Brad Parr remembers the day he drove past a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the first time. He’d only recently moved to Utah with his parents and was about to start fifth grade.
“What kind of church is that?” Brad asked his mom and dad. He’d noticed that the church didn’t have a cross like the churches he’d seen in the South. He’d been attending church on his own for several years—hitching a ride with neighbors when they lived in Alaska, taking a bus when they lived in Florida.
“Those are Mormons,” his parents said. “They’re weird. Stay away from them.”
Not long after, Brad’s parents bought a home near Roy High School and Brad started fifth grade at the elementary school nearby. “What’s your name?” kids asked him, appearing friendly and inclusive. “So, are you a Mormon?”
“No,” Brad replied. And that was that. They’d never talk to him again.
Not until junior high and high school, that is. Brad would see Latter-day Saint kids at parties that he attended. They were doing all the things he loved to do—smoking, drinking. He’d be smoking with a guy late on a Saturday night, when suddenly the guy would stand up and say, “I’ve got to go home.”
“Why? It’s too early,” Brad would say.
“I’ve got to go to church in the morning.”
Brad’s experiences with hypocritical members of the Church, combined with the misconceptions of his parents and others, left him with a bad taste. He also felt hurt—excluded, bullied, and judged—by people that claimed to have the truth.
A Lifetime of Searching
The truth—it was something that Brad had been seeking his whole life. Religion and drugs were the two bipolar forces that ruled his life. There was a numbness, a peace, a sense of belonging that he kept trying to find.
The drugs he’d picked up from his parents. His mom had started doing cocaine in the '80s while they lived in Alaska, and she’d been addicted during all of Brad’s childhood. “Growing up the way that I did, it was okay to do drugs and alcohol,” Brad said.
Left: Brad's father, Greg, in his military uniform.
Right: Brad (4) and his mother, Jackie, at their home in Anchorage, Alaska.
In one memory, Brad’s mom had vanished for weeks when a family friend came home and reported that she was at a biker’s bar. Brad’s father, still not completely sober himself, packed his son into the car and drove to the bar.
“Keep the door locked. Keep the windows up,” he told his son. He grabbed his gun, shut the door, and headed into the bar.
He was gone for 10 to 20 minutes. During that time, someone tried to smash one of the car windows, and Brad heard gunshots fired. Moments later, Brad’s dad appeared dragging his mother out by her hair.
Looking at his childhood in hindsight, Brad realizes there were several times that he was protected in miraculous ways. “Don’t get me wrong,” Brad said. “[My parents] are good people . . . but they had issues that influenced their behavior and their parenting.”
So it’s no surprise that substance abuse became part of Brad’s lifestyle early on. His innate belief in God, however? He didn’t know where that came from.
Brad’s mom, Jackie, had grown up in a poor part of Tampa in a working-class family that was very religious. Jackie had attended church until a negative experience early on convinced her to never go back.
“I don’t know if I can say she was fully atheist, but she very much balanced that line between agnosticism and atheism,” Brad said.
His father, also from Tampa, grew up in a family of masons. With his parents often away at functions and fundraisers for the organization, Brad’s father, Greg, found himself on his own most of the time. When his older brother had a stroke, Greg became his brother’s primary caretaker when he was only a teenager. His brother died a few years later, and Greg grew bitter, believing that if there was a God, He sure didn’t care.
Despite these views, however, Brad’s parents didn’t oppose his religious appetite. His mom always made sure he was dressed nicely before he left for church and had lunch ready for him when he got home. "It was a sweet gesture," Brad said.
In high school, even after a hard weekend of partying, Brad made sure to go to some kind of religious service. Sometimes he’d go to a Buddhist temple on Friday nights or to the synagogue in Ogden with a friend who was Jewish. “We’d go to the temple that day . . . and then stay up all night and get stoned,” Brad recalls.
A Temporary Fit
In 11th grade, Brad decided to go on a “journey.” He attended every religious denomination he could. “Nothing really floated my boat,” Brad said.
Nothing, that is, until he had a conversation with a youth minister at a non-denominational church. Somehow they got talking about Latter-day Saints, and the minister told Brad that he’d gone to a Bible college that taught courses on how to de-convert members of the Church.
The hurt that Brad had fostered for so long had gradually turned to anger, and he was all ears. The minister gave him several anti-Latter-day Saint books, taught him that the Book of Mormon was a Bible rip-off by showing him the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi, and fed his hunger for information against the Church. Brad had found his place. He began going to the non-denominational church consistently and was baptized in their font.
Brad went to war trying to de-convert his Latter-day Saint peers at school. He went particularly after bishops' daughters—dating them and fueling their desires for rebellion. “People in high school really started to dislike me in that respect,” Brad said. “I hate to admit it, but I was able to get a few people to leave.”
Brad (right) and his close friend Jesse Sorenson in the summer of 2000.
Brad’s life post-high school was a blur of drugs, alcohol, women, and arguing with anyone who was a Latter-day Saint. The drugs began to win out over religion, however, and Brad found himself “shying a little bit more away from the anti-Latter-day Saint stuff” as he sought something to fill the emptiness in his life.
One morning Brad woke up to find his mom upstairs in the hallway, naked and stomping on a first aid kit. “The house was completely trashed. Windows were broken, light fixtures were torn off the walls. She had half of the living room outside in the front yard.”
Brad thought she might be having a stroke, so he called 911. It turns out, however, that she’d been drinking more than eating on top of taking a steroid-based antibiotic. She was malnourished, had an infection, and her brain chemistry was off. She had only 30 percent of her liver capacity left, and doctors gave her three to five years to live, tops.
With this news, Brad’s own drinking and smoking intensified. “There were a lot of nights where I would drink and stare at my gun. . . . I didn’t really see myself living past 30,” Brad said.
Brad was about 25 when a good friend came home from Iraq, and they decided to go to a strip club to celebrate. They drank and smoked a lot beforehand to avoid the high prices at the bar. Brad was “completely obliterated” before they got there, but he only continued to consume at the club.
Brad arrived home blacking out, throwing up, and sure that he was going to die. “There are just instances in your life . . . where you know this could be it. You messed up. You are going to be toast.”
That night, hunched over between vomiting sessions with a severe case of alcohol poisoning, Brad suddenly felt “dead sober.” He hadn’t been sober like this in years.
“There was somebody sitting next to me in bed. I don’t remember what they looked like or anything; I just remember white. And I remember being told specifically, ‘Brad, God knows you and He loves you.’”
At this point in Brad’s life, he’d decided that if there was a God, “He probably hates my guts,” so this proclamation struck him hard.
“This person told me that God loved me and that I can have a better life, and I have a choice right now to either continue the path that I was on, which would lead to my complete destruction and death, or I could choose another path which would unfold itself. And that’s all I was told,” Brad said.
Immediately afterward, Brad was “dead drunk again, and vomiting.”
An Unfolding Path
After a two-week hangover, Brad went back to work. He wasn’t sure what to think of the manifestation he’d had, but he figured it might have been a hallucination from the alcohol and the drugs. It had seemed far too real, however, and something in his gut told him it had really happened. He told the story to a friend at work, not thinking much of it.
His friend, however, took him seriously and proceeded to describe what angels were like in her religion.
“So they don’t have wings?” Brad asked.
“No, we don’t believe in that,” she said.
“Something in my mind clicked or popped or something,” Brad recalled. “Right then my heart was like, 'Dude, this is the truth. This is it.'”
They began discussing more about their beliefs, and Brad was horrified to discover that many of the opinions he’d developed about God and theology lined up with what his Latter-day Saint co-worker was telling him.
Not long afterward, one of Brad's closest friends invited him to a stake conference at the Ogden Tabernacle. Brad was eager to go in order to prove to himself his long-held negative stereotype of Latter-day Saints and to shake the new feelings creeping over him.
Brad intentionally dressed the “antithesis of what you would think the generic Latter-day Saint person is.” He left in his gauges and septum ring and didn’t shave. He wore a black button up shirt with a Led Zeppelin tie and black baggy jeans.
“This is going to be great,” Brad thought. “People are going to hate my guts.”
Brad, about 2006, in a similar outfit to the one he wore when he intentionally dressed the "antitheses" of a stereotypical Latter-day Saint.
Brad walked in, however, and was greeted with handshakes and warm smiles. He says he thought, “Stop trying to be nice, people! Stop destroying my stereotype of you guys!”
Then, to make matters worse, Brad sat down and looked up at the stand. Sitting there in a white shirt and tie and a long ponytail was one of his old drug-dealers. The man was speaking that day—sharing his story of leaving and returning to the church he’d grown up in.
“He’s bearing his testimony and I can’t help but feel it driving in here,” Brad said, pointing to his heart. “And I [was] just trying to fight it tooth and nail. I really [was], and I [was] failing.”
After the conference, the friend who had invited him approached him with two elders and said, “Your first lesson is tomorrow.”
“No, no, no,” Brad said. “I did not agree to this. I told you I was not ready for discussions or anything else.”
“I’ll feed you dinner,” his friend said. That’s all it took.
“The Lord . . . gave me the two best elders I could possibly have,” Brad said. He told the elders up front, “Before you guys rattle anything off about the Church to me, I’m going to tell you straight up, I’m going to know if you’re lying to me if you don’t know the answer to my questions . . . don’t even try it. If you don’t know, tell me you don’t know. If you know it, tell it.”
Throughout several months of lessons, Brad would call the elders with questions when he got off the swing shift at work at one or two in the morning. The elders always answered his calls and often stayed up talking with him until their alarm went off at 6:30 am.
“They would help me think things through on a logical basis to help me kind of clear out those spiritual cobwebs that had been building up for a long time,” Brad said.
It was a long road. Brad had a lot of questions and doubts, and for a long time, he didn’t realize that drinking and smoking wouldn’t be compatible with joining the Church. He just never realized there was anything wrong with it. Through the process of time, however, he was able to give it up.
His co-workers rallied around him and did his work while he studied the gospel during his shift. “My boss was cool with it because although she’s inactive, she’s still a member and still has a love for the Church,” Brad said.
Taking the Plunge
Brad decided to be baptized, but he had too good of a relationship with his elders to pass up an opportunity for a prank. The night before his baptism date, Brad called up the elders in the wee hours of the morning, as he often did.
“I don’t believe in any of it. It’s total garbage. Sorry guys. You guys might as well go play in the baptismal font tomorrow,” Brad said.
His words were met with silence. Brad let it sink in for a few minutes before he caved. “I’m just messing with you guys. Go to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He’d never heard missionaries so mad before, but the next morning, on June 28, 2008, he was baptized.
Brad on his baptism day with his parents Jackie and Greg Parr. Dustin Cooper, the friend who first invited Brad to stake conference and performed the baptism, stands behind.
“But it was good, you know,” Brad said, speaking of his elders. “I’m still good friends with both of them . . . and the way that they loved me and put up with me was a testament of how much they loved me and loved God and were willing to serve him.”
Brad and his missionaries, Elder David Rummler (left) and Elder Cris Stiles (right), at a church meeting after Brad's baptism in 2008. Brad is wearing the tie he wore to his first stake conference.
Getting baptized didn’t make life easier, though. Brad was still living with his parents, and they “freaked out” about their son’s transformation. “They were afraid they were going to lose me . . . they thought I was going to become some judgmental jerk . . . and hate their guts and condemn them,” Brad said.
His parents did attend his baptism, but as a new member, Brad was constantly berated by his parents, especially when they were drunk. Their opposition, however, only made Brad more resolute in his new faith. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s that inner rebellious kid in me or something,” he said.
His friends weren’t big fans of his new identity as a Latter-day Saint, either. They too were afraid of losing a friend, and continuously tried to pull Brad back into old habits. At one point Brad had to sit down and have a frank conversation with one of his best friends. “I’m not going to get stoned with you. I’m not going to drink. I’m going to still love you and still be friends with you. . . . You can do it around me; it’s fine. It's not going to bug me, but don’t offer it to me or else you’re never going to see me again.”
His ward was supportive as Brad made the transition, especially his bishop. When Brad went to get his first limited-use temple recommend and the bishop asked the question about dealings with family, Brad was honest. “Bishop, I can’t answer that right,” he said. “You know my family situation and you know what I have to deal with, and you know I get upset at times.”
Brad shares the words from his bishop: “That’s okay. Because you’re not meant to be perfect in order to get into the temple, and your situation is different from that of a typical Latter-day Saint family. So here’s your recommend. Go use it and get the strength you need to love your parents more.”
Brad said that answer had a profound effect on him. Later, Brad's mom would tell Brad's wife that deep down, she was proud of her son.
Nine Years Later
Today, Brad still thinks he ties a pretty sloppy tie, but he's still strong in the Church. He’s also married and has three little girls.
“All girls. I am so freaked out about that, because I know how I was at the teenage phase, and if they ever bring home anybody that was like me at my age, they’re dead,” Brad said.
Brad, his wife, and their two oldest daughters.
Photo credit: Jackie Ermini Mini Moments Photography & Production
Brad's youngest, born recently.
Brad is working towards a Bachelor’s degree from BYU Idaho’s online Pathways program. His goal is to become a seminary teacher, which would, in a roundabout way, fulfill his teenage dream to become a minister.
Brad loves studying about Church history and doctrine, as well as other religions, and he believes that this love, combined with his prior experience as an anti-Latter-day Saint, would be a valuable asset in helping teach the next generation of students. He says that it's not a matter of if students come across anti-Latter-day Saint literature, but when. "I want to answer them honestly, and not push it under the rug or be defensive," Brad said. “I think sometimes when people go inactive or start questioning, we get defensive and scared when we need to pull back and continue acting normal.”
Brad also said that he's drawn to the Church education system because "I feel like I owe it to God to make up for the people I pushed away from Him."