My Mormon-dar is still well-tuned, apparently, since I immediately recognized them as missionaries before I spotted the telltale nametags. But I kept an eye on their progress through the line so that when the first one got to the front and ordered his food, I slid over to discreetly give him a 100% discount and to tell my cashier to call me back in a minute so I could do the same for the second guy.
I'm actually pretty proud of myself for doing it. I mean, it was maybe 20 bucks in total, so it's not that big of a deal. I did it to be a nice guy, partially, but it was mostly for me. It helped me prove to myself that I'm not too pissed at the church. The way I see it, those missionaries and I were duped by the same predatory organization. I don't hate Mormons—I feel empathy toward them and I want to help them. And something as simple as a couple of free burgers reassured me that I wasn't letting hatred of the institution translate into hatred of the victimized representatives of the institution.
The shorter missionary was really gracious and thanked me repeatedly. His towering junior companion seemed very uncomfortable the whole time, but I'm guessing that he was a green elder still struggling to adjust to his new reality. As they sat down to eat, one of my coworkers who knows a bit more about my Mormon background than the others asked me why I'd done it. I thought about it for a moment and, since we were in the middle of a busy rush and there wasn't time to explain, I replied simply, "Because their lives blow."
As our business died down a few minutes later, the two young men came up to hang out by our front counter. I knew they wanted to chat, and I suspected it might be awkward for me, so I pretended to be too busy to notice them. I hoped they would give up and leave, but they eventually asked my cashier if she would let me know they were waiting to say thank you whenever I had a minute. Reluctantly, I went over to talk to them.
The senior companion expressed their gratitude again and I babbled uncomfortably through a modest explanation. "Well, you know, you're a long way from home," I said. "It's a rough life and I just figured you guys could use a favor."
He expressed his appreciation yet again and then asked the dreaded question: "Are you a member?"
I broke eye contact, not because I was ashamed but because I felt I was about to ruin the moment. "Uh, no," I said flatly, "not anymore."
And suddenly the conversation was over. He wasn't rude about it at all and he thanked me one last time, but it was obvious that nothing he had hoped to gain from our conversation had come to pass. So he and his companion left.
I guess I hope that these missionaries will think about how ex-Mormons can be nice people and that maybe they won't commit to the demonizing of apostates as fully as the Quorum of the Twelve would prefer. But I'm worried that this will become a story about how the very elect are being deceived and that even this really nice guy was led away from the gospel. I don't know anything about those two young men, but I hope I gave them something to think about...in addition to giving them free meals.
I wonder what kind of mentions I got, if any, in these elders' emails home.
But I got to feel good about myself, at least. I had an opportunity to behave with compassion instead anger concerning a touchy and deeply personal subject and I made the right choice. After so much time failing to make the choices the church told me were right, it's intensely gratifying to set my own values, decide what I believe is right...and then live up to my own standards.