Shattering Mormon Stereotypes

I guess you could say my younger sister’s life has not played out the way a Latter-day Saint girl’s life traditionally plays out. She and I and our two other siblings grew up in an active LDS family, right in the center of Mormonism in Salt Lake City, Utah. Shortly after high school, however, my sister’s life veered away from the faith we all shared and onto a journey that took her away from activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly 15 years.

By the time she reached her mid-20s, my sister was in California, raising her young son as a single mom. One of the outward manifestations that she was keeping her distance from the church was the gradual appearance of her tattoos. First they were subtle, then not so subtle. On through the coming years, everyone in the family prayed and longed for her to find her way back.

And then it happened. Starting in 2013, my sister began a new journey, a journey back to God and back to activity in the church. She relit the flame of faith in her life and began working to instill that faith in her son. Almost before we knew it, we were witnessing my dad baptizing my nephew, followed by my sister receiving her endowment in the Jordan River Utah Temple in late 2014.

A few months later, my sister told us she planned to move home to Utah, where she and her son would have the support of extended family. At that point, I confess that I began to worry about how she would be received by neighbors and ward members in Utah. Would her new ward embrace her, or would she find herself on the outside looking in? When I found out she was moving to Bountiful, I wondered if a tattooed, single mom in her 30s could fit into any ward there.

Her appointment to meet with her new bishopric was set for a Sunday in January 2015, and here is what happened, in my sister’s own words:

I had a "get to know you" meeting with the bishopric of my new ward today. To be honest, I have been struggling a bit with the adjustment of attending a new ward since moving back to Utah.

I feel somewhat out of place as an individual in general, then you factor in the covered in tattoos, single mom approaching her mid 30s aspect, and quite frankly it's easy to feel like a misfit within the [church]—especially when you are attending a family ward. 

I have to say though, meeting with Bishop Stone and his counselors today was exactly what I needed—it felt genuinely warm and inviting. They each told me a bit about themselves, and then eagerly asked to know more about me and my life. Of course I had to lift my sleeves and break the ice by saying, "Well, I guess you could say I've lived a colorful life." We all laughed, and even though they may have been in a bit of shock, I felt accepted and embraced. "You bring a bit of diversity to the ward, and we love that" was Bishop Stone's response. I told them I prefer "flavor," but "diversity" would do. J

I told them more about my life and the paths I have been down, when Brandon, one of the counselors looked at the bishop and the other counselor and said, "I feel like we are filming an 'I am a Mormon' video. Your story is so interesting," which made me smile for obvious reasons. 

The lesson I learned today was NOT to assume that other people will count you out. Don't assume people judge you—give them a chance to love and accept you. Change, though uncomfortable at times, gives us a chance to grow. 

One thing Brandon said in our closing prayer that literally brings tears to my eyes as I write this was, "Thank you for guiding Amy into our ward, and for bringing her here to be with us." Those words will impact me for the rest of my life.

It is hard to describe how I felt when I first read my sister’s description of that initial meeting with the bishopric a few weeks ago. My gratitude for her wise and caring bishop is immense. I actually think most members of the Church are a lot like my sister’s new bishopric—I’ve met mostly kind, loving, accepting Latter-day Saints in every congregation I’ve ever attended all across the world. But sometimes in our fear or in our shortsightedness, we assume members or leaders may unfairly judge or reject our differences.

I am grateful for all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints everywhere who live the teachings of the gospel and walk in the footsteps of the Savior. I am thankful that my sister, her bishop, and his counselors have each shattered different stereotypes about members of the Church in their own ways. We are all at our best when our warm embrace ensures all members are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). As the Lord taught, “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 3:35).

Nate Sharp is an associate professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and currently serves as bishop of the College Station 3rd ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He grew up in Holladay, Utah, served a full-time mission for the Church in the Korea Seoul West mission from 1996-1998, and later graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Austin. He married Holly Carroll in 2003, and they are the proud parents of five beautiful children.


  1. Nathan thanks for sharing the story of Amy. What a wonderful day to see loved ones return to the the Savior's love. We are so proud of all your work to move the gospel forward. Sherrie and Dave

  2. Thanks for your story. Sooo many people are finding their way back to the Lord in these times. Just wandering if the Bishop was DANIEL Stone?

  3. Awesome story, never judge a book by it's cover. Free agency has led a lot of us astray. Thankfully we know of God's love to let us return.

  4. Hi Karen. Amy's bishop's first name is Karl. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Hi, My name is Bill. I was Baptised into the L.D.S. Church 2014. I have never been a member of any kind of church, nor anything that had to do with religion. I was 50 years old at the time of my Baptism I have had a lot of Divine things happen in my life that left me with a lot of questions about God. You would Never! Never believe I am LDS by looking at me. I am covered with Tattoos. Not just any Tattoos, Prison Ink. Mostly of Hell and Demonic Images. I do have a small cluster of Cherubs. "Angelic Beings" I have severe heart failure. But I am in good physical health and I definitely should not be? People I believe stereotype the church much more than the church stereotypes others. I was welcomed in with open arms. Recently I violated my parole. I really didn't do anything but get a new Parole Officer, back to prison I went. The people in my community blew my mind. They stood by me. Got me legal counsel and made sure my wife was okay. What a wonderful group of people. Also what a true test of faith for them. A lot of people believe they wouldn't fit in to the church because of their appearance? I guess a lot of people don't realize church is more of a place for sinners than for saints. It's the sinners who really need to be there, and who more than not may need help in their life. The LDS Church and all those I have met have shown me that it is not their church. It is the Lords House where all are welcomed.

  6. Great stories. Well I am a temple worker in Seattle. On occasion there is one or the other brother in initiatories who is smothered with tattoos, not particularly spiritually inspiring ones... and we don't blink an eye; we are so grateful that those gentlemen are there just like anyone else. Personally, I do try particularly to silently pray that they will understand and feel, and I perform slowly and deliberately so that they may notice and ponder on the words.

    And I love Sweetbilly63's story, sorry he is in prison. Very interesting statement: "People I believe stereotype the church much more than the church stereotypes others. " Yes, now that I think of it, it is absolutely true, 99.6% of the time. There are members.... but that's their problem. Likewise the rare officer (and it is rare) who feels he/she owns the facility. It is the Lord's house indeed, that is the attitude, and we should take care of it in the very best way. We should take care of other of the Lord's children in the very best way, to encourage and enable them to be the very best they can.

    Each of us, and the ones participating in these stories, have unlimited potential; we are to work as hard as we can to live up to ours, and we are to respect, help and encourage each other to progress in that unlimited potential to the best of our God-given abilities.