Monday, May 14, 2012

"Divine Disenchantment" Session Accepted at Sunstone Symposium

Sunstone has accepted my proposed session, “Divine Disenchantment: Transitions and Assisting Those in Religious Migration,” for the 2012 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, 25-28 July 2012 at the University of Utah. The presentation will be Saturday, July 28, 3:45-4:45 p.m.

Reliable statistical data from social science research indicates that thousands of Latter-day Saints leave the Mormon Church each year. Over time, these individuals adopt a variety of irreligious and religious pathways as a result of their prior Mormon experience. Although the social scientific literature includes helpful material that sheds light on religious affiliation, disaffiliation, and reaffiliation, this material is rarely consulted as an aid to assisting others in their spiritual migration.  This seminar will discuss the background behind Transitions, a new video and workbook resource designed for immigrants shifting from Mormonism to more traditional forms of Christianity. It will consider the perspective and needs of the transitioner, the multidisciplinary perspectives and resources that inform Transitions, and how religious institutions might better assist those making the journey from one religious tradition to another.
Topic outline:
I.               Religious shopping: disaffiliation and migration
II.             LDS religious disaffiliation narratives
III.           Need for transitional resources
IV.            Background to Transitions resource
A.     Perspective of the transitioner
B.     Multidisciplinary approach
1.     Identity theory
2.     Process of role exit
3.     Social scientific literature
4.     Religious culture considerations
V.              Application and considerations for religious institutions

Relevance to Mormon studies:
As indicated in the abstract, there is a body of scholarship that addresses the process of not only religious affiliation, but also how people leave religious traditions (disaffiliation), and how they shift to new religious commitments (reaffiliation). A consideration of the needs of those undergoing Mormon disaffiliation and reaffiliation to another tradition provides an opportunity to understand the complex personal, religious, and social dynamics related to religious migration.

Friday, May 11, 2012

News Items on Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue

Mormon-Evangelical dialogue is in the news.

First, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will serve as commencement speaker at Liberty University tomorrow. When the announcement was made it stirred a minor controversy among some students and alumni who took issue with the invitation of a Mormon. CNN's Belief Blog reported on this, and mentioned the Evangelical concerns about Mormonism as a cult, but also those supportive of the invitation:
Mark DeMoss, a Liberty graduate, member of the Board of Trustees and a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said on Friday, “We have had a Jewish commencement speaker, we have had a Catholic commencement speaker, and so, I think people are certainly entitled to their opinion. Social Media certainly provides an outlet for people’s opinions, but I think it is a great thing for the university.”
Neither the invitation nor the controversy are surprising in my view. Jerry Falwell Jr. is friends with Glenn Beck, a nationally known radio talk show host who is a Mormon. This indicates that Falwell is supportive of and involved in Mormon-Evangelical relationships and dialogue. On the other hand the negative reaction is also easy to understand as many Evangelicals continue to understand Mormonism as a cult, and that the best response comes by way of apologetic and boundary maintenance approaches.

The second news item is the new book by Richard Mouw titled Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Eerdmans, 2012). The publisher's website describes the book as follows:
For over a decade Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw has participated in Mormon-evangelical dialogue with a view to developing a better understanding between the two groups. His participation in these discussions has drawn severe criticism and even anger from people who believe such talks are pointless or even dangerous.

This brief, highly accessible book is his answer. Advocating humility, patience, and a willingness to admit our own shortcomings, Mouw shows why it is necessary to move beyond stark denunciation to a dialogue that allows both parties to express differences and explore common ground. Without papering over significantly divergent perspectives on important issues like the role of prophecy, the nature of God, and the creeds, Mouw points to areas in which Mormon-evangelical dialogue evidences hope for the future. In so doing, he not only informs readers but also models respectful evangelical debate. 
Unfortunately, Eerdman's website does not include a listing of chapter titles and topics, but a sample is found on their blog

An interesting facet of this book is its attempt to commend dialogue with Mormons to an Evangelical audience. Although many segments of Evangelicalism seem more open to dialogue than in the past, this may prove to be a tough sell in other quarters as demonstrated by an article written by Peggy Fletcher Stack in The Salt Lake Tribune where Mouw's book was discussed. Reader comments accompanying the article are not encouraging. I am quoted in the piece, and several negative comments and allegations are made.

Some readers may be interested in my views on a couple of areas where concerns were raised. One was in the area of how my approach at dialogue with Mormons can be "biblical." Please see Bob Robinson's essay where he discusses how dialogue can be both positive and non-compromising, which includes an appeal to the biblical basis for dialogue which supports my thoughts expressed in the article.  The other area of concern was how one could move beyond the false prophet/true prophet dichotomy in relation to religious figures like Muhammed and Joseph Smith. In a previous blog post I set forth my ideas in this area by way of reflection on the proposals of others.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Hunt for charity and sound arguments, not witches

by Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead

*This essay was first published as a guest post at The Wild Hunt Blog, courtesy of Jason Pitzl-Waters.

Rob Kerby, Senior Editor at beliefnet, wrote a recent article titled “What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft?.” This has resulted in the concern of and critique by Pagans, but it should also interest those in other religious communities. We are practicing Evangelical Christians, and we are very interested in what Christians and Pagans have to say about one another in hopes of light being shed on our respective spiritual pathways. Unfortunately, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and hostility have been characteristic traits of our exchanges throughout history. In our minds, Kerby’s article only intensified this problem.

After reading the Kerby article, we are left wondering what the piece teaches us about witchcraft. While we did not necessarily learn anything about witchcraft from his essay, we did learn that he believes witchcraft in all its forms does great damage to civilization in the “Third World” and elsewhere, and that strong measures should be taken to eradicate it from the West. In addition to other problematic features, we were deeply concerned that Kerby claims that witchcraft is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, punishable by beheading. Why did he make this claim? Is this something the “Third World” can teach us about witchcraft, or is this one of many sensational claims by Kerby?

Those in Pagan circles have responded strongly to the piece, and with good reason. Kerby provides no solid substantiation for his claims, demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the spiritual practices and beliefs he critiques, and as a result, the piece creates fear and suspicion of witchcraft (and broader Paganism as well). While Christians have often accused Paganism of superstition, the irony is that the Christian community has often approached Paganism superstitiously. Kerby’s piece only adds to the superstition and suspicion, made worse by the stereotypes and fears that often underlie such representations.

What we learned from reading Kerby’s essay and the responses to it from Pagans is that we have a long way to go in pursuit of charity and sound argumentation in our post-Christendom and pluralistic public square. We are charter members of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Our chapter aims to develop interreligious relationships and conversations in civility and without compromise with those of other religious and spiritual traditions. Our work in the chapter represents a new movement in Evangelicalism. The chapter seeks accuracy and fairness in understanding, and embodies a relational and dialogical approach, while addressing substantial differences in practice and belief between various religious and spiritual communities. Two examples of this approach are the books Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (written by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega, and edited by John Morehead; published by Lion, UK, April 2009), and Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Paul Louis Metzger; Thomas Nelson, May 2012—this work includes an article on Paganism and a response by Gus diZerega). We have been very grateful for our charitable and constructive engagements in reasoned argumentation with Dr. diZerega (who mentioned our exchanges in his beliefnet post on Kerby’s article). We welcome other opportunities for such collaboration. We also encourage Evangelicals to get involved in our FRD chapter and for Pagans to form their own FRD chapter so as to have a place at the table with other religions and spiritual paths. Over time, such collaboration may help mitigate against depictions like Kerby’s.
In our post-Christendom, pluralistic public square, Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others. We must also seek to demonstrate that our Christian convictions promote the common good and pursue conversations with others from varying viewpoints who would do the same. One person self-identified as “unap” wrote in a comment posted in response to the Kerby article: “Crimes against humanity - death, torture, sacrifice, grave robbing and mutilation - are crimes pretty much everywhere. They need no special pleading for more punishment because you think those crimes are belief based.” Solid argument on level ground in civility.
We encourage both Evangelicals and Pagans to enter into sustained dialogue, with the former through our chapter, and the latter through the formation of a FRD chapter. The only way we will move beyond witch hunts and superstition is if we enter into public square discourse with level heads in search of charity and sound arguments.
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D. is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University; Charter Member, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. John W. Morehead is Director, Western Institute for Intercultural Studies; Director, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.