Pageant sidelines debate
The annual Easter pageant on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been enjoying mild weather and no rain, but there is plenty of stormy debate on the sidelines.Now only a few nights remain until the Jesus The Christ presentation for 2006 is over. The free, 75-minute presentations begin at 8 p.m. through April 15 at the temple, 525 E. Main St., Mesa.
This year, as always, the pageant is visited by street preachers and protesters, who take up places along the sidewalks and proclaim the Mormon faith a false religion. Many members of the church engage them in conversation, but most ignore their angry talk.
Mike Palmer is back despite complaints that he gets assaulted in his witness work. The Glendale man informed the Tribune before the pageant that he has been the victim of religious persecution at the Mormon temple. He calls himself one of the Christians being persecuted by the Mormons. Saying he is labeled anti-Mormon, Palmer contends, I love the Mormon people. Thats why I do what I do.
Im really a Christian evangelist, he explained. Like the prophets of old, I warn Mormons that their god is not the god of the Bible — with the attendant consequences — so that theyre not ignorant and can decide for themselves whom they want to follow.
Palmer has been at the temple grounds many years at Easter and for the annual Christmas lights doing his own teaching and witnessing.
And like the prophets of old, sometimes I suffer, he said. For a decade, he said Mormons have allowed him to exercise his free speech on the public sidewalk. However, in the past few years, the violence has been escalating, and Mormons havent been very American, he said in his letter to me on March 31. Palmer said he gets assaulted about once a year and reports those to police. Hes even had someone shoot a blow dart at him.
In December, he said, a woman punched him in the eye and nose, and he was later treated for a detached retina and had surgery. His vision continues to be poor in that eye.
I fully expect I might be murdered someday near the temple by an angry Mormon, Palmer said.
Craig Ray, a Mormon, who has long served as a self-appointed watchdog of the detractors of his faith, has been talking actively with the whole group of street preachers this year, trading scriptures and trying to out-Bible them.
“There are the fundamental things that we disagree with, Ray said, including salvation and godhood. I can take a scripture and say I believe this interpretation of that scripture and you interpret it a different way. That is what gives us two different religions. I can do that all through the Bible and you can do that all through the Bible and we can come up with the scriptures that we differ on interpretation.”
Still, he insists, the overarching message that Ray tries to impress on the church’s critics, mostly with Street Preachers Fellowship, is that “God loves us and God put us here and we are to do good unto others.
In his love-thy-enemy style, Ray likes to point out where they have common ground.
Still, it can be a sideshow when the final prayer is said at the end of the pageant and people begin leaving the grounds. Then the hand-held loud-speakers or megaphones begin proclaiming the real truth.