It was a hot summer day, long ago. I sat listening to the snip, snip of the barber’s scissors around my ears, anxious to have him finish so I could get out of there. And it wasn’t only the heat that seemed oppressive. My barber was some kind of missionary for the Mormon church: a “stake missionary,” I believe he said—whatever that was. He had sensed my antagonism toward his church on previous visits.
“What church was it you said you belong to?” There it was, the subtle remark to draw me into a conversation about religion. Instinctively I knew what was coming, and just as instinctively came my reply: “Just cut my hair, and don’t preach to me!”
The Mormons were not new to me. I was born and reared in Salt Lake City. My Boy Scout meetings were held at the local ward building. My best friends were Mormons. But my friends dared not mention their church to me. I guess it was my attitude. Once, while waiting for Scout meeting to begin, I asked my buddy what the large picture on the wall represented. I had sat there looking at it each week for many months. He said it was of an angel who had shown the plates of the Book of Mormon to some individuals.
An angel! How could my best friend believe something like that? For that matter, how could any intelligent person believe that? But it would be years before I had my first real confrontation with the Mormon church.
I guess it was inevitable. I was spending the evening visiting with friends when two women—Mormon missionaries—knocked at the door. They were cordial. I was uncomfortable. With a sense of being cornered, I decided to fight it out with them.
“Do you believe the Bible?” they began.
“Of course,” I replied, not really knowing what I did believe.
They began by reading Acts 7:55–56, trying to show that there are three separate Beings in the Godhead. Then they worked their way into the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I knew there was an answer to their interpretation of the scriptures, and I knew I needed help to find it. After all, I reasoned, everyone knows that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are manifestations of the same person. Was it okay to bring someone to the discussions who knew the scriptures better than I did? The missionaries assured me that it was.
The next week, I arrived with a cousin who was active in our faith. I became a spectator in the discussion that followed. Had I been impartial, I would have given the victory to the Mormon missionaries. But, of course, I decided that my cousin just wasn’t knowledgeable enough. I would find someone more knowledgeable to confront them.
During the week, I contacted a friend who was studying to become a minister. He could give me the ammunition I needed!
“How do I answer Acts 7:55–56?” I asked, after explaining my situation. To my utter astonishment, he replied, “I’m sorry. I can’t help. I tend to separate the Three more than most Protestants.”
My next recourse was a minister who lived on the other side of the block from me. He was a friend, and I had talked with him many times before. His answer to Acts 7:55–56 was less than satisfactory: “How do you know what a person might see while he’s being stoned to death!”
I decided to call it quits. I had had enough. I told the two missionaries of my decision, whereupon they presented me with a Book of Mormon and gave up on me.
A few years later, and in a different city, two missionaries were visiting in the rear apartment. I was glad they hadn’t stopped up front to see me. I was just congratulating myself on my good fortune when a knock on the door cut my celebration short. There they stood, and before they had a chance to say much of anything, I told them I wasn’t interested and shut the door.
During the next few years, Mormon missionaries seemed to be all over the place. Even my barber was trying to preach to me! Several pairs came to visit me. Feeling somewhat ashamed about my treatment of the two I had left standing on the porch a couple of years earlier, I began inviting them inside, on the condition that they “leave their books in the car, and don’t preach to me.” I always felt uneasy when they came, and I would not allow any discussion of religion.
How was I to get rid of them without being extremely rude? How? Then I hit upon an idea. Sure, why not? It should be easy. I would just prove them wrong. I would show these people that their doctrines were false, and I would do it with their own scriptures. The next time they showed up, I would be ready.
If I were going to prove them wrong, I had to know something concerning what they believed. How could I find out what they believe? Then I thought of that Book of Mormon the two lady missionaries gave me years ago. Sure! I had tucked it away in some drawer or box. A brief hunt soon produced it. What did it contain—the story of Joseph Smith’s life? A history of Mormonism? I didn’t know. But one thing I did know: when the missionaries came next, they would receive quite a greeting.
I took the book to work, where I had some spare time throughout the day. The first chance I had, I opened the book. Why, this didn’t appear to be about Joseph Smith at all! I noticed a page in the front showing interesting things to look up—the Sermon on the Mount on the American continent, Columbus, the Savior in the Americas. My, oh my! What had I got myself into?
Not finding anything pertaining to Joseph Smith, I picked up some missionary tracts at a gas station. I wanted to find out about this Joseph Smith. I read about Joseph’s First Vision. Somehow it seemed different from what I remembered hearing years before. I read about an angel named Moroni and some gold plates. Returning to the Book of Mormon, I began reading it in my spare time.
Something strange began to happen. My hostility began to disappear. Indeed, my desire to prove the missionaries wrong disappeared. My short-lived curiosity after first opening the book was replaced by a desire to know. What was this strange power that seemed to literally reach out and pull me toward this book? What was happening to me? I had to know.
I found myself using all my spare hours to search through the Book of Mormon. I found something else, too: a promise by an ancient prophet named Moroni—a bold declaration that I could know the truth of the book by asking God to reveal it to me. Alone one day, I bowed down before my Maker, and, holding the Book of Mormon in my hand, I asked Heavenly Father what it was that was drawing me to the book. Immediately—almost before I had finished my prayer—a recollection of my past ways and hostilities flooded over me. I begged for forgiveness, having not recognized my wretched state until then.
The next few days were about the same—I tried to cope with an overwhelming desire to immerse myself in the Book of Mormon. Then it happened. It was a Thursday night in October, before a general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I came home from work with a peculiar feeling growing inside me—a feeling I had never before experienced. I did not know what to make of it. It slowly grew in intensity. What a marvelous feeling! I remember thinking, “If this is what it feels like on the other side, I wish I were ninety-nine years old and on my way out.”
Then came the testimony—that sureness of the missionaries that had bothered me in the past. I knew. Joseph Smith had been in the presence of the Father and the Son. Indeed, he had been visited by angels. I knew. Yes, indeed, I knew.
The next week was a fun one. I hurried to my barber. “Give me a special haircut. I’m going to join the Church.” His mouth popped open, and he couldn’t speak for a short time. When he regained his composure, his reply, in all seriousness, was, “Which church?”
As we talked, I discovered that he would be my first bishop after my baptism. To our mutual surprise and joy, we discovered that we had met once before, two years previously, when he was on a stake mission and an antagonistic person had shut the door and left him standing outside on the porch.