R. Scott Lloyd
PROVO — They gather twice each year — once on the Provo, Utah, campus of Brigham Young University and once at the Fuller Theological Seminary main campus in Pasadena, Calif.
Evangelical Christians and Mormons.
In the same room.
Talking about religion.
And — believe it or not — getting along famously.
"Our meetings are extremely cordial," said Dr. Robert L. Millet, former dean of Religious Education at BYU, who has been participating in the meetings since their inception. "We have great fellowship with one another, and there's a real feeling of brotherhood and affection even though we spend hours discussing our differences."
Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote about the semiannual meetings recently in one of his articles on the Washington Post's On Faith blog site.
"We have talked for many hours about key theological issues," Mouw wrote. "We evangelicals and our Mormon counterparts disagree about some important questions. But we have also found that on some matters we are not as far apart as we thought we were."
This cooperative effort between evangelical Christian scholars and their LDS counterparts is especially noteworthy since the last two months have seen a number of highly placed evangelical Christians making comments about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In early October, Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, called Mormonism a "cult," and another evangelical leader, Bryan Fischer, claimed that Latter-day Saints are not Christian and are therefore not entitled to First Amendment protections of religious freedom. Since those comments were made in public forums and were directed at presidential candidate Mitt Romney, they generated a media firestorm that has has generated through the ensuing weeks a good deal of public discussion on the LDS Church and whether or not it is truly Christian.
"To a Mormon, the claim that they are not Christian is confusing," said Dr. David Campbell, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and a leading researcher on faith in American life. "They point to the name of Jesus Christ in the church's official name and wonder how they can be considered anything other than Christian."
Without going too deeply into the theological differences, Campbell, who is LDS, suggests there is a semantic difference at work here.
"When an evangelical Christian says 'Mormons aren't Christians,' what they are really saying is, 'Mormons don't believe the same things I believe about Jesus,'" he said "They are referring to very specific beliefs. But when Mormons say 'Christian,' they're thinking of a religious orientation that has a much broader meaning, that encompasses a lot of different Christian possibilities. So in a sense you have the two sides talking past each other, using the same words to mean different things."
In an effort to clarify the church's Christianity, LDS officials issued a statement in which they quoted a Book of Mormon scripture: "We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins" (2 Nephi 25: 26). Their point in doing so, they said, was to illustrate that "Christ is at the center of our worship, study, service and faith, and we believe this is clearly demonstrated in the lives of more than 14 million members in over 130 countries around the globe."
What other Christians think
Still, the Christian question continues to be asked.
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