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Posted 22 Oct 2001   For week ended October 12, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 10Oct01

By Kent Larsen

Fundamentalists Protest, ex-Mormons Convene During LDS Conference

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- While leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for more tolerance of others during the Church's semi-annual General Conference, right-wing and fundamentalist groups outside protested the Church's policies on homosexuality and abortion, calling them too lenient. And, just a few blocks away, a group of former Mormons held their own conference, exploring how to live with LDS Church members.

The most vocal protestors were from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. They claimed that the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were retribution from God for the U.S. accepting homosexuality "God hates America" said the group's pastor, Fred Phelps. "This country's wholly given over to the homosexual agenda. The group claims that the LDS Church is too lenient on homosexuals, condemning the practice with words, not actions. "They say they are opposed, that homosexuality is a sin, but they don't act like it's a sin. We know what's going on."

The group's claims stand in stark contrast to LDS political efforts in recent years, including substantial donations and grass-roots efforts to fight same-gender marriage and support of the Boy Scouts of America's policies, challenged in a recent U.S. Supreme Court case. These actions have drawn severe criticism from gay-rights groups and led a recent Newsweek article to characterize the Church's position on homosexuality as one of "no tolerance."

The LDS Church took issue with both Newsweek's characterization and with the claims of the Westboro Baptist Church protestors, "God loves all of his children," said Harold Brown, managing director of the LDS welfare system, "I think we have a consistent doctrine, one of love and concern for people."

The Westboro Baptist Church protest drew a counter-protest from a group of LDS Church members, including Jane Szucs, who said her group turned out to provide balance to the issue, "We're here because of the intolerance, not the general assembly," she said. "We have no desire to disrupt that." Misty River, another in the counter-protest group added, "As long as there's hate, we want to be here with peace."

The mix of protests also included a group of "independent fundamentalists," former LDS Church members, who claimed that the LDS Church's position on abortion was too tolerant, "It's better for a woman to die than to commit a murder," said Mike Bingham, one of the group. He wants the LDS Church to impose a strict moratorium on abortions. Church policy allows abortions only in cases of rape, incest, endangerment to the mother, and if the fetus is not viable.

Public reaction to the groups was generally confused, "They have signs that say they're protesting abortion or gays, as if we accept abortion," said John Atkin, who was baffled by the protests, "I'm just confused." A construction worker who saw the Westboro Baptist Church group protesting Friday night near the University of Utah expressed disbelief at the protest, "This is unbelievable. There's so much hate in the world, and they're outdoing this?"

Meanwhile, inside the Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed tolerance, calling on church members to be the most loving, kindest, most tolerant and respectful of others, regardless of religion, nationality, race and culture. He said there is no room in the church for exclusivity and asked members to purge from their vocabularies terms like "non-member" and "non-Mormon," instead identifying people by what they are, not what they are not.

That same issue had been addressed earlier in the day at a conference by ex-Mormons, which was covered in national newspapers through an Associated Press article. The conference, titled "Living in the Fold, but not of the Fold," tried to help about 80 ex-Mormon attendees adapt to living among LDS Church members after leaving that church. Speakers at that conference addressed the way that LDS Church members often treat those that have left the church, "When people think ex-Mormon, they think anti-Mormon. That's not it at all," said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the conference.

Prominent former LDS Church member Maxine Hanks, who attended the conference for the first time, tried to portray the bind that former church members find themselves. citing the "subtle but scathing" snubs she has received from practicing Mormons, she also said it is difficult to leave completely, "You never really leave Mormonism. It's a whole culture. You still have family, friends and colleagues who are Mormon. If you live in Utah, you're still working in Mormon culture. It's not like leaving another church. It's an entire world view."

Hanks also expressed hope that the LDS Church and church members would reach out to former church members, "We're seeing the church sincerely doing more interfaith work, and it [respecting all segments of Mormon society including feminists and liberals] is only a small step after that," she said.

The conference for former members heard from Hanks, as well as Steve Benson, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic and grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, Sandra Tanner of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, and Trent Harris, film maker and author.


3 groups rally at LDS center
Deseret News 7Oct01 N1
By Kersten Swinyard: Deseret News staff writer

Baptist rally targets gays, LDS Church
Deseret News 6Oct01 N1
By Rob Rogers: Deseret News staff writer

Mormons gather for semi-annual conference, ex-Mormons share experiences
Sacramento CA Bee (AP) 6Oct01 N1
By C.G. Wallace: Associated Press Writer

Forum Urges Former Mormons To Overcome Sense of Isolation
Salt Lake Tribune 7Oct01 N5
By Steven Oberbeck: Salt Lake Tribune


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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information