Nearly two dozen local evangelical pastors gathered near the LDS Conference Center on Tuesday to condemn the actions of street preachers who desecrated clothing sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints earlier this month.
The Rev. Greg Johnson, president of a coalition called Standing Together, said the actions of Lonnie Pursifull, Utah director of the World Wide Street Preachers Fellowship, and other street preachers who profess to be "Christian evangelists" do not in any way represent the Christian gospel that he and other group members believe in.
The street preachers held protest signs and used bullhorns to deride Latter-day Saints during the faith's semiannual general conference in early October and at one point reportedly spat and stomped on garments considered sacred to church members.
Two LDS men were arrested after taking the garments from the street preachers, and one was charged with assault. The Provo man has since received donations for his legal defense fund.
"Those who would profess to be followers of Jesus Christ cannot and ought not needlessly offend those with whom they might disagree theologically," the Rev. Johnson said.
The group came together en masse to "speak firmly against any actions that forward activities of hate and discrimination as qualities associated with genuine Christian witness or behavior," he said.
Those who "profanely used the Mormon garments to mock and ridicule the Latter-day Saint community in ways too egregious to mention owe an apology to the Mormon community, and we call upon them to repent publicly of their activities," he said.
Pursifull, who told a Deseret Morning News reporter on Tuesday that he planned to attend the press conference, didn't show up.
Ken Mulholland, president of the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, said his institution has had "the privilege of being picketed" by Pursifull and company after decrying the street preachers' tactics on earlier occasions.
The Rev. Johnson said various pastors who are members of Standing Together had tried to speak to Pursifull individually, but "he was very disinterested and refused to hear us."
Public discussion of the street preachers' behavior earlier this month has resulted in numerous letters to the editor of both Salt Lake City newspapers from many who are not LDS, decrying the actions as un-Christian. The street preachers have repeatedly stated God has sent them to "speak truth" that others are reticent to say, urging Latter-day Saints to either turn from their faith or burn in hell.
The group wanted to make sure the public distinguishes between "lone rangers" like Pursifull and the wider evangelical community, which condemns his actions, according to the Rev. Bill Young of Salt City Rock Church.
"The best way to support and encourage a person is through prayer rather than confrontation," according to Jeff Nellermoe of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills offered a written statement in response:
"We are grateful to Rev. Gregory Johnson of Standing Together Ministries and his associates, representing a large number of evangelical congregations, for their considerate and timely expression noting the importance of religious tolerance in our community.
"We agree that religious differences should be discussed 'with gentleness and respect' to avoid needless offense to others."
Twenty-three pastors gathered for the event, and a total of 36 congregations were named as supporters on a press release provided by Standing Together.
The clergy said they represent not only themselves but the sentiment within their congregations throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
The Rev. Sieg Krueger of the Mountain View Christian Assembly of God said while orthodox Christians and Latter-day Saints probably will never agree on many points of theology, "if we disagree we need to do so agreeably."
As a minister here for 15 years, he said he has learned his LDS neighbors "love God as much as we do" and both groups do it in their own way.
The incident at LDS general conference has come up in several informal conversations with members of his congregation, the Rev. Krueger said, and "they are concerned about it."Last Sunday morning, when he told his congregation about the press conference and the desire to stand publicly against the street preachers' behavior, "they literally exploded in applause."