Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rownak Vs. Rownak: Arkansas Court Of Appeals Upholds Lower Court Ruling That Mormonism Isn't "Protestant" In Child Custody Case

On October 17th, 2008, Glen Warchol, the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune-affiliated Crawler blog, posted about an interesting court case which took place in Arkansas. It seems like a court ruled that Mormonism isn't a "Protestant" religion. Arkansas media story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

And to no one's surprise, it involves a divorce case, where the intensity of feelings between former spouses sometimes makes it irresistible for one or both spouses to use the kids as pawns, and to drag it into the courts.

The case in question is Rownak v. Rownak. In their 2005 divorce, the Rownaks agreed "that the minor children be raised in the Protestant faith" and made it part of its divorce decree. Joel Rownak was awarded custody of their two sons, and Lisa Rownak was awarded visitation rights. Seemed simple enough - until the husband started promoting Mormonism to the children. Then the wife saw an opening, because she believes Mormonism isn't Protestant.

She filed suit and got the Benton County Circuit Court to find ex-hubby in contempt of the original agreement in May 2007, switching custody of the two boys to Lisa according to the ReligionClause blog. Ex-hubby, who had since re-married, appealed, claiming the ruling was ambiguous. An attempt to direct the appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court was denied on June 26th, 2008. On October 8th, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld that decision, although they made no ruling changing child custody.

But Warchol claims that News for The Mormon Legal Community is troubled by courts, even in Arkansas, making what appear to be rulings on theological issues. This would include other such decisions, such as whether Jews for Jesus is included with Judaism, or even if Mormonism is Christian. A court ruling that Mormonism isn't Christian would be particularly troublesome - and grossly intrusive.

However, MormonLawyers agrees that the decision in this case is still proper, not only because the Rownaks made a voluntary and specific agreement, but because a part of the LDS Church's website clearly states that Mormonism isn't Protestant. The Rownaks would have been better off making an agreement that the boys would not change to ANY other religion without the permission of both parents; that way, Mormonism itself wouldn't have become a specific issue. Since the divorce didn't change the fact that Lisa Rownak remained the boys' mother, and by virtue of that status, is entitled to exercise a vested interest in any major development in the boys' life, to include any change in religion.

I also appended a comment to Warchol's post that further explains why Mormonism isn't Protestant. Here's the applicable portion:

The Protestant denominations were a product of the Reformation era. They broke off from the Roman Catholic Church.

In contrast, the LDS Church, along with the Community of Christ, did not break off from an existing church. They started from scratch, and so are considered "Restorationist" churches. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists are also considered to be Restorationist.

Whether both Protestant and Restorationist churches can be considered equally Christian depends upon one's definition of "Christian". I use a definition of "Christian" designed to promote maximum inclusivity. If you believe Jesus did exactly what the Bible said He did, and you at least accept the Bible as authoritative, then you are a Christian in my purview. This definition promotes greater brotherhood within the Body of Christ and effectively straddles the line between destructive denominationalism on the one extreme vs. sappy syncretism on the other end.

I don't always agree with Glen Warchol, particularly his Tooele-bashing, but he is the most interesting blogger the Tribune has. Too bad they don't get rid of Rebecca Walsh.


steel68 said...

The idea that somehow Mormonism exists independently from the Protestant trafition is false.It still recognizes the exisitence of Christ with its own peculiar perspectives and history.What Luther started was the beginning of the end for Catholicism by his "critique".Mormonism would never be possible without it!

Deseret Dawg said...

Agreed. The Restoration would not be possible without the Reformation.

But they are categorically different because Reformation sects broke off from the Catholic Church. In contrast, Joseph Smith started from ground zero. He was told join none of them, because although they drew near the Lord with their lips, their hearts were far from Him.

And the LDS church itself tells its members who join the military to not have "Protestant" inscribed on their dog tags.

steel68 said...


I respect your judgements on many issues.Though I've lived here for years(I'm not LDS),my understanding of Mormon history is average at best.This Church is filled with many strong,strong families and beautiful and intelligent people,but is miles away from having the courage to deal with what is befalling us.I see much cowardice and self-deception,and yet-HERE!-in little ol' Utah is the possibility for an awakening.A blowback!

What are a couple of books that give an adequate treatment of Mormon history within the larger tradition of Christianity.Books that lack obvious bias and proselytizing