A New Opportunity for Mormonism?
Richard J. Mouw, a prominent evangelical, offers a 'friendly suggestion' to Mormons about explaining their faith.
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.
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.