Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Several voices in Utah in recent years have been calling for Latter-day Saints and evangelical Christian to work at becoming better neighbors.  This includes attempts to engage in meaningful dialogues between members of the two groups.  I applaud this rapprochement (with certain caveats).  As an evangelical pastor in Utah, I am involved in such conversations with local LDS leaders myself, and we have become friends despite our deep and obvious theological differences.

This effort to become better neighbors requires a growing level of trust.  I know there are some reasons why Latter-day Saints might be hesitant to trust evangelicals.  But I think Latter-day Saints are generally completely unaware of three serious factors in the LDS story and practice that undermine the trust of evangelicals.  I would like my LDS friends to be more aware of these and consider how they come across to us and how they can undermine our relationships.

1. The LDS Scriptures call basic Christian beliefs “an abomination” in God’s sight and cast those who profess those beliefs as “corrupt”. That creates a wound between us.  (See Joseph Smith-History, 1:19)

2. LDS missionaries are actively seeking to persuade members of evangelical churches to leave their churches, abandon their lifelong faith, and reject their baptism in favor of joining the LDS Church. Latter-day Saints who sometimes feel attacked by evangelicals should be able to empathize with what seems to us like an all-out attack on our churches by their missionary movement.

3. People who choose to leave Mormonism to affiliate with an evangelical church are castigated as “apostates” and are often subjected to malicious gossip and shunning. That creates a barrier to our friendship.

I’m not saying this out of a spirit of criticism or contention, but in the hopes that Latter-day Saints might become more aware of why sometimes evangelicals are suspicious of or negative toward them.  It’s not just about differing doctrine, or even about stereotyping, but about the way the Latter-day Saint movement has historically treated other faiths. When our LDS neighbors come to understand and empathize with the inherent offense of these behaviors, it will be easier to trust them more fully as friends.

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