A Mormon congregation has suspended the construction of a church building in northern Ecuador after vandals damaged the structure twice.

Church officials say the project has been put on hold until a local plebiscite decides the question of the group's presence in Peguche, an indigenous community 80 miles north of the capital, Quito.

Opposition to the church came from indigenous leaders who charged that Mormons are intent on changing cultural and social conditions in the community.

Carmen Yamberla, president of the Indigenous Federation of Imbabura Province, says, "Freedom of worship cannot be exercised when it leads to social conflicts."

Yamberla says Mormons have infiltrated the community, caused division, and disregarded the development of indigenous people.

Another resident, Jose Quimbo, charges that the church's architecture would conflict with the traditional adobe construction.

Quimbo says the traditional celebrations and rituals of the community would be disrupted by the presence of a church that would hold the entire population of Peguche.

Holger Moncayo, legal representative for the Mormon Church in Ecuador, says that the cement structure would seat 700 people, slightly more than the number of Mormon believers registered in three towns in the area.

But the issue is more than just the building, Quimbo says. "Our children will not know if their heritage is as a Mormon or as an indigenous person who speaks Quechua with a cultural identity forged for centuries."

Moncayo denies that Mormons are trying to change culture. "We ask that our members maintain their traditions, their hair braids, and their good customs."

Arrest warrants have been issued for four residents who have been charged with destruction of the church property.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.