Future of Mormonism
Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue: Changing for the Better
On the Latter-day Saint side, Stephen Robinson was famously influential in getting the interfaith dialogue ball rolling, but it's been Robert Millet who has kept it on the move. Numerous LDS scholars have participated in Standing Together's National Student Dialogue Conferences in the past decade, and the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy was recently started with a well-developed Mormon chapter. However, I have noticed that when it comes to Mormon-Evangelical interfaith dialogue on the internet, there seem to be far more evangelical bloggers specifically reaching out to Mormons than there are Mormon bloggers specifically reaching out to evangelicals. Certainly the evangelical bloggers get a healthy number of Mormon commentators when they post their material, but I observe less initiative on the part of Latter-day Saints when it comes to Mormon-Evangelical dialogue.
I believe that the trends I have witnessed in Mormon-Evangelical dialogue in the past twelve years have largely been positive ones. I'm not certain where we will be in another twelve years, other than feeling pretty confident that mutual dialogue trends are bound to continue. However, here are three things I would like to see:
1) The grace to critique one another's mutually exclusive truth claims free from the stigma of attack/victim accusations. For example, Mormons believe in a Great Apostasy while evangelicals believe Christ's Church has always been on the earth. In defending their own truth claims, Latter-day Saints are naturally going to criticize the idea that Christ's Church has always been present, while evangelicals are going to criticize the idea that there was a complete and total apostasy. For one group to play the victim card and stigmatize the other as attackers for challenging such beliefs is a sure way to preclude genuine, mutual interfaith dialogue. We cannot make the forfeit of distinctive religious beliefs a prerequisite to respectful, genuine dialogue, as such a dialogue could never be "genuine."
2) The death of the terms "anti-Mormon" and "cult." Once upon a time, these words had an actual, technical meaning that could have been useful for the purposes of religious discussion. Now, they've been misapplied and abused by certain parties on either side to the extent that they currently amount to little more than thought-stopping rhetoric, nearly useless for interfaith dialogue. It's time to retire them.
3) Less talk about who is and is not Christian, more talk about theology. I'm not denying the significance of the "Are Mormons Christians?" question. However, I think it too often distracts people on both sides from constructive exploration of other issues. It would be beneficial for both parties to be more willing to shelve this question from time to time in favor of discussing other matters.
Mormon-Evangelical dialogue is changing for the better, and I aim to be a part of that change. In the meantime, removing these stumbling blocks would certainly accelerate the process.
Bridget Jack Jeffries is a student completing her M.A. in American religious history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She holds a B.A. in classics from Brigham Young University and has been interviewed by The Washington Post and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. She blogs at www.ClobberBlog.com.