In my assignment as a public affairs director for my church, I was asked to attend a Holy Cross Lutheran meeting Sunday morning. One of our local congregations was holding a three-week Bible study course on Mormons and what we believe.
Prompted by the presidential election and the possibility of having a Mormon as the Republican nominee, many members of the congregation were asking the pastor questions — could they support a Mormon? Are Mormons Christian? What would it mean to have a Mormon as president of the United States?
To help educate his members, the pastor planned a series of three classes. For the first two classes, he showed videos about the Mormon church. I don’t know what the first week’s video included but I know it prompted a woman to ask her Mormon colleague several questions about what we believe. He happily answered her questions and clarified many of our beliefs.
Then she asked her pastor if she could invite her colleague to their second meeting. The pastor agreed and the woman took her colleague to church with her last week. The pastor showed another video that was produced by a group of ex-Mormons.
You can guess how that video was slanted…
The pastor invited the woman’s colleague to come back to their last meeting, and I and one of my assistants were asked to join him. We welcomed the opportunity to explain who we are and what we believe. When we arrived, the pastor warmly greeted us and then introduced us to his congregation. Then he went on to teach about some of the differences between Mormons and Lutherans. Among them: they believe we are saved by grace alone, and we believe that while Christ’s atonement ultimately saves us all, we are still required to spend our lives doing good works.
He pulled up a page from http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ about what we believe then he said it was hard to find objective, fair information about the Mormons because on the internet he could only find anti-Mormon or the actual Mormon Church’s official websites.
I believe that the official Church websites are legitimate, credible sources of information, but the pastor’s point was that the Church’s sites are more conversion-oriented than informational so he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that with his members.
I respect that viewpoint although the Church has really worked hard to make more information available for the curious as well as those interested in becoming members.
Just a couple of days before attending this meeting, I read a comment from Krister Stendahl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DkoG-m8Agemeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who said he believed in three rules for religious understanding:
1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies;
2. Don’t compare your best to their worst;
3. Leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate.
He said these principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.
I believe in these three rules.
I’ve never understood why people seek out ex-Mormons to learn about the Mormons. That’s like asking Mitt Romney to tell us all about President Obama. His view will obviously be a little skewed.
I love the third rule: leave room for “holy envy.” If we could follow that one simple rule, imagine how interfaith relationships could be improved — softened and strengthened at the same time, and how that would benefit a community. If we could learn to take the best from each other and build up from there, we could really accomplish something powerful and positive for everyone involved.
As the pastor described different points of doctrine, he graciously allowed us to make corrections as he went along. For example, one member believed that Mormons worship Joseph Smith instead of Christ. We quickly said that we follow Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and leader of our church whom we hold in high esteem but we worship Christ. A woman behind me said, “Well, then is what we learned wrong?” In unison, all three Mormons in the room, said, “Yes!”
I appreciated the pastor’s willingness to let us speak up, correct and clarify.
After the meeting concluded, many people thanked us for joining them and some wanted more information.
Many of them were shocked to find out that my assistant public affairs director works for President Obama. They thought all Mormons had to support Mitt Romney. We had an opportunity to dispel that notion.
We have a long way to go in this effort of telling the world who we are and what we believe, but today was another small step forward.
And while all religions may have some doctrinal differences, most of us are seeking to live good lives, help our fellowmen, and strengthen our own relationships with God.
As for “holy envy,” I think that’s a beautiful concept and one that we should more readily embrace. We are all truth seekers who want to understand the world, our purpose and our destiny. When we share the bits of truth and goodness we all have in our religions we build each other up.
I never imagined myself spending a Sunday morning in a Bible study class with the Lutherans talking about my religion, but I think when we respectfully share our faiths, we increase our knowledge and understanding of each other. We promote tolerance and religious freedom.
As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, there really is no room for bigotry, self-righteousness and arrogance. We need friendly dialogue that leads to tolerance, brotherhood, friendship, appreciation of others, respect, kindness and love. We should have quiet, friendly dialogue not vociferous argument and debate.
He said, the world knows “we carry on a vast missionary program in the Church. But it is not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'”
That is a form of “holy envy.”
We all share the good that we have and we all benefit.
In a world fraught with more and more intolerance and disrespect, we could all be better with a little “holy envy.”