The Sunday Times June 26, 2011
Mormons clear air about their faith Church holds open house to correct misconceptions, mark move to new chapel By Jennani Durai
Visitors and Church members mingling at the open house in Sengkang. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Singapore - more commonly known as Mormons - want to set people straight about who they are. To do this, the Church threw its doors open to the public yesterday to mark the community's move to a new church building in Sengkang. Among the nearly 1,000 visitors yesterday was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who spent more than an hour touring the building and learning about the Church's programmes and beliefs. The Sengkang chapel is the 3,300-strong community's second church building in Singapore. Its first, in Bukit Timah Road, now caters to six different congregations - called 'wards' - at staggered intervals. An additional ward meets at a private residence in Pasir Panjang. The new Sengkang church will be able to accommodate two wards and help ease the congestion.
The group is involved in compassionate work and religious education and it runs several programmes, including one that mandates weekly time for families to come together for prayer, teaching and activities. The community fought a fierce bidding war for the Sengkang site and won with a bid of $13 million. The community has been growing rapidly since the Church was officially established here in 1969, said Church president Stephen Lai. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Lai, 53, said activities like the open house were necessary to clear up misconceptions. 'There is so much misunderstanding. People say we're a cult. They are even afraid to handle the Book of Mormon,' he said. The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Church, which members believe was divinely revealed in 1830 to Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith. Chief among the misconceptions is the belief that Mormons are polygamists, said Mr Tan Su Kiong, one of the pioneering members of the Church in Singapore. 'That's one of the first questions we always get... People like to joke by saying things like 'I should have joined your Church; I could have had four wives',' said Mr Tan, 68. He added: 'I then ask them, 'You may want four wives, but can you handle four mothers-inlaw?'' The official Mormon Church has outlawed polygamy since 1890, said Mr Lai. 'The groups that still hold these views are fundamentalist groups not associated with the Church. Members of the Church who practise polygamy will be excommunicated,' he said. He added that popular culture depictions of Mormons tended to focus on the fundamentalist groups rather than on the main Church. The community has also had trouble gaining acceptance among more mainstream Christian denominations, said Mr Tan. 'A lot of Churches don't fully understand us and think we are not Christians. But we also believe in Jesus Christ as our saviour,' he said. The Mormon Church holds some different views from other Christian Churches, stemming from a belief that the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture like the Bible. Church member Sia Xing Yee, 24, admits that some of their practices can seem strange to others. For instance, one of the Church's teachings is to abstain from coffee, tea and alcohol. 'It was really hard for me at first. In my line of work, drinking is very common, especially when meeting clients,' said Ms Sia, who works in the financial services sector. 'You do get a lot of questions about it, and sometimes mocking.'
The negative stereotypes surrounding the term Mormons has led many Church members worldwide to prefer the term 'Latter-day Saints' instead, said Mr Tan. But he added quickly that they were not all that picky. He said with a smile: 'Call us anything as long as you call us friends.' email@example.com
Published on Jun 27, 2011