Notebook > Religion

Rocky road

Religion | Anti-Mormon ministry sets up shop in one of the religion's most holy cities

Issue: "Saving Isaac," Nov. 10, 2007

The message of evangelist Rocky Hulse is simple and direct: Mormon teaching does not square with Christian theology or North American history. In Nauvoo, Ill., a small town on the Mississippi River steeped in Mormon history, such positions are not well received.

For two years, Hulse and his wife Helen have operated the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center, a storefront down the block from a massive Mormon temple that draws hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims annually. Hulse is an ex-Mormon who embraced evangelical Christianity in 1986. Now he publicizes his message with regular newspaper columns and a television show aired locally and internationally on a Christian network.

Open confrontation has provoked conflict and threats. Vandals ransacked his downtown office last month, Hulse told WORLD, the latest episode in a long campaign of intimidation. Hulse and his wife report receiving several veiled threats late last year, none more sinister than an email that arrived two days before Christmas: "id love to watch you all die, then witness the looks on your faces when you realize how stupid and counterproductive your fight really was."

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Hulse promptly contacted police, who traced the message to Phil Rogers, a Mormon living near Salt Lake City, Utah. Rogers told investigators that someone else must have hacked into his insecure router without his knowledge. Utah authorities, many of them Mormons, elected not to pursue litigation.

Last month, email shenanigans of a different sort began when Helen received a message from an unknown source masquerading as her husband. Despite such harassment, the Hulses have no plans for vacating Nauvoo. They've installed new deadbolts and security cameras on the visitors center and have cautioned friends and supporters to watch out for fraudulent emails. "It's escalating because we're telling the truth about the history and the origins and doctrines of Mormonism, and they don't like it," Hulse said, adding that he expects hostility to increase this month with the release of his new book, When Salt Lake City Calls (Xulon Press, 2007).

The Mormon population among Nauvoo's 1,100 residents has grown from 10 percent to 40 percent over the past two decades, spiking with the construction of the temple in 2002. Mormons now occupy half of the city council seats and all those on the chamber of commerce. Open disdain for Hulse is common in public forums and letters to the editor. But no concrete evidence exists to prove local Mormons are responsible for the acts of intimidation.

Bishop David Wright, a prominent Mormon leader in town who works at the temple, told WORLD he encourages those under his spiritual oversight to ignore Hulse and his ministry. "He doesn't know what he's talking about, and he twists the truth," Wright said. "He tries with everything he says to slant it in a negative direction and accuse the church of not being Christian, which is silly."

But given the opportunity to denounce intimidation tactics, Wright minimized the level of harassment and accused Hulse of exaggerating to generate media attention and viewership of his television program. Wright said the impact of Hulse's operation is too minimal to warrant much reaction: "He's not a major threat. He's kind of like a yapping dog off to the side who keeps things interesting."

Indeed, few Mormons in town ever renounce their faith due to Hulse's work. But the mild-mannered minister is hopeful that he can prevent non-Mormon locals from joining up. He also fights against the blurring of Mormon and Christian theology. Bishop Wright belongs to a ministerial association that includes representatives from seven of Nauvoo's eight Christian churches. Only the local Southern Baptist congregation, to which Hulse belongs, has resisted joining the group.

Jane Langford, who has lived in Nauvoo for 38 years and owned the town newspaper for 18 years, is not surprised by the reaction to Hulse and his wife but considers it unjustified. "They're very outspoken and very visible, so of course they're the ones who are going to be targeted," she said. "Rocky's actions are not untoward, but he's very aggressive, and they really don't have any answer."

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