A new “docuseries” debuted this month on Netflix, “Murder Among the Mormons.” It caught my attention because the events portrayed in this three-part series happened in Salt Lake City in 1985. I was a staff writer at the Intermountain Catholic diocesan newspaper in Salt Lake City at the time.
The program focuses on the murders of two people by Mark Hofmann, who was a collector of historical documents, particularly documents related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly known as the Mormons. As it turned out, Hofmann was a forger of Mormon documents and committed the crimes to cover up his misdeeds.
Hofmann left a trail of tears, deception and pain to go along with the killings of Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets on Oct. 15, 1985. But, as it turned out, this story of suffering was also sprinkled with redemption and forgiveness.
During Lent, the Scripture readings constantly remind us how the Lord offers us redemption from sin. They also call on us to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us. That is what happened in Utah.
After the Netflix program’s release, the Deseret News, the Mormon-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, wrote about an incident that did not make it into the docuseries.
“Fifteen years after Hofmann killed Steve Christensen and Kathy Sheets with nail-riddled pipe bombs in Salt Lake City, Hofmann’s oldest son turned 19 and decided he wanted to serve a two-year mission” for the LDS Church, the Deseret News reported March 5. (As a rite of passage, most young Mormon men, ages 18 to 25, volunteer as missionaries. They are trained as Mormon disciples and sent to missions worldwide to proselytize and convert non-Mormons.)
The judge who sentenced Hofmann to life in prison, Kenneth Rigtrup, learned about the son’s decision from Hofmann’s ex-wife, Dorie Olds. She wasn’t sure she could afford the costs, including the suits worn by Mormon missionaries.
“Let me make a phone call to Mac Christensen,” Rigtrup told Olds.
Now some Utahns (not to mention readers in northeast Wisconsin) might not know the name of Mac Christensen, but they do know “Mr. Mac,” a clothing chain in Utah that furnishes suits for missionaries. Mac Christensen owned Mr. Mac. He was also the father of Steve Christensen.
“The judge who had sentenced Mark Hofmann to prison for murder now was asking the father of one of his victims to help Hofmann’s son,” the Deseret News reported.
After discussing it with his family, Mac Christiansen called Rigtrup and told him they would be happy to provide the clothing.
“They started piling things on top of the counter and making sure we had everything. Then they bagged everything up and not one receipt, not one price tag. I had no idea how much it costs to send a missionary,” Olds told the Deseret News.
Mac Christensen died in 2019, but told the Deseret News in 2011 that he needed to forgive Hofmann. “I wouldn’t ask them to let him out (of prison), but I’ve forgiven him. That’s what you have to do. You have to forgive and just help people.”
Mac’s son, Spencer (Steve’s younger brother), who outfitted the Hofmanns’ son with clothes, shared his views about forgiveness in a book, “The Divine Gift of Forgiveness.”
“That young man may have received free clothing, but the gift I received was priceless,” the Deseret News quoted Spencer Christensen. “I felt no anger or hatred towards his father; that burden was not mine to carry. This was about doing what the Savior would do.”
I believe this story of tragedy and forgiveness resonates with all Christians, especially as Holy Week nears.
“Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life,” Pope Francis wrote in his 2016 apostolic letter on mercy, “Misericordia et misera” (“Mercy with misery”).
If there is anger or hatred towards another that has been festering in our lives, perhaps now is the time to bring it to the Lord and offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us.