How to cover the Mormons, England and religious liberty

It goes without saying that Godbeat veteran Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake City Tribune has, over the past quarter of a century or so, covered more than her share of stories about doctrinal issues (and disputes) in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the moment, Mormon authorities are caught up in one of the most bizarre religious liberty stories in a year dominated by big religious liberty stories. I wanted to call attention to a recent Stack report on this controversy simply to show GetReligion readers what it looks like when a pro starts nailing down one of these complicated stories.

To cut to the chase: There is a former Mormon in Great Britain who is suing the church for false and misleading doctrine. Honest. Here is a key slice of copy at the very top of the story:

Tom Phillips, a former Mormon bishop and stake president, asserts, among other claims, that LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has “made representations … which were … untrue or misleading” — including that “there was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago” and that “all humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago” — to “make a gain for himself or another.”

… A district judge in Westminster Magistrates’ Court of London issued a summons to Monson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to appear March 14 to answer the charges. And Phillips expects to see the 86-year-old Mormon leader in court — unless Monson “pleads guilty.”

“This is a serious matter,” Phillips said Wednesday in a phone interview from his home in England. “If President Monson believes in the Book of Mormon, he will show up. If he has any concern for Mormons in Britain, he will show up. And if he doesn’t show up, then an arrest warrant will be issued.”

As you would expect, Mormon authorities are outraged.

That’s the easy part of the story. It’s easy to find church authorities who see this as an outrageous violation of what, in America, would be First Amendment principles. The laws are somewhat different in the United Kingdom, but you have a similar conviction that state authorities are not supposed to get involved in disputes over doctrines and the ties that bind for eternity.

Most reporters quote the angry person. Then they quote the outraged church authority. What makes or breaks the story is the quality of the OTHER INFORMATION in the report.

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