Evangelicals urge gentler approach to Mormons
'Transitions' » Pair extends a bridge to those leaving the faith.
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 06/12/2009 07:11:53 PM MDT
Saving Mormon souls from the perceived falsehoods of their faith typically has included dubbing the church a "cult" and providing a point-by-point comparison with traditional Christianity, while caricaturing Latter-day Saint believers and practices.
Such tactics may fill the pews and energize the Evangelicals, but to John Morehead and Ken Mulholland, they are not the best tools for ministering to Mormons.
"We need to provide something constructive and Christ-centered that takes into account a true understanding of the journey they've have been on," Morehead says.
To that end, Morehead and Mulholland have produced a 14-minute trailer for a full-length multimedia effort called "Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationship."
It mirrors the personal approach seen in "Mormon Messages," made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and circulated on YouTube, featuring individual converts, telling the story of their faith and how they came to join the church.
In a similar way, Morehead and Mulholland took to Salt Lake City streets, interviewing people who had left the LDS Church and who stayed, asking each how they viewed those who didn't share their beliefs.
"I loved growing up LDS. ... The tipping point for me was desperation," says Shawn, about his reasons for dropping out of Mormonism. "Nothing gave me solace, peace in my heart."
After a series of personal crises, Christine Nelson says, she didn't know where to go. "I saw no hope, I didn't know if my life could ever be OK again. Nothing had prepared me for that moment."
Emigration is the best metaphor for the experience of leaving Mormonism as thousands do each year, Pastor Ross Anderson says in the trailer.
"Because a person is coming out of the homeland, they've made a decision to go somewhere else," he says. "But they bring with them all their stories and heritage and identity. An immigrant settling into new land doesn't have to repudiate all that, but they have to learn to live in this new home. That's the experience of Latter-day Saints coming to live among traditionally believing Christians."
The "Transitions" trailer is the first major project of a new think tank, the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, Mulholland and Morehead created in Utah to "equip individuals, congregations and Christian academics to communicate the Christian faith to adherents of new religious movements with understanding and sensitivity."
As America's religious landscape continues to evolve, theirs is an urgent assignment that goes well beyond Mormonism, they believe.
While 40 years ago, an interfaith encounter might have involved a Methodist living next door to a Catholic, in the 21st century the situation has changed dramatically: Your neighbor might be a Mormon, a Wiccan, a Pagan, a Muslim, a Hindu or a Buddhist.
This exotic mix of religions perplexes most Christians, Morehead says, but it cannot be ignored since family members, loved ones, friends, neighbors and co-workers increasingly are adherents of these movements.
How are followers of Jesus Christ going to respond to this changing society?
"A lot of people in Protestant churches don't know what these movements are or they have the crudest ideas about them," Mulholland says. "They want to share their faith but they don't want to be jerks. Unfortunately, the only model they've seen is combative."
Morehead and Mulholland have been working on providing a model for cordial interactions for more than a decade.
Mulholland was founding president of Salt Lake Theology Seminary, which closed its doors earlier this year after 20 years of operation. Morehead taught at the seminary and is co-editor and contributing author for Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach. He is also the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue and co-founder and co-editor of the "Sacred Tribes" e-journal.
In the months before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mulholland and others at the seminary worried that out-of-town Evangelicals would descend on Utah, attacking Mormons in a negative way. So they produced "Bridges: Helping Mormons Discover God's Grace," a video about LDS beliefs that included the perspective of Mormons themselves. It offered a kinder, more respectful approach to sharing Christian teachings with Mormons, drawing on years of living among Latter-day Saint neighbors and friends.
"Bridges" included an emphasis on interactions between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints through the development of "relationships rather than confrontation," Morehead says.
Mulholland estimates that more than 25,000 Christians have now used "Bridges" as a way to share their faith with Mormons.
Now the Western Institute's "Transitions" adds to that approach.
"God has been so gracious in pouring out a new kind of grace into our hearts into really love these people," Mary Golding says in the trailer. "Not just love them so they get converted, but to love them enough to walk with them to get them through the process, to say you are not an accomplishment, a project to us. You are an individual that Jesus loves."
Such Christians are saying, "I'll walk with you across the bridge," Golding says, "and in this transition for as long as it takes."
For more information about the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, go to http://www.wiics.org/.