As you might expect, I was a less than spectacular missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I measure the success of my mission by only two points. First, that I voluntarily stayed the entire two years. Second, that I never badgered anyone into joining the church.
If something were to blame for my lack of success (other than I had no business being there in the first place), it’s that many of my fellow missionaries acted like we worked on commission.
The sales aspect of spreading the Good Word caught me off guard. In many respects, it was a business. We kept track of our “stats” so the front office would know we were working hard.
How many gospel conversations did we have that week? How many lessons taught? Books of Mormons left at homes? Demons excised? Baptisms? Visions?
One of my worst memories was the Martinez couple in San Vomito. We’d been teaching them about three weeks when my companion — a serious rank climber — dropped the B word.
One evening, entirely by surprise, he begged them to get baptized even though they had only been to the church once and we hadn’t finished teaching them.
Uncomfortable by his near-whimpered beseeching, they agreed to join the church. My guess is they were too polite to tell him no. When they looked at me for confirmation, the best I could muster was a shrug.
I couldn’t have stopped it. My companion already thought I had a bad attitude (which was true) and that if he wanted to get promoted, he couldn’t transfer out of San Vomito scoreless (also true). We argued about it on the way home from our “commitment.”
Him • “The spirit said that it was time to baptize them.”
Me • “Did this spirit come in a bottle?”
Him • “There’s that bad attitude again. You’ll never go anywhere in the mission, Elder.”
Since the only anywhere I wanted to go was away from him, my prayers were answered. He was transferred out a few weeks later and became a zone leader.
It was a “stat baptism,” or a baptism just to look good on paper. The Martinez couple came to church once after their baptism. Then we never saw them again. But we were able to report success in that part of the Lord’s vineyard.
I saw it as a failure, both in terms of us not converting them and me not putting a stop to it when I should have. Spiritually dim as I was (and still am), I couldn’t get behind the idea that religious conversion should be handled like a drive-by shooting.
While I never heard this “prompt to the font” logic from top church leaders, periodically we ran into old evidence of it while knocking on doors.
A 40-something guy would answer the door and tell us that he’d already been baptized. Oh, let’s see. It happened years ago when he was just a kid and playing basketball or baseball with some Mormons.
No wonder the church had such a phenomenal growth rate in the area back then. Anyone who could dribble or get on base was practically converted already.
Committing someone to baptism less than an hour after they first learn of a 100-year-old angel sighting in the United States seemed more than a little presumptuous.
But there’s that poor attitude of mine. No wonder the highest I ever rose in the mission ranks was — nowhere.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.