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
Mitt Romney’s faith-and-politics speech recalled for many John Kennedy’s famous Houston address. The comparison is an obvious one. It wasn’t clear in 1960 how a Catholic could endorse democratic pluralism, and folks have similar worries today about Mormonism. The fact is, however, that Kennedy’s speech did not clarify the basic issues—he simply reassured the citizenry that his private beliefs would not influence his public policies. The real change came with the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII, where the Catholic bishops engaged in an elaborate aggiornamento ("updating") of Catholic thought, addressing among other things the role of Catholicism in present-day democracies.
I don’t expect the Mormon leaders to convene an LDS version of Vatican II, replete with open deliberative sessions attended by observers and consultants from other religious tradtions. But the time would seem to be ripe for some sort of public initiative on their part. So here is a friendly suggestion. The LDS leadership could now comment on the fact that the Romney campaign occasioned many distorted characterizations of Mormon thought. They could also point to the fact that there are serious theological scholars, especially many evangelicals, who—while clearly disagreeing with Mormon theology on some very essential points—have shown an interest in presenting the differences in fair and careful ways. The Mormon leaders could give their official blessing to dialogue with such scholars, and ask for their assistance in clarifying those elements of Mormon thought that are most susceptible to criticism from the perspective of traditional Christianity.
Such a project would benefit evangelicals as well. We claim to take the Bible seriously. We even make much of the need to acknowledge the Ten Commandments in public life. One of those commandments says this: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." When we tell Mormons what they really believe, without first of all engaging them in a neighborly dialogue aimed at understanding their beliefs in their own terms, we have violated that important commandment. There is no question that if false-witness-bearing is happening to any degree in American life, we evangelicals are the primary sinners. Our disagreements with Mormons are indeed very real. Because such things are not only relevant to public life but are of eternal importance, we need to be sure we are clear about where the real disagreements lie. The LDS leadership has a marvelous opportunity right now to invite evangelicals and Mormons to learn together how to be better neighbors!