It’s been a couple of weeks since I was in Salt Lake City (SLC), so time now to reflect on my potential conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Or at least potential in the eyes of the Sisters I met on Temple Square. Heavy duty proselytising.
I set out to find out about LDS, so was easy prey – I’d previously been to an evangelical church in Colorado Springs, so was keen to compare and contrast. I’d also passed through SLC a few times on my trips out west, so was familiar with the territory. But I’d never set out to listen to the story of their religion and be non-judgemental. It was tough. I had as mood music in my mind the play “Book of Mormon”, so had to work really hard to keep an open mind.
The conversation started the moment I walked into Temple Square. Pairs of Sisters were visibly circulating in the square, so it was a case of magnetic attraction – I was searching for a conversation, and they came to me like bees to honey. It didn’t help my open-mindedness that the multiple pairs of Sisters circulating in the square looked like a scene from the Handmaid’s Tale, though without the red capes and caps. As an aside, when I asked the info desk (staffed by two Sisters) where the Elders were, I was told that boys are not as approachable as girls. So it was only Sisters doing the proselytising, or visitor support as they might like to see it.
The entre from Sisters Jaring and Allred was direct, along the lines of asking where I got purpose in my life. By way of answer, I offered an exchange of information, talking about “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Neither was familiar with it, so I wrote down the reference for them. Irrespective of having given the wrong answer, their follow up questions led into an explanation for me of the Book of Mormon.
I listened intently, as this was the crucial bit. When I’d had previous explanations, I’d been searching for holes in the argument – this time I was searching for evidence. The helpful pictures at the start of the Book made it easy to understand the story behind LDS. My questions were about dates, names and evidence. I was given a passage to read and comment on, and this again drew me back to Viktor Frankl.
Sisters Jaring and Allred were working hard, their gleaming teeth continuing to radiate their smiles as they answered my questions. I worked hard not to be distracted by the orthodontics. They showed no signs of doubt in either their faith or my potential. I wondered if they worked on a quota system, recording the potential of each engagement. I thought I might be letting them down.
They showed me around the square, asked to take my picture, and gave me a Book of Mormon, marking chapter 11 of 3rd Nephi for me to read. As the next day was a Sunday, I asked where an LDS service was, so we exchanged social media info. We’re now connected.
I was then passed onto another set of Sisters for a tour of the square, and more proselytising took place, but more subtly. As I was carrying my Book, Sisters Barlow and Borden probably thought I’d been warmed up. The historical information helped to fill in the picture. Sadly, the mother ship that is the Temple in SLC is undergoing a major renovation to make it earthquake-proof. They’ve done their best to make the square look attractive, but the money shots of previous years were no more.
A quirk of the historical information that I delved into was LDS governance. I was shown a picture of 12 white men who run LDS, all dressed in white. Again, Gilead came to mind. I asked about more effective decision making that comes from diversity of boards, and that seemed to go over their heads; but the Sisters still smiled. It had always been this way, was now, and they were comfortable with being ruled by men in the future. But they showed me pictures of three smiling women in secondary leadership roles.
I was then left to wonder around the square and vicinity. I visited the museum to see the pictures and artifacts that brought the Mormon Pioneer journey to life. I’d previously been to Nauvoo, IL so the pieces in the story were familiar and fitted into place.
Reflecting on the evidence I was shown, viewed and told about, I wonder what over 16m LDS members worldwide see that I don’t. The evidence just does not stack up. At worst, it’s just plain bonkers, a cult. Tribes, visions, tablets, revelations, translation. You gotta believe the whole thing for it to make sense, but so many individual parts of the story just did not stack up for me. Yet, for so many people, the LDS creed shapes their lives – as do the creeds of other religions for their millions. It also has to be observed that there are other uniquely American contemporary cult-like movements, such as MAGA and QAnon. Maybe there’s something in our water that makes Americans susceptible to fringe beliefs.
I came back to Viktor Frankl. Men and women need meaning in their lives, and LDS and other religions helpfully provide this meaning for them. Life was very hard centuries ago, and religion gave hope for a better life after the tough one they were experiencing. The Mormon pioneers must have felt this as they trekked from Nauvoo to SLC. As I do my own trek around the America of today, I’ll continue my search for meaning in myself and American society. But I’ll give a pass to the uniquely American religion that is LDS.