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Religious Prejudice & Discrimination

Mark is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He served a 2 year mission in East Tennessee and the surrounding areas.

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What is Prejudice?

What causes prejudice? People typically refer to psychological and sociological explanations: Sex, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status and religion. Prejudice is when we have opinions that are not based on actual experience. People go by what is learned from parents and friends. Also, people fear what they do not understand.

Real-Life Example of Religious Prejudice & Discrimination

One group that I feel is prejudiced and discriminated against are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There has been prejudice and discrimination against it ever since it was organized. This led the early members of the church, often called Pioneers, to move primarily from Illinois and Missouri to the West, now Utah, which was unsettled at the time. This was to escape religious persecution in order to have religious freedom.

Specifically, I will focus on the prejudice and discrimination I saw and felt as a missionary for my church in the southern United States (namely, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama).

In the South, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a minority group. Most people living in the South are mostly mainstream Christian, most of which are Baptist. The other Christian churches do not like the LDS church because we have some beliefs that set us apart (such as we believe in the Book of Mormon) and we believe that our Church is the only true church in the world. However, this being said, we believe that all religions typically have aspects of truth. In the South, many Latter-day Saints are converts, so the first ones to join in their family, which is one reason why they are minorities.

The discrimination does not include violence these days, save some rare instances. Society has influenced people to be typically more accepting of others. But there is verbal abuse. Much of it is individual discrimination, but I believe it mostly stems from institutional discrimination from other churches. And that is not something new. Many religions over the centuries have been at odds.

But in the South, many years ago, church members, mainly missionaries, were beaten and even killed. I lived in a few areas where petitions were signed by preachers to keep the LDS church out initially. The institutional discrimination was when preachers from many denominations would have whole sermons speaking against my church because we believe differently. This is most noticeable because I had witnessed it firsthand when I was able to attend other churches. This was to gain understanding and to learn more about other denominations, which fascinate me. When we would attend, the preachers would say negative things to our faces. People have treated me differently after finding out I’m LDS or when they would see that I was dressed up and wearing a badge as a missionary. Most recently, I chatted with someone at a work training and she abruptly ended our conversation at a group lunch and left once she found out my religion (after she had brought it up).

A Few Reasons

One of the obvious main reasons for prejudice between religions is because of their differences. Many preachers get concerned that some of their members would leave their church to go to the LDS church. One thing is that is hard for people is when they are raised one way and someone else comes along who is raised differently. As mentioned previously, we fear what we do not understand. It must anger a lot of people to see missionaries out talking to others in their area and trying to convert them.

I would also that Latter-Day Saints are a different kind of Christian. There is more of a focus on works. We are not trying to earn salvation (because that comes through Jesus Christ), but salvation is a process and not an event. As we are taught in the New Testament, faith without works is dead and we will be judged by our works.

Conclusion

In conclusion, prejudice causes tension. Prejudice causes problems with relationships before they even begin. It can make relationships delicate and more formal. I have observed that when there stronger or good relationships, prejudice tends to lessen and is replaced with understanding. I recently watched a Ted Talk where a black man talked about how he developed a relationship with a KKK member that eventually led the other man to leave the KKK and become his friend. This taught me that through friendship and understanding, we can overcome our prejudices to build relationships. While generalization, for me, can help the world make more sense, too much of it can be a bad thing. If we do not understand another religion, it is best to seek to understand from those of that faith directly instead of from a biased third party. This helps to overcome religious prejudice and discrimination.

What we need in the world is more tolerance. Let us be tolerant of others and their beliefs, even if they do not see things the same way we do. Let us build on common beliefs. George Bernard Shaw said: "...you must get at a man through his own religion, not yours." We do not make friends when we attack the religion of others.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Mark Richardson

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