Friday, October 3, 2008

"How Wide the Divide?"


I can't say enough great things about the book "How Wide The Divide?", and how I think it should be an absolute required read for any Evangelical and for every Latter-day Saint. For me, it has been a watershed experience in terms of interfaith understanding and dialogue. Things that I've recently learned about Evangelicals have been made more clear, and parts of past conversations that I've participated in which perplexed me now make much more sense. The book has been out for ten years, but the time was ripe for me to read it now that I've taken up an interest in interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding. It's been a fascinating read, and one of my favorite books I've read in a long time.

LDS Christians should read it so that we're all on the same page, and Evangelical Christians should read it to better understand the facts of what we do and do not believe. Both "sides" should read it to better understand each other and to recognize where we actually, and perhaps surprisingly, agree, and where we indeed have disagreements. Sometimes what is understood by what we say isn't exactly what we mean, since we use different theological vocabularies. This is a step toward becoming theologically "bilingual". I highly recommend, if you haven't done so already, that you get this book! If you have already read it, what are your thoughts? What has been your experience since reading it?

17 comments:

Michael said...

Stay away from those people. They will do us no good at all. They will only bring us evil with their priestcrafts. We are better served by becoming friends with the Catholics, Buddhists, and followers of Confucius.

Sally said...

What? Who is Michael talking about?

Michael said...

I'm talking about the evangelicals who are the subject of the book. We waste so much time trying to get them to undestand us and like us and they are such a small portion of the world's population.

IMHO, they are also the largest practioners of priestcraft as defined in the BoM.

We need to spend out time establishing better relationships with the other religions that I mentioned above. Forget about the evangelicals.

Clean Cut said...

Polemical comments such as the above do little to advance mutual understanding and charitable dialogue.

Michael said...

In a theoretical world, you are correct my comments would be divisive. However, I am not trying to cause controversy or sow discord. Instead, I am extremely pragmatic and am stating a valid opinion. I was raised in the northeast and now live in the southeast. The attitudes of the evangelicals in the south towards us is consistently more hostile and disrespectful than that found in the northeast amongst the Catholics. Sometimes you have to ask how much time we should waste trying to build bridges to people who will never reciprocate. Especially when they are a small portion of the world population and we have so much work to do in other areas of the world.

Jettboy said...

I have to agree with Michael as someone who is against having any kind of dialogue with Evangelical Christians. We have more of a chance to become "friends" with Muslims and Jews. When that book 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.

The only thing I disagree with Michael about is that Mormons can become "friends" with Catholics. They might not have a cottage industry like some Protestants, but they no more consider Mormons as Christians as the Evangelicals. They are just as derisive and mocking. Ironic, considering many of the same Evangelicals don't consider Catholics as Christian either.

Sally said...

My goodness, Michael and Jettboy, talk about stereotypes!!

Of course there are some evangelicals (and those from every religion) that are going to be bigoted and closed-minded, but I really think that is the minority. They may speak the loudest, but most everyday evangelicals are great people that are trying their best to follow what they know.

They are our friends! To stay away from them just because they have different beliefs than us is just dumb.

What Clean Cut is encouraging us to do is to become well versed in our own beliefs, and learn the language of their beliefs so we can have open communications. We don't have to try to convert them, or they us, but understanding each other is a great feeling!

I've had many conversations with my evangelical friends, where we've simply shared what we believe in a positive, understanding way.

Sure, it can be frustrating when we hear untruths being taught about us, but to perpetuate this "us against them" mentality profits no one.

Michael said...

Dear Sally,

With all due respect, you may be viewing the general picture through rose colored glasses. Of course not all evangelicals hold us in disdain or treat us with disrespect. But the large majority do along with their leaders. The overall decentralized structure of the Baptist "Church" as well as other non-denominational generic Christian congregations lends itself very easily to the use of priestcraft. While I am sure you have some very good friends I will bet when they are pressed, they will tell you that you are not saved and that they believe you will not enter heaven.

Its time to move on and stop trying to cozy up to them. Their influence is much greater than their numbers. They won't help us convert the 1.2 billion Catholics, 2 billion followers of Confucius, 1 billion Hindus, or 1 billion Muslims. There are less than 100 million evangelicals around the world.

Sally said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure they don't think I'm saved, either. Does that mean we can't be friends and can't still talk to each other about religion? Pres. Uchdorf spoke this morning about hope and faith. How will we ever gain any understanding if we aren't friendly and don't try?

I prefer living in my rose-colored world than one of paranoia where I think everyone is practicing priestcrafts!

Clean Cut said...

I'm sympathetic to what has been expressed here. I'm not in denial that we all have had experiences that can cause us to sour a bit toward each other. There are very stubborn and hostile people for sure (on both sides), but I refuse to believe that they make up the majority. Nevertheless, I'm interested in getting past that.

I'm not trying to convert them, I'm interested in simply learning from each other--moving past the stereotypes. There are plenty of people on both sides who don't see the benefit in this, and I'm sure there always will be, but there are many who do. I've already seen the benefit. I'm not doing it for them. I'm doing it for me. I'm the one who has gained the most from this rewarding effort, however challenging and frustrating it has been at times. I can't even begin to describe the joy I feel at the education I've gained.

I happen to be more interested in finding better and more effective means of communication, of "coming to terms, learning each other's languages and paradigms and increasing mutual understanding", to quote a fellow LDS blogger with similar interests. I don't care if people disagree with Mormonism, as long as they disagree with actual Mormon beliefs and not just some warped or twisted view of Mormonism.

"How Wide The Divide?" is a such an important effort in distinguishing between our actual similarities and our differences. I just find it very enlightening, and I prefer treating each other with respect as human beings, without having to get our information from fundamentalists or extremists who have traditionally been the most vocal.

In other words, we can do better to truly communicate with those not of our faith, no matter who they are. And in the process, we might just find that we'll actually learn more about ourselves. I know I have.

ama said...

Isn't it ironic that Jesus Christ commanded us to love our enemies and many of those confessing a belief in Jesus Christ are those who are enemies towards each other.

I grew up in the LDS church and my mom later left the LDS church and started going to a very anti-mormon evangelical church. My two younger sisters were raised in this church and the biast attitudes from the LDS side and their side reflected in theological conversations between us. However, because they were in my family I love them and have been forced to see things from their perspective and they have as well. I know first hand how difficult it is to do this, but I'm grateful I've been able to learn how to see things from their perspective.

I encourage michael and jettboy to do the same. I also wrote a post on this at my site on how to learn to bridge the divide between EV's and Mormons:

http://graceforgrace.com/2008/05/29/bridging-the-mormonevangelical-divide/

jared w said...

Thanks for the recommendation. That's enough for me to buy the book and read it.

Clean Cut said, "I can't even begin to describe the joy I feel at the education I've gained."

I know exactly what you are talking about here. My conversations with members of other faiths (specifically two evangelicals) and earnestly studying, pondering, and praying about their questions has brought me new knowledge, perspective, and incredible joy. And I'm not talking about abstract doctrinal knowledge. The very basics of the Restored Gospel - I am a Child of God and Jesus is my Savior - are on fire in my heart because of the realization of how precious this doctrine is.

I firmly believe that we need a good dose of opposing views once in a while to help us remember how unique and wonderful our simplest beliefs are.

I think Michael is right about the reality of the evangelical situation and, to me, his numbers are compelling. But I disagree with his conclusion. While it may be true that evangelicals are statistically a waist of missionary effort, it is unchristian to turn our backs on them. Michael talks like a strategist for some world wide organization. Such a view point exists and is real, but I am an individual and each evangelical is an individual. Readers of this blog do missionary work on an individual level. The attitude of cutting off all religious conversation with evangelicals has no place on this level. It reveals personal hopelessness.

As for Sally looking through rose-colored glasses... What a great compliment. That is the same as saying that Sally has hope. I'd add faith and charity to that too. Michael called Sally a true Christian. We should all be looking for some rose-colored glasses to wear. You might call it having faith, hope, and charity - a Christian walk.

Clean Cut said...

Hi again Jared! I always love what you have to say. I think this book is right up your alley. You're definitely going to enjoy "How Wide the Divide?". I would love to hear some of your thoughts after you get a chance to read it. It's fantastic.

Anonymous said...

DavidG said...

While it is easy to view interfaith dialogue as a "waste of time" if one is solely interested in converterting them, I don't think that is the sole purpose of dialogue. We are commanded to love, and I think it's hard to love without understanding, and it's even harder to understand without communication. There are many communication issues, there are many different worldviews, and assumptions about scripture, and everything.

Maybe interfaith dialogue isn't for everyone, but knowing that the Lord has used me to help a friend transition from an Evangelical to a burning-heart soon to be baptized convert, has told me that all of the time I have spent reading the right books and (seemingly useless conversations with Evangelical pastors) has been worth it, and what God wanted me to do.

Seth R. said...

I've been doing some heavy online dialogue with Evangelicals for about two years now.

I read this book about 4 years ago and loved it. Excellent book and probably the best one out there on the subject. There are some other books. Robert Millett and Gerald McDermott coauthored "Claiming Christ." But I find this book rather frustrating since Millett seems to be trying to bear his testimony while McDermott is picking theological fights. There is also "Bridging the Divide" coauthored by Millett and Greg Johnson. Pleasant read and instructive on how to have Evangelical friendships without the constant need to attack.

But I still consider "How Wide the Divide" to be a benchmark that has not yet been passed.

As for the debate that has been developing here... I am sympathetic to both sides. Sally is absolutely correct about keeping a positive view of people. But that doesn't mean Jettboy and Michael are completely wrong either.

Let me just tell you what I've found through my online debate experience. I've been through dozens on Evangelical blogs addressing Mormon issues. I've found that Evangelical blogs devoted to Mormon issues tend to be far, far nastier about it than more general-interest Evangelical blogs.

There is a ton of crap out there. Some Evangelical bloggers are frankly just as hateful as your bog-standard Neo-Nazi website and the bloggers there are just as unutterably stupid. Talking to some of them is seriously like talking to pile of cow manure.

I've seen Jettboy around on occasion, and I have some slight reason to think he may have been talking to some of these types. If so, his statements make a lot of sense.

But it's not all like this. I have encountered several Evangelical bloggers - even ones devoting whole blogs solely to Mormonism - that are civil, even if they think you are wrong. I have even come away with a couple personal friendships from it.

But let me say that respect on Evangelical blogs devoted to Mormon issues is NOT the norm. Most of them (and I do mean most) are largely interfaith pissing matches. It always devolves into a "my spiritual kung fu is stronger than your spiritual kung fu" sort of exchange. We all show off our moves. He throws out his latest cut and paste job from Mormon Research Ministries, and I throw out my rebuttals from FAIR's websites... We grapple back and forth in an life-or-death struggle to show who is more spiritually macho. Then gloat ruthlessly when one side or the other slips up and makes a mistake.

It's all stupid.

You really need to keep Elder Hales recent General Conference address in mind when venturing into this area. Pick carefully where you want to participate - because some people really aren't worth talking to.

Few different Evangelical blog types:

-Blog run by a devoted counter-cultist who considers Mormonism Satanic and loves throwing out long lists of gripes about Mormonism (usually some hit-list compiled by the Tanners or Mormon Research Ministries)

These are a waste of your time. These guys are fanatics. They will shotgun accusations at you. They will accuse you of being dishonest. There is no basis for relationship or discussion. Usually their readership isn't very high and only consists of a few like-minded zealots like themselves.

Don't bother.

Another type are general interest Evangelical bloggers that OCCASIONALLY touch on Mormonism as a side-topic.

For instance, I had a good debate over at Mere Comments - a conservative Christian blog that deals with a range of topics and only treats Mormonism on very rare occasion. The participants were highly educated and informed and the debate was exhausting for me. It went on for over a month. I don't know that I always handled myself of Church teachings in the best way. But at the end we all parted amicably and several were glad of the honest and committed answers they got from me. Likewise, I learned a lot too.

I felt that was profitable. I had another similarly nice discussion over on one of Focus on the Family's blogs (not quite so long though).

But some of the best are where you get an individual Evangelical blogger who doesn't normally do Mormonism as a topic, but is today.

You have to be very careful, because often these individuals will SOUND like the dedicated counter-cultists (they will often parrot some of the same arguments). But they are not the same. These guys are not crazed zealots, even if they repeat the zealots' arguments. You can do a lot with bloggers like this. I had one exchange with such a blogger last year that eventually migrated into email exchanges over the course of 3 months. We still keep in touch about family and other stuff to this day.

Be soft and respectful with these kind of bloggers. They aren't really "anti-Mormons" even if their rhetoric sounds that way. They're just ordinary people talking about a topic that they don't have a lot of information about. So be informative. It can pay off.

Ex-Mormon Evangelicals I'd generally stay away from. These guys are simply too angry and resentful for most conversation to work out well. Until the raw emotions heal, it's hard to get anywhere useful with them. By showing up on their blogs, all you are doing is providing them with a handy punching bag.

Evangelical blogs that are devoted to Mormonism AND respectful and non-combative about it are rare, but do exist. You'll have to dig for those.

I do agree with Michael's statement though that Evangelicals are a dwindling segment of the US population and you really have to ask whether you are spending your time most effectively for the goals that you have.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks, Seth, for the thoughts. I understand where you're coming from on each and every one of those points. I'm really glad you brought up Elder Hales' talk in the recent General Conference--Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship--which speaks of answering our accusers in the Savior's way.

Elder Hales makes some absolutely imperative points to remember when presented with an opportunity to share truth with others, especially those who criticize. I love the following quote:

"One of mortality’s great tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. In such moments, we may want to respond aggressively—to “put up our dukes.” But these are important opportunities to step back, pray, and follow the Savior’s example. Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world. And in Lehi’s dream, those coming to the Savior also endured “mocking and pointing . . . fingers” (1 Nephi 8:27). “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). But when we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christlike, we invite others to feel His love and follow Him as well."

Mormon Heretic said...

Clean Cut,

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to put it on my "to read" list.

I'd add a longer comment, but I think that Seth said pretty much everything I feel.