At first Rocky Anderson, the non-practicing Mormon mayor of Salt Lake City, took a brave stand. The politician said he would not bow to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) regarding an easement the church sought to squelch free speech near its temple property.

That easement allows critics of the church to speak freely on the block the church recently bought from the city. But it seems the LDS doesn’t appreciate the First Amendment when it guarantees the rights of others to criticize them.

First the church fought in court to restrict activity on the property, but when that effort failed they used some old-fashioned theocratic muscle by inciting their loyal members.

Anderson was subjected to increasing pressure from his Mormon constituents to give up the easement and capitulate to LDS demands.

The mayor resisted, but now he has apparently caved in. A deal is in the works to trade the easement for land the church owns elsewhere in the metro area, reports the Billings Gazette and Desert News.

So much for the illusion that church and state is somehow separate in Utah.

Apparently things really have not changed that much since the days of Brigham Young. The Mormon Church seems to have a stranglehold on the state, or at least ultimate veto power over anything that draws its interest.

The mayor may have held out for awhile, but ultimately Rocky crumbled. That’s life, behind the “Zion Curtain.”

An atheist in Utah says, “They don’t own this state anymore…they are only one voice among many now.”

The “they” this Salt Lake City resident is referring to is the Mormon Church. But it looks like that assessment of the political landscape is wrong.

A dispute over the exercise of free speech on a downton city block in Salt Lake has demonstrated the schism between the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and “non-Mormons” in Utah, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

LDS wants protest silenced on the block it bought from the city, but the courts ruled it couldn’t do that.

Never mind.

Now the Mormon Church has effectively done its own end run around the legal system by creating political pressure to change the rules of the game. And it looks like the mayor is playing ball, or at least willing to craft a compromise to please the powerful church.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has come up with what he calls “time, place, manner” rules for the disputed city block. But the city council may reject his plan and simply follow the dictates of the LDS instead.

The Mormon Church is used to having its way in Utah. Almost every elected leader in the state is an active member of the LDS. Mayor Anderson is a “non-practicing Mormon.” And some church members apparently feel that by not following the wishes of LDS Anderson might be an “anti-Christ.”

“They seem to want to scapegoat me and portray me as being in opposition to their religion,” Anderson said.

It appears that the LDS, which believes it’s the “one true church,” wants to remain the one ultimate power in Utah. And it is unlikely that Mayor Anderson or anyone else can change that truth.

The Mormon Church has a rather odd practice of baptizing the dead.

They believe that by placing faithful members as stand-ins for the deceased they can offer the dead a last chance to receive salvation.

According to a researcher Hitler is listed as a completed baptism, as is Stalin and Ghengis Khan, reports Associated Press.

But not only do the bad need baptism according to Mormons, so do the good. Buddha and the Catholic Saint Joan of Arc are listed along with Anne Frank, a victim of Hitler’s Holocaust.

Sound crazy?

Well according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) their baptism is the only way to reach the “Celestial Kingdom,” which is according to Mormonism, the best neighborhood in heaven.

Two lower and seemingly less “heavenly” neighborhoods are also available, they say.

So Mormons gather genealogy information to identify which dead need their help to get to a better place in the hereafter. This is the primary motivation behind their vast genealogical archives.

However, some folks just don’t appreciate this gesture and apparently feel it’s rather patronizing if not insulting.

Jews in particular have repeatedly told Mormons not to include their ancestors or brethren on such lists. And the Mormons promised not to, or so they said.

Now it appears LDS may have broken its promise.

The concept that such baptisms are necessary comes from the Mormon belief that the LDS is the only “true church” and thus the exclusive organization that can provide salvation on the earth. According to Mormons, other faiths don’t have a valid “priesthood” and therefore their rituals don’t count.

Many theologians might consider this a bit presumptuous and evidence of ethnocentric triumphalism.

Jews seem to feel it’s offensive, disrespectful and simply want to be left alone.

Thomas Murphy’s fans compare him to Galileo, but the Mormon hierarchy seems to think he’s a heretic.

Murphy is head of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington and now seems to be caught in a dilemma, reports the Herald of Everett.

The Mormon anthropologist published a paper within “American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon,” which essentially says the scriptures of his faith are wrong, or at least historically.

The Book of Mormon is supposedly not simply a spiritual work, but claims to be a history book as well.

It tells the saga of lost pre-Columbian civilizations that vanished around 400 AD.

However, this history, which was supposedly divinely revealed to Joseph Smith the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), doesn’t square with any scientific evidence.

Murphy found through his research that one claim within his faith’s scriptures was certainly false. Native Americans are not the descendents of ancient Hebrews. Murphy proved this conclusively through DNA evidence.

Ironically, the anthropologist found his proof through blood samples gathered through a multimillion-dollar “molecular genealogy” project at Brigham Young University, a Mormon bastion of education.

Of course believing Mormons refute Murphy’s conclusions and he has been labeled as a likely “apostate.” Apparently the scientist is now on the brink of banishment from his church.

This would not be the first time the Mormon Church has purged an intellectual from its ranks. The last such excommunication was less than a decade ago and at least a few more academics are on a its short list for possible expulsion.

Mormons cling to their pseudo-history for good reason. If the Book of Mormon is fiction, then Joseph Smith was not a “prophet.” Smith’s status as a “revelator” is the primary premise, which forms the foundation of this uniquely American religion.

But unlike other religious texts, the Book of Mormon is relatively modern and is easily disproved historically.

Mormons have searched desperately for generations to find a single archaeological artifact that would somehow confirm a part of their book.

One such searcher was Thomas Stewart Ferguson, who spent 25 years on his quest only to ultimately conclude, “You can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of dirt-archeology.”

Brigham D. Madsen, perhaps the most well known Mormon apologist, admitted there was no way to explain the historical anachronisms within his faith’s scriptures.

After much media attention the ongoing effort to examine and expel Thomas Murphy has been halted for the moment. But it is unlikely that the Mormon Church will ignore the questions raised by the anthropologist.

What can they do? Admit that Joseph Smith was not a “prophet,” but instead just a good storyteller?

I don’t think so.

It is much easier to get rid of the good professor, than examine such disturbing possibilities.

The Mormon Church (LDS) has mounted a concerted campaign to get its faithful fulminating.

LDS lost a court decision, which prevents them from controlling free speech at a plaza adjacent to their downtown temple in Salt Lake City. So now they want the easement erased that provided for such freedoms.

If you can’t win, why not change the rules of the game?

It looks live the city council may ultimately go along and give LDS what it wants. Phone calls, emails and letters are flooding in from faithful Mormons responding to their church’s call, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Mayor Anderson has said “No” to the church, a word that they apparently find difficult to accept. But the mayor is being worn down by the carefully planned campaign and may not have the support of the city council.

One resident wrote in to the Tribune, that the plaza is really a “façade,” it actually forms the roof of a parking garage for temple users.

However, another “façade” that seems evident in Salt Lake City, is the illusion that some residents may have that their city government is independent. Instead, it increasingly looks like the city council acts as a “façade” for Mormon interests.

And that façade appears to be cracking.

It seems that the Mormon Church can’t take no for an answer.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected church rules to control behavior around a plaza adjacent to their historic downtown Salt Lake City temple. The court said such rules restricting free speech were unconstitutional.

Apparently sensing they are unlikely to receive a reversal from the Supreme Court, the Mormon Church (LDS) is now attempting what looks like an end run, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The LDS has launched an intense campaign using its substantial influence over church members to change city regulations. They want the faithful to lobby their political leaders to alter an easement that provides unfettered speech around their plaza.

An LDS spokesman put it this way, “The church isn’t going to exert its influence on the politics. The citizens of this city are going to exert their influence on the people they put in office.”


But since so many of Salt Lake’s citizens are faithful Mormons the implications are obvious.

The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church said, “Having lost in court, they’re now taking their losing battle to the Mormon people. It’s religious politics at its most deplorable. Salt Lake is being run like a theocracy.”

A joke amongst some non-Mormons living in Utah, is the analogy that life there is so controlled by the church it’s somewhat like living behind the “Iron Curtain,” during the Cold War. But instead Utah exists behind its own “Zion Curtain.”

City Mayor Rocky Anderson refused to roll over for LDS leaders. He later explained, “I hear a lot from people that this is one of those rare instances where an elected official has said ‘no’ to a request of The Church of Jesus Christ.” He added, “There are some members of the City Council more interested in doing the bidding of the religious organization to which they belong than they are in representing the best interests of the city as a whole.”

Once Joseph Smith the founder of the Mormon Church, was its “prophet,” “revelator” and also Commander and Chief of the Mormon militia and Mayor of Nauvoo. He ran everything in Nauvoo, which was a “theocracy.” Later Brigham Young essentially continued that tradition in Utah. Only the federal government challenged such control. Church leaders subsequently adapted their society and pragmatically did what was necessary to achieve statehood.

Utah’s elected officials are still almost always Mormons. No one else has ever had meaningful power in that state. An LDS spokesman said, “I’m mystified as to why this has been a controversy at all.” Maybe he’s right.

Southern California residents can look forward to more than Santa this December. The so-called “Jews for Jesus” will be rolling out yet another round of their brand of proselytizing aimed at Jews called “Operation Behold your God,” reports the Christian Times.

This will be a “multi-pronged effort.” The California blitz is “part of a four-year campaign…launched in October 2000” to target Jews “in every city worldwide with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more.” “Jews for Jesus” have put 66 such cities on a list, with 33 in the U.S. This effort may include unsolicited and targeted mailings, phone calls and “street evangelism.”

“Jews for Jesus” is the brainchild of former Jew Martin Rosen, an ordained Baptist pastor who once worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Rosen apparently wanted to run his own shop, so in the 70s he started up a new ministry and came up with a name that got him attention.

Pastor Martin is now retired and presumably living on a pension provided by “Jews for Jesus.” But the ministry he founded now has multi-million dollar annual budgets. “Jews for Jesus” is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a Christian organization that includes many para-church groups.

However, though Rosen proved to be a highly innovative and successful fund-raiser “Jews for Jesus” never really has been that successful at persuading Jews to accept its blended brand of fundamentalist Christianity.

When Jews leave Judaism they are more likely to embrace Buddhism, or in a mixed marriage with a non-Jewish spouse enter the Unitarian Church or some more liberal “mainline” church.

Ironically, the conversion rate to Judaism by Christians seems to exceed anything “Jews for Jesus” have ever specifically accomplished. And that has been achieved without spending millions of dollars annually on glitzy campaigns.

What Rosen did accomplish was to effectively create a kind of organizational kingdom. And he identified an inventive way to subsidize the salaries within that enterprise by raising millions of dollars annually from evangelical Christians.

The problem posed by organizations like Rosen’s isn’t really their missionary work. “Jews for Jesus” certainly have the right to preach to their heart’s content. The United States is a free country that constitutionally and culturally insures such free speech and religious pluralism.

Neither is the issue that “Jews for Jesus” is somehow a “cult,” though some former members have said they can be authoritarian and abusive.

The troubling issue about “Jews for Jesus” is their insistence that they are “Jews” without qualification and that they can somehow be both Jews and fundamentalist Christians simultaneously.

However, this is really rather self-referentially incoherent. Can a Baptist accept Buddhism and then become a “Baptist for Buddha,” or can a Mormon embrace Islam and be a “Mormon for Mohammed”?

No one would take such claims seriously.

But many people seem to assume that Jews are a race or a nationality and not simply a religious group bound by a common faith. And “Jews for Jesus” does nothing to dissuade such misconceptions. In fact, they openly encourage what can be seen as a kind of cryptic anti-Semitism that relies upon such stereotyping and misinformation.

Historically, they have nothing to base such claims upon and rely on a kind of selective biblical exegesis and historical view instead.

Obviously, those who chose to follow Jesus amongst First Century Jewry went their own way and founded a new world religion now known as Christianity. Each faith has its own distinct beliefs, creeds and doctrines and perhaps more importantly the right to determine the parameters of its identity.

Jews that leave Judaism by accepting another religious belief system have always been historically referred to as “apostate Jews.” Apostasy is likewise recognized as a term to describe Christians who convert to another faith.

Jews, like Christians, come from many races and national origins. What ultimately makes a Jew is faith, not background. And whatever ambiguity there may be about Jewish heredity is a question that can only be resolved within the organized Jewish community itself.

There is no ambiguity about what Jews are not. Jews are not apostates who have rejected Judaism. All branches of Judaism not only recognize this, but also by the State of Israel through its courts regarding the “right of return” has established this through law. Apostate Jews cannot return to the Jewish homeland exercising their right to return as “Jews.”

It seems “Jews for Jesus” wish to disregard these facts and history itself. They appear to believe that they have the right to redefine Jewish identity.

Perhaps “Jews for Jesus” wish to form a kind of ghetto niche for themselves within Christianity. But this does not appear to be a popular idea amongst most evangelicals. Billy Graham has specifically rejected the concept of missionaries targeting a specific religious group.

Jewish-Christian relations have improved substantially in recent years. Roman Catholics in particular have recognized the ethnocentric beliefs and theology of triumphalism that led to tragedies like the Crusades and Inquisitions.

Catholics have made amends and improved interreligious dialog with Jews. Likewise, many Protestant churches within the National and World Council of Churches have largely rejected organized efforts to convert Jews.

Perhaps it is theologically impossible for fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to mirror their more moderate and ecumenical brethren. But Billy Graham’s opposition to missionary targeting seems like a meaningful first step at better relations between “born-again” Christians and Jews.

More importantly, recognizing implicit and exclusive right of the organized Jewish community to determine the parameters of its own identity would seem to be the next step in improving relations between the two religious camps.

Christmas is a holiday often associated with good will and kindness.

Hanukkah, which also falls in December, is about something important too. The willingness of Jews to die for the integrity and preservation of Judaism.

Why can’t both faiths “behold…God” by internalizing the precepts that have made them both great during the coming holiday season?

Mormons opened a new church in the hometown of their founder Joseph Smith this month, reports the Rochester Democrat.

Palmyra, New York is now the site of a historically appropriate New England style red brick Mormon church. The new house of worship is down the street from a much larger Mormon Temple dedicated in 1999.

Palmyra is important as a touchstone of Mormon mythology. It is the place where Joseph Smith claimed he first talked with God and later found the so-called “golden plates,” which Smith supposedly translated to create the Book of Mormon.

According to legend the plates were found buried outside Palymra at the Hill Cumorah. Later when pressed about their authenticity Smith said they were taken to heaven.

The Book of Mormon has been repeatedly proven false historically by scholars, archaeologists and anthropologists. Nevertheless, it is viewed as not simply a religious text, but revered as history by faithful Mormons.

Mormons have busily been building tourist destinations to emphasize the importance of their historic sites, which they then fuse into what is called “The Mormon Heritage Tour.” Tour stops include Palmyra, Nauvoo, Illinois, and Kirtland, Ohio.

Earlier this year church officials began negotiations for a property in Pennsylvania where Smith wrote much of his holy text.

Eventually Mormons should be able to drive across the nation in a series of tour stops as a family event. Many Mormons are already flooding into Nauvoo to see the place where Joseph Smith once ruled as mayor, militia general and prophet.

Disney has attractions like “Magic Mountain” and the Mormons have the “Hill Cumorah” outside Palmyra. But faithful Mormons don’t see their main attractions as part of a “fantasy kingdom.”

The Mormon Church (LDS) bought a city block adjacent to their Salt Lake City temple through a controversial deal with the city in 1999. They then heavily restricted activity on the property, which included the exercise of free speech.

Converting the property from public to private seemed to be a practical way to essetially create a buffer zone for the historic temple. And the church made this clear by imposing rules that specifically prohibited evangelical Christians from preaching and handing out anti-Mormon tracts on the block they bought.

Ultimately a lawsuit ensued and the LDS won the first round when a Mormon judge ruled in its favor. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed that decision and a federal court in Denver reversed the lower court’s rulings, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The evangelicals are now back and exercising their free speech by proclaiming Mormonism a “false religion.” LDS leaders are not happy and contemplating whether they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

It seems that within Utah, a state dominated if not controlled by the Mormon Church, officials are often willing to do just about anything to accommodate the powerful religion. Allowing the church to buy city property to create the buffer zone looks like one example.

Interestingly, the Mormon religion promotes the idea that America is God’s promised and special land. But the constitutional rights that uniquely define the United States, such as free speech and the free exercise of religion, don’t seem to matter much to Mormons unless it’s their own. This seems odd for a religion that came to Utah as a result of “persecution.”

One non-Mormon Salt Lake City councilwoman who was outvoted regarding the sale of the property in question observed, “This is very symbolic for a lot of people of the tension between the LDS Church and the non-LDS people [in Utah].”

What will the church do now? The mayor of Salt Lake City has apparently decided to bail out of the situation and will not join the LDS in any further court battles. A good politician usually knows when to cut his losses. Hopefully the Mormon hierarchy, known for its historic pragmatism, will do the same.

A church allegedly told a minor child that unless she had illegal sex with a man twice her age, she would lose her salvation and “burn in hell,” reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

When Ruth Stubbs was only sixteen she was apparently coerced through threats about damnation, to cooperate sexually and become the third “spiritual wife” of Rodney Holm, a Utah police officer.

Stubbs gave in to those threats and became essentially a household concubine for Holm, eventually producing two more children for the polygamist father of 21.

Now Holm is charged with criminal sexual misconduct and bigamy.

It seems that somehow criminal sex with a minor is “holy” within the isolated polygamist communities of northern Arizona and southern Utah.

What most faiths would call “sinful lust” or simply adultery, the so-called “fundamentalist Mormons” say is part of some heavenly plan. Well, it might be heavenly for fundamentalist pedophiles, but it appears to be hell for the young girls they victimize.

Again and again, stories like that of Ruth Stubbs have surfaced through the media, but until recently little if anything was done by law enforcement. Now Utah seems to be taking some steps to enforce its laws and protect the children caught within polygamist cults.

Hopefully, Holm will receive his just reward, and that would be prison not paradise.