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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs