'Distortion' DVDs Anger Mormons

Throughout Utah, the discs are showing up on doorsteps and upsetting Mormons.

PARK CITY, Utah, April 27, 2007 — -- It arrived in everyone's post office box or at their front door along with the latest junk mail.

Many simply tossed it into the garbage bin, but some couldn't resist the free, professional-looking DVD.

On one side, the words "He is Risen!" On the other side, "Jesus Christ" and "Joseph Smith" -- Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Was it the latest example of Mormon proselytizing?

Far from it.

It turned out to be what the Latter Day Saints called an anti-Mormon DVD.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy was not amused. He said the chapter by chapter presentation was "full of distortions of its [the Church's] doctrine and history and misrepresentations so stark that they call into question the integrity of the producers."

The slickly produced film is hosted by a clean-cut anchor team on a set with what appears to be Temple Square in Salt Lake City in the background.

"Was Joseph [Smith] a deceiver, a madman or a gifted prophet who was given divine instruction?" the man in the film asks.

The film goes on to contrast the lives of Jesus Christ and Smith, who Mormons believe was visited by God and transcribed the Book of Mormon scriptures from tablets provided by an angel named Moroni.

A little bit of research uncovered the fact that the DVD was produced by La Barge Media near Rochester, N.Y. It was funded by evangelical Christians, though at this writing the exact source of the funding remains a mystery.

Chip Thompson, director of the evangelical Tri-Grace Ministries in Ephraim, Utah, helped distribute the DVD. He said 700,000 discs have been produced, 500,000 sent out so far.

"They have been sent as far away as Chile, Ireland, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia," he told ABCNEWS.com.

Thompson would not say who paid for the DVDs or how much they cost. But he defended the message.

"Nothing was fabricated," he said. "The information in the video is all documented Mormon history. And we provide all the references and resources on the DVD."

A couple of chapters raise an eyebrow or two. One in particular, titled "The Occult," shows a young Joseph Smith with his father walking through a field and discovering a rock that the younger Smith puts in his hat. He then buries his head in the hat to shield it from light and "sees" the location of "buried treasure."

"He carried that 'seer stone' with him most of his life," said Thompson. "It got him into trouble when a court ordered him to pay a fine for misleading an elderly man about the so-called power of the stone."

That same chapter deals with a "Jupiter Talisman" said to be found in the pocket of Smith many years later after he was shot to death at the jail in Carthidge, Ill. The narrator explains that Smith's wife Emma said it was one of her husband's most intimate possessions, and that he believed the coin would give Smith what was important to him -- "riches, power and the love of women."

The Church calls those examples distortions of Mormon history. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weathered such attacks throughout its history," said Latter-day Saints spokesman Purdy. "At a time when the Church is growing strongly throughout the world, it's not surprising that some groups try to curb that growth in such ways." Purdy declined to answer point by point assertions made in the film.

"It isn't hateful," said Thompson. "It's all documented and exposes the shortcomings of Joseph Smith."

Thompson labels the Church of Latter-day Saints a cult. "The Jupiter Talisman is an occult symbol -- part of occult worship. When a religion is in a sense, dangerous, we need to point that out."

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League in Phoenix has condemned the distribution of the DVDs. "This is plain old-fashioned Mormon-bashing," said Bill Strauss, ADL Arizona regional director. Regional Board Chairman David Bodney issued a statement, saying that "hate directed at any of us is hate directed at all of us."

The DVDs have been widely circulated, and more are due to be mailed out throughout the country if not the world.

"Oh my word, it has really stirred people up," said Thompson. He also said he just mailed another 50 of the DVDs to Ireland. "It's got people thinking. I've received at least 500 e-mails. One-third wanted the video. One-third questioned why we're doing it. One-third was from angry Mormons."

At the Park City post office, the trash bins were filling up with the DVDs. "It looks like it's from the Church," said one local resident in this mostly secular ski town as he tossed it into the bin.

Both Church officials and distributor Thompson chuckled when told about that.