SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Church leaders on Monday plainly and roundly denounced a militia whose organizers cited Mormon scriptures in the months before they seized a federal facility in Oregon on Saturday.
"While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a church matter," the church said in a statement, "church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land."
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who are Mormons, are leading a hastily organized militia group of 15 in an occupation of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. The group is protesting the treatment of two ranchers in the eastern Oregon area.
The ranchers did not request the brothers' help.
In November, the Bundys' mother, Carol, sent an email that used a Book of Mormon term — "a type and a shadow" — to predict future suffering at the hands of the federal government if people didn't stand up to support the ranchers, Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46.
Ammon Bundy, who lives in Phoenix, sent an email quoting a verse in the Doctrine & Covenants, "Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn."
A BYU political science professor rejected the Bundys' use of Mormon scripture.
"This is a very selective reading and interpretation and contrary to gobs of counsel from church leaders," said Quin Monson, who has studied the LDS Church and politics and helped conduct a definitive survey of Mormon political attitudes.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who is from Cedar City, Utah, are the sons of Cliven Bundy, who made national news in 2014 during a weeks-long armed standoff with federal officials over grazing rights.
The Hammonds were convicted of setting fires on federal properties in Oregon. Dwight Hammond served three months and his son served a year, but a judge now has ruled their federal sentences violated minimum guidelines and ordered them back to prison for another four years.
The Hammonds reported to prison Monday without incident.
BYU's Monson said American Mormons are highly patriotic. The co-author of "Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics" said Latter-day Saints also have deep reverence for U.S. symbols like the flag, national monuments and the office of the presidency.
Mormons have what Monson called a "special and unique brand" of American exceptionalism. Mormons see America as part of God's larger plan based on passages in the Book of Mormon and statements by modern church leaders.
Seventy-two percent of American Mormons say the United States has a special role to play in world affairs and should act differently, Monson said. Additionally, 94 percent agree the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are inspired.
"It's a core belief of American Mormons," Monson said, "reinforced by dozens of statements by church leaders."
The Bundys and their supporters frequently have referred to Captain Moroni, an important Book of Mormon figure. An Oregon Public Broadcasting story said one militia man gave a reporter his name as Captain Moroni. The story included the verse, "And it came to pass that Moroni was angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country," without the context that Moroni later learned his anger was misplaced: The government was ineffective due to an insurrection and rebellion.
Monson pointed to another passage in the Doctrine & Covenants: "We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly... ."
The church's explicit denunciation Monday of the Bundys' actions is consistent with longstanding practice and repeated statements. The LDS Church regularly encourages its members to be involved politically, including voting and serving in public office. "However," Monson said, "those statements are almost always accompanied by encouragement to remain involved in politics civilly.
"Combine that with the church's own statement on Monday and that unequivocally rules out any encouragement, endorsement or approval for using weapons and violence in any political activity. That's just out of bounds."
One of the articles of faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
Church leaders also have warned against excessive, all-consuming patriotism.155 comments on this story
"Love of country is surely a strength, but carried to excess it can become the cause of spiritual downfall," said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a talk to BYU students in 1992. "There are some citizens whose patriotism is so intense and so all-consuming that it seems to override every other responsibility, including family and church. I caution those patriots who are participating in or provisioning private armies and making private preparations for armed conflict. Their excessive zeal for one aspect of patriotism is causing them to risk spiritual downfall as they withdraw from the society of the church and from the governance of those civil authorities to whom our twelfth article of faith makes all of us subject."