The arrival of a rare lunar eclipse plus an unusual "supermoon" event have some people so convinced that the end of the world is imminent that the Mormon church was forced to issue a statement urging practitioners of the faith not to get too carried away with apocalyptic rumors.
The Associated Press reported on an official statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued Saturday that said, in part, that members of the church should "avoid being caught up in extreme efforts to anticipate catastrophic events."
A "blood moon" event is when a lunar eclipse causes the moon to take on a reddish tint as the Earth's shadow moves across it and temporarily obscures the moon from view. A so-called "supermoon" is a full moon that takes place when the moon is at the closest point in its orbit to the Earth, making it appear particularly large in the sky.
Recent political events, global unrest and predictions by an apocalypse-minded Mormon author have reportedly touched off a run of sales in survival goods and emergency-preparedness supplies.
The AP said it's unclear how many Mormons are buying into the end-of-the-world prophecy, but leaders of the church were concerned enough to issue the statement assuring them that the world is not about to end.
Preparedness is one of the tenets of the Mormon faith, which believes that a period of disasters and tribulations will precede the second coming of Jesus Christ. Many Mormon-built homes in Utah and other southwestern states feature special built-in shelves for rice, flour, canned goods and other nonperishable supplies.
The pronouncement by the church, said Patrick Mason -- chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California -- indicates that fear of the End Times must be fairly pervasive among Mormon families if church elders felt the need to address it.
"For it to filter up to that level and for them to decide to send out a policy letter means that they felt there was something they needed to tamp down on," said Mason.
Earlier this year, church leaders sent a memo to Mormon high school and college instructors warning them about the works of author Julie Rowe, a Mormon woman who suffered a near-death experience in 2004 and says she received prophecies from the other side.
According to Rowe, a series of disasters will presage the coming of the End Times, which will begin with the Blood Moon on Sep. 28.
The blog MormonStories.com estimates that more than 10,000 Rowe followers are "selling their homes, selling off their 401Ks, purchasing gold, and purchasing thousands of dollars worth of 'preparatory materials' (e.g., food storage, tents, trailers, guns, ammunition) for the pending global apocalypse."
The public letter from the LDS Church does not mention Rowe by name, but warns against members of the faith who make statements that are not endorsed by the church elders.
"The writings and speculations of individual Church members, some of which have gained currency recently, should be considered as personal accounts or positions that do not reflect Church doctrine," the statement said.