Inspired question, 'Book of Mormon' musical leads to former California mayor's conversion
Courtesy photo, Jenna Davis
For 35 years, Richard Marcus couldn’t remember going to bed without a drink.
Night after night, the California resident and former mayor of Culver City, Calif., would pour himself a drink or two and lie down to sleep. But on Oct. 20, 2012, Marcus recognized that something was different.
“I put the glass to my lips and the Spirit was gone like that,” Marcus said with a snap of his fingers. “I had gone from someone who was Spirit-filled and now I had nothing.”
Marcus, a married father of two, had spent the weekend watching sessions of the October 2012 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over and over, taking notes, trying to comprehend the messages of modern-day apostles.
The stark contrast between the Spirit he felt during the course of the day and the absence of it that night was riveting for Marcus. He knew he had some changing to do.
Marcus finished his liquor that night and put down the empty glass. It was the last one he had.
Two weeks later, Marcus was sitting in the doctor’s office for an annual check-up. He reported giving up drinking without experiencing a single negative side effect. As a self-described "high-functioning alcoholic," this was an incredible feat.
“That’s miraculous,” Marcus’ doctor said.
Marcus only smiled.
“That’s an interesting choice of words,” Marcus told his doctor. “Do you have about 15 minutes?”
He then proceeded to tell his doctor about the events that had occupied his life the few months prior to that fateful night in late October.
It all started June 2012 with a colleague from Arizona named Paula Gorbutt.
Gorbutt and Marcus met at a business convention in Las Vegas and formed a friendship based on their mutual political interests. Marcus works in finance but had been on the Culver City Council for years and served as mayor.
“You know I’m a Mormon, right?” Gorbutt asked Marcus.
He didn’t. And the question took him by surprise.
While he couldn’t understand why Gorbutt had asked the question, it didn’t stop the cogs in his head from turning. Over the next few months, Marcus found himself with an unending supply of questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Marcus had done some research on Mormon.org, even liked it on Facebook and spent hours talking with Gorbutt about his questions.
One day, a friend called offering an extra ticket to the musical, “The Book of Mormon,” which was playing in Los Angeles. Marcus accepted.
“I was looking for anything I could,” he said. “I knew it was a goof, a spoof, a satire, but I thought, ‘I don’t have anything. Maybe I should check that out.’”
Marcus attended the irreverent, off-color but critically acclaimed musical at the Pantages Theatre in early September.
"I wanted even more to find out what this was all about,” Marcus said.
After the show, Marcus was buying souvenirs when he saw it: a book sitting on the counter titled "The Book of Mormon." He bought it, but to his dismay, learned that it was simply the script for the musical.
His questions continued, and finally Gorbutt told him it was time for a visit from the missionaries. Though he was a little hesitant, Marcus did not protest.
After several unsuccessful attempts at locating the elders, Marcus logged on to Mormon.org with two goals — to find his meetinghouse and secure a visit from the missionaries.
He typed in his address. The results indicated that the closest building happened to be the same one he had been meeting in for the past 15 years as an active member of the local Scouting community.
“I had my first Cub Scout leader training at that church,” Marcus said.
With a feeling of encouragement that he was on the right path, he filled out the necessary information online for a missionary visit.
“Three days later, two angels showed up on my doorstep. Sister Davis and Sister Jones.”
They talked on the doorstep of Marcus’ home in Culver City for 40 minutes. Afterward, they prayed. Sister Jenna Davis then placed the blue softbound copy of the Book of Mormon into Marcus’ hand.
“You don’t know how much I’ve been waiting for this,” Marcus told the sisters.
He got choked up when the sisters had him read a passage from the Book of Moroni, which promised Marcus that if he would read and pray, he would be able to recognize truth through the influence of the Holy Ghost. Marcus committed to find out if the Book of Mormon was true.
And the answers came.
One of them was about his concern of living the Word of Wisdom, a belief that teaches members of the LDS faith to abstain from harmful, addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
He turned to his new copy of the Book of Mormon. When he opened to a page in the book of Alma, this is what he found.
“See that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober.”
“You try and tell me this book’s not true,” Marcus said.
A few days after his first meeting with the missionaries, Marcus found himself praying about the Book of Mormon during his morning prayer.
“I don’t know from where, but this intensity came into me. I couldn’t even finish my prayer. I was so overwhelmed. I thought that maybe my head was going to explode or my heart was going to burst right out of my chest.”
Marcus drove to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors' Center where the sister missionaries were serving. He opened the book to a passage he found earlier that day, read them a portion of it and closed the book with a snap.
“This book is true,” he told them.
On Dec. 9, 2012, Marcus was baptized a member of the LDS Church, in the building he had first stepped foot in 15 years before.
During the services, Marcus was asked to share a few of his thoughts. As he stood in front of the group that had come to support him, he felt it only appropriate to sing one song — "Amazing Grace."
“I just belted it out. Before I knew it, everyone joined in,” Marcus said. “That’s the story right there, because I feel that I had been saved. You know the part in there about the wretch? That would be me.”
Since joining the church, Marcus has been called as assistant secretary of the high priest group, has taught lessons with the missionaries, has shuttled converts to and from church and has sung in the choir each week.
Marcus said all of this started with Gorbett’s simple question.
“You know I’m a Mormon, right?”
Now he does. And he is, too.
Emmilie Buchanan is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her at email@example.com
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