Don’t exhale just yet. While a potential compromise looms in downtown Salt Lake City, the artillery fire has not ceased. The smoke from shots recently fired has not settled quite yet. Interested observers will simply have to wait and see how this latest offer will play out.
However, in the midst of the heated battle possibly bound for the Supreme Court, over the Salt Lake City Main Street Plaza, heated opinions continue to fly. Wedges are deepening. Heels are digging in. Fingers are-a-pointing. When one fights through all the legal maneuvering and spin-doctoring of our First Amendment rights, which are hanging in the balance (or so I’m told), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is simply attempting to prevent it’s detractors from performing their activities on Church-owned property.
“Respect” seems to be the core of the LDS position. Many faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ have done their part to publicize their opinions to reporters, journalists and in letters to Editors about this “respect.” Some have posed the hypothetical “what if the shoe were on the other foot,” like Brenda Lyon,
I wonder how the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Unitarian Church and their other clients would feel if LDS Church members went to the public easements in front of their buildings during their special events and were offensive to their patrons. (Salt Lake Tribune, Forum, October 31, 2002)
This seems to be a fair question. Certainly, we don’t hear about the Mormon faithful with bullhorns and signs outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, or at the steps of Prestonwood Baptist Church, home of one of the largest Baptist Churches in the nation, located in Dallas, Texas, and home to the SBC President, Pastor Jack Graham.
LDS Missionary Style
This just doesn’t seem to be the Mormon “style.” Instead, The Church of Jesus Christ sends its strapping young men and women out door to door, politely attempting to share their message with the utmost respect for others’ religious views. Smiles on faces; well groomed; dressed conservatively. Humble pie.
To my surprise and undoubtedly to the surprise of many, a former LDS missionary, Tom Clark, wrote the Salt Lake Tribune, in response to the question posed by Lyon. Turning LDS visions of its missionaries upside down, Clark indicated that the very approach Latter-day Saints deplore, those evidenced at Temple Square by its critics, is indeed practiced by LDS missionaries, even on a widespread basis.
When a member of the LDS Church implies that Mormons don’t do what the zealots at Main Street plaza are doing, I have to question how familiar they are with what goes on in mission fields around the world.
As an LDS missionary in Italy, I stood in front of Catholic cathedrals with aggressive, determined companions who thought nothing of chasing a person down the street trying to get them to stop and talk, when it was abundantly clear the person had no desire or willingness to do so. I had companions who on occasion followed people into churches because they had not been taught to respect religious boundaries. (Salt Lake Tribune, November 3, 2002)
Surely this isn’t true? Could this be a practice of our legion of modern-day Stripling Warriors? According to Clark, mission leadership encourages this kind of behavior.
Pamphlets, Books of Mormon, fliers, whatever. We were constantly pushing things into people’s hands with no regard for their boundaries or desires. Or for that matter, where we were doing it. The directives given to us in zone meetings by our leaders were tantamount to being told to disregard the cultural norms and boundaries in Italy and simply get the people baptized. (Ibid.)
Clark continued about how the Missionaries were advised to “scout for converts around St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican,” and claims to have actually stood in front of Cathedrals, telling the church-goers “that their church was a whore.”
Is this really happening among the ranks of the valiant army of 60,000 LDS Christian soldiers? Without questioning Clark’s motives or purpose for making such a public declaration (one must wonder, if he disagrees with such tactics, what action he has taken to change the mission fields’ methods), apparently, at least in Italy, this was the modus operandi during his tour.
Sherri Harris, a Catholic, had the chance to recently visit Rome and noticed the activities of LDS missionaries.
When we toured the Vatican and, more importantly, the Sistine Chapel, guess who was standing just outside of the inner-sanctum door leading directly to the chapel? Yep, you got it right, the LDS missionaries passing out LDS literature, trying to convert everyone passing by…I find it hard to believe that the LDS Church authorities can carry on so about other religions passing out their religious literature when they proselytize inside a private building that is adjacent to the pope’s home. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 1, 2002)
While I have no reason to question the authenticity of Harris’ claim of what she thought she witnessed from the LDS missionaries in Italy, I must question the authorization of such activities. First of all, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these reports cause me to wonder, does this kind of activity really go on? And if so, is it authorized and taught from the leadership?
Hypocrisy Among LDS Faith?
As one who has served in missionary service for the last 5-1/2 years at the ward and stake level, working with the full-time missionaries several times per week, I must admit the serious doubt that entered my mind as I read these statements from Harris and Clark. If this is indeed authorized by the leadership of the Church, then Harris’ charge of hypocrisy is valid. However, with the knowledge I have of how missions operate and how Mission Presidents are taught to lead the young missionary battalions, I simply cannot believe that this kind of behavior is at the instruction of mission or Church leadership.
The kind of behavior exhibited at Temple Square and in Main Street Plaza by critics of The Church of Jesus Christ and the behavior described by Harris and Clark by LDS missionaries at the Vatican runs in direct conflict with the core teachings of the gospel as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ. It runs contrary to the policies established by the leadership of the Church, from the very beginning (see 11th and 12th Articles of Faith).
I could only hope, if this behavior was indeed occurring, that it must be due to some over-exuberant missionaries defying the directives of their leaders to respect the religion, practices, laws, and cultures of others in their efforts to share the gospel with them.
With this hope, I went searching for real answers about the scenarios described above. Here is what I found, with the help of other FAIR members, better connected than I.
Massimo Franceschini, an Italian convert to the Church of Jesus Christ, had many dealings and experiences with missionaries serving in Italy, including being taught and baptized by them. Prior to and since his baptism, Francheschini has never witnessed this type of activity by LDS missionaries.
I never saw such a thing in Italy. Years ago, missionaries sometimes put a table on the streets with booklets on it but no one ever chased people or shouted at them. They would never be allowed to do that, even if they wanted to. Missionaries are not allowed in the Vatican (there is no freedom of religion or speech there) to do missionary work. It is illegal. If they were to preach in there, they would be imprisoned by the Vatican police, so to chase and scream to people would be pretty stupid to do.
The Vatican laws, in addition to Italian laws (not one in the same) are very clear and strict when it comes to issues such as this. The very existence of LDS missionaries in Italy is a testimony to the behavior exhibited and methods used by them. Francheschini continued,
When the missionaries want to do a “Mostra stradale” which means “to show something on the street”, they need to have the permit from the police, which takes two or three days to obtain. I know this because usually the missionaries came to me to help them obtain the permits. When you obtain the permit, you have some strict rules to obey. Basically, the missionaries can set up a table, can have posters, can talk to the people, but only if they are willing to do so, don’t disturb the peace, don’t offend anyone, don’t offend, etc.
The violation of these rules would bring about imprisonment and denial of further permits to that religious body. Once again, if this kind of outlandish behavior was indeed demonstrated by LDS missionaries at the Vatican, it would have been isolated and nipped in the religious and cultural bud.
While obtaining the first-hand perspective of an Italian convert was helpful, it really didn’t do much to help me understand how the leaders were directing the troops in Italy and around the Vatican specifically. Where might we learn about that? From the commander, himself, who’s assessment of the Vatican scene relative to LDS missionaries, below, proves to be perfectly consistent with Francheschini.
Orders From Leadership
C. Gerald Parker served as a mission president in Rome, Italy, for the Church of Jesus Christ for three years in the early 1990s. Parker, speaking not as an official representative of the Church of Jesus Christ, but as a lay person (he no longer serves in that capacity-it is a three year calling), has some insightful perspectives to share regarding the directions LDS missionaries received on this subject. In direct response to Harris’ letter published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Parker spoke of instructions to the missionaries.
I was responsible for the conduct of our missionaries who may have visited the Vatican during that period…During my time in Rome, missionaries were encouraged on their preparation day to visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, as any other visitor, to enjoy that rich cultural and spiritual experience. They were counseled to wear their regular missionary clothes and name tags (suits for elders and appropriate dresses for young women). They were instructed, however, not to proselyte there. Any such proselyting would have been contrary to my counsel as their leader and, in my opinion, would have been in opposition to LDS Church policy. Had such proselyting been done notwithstanding, I expect that the offending missionaries would have been immediately removed by the Swiss Guard or the Vatican Police — and rightly so.
Parker is careful not to accuse Harris of being dishonest. That is not his purpose, nor is it his opinion. But, supposes Parker, “perhaps she thought she saw something,” like LDS members talking to the missionaries outside the Sistine Chapel, “that appeared to be something it wasn’t,” like missionaries proselytizing at the Sistine Chapel.
The experiences of Parker, while a mission president in Rome, as to the relationship of Catholic leaders with LDS leaders also seem to illustrate the improbability of such behavior by LDS missionaries. He, along with another LDS leader, visited on more than one occasion with Catholic leaders at the Vatican, including Cardinal Edward Cassidy. The rapport at this level has remained and is not indicative of a strained relationship, which would surely be the result of disrespectful behaviors by LDS missionaries at the Vatican.
Parker describes an evening in December 1993 when he and several missionaries were singing Christmas carols in the streets. They wandered into the Vatican as they continued to sing. They were then “approached by two Catholic Nuns who suggested we move closer to the window of the Holy Father, ‘as he is in the Vatican and may hear your singing and come out and give you a special blessing.'” As they did so, they were rebuffed by Vatican Police and told they were not allowed to do so unless they had a permit. This makes me wonder, if such prompt rejection by the Vatican police was the reaction to singing Christmas carols, what would the reaction have been to the behavior described by Harris and Clark?
The next day Parker sent a couple of missionaries on an errand to obtain such a permit.
Upon their return, they excitedly announced that they had not only a permit for us to sing in St. Peter’s Square, but also an invitation for our missionaries to sing for Catholic Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica the Sunday evening before Christmas. I expressed doubt that this would happen, inasmuch as St. Peter’s is considered by many to be the “Holy of Holies” of the Catholic Church. For LDS missionaries to sing for Mass there would be unprecedented.
I am still amazed at what happened, however. On Sunday evening, Dec. 19, 1993, some 50 young LDS missionaries sang, in the Italian language, for Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, not only for the numerous worshipers in the Basilica, but also over worldwide Vatican radio. Needless to say, those missionaries will never forget the night they sang for Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. One of my prized possessions is a photograph of that experience.
Any uncertainty as to the methods of the Roman LDS missionaries should be eliminated with this story. I cannot imagine the Vatican allowing a group of disrespectful detractors come and sing in one of their most revered chapels. This is not an event that comes as a consequence of insolent schemes described by Harris and Clark.
Parker concluded his thoughts with a statement directed specifically at Harris’ remarks, with no animosity for her,
She may well have seen LDS missionaries in the Sistine Chapel, but had they been proselyting there, they would have been invited by Vatican Security, as we were in St. Peter’s Square, to immediately cease and leave. The Catholic Church would have every right and responsibility to do this to protect the peace and sanctity of its hallowed property. No one would question the right to remove protestors, demonstrators or others who would disturb that sanctity.
Parker, in our conversations, also described the security at St. Peter’s Square and specifically at the Sistine Chapel as tight as any he’s seen. Vatican Police Officers are at every door of the Sistine Chapel, controlling those entering and exiting. Certain doors are for entering. Others are only for exiting. No exceptions. With this kind of presence, one must question how LDS missionaries would be able to set up camp outside the doors of the Sistine Chapel to proselytize those entering.
By now, it should be clear that the LDS missionaries are not instructed to preach, proselytize, teach, exhort, scream, or yell whether they be at the Vatican, Rome, Italy or anywhere else.
One issue hasn’t been addressed, however, in this article. What about the specific time period when Tom Clark was a missionary in Rome? Is it possible that some rogue mission president somehow found his way to Rome ordering the troops to use guerilla tactics? Well, I guess anything is possible. But, it didn’t happen in this case.
Leopoldo Larcher was the mission president during Clark’s tour of duty as an LDS missionary in Rome. Larcher, who resides in Italy, doesn’t understand why Clark would make such comments, stating that the letter written by Clark and published in the newspaper “doesn’t deserve much comment, because there is nothing to justify.” Larcher additionally commented,
Clearly I am sorry for what Thomas Clark is writing now, but he has his own free agency. I can only declare firmly that such instructions were never given to the missionaries. And actually, I gave the missionaries direct instructions to the contrary. In fact, during my own conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I witnessed great respect toward my culture and tradition. I was impressed by it. Why should I have taught a conflicting approach to my own people? I always asked to the missionaries to be polite and respectful to my people and my culture.
Certainly questions abound as to why someone like Clark would have such a desire to say such things, especially considering the manner and tone in which he spoke. It is obvious that this is not the method employed by LDS missionaries. However, Larcher holds no ill will toward Clark.
I remember very well Elder Thomas Clark. He was a good missionary…I remember particularly his effort in organizing a concert in an old Catholic church, where no more sacred rituals were performed anymore. The choir was composed by members and missionaries of Rome. The concert was a success. I believe that many members and even the visitors still remember it.
The battle for the Main Street Plaza will continue. A possible solution is being negotiated and hopefully, an agreement will be reached. Regardless of the outcome, many will undoubtedly be disappointed. Some people will use this as an opportunity to air their opinions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is America; Harris and Clark have a right to voice their opinions.
I also have the right to set the record straight. To those who have a problem with the LDS faith, or any other faith for that matter, I say to them: Disagree with us if you will, but, let’s be true to ourselves, each and every one of us. There is plenty to talk about, but there is no reason to paint a picture that doesn’t exist. The Church of Jesus Christ is a lot of things, but disrespectful and impudent it is not. It is not taught nor is it accepted as a Christ-like way to approach other religions.
Our soldiers aren’t perfect, nor are the commanders. But, “respect” they will hold dear and demonstrate toward other religions and cultures. And it is “respect” that we seek from others toward our faith. A faith we hold most sacred and dear. Respect.