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Speaker's apology to LDS stirs up fuss

Published: Saturday, Jan. 15 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Ravi Zacharias speaks at "Evening of Friendship" Nov. 14. At the same meeting, evangelical Richard Mouw said that evangelicals have sinned against LDS.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

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In the two months since a leading evangelical Christian apologized, on behalf of his fellow believers, to Latter-day Saints for mischaracterizations of their faith, several conservative Christians have voiced their displeasure with his remarks.

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, spoke Nov. 14 at the Tabernacle on Temple Square as part of an "Evening of Friendship." The meeting featured Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias as the keynote speaker and was co-sponsored by a local group of evangelical ministers called Standing Together Ministries, and the Richard L. Evans Chair for Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University.

"Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you," Mouw said, noting a tendency among some Christians to distort the truth about the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe."

Mouw went on to explain that "we have even on occasion demonized you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is 'really' trying to accomplish in the world. And even at our best, we have — and this is true of both of our communities — we have talked past each other, setting forth oversimplified and distorted accounts of what the other group believes."

Latter-day Saints have often responded in kind to such actions, he said, lamenting, "Friendship with each other has not come easily for our two communities."

He lauded the event as a step toward mending strained relations.

But his remarks didn't sit well with some conservative evangelicals, a few of whom have posted lengthy responses to his published text on their own Web sites and have encouraged others to make their displeasure known to Mouw.

As the backlash began following his speech, Mouw, who is also a columnist for Beliefnet.com, a nondenominational Web site, allowed the text of his remarks to be posted there with an explanation of the background for the meeting in Salt Lake City.

In posting the text, still available at www.beliefnet.com/index/index_10044.html, Mouw wrote that, "The speech is making the rounds among surprised and generally pleased evangelical and Mormon groups."

But several conservatives were not pleased.

A story following the event in Baptist Press, which writes about the Southern Baptist Convention, quoted three local ministers — Mike Gray, pastor of Southeast Baptist Church; Roger Russell of Holladay Baptist Church; and Tim Clark of the Utah-Idaho Baptist Convention — saying Mouw unfairly impugned their ministries and activities by making a blanket apology to Latter-day Saints.

"(Mouw) was wrong," the story quoted the Rev. Gray as saying. "He had no business. And it will hurt.

"He doesn't live here and he doesn't know what we do," the Rev. Gray said. "We haven't been ugly to our Mormon neighbors. We love them and care about them."

The article said Mouw had responded to such criticism with an e-mail to Baptist Press saying he "certainly did not mean to imply that every evangelical has sinned in this regard," Mouw wrote. "Suppose I were to address an African-American gathering and say that we whites have sinned against you blacks. Who would deny that this is a correct assessment? But who would think that I was speaking about and on behalf of all white people?"

Another Utahn troubled by Mouw's remarks, Ronald V. Huggins, assistant professor of theological and historical studies at Salt Lake Theological Seminary, posted a text of his own in response at a Web site of the Institute for Religious Research, www.irr.org/mit/authentic-dialogue.html, under a section titled, "Mormons in Transition."

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