Ronnie's mom was a large woman with excellent hearing. Instead of separating us, she wisely brought us closer. She ran outside and banged our heads together. Until he moved away, Ronnie and I stayed friends. We behaved in such ways that our respective families might have logically believed it was the other's fault for corrupting their child.
Makes sense if only our differences were considered. Ronnie's family was black, Baptist and Democrat. Mine: white, Mormon and Republican.
Fortunately, we had parents smart enough to realize that the problem was not the differences in families but rather the similarity in sons. Ronnie and I were both slightly disturbed working on insane.
Although I didn't know it at the time, one of the benefits of being reared in a military family is the near impossibility of sorting friends along religious, political or even color lines.
Through the years I had Jewish, Buddhist, Presbyterian, Catholic and agnostic friends. We got along great despite what our various religions and cultures taught. I learned to see past the surface not because I was smarter but because I had no choice.
My parents never told me not to play with non-Mormon kids, nor did I know any Mormons who did. Only after moving to Utah did I learn that some LDS parents actually prevent their kids from playing with non-Mormon kids.
As stupid as this sounds, there is a smidgen of logic to it. Hey, if you allow your children to play only with the children of those who profess the same ideals you have, chances of their encountering negative influences is reduced, right?
Well, no, not really. Today I sit next to business editor Mike Gorrell at The Salt Lake Tribune. Judging from the pictures on our desks, Mike's kids are almost as cute as my grandkids.
Would I have reservations about my granddaughter playing with the Gorrell kids? No, but if I did, it would not be because Mike is Catholic, Irish or even a journalist. It would be because ... well, he's just Mike. You have to know him to understand.
And therein lies the real problem. In addition to being stupid, religious exclusion is just plain lazy.
The blanket assumption that someone who doesn't go to the same church as you automatically lacks moral standards erroneously relieves you of the responsibility you have to get off your butt and go find out more about them.
In the worst cases, people have discovered the dangers of this blithe assumption at the hands of sexual predators in their own religious congregations, neighborhoods and families.
The solution is not to keep our kids in but rather to get out more often ourselves. If you are hiding your children behind the skirts of your religion, chances are that you're missing its point.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley, but go easy on him for now.