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.
Their 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?
- Because they are interested in history.
- Because someone in their party dragged them along to this boring historical site or promised them ice cream afterwards.
- 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.
- 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.