We finally had our opportunity to hear a real life prophet speak and we had to walk away thinking that it didn’t live up to the hype. Without too much judgment I will lay out our general outsider impressions after hearing Gordon B. Hinckley speak at the Newport Beach Temple celebration.
The first thing we noticed about the audience was how homogenous everyone was. We live in a fairly diverse area but there was very little diversity in the people around us. It was kind of like the last white people who still wear suits to church in Southern California were having a conference. I certainly don’t have any problem with white people but it’s uncommon for us to see so many white people all together. I saw one African American teenager and I remember thinking to myself “does he know he’s not supposed to be here?” As white people, my wife and I were uncomfortable. And to be fair our own church is certainly not as diverse as we’d like it to be.
We met Scott’s niece and her husband beforehand. We found out that they lived exactly across the street from us in a different apartment complex. They were a very nice couple but bewilderment struck the conversation as Scott suggested that we visit a ward with them. Scott’s niece explained that we couldn’t go to their ward because we lived on the other side of the street. This seemed so odd to us. We were interested and eager but couldn’t visit a church because we lived on the wrong side of the street?!? It seemed like such an odd message to send to people you hoped to convert. It still sits so strangely with me that as we tried to push to visit a church with some newly met friends, everyone insisted that it was not permitted because we lived on the east instead of the west side of a street.
There was certainly a buzz in the room. People seemed to be excited to be there. An organist started playing some music as a prelude and everyone started singing the words along with the background music. So the organist had to stop playing so that everyone would stop singing. When President Hinckley finally emerged from behind the stage there was a celebrity atmosphere. Flash bulbs started popping and there was a quiet murmur throughout the arena.
We saw a brief slide show that among other things told us the Mayan temples in Mexico were actually Mormon temples. I remembered at that moment reading at least 10 years beforehand a statement the Smithsonian had put out stating that ancient civilizations in Central America didn’t resemble anything like what was described in the Book of Mormon.
When the stage was turned over to President Hinckley we expected the celebrity buzz to return. As he started to talk it seemed like someone had let the air out of the room. Here we were about to hear the words of the one and only prophet of God. Anything he was about to say might be a life and faith altering pronouncement from the mouth of God himself. As we looked around, everyone around us was bored. Not a single person seemed interested in anything he might have to say. Scott to my left seemed down right perturbed. If Gordon Hinckley was a prophet of God, it didn’t seem the people around us thought so, and if they did, at best, they found him uninspiring and a little bit irritating. I believe the main thrust of his message was that young people shouldn’t get tattoos if they hoped to visit the temple. And to the credit of those around us, I think their response generally matched the message they were hearing. It wasn’t very interesting or inspiring.
As we pulled out of the parking lot I asked Scott if they Native American dressed girl we saw singing was supposed to be a Lamanite or a Native Californian. He was a bit thrown off by my question and stated that she was both. We made plans to meet Scott, his wife and the missionaries again and talk more about my questions. . . .