Shortly after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the Manifesto, marking the beginning of the end to its practice of polygamy, I served a mission in South America.
Missionaries at the time wore items of identification in the lapels of their suits. The two most common were a buffalo skull, denoting the church’s Boy Scout Duty to God award, and the golden replica of the trumpeting Angel Moroni, as seen atop the faith’s temples.
Not having completed the requirements for a Duty to God pin, and never having gotten around to buying or being given an Angel Moroni pin, my lapels were bare of anything identifying me as an apprentice servant of the Lord.
During the two months I spent in the Language Training Mission in Provo, I gave some thought as to what I could wear on my lapel during the next 22 months in South America.
I briefly considered a peace symbol, the crossed rifles of the U.S. infantry, a miniature Buddha, a crucifix, and an Aphrodite earring from a girlfriend I found in my car.
For various reasons, I opted against all of them. The crossed rifles might be misunderstood in a country going through a revolution. The Buddha might draw harsh criticism from certain super elders. And the Aphrodite pin was of a woman in a stage of complete undress.
Then there was the fact that a crucifix was regarded by Mormons at the time as a symbol of the great and abominable church. A peace symbol was seen by others as an attempt to twist out of shape the symbol denoting the sacrifice of our Lord.
What can I say? It was all so very confusing to a guy who only recently decided to make a real effort to behave himself.
With time growing short, I became desperate. One day, in BYU’s bookstore, I came across a small lapel pin of Bullwinkle, the dimwit cartoon companion to Rocky the Flying Squirrel.
It was perfect. It had horns like the Duty to God pin. It signified half of a partnership. And it was eye-catching enough to promote inquiries.
Not everyone liked Bullwinkle — and by that I mean certain terminally serious elders. But he was a hit with a lot of people on whose doors we knocked.
In one small town, kids would wave as we rode by on our bikes. “Hola, el Elder Boo-winkel!”
Symbolism means a lot to people and can have startling effects. Entire faiths are formed around them. Personally, I’m not fond of sporting an execution symbol on myself, but, if I had to, a cross makes more sense than a guillotine or gallows.
With many Latter-day Saint temples now being built without the customary golden Angel Moroni statue being affixed to their tops, it’s a little unnerving to some traditionalists. Personally, I like it. Now I can imagine anything I want up there.
I’m not suggesting that the church give Bullwinkle a try, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings. And, trust me, people would notice.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.