Apologetics and Dialogue
The real issue, when people say, "well, what is the doctrine of the Church?" is the question of what is in the canon. What do you hear the prophet saying today across the pulpit? What are we hearing in General Conference and what are we finding in the official publications of the Church? That's the doctrine of the Church and we don't need to get caught up in trying to defend something that somebody once said.
I think one of the best suggestions is a wonderful little phrase, "I don't know." Too often we Mormons hate to say that; we're the restoration; we're supposed to know everything. Happily, President Hinckley has been using that phrase with a certain degree of regularity, especially about things that are on the periphery of the doctrine of the Church where we just don't know. And now we don't have to defend ourselves against those things. What we need to do is to educate members of the Church to say "I don't know" when they ought to and we might have fewer Mormon mythologies circulating.
So much for apologetics. I find it a very unfruitful realm in which to operate on a personal basis. Dialogue, though, is an entirely different issue. Dialogue presumes that I am sitting down with a person who really wants to understand my faith and in return I really want to understand his or her faith. It cannot be a one-way street; it must be two-way and there must be openness on both sides. I find that I learn as much about my own faith by sitting down with somebody whose faith is very different, a Muslim or a Hindu or whatever, because suddenly I begin to see things with new lenses and I see things that are indigenous to my own faith that I would never have seen if I hadn't looked through somebody else's glasses. That's what makes dialogue exciting.
I think there are some rules for dialogue, the first of which is don't be so dad-gum thin-skinned. So somebody doesn't agree with us, big deal. We don't have to get uptight about that, not if we're in dialogue. We get uptight if we're in apologetics, but if we're in dialogue that's okay because there is, or should be, respect on both sides.
One of the things of which I'm convinced is that there can never be dialogue if there is attack. I do not believe that I ever have to try to undercut another person's position to make my position look good. If I have to do that, I don't have a position. If I have to do that, I don't have truth. If I have to do that, I'm not depending upon the Holy Spirit, who validates what is true. And so I may tell somebody that I look at something differently, but I can relax because I never have and never will convert another human being; it is the Spirit that converts and only the Spirit.
People in other religious traditions are not our competitors; they are co-travelers. In many instances they prepare the way for us to proclaim the fullness of the gospel. But, if there is to be any kind of creative dialogue it can never be based on "you're wrong and I'm right and let me tell you why." I can say, "I don't see it that way; let me share with you how I see it." Now, how do you respond to that? How do you react to that? You know, there can be that kind of give and take.
Secondly, I think one has to work from a position of proclamation. In the end my job is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand it and let the Holy Spirit do His job. If I do that nobody can get uptight.