Group limits Mormon participation in National Day of Prayer

Associated Press/May 4, 2004
By Travis Reed

Salt Lake City -- For the past three years, Chaplain Linda P. Walton has helped organize services for the National Day of Prayer. But this year, Walton and other religious leaders in Utah are opting out of the Thursday commemoration.

The problem, she says, is that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not allowed to conduct the services at an event put together by the National Day of Prayer Task Force - a nonprofit group which organizes events across the country.

"That sort of exclusion is the thing I hate the very worst," Walton said. "Bigotry. That's what I call it."

Task force spokesman Mark Fried said the group didn't recognize the Mormon faith as in accordance with the evangelical principles the task force set forth when it began in 1988. That includes a belief in the "Holy Trinity," or the idea that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being.

The Mormon church believes they are distinct.

The task force also believes that the Bible is the "only written word of God," but the LDS faith uses other books, such as the Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible.

Fried said Mormons are still free to attend the prayer services, but wouldn't be allowed to speak in or direct the proceedings.

That goes for the 11 events the group is putting together in Utah - including one at the state Capitol - and any of the tens of thousands of ceremonies across the country.

The group has no legal standing to bar Mormons from organizing prayer services, but can decide not to let LDS church leaders conduct services in the events organized by the task force. Technically, anyone can put together a service on the National Day of Prayer, but must subscribe to the task force's beliefs to get their assistance in planning.

"We're not standing in anyone's way," Fried said.

The National Day of Prayer was established by an act of Congress in 1952 and amended in 1988 to designate the day as the first Thursday of May each year.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force is the largest grass roots organization organizing the events, and commands volunteers in all 50 states. It's headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, who founded the Christian group Focus on the Family.

LDS church spokesman Dale Bills declined comment.

Greg Johnson, task force coordinator for Utah and a pastor in South Salt Lake City, said he applauded ministers who planned their own events independent of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

That's exactly what Walton, a Seventh-day Adventist, is doing. She said she and other members of the Utah Valley Interfaith Association, which includes about 40 faiths, planned to hold their own days of prayer closer to the end of May.

Still, she said, she feared that disallowing Mormons from conducting proceedings would hurt feelings.

"I didn't know there was an election for God," she said. "It makes me very nervous."

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