Over the past several years I think I have finally gotten a pretty good handle on the Evangelical view of salvation. As a Mormon I had thought about it, and I believe I understood it, but I only from the skeptical angle. I didn’t take the theology seriously. As I endeavored to do that over the years, I can see it’s beauty. I think more Mormons would do well to take it more seriously. I don’t think there is anything to fear in doing so.
What interests me is why they won’t. The main reason is that Evangelicals are often as close-minded, clueless, and defensive as Mormons, and quite often, openly aggressive. There is smugness on both sides, which generally produces contempt in both sides as well. They both revel in the strengths of their religions without understanding what their smug adversaries with the bizarre beliefs have to offer.
The heart of my interest in a Christian unity is mainly my curiosity. I have no theological agenda, I am not true believer in either religion, but the conflict between Mormons and Evangelicals is a fascinating phenomena. In a multi-cultural world, interfaith conflict and dialogue are extremely interesting to me. It’s a complex philsophical-religious-social knot that I think can be untied, and what can be learned from the process interests me.
I am focused on the Evangelical side of the equation because, unity is not a problem from the LDS perspective. Disunity is actually often the primary impetus in LDS conversion. It’s the heart of the Joseph Smith story. The Church is meant to be peculiar and relatively small. The Church is the home of the elect, not of humanity in general. They believe anybody that opens their heart will be called, but few will be chosen. The LDS goal is to prepare for the Second Coming by establishing “stakes” of the great tent of Zion all over the world. The image of the small, tenacious, tent stake is apt. The tent will be raised to cover the rest of the world after the Second Coming. The prophetic vision of the Church is to be strong enough to give refuge to those who want to come out of the world, not to change it wholesale.
For Evangelicals, the vision is clearly different. By the tenants of their faith, Evangelicals should desperately want to save Mormons, to bring them the benefits of the sort faith that they have. But most don’t– they want protection from them. This always creates an adversarial relationship and gives Mormons the upper hand. Fear makes a believer think their faith must be stronger or truer than those who fear you. I have never felt as feared as I have as a LDS missionary talking to Evangelicals. Mormon history is replete with this sort of fear from the outside. Being feared is a comfortable position for people of faith.
Of course the un-realized advantage Evangelicals have is that Mormons do fear not them. If Evangelicals insist on an adversarial relationship with Mormons, they would do well to see Mormons as bison, and themselves as bison hunters. Bison are an ominous beast taken head-on–but they clearly do not have enough fear of the rifle. Nineteenth-century bison hunts decimated them by picking them off at a distance with a rifle. What is the rifle? Unbeknownst to Evangelicals, nearly every Mormon has a nascent Evangelical-style faith in Jesus inside of them. In this way, they are ripe for the harvesting. But Evangelicals miss this mark by trying to engage with the head and horns of Mormonism–i.e. Mormon doctrine and history–rather than shooting for this heart.
The reason most Evangelicals don’t take this approach is that the horns are so offensive to their theological sensibilities, and the head so thick. The average, unprepared Evangelical can’t get over the Brigham Young quotes they were taught by their anti-social, anti-Mormon sidekicks. And they usually give up in confusion when they explain their faith to Mormons and have Mormons simply nod their head in agreement. The head and horns are so prominent, they don’t take the effort to understand the soft underbelly or psychology. Evangelicals wind up content to pick off disaffected Mormons, or simply try to shake Mormon faith by trying to shake their faith in the Church. This generally just makes the herd stronger.
I think that an enterprising Evangelical could harvest Mormons wholesale as “true” Christians if they found a way to avoid tangling with the horns and head. And when approached carefully, Mormons have no reason to fear. The effect comes off as pro-Mormon rather than anti-Mormon If Evangelicalism reached them directly at their heart, it doesn’t really effect their own vision of who they are in the world.
I’ll have to write more later about what a Buffalo-Bill-style approach might look like.