Kim Johnson ReportingMayor Rocky Anderson wants to help Salt Lake City be a more respectful and tolerant religious community. So he announced a new project called "Bridging the Religious Divide."
The goal of the project is to get the community at large involved in thoughtful conversations about how to get along better, in spite of religious differences. The mayor told KSL the long bitter controversy over Salt Lake City's main street plaza is the impetus behind this project.
Rocky Anderson, Mayor of Salt Lake City: “I was committed to doing whatever I could to never see the kind of meanness that came about, the hostility that rose above the surface based on differences in religious affiliation.”
The mayor brought together people with vastly different beliefs to help him plan the project. One of his own staff members, who's LDS, asked to be on the planning committee.
Annette Daley, SLC Mayor's Staff: “I’m not from Utah and not from the mainstream. I’m actually a democrat. I’m pro-choice and I’m pro gay rights. My former husband is gay, and so having to meet people at their own level is what I’ve had to do in my life.”
Daley says she was surprised to learn how others feel about her religion. Psychologist Mark Owens says bridging the religious divide will be a challenge because an individual's spiritual belief is tender territory.
Mark Owens, Psychologist: “I think we tend to sort of erect little barbed wire around that tenderness inside us, and that's what we run into with each other is the barbed wire, instead of the tenderness."
Committee members themselves ran into some barbed wire when they first met.
Andre Moore Emmett, Atheist: “We had some confrontations. We shared a lot of pain and we came to be very good friends. And we realized in spite of our differences, we do have a lot of commonalities.”
And that's what the committee is hoping will happen in the community at large. The first public "community conversation" is set for November 17th at 7:00 pm in the Salt Lake City Library. After that the mayor hopes to organize several smaller discussion groups throughout Salt Lake City.