Critics gather at temple

Birmingham News / August 24, 2000
By Greg Garrison

Visitors to the new Mormon temple in Gardendale are likely to be greeted this week by non Mormons handing out pamphlets. The tracts explain differences in teaching between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - popularly known as Mormons - and other denominations.

"We're not out here to cause a fight," said Bob Waldrep, Alabama director of Watchman Fellowship, an evangelical "counter-cult" group. "This is not about bashing the Mormon faith."

Watchman Fellowship, the North Jefferson Baptist Association and volunteers from 20 churches have set up tents on the grounds of the Church at Gardendale on Fieldstown Road and at First Assembly of God across from the Mormon temple at the corner of Mount Olive Road and U.S. 31.

Latter-day Saints officials hesitate to criticize the tract passing - their own missionaries knock on doors and pass out tracts - but it's obvious they're disappointed.

"Mostly we've gotten glowing reports and a great reception from the community," said Richard May, the regional, or stake, president of the Latter day Saints.

>From Monday through Wednesday, 8,000 people took tours of the new temple, he said. Tours continue, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., through Saturday; about 3,000 people a day are expected, he said.

Watchman Fellowship leaders said they wish Mormons would quit concealing doctrinal differences with mainstream Christians.

"You make a covenant not to reveal the secrets," said former Mormon missionary Timothy Oliver, director of research for Watchman Fellowship in Texas. "They call me a covenant breaker."

Oliver, who took part in dozens of proxy rituals for the dead in the Mormon temples in Arizona and Utah, said the temple rituals teach secret handshakes that are necessary to get past angels in the afterlife. Such practices are unbiblical, said Oliver, who is handing out tracts this week.

"The Mormons know what we're saying is accurate," Waldrep said. "They want it to remain a secret."

May said the reason for hosting public tours was to share the church's excitement over the temple.

"This is not a proselytizing event," May said. "This is just an opportunity to share the beauty of it, and to answer questions."

He said it helps clear up misunderstandings about Latter day Saints, who started in 1830 after prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation of a new Scripture, the Book of Mormon.

Early church practice in the 1800s included polygamy, and pioneer prophet Brigham Young had more than 20 wives, though polygamy is now grounds for excommunication from the faith.

Dozens of Gardendale residents have taken part in the tract distribution. Others are appalled by what they say is a lack of hospitality for the Mormons.

"It just seems in very poor taste," said Ed Sellers of Gardendale. "If you don't agree with them, then don't go to their church."

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