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Amid confusion, LDS clarify faith

Published April 28, 2008 12:53 am

Under shower of questions sparked by FLDS raid, LDS members set differences, explain faith
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SAN ANGELO, Texas - The Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Second Ward here, Jeffrey Bushman, is used to the quizzical looks and sometimes ludicrous questions directed at people of the Mormon faith.

As a missionary in New York 40 years ago, Bushman once was asked if he had devil's horns. He responded by offering to display the place on his head where he had had them sawed off.

“The only thing they knew about us were horns, polygamy and the Tabernacle Choir,” he said.

So when the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Yearning for Zion Ranch was raided April 3, sparking a national media frenzy, he and other church members were prepared to field the inevitable questions that would arise.

Do they practice polygamy? Are their children sexually abused?

“I've had a lot of my neighbors come up” and make inquiries, said Bishop Bushman's First Counselor Jared Seegmiller, who explains to them that the FLDS splintered off from the mainstream LDS Church after the latter renounced polygamy and threatened to excommunicate practitioners of plural marriage.

“And that's really the only explanation I've had to give them,” he said. “And they say, 'OK, that makes sense.' ”

Even some of the newest members of the church have approached Bushman to get clear on whether polygamy is still practiced by the LDS.

“We've had to deal just a little bit with trying to make sure some of our members don't think we're part of the same [FLDS] church,” he said.

Texas officials have played a role in the confusion. Even while acknowledging the two religions are separate, Judge Barbara Walther, of the 51st District Court, asked FLDS attorneys on April 21 to find members of local LDS congregations to supervise the FLDS women and children while they prayed.

Bushman was among those who got a call to do it.

“I said, 'No thank you, that's not quite our job,' ” he said. “I would feel a little awkward. . . . I don't want to be a party to something that may or may not be right.”

While some members are upset by the media's lack of distinction between the two churches, most see it as an opportunity for a discussion about the true doctrine underlying their faith.

“Most of them, I think, believe that it has opened up the lines of communication about the church, probably more than anything else that has happened,” Bushman said. “Their friends and their neighbors ask questions.”

While the LDS don't condone polygamy or child abuse, the bishop said, the raid has in some ways forged a small connection between the two religions. The LDS, historically a persecuted group of people, can sympathize with a church under siege.

“Watching them [Texas Rangers] go into the temple down there, going through it, made me think of the Nauvoo era: just run them out and do what they want to with the building,” Bushman said. “Obviously we understand that a little bit. That's in the back of our heads.”

The FLDS, meanwhile, have turned to some LDS for support. One member, a San Angelo medical professional who asked that his name not be printed, said an FLDS client called him shortly after the raid.

The distressed woman didn't ask for help, he said. “[She just] wanted to know someone on the outside cared about them.”

lrosetta@sltrib.com

“Watching them [Texas Rangers] go into the temple down there . . . made me think of the Nauvoo era: just run them out and do what they want to with the building."

JEFFREY BUSHMAN, bishop of the LDS Second Ward in San Angelo, Texas