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), 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.
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. 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. 
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 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. 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? 
 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).
 Did it offend?
 Sorry, that’s Books of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now.
 Although, Pastry Pub sandwiches are freaking fantastic. Unfortunately, the Peruvian place closed permanently due to Covid.
 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).
 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.
 I’m in the “Don’t cross the streams!” camp.
This post reminds me, once again, that there are far too many people that believe more in what they believe about God than they do in reality and life of the One their beliefs are supposed to point towards.
And I’m also reminded to that I have a “plank” in my own eye along these lines.
I think this is what missionary work devolves to when you try to take missionary work seriously in Southern Utah. Honestly, who else in the area isn’t either a member or otherwise very aware of the Church and not interested in joining? I’m not saying it’s not off-putting to many, but I can totally see a stake president holding this up in a stake conference address as evidence that “Brother and Sister So-and-So take seriously the prophet’s call to gather scattered Israel even here in Zion.”
That said, it’s a better missionary effort than I’ve done in a long time. If I’m being honest, my desire to share the gospel has ebbed ever lower as I find out more and more about Church history. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about inviting your friends and acquaintances to join an organization knowing that, if you were honest about the historical and doctrinal baggage, they would never join (not that they appear interested to begin with). It’s a problem that I’m not sure I’d have to deal with were I some other flavor of Christian, but I’m not some other flavor of Christian.
I remember on a visit to Bryce Canyon stopping at a rural mom-and-pop restaurant nearby, and each table had a Book of Mormon on it. As a native Californian, I just chalked it up to being another weird Utah thing, and also figured that it was a benign gesture by the LDS family that owned the restaurant, so they could feel like they were “doing their part” by passively proselytizing to the tourist traffic. Ironically, it was a Sunday when we ate at that restaurant, and it was fully open and fairly busy.
But an Airbnb property decorated as you described, I would definitely consider excessive. I normally don’t care for Mormon kitsch decor, and can tolerate it in small doses when I see it in other people’s homes, but I can imagine a non-member guest being very turned off by such a blatant display. A non-Mormon might look at it and say: “I would never want to be a Mormon because they have to decorate their houses with all this sanctimonious crap.” In other words, it runs the risk of failing the Scientology test, and does more harm than good for the missionary effort.
If I were renting an Airbnb, I might be impressed if the property had a swimming pool/hot tub, free WiFi, fully stocked kitchen and other amenities that make my life easier and make me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. If the owner chooses to plaster his religion all over the walls, for me it will either be a neutral factor (I’m probably too busy enjoying the pool to care) or a negative factor if the religious decor is gaudy and distracting.
I’ve stayed in dozens of Airbnb in the US and abroad. Love it way more than hotels. We’ve never been overwhelmed by obnoxious decor, and it is fun to see a bit of the owners’ personality shining through. If I were to visit a home with a random minority religion holy book in *every* *single* *room* it would be annoying.
As a nuanced active Mormon we have only one overtly churchy thing in our home, a large picture of my wife and me in front of the SLC temple on our wedding day. Not even any live life love type of decorations, just pics of the family, both formal / professional and candid / fun.
IMO Mormons are traditionally terrible at being sensitive to others’ religious and political views. Consistently tone deaf going back to Nauvoo, Missouri, and Kirtland. If we had marginally better sense of introspection we might have avoided significant pain and suffering, up to and including today (yes I’m thinking of the Holland pep talk at BYU recently.).
Side question: Which parts of the BoM would be best to read while sitting on a toilet?
On a recent trip to my daughter’s optometrist office, there were some blocks with “lead me” “guide me” “walk beside me”. I like to think they were a generic plea for assistance before ones new glasses come in.
Even as a TBM I thought that tacky – and you see it a lot in Utah County businesses of all kinds. My aversion probably comes from the time when I was a teen living in, then, wee Elko, Nevada. A Utah music company drove a large truck filled with pianos for sale and parked at a strip mall. Dad was in the market. He thought the price was high and said so. The owner/salesman opened his shirt to reveal is garments and said something to the effect that “you know I am giving you the best price, brother.” Dad was very put off – swore at the guy (which he rarely did) and left.
We had a few things in our home: a picture of the temple in which we were sealed to our adopted children, a picture of Jesus holding a Black child (for our daughter), and a one that I thought would be meaningful to my wife’s childhood. For a short time, the obligatory Family Proclamation someone gave us. Overall, probably less than 5% of the total.
Return with Diet Coke is the favorite these days.
Rich Brown: I would assume “and it came to pass” could be a sort of pep talk for those in need.
I spent some time in West Africa during college and was amused to see how many businesses had religious-oriented names. (I can’t actually remember any specifics but a quick Google search gives some examples: “God’s Time Fast-Food”, “Anointed Plumber”, “God Rules Internet Cafe,” “Jesus Is The Answer Carpentry Workshop” etc. It’s a thing.).
I actually really admired the way these Christians wore their faith on their sleeves in a way that Mormons typically don’t – we fawn over General Authorities, yes, but we are a lot less exuberant about Jesus than a lot of other religious groups / cultures. I never felt like these business owners were trying to convince me of anything – maybe they were trying to capitalize on their Christian patrons to win business, or maybe they were just genuinely celebrating their own faith – so it didn’t bug me. It made me think I needed to do a better job of being Christian and not just Mormon. Unfortunately – and this was me as a missionary, so I’m talking to myself – in our missionary efforts we tend to focus less on displaying our love for Jesus and more on convincing people why our answers are better than their answers and our authority is valid and their’s isn’t. Using an AirBnB as your hosts did to me seems more like an effort to convince and convert and less an effort to celebrate and share, although maybe I am just projecting. Maybe they really are just SO fired up about their beliefs, in which case I find it in poor taste for an AirBnB but I”ll give them a pass.
Relatedly, I kinda hate all of the Mormon inside jokes on billboards along I-15. I’m all for poking fun at ourselves, but I think they create an in-group/out-group environment / Mormon Bro culture that I don’t appreciate.
I have heard stories of ways that full-time missionary work changed in many places during COVID lockdowns, with missionaries doing a lot of contacting and teaching online. For church members who live in areas of high LDS concentration, it seems like having them apply their zeal in online missionary service would be a whole lot more effective than having it manifest in airbnb decorating choices.
A few months ago we stayed at an airbnb in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. As we came in, there was a large leather bible sitting on one of the steps leading to the owners’ part of the house, and I took a peek to see if it was and LDS edition. Nope. In our part of the house there were other touches of devotion, and they did not stir in me any desire to invite these ostensibly nice people to witness to me about anything.
Kindness fits anywhere and everywhere. Marketing, not so much.
Rich Brown, “ Side question: Which parts of the BoM would be best to read while sitting on a toilet?”
Angela’s answer was great, as always, but I would suggest the passage of Ether 14-15 which discusses the elimination of Shiz.
I am reminded of when I went to the Manti “Mormon Miracle” pageant in the 90s. In between playing the greatest hits of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the PA would play a recorded announcement inviting “non-members” in the audience to visit a hospitality booth for a free picture of Jesus Christ. I’m guessing it was the Del Parsons painting.
I remember thinking: 1) if I were a non-member, i probably wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself; 2) even if I felt like doing that, I’m not clear that I’d get a lot out of a cardboard mass-produced picture of Jesus; 3) even if I did enjoy such pictures, I couldn’t imagine receiving a spiritual witness about the LDS church upon acquiring the picture; 4) regardless of my feelings, the repetition of this announcement every 3-4 minutes became obnoxious.
Hawkgrrrl’s description of the Airbnb made me think of this—I’m a convert, and while I can’t speak for converts everywhere, LDS art was not the path that led me to the church.
On an entirely unrelated note, when I went to the Utah Shakespeare festival in 1992, I first met the girl who would later introduce me to a roommate whom I would marry 8 years later.
Guessing you’ve never been in the South.
They wear their religion in the sleeves way more than Utah Mormons.
jpv: I’ve been to the south plenty (and was even born there), but not stayed in an airbnb there, so you are correct about that.
Are you getting the paraolympics there? Have you seen wheelchair rugby, with battle wheelchairs?
I just saw a man with no arms playing table tennis against a person with one arm. The one with no arms held the bat in his mouth, and threw the ball up with his foot.
Incredible inspirational people.
What does it say about a country that has incredible disabled athletes?
One personal investment guru posted on billboards heading into Utah County, “Jesus was a capitalist”. He is now sitting in federal prison, convicted of a hundred million-dollar Ponzi scheme. Feel free to deduce his motives.
Having lived a little less than half my life in Cedar City Hawkgrrrl, I can tell you that some of the best restaurants are (or at least were, prior to Covid) off the beaten bath, and more or less purposely cater to the local crowd who try to avoid the crowds from Festival seasons. I’d tell you where they are, but then that would defeat the purpose. 😉
Having done a road trip full or Airbnbs this summer, I didn’t mind seeing a cross here and there, but too much of anything personal and we just felt like we were invading the place. I like to look for ways to proselyte, but that probably wouldn’t be one of them.
Fun fact: I’m currently staying in an Airbnb with a beaded curtain of (Catholic) Jesus partitioning my room from its en suite bathroom. Not only does the lifesize image gaze beatifically at both my bed and my shower, I have to either pull it apart at the naval or push it aside to go through. I feel like the symbolism kinda fell down somewhere here…
Eli: I feel like a teaser like this really deserves some personal follow up. You can email me if you don’t want it to be public. We go to Cedar City a lot. It’s one of the only places in the US we travel.
Well, I guess giving them a little extra publicity wouldn’t hurt. Given how often you frequent Cedar City I’m guessing there’s a good chance you’ve been to some of these places. Also keep in mind it’s been over a decade since I’ve lived there, and though I visit often, some things may have changed.
For the best burgers:
The Snack Bar at the Hospital. Also the best shake/malt. It may have gone just a little downhill when they transferred to the new hospital, but it was still pretty dang good last I went. Last I checked it was run by a volunteer retiree who looked awfully close to a second retirement, so things may have changed. I thought about taking a couple of dates there, but it wasn’t exactly the best ambience for romance.
The Bowling Alley. Take the north exit and head toward Enoch. You can’t miss it.
Brody’s. Easily one of the top five Mexican places I’ve eaten at. Best street tacos ever. Near the south exit, somewhat close to the theatres. Every time I’ve eaten there I’ve known who everybody is except for one or two tables.
The Market Grill. While most patrons of the festival head east to Rusty’s or Milt’s (also good), many Cedarians at this time head west on Highway 56 to this place. It’s about a mile west of the freeway, on the right. Those who go often and talk to management, like my dad, seem to get to the point where custom made meals become an option. The place gets its meats from the adjacent livestock, so be prepared for flies in the summer. Like Brody’s, everyone there is usually someone I know or obviously local. I’ve heard rumors their head chef may have retired in the last ten years.
A couple of years ago, I went to a reallyy good Thai place in the Boomer’s building at Center and Main, 2nd floor. It may or may not still be there. It seems like great restaurants open up there only to close two or three years later, or less. Some of us sadly refer to it as the “Boomer’s Curse.”
I ate at American Diner once. Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the food was decent. Main Street, southern end of town.
Hope some of that helps.
I’m glad you enjoy the Festival. I need to take my kids to some plays. As a student and worker at SUU for a few years, I was a little put off by their self-importance at times, but not by Fred Adams. I helped landscape his house once as a service project while his wife was ill. He was a great man.