News / Europe

France's First Mormon Temple Sparks Controversy

Drawing of Mormon temple planned for Paris
Drawing of Mormon temple planned for Paris
Lisa Bryant

The United States may get its first Mormon president this year, if Republican candidate Mitt Romney prevails in his bid. But in France, the Mormon faith is viewed with deep suspicion and a project to build the country's first Mormon temple in the Paris suburb of Chesnay is proving to be controversial.

Until recently, Chesnay was mostly known because of its proximity to Versailles, the dazzling 18th-century palace that was home to French "Sun King" Louis XIV.  But today, this small town west of Paris is making news because of another monument, a 7,000-square-meter Mormon temple, expected to be built here in the next few years.

From his office window, Chesnay Mayor Philippe Brillault points to an abandoned, asbestos-filled energy plant.  This is the property the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has acquired for its temple.  Further away, the spire of the Versailles palace church sparkles in the sun.

Brillault admits he was not thrilled to receive the church's request to acquire the property.  He says the Mormons have a negative image in predominately Catholic France, even if they may not deserve it.  Brillault says he granted the building permit after an investigation he commissioned found no reason to refuse it.

With 36,000 members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France is among the oldest and largest of Mormon churches in Europe.  Missionaries arrived from the United States in the 1850s.

But only recently have ordinary French become aware of the Mormon faith, partly through media reports about U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who spent time in France as a young Mormon missionary.  And partly because of the controversy surrounding the Chesnay temple.

Political analyst Michelle Bacharan says that unlike the United States, French history has shaped a public deeply wary of any religion invading public space.

"Mormon temples tend to be really big, you can not miss them.  You can have some architectural disagreements with that and some people in a particular town may not like it.  And only real Mormons can attend ceremonies in temples, so that can create suspicion of what is going on there," Bacharan said.

Today, France's Mormon community gathers in ordinary churches, like one in the neighboring town of Versailles.  But church spokesman Christian Euvrard says there are special services that can only take place in temples.

"A temple is a place for communion.  It is a place for spiritual retreat.  It is a place where families will come once or twice a year," Euvrard said.

For now, Mormons like 40-year-old American Darla Pape, who attends the Versailles church with her family, must travel to Britain or Germany to go to temple.

"For us, going to the temple is a wonderful experience ... so I think that for church members in France to have a temple close that they could go to more regularly, they will see many blessings in their lives from that regular attendance," Pape said.

But opposition to the temple project is growing.  An Internet petition circulated by a Chesnay group has gathered 6,000 signatures, although Mayor Brillault says most are not local residents.  The mayor's opponents criticize the project, mostly it appears, for political reasons.

Others, like Marie Drilhon, local chapter head of UNADFI, a group fighting religious extremism, view the Mormon faith with skepticism.

Drilhon says the Mormon church demands a lot from its members, both financially and spiritually.  It uses marketing methods to proselytize, which Europeans are not used to.  And she doubts the temple will benefit the local community.

But Michelle, another local resident, has no objections to a Mormon temple in Chesnay.

Michelle says she has visited Salt Lake City in Utah, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints, and she knows about the religion.

Church spokesman Euvrard says the Chesnay temple will allow other French to discover his faith.

"For us, it is a great opportunity to explain who we are, to introduce ourselves and to say 'yes,' we have been here for a long time, we are here and we are very present in society," Euvrard said.  

Euvrard says the temple project includes gardens that will be open to the public.  With time and greater awareness, he believes, French fears about the Mormons will disappear.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More