LDS Interfaith Relations, Orange County, California
Interfaith Activities in Orange County
Second and Third Trimesters. 2008
I am reporting for two trimesters, because I was too busy implementing my activities to stop and fill our reports in September.
Because I determined that the passage of Proposition 8 in California would do more to advance the genuine interfaith interests of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than anything else, that became my complete focus for eight months.
In the process it became apparent that another goal would coincide completely with the passage of proposition 8, and it became a second driving focus:
I want to start building relationships with large groups of conservative Christian churches other than Catholics and White Evangelicals in the Los Angeles area with whom we have very little contact or familiarity.
These other conservative Christians agree with Latter-day Saints, Catholics, and Evangelicals on the social issues like abortion and the protection of marriage
They agree with many Latter-day Saints, Catholics, and Evangelicals on the death of Christianity in much of the west, and the resulting death of our cultural and moral compasses.
There are very interesting doctrinal similarities with some of them that would be very helpful to pursue; we should be having Robert Millet-style doctrinal conversations with Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, Black Christians, and global-south Christians as well.
I break my activities down into the following categories:
- Mega-churches and Christian universities with increasing ethnic memberships
- Conservative Black Christians
- Evangelical Christians from the “Global South”
- Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Conservative Christians
When LDS Public Affairs people, Orange County Priesthood Leaders, or General Priesthood Leaders wish to meet some of these Christian leaders and thinkers, I will soon be ready to introduce them.
Mega-Churches and Christian Universities with Increasing Ethnic memberships
All the thriving mega-churches (including Saddleback, Mariners, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Christian Fellowship) and Conservative Christian Universities in California (including Pepperdine, Biola, Fuller, and Azusa Pacific) are increasingly full of Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians.
Their worship styles are consequently sounding more Charismatic like their ethnic churches, and increasingly including healings in their services.
Steve’s Activities with Mega-Churches and Christian Universities with Increasing Ethnic Memberships
When meetings on the subject of Proposition 8 needed to be arranged for Apostles Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quenton L. Cook and Seventies-Presidency Member Elder L. Whitney Clayton, I arranged or referred them to most of the meetings they untimately attended:
I arranged a meeting with Dr. Craig Hazen and other leaders at Biola University.
I arranged a meeting with Hugh Hewitt at Chapman University and some Evangelical Public Affairs and Legal acquaintances.
I recommended meetings with Kenneth Starr, Dean of the Law School at Pepperdine University (who will end up arguing the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court).
I arranged a meeting with the leadership at Mariners Church, which was pre-empted by a meeting with Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel arranged by Pastor Greg Johnson.
I was nearly successful in arranging a meeting with Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church through my friend Pastor Tom Holladay.
I attended “The Call” at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, with equal numbers of white, Hispanic, and black attendees, presenters, and worship music groups, including James Dobson or Focus on the Family, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Attendance was 33,000 (thirty three thousand), and I suspect I was the only Latter-day Saint attendee. I attended the broadcast of the state-wide meeting of Evangelical churches and leaders on the Sunday evening before the election. I attended it at the invitation of Craig Hazen of Biola, and attended at his home church, the Yorba Linda Friends Church in Yorba Linda.
I attended a special service at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, with Pastor Lance Pitluck, where people were encouraged to register on the spot and vote during the election. This is a white, hispanic, black, and Asian church with 3,000 people in attendance weekly.
At the invitation of LDS Ward Bishop Bob Davis of the Glendale Seventh (Young Adult) ward, I attended a young adult conference consisting of his ward and young adults from an Evangelical megachurch in the area. The program included a Robert Millet – Greg Johnson dialogue.
Brother Millet expressed his conviction that there would be nothing improper or wrong about a Latter-day Saint wearing a cross. “I’ve been a BYU Religion Professor for 30 years. I have listened to every General Conference, and read many books by the Brethren. I’ve been a Bishop twice and a Stake President. I have never heard any instructions saying Latter-Day Saints should not wear a cross or would get into trouble with the leadership for wearing a cross.”
I reported there that the 2008 Latter-day Saint Especially for Youth CD included a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace”, which had also been played on the bagpipe at President Hinckley’s funeral. Perhaps this wonderful Protestant hymn will be added to the next version of our Hymnbook, as was previously added the Protestant hymn “How Great Thou Art.”
I helped set up, publicized, and sponsored a second Millet-Johnson dialog at Mariners Church in Irvine,which was improved by having two presenters on each side: Dr. Robert L Millet and Dr. Spencer Fluhman, Professor of church history at Brigham Young University and a specialist in the negative stereotypes of the Latter-day Saints during their first century, on the Latter-day-Saint side; and Pastor Greg Johnson and Dr. Dennis Okholm, professor of theology and philosophy at Azusa Pacific University and pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach as the Evangelical presenters.
At Tom Holladay’s invitation, I attended the “dialog” at Saddleback Church moderated by Rick Warren and with the two U.S. presidential candidates. I also attended regular Saddleback services twice, and gave a copy of Kenneth Cope’s new CD “It’s All About You” to their Pastor of Worship Music, Rich Muchow.
I attended an advisory-committee meeting at the Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University, and noted that one of the ongoing challenges at this school that promotes Religious Pluralism is helping the more conservative groups (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical) still feel welcome. Chapman also has some conservative elements, particularly in Law School Dean John Eastman (who will be second attorney on the Proposition 8 legal team) and Law School faculty member Hugh Hewitt. I believe that my role there can be to reach out and be a facilitator for the conservatives there, and make them feel empowered to express their views and make sure that their concerns are addressed.
Conservative Black Christians
Blacks make up 7% of California’s population, and 70% of Black Californians are conservative charismatic Christians.
They originated the charismatic movement now sweeping the world in Los Angeles in 1900. and the Church of God in Christ is the most accurate current incarnation of the original.
Common denominations are the Church of God in Christ; the First AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church; and the Zoe Christian Fellowship.
Their worship services usually include a very charismatic and animated Pastor, very fast-paced worship music, the gifts of the spirit (usually healings, and very rarely speaking in tongues), and a very noticeable invitation to new believers to accept Christ and be born again on the spot.
Many Black pastors teach a prosperity gospel, suggesting that if their people will serve God, they will be blessed both spiritually and temporally. It actually seems to work.
To my knowledge, the only functioning black church in Orange County is the Christ the Redeemer AME Church in Irvine. A former Church of God in Christ in Anaheim has been closed.
Black Christians uniformly agree with other Evangelicals, Catholics, and Latter-day Saints on social issues of abortion and the protection of marriage and the need to preserve a Judeo-Christian Culture in the face of secularism and humanism.
Steve’s Activities with Conservative Black Christian Churches
I attended the Proposition 8 Bus Tour stop at the St. Frances X Cabrini Catholic Church in Los Angeles, attended by about 1,100 predominantly black people with some Hispanic supporters. I met the Proposition 8 directors including a Black Baptist pastor of a mega-church in Oakland, and thanked Black LDS presenter Marvin Perkins for making a outstanding presentation.
I attended a worship service at the Crenshaw Christian Center, Los Angeles, a Black conservative church with great reputation with a weekly attendance of 7,000. I met Senior Pastor “Apostle” Raymond T. Price and thanked him for being one of the most visible and vocal in support of Proposition 8 and organizing voter turnout on election day. The church members wear suits and ties and dressy dresses, and drive nice cars.
I attended a worship service at the Zoe Christian Fellowship Church in Whittier, which is their one mega-church in southern California. They have some 1200 churches around the world. I met the Senior Pastor Edward T. Smith and his wife, “First Lady” Vanessa Smith, and spent five minutes thanking them for their very active involvement in Proposition 8 and all social issues. The worship at this church was characterized by the most beautiful dancing I had ever seen in a worship service.
I attended a worship service at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, and introduced myself personally to the Senior Pastor Bishop Charles E. Blake and half a dozen other pastors, and thanked them vociferously for their very active involvement in Proposition 8. This is the largest COGIC Church in California, with a weekly attendance about 4000 at four services, and the beauty and décor of the grounds and building are remarkable. Bishop Blake also serves as the “Presiding Bishop”, the equivalent to the First Counselor in the First Presidency of the church around the world.
I went twice to the published meeting places of the Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, and found no meeting taking place there on that day. Perhaps their meetings have been temporarily suspended or moved to a different location. So I sent an e-mail to their Senior Pastor, the Reverend and C.E.O. Mark E. Whitlock II, thanking him for the major part their church had played in the passage of Proposition 8 and their support and friendship regarding all social issues. This church has a weekly attendance of 1000 at two worship services, which is no small feat in a county that only has 2% of its population as black residents.
Charismatic Christians from the “Global South”
The first thing to understand is that high numbers of Korean, Chinese, Hispanic, and especially Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants are Catholic Christians (one of the Assistant Bishops at the Diocese of Orange is Vietnamese). The Charismatic Christians are not these Catholics.
This version of Charismatic Christianity is growing at a faster pace than Christianity has grown anywhere on earth since the time of Jesus Christ. Its best scholarly description is found in the three books on the subject by Philip Jenkins.
In the U.S. they frequently meet in churches where the services are held in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese, because their members come from Central and South America, the Caribbean,, the Philippines, China, Korea, and Vietnam.
Some of the largest of their churches in the United States are in the Los Angeles Area including Orange County, and we have almost no familiarity with them.
They uniformly agree with other Evangelicals, Catholics, and Latter-day Saints on social issues of abortion and the protection of marriage and the need to preserve a Judeo-Christian Culture in the face of secularism and humanism.
Steve’s Activities with Churches of Charismatic Christians from the “Global South”
- I attended the “Multi-Ethnic” rally at the Los Angeles City Hall grounds, which was organized primarily by the Chinese and Korean Christians of southern California, and had an attendance of — brace yourself — 7,000 people, primarily Chinese, Korean, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Armenian Christians, all chanting “Yes on 8” so loud “they will hear us in San Francisco”.
- At the multi-ethnic rally, I was interviewed two local news organizations, and was also one of the people interviewed by comedian Sasha Cohen in disguise, so I may end up in the sequel to the movie “Borat”.
- I attended the news conference following the passage of Proposition 8 at the Doubletree Hotel in Santa Ana. I sent e-mails and distributed publicity for the event to several hundred conservative Christian contacts with whom I have had interactions over the years. At the event, I spent the entire time talking with members of the press and religious leaders of the Black, Hispanic, and Asian churches who were in attendance, and got good suggestions about which churches to visit.
- I attended a worship service at the Templo Calvario Hispanic mega-church in Santa Ana, the largest Hispanic mega-church in Orange County (weekly attendance of 4,000 at 5 services), whose worship style is similar to Black churches with charismatic preaching, fast and loud worship music, and a call to accept Jesus Christ. I met the Senior Pastor and his wife, Daniel and Ruth De Leon, and thanked them for the help. They organized and prayed for a voter turnout on Proposition 8.
- I attended a worship service at the Grace Korean Church in Fullerton, where I met the Senior Pastor Paul G. Han and thanked him for their involvement in Proposition 8 (voting for Proposition 8 was the main focus of the service.) Weekly attendance is 12,000 (the largest Korean mega-church in California.) They wear suits and ties and dresses for the service; the worship music is a mixture of large traditional choirs and outstanding contemporary worship performances. Services are much quieter than Black or Hispanic services, but they frequently demonstrate their charismatic nature by politely saying “Amen”.
- I attended two worship services at the First Chinese Baptist Church in “Chinatown” in Los Angeles. I met the 96-year-old Senior Pastor, Timothy Lin, and was introduced in the English-language service and became friends with the pastors involved. This is the largest Chinese Church in California, with a weekly attendance of 2,000. Leaders and worship musicians from this church had been instrumental in setting up and running the multi-ethnic Yes-on-8 demonstrations at the Los Angeles City Hall.
Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Conservative Christians
Many of these churches are from the places where Arabic is spoken as the native language (the Middle East and North Africa). Altogether, they make up about 800,000 people in the California, which is about 30 percent of their national presence. Their leaders and members are all very well educated, and their worship styles are extremely liturgical.
Their experience of problematic relationships with the Islamic culture have been going on for more than a millennium. The militant-Islamist Turks killed one and a half million Armenian Christians, a million Chaldean Iraqi Christians, and half-a-million Serbian Orthodox Christians in the original holocaust ending in 1915. Most of these Christians in predominantly Muslim countries are under persecution at this very moment.
Large percentages of them are fleeing their countries and moving to western Europe, Australia, and especially the United States. Southern California has a large and growing number of them, with centers in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.
They uniformly agree with Evangelicals, Catholics, and Latter-day Saints on social issues of abortion and the protection of marriage and the need to preserve a Judeo-Christian Culture in the face of secularism and humanism.
Steve’s Activities with Churches of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians
I located the scholarly society that includes leaders and scholastics of the Eastern Church persuasion, the Society of Saint John Chrysostom, and was invited by the California chapter president to become an Associate Member and subscribe to their journal. He is Archpriest George Morelli, Ph.D., Assistant Pastor at the St George Antiochian Church in San Diego, who is also Chairman, Department of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling (one of the seven departments for Antiochian Orthodoxy nationwide) with offices in Carlsbad. So he has invited me to a meeting at his office and to visit his church when I come to San Diego to visit grandchildren.
In Claremont, I located the offices of the Public Affairs organization for all the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. It is known as the American Middle-Eastern Christian Association, or AMCA, at this web address: http://www.middleeasternchristian.org/ I joined and signed up for their electronic newsletter, so I can attend any local activities. See especially the articles on this site about the real and frightening history and current conditions of Christians in Muslim societies: http://www.middleeasternchristian.org/articles.html
At the invitation of Biola Professor Dr. John Mark Reynolds (yes, a professor at this evangelical university attends an Antiochian Orthodox Church), I attended St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Whittier. I met their Pastor, the Reverend Father Stephen Herney, and spoke with him about interesting similarities between Eastern Orthodoxy and Mormonism. I met Dr. Reynolds’s wife and family for the first time, including his father Subdeacon Elias Reynolds, who is a weekly presenter of learned homilies at the church.
I attended the St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church in Irvine, where I was introduced as a visitor, and then invited to join the luncheon following the meeting. Everyone at the luncheon came by and spoke graciously with me, and made me feel welcome. I spoke for 30 minutes to a Latter-day Saint who attends this church along with his Antiochian Orthodox wife; for one hour talking in depth about the similarities and differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Mormonism with their scholar, Priest Patrick Irish, second in command who had previously been a Catholic priest; and spoke with their leader, Archpriest Michael Laffoon for 20 minutes.
I attended the largest Armenian Orthodox Church in Southern California, the 40 Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church in Anaheim. I met their Pastor, the Very Reverend Father Vrouyr Demirjian. I had attended this large complex one time in the past when their top leader from Lebanon visited. The subject of his talk at his visit was “Yes, it was a Genocide”, and he talked about the killing by Muslims of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in 1915.
I attended the Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox church in Santa Ana, and met their Archpriest, Father Felimon Mikhail, who speaks only Arabic. The service was in Arabic, so I was provided a translation by a retired medical doctor from Cairo, Egypt, who is on the board of the foundation working to preserve the library at Alexandria. The Copts have never forgiven Mohammed for ordering the destruction of the library at the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt, which housed not only all the treasured writings of Eastern Christianity but also the writings of the ancient Greeks. The Doctor invited me to travel to Egypt, and he would spend three days showing me the Christian sites there.
I attended a meeting of the small group of members of the St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Santa Ana, part of the remains of the once mighty Nestorian Church in ancient times. I met the local pastor, Father Zuhair Gorgis Toma, who speaks only Arabic and Aramaic, and learned that this holy man has advanced degrees in philosophy and theology from Universities in Beirut, Lebanon. Before the conquest by the Muslims, the Nestorian Church headquartered in Iraq surpassed the western church in Rome and the eastern church in Constantinople in numbers, learning, and spirituality. More than a millennium of destruction and persecution by the Muslims culminated with the killing of a million of them in 1915, and there are now less than 60,000 of them living around the world. They are under constant threat of violence, kidnapping, and persecution in Iraq today, where extremists on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide use the chaos as an opportunity to kill Christians.
I attended a meeting of the St. John Maron Eastern Catholic Church in Anaheim, and met their Pastor, the Reverend Antoine Bakh. The services were in a combination of Aramaic and English, and very solemn and full of rites and rituals. Many catholics switched to this church when Roman Catholicism switched to an all-English Mass. This church is part of the remains of the second great eastern church in antiquity, the Maronite Church, which had members from Anatolia to Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Persia. They are now a dwindling minority of the population of Lebanon, and under great pressure to immigrate from the Hesbullah Shiites in Lebanon.
I attended a meeting at the Holy Cross Melchite-Greek Catholic Church in Placentia, including meeting their Pastor, the Right Reverend Achimandrite James Babcock, who is highly educated in English, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. They invited me to stay for a Lebanese luncheon, and invited me to return for their Lebanese celebration in a few weeks. They have a weekly attendance of about 500 at three services; hold their services in a combination of English and Aramaic, and have an ambitious building program underway which will double their size. This church is another remainder in the U.S. of the fragmenting and near-destruction of the Christian churches in Lebanon.
Because of increased blog activity caused by Proposition 8, I improved my blog in a number of ways:
- I added 400 blog posts, many on the subjects of Proposition 8, Same-Sex Marriage, Defense of Families, and Saving Western Civilization.
- I made it possible for viewers to “Bookmark and Share” my posts to the various new media sites and blog popularity sites.
- I changed all my links to other blogs and websites (including other posts in my own blog) to open the page in a new window rather in the same window. This increases the chances of keeping bloggers on my blog when they are done looking at a page
- I created subject indexes for the following subjects (with the number of posts for each subject).
- Christianity in Global South (10)
- Eastern Christianity (14)
- Intelligent Design (10)
- Interreligious Dialog (2)
- Jewish or Christian Spirituality (3)
- LDS Black Relations (3)
- LDS Conservative Christian Dialog (131)
- LDS Doctrine (3)
- LDS Focusing on Jesus Christ (109)
- LDS History (10)
- LDS in Digital World (3)
- LDS Scholarship (25)
- Liberal Churches (11)
- Mitt Romney (74)
- Proposition 8 (96)
- Radical Islam (29)
- Same Sex Marriage (35)
- Strengthening Families (8)
- Temple (2)
- Saving Western Civilization (29)
- My monthly visits reached their peak for the month that ended with the last week of the Proposition 8 campaign, and I had 4,280 Visits that month.
Problem of Radical Islam
I know that my taking up this cause raises problems at this time when we are trying to build relationships with Muslim people and organizations. But I incapable of not discussing it, in view of my conclusion that the danger that it poses to the future of the Latter-day Saints as an organization, the future of Christianity around the world and especially in Europe and America, and the future of Western civilization, are undeniable.
My most recent reading includes the following books on the subject:
- The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Dr. Samuel P. Huntington, where he popularizes the phrase “the bloody borders of Islam.”
- The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Dr. Bernard Lewis (pre-eminent expert of all things Islamic and Arabic for fifty years)
- Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West by Dr. Walid Phares (a Maronite Christian scholar who lived through the destruction of Christianity in Lebanon)
- The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude : Seventh-Twentieth Century by Dr. Bat Ye’or (a Jewish female scholar who lived through the destruction of Judaism in Egypt) with introduction by biblical scholar Dr Jacques Ellul).
- The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle-east, Africa, and Asia – and How it Died by Dr. Philip Jenkins (who wrote the three books about Christianity in the “Global South”).
- Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs by Robert Spencer (Spencer’s books are highly-regarded and highly-quoted in Eastern Christian sources and websites).
- Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism: A Call to Action by Dr. George Weigel (a Catholic scholar at “First Things” magazine).
- The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of non-Muslims edited by Dr. Andrew Bostom
- How Islam Plans to Change the World by Dr. William Wagner (a Christian scholar who has long lived in Islamic countries and societies)
This work does not represent the ravings of a few fundamentalists, or marginal scholars, but consists of careful scholarly work by top scholars over two generations. They clearly demonstrate that, to quote Bernard Lewis, “If the West doesn’t catch on to what is happening, they will be sorry.”
I have bought for all interested Latter-day Saints a number of copies of the most recent DVD on the subject, “The Third Jihad”, which features the scholars listed above and many others. I urge you to watch it and try to counter its evidence or its message. Send me an e-mail to receive a copy, or watch a very condensed version of it at this link: http://www.thethirdjihad.org/