As a member of the church, I hear a lot of talk about whether it’s better to raise kids in Utah (and other predominantly Mormon states, such as Idaho, Arizona, etc), or raise kids outside of “Mormonville.” Some foam at the mouth at the mention of raising their kids in a place where all the students at their kids’ school go to the same church, and therefore all their bad influences will come from hypocritical members of the church.
Some suggest that the answer is to live where each of their kids will be one of three members–the other two being their siblings, where they can stand as an example, and have a lot more missionary opportunities. After all, what’s “peculiar” about being one of the 99 in a place with an 80% LDS population?
Others suggest that their kids are much more likely to stay with the gospel if all their friends, neighbors, and grocery store attendants are fellow members.
Whenever I’m confronted with someone who stands strong with one side or the other, and they ask, “Well, what about you? Is it better to raise a family in Utah, or outside of Utah?” my eyes glaze over, and I go to my happy place until the conversation dies.
I do have a position on this, but it’s not on either side. But the best way I know how to explain it is to share a joke I once heard (subject to the whims of my bad memory):
Once upon a time there was a rich doctor who lived in a fairly mediocre town. He had a nice place, and everyone envied his beautiful yard and home. Then he got a raise, and was able to move into a bigger house on the hill on the far end of town, where the entire neighborhood was lush and beautiful. He lived in his beautiful, massive home for just over a year before moving back into Mediocreville, into his old house.
Surprised to see him leave such a huge house, back into a cheaper town, his neighbor asked him about it.
“Well, it’s simple, really,” he replied, “Up there, it’s really hard to keep up with the Joneses. Down here, I am the Joneses.”
So you may wonder what this has to do with it. Nothing. Well, maybe nothing. Actually, it’s the doctor’s attitude that reminds me of this Utah vs. nonUtah question. The joke’s punchline changes the whole focus of the man’s situation.
Asking whether it’s better to live in Utah among other Mormons or live outside of Utah where you’re in the minority is a bit like asking, “Is it better to live as the richest person in a poor neighborhood, or the poorest person in a rich neighborhood?”
Essentially, my response is, IT’S NOT ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE, FOLKS! It’s about your personal relationship with the Savior. It’s about your attitudes and choices regarding service, love, kindness, and devotion. It’s about YOU teaching those principles to your children.
Don’t get me wrong, I know both choices have ups and downs, and I know their are cultural differences between the members of the church in Utah vs. elsewhere. But does that really matter? Is it really worth pointing fingers over? Every cultural difference of any kind has ups and downs. And as long as we’re striving to live the gospel, that’s okay. The prophets let us know when we’re stepping out of line–and they do so quite often.
Gratefully, we can still love and accept each other with our differences, and be ever striving to be better. Sometimes the persecution for being a cookie-cutter Utah Mormon can be intense. Sometimes the pressure of being the only Mormon in town can be just as, if not more, intense.
Sometimes the debate itself can become a form of persecution, especially from those who leave the church grow bitter toward it. Elder Neal A Maxwell once said,
“No attacks on the Church will be more bitter or more persistent than those made in the Salt Lake Valley. No taunts will be more shrill than those of apostates and excommunicants. In that valley and in the state of Utah, Church members will be accused of the ‘crime’ of being a majority!” (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, 80)
I’ve seen a lot of that. But there will be negative influences wherever you live. That’s not really where our focus should be in making these kinds of choices. Why are we worried about what everyone else thinks?
There’s also a lot to be said for those who want more opportunities to serve others. If we’re going to worry about others, let’s have that be our primary focus. Elder Stanley G. Ellis illustrated this attitude beautifully when he said,
“For 16 years I served in the presidency of the Houston Texas North Stake. Many moved to our area during those years. We would often receive a phone call announcing someone moving in and asking which was the best ward. Only once in 16 years did I receive a call asking, ‘Which ward needs a good family? Where can we help?'”
There are people suffering everywhere. It’s part of life, and the more people you can serve, the better. There are ways you can bless those around you no matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if they’re members of the church or not. You can serve everyone.
My point is, if you want to live in Utah, live in Utah! If you want to live elsewhere, do it! Base it on your preference, your answers to prayer, and on your love for people.
After all, when we get to the other side, the Lord isn’t going to ask where you lived, but how.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Chas Hathaway is the author of the books Scripture Study Made Awesome, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? and Giraffe Tracks. Learn more at chashathaway.com. Please participate in the conversation by adding comments and sharing with friends on the web!
Gospel Living Made Awesome is not an official work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Chas says something stupid, it's his own fault.