These Mormons Have Found a New Faith — in Magic Mushrooms

On a Sunday afternoon in March, a group of 30 strangers huddle under a park pavilion in Salt Lake City, Utah, sipping hot cocoa and shaking hands shyly as snow clots the cottonwoods. A clean-cut gang of mostly white professionals, they are united by their interest in the Divine Assembly, a two-year old church with 3,000 members that considers psilocybin its holy sacrament. 

The church’s co-founders, husband and wife Steve and Sara Urquhart, mingle quietly with the psychedelic-curious, many of whom are either new to tripping or considering their maiden voyage. Steve sticks to the sidelines, every so often reaching to smooth a conical white beard that, combined with his blue eyes and bearlike frame, make him look like a punk Santa Claus. The long beard is the only outer marker of his new identity: Before pivoting to mushroom churches, Urquhart was one of the most powerful Republicans in the Utah State Legislature, serving from 2001 to 2016, with a stint as majority whip in the House before eventually moving over to the Senate. Former colleagues and friends recall his small-government brand of Republicanism as “rock-ribbed.” He was also, like more than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature in 2021, deeply, devoutly Mormon. 

“We were all the way in,” Urqhuart says of the proudly peculiar American religion with about 6.7 million adherents in the U.S. and about 16.6 million globally. Founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 during the Second Great Awakening in upstate New York, Mormonism (or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as church authorities requested it be called in 2018, though many Latter-day Saints, or Saints for short, still use the term “Mormon”) bases its teachings on the revelations of Smith, whom they consider a prophet. According to Smith, who claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from a pair of gold plates inscribed with “reformed Egyptian,” Latter-day Saints are God’s chosen people destined to restore the original Christian gospel — a gospel that included, they professed up until 1890, polygamy. 

“I knew all the secret handshakes,” Urquhart later divulges after one shot of tequila, and he means it quite literally, demonstrating a dizzying pattern of grips, bumps, and daps that look straight out of a Monty Python skit. 

In all likelihood, Urquhart and others believe now, Smith lifted those handshakes and many other ceremonial elements from the Freemasons, the then-popular secret society that counted Smith as a member. Urquhart also believes, 100 percent seriously, that the LDS Church (the mainstream one he and Mitt Romney are from, not the fundamentalist offshoots depicted in Under the Banner of Heaven) is a cult. Specifically, he says, alluding to the church’s polygamist history and fact that some bishops still ask teens if they are masturbating, “a sex cult with really bad sex.”

Church or cult, Urquhart crashed out of it around 2008. In the park that Sunday, he is in good company. Although the Divine Assembly is not limited to former LDS members, or “post-Mormons” as they refer to themselves, the majority of the crowd by default is, and they’re aching for a new kind of spirituality to fill the void. One couple, Yesenia and Guillermo Ramos, tell me they left the LDS Church in 2012, after it began to feel like the opposite of what they thought it stood for. “God is love,” Yesenia says with conviction, but within the church, she says she felt judged for her decision to be both a mom and a nurse, rather than a stay-at-home mom. Furthermore, Yesenia says, she was sick of the pressure to appear perfect all the time, a common complaint among LDS women that Dr. Curtis Canning, president of the Utah Psychiatric Association, has called “Mother of Zion Syndrome.”

Keep reading

Utah Ritualized Sexual Abuse Investigation: Is There a History of Ritual Abuse in Utah?

As the Utah primary draws near, the investigation into “ritualized child sexual abuse” has garnered more than 120 tips related to claims of ritualistic sex rings. Let’s examine the history of these allegations in Utah.

In the nearly 4 weeks since the Utah County Sheriff’s Office announced an investigation into allegations of “ritualized child sexual abuse” in three Utah counties, they have received more than 120 tips in the form of phone calls, texts, and emails. UCSO Public Information Officer Sgt. Spencer Cannon told the Salt Lake Tribune that the office has “pulled in” sergeants with experience in sex assault cases to help review the information.

The Last American Vagabond (TLAV) has been following the unusual situation since May 31st when the Utah County Sheriff’s Office announced they were working with multiple county and federal agencies investigating reports of ritualistic child sexual abuse from as far back as 1990. The Sheriff’s Office said the investigation began in April 2021. The investigation subsequently discovered previous reports alleging “similar forms of ritualistic sexual abuse and trafficking” that occurred in Utah County, Juab County, and Sanpete County during the time between 1990 and 2010.

Following the  announcement of this investigation by Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt held a press conference where he shared a 151-page document titled “victim statement” related to a 2012 case involving allegations of sexual abuse of children. Leavitt and several other people are named in the statement as being involved with a group practicing ritual child sex abuse. He claimed the Sheriff’s investigation was a political attack on him related to the June 28th primary elections in Utah.

As TLAV reported last week, courtroom records revealed that Utah County Attorney David Leavitt lied when he said the 2012 case was dismissed by his predecessor because it was “unbelievable,” lacking evidence, and the story of a “tragically mentally ill” woman.

The Salt Lake Tribune has also reported that USCO Sgt. Cannon said the report that Leavitt was referencing was not what started the sheriff’s investigation last year. “We had a victim come forward and disclose abuse of this nature,” Cannon told the SLT. “And so that’s what started our investigation. The case that David Leavitt spoke about is not the case we initially started investigating. It’s not the case that we became aware of in April of last year.”

Cannon did acknowledge that the detectives became aware of the 2012 case and the allegations against therapist David Lee Hamblin, but did not say if the case was part of the current investigation.

As Utahans prepare to vote in the primary on June 28th — a race in which both Sheriff Mike Smith and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt are both up for re-election — we wait to see if there will be any additional announcements, indictments, subpoenas or any official action taken.

To better understand this current investigation, we have examined hundreds of pages of Utah government documents, articles, and allegations of ritualized sexual abuse to paint a picture of this history.

Keep reading

Scientism, Not Science, Drives Technocracy And Transhumanism

Science has long been regarded as a stronghold of logic and reason. Scientists don’t draw conclusions based on emotions, feelings or sheer faith. It’s all about building a body of reproducible evidence. Well, that’s what it used to be, but as technocracy and transhumanism have risen to the fore, it has brought with it its own form of science — “scientism” — which is basically the religion of science. Sheldon Richman with The Libertarian Institute writes:1

“The popular slogan today is ‘Believe in science.’ It’s often used as a weapon against people who reject not science in principle but rather one or another prominent scientific proposition, whether it be about the COVID-19 vaccine, climate change … to mention a few …

The clearest problem with the admonition to ‘believe in science’ is that … well-credentialed scientists — that is, bona fide experts — are found on both (or all) sides of a given empirical question … Moreover, no one, not even scientists, are immune from group-think and confirmation bias …

Apparently, under the believers’ model of science, truth comes down from a secular Mount Sinai (Mount Science?) thanks to a set of anointed scientists, and those declarations are not to be questioned. The dissenters can be ignored because they are outside the elect. How did the elect achieve its exalted station? Often, but not always, it was through the political process …

But that’s not science; it’s religion, or at least it’s the stereotype of religion that the ‘science believers’ oppose in the name of enlightenment. What it yields is dogma and, in effect, accusations of heresy. In real science, no elect and no Mount Science exists.

Real science is a rough-and-tumble process of hypothesizing, public testing, attempted replication, theory formation, dissent and rebuttal, refutation (perhaps), revision (perhaps), and confirmation (perhaps). It’s an unending process, as it obviously must be …

The institutional power to declare matters settled by consensus opens the door to all kinds of mischief that violate the spirit of science and potentially harm the public financially and otherwise.”

Technocracy News also added a comment2 to Richman’s article, noting that “Scientism is at the root of both technocracy and transhumanism, indicating that the revolution waged against the world is religious in nature.”

Whether the war against humanity is truly underpinned by religion or not is open for debate and interpretation. But what is clear is that something has shifted science away from its conventional foundation into something that very much resembles religious faith. In other words, it’s a belief even in the absence of evidence, or in the face of contrary evidence, and this is a very serious problem.

Keep reading

Megachurch Leader Sentenced To 16 Years For Child Sexual Abuse

The leader of the La Luz Del Mundo Church was sentenced to more than 16 years in prison for the sexual abuse of teens. Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced in Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday, after he pleaded guilty to three felonies just days before his long-awaited trial.

Garcia plead guilty to two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act on a 15-year-old child. He was scheduled to go on trial Monday. He faced 23 felony counts that included allegations of human trafficking to produce child pornography and rape, but he accepted a last minute plea deal from the California Attorney General’s office.

When he took the plea deal, some of his victims who wanted to testify against him became enraged. They were promised that no plea deal would be offered. In return for the guilty plea, the DA dropped the most serious allegations of five victims from 2015 to 2018.

“As for the Jane Doe, at this point I apologize,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen. “My hands are tied. Lawyers do what lawyers do.”

La Luz Del Mundo is the largest evangelical church in Mexico and has branches in more than 50 countries. To his more than five million followers worldwide, Garcia had been considered an “apostle” of Jesus Christ. To his victims, he was Satan incarnated.

Keep reading

Southern Baptist Religious Leaders Release List of Pastors Accused of Sexual Abuse After A Multi-Million Dollar Investigation

On Thursday, the Southern Baptist Convention released a list of ministers who have been protected for more than a decade after committing sexual abuse against congregants. 

The list, released by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), followed a report that contained more than 700 names, with more than 400 included via direct affiliation with the religious denomination. 

On the list are four individuals who remain in leadership positions within the denomination’s churches. The list was primarily a secret until Guidepost’s report was made public on Sunday. 

“Releasing this list is a symbolic gesture. ‘This is the bare minimum thing we can do,’” said Todd Benkert, an Indiana pastor in the SBC.

Much of the information in the release is redacted at present; the redacted information is expected to be released at a future date. 

Keep reading

Former pastor in 2 states pleads guilty to child sex charges

A former pastor in Tennessee and Indiana faces up to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to federal child sex abuse charges, prosecutors said.

Joshua Henley, 33, pleaded guilty Monday to producing, possessing and sending sex abuse material involving children and transporting a minor interstate to have sex, the U.S. attorney’s office in Memphis said.

Henley was the pastor at Holladay Church of Christ in Benton County, Tennessee, and coached the Holladay Elementary School girls’ basketball team, prosecutors said. Henley later went to work at a church in Evansville, Indiana, in April 2021, prosecutors said.

Henley drove to Tennessee in June to pick up a girl and brought her back to Indiana, where he had sex with her when she was 15, prosecutors said. Another girl later said Henley had asked her to create and send sexually explicit images, prosecutors said.

Keep reading

Biden To Remove 5 Extremist Groups From Foreign Terrorist List

Democrat President Joe Biden is reportedly set to remove five extremist groups from the official Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly claimed in a notification to Congress that each of the organizations is now defunct.

“The groups include Basque Fatherland and Liberty, also known as ETA; Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult; Kahane Kach, a radical Orthodox Jewish group, as well as two Islamic groups, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, and Gama’a al-Islamiyya,” Fox News reported.

“The Biden administration dragged out briefings about this for months, then went radio silent, then quietly rushed it through hoping no one would notice until it was a done deal,” a senior Republican congressional aide told the network. “Republicans on the Hill believe this was a dress rehearsal for trying to remove terrorism sanctions on the IRGC.”

The move comes as Biden is reportedly considering lifting the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in exchange for a public commitment from Iran that they will play nice in the region.

Keep reading

Exorcism gone wrong… 3-year-old girl dies in San Jose, CA…

Faith leaders at a tiny church in San Jose where a three-year-old girl perished last fall have confirmed that they performed a ceremony on the child to “liberate her of her evil spirits” but say what happened was “the will of God,” not the consequence of an exorcism.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that Jesus casts away demons and made sick people healthy again,” said Rene Huezo, pastor of Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas and grandfather of the victim. “It’s not when I want to do it, it’s when God, in his will, wants to heal the person. The preacher is like an instrument of God; what we do is what God says.

Arely Naomi Proctor’s death by asphyxiation has been ruled a homicide by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s office.

Her mother, Claudia Hernandez, who authorities say withheld food from the girl and squeezed her neck during the exorcism, has been arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death.

But neither Huezo nor the victim’s uncle, both of whom allegedly held the girl down as the ceremony continued, have been charged in the incident at the church on the 1000 block of South Second Street in San Jose.

Keep reading