Missionary work is a centerpiece of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with tens of thousands of young men and women spread across the globe to teach the Mormon gospel.
But a 53-year-old former bishop of an LDS singles ward is amping up that proselytizing effort all by himself.
Since January, Kelly Scott has been renting out auditoriums in schools and other public places across the Wasatch Front for a 90-minute PowerPoint presentation to preach the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the faith’s foundational scripture, and, in his words, “help all in attendance understand that the witness of the Holy Ghost is the most powerful witness that Heavenly Father could give us.”
He has sent mailers and taken out a full-page newspaper ad to promote “The Book of Mormon: Spiritual and Temporal Witnesses Presentation.”
And he has covered all the costs out of his own pocket.
He pays the commercial tab to rent the public school auditoriums, which can be as much as $350 an hour. He hasn’t bothered to qualify as a 501(c)(3), which would get him a cheaper rate.
He doesn’t ask for donations. He doesn’t sell anything at his gatherings. In fact, he hands out free copies of the Book of Mormon to attendees. And he makes clear that the events are not sponsored in any way by the LDS Church.
It’s his deal.
“I’ve done this at a lot of [LDS] stake and ward firesides,” Scott said. But those events usually attract active Mormons.
“About a year ago,” he said, “I began reaching out to non-LDS and the seriously inactive.”
In January, Scott started renting large auditoriums, mostly in public schools in Salt Lake and Davis counties. He has spent thousands of dollars for the effort. It’s worth it, he told me, because he has been averaging 300 to 400 guests at his sessions.
“Over the last 30 years, I have studied the Book of Mormon and have been to 23 ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras and have studied numerous books and articles on this subject,” Scott explains on his website, http://bofmwitnesses.com/. “The presentation includes photos from my visits to many ruins and factual information from (LDS) and (non-LDS) experts, scholars and archaeologists. … The information relates perfectly with numerous Book of Mormon passages, doctrine and scripture.”
The Book of Mormon recounts the spiritual triumphs and struggles endured by groups of people in the ancient Americas, the highlight being the visit of a resurrected Christ to the New World.
Scott told me he wanted to make a difference, to do something worthwhile before he dies. He certainly isn’t without passion.
Some readers who received mailers or saw the newspaper ad contacted me, wondering about the legality of having religious teachings presented in a public school.
But that has been settled in law.
Such gatherings are permitted, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, as long as the schools don’t promote the subject matter and are willing to rent out their facilities to anyone.
A bill co-sponsored by Orrin Hatch years ago was designed to require schools to allow religious clubs if they allowed other clubs. The unintended consequences of Hatch’s efforts came into play in the late 1990s, when the American Civil Liberties Union fought the Salt Lake City School District over East High School’s rule that forbade the formation of a gay-straight alliance. The ACLU used Hatch’s bill as the argument for inclusion.
Last year, the Salem, Mass.-based Satan Club began an after-school program at Granite School District’s Vista Elementary School in Taylorsville.
The club for children between ages 5 and 12 encourages students to think critically and have a scientific understanding of the world around them, Chalice Blythe, Utah chapter head for The Satanic Temple, told The Salt Lake Tribune at the time.
The school district also sent a letter to parents, explaining the requirement to rent school facilities to all legitimate parties and encouraging those concerned about the club to contact their representatives in the Legislature.