Monday, September 29, 2008

Mormon Studies and Sacred Narrative: Missing Dimensions in Evangelical Study

I've mentioned in previous posts that at times I find it helpful to step back and ask myself the question (in various contexts), "Why do we do the things we do?". Or "Why do we do the things the way we do?" Such questions can be very helpful since it is very easy to go with things as they have always been done and to assume this is the only way, or the best way in which to do them.

I believe such questions need to be posed in interreligious dialogue involving evangelicals. For example, we are involved in dialogue with Latter-day Saints, but the venue and manner of the dialogue often resembles a debate in its public expression, and the terms of the dialogue are those that resonate with evangelicals. Our dialogues tend to center on issues related to doctrine and worldview, especially in light of evangelical concerns over heresy. Such questions are important for Christians who remember the New Testament churches and their struggles with various teachings in a pluralistic environment, but if we step back for a moment we might consider that other religious groups do not approach the practice of religion while sharing evangelical concerns. Evangelicals emphasize doctrine, orthodoxy, and a rational orientation to the theologizing process, but groups like the Latter-day Saints do not. Most Latter-day Saints that I talk to, whether academic or not, tend to emphasize ethics, a testimony, various sacred narratives, and ritual practices in the temple and ward. Is it possible that the evangelical-LDS dialogue process, now underway in various forms for many years, represents a form of dialogue where we are largely talking past each other because evangelicals have not been able to empathetically step into the shoes and way of life of their dialogue partners?

I suggest that evangelicals are missing essential aspects in their understanding of Mormonism, and therefore our dialogue process is not what it could be. In my view, we need to engage in a research project that approaches Mormonism from the perspective of sacred stories or narrative such as the Pre-Existence and the Heavenly Council, Joseph Smith's First Vision, and the Westward Trek and Persecution to name a few. These narratives represent not only theological and historical aspects of Mormonism, and aspects of Mormon theology and history with which we can offer criticism, but sacred stories in which individual Latter-day Saints situate themselves as they seek identity and live out their faith individually and collectively. These stories are connected to strong experiential and emotional dimensions which then work themselves out in ethical conduct and ritual that takes place in the home, ward, and temple. A focus by evangelicals on LDS sacred narrative and ritual would help us understand their religious pathway more as an insider than as an outsider, and it would help us move beyond idealized or reified understandings of their faith.

We might also consider how our own understanding of traditional Christianity can be communicated more effectively and winsomely through a narrative theology that tells God's Story and which helps situate our individual stories within the divine narrative. This might well be difficult for evangelicals in that we have turned the collection of biblical stories that makeup the overarching divine story of the missio Dei into a systemized collection of doctrines. We tend to approach our own faith rationally, doctrinally, and systematically, and therefore it is no surprise that we approach the religions of others in similar fashion assuming they share our framework. Attempts at developing a narrative theology as evangelicals might go a long way in providing new avenues for understanding our own faith, and in communicating that more effectively to others who appreciate a narrative framework.

Before evangelicals write these ideas off, I have been exploring the possibilities for PhD studies by research degree, and a part of my dialogues related to this have been with Douglas Davies, Professor of the Study of Religion in in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham. He is also the author of The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Ashgate, 2000), and An Introduction to Mormonism (Cambridge University Press, 2003). In our email exchanges Dr. Davies saw great merit in my research proposal, and he made similar observations about the neglected aspects of ethics, narrative, and ritual to LDS studies in a forthcoming review of Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies (Mercer University Press, 2007) for BYU Studies, and in a paper presented not long ago in Finland to the European Mormon Studies Association.

I believe there is something significant in these ideas, and I will continue to pursue them as a research project. My hope is that funds become available for PhD studies on them as well.

Friday, September 19, 2008

LDS Thoughts on First Things Article

One of the blogs that I enjoy is Summa Theologica, the work of "Aquinas," an articulate and reflective Latter-day Saint who supports the Mormon-evanglical dialogue process. Aquinas recently posted a review of the October 2008 issue of FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life essay titled "Is Mormonism Christian?" by Bruce D. Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. See the review here.

This article is now the subject of discussion in the LDS community at the Times & Seasons site.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Amos Yong: Hospitality and Interreligious Dialogue

Amos Yong is Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity. He is also a clergyman with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church, and he has done extensive work in developing a theology of religions, particularly in the contribution that pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) can play. His scholarly life is dedicated to deepening biblical theology and promoting ecumenical and interfaith understanding. Yong's recent work is Hospitality & the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor (Orbis Books, 2008). After trying to discover a mutually agreeable time to discuss this book, we were finally able to touch bases by phone last Friday. Following is a transcript of our discussion.

Morehead's Musings: Amos, thank you for discussing your new book. It brings together a number of topics of great interest to me including hospitality with the "religious other," interreligious dialogue, and a theology of religions. I found your book helpful in providing broader considerations for reflection and practice in these areas. At one point in your book you contrast what you call "conservative and progressive trajectories" among Christians as it relates to interreligious relations. Can you briefly summarize the general aspects and differences of approach in these two camps?

Amos Yong: I would draw the reader's attention to the specific context in the book where I discuss these different categories. But I would simply say that more conservative trajectories are more concerned about not compromising the integrity of the Christian identity or faith. More progressive trajectories are not. It's not that they aren't concerned about that, but they are less concerned about that and more concerned about building bridges, exploring opportunities for collaboration, for understanding, etc. It's not that conservatives aren't interested in building bridges or exploring opportunities for collaboration, they would subordinate those concerns to the other ones. And vice versa for the progressives. I don't want paint either camp in purely one-dimensional terms. By these concepts I want to draw attention to how people prioritize things.

Morehead's Musings: You also discuss the issue of performative theology, or theology as a dramatic performance. In this section of your book you are careful to point out the intimate relationships between theology and praxis. This would seem to be a basic and assumed aspect of the discussion, and yet you took time to develop this section of your argument. Have evangelicals made a wedge between their beliefs and practices, and is that is why you emphasized this in your book?

Amos Yong: I suppose that is one way of putting it. Coming from an evangelical background myself I was always considered with orthodoxy, meaning right thinking, right belief. That's an important emphasis, but I guess what I've grown to realize is, in global evangelicalism, often times it's not that right orthodoxy is not important, it is wherever evangelicals are to be found, but how that orthodoxy is lived out differs from situation to situation. Often times evangelicals will have the same confession but the practices and how they interact with people of other faiths are different depending upon the context. So that one confession is somehow able to sustain a plurality of practices. My intuition, however, is that there is a diversity of confessions within that one confession, and that's what actually sustains the diversity of practices. But again, when I say diversity of expressions I'm not necessarily saying included in those confessions are heterodoxies. If in fact confessions can take a plurality of articulations, then prioritization and emphases indicate that evangelicals around the world are much more diverse. I am trying to open up space in the book to understand how the diversity of practices are sustained by diverse orthodoxies.

Morehead's Musings: In light of that, how do you see the blending of theology and praxis brought together in performative theology as an essential aspect of encountering the religious other?

Amos Yong: Let's put it this way. If you ask evangelicals what they think about other religions propositionally they'll give you a pretty standard evangelical answer which may be exclusivistic in terms of the doctrinal aspects of that response. But their practices are much more open, much more interactive, dialogical and so forth. So what I'm trying to describe is a situation in which you have practices that are not just open and shut, not quite as exclusivistic as they are articulated theologically, so how can practices help us be more nuanced in our theological reflection and articulation? How can we engage in genuine open hospitality, but then only present the discourse or rhetoric of exclusivism? In other words, how might we need to rearticulate our theology that is then able to sustain those legitimately hospitable practices?

Morehead's Musings: As you discuss Christian mission in the context of dialogue and hospitality you note that we need to be about "engaging with our neighbors, including people of other faiths, not as objects (e.g., to be converted) but as neighbors who have important messages even for us Christians." How might Christians expand their concepts of neighborliness, hospitality, and dialogue so as to avoid this objectifying aspect?

Amos Yong: I guess I would look at it first and foremost as how this works out in the actual practice of neighborliness. So if someone moves in next door to me who is not a Christian and I approach that person foremost as an object to be converted, what happens if that person resists conversion? Does that mean that our relationship is over? Does that mean there is no longer an opportunity for neighborliness? If so then I've treated that neighbor as an it, there's no further use for them. Now if that's the way that I treat my neighbors then that's obviously not going to make for a very good community. It won't provide opportunity for us to work together on community issues that might need to be resolved. How do we treat our neighbors? I suggest that if our neighbor is someone of another faith we don't need to reduce that person, that community, to that one register. So we need to accept that person as created in the image of God, and all that they represent, as somebody God has put in our lives, not just for us to have a mission, but simply to appreciate that person as somebody in the creation of God. What might that do to open us up to an encounter with God through that person?

Morehead's Musings: I was intrigued by your mention of the need to involve mutuality and vulnerability in interreligious dialogue. You suggest that rather than using "polemical apologetics" we need to draw upon "relational and dialogical approaches" that look at the Christian and the dialogue partner as equals. You suggest that this then has the potential to make interreligious dialogue "a Christian practice in its own right, rather than being subservient to other ends." For evangelicals who might find this proposal hard going and who will also want such a proposal to be biblically informed, can you touch on a few biblical passages that you discuss in your book that support this view of interreligious dialogue?

Amos Yong: In one of the places in my book I discuss the prophet Jeremiah's invitation to the exiles to serve or to build homes, to plant gardens and to serve the city in which they find themselves (Jer. 29:7). Part of the problem is that evangelicals want to insist on having control of our situation, and if we're not in control of our situation we'd rather not be in it. But when I look at the experience of exile, refugee, immigrants or migrants we're looking at people who are not in control. Isn't the call of God is to be people not in control, to be a diaspora people, of exile, a wandering people in a certain sense. Then we have a call not to be in control. That's why I think I made such a big deal about being guests in my book. Hosts are always the one's who are in control. The guest is the one who is not in control, and we're not good at that. And of course there are lot of opportunities for us to be better hosts who are sensitive to our guests, but I want to go beyond that. I want to call us to be guests, to recognize that this world is not our home, and that we are actually guests of the others, of people of other faiths. My point is how we can learn to be better guests. And I think that's what real vulnerability is, it takes vulnerability to give up control, to be in a situation where we aren't the ones calling the shots.

Morehead's Musings: Related to the last questions, as you build your case you then move on to consideration of hospitality between Christians and those of other religions in our pluralistic world. You note the importance of hospitality and table fellowship in the ministry of Jesus and the early church. You then connect this to a theology of guests and hosts that arises out of a sense of exile, and you suggest that this "exilic posture is essential to a theology of hospitality in a postmodern and pluralistic world." Can you draw this out a little for readers?

Amos Yong: Again I think, to go back to the metaphor, often times when we talk about hospitality we think that the way it applies to us is that we need to be more hospitable. I agree. But my point is not so much that we continue to be the ones who are in charge, we're the hosts, we're inviting people to our table, we're the ones with the soup kitchen, we're the ones with the hospital. In a pluralistic, post-Western, post-Constantinian, post-Christendom world, that posture still smacks of imperialism, colonialism, and injustices we have perpetuated as people wanting to be good hosts. Again, I'm not saying abandon being hosts, but what does it look like to put ourselves in positions to be recipients of hospitality, like Abraham, the exilic experience, the diaspora. How did Jesus teach us to interact with our hosts? Putting on a guests mentality is something we haven't thought too much about because we've been in charge.

Morehead's Musings: How might church congregations and individual Christians develop a "stranger-centered" theology and practice of hospitality? What elements does this involve, and practically speaking, what does it "look like" as it is given expression in communities, neighborhoods and homes?

Amos Yong: When you're a guest it means that someone has invited you. Then you're in a situation that someone else is in charge and they have invited you to be in their midst. The challenge for us communities of people of faith is to develop relationships so that we become those who are invited to the meal, to the community project, to the committee to resolve a community problem, and so forth. Why aren't we getting those invitations? I think it's because we're not as relational or as friendly as we should be. So we should focus more on the relational aspect of building community, building friendships, those things require authenticity and vulnerability. The more authentic and vulnerable we are the more invitations we're going to get. We have a mono-dimensional model of interacting with others and we miss a lot of other things that are important in God's eyes like the cultural mandate or the missio Dei, the call to be neighbors, and so on. These things will help us get more invitations.

Morehead's Musings: Amos, thank you again for discussing your book and aspects related to its thesis. I hope we have raised enough curiosity that folks might pick up a copy and that its ideas might find their way into acts of dialogue and hospitality.

Amos Yong: John, thank you for your interest in my work, and thanks for your work too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Interview with Gus diZerega on Pagan-Christian Dialogue

It was a pleasure to work with Gus diZerega as a contributing author for Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2008). Gus has been interviewed on The Wildhunt blog regarding his thoughts and experiences related to the book and Pagan-Christian dialogue. Here's how the interview is introduced:

Author and academic Gus diZerega is one of the strongest Pagan voices on the importance of Christian-Pagan dialog. His 2001 book "Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience" was a bridge-building work that sought to begin a reconciliation between Pagans and Christians, and emphasized a need for more communication. Now, the journey that started with "Pagans & Christians" continues with "Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue", a truly open conversation with Australian theologian Philip Johnson that explores our differences and similarities. I was lucky enough to conduct an e-mail interview with Gus diZerega concerning this book, what he learned from the experience, and why Christians seem to worry so much about the Pagan resurgence.

I encourage my evangelical readers to engage in a process of critical self-reflection in light of Gus' thoughts. The interview can be found here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Religions and Spiritualities: Engaging the Contemporary Religious West

Dr. Michael Cooper of Trinity International University published the following article in a recent issue of Lausanne's World Pulse:

In the spring of 2005 I presented a paper at the Midwest regional conference of the American Academy of Religion held at DePaul University in Chicago (USA). The paper addressed factors that contribute to the growth of a contemporary Pagan religion. After the presentation, several in attendance came to me with questions. One question stood out: “Dr. Cooper, are you a Pagan?” It was an honest question from an individual who assumed anyone speaking favorably about Paganism must be a Pagan as well. I was happy to respond, “No, I am not a Pagan. I am an evangelical Christian.”

With that response, a collective look of disbelief fell over the faces of those standing around. Such a look, as well as some individual comments, communicated the immediate respect that I gained in their eyes for demonstrating an understanding acquired from dialogue and observations.
Over the years, I have had people disagree with me on my approach to engaging religious others. In a recent email, one such detractor wrote: “Why in the world are you occupied with a study of Paganism? All the nonsense of communicating the message of Christ’s love and hope to make some adherents is futile.”

Others have responded less radically, such as: “I found your applications not only applicable to Christians reaching out to Pagans, but to all Christians attempting to reach out to anyone. Your principles were very universal and insightful.” While not all will share my particular academic emphasis on understanding other religions, most might agree that respect for religious people as created in the image of God is a necessary Christian virtue, especially when one is attempting to engage such people with the gospel.

At the very heart of Lausanne Issue Group 16 is the desire to understand and respect the people we encounter. In this vein, the Issue Group has partnered with Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois, USA) and the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies to co-sponsor an international conference addressing new religious movements and spiritualities. New religions are generally thought of in terms of religious groups forming out of the dominant religion of a culture. These often-called “deviant religions” break with the dominant religion and shape into new religious movements. Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are most commonly associated with such movements.

However, recent attempts at understanding new religious movements in the West have included Western and non-Western religions surfacing as the result of immigration, globalization, and/or Easternization, as well as pre-Christian European religions that result from the revival of native, reconstructed religions.

Religion continues to play a significant role in the spiritual marketplace of the religiously unregulated West. The corresponding decline of religious fervor once associated with the secularization thesis is challenged by the notion that a significant majority of westerners identify themselves as religious and/or spiritual. Today’s Christian will be confronted with multiple religious worldviews, whether in ministry, in the workplace, or in their neighborhood. Developing the academic knowledge and practical skills to effectively engage these worldviews is a necessary part of equipping Christians to engage their local and global contexts.

Hosted by the School of Biblical and Religious Studies at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, USA, the 16-19 October 2008 conference is a gathering of practitioners and scholars addressing the decline of Christianity in the West and the concomitant growth of new people groups expressed in religions and spiritualities such as modern Paganism, Western Esotericism, New Age, and other alternative spiritualities.

Plenary sessions and parallel workshops will address the topics of the future of religion in the West, the make up of the alternative religious marketplace, and approaches in engaging adherents of alternative spiritualities. Because we believe this is an important conference, registration is only $60USD for the ten plenary sessions and twelve parallel workshops.

Graduate course credit can also be obtained through Trinity Graduate School. More information about the conference is online at:

The conference will be an opportunity to hear leading evangelical scholars address the growing significance of the religious shift in Western society. Plenary sessions include:

Sacred Rights: The Claims of Indigenous People to Their Sacred Places, Stephen Paul Kennedy (Trinity Graduate School)

From paganism to Paganism: The Continuing Evolution of Western Religious History and the Emergence of New Religious Identities, Michael T. Cooper (Trinity Graduate School)

From the Occult to Western Esotericism: Catching Up with Changes in the New Age Movement, J. Gordon Melton (Institute for the Study of American Religion)

Complex Identity, Christian Conversion, and Missiological Praxis, Terry C. Muck (Asbury Theological Seminary)

Evangelicals and the Emergent Church, James Beverley (Tyndale Seminary)

The C1-C6 Contextualization Spectrum Applied to Evangelical-LDS Conversations, Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary)

From Cult to Sect? Theological and Structural Reformation in the Family: The Children of God since the Death of the Prophet, James Chancellor (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

The Primacy of the Pastoral/Subjective Evidential Apologetic for Post-Christendom Spiritualities, Ross Clifford (Morling College)

How Would the Church’s Earliest Theologians Respond to New Religious Movements? Gerald R. McDermott (Roanoke College)

Western Institute for Intercultural Studies Panel Discussion, John W. Morehead

In addition to the plenary sessions, the conference has scheduled twelve parallel workshops with sessions ranging from Buddhism in the West to a theology of the discernment of spirits.

We live in a cultural milieu not all that dissimilar from first century Athens. As Luke noted, the Athenians enjoyed hearing new ideas (Acts 17:21). Similarly in our context, the creation of thousands of new religious movements and spiritualities in the last half century testifies to the same. The Apostle Paul demonstrated how the Christian should live and act in the marketplace by respectfully engaging in dialogue while learning about people. As Christopher Partridge has reflected,

Christians will need to speak to their friends in other faiths as Christians and address the specific concerns and needs of the Christian community (e.g., provide reliable information for churches, theologians, pastors and missionaries). As such, the study of religion is part of the larger task of constructing a Christian worldview and responding to Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).1

1. 2002. “The Study of Religion.” In Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World: Exploring Living Faiths in Postmodern Contexts, ed. Christopher Partridge, 144. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Intervarsity.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Witchvox: The Challenge of Pagan Fundamentalism

As I was reading my friend Matt Stone's fine blog today I was made aware of an interesting article by Jedi Gordy on the Witchvox website. The title of the artice is "Future of Paganism." Gordy writes in part:

This article is on something most of us dislike: Christianity. But it is more on how modern Paganism is BECOMING much like Fundamentalist Christianity. We claim to be enlightened (which we should be to become the third degree) . We claim to be tolerant. We claim to be righteous and pure. Then tell me this: Why do I hear so many of us slamming the “big three” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and calling those who call us out on our hate-speak “Christians” or other names?

I know many people of the “enlightened” path that know not where their religion was founded (for all religions are made by man, this coming from a Pagan) . Example: many people will fight hard and long to prove that Wicca is THE OLDEST religion when there is not a hint of archeological evidence to show that it was around before the mid twentieth century.

Why do we, the “wise” and “enlightened” ones follow propaganda like sheep? Are we not as bad as those we claim to not be? Or are we worse because we are ignoring the log in our eye to point out a splinter in theirs?

Also, some claim Paganism, Wicca or Witchcraft a harder system to get into. Not true, as some places (not most, but a few) will make any idiot a priest or priestess. I know a few idiot priestesses and priests who shouldn’t have even been given a first-degree initiation. So there we make ourselves look like idiots.

Another issue I have against the way some of us are behaving is that we associate ourselves with those whom should not really be given the power of clergy. By that I mean that they are deceitful, backstabbing, and treat others unkindly. Now many of you will say, “They aren’t true Witches/Wiccans”. In that case, how can Christians behaving badly be true Christians?
I find Gordy's candor refreshing, and a reminder that virtually all religions and spiritual pathways struggle with difficulties, and difficult people. Recognition of the challenges is the first step in correcting them. And at the risk of shameless self-promotion, perhaps books like Beyond the Burning Times can be read by members of both Christianity and Paganism and can serve as a starting place for our efforts at moving beyond our problematic fundamentalisms.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Generation Hex: Moving Beyond Bogeyman Stories

Two things converged over the last few days that brought the book Generation Hex (Harvest House, 2008) to mind. First, as of yesterday the authors are coordinating a blog tour of reviews promoting the book that runs through September 12. This post represents a supplement to my previous summary thoughts on the volume as part of the blog tour so that my apparently unique minority perspective among evangelicals can be considered. (See an example of typical evangelical responses to Generation here, and the links to other blogs sharing similar perspectives. My critical perspective in contrast with my fellow reviewers means that either I have been unfair in my assessment, or the other evangelical reviewers do not have enough of an understanding outside of this book's presentation of Wicca to produce a balanced analysis of the book.) Second, as I was promoting Beyond the Burning Times (Lion, 2008) at Ogden Pagan Pride Day over the weekend and was thumbing through this book I was reminded of aspects of Generation with the following quote Beyond by one of the co-authors, Philip Johnson, in his concluding thoughts:

Boundaries and Bogeyman Stories
I believe that at times our communities are aggravated by deep-rooted suspicion and ridicule. I am not accusing Gus [Philip's co-author, Gus diZerega] of generating a bogeyman and I do not hold all Pagans or all Christians responsible for circulating hostile tales. However, 'big bad wolf' stores are found within both communities, and they inflame the tensions. I will summarize elements of extreme bogeyman portraits from both Christian and Pagan material.

According to some Christians, Pagans worship the devil, use demonic rituals, lead an immoral life, and recruit or corrupt children through Halloween festivities, TV shows like Charmed, and the Harry Potter novels. Pagans threaten the wider community as Witch-chaplains are now appointed to hospitals and the armed services. They reject America's godly heritage that began with the Pilgrim Fathers. Former Pagans (now happy Christians) confirm in their autobiographies that Paganism is dangerous and spiritually bankrupt. In the worst hyperbole, Pagans are cardboard cut-out models of Gothic monsters.

According to some Pagans, Christians are hostile bigots. The church is guilty of colossal atrocities in history, hates other religions, oppresses women and destroys the Earth. Bible-bashers stir up community opposition to individual Pagans and group events. They are undermining the separation of church and state, and will create a Religious Reich to impose their puritanical religion on everyone. Former Christians (now happy Pagans) confirm in their autobiographies that the church is intolerant and spiritually bankrupt. In the worst hyperbole, Christians are cardboard cut-out models of Fascists.

Here each side curiously mirrors the other's story by pointing to the presence of the 'other' in the public square: 'they' represent a threat that must be negated. The constructed story reconfirms the group's identity in contrast to what is rejected about the opposition. It allows the storytellers to feel they can regain some social control and power and mobilizes them to resist alterations to civil rights in the public square. I wonder why partisans on both sides exhibit fundamentalist tendencies and seek power each other; and why such 'masculine' aggressive energy is expended in mutually wedging opponents in the public square. Are we willing to relinquish these spiritually unedifying bogeymen? Are both communities prepared to listen to Jesus?

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Significance of Mormon Ritual

During my recent trip to Sunstone Symposium a couple of articles in Sunstone magazine caught my eye in that both dealt with ritual in Mormonism. Ever since my research into the issues of sacred space, anthropology of pilgrimage, and ritual in connection with the Mormon Miracle Pageant at Manti, Utah, I have been interested in the significance of various aspects of Mormonism that are often neglected by evangelicals, particularly ritual. The ritual element of Mormonism goes far beyond that which takes place in the temples, and evangelicals can learn quite a bit about this faith through exploration of this area.

One of the articles that caught my attention is titled "Saving the Dead: A Comparative Study of Post-Funerary Rites in Japanese and Mormon Culture" by John Dewey Remy from November 2006. Remy explores the common emphasis on the maintenance of continued relationships with the dead in both Japanese culture with the influences of Buddhism and Shinto, and contrasts this with the ritual work on behalf of the dead done within Mormonism through temple work.

The second article is "Gordon B. Hinckley and the Ritualization of Mormon History" by Hugo Olaiz which appeared in the April 2008 issue. In this piece Olaiz builds a case for understanding Hinckley as "the Great Ritualizer." Olaiz follows the lead of Davis Bitton in defining ritual as "forms and symbols whose function is not primarily communication of knowledge but rather the simplification of the past into forms that can be memorialized, celebrated, and historically appropriated." With this definition in mind Olaiz points to various historical reenactments like Pioneer Day, and monuments like "This is the Place" as examples of ritualizing in Mormonism.

Connecting the dots to my interview with "Aquinas" not long ago, it seems to me that if evangelicals want to be more effective in not only understanding their Mormon neighbors, and in communicating with them, then we have to be willing to move beyond propositional forms of theologizing in the dialogue process in order to engage other means of meaning-making such as ritual. The social and religious significance of ritual in connection with sacred narratives as a less formal process of theologizing can then be connected to doctrinal issues to provide a more holistic means of understanding and communication.

Ogden Pagan Pride Day

Last Saturday I spent a few hours at the first annual Ogden Pagan Pride Day in Ogden, Utah. My participation involved the promotion of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2008). I would especially like to thank my friends Kelly Richan and Luna Aileen, who were involved in coordinating this event who are also involved with Ásatrú Utah who extended their gracious invitation to promote this book. My hope is that our relationships will continue, and that this book becomes a foundation for our continued dialogue.