Mormons’ valley vandal issue points to deeper woes

By now, most folks in Southern Colorado know about the recent story of three Mormon missionaries apparently photographing one another mocking various elements of a Catholic chapel in the San Luis Valley, along with the suspicion that they also are the ones responsible for vandalizing property, including a statue of a saint.

That the missionaries went through the effort to scale the hill where the statues and chapel are located suggests not only thoughtless youth gone awry, but a more conscious act of volition. Folks in the area are upset, and justifiably so.

It will be a while before any young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will return to the valley, and even then, it may be years, if not decades, before they can expect to sway people in a positive direction about their faith. The rift, now a prominent part of the public forum, indicates some significant missteps, and not simply by the Mormons.

The most obvious blunder was by the missionaries themselves. Not only did they encroach on someone else’s sacred turf, but they were brazen enough to photograph themselves doing it, and then post the pictures – with captions, mind you – on the Internet.

Where the man in charge of the missionaries in this area fell short was in not being more proactive about holding the young men accountable for their actions. Though he issued an apology on behalf of the church and even had one of the missionaries issue an apology, he balked at publicizing their names, and didn’t take even more assertive steps to calm the waters such as taking the young men back to the scene of the crime for an in-person apology.

Thus far, the Mormon Church apparently has made no public offer to restore the damaged statue, another significant error in judgment. Though the statues themselves may go against the Mormon position on so-called “graven images,” they should offer to make things right out of respect for their neighbors, and to make public a point that they respect the religious views of those who do not believe as they do.

There were missed opportunities on the other side as well. First off, the members of the local chapel in the valley had an opportunity to demonstrate grace in action by not filing charges against the Mormon missionaries, but they voted to do so anyway. To what end? Do they honestly believe that dragging this issue into court will make things right?

In my humble opinion, this is the kind of thing against which Jesus preached: sitting back and letting the courts determine right and wrong for us, rather than dealing with one another directly. No one was harmed in the course of this offense, and by making a legal issue out of something that should have presented an opportunity for constructive dialogue, a door was slammed shut.

Finally, the mayor of the town of San Luis demonstrated his own religious unfamiliarity by labeling the Mormon Church, in a letter to the newspaper the “Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints.” It may seem like a minor mistake to substitute an “and” for an “of,” but battles have been waged over as much in religious circles.

If we’re going to be critical of one another, let’s at least get to know each other by name.

The best hope for this situation is for someone, and hopefully at least one from either side, to be bold enough to call for a public forum. The missionaries should be there to take their lumps and to do what they can to make amends, and the offended parties should take this opportunity to show they don’t need to verbally flog the foolish young men, though they may feel entitled.

We Christians should be better than all of this.

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