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{LDSL Blog} What Is a Utah Mormon?

Erin Hallstrom - May 17, 2012

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We've all heard the term "Utah Mormon" (and many of us have even used it). But what does it really say about our cultural group?

I am not a “Utah Mormon.” 

Or am I? Honestly, I don’t really know since I don’t know how to clearly define it. 

I was born and raised in Hawaii and left to attend BYU Provo. After graduating from college, I lived in Northern Virginia for four years, Salt Lake City for six, Denver for two, and I am back in Salt Lake again, going on three years. I only share this to show that my time spent living outside of Utah is greater then my time spent living in Utah. I admit that I take some pride in this. (I am not proud of that.)

When you don’t live in Utah, the phrase “Utah Mormon” is commonly used to describe a type of member of the ward. (Most of you know who I am talking about.) This person does not have to be from Utah, but they have certain characteristics and personality traits that people associate with Utah Mormon-dom. It could be how they talk, dress, and do their hair, but most especially it is associated with a particular worship style and worldview.

While I have heard someone described as a Utah Mormon many times, I rarely hear someone refer themselves by this term. Why? I can only assume it is because the use of this label is not meant to be complimentary. It is generally spoken with the condescending assurance that you are not one of them. 

So then, how do we define a “Utah Mormon”? I've asked around and everyone has an opinion. While key indicators may differ, some common and fundamental themes emerge in people's definition:

 * A Utah Mormon has an ignorance or naiveté about the world around them.

 * Utah Mormons are nice and well-meaning but not able to comfortably hack it outside of heavily LDS-populated areas. 

 * They tend to stick to their own and are critical of people or situations that are different; they tend to cling tightly to Mormon culture (as they understand it).

 * Utah Mormons feel more educated on Church procedure and culture and can’t help but share such knowledge with those in other areas.

* Utah Mormons take the Church for granted and are not able to develop as tested or strong a testimony as those who are laboring in the “mission field.”

(Side note: Using the term “mission field” to describe anywhere outside of Utah is a huge pet peeve of mine. It is time we all realized – everyone lives in the mission field.)

So why bring this up? Through my observations, and by shining a light on my own prejudices and judgments, I find the use of this phrase (or label) troubling. 

I do understand where the label/stereotype comes from. Utah is filled with a whole lot of Mormons. There are bound to be some cultural traditions and experiences that uniquely define Mormon life in Utah. But like all stereotypes, the problem comes when we believe the extreme examples and use them to dictate how we think and interact with those we come in contact with.

What labels do best is identify things. While this works really well on, say, file folders, when dealing with people a label will over-generalize and leave out vital details. When we define using a label it allows us to think we know someone and easily dismiss them. In other words, labeling puts up a wall between ourselves and others and takes us off the hook of getting to really know a person (because in your mind you already do). 

Labels and stereotypes are rarely helpful, but I find it particularly problematic when it occurs among our own religious and cultural group. If we can’t be united among ourselves, how are we supposed to love our neighbor? We have to find a way to bridge the labels, our differences, and judgments we have about each other so we are free to learn and connect with each other as brothers and sisters. Utah Mormon, Molly Mormon, Jack Mormon . . . whatever the label is, let’s be more aware of why we use them and try a little harder to get to know each other better – no matter where we grew up or how we choose to wear our hair.

© LDS Living, 2012.
Comments 33 comments

ferrell337 said...

05:49 AM
on May 17, 2012

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What was really the point of this article? It was almost like a primary lesson to teach the kiddos that they all need to speak kindly to each other. Sounds like it was written by a Utah Mormon to me.

a2mom said...

06:47 AM
on May 17, 2012

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Play nice, Ferrell 337. :) to start, i want to say that there are all types of Mormons wherever you go. We should all try to learn from one another's experiences. We all have something to teach one another. I admit to using the term Utah Mormon, but I also agree that we should not be divisive among ourselves. As a convert of 44 who has lived only 3 years in Utah, but who visits annually and has a daughter at the Y, I would say that the definition for me has little to do with hairstyle or even crafting abilities. It has more to do with the belief (false, I think) that our religion and culture are one in the same. Also, the whole "mission field" thing. It drives me crazy too. I have several friends from Utah who came to Michigan, where I live, thinking it must be a state of Godless heathens needing to be saved by them personally, or that the people would all be miserable because they didn't have the gospel in their lives. They even thought the church would be weak and struggling outside of Utah. Thankfully, they learned quickly that they were wrong, that there are lots of happy and good people in the world who are not Mormon, and that the church is alive and well outside of Utah. And I do think that some, but not all, Utahns take the church for granted, which is too bad. I think everyone should live outside Utah for a while to experience the other side. :)

rccrowd said...

06:54 AM
on May 17, 2012

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Thanks for this article. I think there is an important point here---we can't judge each other by appearance any more. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a worldwide church, so the Utah Mormon mold of church members has been broken. We come in all colors and cultures. We need to be welcoming and open to everyone. There is no hierarchy among the children of our Heavenly Father.

whyzzerd said...

07:51 AM
on May 17, 2012

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I use the term Utah Mormon, and I don't have a problem with the term. You have Mormons from Utah, and then you have Utah Mormons. To me, a Utah mormon is more concerned with what others think - very superficial. Plastic is another way to say it. I don't fault beliefs or family sizes or any such... just the image of perfection that eminates out of Utah. Maybe I should say the false image of perfection. The idea that you can party hard of saturday night and pass the sacrement on Sunday. Mormons from Utah are normal people, but Utah Mormons on the other hand... eh, you can keep 'em. And when I meet you, I will reserve judgement until you reveal yourself to me one or the other.

elarue said...

07:56 AM
on May 17, 2012

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I know there are many members of the church that take issue with the term "Utah Mormon" for the very issue that some people bring - I will never forget being in ward council and seeing a sister reduced to tears because she was so upset over the suggestion that members who were born and raised in the church in Utah have a completely different experience than those that are converts to the church, or even those who were born in the church, but spent their entire life east of the Rocky Mountains. As someone who has grown up in the church, but grown up in Indiana and has since moved eastward, not westward, I have seen a distinct difference between "Utah Mormons" and "non-Utah Mormons." The difference is this: when you live in Utah, and you're surrounded by the church all the time, and you're surrounded by a unified cultural idea of what it means to be a member of the church, you tend to confuse all the cultural trappings with the doctrines of the church, and sometimes that includes widely accepted interpretations of doctrines of the church. On the other hand, if you live in an environment with a more diverse religious population, maybe you'll stay faithful, maybe you won't, but if you do, you come away with a more nuanced perspective of what it means to be a member of the church. It doesn't mean that your testimony is better or worse than someone who lives in Utah, but it does create some difference, and yes, even some conflict or uncomfortability when you come across members who are shocked that you consider yourself to be a faithful Latter-Day Saint and believe X, or not believe Y. I'm sure it's the same thing for Catholics who live in Rome vs. those that don't, Jews who live in Israel vs. those that don't, or Muslims who live in Mecca vs. those that don't.

gpalm said...

07:57 AM
on May 17, 2012

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1 Corinthians 1:12, 13-- Now this I say, that every one of you saith I am of Paul (or Utah); and I of Apollos (California); and I of Cephas (Virginia); and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul. (1 Corinthians 3:4 -- For while one saith I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul (or what then is Utah), and who is Apollos (or what is California) but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? (1 Corinthians 1:10-- Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.

johnrpack said...

08:33 AM
on May 17, 2012

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I lived in Utah until the summer after sixth grade. I was a "Utah Mormon." In Utah, everyone was a member of the church. The bullies at school (aka Mitt Romney) were members. The shoplifters were members. The kids who swore like sailors attended church and were ordained on their 12th, 14th, and 16th birthdays just like the good kids. The kid with the Playboy was a member. The kids ditching primary were members. In other words, the church didn't seem to make any difference. The best thing that ever happened to me was my parents moving to New Mexico. My new school friends asked me why I was a Mormon (among the 3-4 in my grade). It didn't take long before I was following Moroni's challenge to read, ponder, pray, and ask God if it was true. He answered and confirmed the truth of the Book of Mormon. But he'd never have answered me in Utah, because I'd never have asked. For me, a "Utah Mormon" is one who takes the church for granted -- regardless of where they actually live. Thankfully, Mitt Romney is about to bring down a firestorm of anti-Mormonism on the church. That should wake up many of the "Utah Mormons" who foolishly think that the evangelical wing of the Republican Party is their ally.

petragalazio said...

09:12 AM
on May 17, 2012

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As an adult convert and a transplant to Utah, I can say that there is indeed such a thing as a "Utah Mormon." When we first moved here, the culture shock was palpable and actually quite disturbing. From the fact that Utah natives keep to themselves and do not tend to include "outsiders" (LDS members or not), to the pervasive and proud DUP meetings ("Daughters of Utah Pioneers"), to the tradition of Utah LDS Republican voting (without actually even understanding much beyond being against abortion and the ERA), there is a culture in Utah among LDS that is assumed to be The Gospel. Heaven forbid the "outsider" should be a Democrat, or that they should suggest we follow the Church manual for a particular calling or activity instead of doing "what's been done before," or that this "outsider" should ever talk about life outside of Utah. Don't get me wrong - I do love it here, and I do get along just fine with members of our ward. But it was a shock to arrive here and see how much some Utah Mormons confuse culture with doctrine and press you to do the same.

snja said...

09:31 AM
on May 17, 2012

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Here's another perspective: I was born in Utah, however, I grew up in California. After our first child was born we desired to return. My parents had returned years before. We were only back a few short years before a transfer took us to the east coast. On our first visit to our new ward the bishop remarked, after learning we were from Utah; "We don't do things here like they do in Utah!" I was stunned. What on earth could that possibly mean? Is the gospel or doctrine different in this current ward than in Utah? Seriously, the whole "Utah Mormon" thing is a bit annoying. Having lived there off and on all my life and in many other areas of the church my experience is you find just what you are looking for. There are naughty LDS kids here where we live now as well as very righteous ones. There are odd people on both sides of the cultural coin. The fact is, we are all different and we will all have different LDS experiences here in mortality. What unifies us is the doctrine. Those who like to push the envelope do it in California or North Carolina just like they do in Utah, Church Handbook or not. I'm with the 1 Corinthians poster - let there be no divisions among us. Ones that we create or ones that we populate by hanging on to age old labels and prejudices. We are all children of God and joint heirs.

mamdu said...

09:44 AM
on May 17, 2012

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I just moved to Utah a few months ago after graduating from college, and I admit, I was nervous about the move because of my perception of "Utah Mormons." And while I have met some people that may fit into this stereotype, the majority of the people I have met are amazing. Maybe it depends on the area you live in, but I have to say that Utah Mormons deserve a little more credit. I've also met a lot of non-LDS people here, so there are also plenty of opportunities for missionary work.

jjsmitty said...

10:18 AM
on May 17, 2012

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I have spent (now) a majority of my life outside of Utah. Growing there was challenging being that I was hispanic and mormon. But, in my heart I long to go back home. I loved living in Utah and at first the "Utah Momon" people used to rub me the wrong way, only because of the color of my skin because I was faithful and active in every way as a member of the church. Being older and dealing with non-members everyday I grew to accept whatever came at me and if and when I get to return to Utah before I die, I carry the power to let it affect me or not. This is my message, people are who they are and they are navigating this world as best they can, people generally are good so now I have the strength to let bounce off me when comments become offensive or "persuasive" (to put nicely). I come to visit Utah a least once a year and as I come off Thanksgiving Hill into the Salt Lake Valley I burst into tears and realize I much I miss Home I realize that I even hold dear the "Utah Mormons" because they help mold me into who I am today. Love you guys!

wmc113 said...

12:44 PM
on May 17, 2012

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You left one out "Utah Mormons" are all very prideful in other words they belive they are better than others, or more intelligent, because they live in utah,and are mormon, salt lake more especially

abd said...

03:35 PM
on May 17, 2012

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Shame on all you nasty judgmental people. Would you feel comfortable saying these things in the presence of the Savior. Be nice!

pogora said...

03:56 PM
on May 17, 2012

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"Don't judge ME for judging YOU!" Amen.

abd said...

03:59 PM
on May 17, 2012

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I won't be the one judging

ferrell337 said...

04:13 PM
on May 17, 2012

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abd - Typical Utah mormon

rgwd said...

06:16 PM
on May 17, 2012

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What frightens me about some of the accurate descriptions here, some of the attitudes and habits I encounter in Utah, is that too many UtahMormons seem to identify with the church as a cultural thing rather than with a deep, abiding testimony of the gospel that is reflected in their words and actions. But, I try to constantly remind myself to look at my own thoughts, words and actions and make sure that I am striving to live as I ought and only the Lord truly knows each individual's heart and circumstances . . .

amyjo57 said...

06:18 PM
on May 17, 2012

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While some of my closest friends are from Utah, they don't fit what Western NY members define as Utah Mormons. For me it is those that come from the West and feel that we are somehow less than they are and are bound and determined with every comment to let us know. They who refer to living here as the "mission field" and include the members of their new ward in that. They are constantly reminding us of how it is done in Utah, please this is not Utah! I have never lived in Utah and from what my friends that have lived there tell me, I would NEVER want to. Having a racially mixed family is no big deal here with a few exceptions. I fear in Utah the difference in the acceptance of it well are as different as black from white! Pun intended.

lavoy said...

07:24 PM
on May 17, 2012

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The article, as well as the comments are thought provoking. An article that makes others examine their own lives, is well worth reading.

grizzly said...

08:17 PM
on May 17, 2012

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There are alot of very good people in the LDS church I've meet thousands of them. However it's the ones that think there better than everyone else that gives the church a black eye. Then theres what I like to call sunday christians, they go to church on sunday then treat others like crap the other 6 days. Then go back to church on sunday like they did nothing wrong....

momw said...

09:08 PM
on May 17, 2012

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Only on LDS living do I hear such things as "In the Bubble" or Utah Mormon. I would quote President Brigham Young by saying " To live with Saints in Heaven is Bliss and Glory...to live with them on earth, now that's another story." I have never felt that we have stronger testimonies here in "the bubble" or that life is somehow easier here because we are all "Mormons", in actuality for those of you who judge us that way, it can be much more difficult living among members who do not regard gospel principles in their everyday activities. We find mormons who drink, smoke, swear, watch inappropriate movies, dress immodestly, do drugs and challenge our beliefs in a much more difficult way when they present themselves as "well, I'm a mormon to, what's wrong with you?" I find it offensive when someone has to point out that they are a convert to the church and some of us were just born into it...I'm sorry, but there is a conversion story in all of us!

vasper said...

10:33 PM
on May 17, 2012

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Living My Teenage Years In Utah,The Most Disturbing Thing About "Utah Mormons",They Still Lay Claim To Their Pioneer Ancestors.--Because Of This They Feel Their "Pedigree"Is What Will Exalt Them Bar Their Conduct.--This Reminds So Much Of Ancient Israel And Their "To-Do" Of They Being The Children Of Abraham...All Lip Service And No Personal Works Of Their Own To Back It Up...My "Dead" Ancestors Will Ensure My Salvation!!

sleeplessinbonneylake said...

11:14 PM
on May 17, 2012

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The only derogatory comment I have heard about "Utah Mormons" was that they are "snobby" and rich (which was meant as a negative). I do believe that this opinion was based on envy and insecurity, which I have found to be quite common among the financially disadvantaged LDS members living where I now live. It makes me sad. As far as ancestry is concerned: When I lived in a different ward I vist taught a sister who's husband was a descendent of Joseph Smith. Sister Smith claimed that she and her husband were not at all special or righteous, just regular imperfect people. They also did not live in Utah. The only stereotype I have found to be somewhat believable was the one of the envious, socially insecure have-nots. I will take this as a warning for my own behavior.

mistaken said...

12:32 AM
on May 18, 2012

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This is a massive generalization that is ignorant to the fact that these are everyday social issues that occur in every culture and every religion, even in family units, at school with our kids, in the playground, at work, because first and foremost we are all human and emotional beings. Highlighting it on mormons and further 'utah mormons' expresses an expectation from each other, too each other to be a certain way, to be christlike prehaps. Having these expectations of others limits ourselves to be who we should be because we can become caught up in judgement, being a victim, a perpetrator, I believe the answer lies in constantly looking inwards and self analysis to avoid getting caught in the the mistakes and shortcomings of others. Others will have bad behaviors, others will have things we can say about them, but so do we each ourselves. We all have them mormon or not and to even be 'humiliated' or to allow yourself to be 'put down' by others who supposedly act like they are better than others, is a form of pride opposite to the pride being played out. I am an Australian, married to my husband from Utah, I have experienced these things others talk about, I have at times, been the culprit and the person who has acted this way to others. I have been active at church, inactive, and reactived, I have been included and excluded, I live in Utah but these issues are universal, in Australia we have different 'types' of mormons, specifically in Oz atm there is a friend about to get baptized who has been shunned by the group of lds girls who choose to live a nightclubbing drinking life at this time of their lives,the girl being baptized has been mocked and shunned for making a commitment to better her behaviors and devotion to Christ. These situations happen everywhere. Constantly. Saying that people have a weaker or stronger testimony based on where they live and their cultural and social backgrounds is totally unrealistic. I agree with Kristi Campbell who said the concentration of Mormons in Ut makes it easily seen. As Pres Uchtdorf said. STOP IT!

simy0574 said...

02:30 AM
on May 18, 2012

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personally I dont believe that the term utah mormon should be used at all. Each of us has our own trials and things we have to go through no matter where we live or what religion we are. I was not born in utah. I was born in Minnesota moved to florida, then North carolina and now live in Utah. I myself am a convert to the LDS church i converted when i was 34 after 8 years of investigating the church, as a convert i faced some difficult roads before i could become a member such as alcohol drugs and smoking. However if I had not had these experiences I would not be the person I am now it is because of the trials I faced and got through that i can so firmly believe in the teaching of the church.

elarue said...

03:43 PM
on May 18, 2012

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It sounds like from a lot of the comments that have come after mine from members who do live in Utah, it sounds like there are members all across the board in varying degrees of faithfulness, and those on the lower end keep going to church just because of social pressure to do so. Given that my entire church experience (with the exception of my mission) has been east of the Mississippi River, my experience with "Utah Mormons" has been with members who migrated from Utah to the east. I suspect what happens is, when members move from Utah, those that are on the lower end of faithfulness and who were only going for social pressures find their way out of the church and into inactivity, because the social pressure is no longer there. The ones who leave Utah and stay in the church are the ones who, yes, have an ardent testimony of the gospel, but who carry with that testimony those ardent Utah traditions that those of us in the east do not share. Those traditions are not in and of themselves bad or good, but to ignore that they exist would be disingenuous and could cause some potentially dangerous rifts, both inside and outside Utah.

arizonasnow7 said...

05:33 PM
on May 18, 2012

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I grew up in a small town south of Phoenix, and we used to refer to "Mesa Mormons" and "Chandler Mormons" the same way. For us, it referred to those who seemed to be surrounded only by others like themselves and were to us "cultural Mormons" that left us from the small towns on the outside of their world.

night said...

11:29 PM
on May 19, 2012

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I think this has helped many people think about themsevles and their actions. This is always a good thing. I feel we should not use the term "Utah mormom" just like we should not use the term "mission field". I truly only hear about the mission field when visiting in Utah, and it truly hurts those who lives out of Utah. The saddest experience I have heard of is when parents of a 2nd grader went to speak to her teacher and asked if thier child could be moved from her seating arrangement, because she was seating near a non-member. I was floored. I always wondered why our Prophet consistently speaks about being good neighbors, this experience opened my eyes. I love living in a ward that is several miles long!!

samaurisw said...

07:08 PM
on May 20, 2012

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All my life I was raised with the idea our family was not from the Midwest town where I grew up. Even today when asked where i am from I say "I grew up in Illinois but my parents are from Utah". Granted this was 40 years ago but most of the leaders of our ward were members who moved there from Utah. The only time I EVER recall a Bishop interupting a speaker and closing their talk early was because as a convert they were "way off in the weeds" doctrinally. It was an attitude that if there was a question about "how it should be done" in the ward the answer would not come from a convert. When I was 18 and finally moved to Utah it was still a cultural shock. It was very different to see the Church taken so lightly it seemed to me. I went to BYU and fortunately met all kinds of members from everywhere. I learned there is a distinct difference between doctrine and culture. If this werent so we would not all laugh at the Mormon culture movies out there. Even my kikd who lived in Utah briefly could spot the Utah Mormon culture jabs in Big Love. Its not bad to point it out. There are good and bad things in all relligions and cultures. I will never forget my sons first school friend in first grade. Upon meeting his Mom she prefaced their playdate by warning me:" You need to know we arent LDS--is it still allright if they are friends?" She had other parents refuse to let their children be his friend!! They were only 5 years old!!! I have never figured that one out...The Gospel is the Good News to be shared~ if you only interact with members how can you baptize others?

alkarrk said...

05:39 PM
on May 22, 2012

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I wish I was a Utah Mormon. Those cupcakes look delicious.

pogora said...

12:36 PM
on May 24, 2012

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In the comments section of this article, I heard many judgmental statements--most from "non-Utah Mormons" but also from those who describe themselves as "Utah Mormons." I think it is very disheartening and truly sad. Earlier, I attempted to bring a little light-heartedness into the mix by posting a rather cryptic, but meaningful, sentence. "Don't judge me for judging you." Perhaps the meaning escaped some, so I'll try again. In other words, "You accuse me of being a judgmental Utah Mormon/or non-Utah Mormon. But in saying that, you are being as judgmental as you accuse me of being." Of all people, Mormons should be united in charity and learn to watch our tongues. Let's give each other a break and realize that obtaining Christ-like love is a life-long process and mistakes are made. Forgive, and move on.

latcatin said...

05:00 PM
on May 24, 2012

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I lived in Utah until the sixth grade and then moved to TX. My life has taken me between the south and the west several times since then. It always surprises and irritates me when the locals where I currently live talk about how grateful they are that they aren't like "those Utah Mormons." They would be eternally offended if I referred to them and their relatives as "stupid rednecks", and yet the connotation is the same. I solved the problem by only hanging out with people from out west, made possible by the large military base here. I wish the local members were as beautiful as the scenery here.

sestraleonard said...

11:09 AM
on May 26, 2012

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We are a military family and have moved all over the place. I find that the members of the church are extremely similar, no matter where we travel. We have those people who get up every single testimony Sunday and say something completely non-spiritual, then tell us all about their month and how it was so hard for them. We have those people who only show up every once in awhile. We have those people whose children are so dang intelligent that they can sit in their 8 year old Primary class and tell us what the lesson is about just by hearing who we are going to be learning about that day. We have those people who have to drive to church in separate cars because they have so many kids. We have those people who are single or divorce or widowed. We have those people who sit by themselves every week, we have those people who travel all around the chapel greeting everyone they see by name. We have those sweet older ladies who sit together in "granny row," and those older men who hand out the programs every week or make sure everyone has a hymnal during sunday school. I guess that that's the part of the church we see. Some of them are from where we live, some are from Utah, some are from other states, some are from other countries. I don't understand the Utah stigma I guess, because I don't really see why differences in one Mormon to another is really such a big deal. Aren't we all different? Isn't that the whole point?
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