March-April, 1984 Number 2
Model: Arizona Region Don Eagle, director
Few intergroup conflicts are more difficult to resolve, or, sometimes, even to
address, than those caused by religious proselytization. Fundamental civil and re-
ligious rights are involved, along with sensitive historical and theological
perceptions. Proselytization, of course, occurs in various forms and intensities,
and of the varieties none is more challenging to workable pluralism than that in
which aggressive missionary zeal targets a particular “other,” persistently criticizes
the targeted group’s beliefs and practices and publicly questions its religious
Such religious “anti-ism” has significantly declined in the United States across
recent decades. But it still happens. When it does, NCCJ is called upon to use its
best skills in promoting interreligious respect that is conscious of genuine religious
For more than a year–March, 1983 through March, 1984–the Arizona Region worked
to understand, analyze and creatively respond to a local conflict about proselytization
with nationwide implications. The controversy was sparked by Concerned Christians, Inc.
of Mesa, a group whose published purpose includes the “exposing” of the “false” teachers
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Similar groups function
in other parts of the country.
The Arizona experience offers an adaptable model of a responsible NCCJ approach
to special-target missionary activity. The process was deliberate and open and re-
sulted in an advisory report addressed to the religious leadership of the state. The
best introduction to the situation and to the response is the report itself, printed
here in full. Following the document, the steps in the process are delineated, illus-
trated and implications are drawn.
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The Document Page 2
AN ADVISORY REPORT
RELIGIOUS EXECUTIVES OF ARIZONA
For more than three years, an organization known as “Concerned Christians,
Inc.” of Mesa, Arizona has conducted programs In the Valley area (and Into
neighboring states) which have two purposes:
1. “exposing and bringing to full knowledge the real doctrines of
false prophets and teachers of the Mormon Church.”
2. “service to the Christian community by keeping them Informed,
equipping them…that they may be effective witnesses.”
(Quotations from Information brochure published by Concerned
Much of the activity of Concerned Christians, Inc. has been In the form of
presentations in churches often accompanied by the showing of a 59 minute, color
film titled, The Godmakers. The group has also sponsored meetings In rented
public halls for lectures and showing of the film.
Public awareness of a developing controversy became wide-spread following
the publication of a feature article (about a March 8, 1983 showing of the film)
which appeared in the Mesa Tribune. Shortly thereafter, a delegation of sixteen
Mesa citizens asked the Arizona Region of the National Conference of Christians
and Jews to investigate and to assist in any way possible. An ad hoc study
committee was appointed, composed of representatives of several faiths (includ-
ing both laity and clergy). Since mid-summer 1983, it. has met numerous times,
viewed the film In question, Interviewed Concerned Christians leaders on three
occasions, listened to Dr. Truman Madsen, holder of the Richard L. Evans Chair
for Christian Understanding at Brigham Young University, and ultimately pre-
sented Its information to the full Arizona SCCJ Board for a decision at the
March 2, 1984 board meeting.
NCCJ REAFFIRMS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The National Conference of Christians and Jews reaffirms its allegiance to
the First Amendment of the Constitution and our American tradition of religious
freedom in both faith and practice. At the same time, we strongly urge respon-
sible use of that freedom. It must be exercised with self-restraint, fairness,
good judgement and in a spirit of tolerance for the convictions of others.
The NCCJ does not seek — nor has It ever sought — to censor, restrict
or limit the activities of any religious group. Neither do we take a judge-
mental position with regard to the theology or doctrines of any religious body.
We do, however, recognize that in a complex, religiously pluralistic society
such as we live In today, a great variety of sincerely held beliefs guide the
individual and collective consciences of the American people. Each Is deserv-
ing of our mutual respect and forbearance.
Thus, we are concerned lest continuing religious controversy unfavorably
affect the peace, harmony and tranquillity of our Valley communities. Prolonged
divisiveness based on religious differences can be detrimental to the business,
social, political, educational and even the personal lives of the citizenry.
We would not like that to happen to us.
The NCCJ accepts without reservation the legal right of any religious
group to engage in proselytizing activities. We have little quarrel with the
kind of low-key, highly personalized proselytizing programs engaged In dally
by numerous religious groups. In fact, we note that wherever such activities
are prohibited by governments, tyranny results and a free society is lost. We
would not wish to live In a nation which imposes sanctions on religious activity
of any kind.
We do question, however, those types of proselytizing activities which
utilize fraud or deception, e.g., numerous Instances have been reported to us
of persons posing as Jews, in order to gain entree in order to seek the conver-
sion of Jews to Christianity. We deplore such tactics.
Neither do we believe that it serves the best interest of community good
will for any group to attack the central faith, beliefs, doctrines, or validity
of any other religious group. Religious belief is of vital importance to many
Americans. It must be recognized that very deep feelings and emotions are
stirred when the most important concepts, traditions, personalities and institu-
tions of any religious group are alleged to be based on falsehood. Such frontal
assaults promote community divisions and cause persons to be deeply hurt.
We recognize as a positive value the right of any religious group to assert
their belief in the absolute truth of their own religious beliefs and practices.
However, this basic right also suggests the necessity for tolerance toward others
who may hold similar views about their own particular beliefs and customs.
THE GODMAKERS FILM
Because showing of The Godmakers is an Integral part of the program of the
Concerned Christians group, we offer these opinions based on our viewing of the
film, research and reflection.
The film does not – In our opinion – fairly portray the Mormon Church,
Mormon history, or Mormon belief. It makes extensive use of “half-truth,”
faulty generalizations, erroneous Interpretations, and sensationalism. It is
not reflective of the genuine spirit of the Mormon faith.
We find particularly offensive the emphasis In the film that Mormonism
Is some sort of subversive plot – a danger to the community, a threat to the
Institution of marriage, and Is destructive to the mental health of teenagers.
All of our experience with our Mormon neighbors provides eloquent refutation
of these charges.
We are of the opinion that The Godmakers relies heavily on appeals to fear,
prejudice and other less worthy human emotions. We believe that continued use
of this film poses genuine danger to the climate of good will and harmony which
currently exists between Valley neighbors of differing faiths. It appears to us
to be a basically unfair and untruthful presentation of what Mormons really be-
lieve and practice.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews has no power to coerce
Concerned Christians or any other group into any course of action, nor do we
seek it. All that we can do is to appeal to the Concerned Christian group to
reevaluate their goals, methods, priorities and activities. We would like to
persuade them to voluntarily monitor their own programs seeking to minimize any
which threaten our climate of interreligious harmony and good will. We ask them
as responsible community citizens to eliminate those which have or may prove to
By and large. Valley residents do not share the views of our Mormon neigh-
bors espoused by The Godmakers. We believe that most fair-minded people who
would happen to view this film would be appalled by It, because their attitudes
have been previously formed through many day-by-day experiences with Mormons
which demonstrates that they are good friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.
There are, unfortunately, some who lack adequate knowledge about the Mormon faith,
who may unwarily be misled by this film. We recommend to all persons that
they utilize every opportunity for face-to-face dialogue with their neighbors in
an atmosphere of mutual respect. This will help to provide authentic, first-
hand Information about the faith of our fellow citizens. Dialogue will offer a
palliative for controversy and a positive basis for continuing understanding,
good will and friendship.
May all our people enjoy fully their constitutional right to practice their
faith, guided by conscience, free from stress or harassment from others.
The Arizona Regional Board of the
National Conference of Christians and Jews
1. Getting involved. While Concerned Christians of Mesa was organized In the
early 1980s, and caused alarm within the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints, public controversy did not flare until after a showing of The God-
makers in Mesa’s Centennial Hall in March, 1983, and coverage of the event by
the Mesa Tribune. An audience of some 1,500 saw the film. Don Eagle immediately
wrote to the Tribune. He set forth the need for citizens to respect both reli-
gious freedom and religious differences.
Religious sentiments began to polarize. Mormons went on the defensive, although
the Mormon Church itself did not become embroiled in the conflict. In the larger
religious community, reactions were strongly mixed. The group of Mesa citizens
approaching NCCJ for assistance (see document, paragraph 3) included Eddie Basha,
a Catholic grocer and immediate past NCCJ chairman, who had called the matter to
Mr. Eagle’s attention.
2. Considering options. Don Eagle visited Mesa, meeting with Mr. Basha and other
civic leaders. During the Summer, 1983, Don gathered information on Concerned
Christians and anti-Mormon sentiment In general. He notified the national Office
that a conflict was brewing and discussed options for NCCJ response. Don also
took the responsibility for a first draft of strategic options, including pros
and cons in terms of results. Those options ran from “do nothing” to a long-
range educational program on interreligious understanding. Work was begun on a
philosophical paper dealing with religious liberty and NCCJ’s proper role in re-
On September 1, the regional board met with a group of Mesa citizens and,
after full discussion, set up an ad hoc committee to study the issue and recommend
3. Studying the issue. The committee, chaired by Mr. Basha, moved quickly to
review The Godmakers, solicit a range of assessments of it, and establish contacts
with Concerned Christians of Mesa. In all analysis and discussion, special atten-
tion was given to the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and to the
impact of interreligious tension on a community.
The committee itself was broadly representative of the religious community in
Arizona and included regional board leaders. Although the press became interested
in the NCCJ review and wrote about it, the committee and the regional office made
no public statements on the conflict while the study was in progress.
4. Formulating a position. By early December, the committee was ready with a
preliminary report to be shared with parties involved, including Concerned Chris-
tians. A letter to the Mesa group stressed NCCJ’s commitment to religious liberty
but found The Godmakers a “danger” to religious goodwill by misrepresenting
Mormonism.—The defensive reply by Concerned Christians was taken into account
in preparing the final draft of the advisory report.
5. Releasing the report. The regional board approved the recommended report of
the committee In March, 1984, deciding to Issue it as an “advisory” to heads of
religious groups In Arizona rather than making it a press release. (Of course,
the report found its way to the press.) The rationale was that NCCJ had a respon-
sibility to share its conclusions with that part of the community most affected
by the conflict, that NCCJ, rather than becoming a combatant, should try to help
religious groups respond to the conflict.
POINTS TO NOTICE ABOUT THE PROCESS AND THE REPORT
A – the Arizona Region did its homework — months of it — before
“saying” anything about a sensitive and serious Issue.
B – The ad hoc committee was In direct contact with every principal
party to the conflict.
C – Options for action were considered and a philosophical context
was determined at the outset.
D – The regional board played a pivotal role in initiating the study-
process, monitoring it and taking responsibility for the report.
E – The National Office was consulted and kept informed on progress.
F – The report does not suggest any governmental action or inter-
vention in response to religious activities considered damaging
to healthy pluralism; rather. Concerned Christians of Mesa are
asked to voluntarily tone down its methods of proselytization as
a matter of good citizenship. The appeal is to fairness.
KEY ELEMENTS IN THE PROCESS: A SUMMARY
1. Identifying the issue
2. Setting a philosophical framework for response
3. Considering options for action
4. Careful, consultative study
5. Intensive board involvement
6. Strategic release of report
USING THE MODEL
The process followed by the Arizona Region in responding to the controversy
around Concerned Christians is adaptable to virtually any situation in which one
religious group singles out another as “false” or targets another for conversion.
It could also be adapted in the study of new or unpopular religious movements.
Findings and recommendations may vary from case to case. The model is found not
in the content of the report but in the process of calm, thorough evaluation.