Hello Mormon Matters community!
I was invited to contribute a blogpost now and then, and hope I’ll be able to throw some meaningful questions into the hopper.
I write under the name Ecumenigal because of my eclectic background and multi-faith points of view. I’m sort of a religious mutt. I’m Mormon by heritage, birth, and culture, an atheist by upbringing, and now a sort of New Age Jesus Hindu with a great appreciation for Mormon theology as encompassing much of eastern and western thought. In future posts, I hope to talk more about my vedic appreciation of Mormonism.
For this post, I want to talk about ecumenism and respect.
Ecumenism is controversial because some people are rightly concerned that in order to find the common denominator, you have to water down the teachings so much that they become meaningless. I have to admit that while I’d like to say, “We all believe basically the same things, so can’t we just get along?”… it doesn’t actually serve the truth very well to pretend there are no significant theological differences, or to re-define terms so that it sounds like we’re talking about the same things when we are not. I see ecumenism as a meeting place for fellowship and bridge building, and talking respectfully and honestly about differences.
In my adult life, I actually joined the church for a short time, and was able to do so honestly by redefining the terms. Although I explained that openly to the Mission President and got his blessing, I just didn’t end up feeling that my membership had much integrity, so I took my name off the records but remained partially active.
I was really interested to notice during this experience how my Mormon friends dealt with this. What I see going on is a church with a tradition of “One True Church” and “All other creeds an abomination”, clashing with the growing modern sensibility of religious pluralism: “Celebrate Diversity”, “Respect Differences”, “Live and Let Live”, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “Family of Faiths”, etc. (It may be true that there are lots of early church teachings to support an ecumenical view, but the modern popularity of this view is bringing these teachings out more, I think.)
To be sure, when I took my name off the records, I had my share of visiting teachers pouncing, grilling and tearfully pleading with no real ability to hear what I was saying. However, the majority of my friends blinked away tears, smiled, and wished me well. I was told things like:
“God has a purpose for Buddhists being Buddhists, and it’s not for us to judge what that purpose is or where a person will end up in the end. It’s important to go where the Spirit leads you because God may have a purpose for you somewhere else.”
“You don’t have to be a Mormon, it’s just a question of what blessings you want to enjoy in this life.”
“To Thine Own Self Be True. It’s important.”
Another example of a growing ecumenical culture in Mormonism: Even in Relief Society I’ve heard discussions of ‘there are only two churches, that of the Devil and that of the Lord, and all followers of Christ are in the One True Church’. This included clarification by the RS teacher that ‘Yes, you can tell your Catholic and Methodist friends that they are part of the One True Church’. What a surprise to hear that in RS!
In my family of Mormons and Atheists, respect is a big topic. We can treat each other respectfully, but in the end, people still feel disrespected. From my point of view, the Atheists almost by definition probably feel that the Mormons suffer from a delusion. The Mormons almost by definition probably feel that the Atheists are blind to a whole dimension of reality. Even if we refrain from speculation about the reasons for these delusions/blindnesses and speak with respectful words, I think that it is very difficult for either party to feel truly respected by the other because the worldviews themselves imply something about those who do not share it.
The only solution I can see to the Mormon/Atheist respect issue in my family would be if people were willing to say, “I might be wrong, and who knows, you might be right, and I trust your judgment, but the way reality shows up to me is…” It seems rather hard to ask a Mormon to say “I might be wrong”, because culturally, “sure knowledge” is seen as superior to mere hope and faith.
I’ve noticed that I’m not particularly open to ANY absolute truth, because of what beliefs in absolutes would do to my relationships with people. I try to hold my convictions while avoiding having opinions that involve other people.
The questions I want to throw out there are these:
Do you feel a conflict between “One True Church” and “Celebrate Diversity”? If so, how do you work with or resolve that conflict?
What does it mean to be “respectful” toward others? Does it mean just treating them with respect, and honoring their agency, or does it mean thinking in your heart they are really OK without your worldview?
Does truth loose its meaning and potency if you believe that others are OK without the “truth” that you are in possession of?
What would it mean to be a Mormon who believes “I might be wrong”? Is there scriptural support for such a relationship to truth?