Mormon Filmmaker Befriends Conference Center Street Preacher

Image via Salt Lake City Weekly

This article was originally written by Carolyn Campbell for Salt Lake City Weekly.

In 2007, Bryan Hall was almost finished filming his documentary, Us and Them: Religious Rivalry in America. He still didn’t know how to end the film. A devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the now-42-year-old from Orem, thought about the protesters on Temple Square. He finally said, “Let’s go talk to those crazy street preachers.”

There he met the outspoken leader of the street preachers, Ruben Israel, a 53-year-old Whittier, Calif., native who travels around the country to preach the Bible to whomever will listen.

Looking back, Hall recalls, “I imagined two scenarios: One would be a huge argument, which would still work for the ending of the film. But in my heart, I knew it wouldn’t be that way. I thought the best ending is one where we can resolve this ridiculousness.”

Are you and have you always been active LDS?
Always, and still am. Returned missionary, married in the temple, the works.

What made you cross the line and talk to Ruben Israel?
I had misinterpreted the direction from the pulpit as “Don’t ever talk to them,” when actually it was “Don’t engage in an argument with them.” Nevertheless, most Mormons receive that message, which is more heavily weighted, as “Don’t talk to them at all.” I would be lying if I said I was overly concerned about what was preached from the pulpit the day I went and talked to him. I didn’t feel good about my own despising of the conference protesters and having this constant feeling [of contempt] every time I thought of them.

Something was wrong with that outlook, and I thought the only way forward was to confront it. I felt nervous, but also had a certain resolve in that I recognized a tough solution that might bring me peace. When you anticipate the peace, it fuels your courage to go on.

I deeply desired to fix this problem, particularly with Ruben. He, in particular, made me the most angry, and therefore I just knew I had to talk to him. I went up to him and said, “You don’t know me, but I’ve hated you and your people for a long time. I have come to try to fix that today and try to get to know you. I wondered if I could buy you lunch, so we can just talk. He said, “Of course.”

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