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Street preachers a bit more subdued

No clashes so far as they spread message; they draw little notice

A smaller and more subdued group of street preachers yelled slogans and brandished signs in downtown Salt Lake City Saturday as LDS Church members brushed past them on the way to the church's 174th Semiannual General Conference.

Street preachers and protesters have become staples at the April and October conferences held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There have been a few arrests and clashes in the past, but this year things seemed quieter.

That was attributed by some street preachers to a pending federal lawsuit. The suit alleges the city's "buffer zones" for protesters — which keep them off the block of Main Street sold to the church by the city — violate the protesters' First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and speech.

"There are too many legalities up there," said Ruben Israel, gesturing toward the church-owned block of Main Street from a North Temple sidewalk across the intersection, "so we're here."

Israel owns a construction company in Los Angeles and is a non-denominational Christian. He comes to Utah twice a year for the conferences and also in June for the Gay Pride Parade to preach that eternal salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.

But at the same time LDS faithful were gathering, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bobby Welch, just happened to arrive in town Saturday night at the First Baptist Church of West Valley City on a 50-state tour. Street protesters took their signs from Temple Square to West Valley City to protest Welch as well.

"We don't just go after Mormons," Israel said outside the Baptist church holding his sign, "we're an equal-opportunity rebuker."

Protesters told Utah baptists that they should have been outside Temple Square protesting. Israel said he is upset that Welsh and the Southern Baptist Convention have chosen to befriend the LDS Church, whom he believes are not Christian. "Pretty soon we're all going to be one big church," Israel said.

Congregation members were advised by local Rev. Jim Harding to give them no notice. When asked to comment about the protesters, Welch said they were in no way associated with the Southern Baptist Convention and would not interfere with local Southern Baptists' plans to do "god's work."

"We believe you don't need a pope or a Joseph Smith, you can have a relationship with God," Israel said while protesting downtown, adding that the word "Protestant" evolved from the word "protest."

"That's what we're doing, in the spirit of Martin Luther," Israel said.

Another street preacher from Los Angeles, Dean Christian, said he does not think confronting conferencegoers will result in immediate changes, but it might cause Mormons to reconsider their beliefs.

"Hopefully, somebody will turn to Jesus Christ," Christian said. "I've had people come back and say, 'I heard you years ago, I went home and thought about it, read my Bible and gave my heart to the Lord.' People actually have acted upon the seeds we've planted."

Dean Moore, a street preacher who works in construction in North Carolina, took time off work to travel here.

"If we see one person accept Jesus of the Bible, contrasted to the Mormon Church, then that's worth it," he said. "Hopefully, we can show Mormons the way to heaven and they can escape hell."

Those attending the conference generally paid little attention to the street preachers, except for an occasional, quick verbal exchange.

"Everyone has his own opinion," T.J. Roberts of Kaysville said as he hurried to a conference session.

Roberts added the street preachers don't affect his faith at all, and they don't annoy him either, although he thinks they could choose a different time and place if they want to speak out.

"We believe what we believe because we know it's true," Roberts said.

Will and Lisa Ashby of Provo, who are newlyweds and Brigham Young University students, also said the street preachers have no impact on them.

"It's almost expected when you have a big gathering of Mormons," Will Ashby said.