Who is David R. Stone? I never heard of him before Sunday afternoon this past weekend when he delivered my favorite talk in General Conference. But today he is a new hero of mine among the great men who guide and direct the Savior's true Church and the Kingdom of God on earth. His talk Zion in the Midst of Babylon touched my heart more deeply, and thrilled me more completely than all but a few talks I have ever heard during the forty-three years I've have been a member of the Church since converting from the Baptist faith when I was in high school. He spoke about how culture affects our attitudes and values in ways that we are rarely aware of, and how our inability to see ourselves from a perspective outside of our own culture prevents us from growing in the gospel as well as we could.
In 1970 while reading the Book of Mormon during a period of upheaval in my life, I was inspired by the Holy Ghost to learn more about Native Americans because of the promises made by God to the descendants of Lehi in the Americas. In various ways I undertook to immerse myself in the various cultures among the Lamanites. And in 1978 I married a Lamanite of Mayan descent who grew up in the Latin American culture of El Salvador. Esperanza helped me to see my own culture through the eyes of someone reared in a very different way than I was. And because she was a "Mormon nun," she helped me to see how this new education could be applied to living the gospel better.
What is a Mormon nun, you may ask? Well, we were both living in Los Angeles and were in our middle thirties when we started dating in 1977. Her friends jokingly called her a Mormon nun because of how deeply she was involved in the LDS faith. She not only served twenty-four months as a full-time missionary for the Church when she was only eighteen years of age, long before she ever had a chance to go to the temple, but also she was employed as a professional social worker with an MSW for LDS Social Services. Not only that, her Church calling was serving for twenty hours a week in the Los Angeles temple as an ordinance worker. How or why the Holy Ghost was able to persuade her to marry a sinful man such as myself I have never been able to understand.
Over the years I have learned from comparing my cultural prejudices with hers and contrasting both with what the Lord expects from us who hope to rear our families in a Zion culture that is distinct from either. For instance, did you know that in some cultures we Anglo-Americans are viewed as worshipping money? It says right on our coins and currency, "In God We Trust" as if the money itself was our God. And American women are known as bossy and immodest when viewed through the eyes of Hispanics reared in other cultures. Our men are more likely to gossip than Latin men. And we are prone to remain silent when our conversation turns critical of friends and family who are not present. We may even join in the criticism never thinking how disloyal that is. People reared in Latin American families are far more offended by such disloyalty than we are. Even our sense of humor is different. "Put down" humor is not a part of their culture. Among them a put down is just exactly that, a put down. Such humor is regarded as an insult, not something to laugh about.
On the other hand, there are some unattractive aspects of Latin American culture too. Hispanic men are far more likely than we are to have a double standard when it comes to marital fidelity. Among them it is OK for a man to be unfaithful to his wife. It is part of being macho or manly. But heaven forbid that the wife should have eyes for anyone else. She is supposed to be the picture of perfect chastity and remain true and faithful to her husband regardless of how many adventures he may be having outside the marriage covenant. Also, being thought "dangerous" or willing to shed blood on the slightest provocation is a much bigger part of Hispanic culture than among Anglo-Americans. This is relflected in their love for the "sport" of boxing which is even bigger among them than NFL football is among us. This love for fighting is even greater than among the Irish when they first immigrated to the USA.
Latin American cultures do not place the stigma upon living with their children in their old age that is commonplace among us. Whereas many of our elderly consider it a shame to need the care of their children, and place a high premium on maintaining their "independence" because they don't want to "impose" on their children during their declining years, in Latin America there is no such thing as Social Security or pension programs for the common people, and both parents and children expect to live together when the parents are too old to work.
Perhaps related to this cultural difference is our Anglo-American aversion to mothers-in-law. It is even a part of our humor where mother-in-law jokes are at least as common as lawyer jokes. In Latin American Hispanic families there is no comparable prejudice against mothers-in-law. Curiously, among some Native American cultures here in the USA such as the Apache and the Navajo, the mother-in-law traditions are even more pronounced than among the greater Anglo-American culture. An Apache or Navajo man is not even allowed to speak to his mother-in-law.
Why do we Anglo-Americans usually think of Lamanites as poor, benighted souls who need to be lifted up out of their degraded condition? Does it ever occur to us that we may seem in need of being lifting up ourselves from their point of view? And when we seek to love others as the Savior wants us to, could that mean receiving such help as well as giving it? Is there anything we can learn from these other cultures that we so often think are inferior to our own?
We live in a telestial world. And every culture, our own included, is a telestial culture. There is much improvement needed in all of them if we are ever to become a Zion people with pure hearts and of one mind.
As Latter-day Saints we need to give thought to these things. I have pondered them for many years. And for this reason Elder Stone's talk was right on target for me. It spoke straight to my heart. What was your favorite talk in the General Conference we just had? Why did you like it so much? How has it affected your thinking?