Why Mormon leaders are ‘deeply troubled’ by Oregon militiamen

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Militiamen stand on a road at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on January 4, 2016. The leaders of a group of self-styled militiamen who took over a U.S. wildlife refuge headquarters over the weekend said on Monday they had acted to protest the federal government's role in governing wild lands. Ammon Bundy, a leader of the group, told reporters outside the occupied facility on Monday that his group had named itself "Citizens for Constitutional Freedom" and was trying to restore individual rights. Bundy and law enforcement officials declined to say how many people were occupying the refuge headquarters. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LDS-OREGON, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.

Militiamen stand on a road at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on January 4, 2016. The leaders of a group of self-styled militiamen who took over a U.S. wildlife refuge headquarters over the weekend said on Monday they had acted to protest the federal government's role in governing wild lands. Ammon Bundy, a leader of the group, told reporters outside the occupied facility on Monday that his group had named itself "Citizens for Constitutional Freedom" and was trying to restore individual rights. Bundy and law enforcement officials declined to say how many people were occupying the refuge headquarters. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LDS-OREGON, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which prides itself on being law-abiding, is seeking to distance itself from self-styled militiamen who last weekend seized a federal wildlife reserve in southeastern Oregon.

In a statement released Monday (Jan. 4), the LDS church condemned the armed seizure of the facility and said it was “deeply troubled” by reports that the militiamen are doing so based on scriptural principles.

“This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis,” it said.

The statement came after release of a 20-minute YouTube video by Ammon Bundy, a Mormon and the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose disputes with federal authorities gained notoriety in recent years. Ammon Bundy said he and his brother, Ryan, came to help defend Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers who were convicted of arson involving federal lands.

Militiamen stand on a road at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on January 4, 2016. The leaders of a group of self-styled militiamen who took over a U.S. wildlife refuge headquarters over the weekend said on Monday they had acted to protest the federal government's role in governing wild lands. Ammon Bundy, a leader of the group, told reporters outside the occupied facility on Monday that his group had named itself "Citizens for Constitutional Freedom" and was trying to restore individual rights. Bundy and law enforcement officials declined to say how many people were occupying the refuge headquarters. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LDS-OREGON, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.

Militiamen stand on a road at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 4, 2016. The leaders of a group of self-styled militiamen who took over a U.S. wildlife refuge headquarters over the weekend said on Monday they had acted to protest the federal government’s role in governing wild lands. Ammon Bundy, a leader of the group, told reporters outside the occupied facility on Monday that his group had named itself “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom” and was trying to restore individual rights. Bundy and law enforcement officials declined to say how many people were occupying the refuge headquarters. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LDS-OREGON, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.


READ: Dear Mormon militiamen: Stop the insanity


“I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds,” Ammon Bundy said in the video, “and that if it was not corrected, it would be a type and a shadow of what would happen to the rest of the people across this country.”

Bundy later said in the video, “I began to understand what we were supposed to do is we were supposed to get together individuals all across this country that understood and cared about what was happening and understood that our Constitution was being violated that is hanging by a thread.”

The phrase “hanging by a thread” is taken from accounts of the so-called “White Horse Prophecy,” attributed to LDS church founder Joseph Smith Jr.

Although unsubstantiated, the vision attributed to Smith talks about the U.S. Constitution, saying it would “hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber” and only be rescued by a “white horse,” a reference to Revelation 6:1-8.

“There’s a strain of Mormonism that’s very strongly right-wing,” said Boyd Jay Petersen, program coordinator for Mormon studies at Utah Valley University in Orem. “Joseph Smith claimed the U.S. Constitution was inspired and a lot of people think it’s Scripture.”

Petersen said the protesters’ statements “were sounding so Mormon” the LDS church felt it “needed to place itself outside of that.”

And while Ralph Hancock, a political science professor at LDS church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, thinks the Oregon protesters may have a point regarding federal land policy overreach, he said taking up arms went beyond what the religion teaches.

“The church has worked long and hard for decades to win a place within the mainstream of U.S. society and politics,” said Hancock. “It is not about to throw away significant gains for the sake of a handful of zealots.”

(Mark A. Kellner is a contributor to RNS)

  • Larry

    Current internet nicknames for the domestic terrorists are:

    Vanilla ISIS
    Yee-Haw’dists
    Y’all Queda
    Cosplay Cowboy Commandos
    Yokel Haram

    If they were not white Christians, these “armed protesters”/”militia” would be called by the more appropriate term: gun toting criminals and terrorists

  • SteveS

    The reason the LDS Church is deeply troubled is because its canonized scriptures, founding and modern leaders, and lay clergy routinely condone, glorify, advocate, and encourage its members to be ready for the disintegration of the U.S. Government in preparation for a dramatic second coming of Jesus. Other Christian organizations look for the same thing, but none other has modern “prophets” counseling stockpiling of food and supplies with such fervor.

    Just are there are conflicting messages in the Bible about the use of violence or force in moral, ethical, and religious issues, there are similarly conflicting messages in LDS scripture and authoritative teachings. Of course the peace-loving, law-abiding scriptures will be paraded out to condemn these, the latest of the religious domestic terrorists. But there’s no denying that these fanatics’ actions are being justified using the same scriptural and authoritative sources used by the religious organization that condemns them.

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  • martha my love

    If these thugs who are stealing service and now facilities from the American taxpayers are so sure that something is unConstitutional why don’t they hire a lawyer and take their grievance to the Supreme Court and find out?

    Truth of the matter is that they are a bunch of dinosaurs clinging to a way of life that’s unsustainable in the 2st century by asserting that they’re entitled to anything they can see. They are already heavily subsidized by the federal government and demanding that the rest of the American people support actions that they would NOT support urban and ethnic people taking in other parts of the country.

    These domestic terrorists do themselves a great disservice and the American people an even bigger one. I hope they are smart enough to recognize when they’ve made a bad and an irresponsible decision and back down before people are hurt. If not, I see no reason why the federal government shouldn’t protect the property and rule of law of the rest of…

  • When the LDS Church started pushing their too far right agenda, it forced a lot of people out. It still does today. The fact that they never fix the problem, and instead quietly kept it going, is why people like this exist in the LDS Church. This is why other Mormon churches, like the Fellowship, are popping up – there is a need for a moderate Mormon church. Rather than saying, “we don’t support them” maybe they should start figuring out who they (the LDS leadership) DOES support. They don’t seem to like homosexuals, polygamists, children of homosexuals and polygamists, blacks, etc. Now they don’t like white terrorists. I believe that Christ’s church should love and except all, as we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. But, that’s why I’m in the Fellowship and not the LDS Church.

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  • Kirk Barrus

    Your comments are incorrect and reflect a societal fringe element of 150 years ago. Today, your comments can only be construed as hate language.

  • BrotherofJared

    Yea. I can see a relationship between: “counseling stockpiling of food and supplies with such fervor.” and “the use of violence or force”.

    No. On second though, your comments are totally disconnected.