We recently returned from our annual pilgrimage to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. Since we were staying with our adult kids who are vegan and like to cook (sorry, Cedar City, but your restaurant choices are somewhat limited[4]), we decided to stay in an Airbnb rather than hotel rooms. We’ve stayed in dozens of Airbnbs in Cedar City over the years. Some were student housing converted to vacation rental while school was out. Some were like staying in your grandmother’s shag-carpeted basement. Some were new construction; some were fusty and old-fashioned. Many were made to look like a stylish boutique hotel or even a model home. A few tried to be homey, with games and personal touches. This was our first experience with one that was really, really Mormon, something that hadn’t been featured in the photos when we booked it.[5]

Overall, the stay was fine. The beds were comfortable enough. The layout of the home suited our needs with enough space for all. Neverthless, it was a little disconcerting to see a photo of the current First Presidency hanging on the wall, and to see a Book of Mormon in every bathroom, as if waiting for some constipated convert.[1] As a lifelong Mormon, I have never felt the need to decorate in this manner. A photo of the First Presidency strikes me as culty, worshipping the apostles, deferring to human authority over God; I’ve never been that kind of Mormon. Having said that, there were plenty of hyper-realistic Liz Lemon Swindles of Jesus, too, and even mini Christus statue missing His right hand. [2]

It’s possible these choices were because this particular Airbnb is used frequently by the owning family, not specifically geared toward guests, which is sometimes (but rarely) the case. I suspect that’s correct, although it doesn’t really explain the placement of the Books of Mormon[3] which seemed like an obvious missionary tactic. If so, I have a hard time imagining that it will be successful, but then again, I’m not the target audience.

I wondered how I would feel if I were in Italy and there was a picture of the Pope on the wall or a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It would raise an eyebrow because it’s more personal than the decor we usually find in an Airbnb, but it wouldn’t make me want to become Catholic either. I’d assume it was for Catholics who stay there. I would probably just ignore it, although if I walked out of the shower and there’s the Pope staring at me, that would be off-putting. Likewise, the First Presidency.[6] Anything too personal always makes an Airbnb feel a little uncomfortable, a reminder that this is not neutral space. It’s theirs, not yours. That’s why all the house listing shows say to take out all family photos and personal decor when you are selling. People should be able to imagine it as their space, not yours.

I gave them a good public review, but I did mention to them privately that the decor was probably a bit much for some. Whether they care or not is up to them, but it’s possible they know this and that’s why it was not featured in the photos. It made me cringe as a Church member; I imagined how someone might feel who was either a non-LDS guest or a former Mormon. They might find it local and charming. Or (more likely IMO) it might reflect badly on the Church.

  • Is it tacky to turn your Airbnb into a missionary trap? Do such tactics work or backfire?
  • Have you stayed in an Airbnb that was super Mormon like this? Any that had personal religious decor from another faith?
  • Do you use Mormon decor in your home?
  • Have you seen Church members try to use their business ventures to proselytize? How do you feel about it? [7]


[1] Marriott puts them in the nightstand drawer which seems a both more subtle and more sanitary. This made me think of George Constanza trying to return the “toilet book” at the bookstore (he takes an expensive art book into the public restroom in the store, and they make him buy it because they all think it’s now tainted and nasty).

[2] Did it offend?

[3] Sorry, that’s Books of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now.

[4] Although, Pastry Pub sandwiches are freaking fantastic. Unfortunately, the Peruvian place closed permanently due to Covid.

[5] Closer inspection of the photos did show some of the decor in the background, though. It just wasn’t obvious like it was when you walked in. There were literally 7 Mormon things in the living room / kitchen / stair landing, all visible from the entry (print of Jesus with child, broken Christus statue, two “Families are Forever” signs, First Presidency picture, and two temple pictures).

[6] I once saw a house on Zillow in Salt Lake City that had a portrait of the First Presidency hanging over the master bed. I would hope even the First Presidency would find that one a bit much.

nathan fillion castle GIF

[7] I’m in the “Don’t cross the streams!” camp.