Saint Charbel monastery in Annaya, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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Akiki joined Lebanon's fledgling Mormon Church as the Civil War was coming to an end, and Assouad joined in 1986 . While the church's numbers have risen and fallen in the intervening years, it currently counts several-dozen members. In the United States and elsewhere, the Mormon Church has drawn criticism and even mockery for some controversial practices, including polygamy, child marriage and racism, which were promoted by some early church leaders. But in Beirut and elsewhere the church is working to increase transparency and inform others about the importance of traditional family values and diversity. Polygamy has been forbidden by the church for over a century At a recent meeting, members of the Beirut congregation from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds listened with rapt attention while missionary Rex Allen talked about the Aaronic priesthood, an ancient institution which Mormons believe was restored to earth in the 19th century after Jesus Christ appeared to an American man named Joseph Smith. Beirut serves as a district hub for the church's activities in other countries throughout the region.
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