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An interreligious pioneer: Evangelical seminary president builds bridges through 'convicted civility'

By Max Perry Mueller

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, July 27 2012 4:44 p.m. MDT

Many evangelicals cried foul. “I got all kinds of nasty emails telling me that ‘you’ve been taken in by Bob Millet.’ Or that ‘he’s a liar,’” — rhetoric reminiscent of Walter Martin’s message to a younger Mouw from decades before.

Mouw has remained uncowed by the criticism. “Most of these people who were upset with me haven’t really checked out Mormonism and instead are uttering untruths.” For Mouw this is a particularly disturbing response for Christians. “As a people who worship someone who said ‘I am the truth,’ why would we want to bear false witness?”

Moving “Convicted Civility” Beyond Religion

Mouw believes that this method of “convicted civility” need not be limited to interreligious dialogue. “I’m a conservative on the social issues, but in my dialogues with the gay and lesbian communities, I think it’s important to find safe places where we stop shouting at each other,” he said. With the volume toned down, Mouw has found that real conversations can occur. “I ask my gay friends, what is it about me, a conservative Christian, that scares you so much? And they can ask me questions about what I believe, and I can do the same with them.”

Mouw even hopes that one day soon this pioneering spirit of “convicted civility” will spring up in Congress. He believes that if a Mormon and an evangelical can get along, why not two politicians from opposite sides of the aisle? “It would be great if a Democrat and Republican were to stand up and say, ‘We’re going to model friendship, and what it’s like to really talk to each other, even when we disagree, rather than trying simply to win the next vote.’”

During this fraught election year, Mouw isn’t holding his breath. But the greatest legacy of this pioneer of interreligious dialogue might just be that in religion and politics, sincere and open conversations among people of great difference can lead to friendships. And these friendships, Mouw’s longtime friend Robert Millet says, help people of different religious and political persuasions see that “God isn’t just on our side. … God may be working with more than one people on this earth.”

Max Perry Mueller is associate editor of Religion & Politics, a project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Twitter: maxperrymueller

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