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YOU ARE HERE:   Home >  Events >  Special Events >  Site of Controversy: Watchman's outreach at the Gardendale Mormon temple opening
Angel Maroni

Site of Controversy

Alabama's First Mormon Temple Attracts Visitors and Debate

By Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

The intersection of Highway 31 and Mount Olive Road in Gardendale recently became the focal point of passing interest for some and continuing debate for others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), better known as the Mormon Church, held an open house for its new temple at that location from Saturday, August 19 through Saturday, August 26, 2000.

Attendance at the open house was actually something of a disappointment to the LDS. While they had anticipated as many as 30,000 visitors, only about 8,000 actually showed up. Many of these were Mormons who came from as far away as Utah and Washington State to visit the temple or even help out in its opening activities. Others, of course, were local people from a variety of religious backgrounds who were curious to find out "what goes on in there" or who simply wanted to view the building's beautiful interior.

While the LDS were hosting their temple open house, Christians were standing on nearby street corners and just outside the temple grounds, passing out literature and talking with visitors. Leading this effort was Watchman Fellowship, an interdenominational, evangelical ministry that specializes in educating Christians and the general public about different religions. Pastors and members from thirty churches in ten different denominations participated as volunteers.

Contrary to what has often been said, Watchman Fellowship and the Christian churches participating in the outreach were not "protesting" the Mormon temple. Bob Waldrep, State Director for Watchman Fellowship in Alabama, notes, "We affirm the rights of the Mormons to have their temple, to believe their doctrines, and to practice their religion. We are strong advocates of freedom of religion for everyone as long as they're not endangering others. But by the same token, we have a right to express our religious convictions by providing this information to the public." The outreach team was careful not to interfere in any way with the open house. They respected church property, handed out literature in an unobtrusive manner, and even helped to direct traffic.

The LDS Church's temple open houses cannot be compared to the opening of a new church building of a traditional Christian church. The temple open house is the only time when non-Mormons, and even most Mormons, are allowed to go inside the temple. When the open house concluded Saturday night on the 26th, it became closed to all but roughly one-fourth of all Mormons. This is why the Christian outreach was staged outside the temple during the open house. On September 3, when the temple is dedicated and only faithful Mormons will be in attendance, Watchman Fellowship and the churches that participated in the outreach will not be gathered outside temple property.

Even during the open house, only minimal, vague information is provided about the religious activities that take place in the temple. The specifics of what goes on in the temple are considered "sacred" and are not told to visitors. Moreover, the LDS Church does not give visitors any real understanding of what makes their church different from traditional Christian churches. A ten-minute video presents to visitors a sentimental picture of Mormons going to the temple to strengthen their family bonds and ensure that they will spend eternity together, but shed no light on what the Mormon Church believes about the nature of families. The outreach during the temple open house focused its efforts on informing visitors as to the underlying teachings of the LDS Church.

A brief overview of their beliefs about God, mankind, and the family will make it abundantly clear how far the Mormon belief departs from the teachings of all traditional Christian churches, whether Catholic or Protestant. The LDS Church teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three Gods, not one God. Joseph Smith taught explicitly that God the Father was once a man, living on a planet like earth, who became a God, and that we can become Gods just like he did. All human beings, angels, the devil, and his demons are said to be spirit children of God the Father and of his heavenly, exalted wife, a Mother in Heaven. Jesus Christ is said to be simply the firstborn of God's billions of spirit sons and daughters and the first of those spirit children to become a God. To pave the way for people to become Gods, Jesus, who somehow had already become a God in Heaven, became a man, lived, died, and was resurrected. The human Jesus, according to Mormonism, was the literal son of Mary his mother and of God the Father in the flesh. The true, full gospel of Jesus was lost very quickly after the New Testament apostles died, and there was no true church on the earth until Joseph Smith started the LDS Church in 1830. Mankind's destiny is to become Gods through obedience to the teachings of the LDS Church, including participation in the rituals of the Mormon temple. These ceremonies include the Endowment, in which Mormons learn secret handshakes and information needed to get into the highest Heaven, and baptism for the dead, in which Mormons are baptized on behalf of people who died without having a chance to accept the Mormon gospel.

It should not take a professional theologian to recognize that these beliefs are radically different from those of Christianity.

Robert Bowman is a former staffmember of Watchman Fellowship, and he can be reached by contacting our office.