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IS FUNDAMENTALIST GROUP ANOTHER POWDER KEG?

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It has all the makings of another Waco: Religious fundamentalists expelled by their church form their own congregation. They believe God has brought them together to prepare for his Second Coming, and rumors are rampant that they are stockpiling an arsenal. There is tension in the community, and their leader claims to have received death threats.

When will it finally erupt?"That's all news to me," said Sanpete County deputy Robert Henningson, who was reached by phone Friday night in his Manti office. "We are aware of the group, but we don't have any tension I'm aware of. They do their thing and everyone else does theirs."

"Their thing" didn't sit right with local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At least 50 of the group have been excommunicated from the LDS Church during the past two years. About 400 sympathizers have joined them to form their own church, The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ, Saints of the Last Days.

Their experience intrigued Becky Johns, a Weber State University instructor, who spent time in the area interviewing the excommunicants. She presented her findings Friday at the 1994 Sunstone Symposium.

"There is a potential for violence," Johns said, basing her assessment on past experiences of fundamentalist groups with similar separatist leanings, such as the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.

She also noted the influx of followers into the Manti area, straining the community's infrastructure, and the outrageous rumors of the group's intentions.

Following the theft of weapons from a local store and National Guard Armory, they were accused of plotting to shoot the Angel Moroni off the Manti Temple, Johns said. Her remark brought chuckles from about 60 members of the group attending her presentation.

Henningson said he never heard the rumor and noted that a juvenile was arrested for the crime.

Most of the group moved to Manti from elsewhere, Johns said. A common belief among many is that they are led to the area through dreams and personal revelations.

Some are professionals with skills they can't market in Manti, so they are unemployed and rely on the Lord to provide, Johns said. She was told of money miraculously appearing in their mail, their clothes and on the floor when they awaken.

Most were expelled from the church for following their "personal revelation" and dismissing counsel from their local Mormon church leaders. Part of that counsel was to stop performing temple rituals in their homes, Johns said.

Now they want to separate themselves from a world and a church they see as evil and corrupt and "restore" the original church established by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, Johns said. She added that their ultimate purpose is to gather and establish a connection with heaven in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus.

They have also embraced another belief Johns didn't mention: polygamy. Following the presentation, church President Jim Harmston said he had two wives.

While their practices would appear a clear violation of church policy and grounds for excommunication, historian and writer Martha Sonntag Bradley said expulsion is the wrong way to handle such groups.

She compared the church's disciplinary system to a parent booting a disobedient child out of the home. "Church courts cause havoc" for confused people, she said, and discourage needed diversity in the church.