Mor­mon work pays off with tem­ple in Thai­land

Growth bucks Chris­tian trend

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY RICHARD S. EHRLICH

BANGKOK early 50 years af­ter Mor­mons first put down roots here, open­ing small out­post churches con­vert­ing Bud­dhists, an­i­mists and other Thais, the fast-grow­ing Utah­based faith has just an­nounced plans to con­struct its first tem­ple in Thai­land, en­abling their fam­i­lies to be “sealed” to­gether for eter­nity, post­hu­mous wed­dings for dead an­ces­tors and other “high­est sacra­ments.”

The project, one of three in­ter­na­tional out­posts an­nounced by lead­ers of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints this week, will shorten the trip for believ­ers: The Mor­mons’ near­est tem­ple now is in Hong Kong, about 1,000 miles north­east of Bangkok.

“The Bangkok Thai­land Tem­ple will be the first in this Asian na­tion,” the church said in a state­ment from its Salt Lake City head­quar­ters ex­plain­ing LDS Pres­i­dent Thomas S. Mon­son’s an­nounce­ment this month.

“It may be some time be­fore an ex­act lo­ca­tion, con­struc­tion sched­ule, dates for ground­break­ing, etc., are pro­vided,” LDS public af­fairs of­fi­cer Kar­lie Brand replied when asked for de­tails.

Still, the ground­break­ing will mark a mile­stone for the church, which is buck­ing the trend of many main­line Chris­tian churches with ex­plo­sive growth in re­cent years, in part the fruit of its global mis­sion­ary ef­forts. The Mor­mons now op­er­ate 144 tem­ples world­wide, with an­other 29 — in­clud­ing Bangkok — ei­ther an­nounced or un­der con­struc­tion. The Bangkok tem­ple will be the church’s first in Southeast Asia.

Across all of Asia, ac­cord­ing to the church, there are 1.08 mil­lion believ­ers and seven tem­ples, ac­cord­ing to LDS records.

Mr. Mon­son’s an­nounce­ment of the three tem­ples — in Thai­land, Ivory Coast and Haiti — was un­ex­pected, and set off a deliri­ous re­ac­tion among Mor­mon mis­sion­ar­ies in Thai­land, whose cell­phones were filled with texts and calls from home April 5 an­nounc­ing the news in the mid­dle of the night.

“The room erupted in cheers and shouts,” El­der El­liot Mayo re­counted in his blog chron­i­cling his two-year mission in the coun­try. “Young men bounc­ing on their mat­tresses, ec­static with joy and shout­ing in glee.”

“The dis­trict knelt in a prayer of thanks,” he said. “A dream has been re­al­ized, a vi­sion reached.”

Mor­mon tem­ples are not used for

Nreg­u­lar Sun­day wor­ship, which is in­stead held in smaller chapels. Tem­ples ad­mit only Mor­mons rec­om­mended by clergy. The tem­ples are also the only places where Mor­mons’ an­ces­tors can be posthu­mously bap­tized, mar­ried and blessed through sacra­ments known as “or­di­nances.”

“Bap­tism and eter­nal mar­riage can be per­formed in be­half of those who have died,” ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial LDS web­site, Mor­mon News­room.

“Peo­ple who died with­out re­ceiv­ing es­sen­tial or­di­nances — such as bap­tism and con­fir­ma­tion, the en­dow­ment, and seal­ing — have the op­por­tu­nity to ac­cept th­ese or­di­nances,” said the web­site’s re­port, ti­tled, “Mor­mon Tem­ple Rit­u­als: What Hap­pens in LDS Tem­ples.”

Posthu­mously bap­tiz­ing an­ces­tors who were not Mor­mons “is a very im­por­tant part of the func­tion of the Mor­mon tem­ple. It’s to do the work for our fore­fa­thers, our de­ceased an­ces­tors,” El­der Wil­liam R. Walker said in an LDS video.

Living Mor­mons can have their fam­i­lies “sealed” in a tem­ple.

“Hus­bands and wives are sealed to each other, and chil­dren are sealed to their par­ents, in eter­nal fam­i­lies,” LDS said.

In Thai­land, mis­sion­ar­ies of var­i­ous Chris­tian faiths mostly tar­get the athe­ist Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity and im­pov­er­ished mi­nor­ity tribal an­i­mists. Chris­tians, in­clud­ing about 18,000 Mor­mons, com­prise about 1 per­cent of Thai­land’s pop­u­la­tion.

“Since Novem­ber 2013, the [Thai­land] mission has been bap­tiz­ing in ex­cess of 200 per month,” Reed Haslam re­ported in Jan­uary on his unau­tho­rized LDSThai­land web­site.

“One ap­proach has been to of­fer tours of Church fa­cil­i­ties to peo­ple met on the street. When show­ing them the bap­tismal font, [church of­fi­cials] ask, ‘ Would you like to have your sins washed away?’ If the an­swer is yes, they es­tab­lish a time for the first dis­cus­sion.

“The con­tin­u­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Thai­land has also made many [Thais] wary of how much they can rely on their Bud­dhist faith, or the gov­ern­ment, to help them find peace in their lives,” Mr. Haslam said.

A mil­i­tary coup in May 2014 top­pled Thai­land’s elected gov­ern­ment, re­plac­ing it with a mar­tial law regime. Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha then in­voked ab­so­lute pow­ers on April 2.

In Thai­land, which has a rep­u­ta­tion across the re­gion for he­do­nis­tic en­ter­tain­ment of­fer­ings that in­cludes in-your-face street­side pros­ti­tutes, strip­tease bars, loud night­clubs and other sen­sa­tional plea­sures, Mor­mon mis­sion­ar­ies are sup­posed to re­sist such deca­dence.

“Mis­sion­ar­ies can be sin­gle men be­tween the ages of 18 and 25, sin­gle women over the age of 19, or re­tired cou­ples,” vol­un­tar­ily serv­ing up to two years, the of­fi­cial LDS web­site said. “Mis­sion­ar­ies avoid en­ter­tain­ment, par­ties or other ac­tiv­i­ties com­mon to this [young] age group as long as they are on their mis­sions.”

Thai­land’s Bud­dhists are also in­creas­ingly sup­port­ive of gays, whose be­hav­ior Mor­mons de­nounce as a sin, even though the church re­cently said it could back nondis­crim­i­na­tion laws that pro­tect gays.

“What we do know is that the doc­trine of the church — that sex­ual ac­tiv­ity should only oc­cur be­tween a man and a woman who are mar­ried — has not changed, and is not chang­ing,” LDS El­der Dallin H. Oaks, of the church’s Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles, said in 2012.

LDS then launched a Mor­mons and Gays web­site ex­plain­ing that sin.

“The at­trac­tion it­self is not a sin, but act­ing on it is,” the of­fi­cial gay-fo­cused web­site said.

Or­ga­nized in 1830 by Joseph Smith in an up­state New York log cabin, the church now claims more than 15 mil­lion mem­bers.

Be­gin­ning in 1835, many of the first Amer­i­cans in Thai­land — known then as Siam — were mis­sion­ar­ies try­ing to con­vert the pop­u­la­tion to Chris­tian­ity. Sev­eral U.S. con­suls in Bangkok were mis­sion­ar­ies, in­clud­ing the first, the Rev. Stephen Mat­toon from 1856 to 1859, who trans­lated the New Tes­ta­ment into Thai.

Amer­i­can mis­sion­ar­ies, mostly Bap­tists, Protes­tants and Catholics, in­volved them­selves with Thai­land’s monar­chy and ed­u­ca­tional, so­cial, eco­nomic and diplo­matic af­fairs. Some worked for the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency in ad­di­tion to pros­e­ly­tiz­ing.

Amer­i­can mis­sion­ar­ies are of­ten praised in Thai­land, mostly be­cause their schools, hos­pi­tals, or­phan­ages and other fa­cil­i­ties are open to the public.

Some Bud­dhist Thais who do con­vert sim­ply add Je­sus to their col­lec­tion of protective spir­its, mix­ing Hindu, an­i­mist, su­per­sti­tions and other be­liefs while con­tin­u­ing to pray at Bud­dhist tem­ples and Chris­tian churches.

RICHARD S. EHRLICH/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

A Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints mis­sion­ary vis­its a crowded Thai fes­ti­val in Bangkok at night and pre­pares to min­gle among the public and ex­plain to them how to be bap­tized into the Mor­mon faith. Such mis­sion­ary work is pay­ing off.

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