BY JENNIFER GARZA
For the past two weeks, Sacramento leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been on high alert.
They are hiring extra security to watch over the Folsom temple, and asking members to drive by church buildings late at night. Mormons in law enforcement are keeping track of Internet chatter to find out where protests will be held.
“Our members in law enforcement know where to look for this kind of stuff,” said Lisa West, spokeswoman for the church in the Sacramento region. She added that they are doing this on their own time. “There’s a lot of volatility in the air, so we’re asking people to keep their eyes and ears open.”
Mormon leaders have been staying vigilant since the Nov. 4 election and passage of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.
The Mormon church’s ability to generate active support of its membership and dominate fundraising is credited with ensuring Proposition 8′s passage. Church members reportedly contributed nearly half of the $40 million raised to pass the initiative.
The church’s involvement – its biggest and most widespread campaign since it helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s – also has made Mormons a target of criticism from outside interests and even from within the church family.
Many say it is the most divisive issue for the church in decades.
In the past two weeks, 10 local church buildings have been vandalized, temples in other areas have been picketed, and last week envelopes containing suspicious white powders were mailed to a temple in Southern California and one in Utah.
Scott Eckern, an LDS member, resigned from his job as artistic director of the California Musical Theatre after revelation that he had donated $1,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Last Thursday, Californians against Hate, a nonprofit group formed during the campaign, filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Committee accusing the church of not reporting non-monetary contributions.
“We contend that there were vast amount of contributions not reported,” said Fred Karger, the group’s founder.
The FPPC is expected to determine within 14 days if there will be a full investigation.
Many Mormons believe they are being unfairly targeted and compare the anti-Mormon sentiment to a witch hunt.
“This is not fair – a lot of people wanted this passed, not just Mormons,” said Lynnette Black of Sacramento who rallied in support of Eckern in front of Music Circus last week. “We (church members) worked hard and within the law. It’s very hard to see this attitude toward Mormons.”
West, spokeswoman for the church, said the Mormons were part of a coalition that supported the ballot measure.
“We’re only 2 percent of the population,” West said. “We feel we’re getting too much credit.”
She said opponents raised more money. “And we don’t know where the core of their money came from.”
About 85,000 Mormons live in the Sacramento region – from Stockton to Redding – and 730,000 in California.
Some say the church is now downplaying its influence in the campaign because of the backlash.
“I think a lot of people realize that the amount of fundraising done by Mormons was well out of proportion to the electorate,” said Joyce Bradshaw, an LDS member and Auburn pediatrician who donated $1,000 to the “No on 8″ campaign. “I love my church but don’t agree with them on this.”
Many who disagreed with the church’s role in the campaign blogged or posted videos about their views on YouTube.
“It’s been a very painful and difficult time for us who didn’t agree with what the church did,” said Bradshaw, who walked out of Sunday school class when the subject came up. She said there was a lot of pressure to contribute.
“This became the litmus test for obedience. They’d say: ‘This is the issue of our day, and either you’re going to get on the ark or not.’ ”
Still, she wasn’t surprised by the church’s efforts. “It’s something the church believes in passionately,” Bradshaw said. “I think the ‘No’ side underestimated the church.”
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