They are closer than you think

I read with horror the news this week that 9 fundamentalist Mormons in Northern Mexico were murdered, as did many of you. But at first, no doubt like many church members, I thought that this news had nothing to do with me. After all, they aren’t members of the Church, as the public affairs statement made by the newsroom makes clear.

Then I read the last name of several of those killed.

I’m related by marriage to a whole family of people with that last name. All of a sudden this whole situation became a lot more personal. And looking at the photos that have appeared in the media, I can imagine them as part of my family. They look like people I know.

I’ve tried to find out if my extended family is related to those murdered, but I don’t have enough information. But I can speculate. It seems likely that Mormons living in a fundamentalist community who have that surname might be descended from a pre-1890 Mormon family. Given an average of 30 years per generation, the pre-1890 ancestor of those murdered would be a 2nd or 3rd great grandparent. And if my family is also descended from that same ancestor, then at most they are 3rd or 4th cousins.

I know that’s a number of suppositions. But I don’t think they are out in left field. The descendants of Mormon pioneers commonly found in wards and stakes in the US are frequently related somehow — its one of the reasons why the “Relatives around me” feature in the Church’s Family Tree app works so well at church.

In my own case, both of my parents were grandchildren of polygamous families. That’s true for my wife also. To my knowledge no one in those families joined any of the fundamentalist Mormon groups, but I may be mistaken. But for my parent’s generation (born in 1930s), the members of these fundamentalist communities were first and second cousins. If you have pioneer ancestors, perhaps you have relatives who did join these groups?

I know that may be an uncomfortable idea for many church members. There’s something about the common roots of our church and their beliefs that makes us tend to reject those who come from what might uncharitably be called “apostasy.” They are like those who leave the church today—we tend to ostracize and punish them.

The result is that we often forget the implications of our own Article of Faith, which claims that all should be able to “follow the dictates of [their] own conscience” and says we allow others to “worship how, when, or what they may,” and suggests, I think, that we must treat them kindly regardless.

My point is simply that those who were murdered aren’t that far from us. 3rd or 4th cousins aren’t that far away. And if our ancestors had made different choices, perhaps we would have grown up like they did. And even if you don’t have pioneer ancestors, or if you aren’t related in any way, should that even matter?

I think that the idea that we are all children of heavenly parents, and, for that matter, all descended from a common human ancestor, is sometimes too remote an idea, especially in comparison to all the stuff we put up with day-to-day. Knowing our heavenly parentage too often doesn’t keep us from dismissing or maltreating our fellow humans. It doesn’t change our behavior. We hear of disasters or tragedies, and we ignore them because they aren’t close enough to matter to us.

For me, at least, realizing that the Mexicans killed recently were close to my family helps me see their humanity.1 And I hope I can use this to read the news better, with more empathy. For truly, those who were murdered are a part of us.

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  1. edit: a comment below reminds me that they are dual citizens of both the U.S. and Mexico, so “Mexican” doesn’t tell the whole story.

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