NAUVOO, Ill. (BP)–Nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River about 270 miles southwest of Chicago, the Illinois town of Nauvoo is just a dot on the map for most people.
Nauvoo had seen better days as a thriving producer of cheese and wine until the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a $30 million temple in the community that was founded by Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith in 1939.
Now an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 visitors come to Nauvoo each year. Many of them pass the stucco storefront of the Christian Visitors Center, where Rocky Hulse and his wife Helen stand ready to tell anyone who will listen the differences between Mormonism and authentic Christian faith.
Hulse, 52, is a former Mormon and a retired U.S. Navy chief warrant officer who served in the Persian Gulf. Instead of using his Navy skills to land a high-paying job in San Diego or Dallas, however, the Hulses settled in Nauvoo to focus on sharing the truth about Jesus Christ with the town’s 1,000 residents and the influx of tourists visiting the Mormon “mecca.”
According to Mormon history, Joseph Smith received his last revelations in Nauvoo, where he served as mayor and built a temple. He was murdered in 1844 by a mob while awaiting trial on charges of destroying an opposition Mormon newspaper. The Mormon migration to Utah came a couple of years later.
Hulse has a weekly television show called “Truth Proclaimed” and is the author of a new book, “When Salt Lake City Calls: Is There a Conflict Between Mormonism and the Public Trust?” dealing largely with Mormon temple ceremonies. He says all he is doing is comparing Mormon teachings to the Bible and exposing the true history of Mormonism.
Not everyone welcomes his message.
Bishop David Wright, a Mormon leader in Nauvoo, described Hulse’s ministry to The Chicago Tribune as “a non-Christian center or anti-Mormon center,” saying, “I don’t see anything Christian about it.”
Hulse said his home office above the visitors center has been trashed and he has received several threatening e-mails. One e-mail, received a couple of days before Christmas 2006, read: “I’d love to watch you all die, then witness the looks on your faces when you realize how stupid and counterproductive your fight really was.”
Hulse reported that threat to police in Nauvoo, who passed it on to Illinois and Utah authorities. The e-mail was traced to the computer of Phil Rogers, a Mormon who works as a court officer in Farmington, Utah, near Salt Lake City. An April 15, 2007, article in The Chicago Tribune quoted Rogers as saying that someone hacked into his Internet account while he was using an open router. The Tribune interviewed Internet security experts who said such tampering could have easily occurred.
Nauvoo Chief of Police Don Faulkner said Utah authorities refused to prosecute because they didn’t have enough evidence. Faulkner, who is not a Mormon, said, “It’s up to the state, the county and the attorney in the jurisdiction. It’s up to the attorney whether he thinks the case is winnable. Opinions bear no weight. He won’t take a case to court if he doesn’t have enough evidence regardless of what anyone thinks.”
Hulse said he wasn’t surprised at the decision not to prosecute.
“In the Mormon world, the absolute worst thing you can be is an apostate [someone who left the church],” Hulse said. “In their doctrine, on Judgment Day Hitler will go to a better place than someone who leaves the Mormon Church.”
After the death threat, the Hulses increased security around the visitors center and were much more careful in their daily routines. Faulkner said he believes they have nothing to worry about from the locals. Police investigations have not come up with any suspects in the ransacking of his office.
“He [Hulse] spent time in the Navy protecting everyone’s rights,” Faulkner said. “He protected Mormons’ religious beliefs, whether he agrees or not, along with Islam, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish … whatever religious beliefs.”
But, Faulkner said, “When you have radio and TV programs and a storefront establishment preaching against a religion, people of that faith look at you and will make comments about you.”
Hulse’s straightforward evangelistic technique obviously rubs people the wrong way, said Jane Langford, editor of the local weekly newspaper, The Nauvoo New Independent. She said Hulse’s expertise gives him credibility and rankles the Mormons.
“Rocky has done his research,” said Langford, a Catholic who has published several of Hulse’s articles. “I’ve given him a platform and he took it. At times maybe he took it too far. I’ve had a backlash, but I’ve tried to keep the tradition of the newspaper. I’m sure if I folded up, the Mormon Church would finance and start a newspaper which would have their slant to it.”
Hulse was a Mormon for 31 years before he heard a “cowboy preacher” at a rodeo on Jan. 1, 1986. He was saved on the spot and felt God leading him to evangelize Mormons and tell Christians about Mormonism. In 1999, while stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, Hulse and his wife started an outreach to Mormons. Their first taste of Nauvoo, according to the Tribune news story, came in 2002 when Hulse was barred from an open house at the new Mormon temple because he was deemed “disruptive.”
The Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center is one of three visitors centers in the community. One is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the other by the reorganized Community of Christ, an offshoot of the main Mormon body. The other visitors centers, Hulse said, claim the only true church is the one started by Joseph Smith.
The visitors center the Hulses operate existed before they arrived in Nauvoo in 2005.
“No one ever challenges the Mormon Church at the level we do it,” Hulse said. “Our TV show has us in many markets. They [Mormon leaders] have rewritten doctrines that they don’t tell anyone.
“If we are being untruthful, they have every right to expose us. No one has come forth because there is nothing to expose.”
The Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center may be found on the Internet at nauvoochristian.org.