Mormon protesters, Palmyra, NY during Hill Cumorah Pageant in July

Our Experience at the Hill Cumorah Pageant

Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

Mormon protesters, Palmyra, NY during Hill Cumorah Pageant in July
Photo credit: Vasiliy Baziuk/Messenger Post
“You’re all sinners! You are an abomination to God!!”

These words were angrily spit at the thousands of people peacefully passing through the entrance to the Hill Cumorah Pageant’s last showing for 2013—an event which was attended by this writer and his wife.

Friends of ours participated in the Pageant this year. They played various roles up front. We met them after we entered, and they were dressed in their appropriate costumes and headdresses.

Other friends were part of the groups verbally, abusively accosting people as they entered.1

(Fascinating, huh?)

It was truly such a fascinating range of thoughts and emotions as we proceeded from our parked vehicle into the Pageant grounds. You could certainly call it surreal. Many people—many of them families, with young children—quietly progressed toward the entrance. As we walked, the first thing you notice—you can’t miss it!—is a man shouting awful things over a bullhorn. Then, as you reach the entrance, emergency vehicles surround it, lights flashing, since traffic needs to be managed on these nights. At this entrance are a dozen or two folks aggressively passing out literature to everyone who passes by. (I was glad when they did seem to allow for refusals, though.)

Once you have passed through the somewhat foreboding entrance, you are greeted by many friendly, costumed folks who will direct you wherever you’d like to go, if you desire. No aggression here, just welcome.

Yet, the angry, shouting voice marches on. His bullhorn is directed at the seated crowd, inside the event.

“It’s 19th-century fiction! Joseph Smith was a [insert several negative things here]!!”

Jen and I proceeded to the popcorn stand (she loves snacks while taking in a show!) and waited there in line, marveling at the very strange environment. The yelling man (actually, there may have been at least two) continued, audible over the sounds of a passive crowd of hundreds, and thousands.

As the line progressed we noticed that one of the helpers was wearing a baseball shirt from our home school sports league! We did not recognize this boy, but introduced ourselves and had a nice chat with him. He and his sister were helping their grandparents serve the popcorn and Pepsi. (Apparently not all Christians feel the need to venomously denounce every person at this event?)

When the show began, the yelling stopped. I was grateful; several times throughout the night I noticed and was grateful that the grating (degrading?) invectives had ceased being launched from just outside the peaceful confines of the temporary outdoor theater.

The Pageant itself was equally fascinating to me, a non-LDS person. We are perhaps more familiar with the LDS church based on our living in this town, and our friendship with members of that church, but I had never seen that presentation before. The thing that most struck me is how the story seemed to mimic so many familiar Bible stories, but with different names and places. The story’s elements seemed to be “drawn from” (or at least be very similar to) sections of both the Old and New Testaments. The general story is the tale of a family of Israelites heeding the prophets’ warnings of the destruction of Jerusalem (pre-exile2) and eventually finding their way to North and South America, and all that transpired there, all the way up to Joseph Smith being shown the location of the brass plates containing the stories we had just been told of that family and their descendants.

It really was fascinating.

But even more fascinating—and my main point here today—was the angry voice(s) starting up again as soon as the stage show was finished.

Mormon protesters in Village of Palmyra during Hill Cumorah Pageant in July
Photo credit: rochester.ynn.com
I really don’t fault the motives of these folks. They are sincerely wanting to help people whom they see as on the path to hell. In their minds and hearts, it is vitally important for the folks they are “helping” (and maybe for their own consciences?) that they speak out as often as possible against this boldfaced lie.

The trouble is, sincerity and right-motives don’t always align with truth and liberty—not to mention religious freedom that we so value in this country.

C. S. Lewis said the following regarding “having others’ best interest in mind” as the motivation for your actions:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C. S. Lewis

I don’t think this need only apply to governments and tyrants. There seems to be a desire to control deep in the heart of mankind. It affects all of us, but perhaps some more than others. And when it is fueled by either a divine directive or just a love for your fellow man …

well, it really gets quite messy.

What I wish I had said to the man with the bullhorn was, “Why on earth are you so angry? What do you hope to accomplish by shouting such nasty things at these people with such audible and visible animosity?” I did not. I honestly was mostly in shock at how anyone could find a logical reason for such actions.

But I do wish I had.

If you are reading this now and you were there this year (2013) or previous years on either side of that protester fence, I’d love to hear your comments as well. I plan to ask our friends who are involved with at least one of the protestor groups how they think they are helping people. They (our friends) were not shouting … so perhaps their group is different?

Regardless, the issue comes down to a religious need to be right.

The article linked below from Slate.com, written in July 2012, posed the same question that I have been asking since Saturday night (my emphasis added):

“The contrast between their messages of intolerance, their anger and hate, and our music, sense of fellowship and community does a lot to highlight our message of Christian love. They say we’re not Christian,” he continued. “But who’s acting more Christian now?”—Volunteer security guard, Hill Cumorah Pageant

Westboro Baptist church is often maligned for its tactics: shouting hateful things, wearing and hoisting those messages on clothing and banners. These people seemed to be doing the same thing.

When will we Christians learn to let Holy Spirit do the guiding into all truth?3

Perhaps we never will.

do what is right, love mercy,
and walk humbly with your God
—Micah 6:84


For further information and research, please click these links. There are articles and videos that shed more light on what I have written here above. Always good to have a bigger picture!

  1. Thankfully, the people who are friends of ours were only handing out literature with one of these groups, they were not shouting angry, hateful diatribes at everyone passing them by.
  2. See Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the stories in the history books, Kings, Chronicles, etc.
  3. 1 John 2:27, John 16:7-9, etc.
  4. Micah 6:8

11 thoughts on “Our Experience at the Hill Cumorah Pageant”

  1. Greg, I had a similar experience many years ago while attending the Canal Days festival in Fairport. Main Street was packed with thousands of people and like the parting of the sea, the crowd split and left a void around a man with a bullhorn shouting about everyone’s need for salvation and the dangers of hell. I was so disturbed by it. I knew he thought he was evangelizing, and he WAS speaking truth. Unfortunately he was not speaking it in love. He was alienating everyone in the crowd. He was being ignored and avoided. Those that came into his path gave him wide berth and then went on with their day and the festival with little more than an eye roll in his direction. The man was passionate and unashamed of his beliefs but his efforts were so wasted. It was so sad to me.

    1. Misty … so crazy. I wonder what gets into our heads that we think just shouting “truth” (even if it is truth) is going to help anyone in any way? Does it ever? Does anyone have a story from personal or second-hand experience where shouting at strangers actually brought about life-changing repentance and surrender to Jesus?

  2. Greg,

    There are two groups. The loud, rude, obnoxious group, and the quiet group. I have no problem with either of them theologically, but–

    I haven’t had a problem with the quiet group except that once they get you talking it’s sometimes hard to get away from them. Maybe I’m a good target because I’m in the shop and can’t just walk away. For three years running they asked me the same questions—checking to see if I was consistent in my answers? Or maybe they talk to so many people they didn’t remember our previous conversations.

    Anyway–

    The Bible says, “Speak the truth in love.” What the loud, obnoxious yellers do is NOT love. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They say (I’ve heard them) they do it because they love the Mormons. That is NOT love. And how they can believe that their behavior is a good witness for Christ or will win anyone to Christ is beyond me. You nailed it, Greg, when you called them abusive, because that is what they are and what they do.

    And it’s just as well you didn’t talk to them (the yellers) because they would most likely start to abuse you, too. And that’s seems to be what they want—to yell, scream, create a fuss and a loud argument. As far as I can tell, they WANT people to get upset, to disagree and start yelling at them so they can yell even more.

    While the yellers may be speaking the truth, there is no love, no compassion with them that I can see. I do not believe that’s what God wants.

    God Bless,
    mm
    Marcia Marsille’s last post: Our Experience at the Hill Cumorah Pageant

    1. Marcia, I had an encounter with the man in the YNN photo in this post, actually. In my customary friendly fashion, I said hello as I passed him on the crosswalk at Maple Rd (on Main St) and all of a sudden his eyes locked on to me (at which point I realized, OH MAN, people have agendas here this week!!!) and we had a “conversation”.

      “Would you like this information?” (handing me a pamphlet, I actually forget what he said as I was trying to get out of his target lock …)

      “No. Thanks.” (Probably my only cordial response.)

      “Are you LDS??” (He said this expecting that my refusal already answered his question in the positive.)

      “No.”

      “Do you go to a church?”

      “No.”

      Again, I think he thought he had “pinned me down”, and he said something about being a Christian, and I said (sadly, not very kindly…) “Look, I am a follower of Jesus, and I really, STRONGLY disagree with your tactics here.”

      He assured me that he loves Mormon people, and kept trying to engage me, but thankfully traffic pushed us apart.

      I was not as kind as I could have been, in retrospect. But truly, religious folk with agendas irk me more than anything else I can think of … at the moment. 🙂

      I am also glad that probably God himself kept me from approaching/confronting the yelling man. Likely no good would have come from that …

  3. Hi Greg,

    I have never gone to this event. I did not imagine it the way you described. I am sad at what you described.

    Doing things out of love means different things to different “Christians”. Some think to love means one is to be “bold” and willing to risk unpopularity and scorn (I think it’s some sort of martyr complex). To this attitude, I say it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

    It would seem that many imagine they are “John the Baptist” reincarnated. Many have “prophet personalities” and go hard at people like a ‘bull in a china shop’ trying to reach as many as possible in one fell swoop. I understand the “cry for the desert” but we forget…God. We forget that Jesus was all about loaves and fishes. Maybe it is better to be humble and patient- seek an opportunity presented by The Spirit- content to stay silent and trusting God with the weight of eternity. Sometimes he says, “Be bold” and sometimes he says, “be quiet”, Sometimes he says, “go over there”. There is a lot to be said about surrendering all of our expectations of God and an event to just submit to the leading of God. That- is worship. Taking our eyes off ourselves and putting them on Him. Sure- go and hope for an encounter for Christ but don’t plan it to the point where you pack a bullhorn and scream terrible things. That is dumb, wrong and disturbing, not to mention- undignified.

    Compassion begins and ends with Him- Yielding to Him is the only thing that makes sense. Seeing things through His eyes. They tried to stone Him for this very reason: “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
    Himself said, I am the way, the truth, and the life- no one comes to the Father except through Me. Jesus had to deal with the religious zealots all the time! They tried to stone Him because He claimed to be God- (“They tried to stone Him for this very reason: “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33)). Lets not be religious zealots. Ew. Yuck.

    I have never known the Holy Spirit to be condemning toward me. I sure have- toward myself and toward others (my hands are not clean.

    We forget that people are precious and deserve respect because- if for no other reason, they are made in the image of God. When God is not our view and when God is not our truth all the way around what we do and say- we are in trouble.

    “I’ve had enough of this life of a pharisee
    I want to know this Jesus who’s been loving me.” Rita Springer song “Phenomenon”

    Check out this song Greg. I think you will like it.

  4. Listening now, while I respond. Thanks, Betsy.

    It really is all about Jesus. I was thinking of him, of course, when people who claim to represent him (the protestors) we screaming angrily at people (again, many families) who were just attending an outdoor theater presentation. The phrase is far to often employed, but, really: What would Jesus (have done)?

    Did he ever stand at someone’s event and yell at them? Or even worse, the people attending the event? Really? Anything even close to that??

    No. He yelled at the self-righteous religious leaders who were unjustly weighing down the people who saw them as “leaders”, all while (often) not holding themselves to the same strict standards.

    Jesus never seemed to have an agenda. (Other than the cross.) Did he?

  5. And to all, just one additional comment:

    The Slate article touched on the fact that the protestors blend in with the Mormon narrative almost as though they were part of the presentation. The Mormon church have been harshly persecuted since the beginning—including the story from the Book of Mormon, with Nephi being persecuted and ridiculed, having to leave his own people. It’s rather odd how that works out… especially since the protestors are trying (I think?) to “convert” or dissuade, and they might use the word “save” all of the people attending … but by their presence and especially their actions, they are having the exact opposite effect. They couldn’t be more antithetical to their cause, even if they tried… which, one thing you can NOT accuse them of is “not trying”! 😉

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