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Notebook Religion

Beyond belief

Temple Square: Headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Associated Press/Photo by Douglas C. Pizac)

Rick Bowmer/AP


Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images



Beyond belief

English court orders Mormon leader to defend LDS doctrines at a hearing

An English court has ordered Mormon Church president Thomas Monson to appear at a March hearing to answer charges of religious fraud. The summons came in response to a suit by a former Mormon leader who alleges that key Latter-day Saints (LDS) beliefs are false, making their fundraising efforts deceptive.

Tom Phillips, who filed the charges, left Mormonism in 2004. Some of the doctrines he contends are bogus are distinctively Mormon, such as what Mormons believe are revelations to Joseph Smith that led to the composition of the Book of Mormon. Other tenets, such as the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve, command widespread adherence among Christians and Jews. Phillips, however, says that it is scientifically impossible that “all humans alive today are descended from just two people (Adam and Eve) who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.”

The summons has generated outrage among both Mormons and non-Mormons. LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins says that Mormons occasionally attract such charges that “seek to draw attention to an individual’s personal grievances or to embarrass Church leaders.” He characterizes Phillips’ allegations as “bizarre.”

Former British crown prosecutor and religious liberty expert Neil Addison told The Arizona Republic, “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point.” Addison said he was “shocked that a magistrate has issued it.” The religious affairs editor of London’s The Telegraph called it “one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court.”

Christian writer Eric Metaxas also reacted with dismay, arguing that if courts can determine the veracity of particular beliefs, then religious freedom would become a “dead letter.” Metaxas also notes that while he does not believe in Mormon doctrine, he considers this a pre-eminent example of why Christians should defend religious liberty for all faith groups.

The English court indicated that it could issue a warrant for Monson’s arrest should he fail to appear at the hearing, but observers suggest that neither Britain nor the United States would be likely to cooperate in extradition proceedings for Monson, who lives in Utah.

Same-sex stalemate

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is facing increasing criticism from African Anglican leaders over the church’s views on homosexuality. The controversy overshadowed Welby’s recent visit to several sub-Saharan nations. In light of legislation in Nigeria and Uganda that would impose harsh penalties for homosexual acts, Welby issued a letter reminding Church of England leaders around the world that gays and lesbians were “children of God” needing pastoral care from the church. 

Two leading African clerics responded publicly to Welby’s missive. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya, agreed that homosexuals needed care from the church, but he cautioned that pastors should not separate such concern from “biblical moral teaching in which the nature of marriage and family occupy a central place.” He reminded Welby of 1998 Lambeth Conference resolutions in which Anglican leaders stated that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture” and mandated that the church should not perform same-sex unions or ordain practicing homosexuals as ministers or bishops.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda similarly told Church of England officials that it was churches in the United States and Canada who, in performing same-sex marriages and ordaining homosexuals, had broken with the church’s official teaching. In late January, the Anglican College of Bishops also approved a recommendation that the church begin “facilitated conversations” on its policies regarding gays. Ntagali urged Welby to repudiate the denomination’s apparent liberalizing trend, so that African Anglicans “will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.” —T.K.


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  • Craig S
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:45 pm

    For those interested in learning more, there is a good thoughtful discussion and analysis with the person responsible for bringing this case, Tom Phillips on these podcast episodes (part 1:; part 2:; part 3: While it may be tempting to think Christians have more in common with the LDS church than not, don't let this dissuade you from considering what is at stake here. This summons was issued after long and due consideration from a judge, and on grounds that a criminal law may have been violated. The difference between criminal activity and religious freedom hinges on the proper law and its just administration. The law and the allegations in this case point to criminal activity. A secondary goal in this suit is merely to bring light to what is not a transparent organization. We should not put these off as attempts at religious persecution (they are not), but encourage truth and justice in all matters, including religious protection.@WileK - For 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 to be applicable here, this dispute would need to be between two believers, the matter itself would need to be suitable to be dealt with in this private way, and there would need to be an appropriate forum or arbiter for this to be considered. There are many conflicts today that would be much better resolved accord with Paul's admonition here, but the aspects of this case are very different. 

  •  Wilebo's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:45 pm

    This case was brought about by a Mormon against his church.  Though they have an alternate doctrine, this is in direct disobedience to I Corinthians 6:1-7.  Creating interference from government in the church. The courts in the America are at this moment considering the validity of all faiths. Either from believers or unbelievers judges in black robes are deciding what the church should and should not believe.

  • Craig S
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:45 pm

    I've been following this case since its inception. Unfortunately, this article is simply repeating some of the initial analysis, commentary and reaction without a close look at what is at stake. I do think it was a mistake for Tom Phillips to include the young earth theory as part as his fraud case, mainly because it is distracting. What gives his case merit, is not that the claims of Mormonism are true or not true, but that church leaders had knowledge they were not true, lied about it, and used it to keep people paying tithes. While it may be wise to have some concerns, we should be asking for more evidence at this point, not passing judgement. Where there's smoke, there's fire.