Students prep for interfaith dialogue between Mormons and Evangelicals

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One of the Evangelical Church’s most notable leaders, Richard Mouw, is scheduled to come to UVU in November and interested students have enrolled in a class to prepare for his arrival.

The class functions as the Religious Studies and Interfaith Association’s preemptive measures to prepare students for Mouw’s visit.

“Over the years we’ve noticed that students go to hear these speakers without knowing the significance of who they are listening to,” Brian Birch, associate vice-president for Academic Affairs and the director of religious studies, said.

The goal of the Interreligious Understanding: Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue class, offered exclusively during the second block of this fall semester, is to supply students with an appreciation for the work Mouw has done, to better understand the implications of his visit.

The class is designed to provide students with a greater understanding of the history of the Mormon-Evangelical relationship.

“It seems pretty messy,” Matt Tait, junior, said. “I’ve never gotten the vibe that Evangelical’s like Mormons much. And probably vice-versa; there is a lot of distrust there.”

In November 2004 Mouw visited Salt Lake City and made a public apology to the LDS Church and its members for how they have been treated by Evangelicals in the past.

“We’ve often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith,” Mouw said that night. “It’s a terrible thing to bear false witness.”

His seven-minute introduction of Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias, the keynote speaker at the meeting in 2004, caused an immediate and riotous response in the Evangelical community.

Mouw’s community members believe that at best he was “selling out” and shirking his responsibility to denounce evil, at worst they worried that he had been manipulated by the Mormons he had been meeting with in interfaith dialogues.

Mouw, un-phased by criticism, has continued his interfaith work with Mormons. In 2012 he published a book titled, “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals” in which he gives his response to the accusations that his work with Mormons is pointless and morally dangerous.

“It is time that we move beyond stark denunciation to open dialogue,” Mouw said.

The course, instructed by Birch and philosophy adjunct and Orem Institute of Religion teacher Blair Van Dyke, is structured to help students navigate the murky waters that is the relationship between Evangelicals and Mormons.

“We start with the history of Christianity and where each of those faiths emerged,” Birch said. “Then we will move on to the dialogues between the two faiths and the specific issues of doctrine that arise, such as the nature of God and the purpose of grace.”

In addition to discussing the complicated and dynamic relationship between the two faiths, the class will dive into the religious dimensions of American politics, specifically involving Mormon and Evangelical influences.

As was seen during the 2012 presidential election, religion played a contested role. One of the course’s reading assignments is from an October 2012 Washington Post article.

The article “Billy Graham faces backlash over Mormon ‘cult’ removal” reports on the negative response the Evangelical community had to Graham’s, another prominent Evangelical figure, removal of all cult references in regard to the LDS Church on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.

Graham was criticized for choosing politics over his duty to the kingdom of God because this decision was made after meeting with presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

An evangelical criticizing Graham or Mouw is comparable to a Catholic criticizing a prominent archbishop.

Both Graham and Mouw are considered experts in their field and are often called upon to voice the Evangelical opinion.

With the Mormon-Evangelical scene increasing in controversy, Mouw is upping his stakes in the fight.

“I argue that understanding Mormonism isn’t just about being kind or nice,” Mouw said in his book, “it is a Christian mandate.”

Mouw argues that the Evangelicals’ focus on obscure Mormon doctrines and  teaching others that they are the centerpieces of the LDS religion is dishonest and thus sinful.

“This is baring false witness, something we are commanded not to do,” Mouw wrote in his book. “If in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth by attributing to them things they don’t in fact teach, then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths.”

Mouw stands behind his mandate that interfaith dialogues are essential to a more peaceful future.

“The world has enough needless division,” Mouw said. “It’s time to follow the path of the Savior toward reconciliation and unity.”

In addition to the course on Evangelical-Mormon dialogue on Tuesday evenings 4pm to 6pm in BA 207, which auditing students are welcomed, students can prepare for Mouw’s visit by attending the Interfaith Association meetings on campus or the Interfaith Committee meetings at the LDS Institute of Religion room 169 on Fridays at 2pm.