By John Bingham, Telegraph.co.uk Religious Affairs Editor
A British magistrate has issued an extraordinary summons to the worldwide leader of the Mormon church alleging that its teachings about mankind amount to fraud.
Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been ordered to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London next month to defend the church’s doctrines including beliefs about Adam and Eve and Native Americans.
A formal summons signed by District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe warns Mr Monson, who is recognised by Mormons as God’s prophet on Earth, that a warrant for his arrest could be issued if he fails to make the journey from Salt Lake City, Utah, for a hearing on March 14.
In one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court, it lists seven teachings of the church, including that Native Americans are descended from a family of ancient Israelites as possible evidence of fraud.
It also cites the belief that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates revealed to the church’s founder Joseph Smith by angels and that Adam and Eve lived around 6,000 years ago.
The document suggests that asking members of the church to make contributions while promoting theological doctrines which “might be untrue or misleading” could be a breach of the Fraud Act 2006.
The Church dismissed the summons as containing “bizarre allegations” and signalled that Mr. Monson has no plans to attend.
It was issued in response to a private prosecution attempt by Tom Phillips, a disaffected former Mormon who now runs MormonThink, a website highly critical of the church.
Under little-used legal procedures, people who say they have evidence that someone has committed a crime can ask a magistrate to issue a summons requiring them to attend a court hearing.
The district judge would then decide whether or not to proceed with a case or dismiss it.
Similar procedures were used by Palestinian activist in 2009 to have an arrest warrant issued against the Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni, leading to an international diplomatic incident.
Two virtually identical summonses were sent to Mr Monson naming Stephen Bloor, a former Mormon bishop, and Christopher Denis Ralph, another former convert, as victims of the alleged fraud.
It argues that by being persuaded to pay a tithe to the church on the basis of teachings which might not be true, the president could have committed fraud.
Among teachings it singles out as suspect are the assertion that the Book of Mormon was “translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith [and] is the most correct book on Earth and is an ancient historical record” and that the Mormons’ Book of Abraham, was translated from Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.
Other beliefs cited include the assertion that “Native Americans are descended from an Israelite family which left Jerusalem in 600 BC” and that “all humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.”
The document then demands that Mr Monson appears in court number six at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Marylebone Road at 10am on March 14 or face arrest.
Malcolm Adcock, the church’s public affairs director for Europe, said: “The Church occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an individual’s personal grievance or embarrass church leaders.
“These bizarre allegations fit into that category.”
But Mr Phillips said: “The head of the Mormon Church has been summoned to a court to answer allegations of fraud – I don’t think a judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court would sign off on ‘bizarre allegations’ – I certainly hope they never would.
“This has been a very serious matter that has been looked at in extreme detail.”