I went to the Mormon Church grounds and they didn’t try to recruit me

mormon church fountain

As I walked cautiously through the north gate and into Temple Square on the Mormon Church grounds in Salt Lake City, Utah, I began looking suspiciously at the other folks on the premises, wondering which ones were the “undercover” Mormon recruiters I’d heard so much about.

They’ll come up to you and start an innocent conversation, I’d been told, and before you know it, they’re trying to convert you. This is apparently a regular occurrence – they have lots of non-Mormon visitors, since the land is open to the public and happens to be one of the nicest parks in the city. The site claims to have more annual visitors than the Grand Canyon, which may be true, but many are just people strolling through on their lunch breaks, so it’s not really a fair comparison.

mormon headquarters entrance

I was surprised that no one came rushing up to me after I walked in, so I continued on, bracing myself for that awkward moment when someone would ambush me. Part of me was looking forward to the experience just to see what it would be like, but a larger part of me wanted to be left alone.

Salt Lake City: An odd place

Salt Lake City, Utah is such a contradiction. The church controls large chunks of the town, with a heavy influence in local government and business. Yet, the rest of the city, like any American urban center, is very liberal, and that seems to lead to a lot of unspoken resentment between the two sides.

Salt Lake City also has a sizable gay population, and as we learned from the Prop 8 debate in California, these two groups are typically not friends. I was expecting these two sides to be at each others’ throats, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Instead, there was a peace, if an uneasy peace. It felt like both sides were walking on eggshells, as if trying to avoid setting off the other.

I don’t think I could live in such a fragile social environment, but plenty of people do. When I visited, even though I’m pretty sure no one would ever mistake me for a Mormon, curiosity got the best of me and I checked out Temple Square on the Mormon church grounds.

Walking through the Mormon Church grounds

As I walked through, I passed a number of statues and serenity pools. This place was certainly scenic and beautiful.

mormon pool

This statue of Brigham Young made for a very imposing visual.

mormon brigham young statue temple square

More statues every way I turned.

mormon church grounds statue

Other statues told the story of how the Church of Latter-Day Saints came to be. This description, for instance, seemed wildly far-fetched. Did you know John the Baptist was resurrected and met Joseph Smith in the woods in 1829?

mormon statue description

It’s official: The Mormon Church doesn’t want me

Even though I had initially wanted the covert recruiters to stay away from me, as I left the square, I started to feel a sense of disappointment they hadn’t tried to recruit me. Why was I not deemed a worthy recipient of their propaganda efforts?

So I left feeling slightly insulted. Although I should probably take it as a compliment and assume they simply realized they didn’t stand much of a chance with me, anyway.

Would you visit the Mormon church grounds?

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

38 comments on “I went to the Mormon Church grounds and they didn’t try to recruit me

  1. Glad you were not approached and that you did not spontaneously combust. 🙂

    I’d skip it. Just like I would skip the vatican. I am sure it’s beautiful and tranquil (maybe a little creepy), but try to be very mindful that – at their core – these are religious recruitment tools disguised as architecture and art.
    Caanan @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Entitlement Sucks

    • I’d probably visit the Vatican too for the architecture. I wouldn’t feel that a visit was an endorsement, but I can understand folks not wanting to go there.

  2. I’m a die-hard atheist but I enjoy visiting churches/temples/mosques/cathedrals if only because so much loving work went into them, regardless of the religion and what it stands for. I’d absolutely visit the church grounds, especially since the Mormon presence is so strong in Utah that it’d be foolish to ignore such a vital element of the place itself not to go. How do you experience a place fully without appreciating what made it what it is?
    Plum Jo recently posted..Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

  3. There is a really interesting Mormon church in La Jolla (San Diego) that was built in the early 90s. It looks like Superman’s home back on Krypton. Anyway, I went to college at UCSD and they let people tour the inside before it officially opened to the parishioners. It was definitely over-the-top opulent. I heard that they tore out all of the flooring and replaced it with brand-new marble so that only Mormons would technically have set foot inside it. I’m glad I went then because there’s no way I’d step inside now!
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Snapshot: Palm Springs, California

  4. When we were there the recruiters were super obvious… but they acted like unofficial “tour guides” and nice people just happening to be there to answer any questions.

    The funny thing is that I was completely ignored, but when Kali and I went our separate ways for a bit the missionary young women just *flocked* to him. Heh, then they were happy to help. 😛
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Are tours a good option for budget travelers?

  5. I’d visit. The temple looks beautiful in a futuristic-kind-of-way, perhaps this is how they picture heaven… I don’t think visiting religious sites endorses the religion in question – it’s about the architecture, the art and the history.
    Sophie recently posted..Two highlights of Bahrain

    • Seeing the statues and reading about their history gave me a better understanding of the religion, so I feel I’m more able to speak about it.

  6. Nice post! I visited the church grounds several years ago and took the tour. From what I recall — At the end of the tour, they do encourage you to sign up to get more information, but alas, there was no recruiting! I actually attended the University of Utah (in the foothills overlooking the city). Very interesting experience being a non-Mormon. And what a beautiful location! The view from my dorm room was of the temple and downtown.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..A San Francisco Treat

  7. Thanks for visiting our state and Salt Lake City. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I am very glad that you enjoyed visiting Temple Square. I have always found it to be a quiet and peaceful place whether it is in the summer or at Christmas time when all of the square is lit beyond belief. I do wish you had entered either the North or South Visitor Center. You would have had even more of an education about the pioneers and the establishment of our church. The missionaries that are at Temple Square are only there to answer your questions, some of which arise when touring the area. They will tell you about the Temple and the Tabernacle (where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir used to perform until the Conference Center was built) and they will answer your questions about the statues that you see (including the one with John the Baptist). They will also ask you to fill out a form if you want further information about the church. The do not at any time while on the grounds, try to convert you to join the church. That would be left to the missionaries that contact you if you fill out the form. All we members ask is that non-members would understand our religion, we would like you to join, but we also realize that everybody has their own choices to make and we respect that. Sometime in the future, spend a few minutes and talk with a missionary. Those young men and young women are full of the spirit of Jesus Christ and they are excellent representatives of our church.

  8. I was searching for photos of Salt Lake City and came across yours. I loved hearing what other had to say about our church and the temple grounds. It’s always interesting to me how people felt when they toured. I’m sorry no one approached you to answer any questions you may have. Maybe on your next visit. . . . Thanks for sharing.

  9. I don’t understand why people are so vehemently against the Mormons. Aren’t they Christian? Aren’t they just as much citizens as you are? I really disliked the word “propoganda” you used here. . . as if they were nazis? Please reply and tell me why!

    • I’m not anti-Mormon by any means, but approaching strangers in a park and trying to convert them to a different religion against their will feels like propaganda to me.

  10. So, I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I would like to try to clarify things.

    First, why do people find it strange that a Church owned property which has become a tourist attraction would have representatives on it who attempt to share information about the purpose and history of the property they are on as well as the Church as a whole? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has people who go around and knock on people’s doors to spread the Gospel, or our understanding of it if you prefer, why should it surprise anybody that we also try to teach the people who choose to come visit a well known Church land-mark?

    Second, you probably were not approached because you had an air of “don’t come talk to me” about you. Also, I believe that the missionaries/tour guides are more concentrated in the visitor’s centers and around the Temple itself so you may have just not paused long enough in those places for them to have a chance.

    Third, a response to words and phrases like “recruitment” and “conversion against their will”. They both imply compulsion. Yes, we can, at times be dogged in our desire for somebody to join the Church. But when you eat at a really good restaurant don’t you try to get your friends to try it too? When you find a cool new app or picture, or story, don’t you share it with others? When something brings you joy and happiness, don’t you want others to feel that too? That is how we see it. This Gospel we have and teach brings us joy and happiness and we want to share that with those who do not have it. We don’t limit it to our friends and family because we believe that we are /all/ children of God and so are all brothers and sisters, all one family. That being said, there is no “join us and we’ll give you $50” or “oh, by the way, while we were talking here I baptized you and two guys are gonna come by your house on Sunday and drag you to Church.” (yes, I know those are ridiculous scenarios, but that’s how I see ‘recruit’ and ‘conversion against their will’) All we want to do is share the Gospel, as we understand it, with you and encourage you to ask God if it’s true and then to follow through so you too can share in His reward for the Faithful. Note, the important part is really the asking of God. He is the authority. If a person prays with an earnest desire to know the truth and it will be revealed to them. I know that sounds patently ridiculous to atheists, but I know it to be true.

    Lastly, what’s wrong with propaganda? It’s been associated with Nazi-ism and similar terrible things, but the US made propaganda films in WWII just like the Nazi’s and we have dropped propaganda bombs in probably every war we’ve ever fought. Propaganda is simply communicating in a way to sway people’s opinions into a more favorable direction. It is a word like ‘manipulation’ or ‘rhetoric’. They have acquired bad connotations because so often they are used for purposes but really they are just words describing communication with the purpose of getting a particular idea across.

    Anyway, I am glad that you stopped by Temple Square and found it scenic and beautiful, and I think you have an implied ‘tranquil’ in there somewhere, but that may just be me putting my own opinions into your words. Since you are from Chicago, I would suggest you visit The Church of Jesus Christ’s Chicago Illinois Temple at some point if you haven’t. Since it isn’t a historical or tourist site it doesn’t have the same emphasis on people talking to visitors but serves the same fundamental purposes as The Salt Lake Temple does and like all Temples, the grounds are open to the public. I suggest this just so you can gauge how the feeling there compares with Temple Square in Utah.

    Thank you for reading this comment novella and I hope that it enlightened your understanding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and why and how we do what we do just a little bit.

  11. Im mormon, and very thankful to be.I love the gospel of Jesus christ of latter day saints. I was raised in the church all my life, but I’m very open minded and I have gone to churches all over europe, and they feel very cold and uninviting . But in are church you can feel the spirt, we has the best speakers in are church, check out are prophet in conference.It’s all on how you view the world and all thats in it, I know that Heavenly Father is all powerful, if he can create the universe and all thats in it, then he can choose to have his church placed upon the earth any way he wants, through any one he wants. The Lord is perfect and he should have one church with his true teachings , not a bunch of them thats confusing.

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