Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why Mormon/Evangelical Dialogue is Problematic

The idea that Mormons can have a constructive dialogue with Evangelical Christians doesn't seem practical. Both hold so strongly to what they believe and are so serious about getting others to believe it that a bloodless catfight is the best that can be hoped. However, I think that Evangelical Christians must change ten times more than Mormons in order to have a real discussion. That isn't to say it is impossible, but it is improbable.

Probably the most important change that must take place is mutual respect. It is true that both consider the other as wrong, but there is an added problem that E.C. considers Mormons as contemptible. Despite a few instances where E.C. and Mormons get along, those most able to influence the wider population are spiteful. As one self described former E.C. Anti-Mormon put it:

People who support the counter-cult ministry would probably interject at this point that their intention has never been to culture that kind of behavior. I would reply that their intentions mean very little, it’s their results that matter, and I was one of their results whether they like it or not. I’ve heard the talk that goes on when evangelical anti-Mormons think Latter-day Saints aren’t in the room, the sneering and the condescension. You cannot spend major parts of your life thinking and preaching that the followers of a competing religion are deceived, blind and going to hell without looking down on them in some form, and condescension easily breeds hate and ridicule.

I do think that Mormon's should take to heart her comment:

For example, when one of the missionaries was explaining why I needed to be baptized in their church, I objected, “But I’ve already been baptized. Why should I do it again?” His flippant response: “You didn’t get baptized, you went swimming.” It did not sit well with me to have someone belittle what I considered sacred, but even more unsettling was the logic behind that statement. When all is said and done, the LDS church teaches that evangelical Christianity is inadequate, evangelicals do not have the Holy Spirit, and evangelical baptisms are worthless no matter how sincere the intentions behind them.

On the other hand, the E.C. needs to realize that, yes Mormons do believe differently than they do about authority and salvation. That is something that Mormons understand all too well or should if they don't. Many Catholics and Protestants are no different in this matter among each other. That is what defines religions, even very closely related faiths. The answer to that is breathing room by actual discussions about the very nature of authority and salvation. To attack is to stop the discussion dead.

It doesn't help that E.C.s constantly accuse Mormons of lying about their history and beliefs, while Mormons consider the E.C. criticisms lies. There is some truth in both perspectives. The problem is that with Mormons it is usually about either difference of opinion about what the history and beliefs mean or ignorance. With E.C. it is often conscious dismissives that come off as real lies. While some Mormons might ignore their own history or doctrine (and that isn't much different from many religious people and organizations), E.C.s often ignore what Mormons think. Again, from that excellent blog post:

I began to notice something about the evangelical counter-cult ministry which bothered me immensely: the evangelicals were not responding to the LDS fiskings of their arguments, they just kept peddling the same material as if it was the final word on the subject and no one had refuted it.

In order for a good dialogue to happen, ground rules of each side must be understood. That is where the breaking point is reached in even well intentioned discussions. That is the problem that Gerald R. McDermott had at First Things, even if he did better than others have. He made assumptions about Mormonism and it's Scriptures by superficial readings and lack of looking beyond his own pre-conceptions. As I have said in another of my posts:

The first and most damaging fallacies are the lack of contextual and definitional examinations. Some of the logical problems are based on lack of explaining related subjects that help to answer some of the questions posed. Other logical problems are based on assumptions held by the presenter that Mormons don't hold themselves. Both of these are very common anti-Mormon tactics. Probably the most hypocritical is when a detractor states (with some truth I might add) that Mormons use Protestant and Catholic words and notions, yet mean something different. Then, they turn around and criticize Mormonism from the definitions that Mormons don't hold as if the first statement didn't exist. A very switch and bait tactic that is employed with such ease . . .

The most important thing to remember is dropping the "to hate is to love" rhetoric. It is hard to reconcile the idea that there is some kind of love and honesty in your heart when the only words out of your mouth are negatives. Start by dropping the "cult" accusation if you really want to talk with a Mormon on equal terms. When "How Wide the Divide" came out, the loudest and most numerous responses from the "other half" was condemnation and blaspheme. The very act of even trying to talk with Mormons was a sin. What is interesting is that while Mormons are trying to cozy up to them, they are becoming less liked because they are becoming less likeable and are proud of that.

Also, as Bruce D. Porter said, "To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue." You can say Mormons believe in a different concept of Jesus as Christ, but to say they believe in a different Jesus is not only offensive, it is illogical. He lived unless you believe he didn't. Mormons may not be considered fellow or orthodox Christians, but they are still Christians.

I would like to have a discussion with Evangelicals as they hold important similarities, but it starts with both sides letting down a few defensive positions. More than anything I would like to be understood on my own terms and expect E.C.s want to be as well. Perhaps it starts with accepting each other as humans first and Mormons and Evangelicals second.


Jermayn said...

good points and interesting to read your views from a different religous perspective.

I agree that Christians can at times be very 'narrow' in their thoughts. I was amused by the 'baptism dialogue' but sadly its true.

Even Jesus the Christians example had to deal with this and he handled it very well in Luke 9:49-50.

Thanks for your comments over at my blog

CD-Host said...

I see you are still active. Well I'm an X-evangelical you can look at my blog to get a feel. And I'd be interested in a dialogue. You can take a look at my blog if you like to convince yourself I'm pretty open minded.

I've been thinking about Mormonism quite a bit the last few days. I'm having some trouble reconciling two very different pictures. So I'm game.