Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Street Abusers: Mesa
04/04/2007 - James WhiteAs soon as the music ended, the screaming began. The band of street abusers (they call themselves preachers, but that has a particular biblical meaning that is utterly disconnected from their disjointed harangues) with their barely relevant signs held high began yelling out at those gathered on the front lawn of the LDS Temple in Mesa, Arizona, "Mormonism is a false religion! Joseph Smith was a false prophet! Repent or you will go to hell!" As I watched the people streaming across Main Street toward me, I realized I had seen this scene before, a few years before, actually, in Salt Lake City. The grim looks on the faces of people who had just had to pass abusive, mean-spirited men spewing hatred at them, showing them not the first bit of respect as human beings. And what was worse, those headed toward me assumed I was one of these abusers. I fully understood why. You can't get very far away from the yelling abusers, and you can't expect the attendees to differentiate between us. And so we passed out almost no tracts at all. In years past, we had regularly had long, fruitful conversations with Mormons. Not with these guys around. They are not looking for dialogues, they can't handle that. They are strictly monologue type folks, and short monologues at that.
A few hours before Rich and I had been standing on "corner one," the main corner at Hobson and Main in Mesa. I have stood on that corner at least once a year (normally six times a year) since 1983, the first year I visited the LDS Easter Pageant. I had driven there on my little Kawasaki 440 with my new bride on the back seat. Times have changed. We began passing out our tracts and thankfully, at first, anyway, the street abusers were a good distance away. Eventually one of them named Paul came right up to us. An older man, mid-sixties I would say, he was purposefully coming to speak to us. "You know what?" he said. "I want you to know I detest Calvinism almost as much as I detest Mormonism." We knew it would be an interesting night. After I asked him why he believed our choice was the primary issue in light of the fact that God is the one who chooses in eternity past, and we are the direct object of the verb, he realized he had better switch over to the "more abusive" mode, and he did so. By the end of the night he had actually hissed...yes, I said hissed, at both Rich and I. His hatred for, well, everyone other than his tiny little group, was tremendously obvious.
There was another man standing near us with a sign about seven books from hell. Here's a shot of him from later in the evening. I noticed that along with the "Koran" and the Book of Mormon he had the NIV and the "New American Bible" listed. I simply could not restrain myself, so I asked him, "Umm, which New American Bible are you talking about? The New American Bible, or the New American Standard Bible." "Both," he replied, "since they come from the same text." I.e., as long as they used something other than the Textus Receptus, they are from hell, all the rest of the glaring differences notwithstanding. I was sorely tempted to ask him about particular textual variations, problems with the Byzantine text and the like, but the opportunity did not present itself.
Now, this fellow was standing on the sidewalk about five yards away from us early on. The sun was still up (93 degrees), and I happened to be looking his direction when I saw a little old lady, I would estimate around 80 years of age, heading toward him in her electric wheelchair. It had a joy-stick control panel, and she must have had a fresh battery charge from what I saw take place. "You're not welcome here!" she yelled at the man, and then headed her wheelchair right at him. He got out of her way, but she just turned and headed for his new position, still yammering away quite loudly about how he had to leave. I noticed as well that the woman was on oxygen, and very frail, so I was immediately concerned. The fellow finally stepped off the curb, still holding his sign. She was trying to grab his sign to tear it down (but it was a bit of a reach for her). Then something caught her attention. It was Lonnie Pursifull of Salt Lake City heading across the street with his even larger double-sided sign.
Readers of this blog remember Pursifull. Sorta hard to forget him. Here's my most famous, or shall we say, infamous, picture of him. He's the man on the left. You will note they are holding signs at the General Conference in Salt Lake City that are about...me, not about Mormonism. These men hate me more than they hate the Mormons (which is saying a lot). Why? Because I wrote The King James Only Controversy and because I'm a Calvinist. And because I have rebuked their childish behavior from the first time I saw them in Salt Lake City. That's why they even made up signs just about me. They didn't make much sense, but, that's not unusual for these folks. After the first few sentences, they have to start repeating themselves.
So anyway, Lonnie had started heading our way earlier, till one of the other KJV Only street abusers had pointed out to him that his sign was upside down. He sheepishly went back to the van to fix it. And now he was crossing the street, and the wild-eyed little old lady in the wheelchair made a bee-line for him. "You are not welcome here!" she screamed as she headed straight for him. Now Lonnie is not a small guy. If he had fallen over on top of her she would never have survived the encounter. And as soon as Lonnie recognized what she was up to, the martyr-syndrome kicked in. Moving with the speed of chilled syrup, he moved a bit to the right, then a bit to the left, but he was enjoying the "persecution." The little lady kept screaming and kept coming, even after she wasn't going anywhere anymore (since her wheelchair could hardly be expected to move a man of Lonnie's size). Finally Pursifull stepped back into the street, and to my shock and dismay, she followed him right off the curb. She hit on one wheel, and for a split second I thought Granny was going to flip on her side. Thankfully, she righted herself. And right around this point I heard Lonnie say, "I'm going to file charges!"
Now, at some point I had motioned to an LDS security guard nearby who was just standing there watching all of this in a rather bemused fashion. Little old ladies lying in the street is not a good thing, so he finally somewhat reluctantly came over to try to calm her down. Meanwhile, she had gotten back up on the sidewalk and headed for a smaller target. A very quiet, very kind gentleman was standing next to the traffic control box. He had a sign around his neck that reads, "Former Mormon. Ask me why." That's all it said. Unlike the others, he was quiet and respectful. Well, granny didn't care. She headed right for him, reached up, and pulled the sign right off his neck and threw it on the ground. About this time the guard intervened and started heading her away from her little electric-powered rampage.
Now, there is no question that Mormon Granny lady was way out of line. In fact, on any technical level, she was guilty of assault, no doubt about it. But the little lady went away, and we went on with what we were doing. But you see, this cult of street abusers is out there for only one reason: to experience martyrdom. If anyone opposes them, in any fashion, they interpret this as "persecution," and proof that they are doing God's will. They can't defend themselves biblically, logically, historically, or rationally, so they only have one source of encouragement: their persecution complex. And Lonnie had been assaulted, and so he was going to make sure the whole world knew about it. Soon he's in the face of every cop he can find demanding that the 80 year old lady in the wheelchair be arrested for assault. And when the initial cops, there to do traffic control and the like, did not act with the severity he was demanding, he called his attorney in Salt Lake City, who, we were told, called the cops in Mesa. Soon more units arrived. Now realize, granny-on-oxygen-in-wheel chair is long gone. She's at least 120 yards away and she's not using her wheel chair to ram folks anymore. But that's irrelevant. This is now about Lonnie making the cops do what he wants them to do. And so he is putting on the full court press. And I'm getting ill. "Anti-Mormons have 80 year old LDS great grandmother arrested in wheel chair." Yeah, great. We had told one of the first cops what had happened, and he came back later and asked us to fill out a report. Rich and I looked at each other and said, "What, to help him prosecute a little old lady in a wheel chair? Are you kidding?" Later, when the cops served her with two citations, Lonnie yelled toward Rich and I, "I will have you subpoenaed to appear in court!"
Now, somewhere during this time period the older fellow, Paul, had gotten in our faces again, and then had hissed at us both. And then all of a sudden a guy shows up in a Satan costume. Yes, a Satan costume, pitchfork, tail, and red mask, with a sign that says, "These street preachers are my disciples," and parks himself right next to them. I kid you not. And so I am standing there watching this complete circus when all of a sudden up pulls a forensic evidence van from the Mesa PD! And what are they there to do? To take evidence on the assault charge! This is very dark, I know, but you can make it out, especially when they fire up the light to take pictures of the unbroken skin, but slight red mark, on one of Lonnie's shins. Here it is:
I lost count of how many cops I saw out there. We could hardly get anyone to take notice of our break-ins here at our offices, but let a little old lady chase ol' Lonnie with an electric wheel chair and wow, look out! I guess you have to threaten law suits and stuff. Squeaky wheel gets the grease indeed. So there I stood, watching a CSI taking pictures of a tiny little red mark on Lonnie's shin, wondering to myself how much it is costing taxpayers to have this unit sitting here, how many cops are off the street, etc., and I'm left shaking my head.
And so when the exodus began, and the screaming began, I had to seriously start pondering what we were doing out there. When there would be a lull between light changes, one of the street abusers, a rather large, rotund fellow, would yell across the street, "Mormons, stop by and get an autograph from James White! Only $1!" He was the same one who had earlier been yelling at us, "Don't give that one a tract, James, he's not elect!"
As I watched the faces of those passing by, I knew this was the last night, after 24 years, I would be standing on the street corners in Mesa during the week before Easter. For most of my entire life I had been out here, but, as with our outreach in Salt Lake City, you cannot foster a context of caring and forthright proclamation when the place is poisoned with the harangues of abusive and ignorant cultists. When KJV Onlyism goes beyond a certain line it becomes cultic, and with these men, there is no question of it. Their hatred of biblical truths, and their hatred of others, is so patent and so consistent, that there can be no doubt of their motivations and their hypocrisy.
And so as I type this the time I would normally head for Mesa is approaching quickly. But I'm not packing up my LDS materials, nor are we getting our tracts in order. I am saddened in many ways by the whole thing. I have many excellent memories of our work in Mesa, beginning in 1983. I passed out tracts with Wally Tope on those sidewalks. I cannot count how many LDS missionaries I witnessed to out there, how many thousands of tracts we passed out, books we gave away, hours we spent in conversation. Both of my children came out and passed out tracts and witnessed as well, and enjoyed their time doing it. But there is no useful purpose in enduring the inane babbling of ignorant cultists who have no other purpose in life than to mock and deride others. I would like to think that the churches that support these street abusers do not know how they behave, but I could be wrong. They may be just as deceived themselves, who knows?
But I feel most sadly for the Mormons, for these men are a plague upon them. As folks stream onto the Temple grounds this evening, they will once again have it enforced in their minds that "Christians" who say Mormonism is false are ignorant, hateful slobs, so lacking in respect for others that they will not even learn what others believe accurately before denouncing it. They will not encounter bold but respectful Christians who know their Bible and know Mormonism and who long to speak the truth to them. And so the real losers, outside of these cultists themselves who will someday face judgment for their denigration of the gospel of Christ, are the Mormons. May God see fit to restrain this cult of street abusers, and give us once again the opportunity of proclaiming the gospel in a way befitting its glory.