Love is Our Best Hope

Love is Our Best Hope
Posted on 01/03/2017

By Councilmember Mike Shelton

Mayor Cullimore recently received an email from Reverend Patty C. Willis of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. In her message, Reverend Willis indicated that she had been invited to “a special meeting at the Capitol with religious leaders, politicians and community business leaders”, that was “inspired by the fear expressed by many immigrant groups [as a result of] the political rhetoric of the national election.” The meeting had been called to ask that our communities be more welcoming to all.

This message reminded me of a few stories from my own experience that have brought home the importance of this idea.

When my son Brigham was in the sixth grade, a young boy moved into his school class.  Brigham and this boy quickly became good friends. Brigham’s friend Ntumba and his large family fled the Congo as refugees and settled in a camp in Zambia, where his father died of injuries suffered while trying to protect his family garden plot.  Ntumba’s pregnant mother and her nine children were eventually relocated to Utah. Despite the hardships in his life, Ntumba has a special way about him. Though he does not look exactly like my kids, we came to know him and to love him like one of our own.  We cheered for his successes and we cried for his difficulties. We came to realize that Ntumba’s mother wanted the same things for her family that we wanted for ours.  Despite the differences of our experiences, we quickly found that we had more that was common than we did that was different.  We came to love the entire family, and they loved us back.

We live in a time when it is easy to become consumed by winning. Sometimes the stakes are high and it is easy to get carried away. It is easy to let bitterness and hatred take the place of the good motivations that first moved us to take up our cause. It is hard not to become fixated in a hope for the failure of those who oppose us. It is easy to lose track of the reality that we are all part of the same human family. We each have a different path, but most of us sincerely want what we believe is best for our families, and our communities. While there may be much about which we disagree, love is our best hope.

A few years ago, the Brighton High School basketball team reached the championship game in the state tournament. The parents were seated almost directly across the arena from the students.

As Brighton players were introduced before the game, Brighton fans went wild, while Layton fans were silent. As Layton players were introduced, seemingly the entire Brighton student section turned their backs to the court in mock disrespect. As I looked across the arena, through the sea of orange-shirted backs, I noticed that one student remained facing forward. I imagined that this student was saying in his own way: “You have worked hard to be here too. Even though I desperately want my team to win, I will not treat you with disrespect. You are my competitor, not my enemy.” 

I’m sure that other students meant no real harm. Their display was meant to be a fun show of support for their team. Even so, I will never forget a simple statement by one student who chose to stand for tolerance and mutual respect.

We live in a time when we have serious disagreement all around us. We have Democrats and Republicans, Utes and Cougars, Bengals and Miners, pro-life, and pro-choice, same sex and traditional families. We have opposing views on issues like freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bear arms. We live in a country that has a wide variety of religious and cultural traditions. We face issues of immigration, and fears of terrorism. We may have been taught to be afraid of “those people”, whoever they are. While there is much about the world that I fear, the thing that I fear the most is to live in a world without tolerance, mutual respect and love.

My neighbors across the street have become good friends. They are generous, thoughtful, and actively try to make the world a better place; humanitarians in every good sense of that word. 

Before moving to our area, my neighbors Mike and Dawn lived in Minnesota.  In the 1970s Mike was elected to the Minnesota State Senate.  In 1977, he was an outspoken leader of a group of Christian legislators who stopped Minnesota’s gay rights movement in its tracks.  An opposing lawmaker said the following of him: “Mike Menning was just a demagogue. He was viscous, just an awful person, one of the worst people I have ever met in politics.”  Mike was called one of the harshest antagonists of the gay rights movement.

Mike and Dawn later moved to Utah and settled near the church where Mike was the pastor. A few years later, a couple in a same-sex relationship moved in next door. I never noticed, but there must have been an uneasiness between these neighbors who share a common property line, but found themselves on opposite sides of a significant issue.

Sometime later, Jen and Whitney adopted their son Drew. I can tell that they love their son. They often play together in the front yard of their home. Mike and Dawn have an adopted grandson that is about the same age as Jen and Whitney’s boy. When Mike’s grandson came to visit, the two young boys would play together. Over a short period of time, Mike befriended, in a grandfatherly way, Jen and Whitney’s son. 

Sometimes I would see our little neighbor boy Drew and his adopted Grandpa Mike Menning playing in the front yard. Jen and Whitney eventually asked Mike if he would be willing to be an important male influence for Drew. Mike was honored at the thought, but said to the boy's parents, “Before you make that kind of decision, I think it only right to let you know who I am, and what I stand for.”  One of the parents responded, “We know who you are. We know what you stand for.  We have researched your positions on gay rights. On that topic, we have different beliefs. Even so, our son needs you.  Our son needs a good male influence in his life.”

Neighbors who might have reason to consider each “the enemy” could have easily disliked one another. There was important ground for each that separated them. It says a lot about them that the love they have for a little boy was more important than their differences. I have immense respect for Jen, Whitney and the Mennings. They are good people, with different beliefs who found that love was more important than their differences. They did not have to abandon their beliefs, or values, or fears, but they were blessed with love.

We join with Reverend Willis, and other local religious, political, and business leaders to ask that our community be more welcoming to all. Quoting Apostle Russell M. Nelson of the Church of The Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “We call upon all people everywhere to recommit themselves to the time-honored ideals of tolerance and mutual respect [and love]. We sincerely believe that as we acknowledge one another with consideration and compassion we will discover that we can all peacefully coexist despite our deepest differences.”

Editor's note: The persons named in this article gave permission to use their names.