March Surprise

It turns out not to be very surprising.

Judge throws out attempt to accuse Mormon church of fraudulent teachings

Some highlights from the report:

Two summons were issued to Thomas Monson, the president of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alleging that, by seeking money using “untrue or misleading” statements, he breached the Fraud Act 2006.

But the private prosecution by Tom Phillips was thrown out at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by Senior District Judge Howard Riddle, who said it was an “abuse of the process of the court”.

He added: “I am satisfied that the process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others.” …

The summons, signed by District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, ordered Mr Monson to appear at Westminster and threatened arrest if he did not.

However, Judge Riddle said today that the threat of arrest was “wrong” and should not have been made.

He described the attempted prosecution as “tenuous”, with no chance of ever making it to trial even if Mr Monson attended.

He said it was “obvious” that the case was aimed at the beliefs of the church rather than Mr Monson himself.

I’ve made a few unkind statements about Tom Phillips’ motivations, and I’ve apologized personally to Tom. I take him at his word that he really does want justice for people he feels have been victimized by the LDS church. But it’s clearly impossible to show intentional fraud by people who are simply teaching the religious tenets they actually believe.

The argument has been made that Mormon truth claims are different from other religious claims because they are falsifiable. For example, it’s quite easy to show that Joseph Smith’s “explanation” of Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham is far from accurate. Other religious claims, such as God creating the universe, are beyond human capacity to confirm or deny.

The problem, of course, is where one draws the line between objective “fact” and religious “faith.” Most people agree that humans cannot die and then suddenly come back to life after three days in the grave. But that’s what Jesus did, so is the resurrection objectively false (and therefore fraudulent), or is it a matter of faith? The evidence is likewise very clear that there was no Proto-Christian civilization of Hebrew settlers in the Americas between 600 BC and 400 AD, but again, that’s what the Book of Mormon claims. Is believing in Nephites a matter of fact or faith? Ultimately, these are issues that cannot be resolved in a court of law, as the judge made clear:

He added: “To convict, a jury would need to be sure that the religious teachings of the Mormon church are untrue or misleading. That proposition is at the heart of the case.

“No judge in a secular court in England and Wales would allow that issue to be put to a jury. It is non-justiciable.”

I realized a long time ago that I will never get back what the church took from me: my time, my devotion, my efforts, my money, my heart. All I can do is go forward and try to learn from the past rather than look back with regret, hurt feelings, or anger.

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6 Responses to March Surprise

  1. Camille Biexei says:

    Runtu, you know I usually agree with you, but in this case I differ some. There is ample evidence that the GAs do not actually “believe”, and that they are really are just cynical heads of a corporation pretending to be a religion.

    • runtu says:

      I don’t mind disagreement. I’d be worried if everyone agreed with me all the time. That would be scary, indeed. :)

      If there’s evidence the leaders don’t believe, I haven’t seen it, so I’m not sure what you are referring to, but I welcome the opportunity to learn something new. I met several GAs when I worked for the church and I never doubted they believed. Even if there were anecdotal evidence, I’m not sure how you could prove in a court of law that these men don’t believe what they say.

      As for the corporate nature of today’s church, I don’t think anyone disputes that. In my cynical moments, I sometimes say that the two missions of the church are growth and income, but in a non-cynical way that is still true. Growth (the stone rolling until it fills the earth) is quite possibly the church’s foremost tangible goal, and from what I’ve seen, safeguarding and increasing the church’s wealth are seen as similarly contributing to the church’s ability to survive and thrive in the world. That said, I agree with Daymon Smith that the adoption of mid-20th century corporate culture has been a destructive influence in the church.

  2. Well state. Instead of the lawsuit being a vehicle to allow LDS members access to balanced and objective information, the effort was about attention. Attacking a revered elderly prophet for church teachings, even ones that are scientifically and demonstrably false, only reserves to reinforce an all too overly played persecution complex Mormons are spoon fed.

    I think a better effort, if one wanted to “damage” the LDS Church is to create a place where Mormons feel safe to question their faith in a safe manner. The criminal prosecution was doomed to fail from the beginning. Unfortunately Tom Phillips set aside objective and seasoned legal advice in favor of the cheers from the peanut gallery. Now, Mormons have yet another example to feed their stereotype that all apostates are bitter people.

    • runtu says:

      If nothing else, Tom Phillips showed pretty conclusively that there isn’t some monolithic movement of ex-Mormons who have the same goals and beliefs. Will Rogers famously said, “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” I feel the same way about ex-Mormons: we share common experiences, so we can relate to each other and what we have been through, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. We clearly don’t share the same goals, we don’t even believe the same things about the LDS church, and we live our lives very differently.

      But some people think we are all the same. I was criticized by some ex-Mormons for being judgmental and disloyal for disagreeing with Tom Phillips. At the same time, some Mormons told me I supported “terrorists” because I obviously condoned what Tom was doing. The problem is obvious: it’s impossible to put us all into two simplistic camps: Mormon and ex-Mormon. It’s even worse to presume that to be either is to adhere to common beliefs and actions. Life is more complicated than that, and it never works that way.

      I recall being called a coward and a “pussy” by some Mormons because I wasn’t willing to loudly denounce the LDS church and have my name removed. At the same time, I have been told recently that I’m hurting my LDS family members because I say what I think publicly. I realize that it really doesn’t matter what I say or do, as the problem really is that they have pushed me into the ex-Mormon camp and have tried to define me that way. It must drive some people crazy that I find it valuable and enjoyable to say what I think, regardless of what anyone else thinks or whether it fits with their conception of an ex-Mormon. Imagine that.

  3. swearingelder says:

    I think the case could have been more tightly constructed and focused more on the tithing aspect. It still would have been problematic, I’m sure.

    That said, I think your final paragraph is excellent:

    “I realized a long time ago that I will never get back what the church took from me: my time, my devotion, my efforts, my money, my heart. All I can do is go forward and try to learn from the past rather than look back with regret, hurt feelings, or anger.”

    Though I wouldn’t mind getting my money back — so I could afford to pay a therapist to help me with the other parts. ;-)

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