National Edition

Evangelical scholar reflects on role of faith in public life

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Richard Mouw, emeritus president of Fuller Theological Seminary

Don Milici, Fuller Theological Seminary

During two decades as president of one of the world's largest theological seminaries, Richard Mouw has a long list of accomplishments. And at the top of the list is his work in interfaith relations between evangelicals and those of other faiths.

He has received both praise and criticism for reaching out to Mormons, Muslims, Jews and others, seeking not to convert but to gain a better understanding of the differences between them and to find areas where they can work for the common good.

"We understand we have deep disagreements, but we are going to make sure those disagreements are of the nature we thought they were. We are going to approach each other in friendly engagement and really try to understand each other," he said of his approach.

Now 73 years old and retired from being president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Mouw plans to apply his concept of "convicted civility" to explore ways religious communities can constructively impact social, political and economic life. Next fall, Mouw will direct a newly funded Institute for Faith and Public life.

During a recent visit to Utah, where he spoke to students at the LDS Institute of Religion at Utah Valley University, Mouw squeezed in time for an interview about his future plans and past work as a leader in interfaith dialogue.

Deseret News: What are some issues the institute can address in the area of faith and public life?

Richard Mouw: One issue has to do with immigration. How do we serve our values as Christians who believe God is concerned about the family and God is concerned about what the Bible calls the "stranger in the land"? ... I believe we have to worry about security and secure borders. But at the same time, if we are concerned about families, the stability of family life, then we need to find ways to give these people, who have come here because there are economic opportunities and they comprise a very important labor market, a path to citizenship.

The other issue is the question of sexuality, same-sex marriage and questions of religious freedom. Does Fuller have the right to express our views on this subject without being accused of hate speech? Do we have the right to receive federal loans for our students when our admissions and hiring policies are in accordance with more traditional and conservative views?

I am conservative on those issues. But I also believe we live in pluralistic society where I think a person of same-sex orientation should have the right to work and have equal rights in the marketplace and in political life. But at the same time, I think institutions that are guided by traditional convictions on these matters ought to have the religious freedom to configure the life of their communities in accordance with their convictions.

DN: Explain your concept of convicted civility.

RM: I got that from Lutheran historian and theologian Dr. Martin Marty, who said there are a lot of people today who have strong convictions but are not very civil, and a lot of people are civil but don’t have very strong convictions. What we need is to put them together. One of the real challenges is for those of us who, for example, have strong convictions on sexuality that are based on what we take to be the traditional Christian consensus on this matter. We need to be able to treat people who believe differently and who act differently with a kind of kindness in public life, respecting people’s dignity, while at the same time we don’t want to compromise our own personal convictions.

DN: What is different about the students entering the seminary today compared with those who entered 20 years ago or when you entered school?

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