Mormons still questioned about marriage and massacre 

‘People accuse us of being a cult, of not being real Christians.’


It's a big year for the Mormons, what with one thing and another. Mitt Romney is a serious candidate for president, so serious that competitors have sniped at his religion, an unusual political tactic in these ecumenical times. There's never been a Mormon president.

Coincidentally (as far as we know), Romney's presidential race is contemporaneous with the release of a movie dramatizing the darkest moment in Mormon history, the massacre of some 120 non-Mormons in a Utah meadow 150 years ago. Most of the victims were Arkansans.

Then there was the high-profile criminal trial in Utah involving a renegade Mormon group that still practices polygamy, an aspect of early Mormonism that was renounced by the church in 1890, but remains a fascinating and scandalous subject to non-Mormons, some of whom suspect that the Mormons aren't as reformed as they claim to be.

But if you think any of this would distract a Mormon from his proselytism, you don't know your Mormons. On a warm summer morning in North Little Rock, Elder Brady and Elder Blickenstaff are peddling salvation door to do, their enthusiasm and optimism undiminished by consumer lack of interest.

The titles are traditional, and misleading. All Mormon missionaries call themselves “Elder,” and these two aren't eager to give out their first names. Pressed, Elder Brady admits to being Steven from Bountiful, Utah. Elder Blickenstaff is Jacob from Camarillo, Calif. Brady is 20, Blickenstaff 21. “Elder” means “teacher,” they say, and they won't retain the title when their tour of missionary duty is up. That's only a few weeks away, in both cases. Brady says he'll go home to Utah, go to college, find a career and a girl to marry. Blickenstaff says he'll finish college, go to medical school, “and down the line somewhere get married.” While in Arkansas, they share an apartment as well as mission duties.

On-duty, they carry small bags containing the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, both of which are considered holy, both of which their religion is founded on. They wear white, short-sleeved shirts, dark pants, ties and cushion-soled shoes. At one time, Mormon missionaries wore hats, making them even more visible in a hatless era, but they've given that up.

The first door they knock on this morning is answered by a woman who responds to their offer to inform her about Mormonism by saying, in a friendly manner, “I have my own church. I go to Levy Baptist.” But she wishes them luck, and says “I admire y'all.” The missionaries ask if she knows anybody who needs to hear their message of faith. She doesn't. Neither does anybody else in the area, though some of them probably are tempted to sic the Mormons on an unendearing neighbor.

From door to door, there's little difference. One man says that religion-wise, “I'm pretty happy where I'm at, and if I don't get enough there, I've got a son-in-law who's a Baptist preacher, and he works out on me.”

A reporter asks Brady if there are Baptists in Utah. “Not as many” he says emphatically. Blickenstaff says that in California, “Nobody talks about religion. It's hard to know what anybody is.”

One woman seems mildly interested while Blickenstaff explains that Mormons believe Jesus Christ re-established his church on earth through a living prophet, and that living prophet today is Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the church's formal name. But in the end, all she does is accept a coupon that will let her order the Book of Mormon through the mail. Nobody invites the missionaries in to talk more about their beliefs. One woman has water running in the kitchen. Another is on her way to the beauty shop.


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