Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mormons on the buses

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A Stagecoach bus, which may or may not be like the ones
Mormons have been preaching on
We've become rather accustomed to being told what to believe (or not) from the side of buses in recent years, most recently in the form of Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar's scientifically-suspect banner ads, but on the whole actually travelling on them has remained a decidedly un-metaphysical experience.

That, however, could be changing, if news from Lancashire offers any guide. The Guardian report that the Stagecoach bus company has asked Mormons to refrain from engaging commuters in on-board existential chats, following a complaint from a customer who was accosted during a journey from Lancaster to Morecambe. Rick Seymour of Heysham was "engaged" on three separate occasions by Mormons professing their love for Jesus, with the third instance prompting him to write to Stagecoach to complain:
"I firmly believe that the Mormon Church is using your service as a place where the public cannot escape the attempt to indoctrinate them. Whilst I respect that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs or none, telling others that their beliefs are misguided or plain wrong is wrong in itself. Practice your own personal beliefs in your own home and do not ram it down others' throats. I hope that Stagecoach will write to the Mormon Church in Chorley and tell them their behaviour is unacceptable."
After Stagecoach pointed out that they "do not permit any commercial or other organisation to promote their products, services or views through direct engagement with passengers on our services", the Mormon church did seem to acknowledge that the bus-chats are part of an active programme of proselytising, with the president of its Manchester branch praising the 140 young Mormons engaging in such work in the North West:
"They will sit next to someone, and they will introduce themselves and try and have a good conversation to explain a point of view that someone might never have heard before. We do encourage this, but we would not want people to feel intimidated. If it becomes clear that someone does not want to hear that message they should move away."
Stagecoach's reaction suggests the bus companies would be keen to avoid a widespread outbreak of this kind of on-board "engagement", but it's hard to see how you could really stop people talking to their fellow passengers, be it about the new timetable, the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or the power of the intergalactic overlord Xenu. Could we be seeing the start of a new bus-based battle for hearts and minds?
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