"I was going to sleep over at his house on a Friday night, but then he came up to me and said I couldn't come over because his parents said I was a bad influence.
"That was it. We never hung out after that," says Sepulveda, reared without religion. "We'd see each other in the school hallway and wouldn't even say hi."
The hurt persisted until the day both boys slipped out of childhood and into their black caps and gowns. At the end of the high school graduation ceremony, Sepulveda was asked to stand and be recognized.
"I remember . . . hoping his parents were looking at me and thinking: 'Oh? The bad influence is going to Harvard?'"
Such hard feelings haunt every Utah community. It is a bad blood that flows both ways, and for some it is bitter. For others, it is so faint it scarcely registers.
For Mormon Joan Schneiter, a drama teacher, it can be just plain annoying. She points to parties where she and her husband almost feel they have to defend themselves for picking Sprite over something stronger. "When Mormons sit down at dinner and never take a drink, they can be very judgmental of those drinking [alcohol]," she says. "But sometimes the Mormons are being judged for not drinking."
Countless friendships, partnerships and marriages have bridged the Mormon/non-Mormon divide. But every day secret scores are kept on both sides. Classifications are so constant they are almost unconscious: Is that a garment line? Is she drinking coffee? Are you from pioneer stock?
He is one of us. She is one of them. A poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune shows fully two-thirds of Utahns recognize a Mormon/non-Mormon fault line within the state. Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Games are just weeks away. For many Mormons, it is more than just a sporting event. It is a chance to showcase how one of the most forbidding regions in the country was made to "blossom as a rose." It is an opportunity to shine a light on America's fastest-growing religion, and the family-centered culture that makes it work.
For three weeks in February, the red carpet will be rolled out to welcome the world--and to cover up our cultural fractures. But the big show will be over by March. The carpet will be rolled up, and the divide will remain.
Hinckley went on to say that Utah has evolved over 150 years into a state of "great diversity." And that is not a bad thing. "I plead with our people to welcome them, to befriend them, to mingle with them, to associate with them in the promulgation of good causes," he said. "We are all sons and daughters of God."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles fortified that sentiment with stronger words on the state Capitol steps earlier this fall. "Too narrow" is how Ballard described some church members at a news conference of the newly formed Alliance for Unity, a group of community leaders worried about the cultural, religious and racial intolerance that plagues the state. "They don't know how to accept people of other cultures."
Catholic Bishop George Niederauer was more specific on that September morning, saying he wants to change the way "Mormons talk about Catholics when only Mormons are in the room, and the way Catholics talk about Mormons when only Catholics are in the room."
On the non-Mormon side, such talk is sometimes peppered with pejorative and ugly words like "cult," "self-righteous," "narrow minded" and "Mo." Sometimes that nastiness is simply unbridled religious bigotry. Sometimes it comes from people rubbed raw from persistent attempts by missionaries and well-meaning Mormon neighbors to sell them a religion other than their own.
Other times it is linked to frustration with a religious institution that also happens to be a cultural and political powerhouse. There is a perception by those outside the church that LDS members poke their noses into everything from the classroom to the barroom to the bedroom.
Some people were bugged--to cite one example of the church flexing influence outside its chapel doors--by the way a block of Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City was converted into a religious park after the Mormon members of the City Council voted to sell it to their church.
The sheer ubiquity of the LDS presence in Utah, with chapels in every neighborhood and seminaries adjacent to public high schools, can be a stinging irritant for the minority outside the Mormon beehive. Some even resent the unofficial state icon--the Salt Lake Temple--for the exclusivity they believe it represents.
All LDS temples exclude non-Mormons--like it or not, we are stuck with that term for now--as well as Mormons who drink or smoke, dodge church tithing payments, regularly skip Sunday services or challenge church authorities. Mormon temples are considered holy places where families are brought together in sacred rituals such as baptisms and marriages. But they also tug people apart because family and friends without a temple "recommend" cannot participate, leaving them to wonder why they cannot get a "day pass" for the occasion. Nobody should hold their breath; the sanctity of the temple is a church tenet unlikely to change.
Utah's Great Divide, largely an urban phenomenon, stretches well beyond temple grounds, however.
Religious differences typically do not bubble to the surface in the average Utah neighborhood. But those who dare to criticize the predominant faith and culture, whether from the front porch or in a letter to the editor, may get slapped with this refrain: "If you don't like it here, leave."
Utah Mormons can say this with a degree of authority. After all, that is exactly what Brigham Young and his followers did when they fled Illinois for Utah in 1846. After years of battling bigotry and threats from their so-called gentile neighbors in the East and Midwest, Mormon eyes turned toward the edge of the Great Basin as a place where they finally could find the freedom to worship and govern themselves.
Their leader, Joseph Smith, had just been murdered by an anti-Mormon mob, and they were tired of fighting. They wanted, quite literally, a place of their own. They didn't like 19th century America, so they packed up and left.
But now it is time, says Jon Huntsman, Alliance for Unity co-founder, chemical-industry magnate, philanthropist and practicing Mormon, to "start healing the wounds of the state." They can be found everywhere--in LDS family members shunned by their Salt Lake City neighbors once they are spotted heading for Sunday services with leather-bound Scriptures in hand. In the agnostic office worker antagonized with such questions as, "What ward do you belong to?" In the quirky, religiously inspired liquor laws that prevent people from buying a bottle of wine for a Sunday barbecue.
Marty Van Wagoner, an assistant adjunct accounting professor at the University of Utah, is one person you probably will not find at that barbecue. Oh, he might like to be there, like to spend more time with people outside his Mormon faith. The problem is his church demands far more than an hour on Sunday morning and $5 or $10 in the collection basket.
"I care about [all] people, and I wish that I had more time for them," Van Wagoner says. "But understand that my church does demand a lot of my time, and I believe in it, so I'm willing to do it." More time than non-Mormons probably can fathom.
There is a reason Latter-day Saints call practicing members of their faith "active." The week begins with Sunday's three-hour "block" of worship and instructions from lay leaders and teachers. For members with a variety of church assignments, their Sabbath responsibilities do not end there. When Van Wagoner was an LDS bishop, his wife sometimes brought Sunday lunch and dinner to the church so he could continue meetings and interviews until 9 or 10 p.m.
On Mondays, Mormons are expected to gather for Family Home Evening. It's a break from church meetings, assignments and projects, but not an excuse to head out with friends or watch Monday Night Football. Tuesdays through Thursdays, there are other church meetings--for women, for men, for kids. Come Friday and Saturday, LDS wards sponsor the occasional dinner, Scout camp or temple trip. Add to that all the usual family activities--Jazz games, school plays, piano lessons--and there is not much time left to build social connections outside the faith.
There are problems even when Mormons do find time to reach out. Though the church has about 60,000 full-time volunteer missionaries scattered around the globe, everyday members have their own marching orders to seek converts. That can lead to suspicions when an invitation for Friday night pizza is extended, and even hostility when social talk turns spiritual. Some do the recruiting with zeal.
"A professor I used to have would take Books of Mormon on trips with him and he would go into a diner and say, 'OK, who wants copies of the Book of Mormon?' " recalls Charlene Winters, director of marketing and communications for Brigham Young University's alumni association. "If they didn't want them, he was equally friendly."
Those Latter-day Saints who cringe at the notion that every acquaintance is to be viewed as a potential convert were heartened by Apostle Ballard's sermon at the faith's fall General Conference. He urged Mormons to befriend those outside the faith "without being pushy and without any ulterior motives."
For a faith built on the tenet that every member is a missionary, duty bound to spread the gospel to friend and stranger alike, Ballard's words were a significant acknowledgement that pushy proselytizing can poison a budding friendship.
"In the back of our heads we are always thinking we have to fellowship," or recruit, Van Wagoner says. "I'm glad to see the church taking that official position."
Ballard then tackled head-on the "non" issue. "It would be good if we eliminated a couple of phrases from our vocabulary: 'non-member' and 'non-Mormon.' Such phrases can be demeaning and even belittling," he said. "Personally, I don't consider myself to be a 'non-Catholic' or a 'non-Jew.'"
Those words stuck, even with Mormons who pride themselves on having open minds. "It just hit me," says BYU's Winters. "Whoa, here I am, almost intolerant of intolerance, and I am caught up in the vernacular of the culture."
If Mormon intolerance is almost blind, the intolerance that flows the other way is often quite focused, and the target is fat--the 70 percent of Utah residents the LDS Church claims as its own, though about half that number are not considered active.
While LDS families are at the ward house on Sundays, wisecrackers hit the golf courses or ride the chairlifts in the mountains above town and sometimes snicker among the themselves about the "Mos" and their world of bloated families, overcrowded classrooms and endangered Democrats. Jokes fly, even in mixed company, and it happens with impunity.
Why? Well, most would agree that criticizing the Catholic Church for its social stances is fair game. Likewise, Mormon criticism is usually less about religion than the religious culture that dominates the state.
Few argue that Mormonism's temporal imprint on Utah is vast. Besides a religion, it is also a business, with assets reportedly exceeding $20 billion. And it is a subtle but powerful political machine in every branch of state government. All the state Supreme Court justices are Mormon, as is 90 percent of the Legislature. The executive branch is headed by Mormon Gov. Mike Leavitt. Many assume that if church leadership opposes a legislative bill, it simply, quietly dies.
Still, when church tentacles stretch into public issues, many are eager to pounce. Among the fiercest is Nancy Borgenicht, co-producer of "Saturday's Voyeur," an annual musical spoof of Utah's powerful--of Mormons. Borgenicht dresses LDS bishops in drag, puts drinks in the hands of the pious, and turns legions of faithful into lobotomized zombies.
"I don't think it's racism or bigotry," Borgenicht says. "It isn't just about a religion. . . . What I'm saying is you can criticize a culture and a community."
Borgenicht says the problem is the cultural divide, not necessarily the people on each side of it. She says Utah is losing places where Mormons and non-Mormons historically mingled. She points to a bygone time when the Utah Symphony performed at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, banquets were held at the old Hotel Utah, and friendly battles were fought within the lines of the basketball courts at the Deseret Gym.
"There is no dialogue," she says. "There is no exchange of ideas. That is just not healthy. Stuff builds up."
Of course, every state in the country suffers its own divides-- whites vs. blacks, Republicans vs. Democrats, urban vs. rural, haves vs. have-nots. But Utah's primary divide is arguably more stark because it frays the community fabric in so many ways, culturally, socially, politically. And spiritually. It's more than just a tyranny of the majority, say some. They see it as the reign of the self-righteous.
"There is a sense in the predominant religion to look down on others, suggesting 'We have all the answers,' " says the Rev. Stephen Sandlin of Central Christian Church in downtown Salt Lake City. "If the LDS Church is the one true church, that suggests that every other church is not. It's saying, 'I'm better than you.'
"If any church claims to be the one true church," he adds, "I say stay away from them. That's self-righteousness and causes problems."
But the self-righteous roam both sides of the divide.
Jenny Kimball remembers an associate at the U. School of Medicine who continually barraged her with comments such as, "Mormons don't love their children as much as other people," or poked fun at the garments faithful members wear beneath their street clothes.
"It was an odd situation for me, because for the first time in my life I found myself defending the Utah Mormon community," says Kimball, who now lives in northern California. "Ironically, this was during the very time I was undergoing the experience of having myself removed from LDS Church rolls. Daily, I felt attacked."
Johnson tells of meeting once with a non-LDS attorney who occasionally wore an undershirt that resembled LDS garments to gain a possible edge with jurors. Clothing is not the only way to send a message.
Terms like "home teacher," "elders quorum" and "missionary farewell" often find their way into workplace conversations. Sometimes it is inadvertent. Sometimes such "Mormon speak" is used like a code, a way to let others know on which side of the divide they stand.
Unnoticed are the many who, sensitive to the polarities, alter their language so as not to exclude or offend anyone. Many non-Mormons edit swearing from conversations in mixed company, and the same consideration is shown on the other side.
"When I'm talking to a Mormon, I'll say, 'This guy in the ward,'" Jim Hintze says. "But when I'm talking to my [Catholic] in-laws, I'll say, 'This guy in the neighborhood.'"
The rift issue can be even more painful for former Mormons torn by having a foot on each side of the divide. They may resent disparaging remarks directed at a group that includes their family, but those same family members often assail them for their decision to leave the church.
Cindi Evans left Mormonism years ago, but the pressure to return has never waned. "There's this expectation that you'll see the light again," she says. The pressure intensified when she and her former Mormon husband had their baby boy.
"Well, this changes things," Evans says her stepfather said, expecting the couple would return to the ward house so the child could receive the customary priesthood blessing. "They were appalled that I was even thinking of not having him blessed," she says.
More is at stake than just a name on church rolls. For many faithful Mormons, ignoring the church's blueprint for life is tantamount to embracing a sinful lifestyle.
It is an old blueprint. Church founder Joseph Smith, perhaps taking a lead from established religions worldwide, asserted his was "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth." Smith's attempt to establish a theocratic kingdom in Illinois ended in his violent death. His successor, Brigham Young, carried the idea to the Great Basin with the hope it would flourish in solitude.
"We will go to a land where there are at least no old settlers to quarrel with us--where we can say that we have killed the snakes and made the roads," he proclaimed in the months before the pioneers dipped their oars in the Mississippi River and fled west from Nauvoo, Ill. "We will leave this wicked nation . . . for they have rejected the gospel, and I hope and pray that the wicked will kill one another and save us the trouble of doing it."
That never happened, and now the Saints find themselves living in mixed neighborhoods, even though the concept of a separate Mormon nation is far from ancient history. Some of today's elderly Mormons, as children, walked Young's straight, wide streets with the men who built them. Small wonder there lingers an assumption of proprietorship, a sense of a chosen place for a chosen people. That can take a toll on the soul of an increasingly diverse community--a diversity Young never envisioned when he set forth to build his theocratic Zion on the American frontier.
"This people sacrificed a great deal and went a long distance to found a place where they could create a society that reflected who they were and protect their right to practice their faith," says Charles Haynes, a senior associate at the the Freedom Forum of Arlington, Va., who regularly leads tolerance workshops in Utah. "Then it turns out not to be so far away and a place of beauty that attracts other people. It becomes part of a larger nation and it's difficult to sustain that early vision of a shared mission."
Perhaps that shared mission needs to be redefined to include people such as Priscilla Gruenewald, a non-LDS technical writer. "I wish that some Mormons wouldn't seem to assume, just because they belong to a church that stresses values, family and conformity to certain standards of behavior, that I don't have values and standards as well," Gruenewald says. "I work hard. I pay my taxes. I'm faithful to my spouse. I give to charity. I try to follow the Golden Rule. I don't get drunk. I don't abuse anyone. I try to be respectful and helpful to others. What's not to like and respect, just because I drink coffee and wine and don't go to church on Sundays?"
That sentiment is shared by those Mormons who wince when fellow faithful tout their "higher standards."
"There is a whiff of self-righteousness and arrogance to that," Van Wagoner says. "We have different standards, not higher standards."