When I first came to school in Cedar City, the apartment I rented was really just a house with all the rooms rented out. It wasn't in the nicest area of town, rent was dirt cheap, and the roommates you ended up with could be almost anyone. I once shared the house with a man who was half Mexican and half Irish. I honestly don't know if I ever knew what the real name was, but for this blog post I'll call him Bob. He told me he was wanted by the police down in Las Vegas and so had been living under a pseudonym. It turns out that he had been a member of a gang down in sin city and a Mormon friend of his helped him move out to try to start a new life away from the gang where he had been getting in trouble. At first he had stayed with this friend of his and then eventually moved in with the group of students that shared the house I was in. He was ready for a change in his life, and was spiritually hungry. Being in Utah, when he looked around for a place to spiritually feast, what he found was Mormonism.
Bob had no particular illusions that Mormons were somehow more righteous than other people. He flat out told me that his Mormon friend who helped him move to Utah was a car thief and a spouse abuser. Bob described watching his friend act almost as if on the verge of attacking the woman. Bob told me he decided if the man started to hit his wife, Bob was going to punch him out. Looking at his biceps, I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of Bob's righteous indignation. But knowing one bad person wasn't stopping his interest in Mormonism. Bob had tried for some time to investigate the church, but with little luck.
I don't know if maybe the missionaries were scared of Bob. He says several sets of them stood him up for appointments and never showed up again. He had tried even just showing up directly at our meetings. But Bob wasn't a Mormon or even an ex-Mormon. He didn't know anything about the confusing array of family, single non student, single student, or married student wards with their overlapping boundaries and age limitations. All he knew was he tried showing up several times and someone would keep telling him that he wasn't allowed to attend in that church, that he really belonged somewhere else. I'm sure no one meant any harm, it just didn't occur to them to just let him come and worship and investigate as he chose. They were really concerned that he his attendance match his life circumstances. My roommates and I told him to just come with us, who cared if he was technically too old for our student singles ward. And for a while I think he liked coming with us. He told me that the young teachers in our ward taught more and he learned faster from our congregation than from others.
Sometimes he would ask me questions about religion or morality. I'd like to say I had all the answers he needed. I didn't. I remember once he asked me what was so wrong about pornography. Maybe this came up because some of the roommates I think were ignoring the law and throwing out junk mail ads for subscriptions to pornographic magazines that were addressed to him. I knew what the answer was that the church tells its members about Satan attacking the family and how we are sons and daughters of God, but this was a man who didn't really believe yet in all the talk about how family was central to God's plan and what does being God's child have to do with whether its immoral to get turned on by a pretty naked girl? Growing up I was taught that using it would make me into Ted Bundy and I would end up on the electric chair. Not a good answer for someone who is using it and obviously hadn't turned into a mass murderer. All I could remember was a talk by Boyd K. Packer in which he said that our sexual moral code in the church could only be understood in the context of understanding our divine worth as God's children and that once we understood that, the sexual moral code would inherently make sense. President Packer spent a lot of time discussing the divine worth part of the question, but never got back around to mentioning how that connected back to sexual morality and pornography. I didn't want to tell him that when it came down to it I had no idea why pornography was wrong, so I told him that pornography being wrong was something that only made sense once you believed other doctrines. That's about what President Packer had taught me. I think I could answer him now, but only because I've looked beyond the simple answers to understand things like human trafficking and how abusive depictions are often used.
There were other things I knew the answers to much better. Bob had a Jehovah's Witness friend who wanted to come debate with me. I was hesitant, knowing that a Bible bash did no one any good. But Bob insisted. The funny thing was I don't think the Jehovah's Witness preacher knew much about Mormonism. He spent a large amount of time trying to prove shared beliefs out of the Bible, as if I didn't know what they were about. I kept saying for about the first half of the meeting "thanks for pointing out that scripture, that is a belief we share." Then he started getting into some weirder stuff pulling the scriptures out of context and using pseudepigraphal sources. That I could respectfully disagree with him on, tell him I admired his fervor in studying his scriptures, and to have a nice day. Bob told me he thought it was wonderful watching us because he realized nothing could be proven by just arguing from the scriptures.
He never gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith. As far as I could tell, he never read the Book of Mormon, despite the missionaries hammering him on it. My other roommates and I were suspicious that he might not have been able to read well enough to understand the book because he never gave any indication that he had tried, despite desperately wanting to grow spiritually from what Mormonism had to offer. Eventually, the Bishop in our ward assigned someone to give a talk on the evils of improper dress and appearance. Unfortunately, Bob didn't have any dress clothes and wore jeans and a T-Shirt to our meetings, and the T-shirt didn't cover the extensive tattooing on his arms. Bob felt ashamed and felt as if the other members were laughing at him, and stopped being so interested in attending. My roommates and I discussed pitching in together to pick him up some church clothes he might feel more comfortable in, but the idea fell through for some reason.
I hope Bob found his way to Christ somehow. I'm a firm believer that no matter what road you take to find love in your heart for God and your fellow man, it’s the right road as long as you get there. But, I'm afraid that Mormonism at that time wasn't going to lead him to Christ. At most, it told him that what building he showed up in was more important than whether he worshiped, and what he looked like was more important than whether he was searching for repentance and sanctification. And since our conversion process centers around reading a book, I think we unintentionally told him that he had to know how to read to be saved. During the time he stayed with us I watched him lose many of his rough edges and become a more gentle and loving person. And I can always respect the memory of the man flexing his biceps explaining how he was going to take care of any man who beat a wife. I just wish I could have led him closer to Christ without all our cultural baggage getting in the way.