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John 13:34: A teenager reflects on truth and love in her spiritual journey

Gracie Hagon, Dayton Youth Radio student
Basim Blunt

Religion is a topic many teens grapple with as they reach adulthood. In this iteration we'll listen to Gracie Hagon, a senior who's life was impacted by concepts of religion, church and faith.

Gracie Hagon: I've actually always wondered why plenty of religions teach to love or when they really mean love all as long as they meet expectations X, Y, and Z. I'm Gracie Heygon, and I'm a senior at Central High School. I live with my mom, Candy, and my dad, Billy and Kaitlyn. I'm in color guard. I'm a mostly straight-A student.

I lived in Utah for a big chunk of my life, and believe me, I get the questions. Are you Mormon? What's it like going out on Sundays? Now you hear the words Utah and Mormon and your mind immediately goes to those cult documentaries and long white underwear.

And I'm not Mormon.

I moved from Michigan to a small village about 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City. I was nine years old and so excited to live somewhere new. But I realized pretty quickly that there was something different about this brand new place.

Other kids played together on Sundays, but they never asked me to play. I was about as heartbroken as you can be when you're nine. I couldn't be friends with them because, you know, I didn't go to church.

I just wanted to grab them by the shoulders and be like, Why don't you like me? Why don't you want to be friends with me? I'm a good person. It was like I was walking around with this big scarlet age on me. Classmates and neighbors told me that they were worried about my eternal soul because I wouldn't get into heaven if I didn't worship the same things they did.

Those kids were Mormon and I wasn't.

John Lokai: I am John Lokai. I was born into the church.

Gracie: I interviewed John Locke. John was somebody that grew up in the LDS faith. I got to see a negative side. And he also got to see a negative side of the same religion from different points.

John: I had one of my friends, Connor, who was actually in this class. I was in first grade. I went to his birthday party and it was on a Sunday and it was a big deal. Sunday is like a very strict day of the week, like more kind of reserved religious time, like going to church. You can read scriptures with your family or by yourself. But he was like my best friend. I did end up going, but it wasn't disappointing them. It was disappointing God.

Gracie: And at [9-years-old], I didn't get it. But at 15 I started to. I think once people realized that they couldn't change me, they started talking...

"She doesn't go to church, so she's a bad influence."

"She shouldn't be on the same dance team as my daughter because she's not faithful."

"I heard she's promiscuous and that's what you get when you don't go to church."

And none of it was true. The older I got, the further away I was pushed. I was beyond bitter.

It's always been Christians. You're supposed to love all in love, everyone, and love thy neighbor. It's literally one of the Ten Commandments. But why would you say you love everybody and then exclude a scared little girl who just got to a new state, who just got to high school, who was terrified of not having friends? Why would you not love her?

I went from this happy and positive girl to angry at the world, and I had so much hate and resentment built up that I just kind of exploded. I learned that your early teenage years really are just the most formative ones you have socially. Being in my situation during this crucial period of my life really just set me up to fail later on, I would say.

I picked up habits I can't really pick up. Like just the way that I treat myself and the way that I act around other people in. Who I present myself as. I just don't think I'll be able to undo. You know, Jesus died, He was crucified and God loved Jesus and God loved us. And it's like all of this stuff that's just based on love. And it's like, how could you ignore such a crucial tenet of what you're supposed to believe in?

But really, if you go in, you really read the Bible and you really read into it. Love is kind of the whole point.