Mormon church officials are distancing themselves from the anti-government militia that has taken over a building at a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon, whose members include Mormons that have claimed divine inspiration for their actions.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders said in a statement Monday that they "strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles."
"This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis," the statement continued.
On Saturday, Ammon Bundy joined several others in the takeover at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon's Harney County. Bundy has said that his faith led him to the refuge to defend Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son ranchers sentenced to prison in 2012 for arson, then released and given new sentences last year.
Bundy, a Mormon, is the the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who famously had a legal battle with the government that ended in an armed confrontation in 2014.
“I got on my knees and I asked the Lord,” Ammon Bundy said in a video posted a day before the occupation, describing how he got the "overwhelming urge" to learn about the Hammonds.
Bundy said he prayed: "'Lord, if you want me to write something, then please help me clear my mind and show me what I should write.’ And that’s what happened.”
News reports on the occupation have cited Bundy's religious background, as well as a long history of government persecution of Mormons and conflict between the church and the government through the 19th century.
Church officials, who often respond to news related to the church via their MormonNewsroom.org website, released the statement after receiving inquiries about the Oregon occupation.
The church's full statement:
While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land.