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Evangelical leader says commonality with Mormons deeper than differences

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 7:45 p.m. MST

OREM — Borrowing an ancient Hebrew word from an Old Testament text, one of America’s leading evangelical Christian scholars told nearly 2,000 young Mormons at Utah Valley University Friday that his faith and their faith, often at odds with each other through the years over doctrinal disparities, “need to find ways we can work together” to find “shalom,” or peace.

“God has placed us in the world, in this nation, and calls us to seek the shalom together,” said Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president emeritus of the Fuller Theological Seminary and noted author of such books as “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.”

“Evangelicals and Mormons have a lot to talk about and a lot to share about the hope that lies within each of us,” Mouw told a capacity crowd at the LDS Institute of Religion on the UVU campus. “We need to work together, learning from each other and bearing witness to the hope that shines within us.”

That hope, he said, emanates from the beliefs that evangelical Christians have in common with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — specifically their shared belief in “the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.”

“That’s important to us because we have a lot of disagreements,” he said, noting a number of doctrinal issues that can be divisive in discussions between evangelicals and Mormons, including the Trinity, the nature of God and the relationship between human beings and God.

“We need to talk about those things,” Mouw told his audience, which included LDS general authorities — Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Steven J. Lund of the Seventy — as well as a number local evangelical pastors, including Pastor Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries. “But it’s important for us to talk about those things as we hold fast to the Savior. If we’re all saying, ‘Give me Jesus’ (a reference to the beautiful gospel song presented earlier in the program by the Orem Institute Latter-day Celebration Choir), all of those differences will dissipate into academic rarities that probably aren’t important when considered next to our desire to work together for the cause of righteousness.”

For more than 10 years Mouw has been talking about those issues — both the differences and the commonalities — with a group of evangelical and LDS scholars who meet regularly to share and probe and consider varying theological perspectives. One of the things he said he has learned during those years is “there’s more commonality than we realized in the way we talk about Jesus and his atoning work.”

For example, he said, “we evangelicals have often focused on the origins of the Book of Mormon and questions of Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority, but we haven’t paid attention to the content of the Book of Mormon.”

“But when you stop and read it,” he said, “a lot of the doctrine looks and sounds like our doctrine, with language that sounds like the kinds of things we say.”

He read from the Book of Mormon some of the prophet Alma’s language about the life, ministry and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and how people need to “repent and be born again … (and) have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7:14).

“Those are words of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I affirm as an evangelical Christian,” Mouw said.

Mouw also referred to a sermon by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church’s April 2009 general conference about the Atonement.

“I show that address to my students at Fuller,” Mouw said. “They tell me that if they didn’t know it was a Mormon speaking they would have thought it was Billy Graham.”

Mormons and evangelical Christians, he continued, “say the same things” about Jesus Christ.

“These are profound teachings that we both talk about,” Mouw said. “These are the things we need to be talking about rather than shouting at each other and demonizing each other.”

Such focus, he explained, is an important element of what he calls the “convicted civility” that should exist between faith groups.

“We do need to give a witness of those deepest convictions in our soul,” Mouw said. “But we also need to be willing to learn from each other, to be open, to listen. And we need to be able to work together for the common good.”

Evangelicals and Mormons both “hear God’s call to justice and righteousness,” he continued. “In our communities, when we are asked to say something about the deep hope that is in us, we name the name of Jesus. Together we need to serve sinful people in a fallen world.”

During a panel discussion held later in the afternoon as part of UVU’s interreligious engagement initiative, Mouw identified religious freedom as one of the key areas in which evangelical Christians and Mormons can work together.

“We need to figure out how we can work together in the battle to maintain our religious rights,” he said, sharing the panel with UVU President Matthew Holland. “And not just our own rights. The best thing we can do together is to defend the rights of Muslim women to wear a burqa, or the religious rights of Sikhs or Jehovah’s Witnesses. We need to not seem like we’re just in the battle for ourselves. This is larger than just us. We need to look out for the religious rights and freedoms of all people. When we defend the rights of others, we are also defending our own rights."

Matthew Holland agreed.

“Wherever we are in this relationship,” he said, “it is the religious liberty issue that beckons into the future a commonality that may help transcend past barriers in ways we have never previously seen.”

Email: jwalker@deseretnews.com

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