Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Church often still misunderstood
Fort Worth TX Star-Telegram (Arizona Republic) 13Mar00 N6
By Maureen Jenkins: The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- The exclusion of LDS Church members from the
January 15th Festival of Faith 2000 event in Phoenix's Bank One
Ballpark led Arizona Republic reporter Maureen Jenkins to examine why
the LDS Church is "still so maligned and little understood within
some Christian circles." Initially the festival planned to include
the LDS Church, but some conservative evangelicals objected to the
LDS Church's presence, claiming that Latter-day Saints are not
Christian. Jenkins reviews history and theology to find out why.
The Rev. Paul Eppinger, executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical
Council and a Festival of Faith lead organizer, says that the
exclusion of the LDS Church was an unfortunate necessity, "In an
ideal world, there would be total acceptance, total understanding,
total love. But unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and
therefore, in our desire to make the Christian church more
understanding of each group, there are first steps we must take, then
the second step, the third step, the fourth step." He says that
simply getting Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics and
Eastern Orthodox Christians to meet with each other was difficult
enough to justify it as a first step. Broadening the group to include
the LDS Church and other nontraditional denominations is another step.
The LDS Church, of course, claims to be Christian. Phoenix metro area
spokesman Wilford Anderson told Jenkins, "I think people understand
we can respectfully disagree on matters of Christian doctrine, but
should never disagree on Christian conduct. There certainly are some
(churches) who find it difficult to work together with us, and I
respect that as long as we don't have ill will toward each other and
as long as we don't have misinformation."
Jenkins says that misinformation is the "crux of the rift between
Mormons and evangelical Christians." Citing AP writer Richard N.
Ostling, co-author of the accliamed recent book "Mormon America," she
says that the LDS Church's "sweeping policy of secrecy" contributes
to the misunderstandings, "Any time you have this situation, it
creates rumors, speculations, misinformation," said Ostling, who
wrote "Mormon America" with his wife, Joan K. Ostling. "There is room
for a lot of confusion."
Ostling points out that most of the disagreement between Mormons and
Evangelicals is doctrinal, not moral, political or cultural. "The
fundamental issues between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are
the nature of God, the doctrine of Christ, the Bible's authority, and
the doctrine of humanity and relating to God." He adds that since
both evangelicals and Mormons target the same group of potential
converts, it is not surprising that they would conflict. BYU
sociology professor Marie Cornwall agrees, "If you can use that
marketplace language, both Evangelicals and Mormons share the same
target: the unchurched. We compete in the marketplace of religion,
and evangelicals want to make sure their targets realize Mormons are
Jenkins also points out that the 1997 book "How Wide the Divide? A
Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation" by Denver Seminary
professor Craig L. Blomberg and BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson
examines the problem, detailing the differences without dwelling on
trying to prove the other wrong.
And she notes that the Church has sought opportunities to work with
other faiths in humanitarian efforts, noting that in the Phoenix
area, Church members belong to the InterFaith Action Coalition of
Arizona. She credits President Hinckley with spurring some local
interfaith efforts due to the public relations-savvy of his
administration, which has sought to build bridges while highlighting
positive aspects of Mormon life.
Cornwall sites President Hinckley's latest book, "Standing for
Something" as an example of these efforts. "Mormons want to be both
different and the same (as other Americans)," Cornwall said.
"Different in the sense we know our faith is different from other
faiths, but the same in that we want people to see that we can be as
successful as anybody else."