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

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora