One if by land and two if by sea or a salty inland lake. An advance party of Southern Baptists landed on Zion's fair shores last week to soften things up prior to this summer's mass invasion.
Actually, it was a respectful and informative vanguard unit that visited with Deseret News religion and editorial writers and other local media representatives Thursday and Friday. The threesome - Phil Roberts, William Merrell and Herb Hollinger - detailed itinerary and objectives for the pending convention and evangelizing effort. Concern that the scout team was akin to Navy Seals going ashore before troop transports arrive in June dissolved when no land mines were left behind.Of course, when the polite discussion swung toward faith and works and Christian vs. non-Christian, you could see one or two people around the table mentally loading and taking aim. But everyone held their fire, which is good practice for this summer's pending close encounter.
Doctrinal dissensions typically lead to lively but unfruitful dialogue that don't move anyone except toward anger and defensiveness. So why not establish a shared beachhead and fortify it against negative forces both Baptists and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agree exist?
One who shares an objective third-party opinion about finding that common ground and cultivating it is Father Patrick Ward, vicar of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in West Valley City. His is the unique perspective of a former Baptist who has lived and ministered amid the Mormons for more than two years.
He is not bashful about acknowledging theological variances between his faith and the Baptists or the Latter-day Saints. But he voices his views respectfully and with a willingness to listen.
"When you begin any discussion by focusing upon your differences, you are bound to not get very far," he noted. "When you ask about things you have in common, you are likely to make a lot more headway. There are common points and beliefs we can agree about and feel good about."
Father Patrick grew up a self-described "agnostic Catholic" in Philadelphia, a "cultural Christian." That changed in September 1971 when he had an intensive born-again experience as a Marine stationed on Okinawa. It was then, he said, that he came to know of the reality of God and of the need for his love and grace.
Later, as a student at Wheaton College in Illinois following his discharge from the military, he realized he really "was not a Southern Baptist." He felt the doctrine and lifestyle did not fit for him and became an Episcopal convert. "That lets me be a Catholic and Protestant at the same time," he said with a smile.
Since graduation from Nashota House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, he has spent 18 years in the ministry. "It will be good for many LDS people here to have the experience of someone knocking on their door to discuss religion," he mused. "It will be interesting to watch it play out."
When asked about one group or another defining Christians or affixing other labels to another religious body, he suggested care and caution in rendering widespread judgment.
"It strikes me as arrogant for anyone to decide who is and who is not Christian in broad terms. Points of divergence in doctrine and teachings can be fun to explore together without alienating people. There are Mormons and Episcopals and Baptists who live Christian lives, and some who do not. Each person's religious experience is personally valid. We may disagree doctrinally but can make some positive connections."
That's not a bad philosophy to tuck away in anticipation of an evangelical knock on the door in June that should be kindly received - if in fact the Baptists and anyone else can get around given the tattered infrastructure. Last week's visitors acknowledged the torn-up transportation system is a main concern going into their convention.
What person of faith, hope and charity - especially needed in rush hour and when discussing religion - could disagree with that?