A New Opportunity for Mormonism?
Richard J. Mouw, a prominent evangelical, offers a 'friendly suggestion' to Mormons about explaining their faith.
BY: Richard J. Mouw
There is some political buzz again about Mitt Romney, who is reportedly on John McCain’s list as a potential running mate. If McCain chooses him we can be sure that Mormonism will once again be in the news. When Romney was a contender in the recent primaries, media commentators were discussing Mormon theology with abandon. And much of this worked against Romney’s candidacy. Not that his failure to connect with the American public was all about religion. But an anti-Mormon bias was certainly a factor. There is a conviction at work that you just can’t trust Mormons: Latter-day Saints don’t say what they really believe, and they manipulate us to achieve their goals. Some of this had to be in play when people accused Mitt of saying whatever he had to say in order to get elected.
All of this must have been frustrating for the Latter-day Saints leadership in Salt Lake City. They simply had to let a lot of confusion about Mormon teachings go uncorrected. It would have been counterproductive to give the impression that they were serving as Romney’s theological managers.
Is the net effect of all this recent attention a setback for the Latter-day Saints? It doesn’t have to be. In the past, the agenda for evaluating Mormon belief and practice has been controlled largely by an evangelical "counter-cult" movement that has made attacking Mormonism into an industry. The Romney phenomenon at least succeeded in broadening the public conversaton about Mormonism. The LDS leadership can see this as an opportunity for a creative initiative.
As an evangelical who has publicly called for a friendlier dialogue with Mormons, I know something about a deep anti-Mormon bias in American life. Speaking to a large gathering a few years ago in Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle, I apologized to the Mormons in the crowd for the ways in which we evangelicals have often told them what they believe without first asking them what they believe. I still get hate mail and attacks on "Christian radio" for what is seen as my compromise with the Devil. It doesn’t matter that I have always gone out of my way to make it clear that I have serious disagreements with Mormonism in matters of eternal importance. Many evangelicals simply refuse to acknowledge any problem with the way we have portrayed Mormon teachings.
Some of us in the evangelical academic community have engaged in the careful study of Mormon thought, making sure to check out our interpretations with LDS scholars. While we do have very serious disagreements with Mormonism on a number of major theological issues, we see the need honestly to engage the Mormon worldview on its own terms, without the distortions often perpetuated by many of our evangelical fellow travelers. That Mormonism cannot be dismissed as simply one more "cult" should be obvious. For one thing, Brigham Young University has come to be a center of important scholarship, including these days in philosophy and theology. Those of us who have engaged in intensive dialogue with Mormon intellectuals over the past decade or so can testify to this fact.