Deseret News, Jan. 18, 2003
By Brady Snyder, Deseret News staff writer
Disliked by many and enjoyed by few, in-your-face, megaphone-wielding street preacher Lonnie Pursifull is not hindered by such reactions in his call to spread — and define — the gospel on the streets of Salt Lake City and beyond.
“I know I’m an unpopular person in Utah as far as that a lot of people don’t like me,” he says. “I’m not in this for popularity.”
Pursifull’s critics range from Salt Lake City’s ultra-liberal left to its ultra-conservative right. Notables from Mayor Rocky Anderson to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Salt Lake Theological Seminary have spoken against Pursifull’s brash style.
Pursifull has gained a degree of notoriety during the ongoing Main Street Plaza feud as a constant critic of the LDS Church and its attempts to regulate conduct — including street preaching — on the church-owned plaza.
Armed with his “funnel of truth” — the name he gives his cheerleader-type megaphone — Pursifull rebukes Utah’s dominant religion, other “sinners” and anyone else with an ear to hear.
“I get dirty looks from everybody,” he said.
As a carpet layer and rug designer by day, Pursifull’s commitment to aggressive street preaching has deflated his wallet.
“A lot of my clients were Mormon people,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of work over it.”
But that hasn’t stopped Pursifull from taking to the streets and sidewalks to rebuke the LDS Church, homosexuals, atheists and even evangelical Christians be believes have strayed from what he considers core biblical teachings. The Baptist insists he is called to preach not only to LDS Church members but anyone who so strays.
“We don’t just preach to the Mormons,” he said. “We preach all over the state. The Mormons just happen to be on the list some of the time.”
And, he said, the message isn’t all negative. Pursifull offers hope, too.
“We go and show them their sin and then we show them a way out — faith in Jesus Christ,” he said. “If we just went there and bashed them and trashed them, we wouldn’t be doing them no good.”
Pursifull’s identification with the Main Street Plaza controversy has brought out the critics.
“There certainly is a time and place for the conveyance of their message, but the middle of the plaza should not be the place,” Mayor Anderson said, “especially when wedding celebrations are being interrupted.”
Even the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, which disagrees with LDS Church doctrine, held a press conference to denounce Pursifull for using “bombastic” and “mean-spirited” methods to preach the gospel.
Pat Edwards of Grace Baptist Church in Bountiful said Pursifull and others like him represent a small minority of Christians, and then made an appeal to members of the LDS Church.
“Let me simply ask the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to forgive us in not supporting you, in not speaking out sooner,” he said.
Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which is “radically opposed” to the LDS Church in a number of ways, says Pursifull’s preaching is too over the top.
Still, Pursifull says he is called to preach the gospel and will continue despite veiled threats from City Hall to toss him in jail for disturbing the peace. He compares his plight to John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, all of whom were imprisoned and later killed for preaching the gospel.
Pursifull has been preaching near the LDS Temple for eight years and is personally familiar with the LDS Church. As a child, Pursifull’s mother was LDS. On her death bed, however, she spoke with a Baptist minister, quit the LDS Church and “got saved,” as Pursifull puts it.
The Baptist upbringing didn’t stop Pursifull from attending LDS Church services for seven months because he was in love with an LDS girl.
But Pursifull perceived differences between the doctrine of Jesus Christ taught by the LDS Church and the doctrine of Jesus he found in the Bible. So he left.
The chief reason he began preaching was because “Mormon missionaries were always coming to my house and teaching me things that aren’t in the Bible,” he said.
That said, the man has deep familial connections to the LDS Church. His great-great grandparents came to Salt Lake City in a wagon train with Brigham Young and even hauled granite used for building the LDS Temple, Pursifull said.
His beefs with the LDS Church are largely doctrinal and concern its push to be considered “Christian,” a moniker many Baptists and evangelical Christians refuse to bestow upon the LDS faith.
There are many reasons the LDS Church should not be considered Christian, Pursifull said.
The LDS doctrine of salvation, for instance, relies too heavily on good works and not enough on faith in Jesus Christ, he said. He has issues with LDS doctrine that teaches Jesus and Satan were once brothers. And he does not accept the LDS doctrine that man, after resurrection, can become like God with similar powers.
“They try and deceive people that they are Christians,” Pursifull said. “That’s really what stepped up the heat against the Mormon Church.”
Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies at Brigham Young University, disagrees with Pursifull. He wrote a book arguing that all LDS doctrines have been incorporated by different Christian sects at some point in history.