As more than 50,000 visitors have toured the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints‘ new temple in Stone Oak, a group of Evangelical Protestant missionaries claim the church has misrepresented its differences with traditional Christianity.
The temple on Stone Oak Parkway at Hardy Oak Drive offers daily tours until today. After its May 22 dedication, only LDS Church members declared worthy by their bishops may enter.
Since the tours began April 16, missionaries for San Antonio-based Evidence Ministries have distributed thousands of copies of an eight-page tabloid to motorists along Knights Cross Drive and Stone Oak Parkway near a Mormon meetinghouse where park-and-ride service is provided for temple visitors.
“If Mormon church officials would just say that, in their belief, men can become capital G Gods, there would be no reason for us to be here,” said Keith Walker, founder of Evidence Ministries.
“But they decline, so here we are.”
The tabloid, based on an old Mormon publication titled “Achieving a Celestial Marriage,” says that God was once mortal and calls men “Gods in embryo” who have potential to become “like their heavenly parents.”
Walker’s ministry witnesses to Mormons, as LDS Church members are commonly called, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has three billboards quoting LDS Church founder Joseph Smith as saying followers “must learn to be gods.” The billboards are on U.S. 281, West Avenue and Perrin Beitel Road.
Its Web site, www.evidenceministries.org, features similar material.
Michael Otterson, director of media relations for the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, said church officials aren’t interested in responding directly to critics.
“This is a never-ending battle, and we just don’t think the Lord Jesus Christ is pleased when we start throwing accusations at each other.”
He said the church doesn’t disavow “Achieving the Celestial Marriage,” although it’s been discontinued.
Otterson said church leaders don’t have all the answers about what the afterlife will be like because God hasn’t revealed them.
Gary Gomm, the church’s San Antonio communications director, called Walker’s characterization of “withholding” doctrinal information unfair.
Tours are designed to explain rituals performed in the temple: eternal sealing of marriages and families, baptisms for the dead and individual covenants with God.
But all converts receive extensive, detailed training before baptism, Gomm said.
“Anybody who wants to know what we believe can talk to our missionaries. If I wanted to know about the Catholic Church, for example, I’d ask a Catholic. I wouldn’t ask someone like Keith Walker.”
Church officials talk daily with Walker’s missionaries, have given them temple tours and allow them use of meetinghouse restrooms, he said.
Still, Walker said many motorists have applauded his group’s activities.
“We’ve gotten a lot more thumbs than fingers” from passing motorists, he said.
Mary Beth Easton of Albuquerque, N.M., a Mormon convert 31 years ago who toured the temple last week, said many people have misconceptions about LDS beliefs. She said she’s never been misled by officials.
“It’s a matter of fear and ignorance,” she said.