Thank you, I feel honored to be a guest here! As a “foreigner”, I have been asked to add a Mormon international perspective. That means… non-American. Strange already that in our World Church the perspective continues to be U.S.-centered, with the rest of the world sensed as a large peripheral circle, referred to as the International Church.
Of course, there is no American Church nor any (inter)nationally identified Church. There only is the Church of Jesus Christ.
But we need to be realistic. Let’s turn the perspective around for starters. How do members abroad look at Utah?
When Mormons from faraway countries come to visit Salt Lake City for the first time, quite a few are surprised, not to say troubled, seeing the huge American flag in the very middle of Temple Square. For years, back home, they have been singing in their native languages:
High on the mountain top, a banner is unfurled.
Ye nations now look up; it waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land, on Zion’s mount behold it stand!
They had some mental picture of this land and it’s banner. And then they get to Deseret and it’s the Stars and Stripes. It’s as if Catholics on pilgrimage to Rome were to discover a huge Italian flag flowing in front of the Vatican: unthinkable.
Our visitors are in for more such experiences: an American flag in front of nearly every chapel, a Pioneer parade celebrating the U.S. just as much as our Mormon heritage, signs of American patriotism deeply intertwined within local Mormon culture. They visit BYU where “the world is our campus” and a deafening American national anthem blares over the environment, each morning and each evening. Our visitors quickly learn to refrain from voicing their surprise after getting the repeated rebuttal: “Why are you so anti-American?”
No, they are not anti-American. It’s more that they thought Deseret and the Kingdom of God were beyond any national connection. They thought that in the U.S. a strict separation of church and state prevailed. And now they have to mentally adapt to a new reality where churches in America seem to have a peculiar, visible and heartfelt relation with the nation.
So I approach this blogging task with some caution lest any comparison would be viewed as anti-American. International issues are quickly misunderstood and polarized. If something international came up in previous T&S discussions, the comments had a tendency to turn into political skirmishes, sometimes with quick judgments based on ill-defined -isms. Only a spark was needed to get America defended â€“ attacked or not.
My focus will be on thoughts and experiences from many years in faraway mission fields. But especially on trying to better understand the unique relations between Church members “abroad” and the heart of Mormondom in Utah.
But are international Church issues really on the mind of our commenters? How do they view those faraway members? Can they understand the surprise of Mormon visitors from abroad when they arrive for the first time in Utah?
And oh, yes, if I apply the wrong preposition, or use reprehensible words, or say unfitting things, please blame it on the language! I’m writing in a foreign tongue.