One day on my mission (wait, don’t tune out just yet), my companion and I were out tracting, weaving our way down the streets of a middle-class Chicago suburb. Of course no one was interested, so it was a fairly pointless exercise. We knocked on one door, and a girl of 18 or 20 answered the door.

“Oh! She’s not here right now, but come on in!” she eagerly greeted us.

We had no idea who “she” was, nor who the girl was, but we thought, “Members perhaps?” We’d been double-transferred into the area about a month earlier, so there were a lot of members we did not yet know. Usually when tracting into members we didn’t know, we could identify them by what they said or by artwork or other objects around their homes: an LDS hymnbook or Children’s Songbook on the piano, Deseret Book Jesus art, or – a dead giveaway – a picture of a temple. This home had nothing like that.

The girl led us to the kitchen table to sit. There was a bulletin board in the kitchen and I scanned it for something resembling a ward list, but couldn’t see one. She told us that Susan (not her real name, less to protect her identity and more to with the fact that I don’t remember her name) hired her to take care of the kids when she had to take one of the other kids to a doctors appointment. So there was no Mormon-type discussion. I began to panic. Did she think we were someone else? We had our nametags on, but I was insecure and afraid she’s misinterpreted who we were.

Now, my Mor-dar (you know, the Mormon version of gay-dar) is usually pretty good. I offer up another example as evidence. A couple years ago, I was in Australia, doing the tourist thing. One of the weekends there I spent at a science fiction convention. One of the guests was Richard Searfoss who, even though this was a scifi con, is a real astronaut. This was a small con, so we had the opportunity to chat quite a bit one-on-one with the guests. It was great. Now I know that Richard Searfoss is LDS, but at the time I didn’t. I spent a good bit of time with him, and he was definitely setting off my Mor-dar. He didn’t say anything like, “Well, when I was a BYU…,” or anything that was an obvious clue. He just gave off a Mormon vibe. I wanted to ask him if he was Mormon, but if he’d answered no, I wasn’t sure how to push the question aside so that I didn’t look like an idiot. So I didn’t ask. A few months later I found out he was indeed LDS. So my Mor-dar usually works well.

But not that day when tracting.

She excused herself to go take care of something outside, where several kids were playing, and left an 11-year-old boy to chat with us. My companion had a good idea.

“Soooo… do you guys go to church?” she asked.

When he said yes, she asked him where. Unfortunately, he gave us the name of the street the church was on, and neither of us could remember the name of the street, so that didn’t help us.

“So, do you know the name of your church?” My companion was trying to make it sound like we were just, you know, kind of playing with him. He looked at us like we were idiots.


“What’s the name of it?”

In a sing-song, boy-these-guys-are-idiots-and-must-think-I’m-three voice, he responded, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”


32 thoughts on “Mor-dar

  1. Your bio indicate you are Utah girl, to really develop your MorDar you have to live out here in the Mission field… you can spot a fellow Mo a mile away when you are the vast minority.

    I remember working the Mor-dar trying to figure out if that punk who murdered his wife out there in Utah was a member (one that said she went jogging) … I reached the conclusion that in spite of his heinious act, you could pick up enough little clues just in the news videotape and from his story. I don’t even now remember what the little clues were, but I did reach the conclusion that he was (at least at one time, I think killing your wife is one of those sins that can negatively impact your standing in the Lord’s church. I hear that some Bishops are more liberal than others, but I gotta believe his bishop would draw the line on that one.) Was his name Scott?? Anyway to this day I still don’t know if I was right, maybe his membership/nonmembership may have been an issue in coverage out there, but it was never overtly addressed in the coverage that I saw out here in Gentile Land.

  2. At the risk of thread jacking… I’ll make another comment:

    Sometimes overt cutural cues send the message… they are overt.. but only a member would recognize them.

    Once while my brother is in Alaska he got off a cruise ship and had a day before he had to fly home, so he wanted to go deep sea fishing. He had made not prior arrangements or research, and just wandered down to the fishing docks.. figuring he would just pick a charter boat and go. As he was walking down the dock he notices a boat called “The Liahona” It made the choice pretty easy. Turned out the boat owner/captain was a local Bishop, and he had a great day fishing.

    Not a subtle cue to a fellow Mo… but would be completely lost on a non-member.

  3. That’s not a thread jack; I’d say it’s right on topic. Quite true about the cultural clues. We recognize terms or actions that, either alone or mixed with other clues, make it possible to identify someone of our same culture. Sometimes we’re more aware of what we’re seeing, sometimes we don’t realize what we’re seeing and it just seems like a reasonable connection.

    Also, yes, the guy who murdered his wife was LDS.

  4. I live on the east coast. I moved here from “Zion” about four years ago. I thought that I had killer MoDar, but have been proven wrong. Living in Utah I was always taught that we are these happy people that need to go out and save all of these sad people who are moping around aimlessly in life, looking for purpose and happiness. Boy was I wrong! Happy family number one “Must be Mormon because they a) drive minivan b)have seen Napolean Dynamite and c) have four kids!” Nope, they were Catholic. And very happy with thier religion. Second family I was sure about becasue a) the mother always wore jumper-style dresses, b) the kids were well behaved and c) they talked about keeping thier sabbath…wrong again- they are Jewish. However, now and again I will hear people ask for “pop” instead of a soda, or a “sucker” instead of a lollipop, and THAT is a dead giveaway!

  5. Born and raised in Utah, and I use the term “soda”. I do use “sucker”, though. But I’m with Crystal; those are regional things not religious clues.

  6. During my 3rd month as a member I took the sister missionaries out to dinner at an Italian restaurant. After the host seated us, one whispered to the other, “The host was cute. Do you think he’s a member? I thought I saw g lines.” Me: “Huh???”

    During a business trip to Denver last year, I set off someone’s mo-dar. I was at a small corporate office and a VP showing me the breakroom opened the refrigerator door and said, “After a day or 2 here you might be hitting this.” He motioned to a shelf of beer and vodka. I laughed and replied, “I doubt it.” The next day in the middle of a work conversation he asked what religion I was. This was a client we were on delicate ground with and and I didn’t want to add more friction to the mix. I ducked that question once before though and had decided never to again. So I said I was Mormon and inquired why he asked. He said he was too and that another guy on the team was also. I was surprised. I asked what gave it away and he said it was the way I replied to the alcohol comment. I said lots of people don’t drink for one reason or other. He said that was true but there was something about me and his suspicion was confirmed I came in the next day. He pointed to my shoulder. (white t-shirt, evident g line)

    I thought about this for awhile after that. What is the something? I know it exists. I’ve perceived it in others too. How to describe it, I haven’t figured out quite how to articulate that yet.

  7. I know what you mean when you refer to that something. That something is something I have yet to concretely figure out. I know there are the various clues, but often it seems like… a Mormon pheremone.

  8. you are right. the non-member friends that i have made here in the east are drawn to the mormons like crazy! they can not get enough of them. i think that there is a warmth to mormons…and we definitely like to serve people. although, i hesitate saying all of this, because I feel closer to my non-mormon friends and often feel that they are a better example of Christ-like love. sometimes i feel like i have to have a semi-crisis to get support from the r.s., where these non-member friends are so happy to have friends, that they are there rain or shine.

  9. Friends are a great blessing. Friends tend to like helping each other no matter what their religion.

  10. friend, I would say your experience is not unique. Don’t hesitate to say it. We all can learn from people of all faiths how to be better friends.

    Kaimi, that’s exactly why I prefer the less common “Mor-dar” than the more common “Mo-dar”. I was wondering if anyone would say anything. Fellow geeks, unite!

  11. I always refer to it as my “mormon radar” in the zero times I’ve discussed this before.

  12. There was the time in Marine Park in Brooklyn, where the Metropolitan Opera was performing The Barber of Seville, that someone else’s mordar was working, I thought. We had the whole mob of children, and a few strays, and were eating our pre-opera picnic and acting our usual Brooklyn obnoxious selves, when someone nearby asked if we were members of the church. I thought it was our warm, friendly, filled-with-the-spirit-and-milk-of-human-kindness selves, but, blast it, they had just noticed the g-lines beneath our shirts.

    My dad, as a 19-year-old GI in Vienna in the autumn of 1945 was approached on the street his first Sunday morning there by a young woman who asked him in perfect English: “Are you a Mormon?” Mordar? or was it just that he was in the neighborhood of the church, and not hungover? Have to track her down and ask her.

  13. My best incident of being recognized as a Mormon was back in the summer of ’86, I was back from my mission, and was tramping around europe for a summer. I was on a train from Lenningrad to Moscow. A lot of young people on the train, lots of visiting.. partying. I ended up going to a guy’s car with his young wife. Both were Russian. He could barely speak english, and asked if I wanted some Wadka (vodka) I said politely, no. He said I must have some, it is a Russian tradition, etc. I was really polite and just said no, I don’t drink. He said in his very broken english “are you Mormon” I said yes. He acted like he was so thrilled to meet a real life Mormon, he seemed to have a very high opinion of Mo’s. We talked the best we could, and had a nice visit. Keep in mind this was before communism fell, and I doubt we had any missionaries in Russia then, and it was pre-internet so I was very curious how he hear of Mormons, but the language barrier was such I couldn’t really figure that question out.

  14. I am pleasantly surprised that no one has brought up:

    The story about the BYU Jerusalem students sticking out because of their glowing countenaces and therefore, proselyting without saying a word, and

    Mor-dar=the Spirit

    Some VERY common things that might come up in conversation that would be a good tip-off:

    being one of 12 kids
    being fluent in another language
    having spent 2 years “volunteering”
    turning down tea/coffee
    not swearing
    wearing g-covering clothing
    being married young
    referring to God as Heavenly Father
    mentioning having been part of a “youth group”
    having a responsibility at church
    being politically conservative
    having a mormon name (surnames: Grant, Hinckly, McConkie, etc; given names: Nephi, Dallon, Hyrum, Emma, etc.)
    only having seen G/PG movies
    having a Utah accent (anyone not from UT knows exactly what I am talking about)

    Granted, any one of these could have another explanation, but some mixture of three or more, and I would feel comfortable probing.

  15. Can we use “Mo-dar”? I think that’s a much, much better term. Mordar reminds me of Sauron’s lair.

    I remember one time I got off a plane in Honduras with a few other BYU kids. We were dressed all scrubby, and didn’t have any BYU or Church paraphenlia. There were some missionaries there, too, and they picked us out as Mormon instantly. It was uncanny.

  16. My favorite is the bumper sticker “RULDS2”. That, and CTR rings. I saw a guy with a CTR ring once while I was on a plane going to Dallas for business. I thought about striking up a conversation with him, but then realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to sustain the conversation all the way to Dallas with a 40 something guy in a business suit wearing a CTR ring (one of those green ones from your CTR-A class).

  17. When my husband was in grad school in South Dakota (not a lot of Mormons in the midwest) we saw another couple in the parking lot and we both wondered if they were Mormons. It may have just been their long shorts and lack of sleeveless shirts, but it seemed like there was something about them. They were Mormon. They said they had wondered if we were Mormons when they saw us.

    When we first met our next door neighbors, I thought they might be Mormon because the wife said, “If there’s anything we can do for you, just let us know.” They weren’t.

    Usually I’m right, but sometimes you don’t even know. Every once in a while we’ll see somebody on TV and say “What ward is that guy in?”

  18. Mormons are easy to spot in public, they are the group of people blocking the entrance/exit to Wal-mart chatting with each other, completely oblivious to those trying to enter and exit the store, much the same way they create a fire hazard when trying to get out of the chapel after sacrament meeting.

  19. I just saw some pretty harrowing video on CNN from Iraq… a Marine was standing there and a big roadside bomb went off.. he said “son of a bitch.. welcome to freakin’ Iraq” Later he was addressing his platton and said “you guys are freakin’ weirdos” I wonder if he is LDS, (I have no problem excusing a litte cussing when a bomb is going off just down the road… and it was supposed to have your name on it).. but the use of “freakin” makes me wonder… you can’t see G-lines under bullet proof vests..

    Now if he had uses “fetchin” I would have been sure…

  20. Elizabeth, people might surprise you. Some of my favorite conversations have been with strangers who I might not otherwise talk to. These include the guy who had his own cable hunting show and just got back from Africa (got some free Elk, Bear, Caribou, and Goose meat), the attache to the embassy coming back from a meeting with Aristide, etc. On a plane it can be awkward, but If you have headphones you can slip them on after a lull in the convo.

    I just got back from Disneyland, and you sure could tell the Mo’s there. A clean cut couple with a small child, where the guy had no tats or piercings and the girl had knee length shorts was pretty much a dead give away.

  21. Not that it required great “Mo-Dar” skills on the part of this guy (since I was wearing a black name tag), but I will always fondly remember my first train ride as a German missionary. I had just met my new companion, and we had hopped a train north out of Duesseldorf heading for Osnabrueck. I was bound and determined to open my mouth. The guy sitting across from me had a scraggly beard and was probably a foot taller than me. I looked deep inside for the courage to speak to him, but before I could even open my mouth he blurted out, in English, “So, did you go to the “U”? As a matter of fact, I had. Turns out he was Finn, and a former guest professor at the “U”, where he had truly learned to love the locals. We had a very pleasant chat. Maybe he had a sub-species of Mo-Dar, “U”-dar? “Y”-dar used to be pretty easy, too, at least for the Y-going sisters; we used to look for very large bows (we called them “Stealth Bows” in honor of the similarly-sized Stealth Bomber) in the hair and floral print dresses.

  22. Once sitting on the D.C. metro, reading my book on the way home, I heard a conversation behind me and immediately concluded that I was listening to Utah tourists. Couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but there are certain turns of phrase and intonations that give it away. There’s definitely a Utah accent. Not something as obvious as the southern or New England one, but there nevertheless. I suspect it is a residual Scandinavian/British Isles accent. When they left, I saw the CTR ring and my suspicions were confirmed.

    In high school, I had a jokebook by Calvin Grondle, “Faith Promoting Rumors,” that was completely based on LDS culture. An LDS friend and I were reading it and really getting a kick out of the editorial-style cartoons. One of our non-LDS acquaintences took a look at it and was completely non-plussed. He had no idea what was so funny and simply didn’t get any of it. Which of course made it even funnier to the two of us.

    Incidentally, if you’re ever dying to know if someone is LDS, just ask them if they know “Boyd Packer” or some such other name.

  23. Utah accent = California dialect + a small dash of Texas drawl

    When I get tired I lapse a bit into my Utah accent.

  24. I’m not usually the sensative “type” with an active Modar ability, but I had one experience that was pretty dramatic, at least for me. While watching the Challenger disaster a couple years ago, I watched with great interest a honcho at the Houston Space Center served as the main spokesman for NASA during the crisis.

    I had no clue otherwise, but was amazed at his sensativity, compassion, perspective, maturity, wisdom etc. that I though exemplified what a Mormon should be like. I watched him for a couple of days, and tried to figure out what he was saying or doing that was tipping me off. I was unable to identify anything except the values, and attitudes which were certainly consistent with the best LDS offers. It was only later in a newspaper article that I found he was Mormon serving in the Stake Presidency. Hmmmmm I thought.

    In another experience, Baptist family moved next door who also were radiating some good spiritual vibes that would be the envy of most LDS folks. But, in my mind, at least there seemed to be a little something missing. Projection on my part, I suppose, but then again maybe not. Whatever they had, they did “glow”.

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