them to church. How dare he bring those types of people to such an upscale ward? My husband’s reply — “Whose Church is this?” — led to a phone call from his mission president, reminding him to be respectful of the bishop, followed by encouragement to continue to teach and invite these young people to church.

Congregations in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be very different from the usual experience for most people. They are entirely based on geography.

How Geographic Boundaries Work in the Church

Depending on what boundaries encompass your home, you are ASSIGNED to a particular congregation (ward/branches) to worship with and a meetinghouse to attend at.

Wards and branches, at least outside the Mormon Corridor, can have members from every imaginable socio-economic category. You'll find the influential and wealthy alongside generational welfare cases.

Inside the Mormon Corridor, congregations can encompass only a few blocks in a specific neighborhood. The type of people in each ward/branch tends to be a bit more homogenous in those settings.

Not All Religions Are Welcoming to All

Being a "lifer" I've always taken this as a matter of course. My husband, coming from a different Christian faith, assured me that some people were not welcomed at other churches if they didn't fit in properly.

He emphasized this when we were helping a young, struggling couple, in a small community where they had not been welcomed into the local congregation of their faith.

Incredulous, I asked for confirmation from him that other churches wouldn't want people like this. He looked at me darkly and said, "No, not this kind of people."

I was horrified, and rightly so.

I have experienced people being told they weren't welcome in a particular ward and told to leave. It usually involves self-righteous individuals thinking they are doing the right thing for whatever reason.

What Jesus Taught the Nephites

However, Jesus Christ taught us in 3 Nephi 18:22,32 to not forbid anyone into meetings and not to cast them out.

It also follows that we should not make them feel unwelcome even if we allow them there. But I think there are a lot of people that do feel unwelcome, whether members or visitors.

As individual members, we need to make certain we are not intentionally or unintentionally making someone feel unwelcome at Church.

How Does it Happen?

As I've studied discrimination, prejudice, bias and so forth over the years, I've encountered one overarching and compelling reason for these behaviors. We choose to associate with, hire, promote, and spend time with people who are like ourselves because we feel comfortable with them.

This explains why anyone who is at all different may feel unwelcome, unvalued, or somehow unacceptable to us.

If anyone is remotely different from us we feel barriers from them.

Is It The Same Problem?

Whether someone is a potential member or a current member of our faith, if they are somehow different from us then chances are we will feel uncomfortable around them.

Chances are even better that these people will sense it from us and feel uncomfortable around us.

When I heard someone try and insist that you couldn't spot a member of our Church by how they looked because we couldn't all look the same, another person retorted, "If you see a bunch of them in the same room, you can tell they all look alike."

Are we consciously or unconsciously driving people away because they aren't like us?

Is It Happening?

I think it is happening, and happening a lot. No, I can't quote you numbers or refer you to any statistics. All I can do is reflect on my experience over time.

I can refer you to some visual evidence that can support this. Answer the following questions:

1. Is your bishopric all in their late 30's to early 50's, a little paunchy, slightly balding, college-educated and a bit subdued?

2. Are your high councilmen in their 50's to 70's, a little more paunchy, almost completely or entirely bald and somnolent?

3. Is your stake presidency in its late 50's to late 60's? Are they professional men looking forward to retirement where they will serve a mission with their cookie-cutter wife?

4. Is your Elders Quorum dominated by men in their 30's and 40's, getting a bit thick about the waist with many of their children climbing through adolescence?

5. Is your Relief Society presidency in their 40's with maybe some of the counselors, especially the secretary in her 30's?

6. Is your Young Women's presidency in their late 20's to early 30's dominated by women with husbands in leadership positions?

7. Is your Primary presidency women in their 20's and 30's, all with high-pitched voices permanently attached to children whether they are currently operating in their calling or not?

8. Are your singles a bunch of misfits who aren't ever called to any other position because ... no one really knows why? They just aren't.

Okay, these are stereotypes. They apply to just about every unit I've ever been in, though. Rarely has someone not fit these stereotypes.

If someone doesn't fit these stereotypes we feel a bit uncomfortable.

There is incredible pressure to conform. If for some reason we can't, we feel uncomfortable.

In our brains, we know Heavenly Father loves us all equally and loves us regardless of what we are or do. This unconditional love and acceptance seem hard for us to extend to others.

Any person who doesn't quite fit the norm often isn't fully accepted or included.

What Can We Do?

The solution is entirely within your own control. This is not something you can farm out to others. You have to change yourself. Heavenly Father will help you but you have to ask.

Ask for help in approaching, liking, engaging, and fellowshipping those that are different from you in some respect.

Heavenly Father wants us to develop our own unique gifts and attributes. We were all born unique.

Consider that Satan is the enemy of uniqueness. He wanted to control us, our lives, and our fate. It is only Satan that wants to press us into the same pie.

The Rest of the Story

So, let's revisit the story I referred to earlier:

Seven of those “hippies” subsequently joined the church. Several years later, shortly after my husband and I married and were students at BYU, we got a call from one of those young men who was in Salt Lake City with his fiancee to be sealed in the temple.

When I taught in London, I loved attending the Hyde Park Ward. It was and is a melting pot for people from all walks of life and from countries around the world. One woman stood out. Every week she came to church in a gym suit — velour, to be sure, and she had a number of different sweatsuits. No one minded; no one judged or avoided or criticized her for violating certain LDS cultural practices. They were thrilled that she was there.

I am certain that the Savior was equally pleased — with both the woman and those who warmly welcomed her participation in the Lord’s church. This is a lovely model for disciples of Jesus Christ — loving, welcoming and inclusive rather than exclusive.

 Wow, I like that: Inclusive rather than exclusive.

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