Whenever there is interaction between people, there exists the real possibility of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Communication is difficult. It’s difficult, at times, to express ourselves clearly. It’s even more difficult to listen carefully. Good listeners are few and far between.
The importance of good communication is paramount when people of different faiths interact. Such interactions demand clear speaking and careful listening. Naturally, because of the nature of this blog, I am here mainly thinking of communication between Mormons and non-Mormons. I would like to outline some of the issues that have made this difficult for me.
1. Who do I listen to when I want to get a true picture of Mormonism? Do I restrict myself to its scriptures – do I include the words of the living prophet seeing that often they are also labeled as scripture – do I also look at the official church manuals as more than one LDS leader has encouraged me to do? Or do I listen to what individual Mormons tell me? And what do I do when they either contradict each other or some official sources?
Permit me one small recent example. It is my experience that LDS sources are quite consistent in defining eternal life as equal to exaltation, life in the celestial kingdom. More than one source goes out of its way to make it distinct from immortality. As I said, this seems to be quite consistent. Therefore I think it is only right for me to observe that distinction when talking to Mormons. But recently that distinction was ignored by a Mormon and I was told I was misrepresenting Mormonism. When that happens, that brings to mind a couple of questions: Who should I be listening to understand what Mormonism teaches about eternal life? And how can I get the conversation on track again when discrepancies like this arise? In other words, suddenly the discussion revolves around the definition of a phrase, rather than the original topic.
I hasten to add, that Mormons face the same problem when talking to Christians. They too probably end up scratching their heads on who to listen to. This is my two-cents worth of advice to Mormons. If you want to know what a certain denomination of Baptists, or Lutherans, or others believe, look at what they have stated officially. I will be the first to admit that many Christians don’t accurately represent all the beliefs of their churches. Yes, if I want to know what an individual person believes, whether Mormon or Christian, I need to listen to him or her. But I think it is also proper to point out to people where their beliefs differ from those held by their church.
2. My second problem is when people don’t listen and, at the very least, seem to be intentionally misrepresenting the position of others. Again, I will be the first to admit that this is something I have seen Christians doing with Mormonism. But I have also seen it go the other way. The one that I find irritating is when Mormons say that Christians think that because salvation is free, they can run amuck and sin all they want. I know of no Christian church that teaches that. I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain that, when it comes to being saved- being justified – works have no place. In that context, the Bible and Christianity teach that works are deadly. The only works that apply there are the works of Christ for us. But the Bible and Christianity also teaches that, as a result of being saved, as a fruit of faith, Christians will do good works.
I have made that point repeatedly in this blog. But I still have Mormons misrepresenting what I and others Christians believe. At the very least, that doesn’t aid in communication.
I will try my best to avoid misrepresenting the teachings of any church. All I ask is that you do the same.