In reading through the essays that appear in these pages, it struck me that this issue is the most “personal” in tone of all the fine discussions that have been featured thus far in this journal. There are stories here of first impressions about very real people, and reports about what happened when folks shared meals and spent some time visiting historic places together. Most important, there are testimonies here of trusting personal relationships that have been formed.
Sigmund Freud discussed the fact that people are often harsher toward those whose views are close, but not identical to their own than they are toward those whose perspectives can only be seen from a great distance. He called this “the narcissism of minor differences.”
There is nothing “minor,” of course, about the beliefs that actually separate Mormonism and Evangelicalism. But for all of that, there is much similarity. The historian Jan Shipps has rightly observed that the relationship of LDS teaching to historic Christianity is much like that of Christianity to Judaism: a mixture of continuity and significant discontinuity.
Those continuities and discontinuities are not covered in these pages in any detail. Rather, the focus is on what is necessary as preparation for that kind of prolonged mutual investigation. And the primary ingredients in that regard are good will and trust.
There are many important historical factors that have made productive dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons extremely difficult. We have refused genuinely to listen to each other, not asking the kinds of questions of each that are designed to make sure we have it right. We have often resorted to what is in fact a serious violation of the rules of healthy dialogue: we have on each side compared our best teachings with the other group’s worst—comparing our own carefully formulated reflective theological statements with the other side’s “folk” teachings.
These essays signal an important development in American—yes, even global—religion. Mormons and Evangelicals are talking together. And we have been doing so in conversations that have been lasting for days and spreading over more than a decade. All of us who have been involved in this ongoing dialogue are convinced that God is pleased with what we are doing together. I believe that the testimonies in these pages clearly support that conviction.