Prayers without LDS hit a nerve

Interfaith group in Utah County balks at national event

Published: Wednesday, May 5 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO — A Utah County interfaith group is refusing to participate Thursday in a National Day of Prayer event in Orem because national and state organizers won't allow members of the LDS Church to lead prayer services.

Instead, the Utah Valley Interfaith Association, which represents 40 faiths and includes members of the LDS Church, will hold a separate service later this month.

Linda Walton, a UVSC chaplain who has chaired National Prayer Day events in Utah County for three years, said the prayer event's state coordinator, Gregory Johnson, told her she needed to be "more selective about who was leading out."

"I didn't understand what he was getting at at first," said Walton, a Seventh-day Adventist. "But then it hit me that he was saying they didn't want anyone who isn't a traditional Christian."

President Truman declared an annual National Day of Prayer in 1952, and President Reagan designated it as the first Thursday in May. The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a nonprofit, grass-roots organization that helps local groups organize events across the country to observe prayer day. The services are open to members of all faiths — but only members of evangelical Christian churches can lead prayers.

The event's national chairwoman is Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. James Dobson can be heard daily on KSL NewsRadio 1160, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LDS congregations weren't invited to the Orem event, which will go on without support from the Utah Valley ministerial association, according to one of the event's organizers, Pastor Gene Short of the Orem Christian Center. The association pulled out April 20.

The national group's objections to the LDS Church are doctrinal, according to national spokesman Mark Fried.

"Our services reflect our beliefs under the Lausanne Covenant, and the volunteers who host our events agree with that," he said.

The Lausanne Covenant is a 1974 declaration of beliefs accepted by evangelicals during an international meeting in Switzerland. Among the tenets are a belief in the Holy Trinity and acceptance of the New and Old Testaments as the only written word of God.

"People who don't agree with our beliefs are welcome to attend," Fried said. "It's similar to the fact that anyone can attend a church on Sunday, but what's said from the pulpit is going to reflect the beliefs of that church."

But Walton said LDS Church members helped lead services in past events.

Johnson didn't know if that was the case but said the national organization has always represented a distinctly evangelical expression, and he simply clarified that to Walton.

Not allowing LDS Church members to lead prayer "is indefensible, in my opinion," Walton said. "I'm not a member, but I have too many friends that are LDS that I want to pray with, and I can't imagine having this event without them. It's no different than saying we won't include blacks or Hispanics. They are a private group, so they have every right to do this, but I don't have to play into it. We'd rather find those things we agree upon and go from there."

Short agreed with the task force regarding who may lead prayer services.

"We all need to be praying because our nation needs prayer, but I definitely know that there are differences between the LDS Church and what most Christians believe, and they are very substantial differences," Short said. "For me, it would be hard to pray in agreement with LDS people because we have great doctrinal differences. I love the LDS people, and I know they love me, but there are differences."

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