Chief Mormon accused of fraud
ACTING on a criminal complaint lodged by a disaffected member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a British judge has ordered the head of the Mormon church – Thomas S Monson – to attend a court hearing on March 14.
The formal summons, signed by District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, warns Monson, who is recognised by Mormons as God’s prophet on Earth, that a warrant for his arrest could be issued if he fails to make the journey from Salt Lake City, Utah, for the hearing.
In what the Telegraph described as “one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court”, the summons lists seven teachings of the church, including that Native Americans are descended from a family of ancient Israelites as possible evidence of fraud.
It also cites the belief that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates revealed to the church’s founder Joseph Smith by angels and that Adam and Eve lived around 6,000 years ago.
The criminal complaint was lodged by Tom Phillips, a Mormon who said he withdrew from the Church after holding positions in England as bishop, stake president and area executive secretary.
He now serves as managing editor of MormonThink, an online publication that critiques the Church’s history and doctrine.
Phillips’ list of Mormon teachings he claims are demonstrably false include the origins of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, also part of the Church’s canon of scripture.
These, he insists, are not statements of mere “beliefs” or opinions or theories. They are made as actual facts and their truthfulness can be objectively tested with evidence.
Phillips alleged the Mormon Church in Great Britain has taken in $257 million in member donations since 2007. He said tithes are “mandatory” for good standing in the Church.
But there’s little likelihood of Monson ever appearing before a British beak. Legal experts in England say it is unlikely prosecutors would seek to have him extradited, and they are surprised the summonses were issued at all.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City said:
The Church occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an individual’s personal grievances or to embarrass Church leaders,
Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor and author on religious freedom commented:
I’m sitting here with an open mouth. I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I’m frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it.
Phillips’ complaint is based on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that prohibits false representations made to secure a profit, or to cause someone to lose money. Conviction may carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Two summonses were signed on January 31 by Judge Roscoe. A court official in London confirmed the issuance of the paperwork, which directs Monson to answer allegations that untrue religious precepts were used to obtain tithes comprising 10 percent of church members’ incomes.
Two British subjects, Stephen Bloor and Christopher Ralph, are identified as victims.
Harvey Kass, a British solicitor, referred to the summons as:
Bizarre. I can’t imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside within 10 seconds, in my opinion.
According to Phillips’ online biography, he converted to Mormonism in 1969 and rose through Church leadership for 33 years. Before leaving the faith in 2004, the biography says, he served as LDS area controller for the British Isles and Africa, and as financial director for corporate entities in the United Kingdom.
Phillips said his belief in LDS doctrines eroded as he began researching questions raised by fellow Mormons. He now describes himself as
A secular humanist or atheist, or whatever you want to call it. I do not see evidence of God.
Hat tip: Daz and Mike Battman.