Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

4 Mormon missionaries injured in Brussels attacks

Emergency services at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

[Updated 23 March; see end of post]

This is not the post I planned to run today.

But this morning I learned of the awful attacks in Brussels. It hit home particularly because a good friend was in Brussels just a couple of days ago, so I’m experiencing that strange mixture of relief that he is home safely and horror at the senseless deaths and injuries that other people suffered today.

In the Grand Place in Brussels, summer 2014

In the Grand Place in Brussels, summer 2014

In the last few months, terrorism has felt ever closer to home, as strikes have happened in places I have visited and loved: Istanbul, Paris, and now Belgium, where I traveled with my brother in 2014.

And it registered even more strongly when I got a call from a colleague at RNS about the fact that three Mormon missionaries from the France Paris mission were among the injured. Fox 13 in Salt Lake City reports their names as:

Elder Richard Norby (66) of Lehi, Utah
Elder Joseph Empey (20) of Santa Clara, Utah
Elder Mason Wells (19) of Sandy, Utah

Later in the day, the LDS Church confirmed that a fourth missionary, Sister Fanny Rachel Clain, had also been hospitalized.

My sadness multiplied significantly when I heard all this news. Maybe it’s my Mormon chauvinism talking: it probably doesn’t speak well of me that the story only fully hit home when it began affecting my own people. I ought to be bigger than this.

RELATED RNS NEWS STORY, WITH FURTHER DETAILS: Mormon missionaries among Brussels casualties

And yet there is a particular pathos when hatred strikes young people. We have a young woman from my congregation right now who is serving a mission in Belgium (Dutch speaking). There’s such joy attending her service — and that of so many other missionaries, tens of thousands of others who volunteer their time and love for people they had never met until the day they received that call:

But every injury and death in Brussels — and Paris and Damascus and Istanbul and Kano — has happened to innocent people who also love their families, love to laugh, and have unfulfilled dreams ahead of them. It may be the missionaries’ hospitalizations that brings the fact of terrorism home to many Mormons, but let it be a catalyst for us to acknowledge that they are all our children.

The hospitalization of three Mormon missionaries in Brussels prods me to remember: Every victim of terrorism could be my child, my sister, or my parent.

As the LDS Church put it in a statement today,

With much of the world, we awoke this morning to the heartbreaking news of the bombings in Belgium. Our prayers are with the families of the deceased and injured, including three of our missionaries who were injured and hospitalized. We also pray for the people of Belgium and France as they continue to deal with the uncertainty and devastation caused by the recent terrorist attacks.

Update, 3/23: Yesterday, the president of the France Paris mission, Frederic Babin, released a short video statement you can access here. He confirmed that four missionaries, not three, were being treated in the wake of the attacks.

“They’re doing okay, and they’ve been taken care of,” he said. “And we’re looking at the possibility for them to feel better soon and to be able to get out of the hospital.”

Babin said that he asked all the missionaries in the area to stay in their apartments until he had the all-clear that they would be safe. Soon, he hopes, they  will be able to return to the reason they are in Belgium, “which is to preach the gospel.”

The missionaries, he said, are “wonderful men and women who are sending to the world a message of peace, of joy.”

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • Prayers ascending.

    Sadly, the LDS Church remembers both Belgium & France, but no mention of Turkey! They join the ranks of many other US Christian denominational statements with the appearance of a tinge of racism by whom they omit in their calls of prayer & remembrance.

  • David: You’re wrong. Absolutely wrong. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard prayers in the LDS Church–both private and public–asking for benevolence on behalf of peoples, nations (by name. . yes, Davie, by name), for the softening of the hears of combatants, etc. You are not seeking recompense; you are seeking attention to yourself and to your pale efforts to malign a great people and work, while playing the “victim” card (as do all sycophants of your style and ilk that often appear on this blog). You didn’t even bother to think about or recall all the efforts spent by that organization on behalf of the middle east, the outer Asia, (geez, we won’t even get into what’s been done for Armenia and the central steppes, but that would just confuse you, wouldn’t it??) Pick up your ball and go home. . . . you weren’t ready to play anyway. We’ll pray that you will calm yourself and gain this knowledge also. And quit whining.

  • I know the extended Empey family from the St George area, but I don’t know Elder Empey personally. So I’m not sure if I would feel the need for revenge if I did know him well.

    That being said, the most frustrating thing to me about this whole mess are the strident remarks by US presidential candidates and others that we need to wipe out ISIS and radical Islam because of this.

    Those kinds of comments only increase the danger and the violence.

  • Bryant, just a bit vitriolic in your response to David aren’t you? David strongly disagreed with some of my comments several posts ago but he he wasn’t insulting like your post is. Just go back and review Jana’s older posts. Far more often it seems to be those of the TBM (true-believing or true-blue member)”style and ilk” who are so nasty and sarcastic in their responses. There are exceptions such as Wayne Dequer. Your jibe about the “victim” card seems to me projectionist. Your inference that the church has been generous with its humanitarian aid does not stand up to scrutiny when comparing the billions it has taken in vs. how much it’s paid out. The stridency of your comment suggests it is you, sir, who would benefit from calming and a cessation of whining.

  • Thank you my brother, I was shocked by the ferocity of the attack and the insults. Davie? I would never presume to use the diminutive form of someone’s name whom I don’t know. It is a device purely meant to put someone down, to treat them as a child.

    My comment was totally misread by him. I’m a Christian on the Episcopalian/Anglican path and a person of color (Latino). I’m also one of the vocal Christians out there who disagrees with much of the theology of the LDS Church, but fully accepts the LDS people as fellow followers of Jesus Christ, Christians.

    I’m also an editor on an Episcopalian blog and have seen a number of public responses in the last 18 hours by various denominations. So many mention Belgium, the current nation attacked, and France, attacked two months ago, but no mention of Turkey, attacked just days ago. That oversight strongly has a racist, sectarian appearance and that was what I was pointing out.

  • David: Good points. I think it has a lot to do with what our media report on. I have heard a great deal in the media about Belgium today, but nothing (in my limited timeframe of listening to the news) of attacks on Turkey.

  • First thought that popped into my head: this kind of cruel violence has existed forever; I mean, the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians to create terror. It’s only when it affects rich white people that anybody really cares.

    The example of AIDS comes to mind. It’s believed the virus crossed over to humans in the Congo in the 1920’s. It wasn’t until some time in the 1980’s, when cases appeared in the middle class heterosexual population that people started panicking about finding a cure and spending significant money on it.

    I know people are grieving now, and I am sorry for the pain. Perhaps we should have been grieving all along.

  • Hey! Am I the only one who noticed that Jana did mention Istanbul in her blog? I am pretty sure that is in Turkey!

    Thanks for your insights, Jana. Always a pleasure to read.

  • I wonder if this is partially because they didn’t know the Turkey attacks happened. I didn’t until this post.

  • Thanks for participating in the conversation, David. Regardless of how some of your Mormon friends treat you, your broader perspective is, in fact, quite useful and in my estimation, needed. It’s odd that Mormon theology has a universal flavor to it all the while some Mormon adherents claim a rather exclusionist privilege. In that case, consider the universalist views of Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, over the views of eager folks like Brother Cole. My guess is you’re already praying for Brother Cole to find a closer alignment with our Lord.

  • Danny and David (if you insist): you can try to walk it back if you want. You can put a little pretty doily on it. You can gift wrap it. You can put spritzer on it to make it smell better. You can mask it in sophistries, niceties and political correctness. You can do all of that. Regardless, what David said was a dig. . . pure and simple. . . . looking to play the put upon. Was I little bit curt?? Yes, in hindsight; my bad; I can be better. Sorry. But not sorry for seeing the bird in the bush. . . . and flushing it out.

  • David:

    Sorry for misunderstanding your comment.

    I think there is a sense of wariness about Turkey in the West. It has become increasingly dominated by Islam over the years. And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is viewed with wariness and suspicion by Christians because he is pro-Islamic, and uses dictator-like tactics against his opposition–especially controlling the press. Turkey’s unwillingness to take responsibility or even to acknowledge what many think was a genocide against the Armenian Christian minority after WWI is also still a much warmer topic in Europe than it is in the US.

    I am not sure if the attitudes about Turkey are fueled by racism so much as a general anti-Islamic feeling. This anti-Islamism is a form of prejudice that is unfair to many peaceful Muslims. But I am not sure it has anything to do with race. It has more to do with fear of Islamic radicalization and the accompanying senseless terrorism.

  • Prayers to the family’s of the victim was caused by these Islamic terrorists.
    Also praying that the authorities will find other sleeper cells planning future terrorist attacks.

  • Typo corrections :

    Prayers to the family’s of the victims caused by these Islamic terrorists.
    Also praying that the authorities will find other sleeper cells planning future terrorist attacks.

  • David, I think you raise a good point about the absence of Turkey. To be honest, I might have left it off the list too if I had not traveled there and fallen in love with the country and its people. News stories are never received in quite the same way after you have walked where tragic events are taking place. You are connected in a way you weren’t before.

    You’re probably right that leaving Turkey off the list reflects a certain narrow-mindedness on the part of American Christians. In the Mormon case, I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that LDS missionaries have no presence in Turkey and there are only 400 Mormons in the entire country. You might be surprised at how open Mormons often are about foreign cultures in general — a direct result of the experience so many have of living abroad for two years and learning another language and culture. But Turkey would not be on that short list.

  • This is totally out of line, Bryant, and if I had been able to monitor this discussion yesterday I would have deleted your comment. Now that a discussion has followed it, and you have (sort of/defensively/grudgingly) apologized, I will let it stand. But please know that comments that devolve into personal insults have no place on this site.

    To be specific and clear: Any comments that continue in this vein, employing a condescending and patronizing tone (e.g., calling the previous commenter by a childish nickname when you, in fact, were the one behaving like a toddler, wrongly accusing David of playing a victim card, making wild assumptions about David’s motivations for writing, and suggesting that David’s intellect is so flimsy that you won’t “confuse” him with further details) will be deleted.

    We do not call people idiots on this blog. If you would like to continue in that vein, go start your own site.

  • I can see why you wanted to step in. But you might have commented directly on the phrase, “appearance of a tinge of racism.” As you point out, that was entirely unwarranted in the context and hence deliberately inflammatory.

    There is an interesting question here: does every terrorist attack require a statement by the Church? If not, is it “racist” for the Church to be selective according to the degree of international attention and whether Church members or missionaries are involved? I’m not sure I know how the Church should decide when and why a public statement is appropriate, but “tinge of racism” was an obnoxious thing to say. Bryant deserves being chastised but maybe David does too.

  • Possibly attitudes about Turkey are fueled by popular Turkish attitudes toward the United States, Europe, and, you know, Christians. Perhaps attitudes are fueled by knowledge of how the Turkish government treats its Kurd minority. Lots of things to look at. But Jana is right; there is a beautiful people and culture there. “In 1991 the Church sent an estimated 13,000 blankets, 80,000 pounds of clothing, and funds for medical supplies to aid Kurdish refugees in Turkey.” (LDS Newsroom)

    Was that racist, do we think?

  • “while some Mormon adherents claim a rather exclusionist privilege.”

    That’s a bit vague. What are you trying to say?

  • Don’t beat yourself up about these kinds of omissions — it’s not just Christians, it’s the media in general that has a Western bias. One might argue that attacks in Europe or North America are more significant strategically because it demonstrates ISIS’s or Al Qaeda’s reach, but that’s a different concern than sympathy and concern for victims.

  • Memba, as I’m sure you know, the modern state of Turkey was up until recently severely secular. On the other hand, Turkey’s membership in NATO always seemed to me more about presenting a front against the USSR, and less about Turkey actually having a Western bent. Now that Erdogan seems to have succeeded in undoing the secularism, the rest of the West has all of a sudden noticed things like the Armenian genocide and the anti-Kurdish campaigns. I think it’s more about geopolitics than hostility toward Islam.

  • Only church I know where you have an annual worthiness interview, get carded at the door, excommunicated for blogging, and the history is hidden in a vault under a mountain. That’s pretty exclusionary. Nothing vague about it.

  • Is it the media in general that has a Western bias or the Western media that has a Western bias? Or if you conflate “media in general” with Western media what does that tell us about your bias?

    It’s perfectly obvious that we as Westerners are plugged into media sources that give some precedence to European and North American events, especially in regard to terrorism. WSJ has an op-ed today which points out that “[t]here’s not a day that goes by without an Islamist attack somewhere.” The March 19 attack in Istanbul was “the fifth mass-casualty terrorist bombing in Turkey in as many months.” I suppose David thinks that the press release machine needs to run pretty much daily in order to avoid “the tinge of racism.”

  • What can I say? “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” Matt 7:7
    “No man delights in the bearer of bad news” –Sophocles in Antigone

  • Yes, because as 1930s-40s Germany proved, when you stay silent against violent radicals with a penchant for genocide and conquest, the world is a safer place.

  • More press coverage today regarding the injured reveals that one of the young missionaries, Elder Wells from Sandy, was also only a block from the Boston Marathon bombing 3 years ago.

    Elder Wells and the other two Elders injured were at the airport to see the fourth missionary who was injured, Sister Clain, off to Cleveland OH to serve. She had passed to another part of the airport when the bombs went off and was not with the other three by then.

  • As you point out, that was entirely unwarranted in the context and hence deliberately inflammatory.

    I didn’t see Jana do any such thing. You seem to read what you want to read based on your preconceptions. And it’s strange how you feel qualified to school the author!

    English is my 2nd language, but I’m certain that most folks here understand that stating that something has the appearance of racism and flat out that something is racist are two entirely different things. I was very selective in my words so as not to convey the latter and most everyone but you and Mr Cole understood that.

    You pretty much take everyone on in this thread. You are wringing out your 15 minutes of fame.

  • I’m drawn to Joseph having a direct, personal relationship with God and a commission from God to teach truth. I’m drawn to Joseph’s claim on truth wherever he could find it.

    I have no quarrel with the traditions of the Church and leaders of the Church drawing endless correlated, legalistic lines in the sand. They are free to do as they see fit and will have their reward. We are free to follow the spirit or follow the arm of flesh but everyone who has been tutored directly from heaven recommends following the spirit. In 3 Nephi Jesus warns the gentiles of their pride, their hubris and their self-destructive folly. May we choose well.


    It was flat out unwarranted to say that omitting reference to the fifth terrorist attack in five months in Turkey had any relationship at all to racism, including the appearance of the tinge of racism. You are perfectly well aware how loaded those words are but you chose to use them anyway. The logical inference is that you were being deliberately inflammatory and I absolutely stand by my comment.


  • Where is that? What we have are people delusional enough to think that draconian actions ever stamp put radicalism.

    Only f00ls think that one fights radicals by becoming one. The best agents IS have are the islamophobes who think the constitution has a special escape clause “does not apply to Muslims”

  • And if you listen to Trump and Cruz, you see that they want to act like Nazis. Single out people based on religion and strip them of civil liberties in ever increasing measures.

  • Yoh, Battle of Tours (732). QED.

    While clearly religious freedom doesn’t have a Muslim exclusion, the leftist pacifist idea that forceful opposition to violent extremism of any sort “just makes more terrorists” is obviously delusional. I say obviously because we see in Europe just what that idea has wrought.

    I don’t imagine even remotely that ISIS or Al Qaeda or anyone like that somehow needs ideological, political, police or military opposition to recruit terrorists or soldiers. Your idea that opposition just makes them mad ignores that they are already very very deadly, and seem to have plenty of self-imagined justifications for their hostility without needing any claimed provocations to fire up the base. Passivity hasn’t worked and you just need to pay attention in order to see that.

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