Discussing doctrine

oddcoupleUnless Mitt Romney gets picked to be John McCain's VP nominee, the mainstream media may completely forget about that major news story from earlier in the primary season: Mormonism. Without that news hook, most reporters have moved on to different topics -- debunking Christianity and shark attacks, or something. But the Salt Lake Tribune is always on the Mormon beat. And I really enjoyed a recent piece by Peggy Fletcher Stack, the paper's religion reporter. Noting that the president of Fuller Theological Seminary Richard Mouw was calling for more dialogue with the Latter-day Saints, Fletcher Stack explored the possibilities and barriers to such dialogue:

Not all Mormons think Mouw's proposal is feasible.

The difference between Evangelicals and Mormons is more than theological, says Kathleen Flake, who teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt University. It's also organizational and systematic.

Evangelicals are only loosely organized around a set of principles; not least emphasizing the primacy of the Bible over theology, Flake says. Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, "are tightly organized around an enlarged canon of Bible-based narratives. These are loosely employed to express personal conviction of God's contemporary and revelatory immediacy."

Mouw's invitation for official, Vatican II-like negotiation makes sense, she says, "only if you think that Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints have a theology sufficiently systematized to speak definitively. It seems to me that neither does."

Talking is good, Flake says, "but it's never going to be official, only academic."

Rather than a boring story about the evangelical proposal and official response from the Latter-day Saints, Fletcher Stack actually takes it to the next level. She shows some of the challenges inherent to dialogue between the two non-systematic beliefs.

The rest of the piece looks at conversations between evangelicals such as Muow and Latter-day Saints over the last decade:

"They've been good discussions," Mouw said in a phone interview. "We really disagree about things but at the same time, we have gotten to a place where there's trust between us."

In a 2004 speech before a packed audience in the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square, Mouw chastised his fellow Evangelicals for sinning against Latter-day Saints by misrepresenting their views to others in order to debunk Mormonism.

"It's a terrible thing to bear false witness," Mouw said. "We've told you what you believe without first asking you. . .I remain convinced there are serious issues of difference that are of eternal consequence, but now we can discuss them as friends."

This bit of color is also helpful. So often we see the mainstream media work from the notion that dialogue can only happen between people who are not dogmatic. All in all, Fletcher Stack moves beyond press release journalism to an interesting story.

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