A Non-Member Kirtland Experience

April 15, 2008
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I recently read an interesting post by a non-member couple and their visit to Kirtland.  IMO, their contrast of the Kirtland temple (Community of Christ) tour guides and the missionaries at the LDS-owned sites was cringe-worthy and brings up a few questions about how we as church members respond to (non-investigative) questions.

Here’s what these non-LDS visitors had to say about our missionaries:

They were pushy, rude, and ignorant whereas the woman with the Community of Christ was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable.

300px-kirtlandtemple2.jpgTheir post also describes an interesting discourse between the visitor and a missionary in which the missionary continually resorted to testifying rather than answering questions.  Now, I know that testifying is used to bring in the spirit, and to invite people to come to Christ.  But, is this the best approach with visitors to a historical landmark who are requesting historical information?  Isn’t this like the caution from October 2007 General Conference that “there is a difference between interest and mere curiosity” (Elder Ballard).

So, why do non-LDS people visit LDS sites? 

  1. Because they are interested in history.
  2. Because someone in their party dragged them along to this boring historical site or promised them ice cream afterwards.
  3. Because they are curious about or interested in the church.
    • Maybe they know someone who is LDS or have family who are LDS.
    • Maybe they are investigating the church.
    • Maybe they are associated with a splinter group of the church (esp. in Kirtland).
    • Maybe they are antagonistic toward the church, although I can think of better ways to spend your vacation if so.
  4. Because they took a wrong turn when they were trying to get to the world’s biggest ball of twine.  Boy, are these guys going to be disappointed!

Of those groups, I suppose it is possible that any of them might become interested if they feel the spirit.  Maybe.  However, it’s probably equally likely that most of the non-LDS visitors will want historical information as they often do at Temple Square.

All proselyting faiths have a certain schtick and it varies from denomination to denomination and over time within a faith. But are historical sites best manned with proselyting missionaries?

When I was in Kirtland about 5 years ago, the historical sites run by the church were newly re-opened, and I found the LDS guides to be very knowledgeable about the history.  They were all older married couples.  The contrast I encountered was that in the Kirtland temple, the tour guides de-emphasized the visitation of the Savior to the temple and the other spiritual manifestations that both our faiths believe took place there, although when asked, they did point those things out.  The CoC presentation seemed very politically correct to me, extremely non-confrontational, and very mainstream Christian.  The guides were scholarly and polite.  I asked the CoC tour guide what denominations the visitors were, and she said about 90% were LDS.

The LDS sites emphasized the spiritual aspects (what revelations were received, where the Savior was seen, etc.), but when I asked questions about the archeology and the layout of the village, they were still very knowledgeable.  They also spontaneously offered to lead hymns or prayers or have moments of silence, which frankly made me feel a little uncomfortable (did I look like I wanted to burst into song?), but there were no non-LDS in our group so I am not sure how that would have been perceived by others.

So, what do you think?  Are we hectoring unsuspecting tourists with our constant testifying and creating dissonance for future dialog?  Or are we on the right track and the CoC tour guides are just being too politically correct?  Discuss.

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43 Responses to A Non-Member Kirtland Experience

  1. jjackson
    April 15, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Some similar experiences 4 years ago in Palmyra. I was in Ontario for a 6 month training stint and took a long weekend trip to see the sights/sites. A friend from my course thought it was more exciting than staying “on campus” for the weekend, so he came along.

    Many of the historical sites in the town itself are not connected at all to the church, and the ones that were stayed pretty laid back in their approach to me and my friend. Perhaps they assumed we were both already members since he’s a clean-cut, RM looking kind of guy.

    But the missionaries at both the Hill Cumorah and Smith farm sites found out he wasn’t a member and were like sharks with blood in the water. I guess they don’t get many non-member visitors. He went along with it fairly well, possible because I had prepped him for the possibility. He thought the change in their “approach” was pretty humorous, but I’m sure not everyone would feel the same way.

    We have the same thing going on with events that we have in our meeting houses. If we can make these events inviting without requiring a “committment pattern” Q&A to exit the building, those that are actually interested can simply express their interest.

    I often wanted to try what my parents were eating, just because it looked like they were enjoying it. But when they would say, “Eat this, it’s good for you”, the resistance flared up immediately…

  2. April 15, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    This past summer I vacationed in Vermont with my wife and her non-member family. We went to Sharon, where Joseph Smith was born. The experience was a complete cringe-fest. First, they had hymns blasting from somewhere in the woods. That was pretty hokey. The actual tour was basically a first discussion. The older missionary sister testified pretty much through the whole thing. There was some history thrown in, but it was all pretty cursory.

    What makes the whole thing worse is the tourist brochures the church puts out make the site out to be a purely historical one. “Come find out about one of America’s most interesting men!” etc. People come expecting to learn something about history. What they get is a sermon. It’s sort of deceptive and I can see it being potentially off putting.

  3. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 15, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I remember visiting the CoC temple with my mother and feeling embarrassed at her behavior toward the CoC guides. Definitely “cringe-worthy”. I found listening to the different perspective of the CoC guides to be enlightening and refreshing, but different from the culture of guides I was accustomed too. When I looked for evidence of crushed china in the sample of original exterior stucco of the Kirtland Temple on display and I was told that no crushed china had been detected, I was confused and understood how easy it can be to react from that kind of confusion with what could be considered suspicion or mistrust of the presentation. I must admit that I grow weary of the old yellow cards that we are asked to fill out at all the LDS sites, but the missionaries usually cheerfully take them back without any pressure. Pushy and rude do not come to mind. If anything, they are overly friendly and go to excessive lengths to help you (I think I can find it by myself, thank you). I have kept notes from my trip to Kirtland, as I learned many historical facts from LDS missionaries that I had never known before…some of which may be doctrinally heavy for someone with mere curiosity.

  4. UFO Skeptic
    April 15, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    One thing that I have come to realize is that the boldness paradigm of missionary work is absolutely different than the example paradigm. One works with one kind of people and another works with another kind of people. If you are never bold, then you never get some people to listen to your testimony, and then the spirit can’t speak. On the other hand, people that are offended by your boldness and testimony aren’t going to listen anyway, and aren’t going to react positively no matter what you do. On the other hand, some of them that might be offended by boldness might react more positively to a patient and longsuffering process of example and not being pushy. But it is all a crap shoot and you never know what technique will work.

    We seemed to be somewhat chastised this last conference for not being bold enough by the brethren. Perhaps its time to just err on the side of boldness and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. April 15, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    I have to say that even as a devoted, nearly-Fundamentalist-leaning member of the LDS church, I found the missionary tours at church historical sites irritating. Particularly in Nauvoo (where I lived for six years), their scripts often included oversimplifications and outright historical errors. This post brings to mind three experiences I had, one of which was in Kirtland:

    (1) I went over to Carthage to check on some historical details, while I was living in Nauvoo. At the time, I had a full beard, and happened to be wearing my Masonic ring. The tour guide assumed, based on these facts, that I was not an LDS member, and said so. I disabused him of his false conclusions, and it went downhill from there.

    (2) While passing through Missouri, I took my family to the visitor center at the site of the Liberty Jail. Our tour group happened to all be LDS, and so the young sister missionary gave us all member referral cards as we entered the ampitheatre. Once the presentation was over, she directed us to prayerfully consider who we might sick her on (sorry….who we might refer to the missionaries). In order to see that we complied, she kept us in the silent room for approximately ten minutes, creating a situation where it would have been an embarassing public display to get up and leave. My then-wife and I found this heavy-handed, and as we were permitted to escape, we handed her our blank cards. She saw this, so we didn’t get off so easy. While others were allowed to leave in peace, she followed us, continuing to try to engage us. Then she said, “Wow..five daughters and no sons. How sad!!” I was amazed, and must say I turned around and gave her the “death glare.” She began to backpedal about how she valued growing up with brothers, but she only made it worse. We tried to leave, but she kept up with us right to the exit door, where she still wouldn’t shut up and leave us alone. Finally, my three year old piped up, saying “I DO TOO have a brother!” We tried to quiet her, since we’d talked of trying to adopt a son, and assumed she was talking about this. She didn’t stop, though. “I do too have a brother,” she said, “JESUS!” I looked up at the sister missionary, said, “So there,” and we walked out the door, leaving her dumbfounded.

    (3) I attended the last MHA meetings held in Kirtland, when the LDS reconstructions were newly dedicated. I had a wonderful time wandering between the various buildings, and learned a great deal about the culture of the Kirtland-era Mormons. I knew that I’d want to take my family to the site sometime. So, a year later, on our way to the MHA meetings in Killington, Vermont, we all stopped at Kirtland. We’d been on the road, and as children are wont to do, they ran for the restrooms in the visitor center, in spite of the missionaries’ immediate instructions to sit in a designated area. We politely let the missionary know we needed to wait for the children, but that we were somewhat limited on time that day, and would prefer not to sit through a full presentation, as we really just wanted our children to see the most important of the actual sites. By this time, other senior missionaries were flanking the woman, and they informed us that nobody was allowed to simply walk through the historic sites, and if we wanted to see them, we were required to go through a full guided tour of the premises as prescribed in their program. We were frankly treated as if we were disobedient rebels for not wanting to go through the entire talk/film/walk-through-every-building-with-a-missionary plan. I expressed my shock and disapproval that this was so different from my visit a year earlier. The missionaries denied that it had ever been different, and insisted that “this direction came from Salt Lake!” We had a choice of guided all or nothing, and particularly with the nasty attitudes we’d encountered, we chose nothing. Only as we began to leave, did they suddenly offer to guide us to the particular buildings we wanted to see, but by then the experience had become too negative to continue. We climbed back into our minivan and drove onward.

  6. April 15, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I went through the Nauvoo Temple open-house twice with a different group of non-member friends. I don’t think we were pestered at all and I’d imagine my friends think the same (maybe because I was there and could deflect some of the more outrageous proselytizing?). The second time we were there–two weekends before dedication–everyone seemed much more harried and stressed because of the volume of people, which might have made them seem a little short.

  7. April 15, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    We seemed to be somewhat chastised this last conference for not being bold enough by the brethren. Perhaps its time to just err on the side of boldness and let the chips fall where they may.

    The difficulty is rarely found in boldness. Difficulties ensue when well-intentioned individuals confuse “boldness” with making an ass of themselves.

  8. tiredmormon
    April 15, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    We stopped at Cove Fort, UT, once for a strech of the legs. Those old missionaries drug us around there for an hour in the rain. They were pushy. They evaded even sincere questions by testifying. It was miserable yet there was no escape.

  9. E.R.
    April 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I had a similar negative experience at the Beehive house this last Autumn. I was looking forward to the tour packed with interesting historical tidbits that I remembered from my childhood and instead was treated to a monstrous distortion of the facts.

    The sister missionaries earnestly informed our tiny tour group (which consisted entirely of three well-informed Mormons) that the presence of a dictionary on the table showed what a scholarly man Brigham Young was. They felt moved enough by the dictionary to bear their testimonies of its presence on the table next to the Bible. Apparently, Brigham Young held Family Home Evening each and every week — in this very room — and each of Brigham’s children felt so loved that they were each convinced that they were his favorite child. Many famous people came to visit the prophet in the Beehive house: did we know Mark Twain loved his time in Utah? They filled the tour with similar spurious nonsense. They rushed us through the house, avoided answering questions, and then trapped us at the end of a tour where they bore their testimonies, sang all four verses of a hymn very badly, and forced us to fill out comment/referral cards.

    I don’t know how they are trained, and I hope that the missionary guides are doing the best they can with the directions they have been given, but based on this experience I will NEVER bring an investigator to a church history site tour because I don’t trust the missionaries to teach true things in that context. The history is severely distorted, and there is such a desperation to force a spiritual experience that I am tempted to describe the process as unrighteous dominion.

    The final atrocity of the Beehive house tour? They have replaced the horehound candies with lemon drops because “people didn’t like the taste of horehound.” That’s not the point! Even though I didn’t like it myself, even as a child I understood that this peculiar candy was an indication of what a different life the pioneers led.

    I think I was so upset by the experience because my childhood testimony was profoundly affected by tours to Church history sites. At that time, I was able to catch a glimpse of the vision, and to see the lives and sacrifices of those who came before me. Now it all seems to be scripted to MAKE VISITORS FEEL THE SPIRIT, whether they want to or not. Yuck.

  10. jose
    April 15, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    I’ve learned about church history that I would have never learned anywhere else. For example at the Jacob Hamblin home in St. George, on missionary testified of the divine calling of ‘Elder’ Hamblin to the apostleship. I have never been able to find his apostolic calling mentioned anywhere else. He is not in the official list of apostles. I’m glad I visited there on that day, because I would never had known. And if anyone doubt the veracity of this fact, she used Jesus name so it must be true.

  11. Just for Quix
    April 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    UFO Skeptic said, “But it is all a crap shoot and you never know what technique will work.”

    I think thoughts like this is what informs the traditional salesmanship-driven aspect of LDS missionary work techniques: it “assumes the sale” that truth in Mormonism is self-evident, and that proper positioning via message and emotional experience will facilitate this. IMO, there is no “technique” that “will work.”

    I think “new” marketing (the power of blogs is a great example) is showing that people respond best — in purchases and brand loyalty — and that campaigns “get results” when a company:
    a) relates to them in an authentic manner
    2) when it participates in a mutual dialog
    3) when it invites a consensual relationship (that involves listening, participation and exchange)
    4) when it respects disagreement
    5) when the company and/or product embraces “thought leadership” (embraces new and innovative ideas)
    6) engages in exchange rather than transmitting information (spamming or one-size-fits-all mass messaging)

    Now one could use these “Marketing 101″ basics to try to influence behavior, to find a “technique” for “converting.” Rather, at the core, for the purposes of missionary work, I think considering these marketing principles could instead invite humility; open exchange; mutual respect; desire for informational accuracy, precision and expertise, especially for one’s own faith; a service-oriented attitude; and above all, a trust in God to work in the hearts of His own as He will. I think LDS sites missionaries often embrace many of these qualities well, at least where they don’t try to sidestep informational expertise, and force conversion via a predictable emotional experience. I think where they work well it often comes out of basic friendliness and maturity of life experience rather than intentional training. LDS proselytizing missionaries, on the other hand, operate under these principles more rarely because they are often immature, are trained to use very traditional sales “closing” techniques, and have more pressure to produce numbers.

  12. gej
    April 15, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I must second much of #9. I was uncomfortable with the version of Young family history shared there and was uncomfortable with the singing. I was left wondering what an innocent tourist would think. Hopefully they would feel spirit but I have to admit I felt more on the creeped out side.

  13. Yet Another John
    April 15, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Hey Nick,

    Your experience at Kirtland reminded me of the CoC tours in Nauvoo!

  14. John Nilsson
    April 15, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Having toured Nauvoo, Carthage, the Sweetwater handcart sites, the Utah sites, and the San Diego Mormon Battalion Visitor’s Center, I have had a variety of experiences. The Sweetwater sites were the best in terms of not being pressured to fill out referral cards, probably because the missionaries there are all mature folks chosen for their ability to sensibly maintain the property in good shape.

    These missionaries are guardians of the Church’s most sacred sites. I would argue at least as sacred as the temples, and possibly more so. It is regrettable, but understandable, that youthful zeal would tarnish a visit which is potentially informative and wonderful.

  15. Paula
    April 15, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    I agree with much of what you’ve said here. I haven’t been back to Nauvoo in 20 years, and think I will probably never go again. It was a wonderful experience, when I went before. Not so large of crowds, and a nice folksy experience. The missionaries in Wilford Woodruff’s (if I recall correctly) let our two year old sleep on one of the beds for an hour while we talked about history and Nauvoo, etc. I doubt we could do that on a hot summer day now.

    Don’t forget the behavior of your fellow LDS at these sites, not just the tour guides, if we’re talking cringe-worthy. The folks traveling in packs of extended family who all just have to be together, so you find that 10 people, or more, have suddenly appeared in line in front of you. And then want to talk loudly to each other. Or the ones with tshirts that make it clear they’re Mormon– like with big pictures of JS on the front that say Joseph Smith, Prophet of God. (This extends to non-LDS sites. I was on a tour once at Williamsburg that included a family in matching BYU tshirts, with lots of kids who had to be reminded to climb over the ropes, or sit on the chairs, etc. They were a total embarassment.)

  16. Steve M
    April 15, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Admittedly, I haven’t visited many church historical sites. I have been to Liberty Jail, and the senior missionaries working there were respectful and knowledgeable. However, I’ve had run-ins with very pushy young missionaries at the L.A. Temple grounds and on Temple Square in Salt Lake. I really dislike spending time on Temple Square when it’s not crowded for the sole reason that those sister missionaries just won’t leave me alone.

  17. April 15, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I love to visit Temple Square and go there often.
    The sister missionaries are always friendly,but bold in their testimony. For many visitors, this is the only testimony they might ever hear, so I am grateful that the sisters are brave enough to be bold.
    But I wonder if they might need a little more training in historical facts. I was at Temple Square yesterday and heard a sister leading a tour, say, “This is where it all began.” huh? I’m not sure what she meant by “it”, but some might think the LDS Church began in Salt Lake City!

  18. Eddie
    April 15, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Shortly after I joined the church I visited my sister in L.A. She told me she regularly drove by the LDS temple, and was I interested in seeing it? Also, she told me, there was an LDS building right next to the UCLA campus, and we could go see that if I wanted. Now, for a non-member, this was a pretty cool attitude.

    We went to the L.A. temple, and went into the visitor center. A well-meaning senior missionary hounded my sister until we left. I apologized, she said, “Well, it’s his job. He’s excited to talk to someone about it.” Frankly, I was embarrassed–but her attitude was very gracious. Needless to say, I didn’t push going to the UCLA Institute building…

    I also took my parents on a tour of Temple Square. It was more doctrine than a tour, and at one point we were lined up on the edge of a flower bed, looking at the temple and asked to share experiences when we felt the Spirit. Right after that I asked, “How thick are the temple walls?”–and received a curt factual reply.

    Needless to say, I am now careful when I bring friends/relatives to church locations, and I speak up if I feel anyone’s being pushy.

  19. Rich JJ
    April 15, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    I also dislike the overly proselytizing tone at some Church history sites, since I’m usually there for the history. I’m disappointed enough when sunday school is bland sentimentality rather than engaging spiritual inquiry. And I expect even at Church history sites.

    Generally I do get history, but in the highly sterilized form I’ve heard a million times at church. That’s fine since the Church really runs these sites for religious purposes. So I really like going there to stand where others have and see what they saw (or a dolled-up version of it) and try to understand them a little better.

    I personally love history but not being pressured, so I don’t really like Church history sites.

    I don’t really know how the CoC does it in Nauvoo since my experience was in the winter. That means there were basically no other tourists (and no mosquitoes) and me and the old tour-guide guy just walked around in our coats and talked about history. He was knowlegable and nice (sometimes being too “friendly” isn’t nice). I highly recommend Nauvoo in the winter with snow on the housetops and the frozen river shores. Just walking around made me think of the the exodus of the Saints in wintertime, leaving their homes and pushing down the trail to cross the frozen Mississippi.

  20. Carlos
    April 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    as Nick says:

    “and insisted that “this direction came from Salt Lake!” ”

    This is the problem in a nutshell. Salt Lake assigns the missionaries and tells them what to do, resulting in this mess. And then there’s the mission president pushing referral numbers.

    They should take another look and learn from the Salt Lake Olympics and remember that there’s more benefit in being good neighbours and friendly to others than in pushing referral card in gusts faces.

  21. Paula
    April 15, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    The descriptions of the tours remind me of my son’s seminary experience, compared to mine. In our church history year, we actually got a lot of church history, but when my son took it, his teacher bore her testimony a lot, and seemed uncomfortable with any questions. He didn’t learn much about church history.

  22. Catherine
    April 15, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Somewhat in defense of Church history site missionaries (my sister is one)–they are told in their training that they are NOT tour guides, but proselyting missionaries, and that they are there to testify of the truthfulness of the Gospel. However, they ARE taught the history of the location also. Some are just better at remembering than others.
    That said, I have to agree that I don’t like being pressured by the missionaries to provide referrals. I love history, and that’s why I go to historical sites. In the case of LDS historical sites, the history alone bears testimony to me. I feel the Spirit just by being there.
    I grew up in Salt Lake but have lived away from Utah for 33 years. I love Temple Square. I was baptized in the Tabernacle font, graduated from Seminary in the Assembly Hall and performed with several different choirs and orchestras in the Tabernacle. Some of the sister missionaries there now are wonderful to talk to and will leave me alone if I politely tell them that I’m just walking through. On the other hand some of them won’t leave me alone until I take a referral card or at least agree to pray about it.
    I agree that LDS historical sites are sacred ground. For me, the best way to feel the Spirit of a place is in quiet solitude, which is difficult to do when being hounded by an albeit well-meaning missionary.

  23. GeorgeGT
    April 15, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    #21 Paula

    Hi Paula, I’m an early morning Seminary Teacher. I’ll fill you in on some information about the material that the teachers are given to work with. Last year was Church History/D&C for us. It is essentially 90% doctrine and stuff about following your leaders. Missionary work, missionary work, and when that is done, you can talk about missionary work. In the lesson material there is VERY VERY VERY little actual history material. If a teacher wants to teach history, there is “official” material that can be used, but there isn’t a lesson surrounding it.

  24. April 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Interesting, I visited a number of sites, but it was many years ago, and my experience was quite different.

  25. April 15, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    I’m with Steve M on the issue of reluctance to visit Temple Square and some of the visitors’ centers. I have found out from personal experience that you cannot even set foot in those places for an innocuous purpose without being accosted. This winter, I tried to meet some friends on Temple Square just because they were first-time visitors to Salt Lake, and it was the easiest landmark that we had in common. It was raining and I was in a hurry and I still felt like the sister missionaries were trying to stop and talk to me.

    Catherine, maybe we need missionaries AND dedicated non-proselyting tour guides. People could choose which version they wanted. I am sure that some member families would probably go on the tour twice, just to get both perspectives.

  26. SteveS
    April 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    This comment isn’t really about missionary behavior at Church history sites, but their behavior may have something to do with the way these sites have taken on mystical significance for LDS faithful in recent decades. I visited Nauvoo and Kirtland over the last few years with the family, and have become a bit jaded with the “pilgrimage” aspect of visiting these sites. I understand the whole physical artifact bring history alive to help ground spiritual events in reality thing, but I worry that so much grounding puts too much emphasis on the physical at the expense of metaphysical spiritual interaction with God. At the same time, I’m uncomfortable about the way the Church injects “life” into these historical sites through some sort of romantic investiture of certain constructed metaphysical reality that occupy certain “sacred” spaces such as E.B. Grandin’s printing office, the room above Newell K. Whitney’s store, etc., or any house that Joseph Smith may have stayed the night. (Note: a possible exception to this might be memorial sites such as Carthage, Haun’s Mill, etc., which have additional purpose to remind people of human injustice or tragedy) I don’t want to sound flippant, but what does it really matter that Christ walked across this or that room? He’s supposed to *dwell* in the temples. Indeed our meetinghouses are literally “houses of God” as well. Why the sacred reverence at one historical place, yet raucous and casual attitudes at more quotidian spiritual spaces?

  27. April 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    AHLDuke,
    That’s funny–I’ve never (almost never?) been stopped by missionaries at Temple Square in Salt Lake; of course, I’ve only been rarely.

    I thought the missionaries at the San Diego Mormon Battalion site were nice, as were the people at Palmyra. However, that is the sum total of my official Church History site visits. Which means, of course, that I don’t have any experience to agree or disagree with people’s complaints.

  28. Paula
    April 15, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    GeorgeGT, is this course still even called Church History? Maybe it wasn’t when I took it, but that was clearly the emphasis. I have at least a vague recollection of a church history text book, and we learned a lot about church history. I do realize now that my teacher was unusual for CES, very open to questions and discussions, so I probably have a skewed idea of what it used to be. But for my son, his teacher’s unwillingness to answer questions was a big problem.

  29. hawkgrrrl
    April 15, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I was fortunate last November when I took some of my work colleagues to Temple Square. They were interested in seeing the Family History center (no one talked to us there, but all my colleagues were delighted to find ancestors in the system), the temple (where I pointed out the sun, moon and stars and gave a few facts about our view of eternal life – they were impressed that Mormons don’t have a concept of Heaven-for-us and Hell-for-all-the-rest), and the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall (they were disappointed the choir wasn’t practicing). Although the sister missionaries did not act like tour guides (they pointed out acoustics, but not much historical information), they also didn’t proselyte. They quickly assessed that this was a casual stop on a business trip. I was sending them some pretty strong telepathic messages to take it easy, and apparently it worked.

    With all the historical information (good and bad) on the internet, much of which has a certain slant, it seems like a mistake to de-emphasize understanding the history either in seminary or in general. I also think that too much youth and zeal at historical sites is a mismatch in another way – the non-LDS visiting there are less likely to be Gen Y. Older couples just make more sense for the audience and are more likely to have a diplomatic approach, especially if they are not primarily proselyting missionaries.

  30. Jay
    April 16, 2008 at 7:43 am

    I look back on my missionary days and think how frustrating it must have been to investigators when I would give my testimony (as I had been told to) in response to their difficult inquires. I really don’t understand why the Church doesn’t engage sincere people in a discussion about difficult issues surrounding its history. We are taught as missionaries that before someone can feel the Spirit we must resolve their concerns. Giving our testimony in place of an explanation does not resolve someone’s concerns it only creates new ones. They begin to wonder why we are being so evasive and loose interest in the message, not knowing if they can trust the rest of what is being said. I’m not saying that we have to bring up difficult issues like polyandry, priesthood ban, racism, translation methods, etc., but when they are brought up we should address them directly instead of using diversionary tactics.

  31. April 16, 2008 at 8:06 am

    #13:
    Hey Nick, Your experience at Kirtland reminded me of the CoC tours in Nauvoo!

    I must admit, I made that direct comparison, in the sense that the CoC tours in Nauvoo are the only ones that require a guide through a trek of several properteis. In fairness, however, the CoC guides in Nauvoo have made remarkable improvements, IMO, and their visitor center staff can be extremely friendly and helpful.

  32. John Nilsson
    April 16, 2008 at 8:11 am

    The cool thing about the CoC Nauvoo experience is the gift shop. My wife still uses the china tea set (with herbal tea of course ;) )she bought there.

  33. April 16, 2008 at 8:15 am

    #15:
    The folks traveling in packs of extended family who all just have to be together, so you find that 10 people, or more, have suddenly appeared in line in front of you. And then want to talk loudly to each other. Or the ones with tshirts that make it clear they’re Mormon– like with big pictures of JS on the front that say Joseph Smith, Prophet of God.

    Hah! Having been an actual resident of Nauvoo for six years, I can tell you the locals hated these wandering tribes! Mainly, they seemed to think they’d arrived at “Mormon Disneyland,” and that they were entitled to walk en masse down the center of city streets (no, not just down in the historic properties area), blocking traffic.

    Of course, I could tell you plenty of Nauvoo “tour-rorist” stories, such as how some would shop at local stores. After choosing merchandise, they’d ask at the checkout counter whether the proprietor was LDS, and if the answer was “no,” they’d dump the merchandise on the counter and walk out! It was not unusual for locals to find LDS tourists picnicking on the lawn of a private home, without permission, because “this was great-great-great-grandpa’s property.” Much of this was rooted in a sense of entitlement/ownership, and a very real perception that anyone now living in Nauvoo “must” be a descendant of “the mob.” In fact, as an attorney in Nauvoo, I actually had inquiries from LDS out west, wanting to know what they could legally do to “take back their property” from the current owners. I had to explain that (a) almost all of those properties were legally sold by the early Mormon owners, and (b) even if that wasn’t the case, other legal doctrines would prevent such ill-advised stunts.

  34. April 16, 2008 at 8:22 am

    #22:
    Somewhat in defense of Church history site missionaries (my sister is one)–they are told in their training that they are NOT tour guides, but proselyting missionaries, and that they are there to testify of the truthfulness of the Gospel.

    The pendulum seems to swing back and forth on this issue. At times, the official/primary purpose of LDS historical sites has been to provide a faith-building experience for those who are already LDS members, rather than proselytizing non-LDS. If you think about it, some sites are simply not likely to see much non-LDS traffic.

    I agree that LDS historical sites are sacred ground. For me, the best way to feel the Spirit of a place is in quiet solitude, which is difficult to do when being hounded by an albeit well-meaning missionary.

    I certainly felt this way, and frankly, when I visited these sites as an avid Mormon history researcher, I generally already knew the details the tour would provide. I simply wanted to “soak in” the place. It would be nice if more of the site missionaries understood that some visitors feel this way.

  35. Jeff Spector
    April 16, 2008 at 8:58 am

    My experiences at the historic sites has been that when you inform the missionaries that you are a member and show that you know a bit about what it is about, they will be more helpful with the “secret stuff.”

    I was in Nauvoo at the Masonic Hall and the Sister that was there (she was an older sister), after telling me about the stage shows, said, “I bet you want to see upstairs, we usually don’t take folks up there.” So, up to the third floor we went. The only thing she got wrong was that the marks in the floor were from the Masonic activities, not from dancing. But, I did get to walk the whole place. That was cool.

    I had a similar experience in the Whitney Store and the “upper room.”

  36. April 16, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Yes, the missionaries at the Nauvoo Masonic Hall (named “Cultural Hall” in the 1970s, lest someone bet their undies in a bunch) are instructed to tell people that the third floor was used for dance parties. Some will even go on about “what it must have been like to see Joseph whirling Emma around the floor” up there. It doesn’t help that the reconstruction of that floor doesn’t match the original, though. The “balcony” that juts out into the room was actually the upper part of a two-story preparation room (common to all Masonic halls, though usually one story), and the wall came all the way down to the floor where the current balcony extends. By inventing the balcony, the planners made it (inadvertently?) easy to assume it was some sort of musician perch.

    I’ve actually spent considerable time plotting out the original floor, and the marks are exactly where they should be for “high traffic” areas around the furnishings of the lodge room.

    You might also be interested to know that the modern concrete staircase (not the other, wooden one) is also an innovation. Originally, that corner housed what was called a “man-lift,” essentially a large dumbwaiter for transporting supplies, etc., up and down between the floors.

  37. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

    A convert who was serving as a Bishop shared his conversion experience of being in the visitors center at SLC. After seeing the major exhibits, he wandered away from observing eyes to a quiet deserted corner in a basement where a continuous film loop showing the story of Joseph Smith was playing. There, while amidst the quiet, reverent solace and away from the observing, testifying, zealous missionaries he felt a spiritual experience that was obtained no where else on the grounds of Temple Square that led to his conversion.

  38. Anna G
    April 16, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I’m a nonmember, and last year I went to Nauvoo, out of a combination of curiosity about Mormonism and the fact that I lived nearby at the time. It was a pretty weird experience.

    I started out a visitor center. There was an older married couple there (missionaries, I suppose, though I don’t think I realized it at the time), and they showed me to a room to watch a video. The sister missionary said she’d be back to answer any questions I had when the video was over.

    During the video, I thought of several historical and factual questions to ask. When the missionary came back, I started asking my questions. But I found that when I asked a question, she’d give an extremely short, perfunctory answer, then start telling me about how she knew that Joseph Smith had restored the true church, etc., and the real reason she was there was to share that. That happened a couple of times, and I eventually gave up asking the questions, thanked her, and left.

    It wasn’t a bad experience, exactly–if I hadn’t been so taken aback, I might have asked her questions about her faith and learned a lot. But it was odd—I went into it thinking I was visiting a historic site, the way you might take a cathedral tour in Europe; I had no idea it was more like an active mission.

  39. C.Biden
    April 16, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    When I was last at Chartres not a single person asked me if I knew anything about the Catholic religion and would I like to know more. Not surprising for France, but in the heart of the Vatican, the Sistina, no one testied that they knew the Catholic church was true. I look back on those visits as a glimpse of heaven and look forward to my next visit. Interest in revisiting SLC? Not so much.

  40. hawkgrrrl
    April 16, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Roman Catholicism considers everyone Christian as being already Catholic in a general way. There’s something to be said for that attitude–it’s certainly not defensive.

  41. Jan
    May 7, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    #5 Nick: I guess you showed her, huh!

  42. steve w
    February 25, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Some of this reminds me of a time I visted a temple visitors centre in the states
    I was a new member at the time
    very active
    just coming up for melchizadek (sp?) priesthood (this visit was in july and I had been baptised in may)

    and I visited the IF Temple site with a friend whom I was staying with
    This older missionary jumped on me as if I was fresh meat
    He kept trying to give me the leaflets from the lessons, and say read this call the missionarries
    I kept saying Im a member – I have a baptismal reccomend – I have the aaronic priesthood

    OK but just read this

    I dont need that leaflet LOOK
    at which point i showed him that I had one each of the leaflets the missionarries had given me during my discussions

    he still didnt get the point
    It was obvious he wasnt listening and was just overly excited at the thought of a “contact”

  43. February 28, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    I have to admit…I think this subject is a little unnecessary–so why say something? Because I’m bored and it’s a Saturday night–and I’m out of pre-recorded television shows.

    I believe all of us, speaking of the LDS community here, have a lot of work to do in how we implement missionary work. It has to be tailored to those we encounter-which compels us to allow the Holy Ghost to guide our thoughts and actions.

    Overall, I think a good rule of thumb, no matter WHO you are or what your philosophies at any given moment (practical/subjective/happenstance), is to always see the glass as half-full. Life is really just a glass of milk–and we all make choices about how we choose to define that glass. The same goes with people and their personal flaws/strengths. We recognize the good in everyone else–and if we are to focus on anything that needs improvement–we apply that approach to our own behavior since that is all any individual has the power to change.

    I’m sure any necessary changes in the church are routinely addressed, especially in the mission field, where constant growth and learning is an ever-present necessity. Such is the gospel of Jesus Christ!