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Christian Interfaith Relationships

by Richard P. Lindsay

The Church has never existed in isolation or insulation from other Christian faiths. Its roots and its nurture are in, and remain in, the Christian heritage. But its claim that the heavens have opened anew, that a restoration of the lost radiance and power of the full gospel of Jesus Christ is under way at divine initiative, and its rejection of many long-standing traditions have generated misunderstanding and ill will. In the first generation in the United States, the solidarity of the Latter-day Saints was thought to be inimical to pluralism and at the same time aroused the ire of sectarians. Missionary efforts through personal contact more than through mass media and image making sometimes compounded the problem. In certain times and circumstances, there has been no will, or at least no lasting resolve by either side, for outreach and cooperation.

In three ways these tensions are being reduced:

1. Institutionally. Church officers now participate with leaders of other faiths in Christian interchange. LDS leaders in many countries are welcomed to interfaith devotionals with their Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox counterparts. This has been in keeping with the precept and example of early Church authorities (see Tolerance). For mutual support, they likewise meet and organize, across varied lines and programs, for example, the chaplaincies of many nations of the free world, the Boy Scout movement, the National Council of Christians and Jews, and local and international service clubs concerned with social, ethical, and moral issues.

2. Educationally. The Church fosters the largest adult education curriculum in the world. Many of the courses are Bible-related, and some focus on Christian history and institutions. For high school and college-age students, who now exceed half a million, the Church provides similar courses in its seminaries and institutes adjacent to high schools and major universities. Teachers in the Church Educational System are given financial supplements to visit the Holy Land, to study the origins of the three great monotheistic religions, to become familiar with the vocabularies and worldviews of alternative Christian institutions, and to understand and recognize common ground in the lives of the youth they teach. LDS scholars of many disciplines are increasingly involved in the religious studies programs of academic and professional organizations.

The Church has opened its extensive broadcasting facilities to representative programming across the spectrum of Christian groups (see Bonneville International; KSL, Radio). It has also been a major participant in religious broadcasts in the VISN Religious Interfaith Cable Television Network, which represents most major denominations in the United States.

To establish two-way interchange, the Richard L. Evans Chair of Christian Understanding was established at Brigham Young University. Funded and advised by a variety of Christian groups (the initial commitment came from a Presbyterian), this Endowment fosters religious studies symposia, lectures, forums, exchange programs, and visiting professorships. It also sponsors interfaith meetings where common as well as controversial theological issues are presented by representatives of each tradition, and where workshops help resolve tensions in an atmosphere of goodwill.

The Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University produces distinguished volumes utilizing scholars of many faiths who represent interdisciplinary and comparative expertise. Although a literature of disparagement continues both from the left and from the right (see Anti-Mormonism), Church leaders continually remind the membership that whatever may be said of those who make a religion of anti-Mormonism, a retaliatory response is neither wise nor Christian.

3. Practically in Christian Humanitarianism. At its best the pattern of LDS life, institutionally and individually, has not been to demand rights but to merit them, not to clamor for fellowship and goodwill but to manifest them and to give energy and time beyond rhetoric. In a major address to regional Church leaders, former President Spencer W. Kimball set the tone:

We urge members to do their civic duty and to assume their responsibilities as individual citizens in seeking solutions to the problems which beset our cities and communities.

With our wide ranging mission, so far as mankind is concerned, Church members cannot ignore the many practical problems that require solution if our families are to live in an environment conducive to spirituality.

Where solutions to these practical problems require cooperative action with those not of our faith, members should not be reticent in doing their part in joining and leading in those efforts where they can make an individual contribution to those causes which are consistent with the standards of the Church [Kimball, Ensign 8 (May 1978):100].

Examples of recent Church-encouraged projects that reach across different affiliations include cooperative emergency assistance, support for homeless shelters in many cities, and linkage with the work of the Salvation Army. At BYU, students of other faiths are often elected to student offices, and various service clubs strive against intolerance and clannishness. In the same spirit, the Church was among the first to give aid, with other Christian bodies, to disaster areas in such places as China, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Los Angeles, Peru, Armenia, Japan, Iran, Chile, and Greece. Through two special fasts, the Church raised $11 million for the hungry in Africa and Ethiopia, and utilized Catholic services as a delivery system (see Humanitarian Service).

Because so much in contemporary society is dissonant, centrifugal, and divisive, interfaith understanding and mutuality seem indispensable. LDS history suggests that what appear to be intractable political, social, and economic clashes are often, at root, religious. To overcome needless divisions and to heal the wounds of modern life, including the religious life, are not just the commission of Latter-day Saints but of all who take seriously the message and ministry of Jesus Christ. Unless in some there is Christlike concern for all, there is little hope for any.

(See Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page)

Bibliography

Arrington, Leonard. "Historical Development of International Mormonism." University of Alberta, Religious Studies and Theology 7 (1) Jan. 1987.

Keller, Roger R. Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians: Let's Talk. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1986.

Madsen, Truman G. "Are Christians Mormon?" BYU Studies 15 (Autumn 1974):73-94.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, Interfaith Relationships

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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