LDS chapel where her parents attended. It was a cold day and as we walked towards the church I became a bit alarmed as the streets got progressively less affluent and increasingly more "rough". I was certain that these weren't neighborhoods I would usually wander around by myself. I was glad my friend knew where we were going. I was a bit relieved when we finally reached the church door step.
The church was not a traditional LDS church building (though they will soon be getting a new building) and I will never forget the welcome I received when I walked through that church door. A big African man, with the most contagious smile I'd ever seen, grabbed my hand with both of his and said in a booming voice, "Welcome sister to the true Church of Jesus Christ, we are so happy to have you here today!" His sincere greeting melted my heart and as I proceeded down the hall, which was lined on both sides by at least four sets of missionaries who all shook my hand, I was stunned. I can easily say that I have never felt so welcome, so quickly, in any other congregation I have ever attended.
After this welcome I stumbled into the chapel with the other kids in my group and sat down, feeling welcome but a bit out of place. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique in the fact that members don't get to choose which congregation (called "wards") that they attend. Ward assignments are given by geographical area and members are not (usually) allowed to consistently attend a ward outside of their assigned one. I have lived in several areas where this rule has resulted in some very economic, social, and ethnic diversity. Yet as I sat on that Washington D.C. Third Ward pew and glanced around me I marveled at the incredible diversity of the ward. Next to me was my friend's parents-- white and obviously well off, behind me were several young mothers with their little children-- black and obviously very poor, the bishopric on the stand was comprised of three men with three different skin colors, and in front of the sacrament table there was the most unusual mix of deacons I had ever seen in my life-- white and black, Asian and Latino, poor and wealthy, privileged and impoverished, young and old. As the reporter said in The Washington Post article,
"The ward is known in the area for its unusual demographics and high-energy warmth. Up to half of the congregation is nonwhite, including a large, Spanish-speaking population and converts from French-speaking Africa... its roughly 200 congregants are drawn largely from Northeast Washington and have included deported immigrants, a teen shot dead in gang violence, refugees from African wars, and youths who depend on the church for meals, tutoring for class and support to pay for Boy Scout camp."That day as I sat in that chapel, surrounded by such an incredible mix of people, I remember thinking, "Wow, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination he might become president.. and this would be his ward."
And with that thought came a warm rush of the spirit that nearly brought me to tears.
Not because I really feel any great love or support for Mitt Romney but because I not only felt, but saw before my eyes, what the apostle Peter understood,
"Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons." (Acts 10:34)
I realized at that moment one of the most beautiful truths that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ offers-- that all men and women have equal status and privilege in the eyes of God. He doesn't care if you are a prostitute, a drug dealer, a refugee, a Senator or even the President of the United States-- your worth in His eyes is the same.
I can't help but feel that is the message that the reporter from The Washington Post missed. That the real story here isn't the fact that lots of the members of the ward are Democrats, but that if Mitt Romney did get elected he would be worshiping among people from every imaginable walk of life. And that, most importantly, in the eyes of God the President of the United States (arguably the most powerful person in the world) would have no greater privilege or importance to Him than the poor, struggling single mother sitting on the back row.
"... and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God... " (2 Nephi 26:33).
And, regardless of who wins the election this November, that is a beautiful lesson.
Just as an end note, please don't take this post as an endorsement for Mitt Romney. I don't consider myself to be a Republican or a Democrat... I am somewhere in between. I voted for Obama last election, but I am undecided who I will vote for this election, though I am leaning a bit more to the right this time :) Please keep your comments kind and considerate.