Thursday, October 31, 2013

Evangelicals at BYU

Richard Land at BYU
The warm feelings between evangelicals and Mormons are growing stronger.  According to Adelle Banks's article at Religion News Service, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (Richard Land and Albert Mohler) and the Assembly of God Church (George O. Wood) have recently delivered lectures at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias is also scheduled to speak at BYU.

This developing relationship is historically significant.  For most of the twentieth century evangelicals thought the Church of the Latter Day Saints was a cult. Many evangelicals still think this way, as we witnessed during the Romney presidential runs.  If you type the words "Mormonism is" into Google, the top hits are "a cult," "not Christianity," "fake," "false," and "stupid." Most of these hits will take you to evangelical websites by organizations such as Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry and the Christian Broadcasting Network.  In the early 1990s, when I was a student at the decidedly evangelical Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, "anti-cult" groups would come to campus and stand at their tables in the lobby of the Chatlos Memorial Chapel to warn us against the threat of Mormonism and seek our support in the cause of exposing its false teachings.

It does not seem that the evangelicals mentioned above are willing to use the label "Christian" to describe Mormons, but they are definitely willing to work with them to advance certain moral issues. In the 2012 election cycle Land made it clear that Mitt Romney (a Mormon) was not a Christian, but a member of a fourth Abrahamic faith.  In 2007 Mohler said that the Latter Day Saints taught a "sincerely false gospel," but still make good neighbors.  Zacharias is not new to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.  He spoke there in 2004 along with then Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw and evangelical recording artist Michael Card.  Wood has been taking some heat for his visit. Of course evangelical-Mormon cooperation on moral issues is not unique to the present moment. Mormonism was part of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority coalition in the late 1970s and the LDS leaders continued to stand alongside conservative Protestants as the so-called culture wars heated up in the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, Mormons have been making efforts to be a greater part of the American religious mainstream.  It should be noted that it was BYU who initiated the meetings with Land, Mohler, Wood, and Zacharias.  The meetings have been centered around faith, family, and religious freedom. 

I am curious what some of the Mormon readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home think about these developments.  Here is a taste of Banks's piece:


The outreach has gone both ways. In September, Taylor joined two members of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Washington installation of Russell Moore, who succeeded Land as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“It’s clear where we disagree, but we’re standing together in the public square for religious liberty,” said Moore, who has recently spoken with Mormon officials about military chaplains’ religious rights.
As Mormons continue to work toward greater acceptance and visibility — from Mitt Romney’s White House bid to a category of questions on “Jeopardy” — they are more likely to have tangible benefits from this engagement, said Stephen Webb, author of the new book “Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints.”
Bob Millet, a BYU religion professor who suggested the evangelical visitors to LDS officials, said the rapprochement helps Mormons, “a sample of the population that’s not well-understood and highly misunderstood.”

Addendum:  Since I wrote and scheduled this post Thomas Kidd has posted something similar at The Anxious Bench.  Check it out here.