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.
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.