When people find out that Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is Mormon they are surprised for more than one reason.

Parker did not Serve a Mormon Mission

First of all, Parker didn’t serve a mission. Male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) are expected to spend two years away from home constantly devoted to finding and teaching people about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, church President, Thomas S. Monson, stated, “Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission.”

However, preparing for a mission and serving one are two different things. While Parker did not serve a mission, he certainly followed President Monson’s counsel to prepare for one. During his high school years, he woke up at 5:30 am to attend religious classes before school, attended three hours of church meetings each Sunday, and regularly visited people to share spiritual messages, all of which would prepare him to serve as a missionary.

His bishop, Eddie Blout, noted that Parker did not take the decision to forgo a formal LDS mission in lieu of pursuing basketball lightly, saying that Parker considered both options through scripture study and prayer. Blout told The New York  Times that although Parker chose not to go door-to-door teaching the gospel, playing professional basketball offers unique opportunities to share his beliefs in a way that formal missionary service would not. Blout stated,

“[Parker] sees himself having an opportunity to be an example for young men in the Church and society. I think he can touch a lot of lives just by being a great person and being in the spotlight.”

This has certainly proven to be true. Parker shares the gospel through his example of high standards, humility, and charity but he also makes time to visit congregations of young people while he’s traveling for games. Recently, while speaking to a group of Latter-day Saint youth in Vancouver, Washington, Parker said,

“You have to keep praying to God, keep reading the scriptures. You have to be nice to people every day. I attribute all my success to God.”

So although the fact that he’s Mormon may come as a shock to people who would expect him to wear a tie and knock on doors, Parker’s choice not to serve a mission is as Mormon as it gets.

Parker posts photo with Mormon missionaries on Instagram.

Parker is Black

According to Parker, the biggest reason people are surprised that he’s a Mormon is his race. When Katie Couric asked Parker if people thought it was weird that he was Mormon, Parker responded:

“Once [people] think of Mormonism, they look at a white guy; but it’s worldwide.”

Their surprise isn’t unfounded. Out of over six million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States, only a mere three percent are black. This may be a result of past discrimination against people of color in both the United States and the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not try to cover-up these past discriminatory policies but openly apologizes for and admits their history.

In spite of this past, people of all colors find truth in the Mormon faith. According to Ahmad Corbitt, a writer, African American, and member of the LDS Church,

“We see that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is uniquely able and divinely destined to become the most unifying global organization in the history of the world. Clearly, the Savior’s Church and the gospel it administers transcend race, ethnicity, and culture.”

At any rate, Parker certainly believes that he can’t segregate his professional life from his faith. As he told Sports Illustrated:

“I realize why I’m in the position I’m in right now,” says Jabari. “It’s not because of me. It’s because of God.”

Parker is a Basketball Star

Parker’s natural athletic ability and hard work have made him an immediate winner. In fifth grade, Jabari had five Division I scholarships. As a high school student he led his team to win four straight high school championships and was named The National High School Player of the Year. Parker played for Duke University winning many accolades. He’s been on the cover of Sport’s Illustrated more than once, was the second pick in the NBA 2014 draft, and now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. However, Parker doesn’t dwell on any of that:

“My mom told me, people are not going to remember you necessarily for your talent and your skills. Life moves on. What’s more important is the person that you are, and that’s what sticks into people’s minds.”

At any rate, it seems as though Parker is on his way to sticking in people’s minds for two things: his basketball talent and the kind of person that he is, and part of who he is, is Mormon.

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