Most people who know me, know that I am an Olympic junkie. I love everything about the games and will watch sports I have never heard of if it means that the US might bring home the gold medal. I’m even worse if the games are actually held on US soil as they were in 2002. The Salt Lake City games were a big deal for the country and an even bigger deal for the state of Utah, which is known for its large Mormon/Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints population.
I willingly admit that I do not know much about the LDS. I have watched documentaries about their history on PBS and I was a big fan of Donny and Marie back in the day, but beyond that…my scope is limited. I can say with some certainty that they seem like really nice people who work hard and live good Christian lives. They build beautiful temples. They believe in big families, and they are constantly doing good works for others. As far as I am concerned, the mormons are fine by me.
I don’t know what my son thought, though. As it happened, the Salt Lake Games coincided with a unit on other religions in his theology class and after reading a Time Magazine article about their penchant for overseas missions and door-to-door evangelism, my ever curious child had a LOT of questions about the tenants of the LDS movement and why the governor of Utah encouraged them to quell their “enthusiasm” during the Olympic season.
“Did you know that these people have a different Bible?” he asked me.
“It’s not a ‘different’ Bible…they have the same thing we do, but they also have The Book of Mormon,” I informed him.
“Well, whatever it is, they give it away for FREE…all you have to do is call the toll-free number and they’ll send one to you!” He was giddy with excitement over getting a free book in the mail.
I shook my head. “Yeah, no…I am not calling that number. Do you have any idea what comes WITH that free book?”
“The MORMONS!” I shot back. “I’m here to tell you, they are wonderful people, but they are harder to chase away than a Jehovah’s Witness. They’ll show up on their bikes looking like Steak & Shake servers and talking about God-only-knows-what and I am not in the mood for that conversation! No thank you. No ‘free’ book is worth all of that.”
He was so disappointed. After his success with the Jewish temple, I think he was under the impression that I would actually encourage his curiosity and have him call them right up. However, a few months later, while he was volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he happened to work alongside a group of mormons and didn’t even know it.
“Hey, are you guys LDS?” I confirmed as we sat in the break room eating ice cream.
Their eyes lit up and big smiles spread across their faces. “Yes, we are,” one of them answered. “What can we do for you?”
I explained that we were Catholics and that my son had recently finished a unit on other religions and wanted to know a little more about the LDS faith. “If you have a couple of minutes, would you mind talking to him? He’s not going to convert or anything, but I think he would get a lot out of the conversation.” The pair readily agreed and told me to send him over.
“OK here’s the deal, see those two guys over there?” I indicated to them with a nod of my head.
“Yeah,” he replied. “What about them?”
I smiled. “They are Mormons.”
To explain the child’s reaction would make no sense in the English language. His jaw dropped open. His eyes became huge and he stared across the room as if he’d just discovered the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. “Oh for heaven’s sake, they are Latter Day Saints, not zoo animals! They agreed to talk to you for a couple of minutes and want you to come over.” I hesitated for a second before adding, “Just do me a favor, whatever they say, just listen. Don’t argue with them, don’t tell them they are wrong, and don’t get into some kind of theological debate. Remember, we asked them not the other way around so be respectful.”
“OK,” he said, and went off to introduce himself.
A few minutes he returned with a strange look on his face. His smile seemed frozen in place and he spoke through gritted teeth. “You are never going to believe this one,” he informed me. “Do you know these people think Jesus lived in America with the Indians and that when they die they can become gods?”
“Well, it seems I may have heard some of that along the line,” I told him, impressed by how much they were able to convey in such a short period of time. “I’m sure there is a bit more to it than that, though.”
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Maybe, but I don’t know. They seem to think that they are the only people who are going to go to heaven too.”
Not being privy to the official list, I jokingly pointed out that perhaps they were right. The important thing was to hear what they had to say and not to judge them. After all, we as Catholics have our beliefs, and they have theirs. My son unfortunately had no intention of giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially where the hereafter was concerned.
“I’m judging them, but they are wrong. I am totally going to heaven when I die and I don’t need an extra Bible or a crazy fairy tale to tell me that! I’ve got two sacraments and I plan to get the rest of them as well…if that doesn’t get me in, nothing will,” he said.