Oregon Militia Doesn’t Represent My Faith

Site of Oregon Militia tresspassing
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters which Ammon Bundy has seized.

With a name like Ammon Bundy, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that the leader of the Oregon militia standoff is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just like me.

I love the Church, so I don’t take it lightly when people drag its name through the mud.

Now members of the Church are free, of course, to take actions I think are totally crazy. Take any of the large numbers of LDS politicians from both major parties as an example. Mormons shouldn’t all think the same way or have all the same beliefs. We are better when the thing that unites is only our love for the Restored Gospel and Jesus Christ.

So by all means, I’m glad Ammon Bundy and his newly proclaimed group “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom” protested what they believed was unjust imprisonment and overregulation of federal lands adjacent to ranchers. In fact, when it gets right down to it, I probably agree politically with a lot of what Ammon Bundy has to say.

Catalysts of the Oregon Militia

A quick recap of what’s happened. Federal prosecutors arrested two men for arson when fires they set on their ranch lands spread to the federal lands nearby. They were sentenced to a one-year and three-month sentence. After they were released, federal prosecutors argued they needed to return to prison to meet mandatory minimum sentencing requirements of five years.

The two men voluntarily returned to prison Monday, January 4.

The judge who originally sentenced the men said a five-year sentence violated the constitution’s no cruel and unusual punishment clause.

I suppose I agree. Though I don’t usually think a lot about sentencing of small crimes in Oregon, my take on the data is that mandatory minimums harm our country. If Ammon Bundy formed a protest near where I live, I might attend. And if he formed a political advocacy group, I’d consider volunteering or donating money.

But Ammon Bundy did none of those things. He trespassed on a federal wildlife refuge, then occupied a federally owned building. “We will be here as long as it takes,” he told CNN, “We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, (but) if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”

Well at this point, I’ve got a problem with what he’s doing. A big problem. Armed seizure of federal buildings and threats toward law enforcement officials that do their job are categorically wrong. If he stopped there I’d advocate against his methods, denounce his behavior, and pray he doesn’t follow up on his threats.

But instead, Ammon Bundy decided to drag my Church into it.

First in e-mails leading up to the events, Bundy began quoting scriptures from The Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants to justify the movement. Then one of Bundy’s militiamen began identifying himself to reporters as Captain Moroni.

And now I’ve got to deal with headlines like “You Need To Understand Mormonism If You Want To Understand The Oregon Standoff” or “The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand Of Mormonism” or “Oregon militia family cites Mormon beliefs for armed conflicts with the government.”

As though I didn’t already have enough trouble trying to explain to my neighbors how I don’t worship Joseph Smith.

Peace and hope come from Jesus Christ, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the power to deliver that to people. We have enough trouble combatting ignorance and antagonism to need to worry about our own members too.

Media Misrepresents LDS Church

And let’s take a quick moment to shed a little bit of blame on the shoddy reporting of the media. No, Buzzfeed, you don’t need to know anything about the Church of the Prince of Peace, Himself, to understand this story.

And to the OPB, that described Captain Moroni’s bloody battles to try and explain the standoff, you forgot a few things. Captain Moroni was a legally appointed military commander. And when he had a problem with the elected government, he wrote an angry letter, then proceeded to save the government from a local insurgency.

Perhaps Bundy ought to reread the book of Alma as well.

Thankfully the Church responded in no uncertain terms:

Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles.

Hopefully, this response will make clear that these men don’t represent my faith.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.