Every year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invites the public to its Easter Pageant on the north lawn of the Mesa Arizona Temple.
And every year, street preachers come to warn guests about flaws they see in Mormon doctrine.
But tensions escalated at this year’s pageant that ended Saturday night, according to people on both sides of the issue.
“I saw two (Mormon) members actually try to get in the face of a street preacher and pull a megaphone away from him,” said Mesa resident Craig Ray, 50, a Mormon who engages the street preachers in conversations. “That wouldn’t have happened last year, but it happened this year. Whatever they did or said, more of the preachers are here and they brought their family and kids. They are trying to be more confrontational also in their preaching.”
Ray has attended anti-Mormon rallies at places such as Salt Lake City and the Mesa temple grounds for about seven years to serve as a go-between to keep the peace between Mormons and the preachers.
Lonnie Pursifull, 41, a Baptist from Salt Lake City who belongs to the Street Preachers Fellowship, said one street preacher was shot Thursday night with a BB gun. Pursifull said the attack left the preacher with a blood blister on his back.
“We had a lot of good conversations besides that, but we’ve had some Mormons getting pretty rough,” Pursifull said.
Mesa police Sgt. Chuck Trapani confirmed the shooting and said the culprits were described as white men in their 20s wearing dark shirts. He said police are investigating the incident as an aggravated assault.
Police officers patrol the event each night and try to maintain crowd control, but Pursifull said he sometimes disregards instructions from the officers.
“I go where God tells me to go,” he said. “Not where police officers tell me to go.”
Pursifull says his constitutional rights allow him to do what he’s doing, and police overstep their authority when they interfere.
He said the confrontations and pressure from police to keep preachers in certain areas has only prompted more preachers and families from across the country who oppose the Mormon religion to attend the Easter Pageant.
Pursifull has attended the Mesa pageant and many other Mormon functions for the past three or four years.
He travels the country speaking out against the Mormon church and others that he says offend his faith, such as homosexuals.
Join the discussion
Tribune Spiritual Life editor Lawn Griffiths addresses the Easter Pageant confrontations on his Web log at blogs.eastvalleytribune.com