Anyone who knows Mormons will know how very image conscious they are. The Mormon Church goes to a great deal of trouble to present itself as politically neutral, theologically Christian and reasonably irenic in its dealings with other churches and faiths. Anyone who really knows Mormons will know that this is all a facade, a sophisticated public relations exercise, and that behind it is a faith that rejects and denounces historical Christianity in all its forms, views the existence of different expressions of Christianity as a depressing proof of total apostasy and sees its mission as being to preach to and convert everyone in the world who isn’t a Mormon. Far from ‘respecting’ other Christian churches Mormonism considers us all woefully inadequate and wilfully in error, if not individually then generically.
Mormon missionaries, of course, are very conscious of their role as ambassadors for the church and know instinctively, almost from the cradle, the image they are meant to project. They have little difficulty, most of the time, with the contradiction between what they are taught within the church about the worthless nature of apostate Christendom and their role as ambassadors for the church in the world. Sometimes, however, the inevitable cognitive dissonance created by their faith simply gets the better of them and they have a brain storm. This was demonstrated when, in March, we carried the story of missionaries who had desecrated the Sangre de Cristo's altar at the Catholic Church in Colorado. In a similar development the Sofia Echo and other Bulgarian news agencies published the following story:
Christian Orthodox priests want Mormons out of Bulgaria - report
16:00 Fri 06 Jun 2008 - Petar Kostadinov
Bulgarian Orthodox Church priests from the town of Bourgas on the Black Sea have asked the authorities to extradite a number of Mormon ministers, all of whom are foreign citizens.
According to local-based website bourgasinfo.com, the Orthodox priests from SS Cyril and Methodius church in Bourgas wanted the state to ban the preaching of the Mormon religion in Bulgaria.
These requests follow the June 5 2008 incident that happened at the church. During the service for Spassov Den (the day of the Ascension of Christ the Saviour, celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter), the Mormons entered the church and interrupted the service by talking to people, according to the priests.
“This is inadmissible. They started walking around the church talking to people. They have crossed all boundaries because that way they infringed our religious freedom as Orthodox Christians. It was an act of religious hostility,” father Zahari Dachev told Bourgasinfo.com.
“We have sent a letter to the state institutions and to the US embassy asking them if this is how their citizens live in our country by breaking our rights and freedoms,” he said. “Bulgarians' tolerance is being taking advantage of.”
Dachev entered into an argument with the Mormons, who were physically removed out of the church in the end, reports in Bulgarian media said. Dachev has filed a complaint with the police.
According to him, this was not the first time that the Mormons have come to the church. At Tsvetnitsa (Palm Sunday), they were handing out flyers about Mormon religion to9 people waiting to enter the church.
Now let me first say that this is unusual conduct for Mormon missionaries and discussion boards and opinion pages have been deluged with Mormon saying as much. However, given the inconsistency between what Mormons really think about other churches and official public dissembling by the Mormon Church itself, is it really surprising that these young people might become confused and sometimes express themselves “inappropriately”?
They are taught from birth (or from conversion) to otherwise respect churches that they are also taught are damnable in their apostasy. They publicly declare, “We are Christians like you”, while privately they are proud of the fact that they are fundamentally and altogether unlike any Christians you will come across. When you consider what Mormon leaders have had to say about other churches in the short history of Mormonism; when you know the way Christians are dismissed behind closed doors; in classes and conferences, in leadership meetings, in private conversations at church and around Mormon dinner tables, you begin to see the root cause of this disrespect.
The problem is magnified, however, when you realise the sensitive nature of religious affairs in Bulgaria. After 45 years of communist rule, under which religious freedoms were severely restricted, Bulgaria became a target for every missionary organisation imaginable and in January 1992 Christianity Today magazine declared Eastern Europe a “New Kingdom for the Cults”. It specifically singled out Bulgaria as a “Fertile Ground for False Teaching.” At that time, Bulgarians were being proselytized to by the Hare Krishnas; the religious community of the “White Brethren”; the “Children of God”; the Unitarian Church; the Scientologists; the “Word of Life” Church; Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church, along with many other nondenominational Protestants from the United States.
In an effort to stem this flow the Orthodox Church was declared the official state religion and other churches were required to register with the government and obtain permission to proselytise. The biggest concern for the government, and their rationale for interfering in spiritual matters, was that the integrity of the state should remain inviolate in the face of growing Islamic activity and the fear of radicalisation.
To its credit, the Bulgarian Constitution is one of the few constitutions in Europe that explicitly protects the rights of non-believers, declaring that: “the freedom of conscience, the freedom of thought and the choice of religion and of religious or atheistic views shall be inviolable.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, and Bulgaria has been called to account in Europe over its ‘restrictive’ laws, the test is whether Mormonism is true to its declared intent to “be subject to kings, presidents, rulers, obeying, honouring, and sustaining the law” (Twelfth Article of Faith). Further, whether Mormons truly respect other people’s faiths, as they claim they do, or whether this is an example of their true colours coming out. Certainly, Mormons need to be much more sensitive to the political and religious sensibilities of the countries in which they operate and realise that there are parts of the world where their conduct might issue in a great deal more than a door shut in their faces. And perhaps that sensitising should begin back home, at church and in what Mormons say to each other about other churches and cultures.