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Mission Statement: Further Definitions

Religious Outreach and Pluralism

We assert, and attempt to follow, the principle that inclusivism or relativism are not prerequisites for appreciation or understanding. We believe effective inter-religious dialog must not ignore or minimize dogmatic distinctions among religions or between individuals. For the work of religious outreach, disagreements are often more informative than sameness. We believe we need not make any surrender of our religious or theological integrity and affirm the same right and privilege for all religious communities and individuals. Within all of our interpersonal associations, we seek to build friendships and good will; we uphold the necessity of explicit principles of etiquette in action and language. However, peace and harmony cannot be achieved through the relegation or minimization of exclusive truth claims. We adhere to the axiom Max Muller asserted over a century ago, “[they] who know one, know none.” Thus, we humbly declare that in today’s interreligious climate there is a danger that the discourse of pluralism has become the “one.” It may be said that we are closely aligned to parallelism or complementary/orientational pluralism (as these terms have been recently operationally defined) in that we appreciate common exclusive rhetoric of devotional expressions and seek to contextualize religious apologetic refutation with mutual allocation as a matter of theoretical and methodological expediency.

Example: The Richard L. Evans Office for Religious Outreach hosted eleven scholars from different Christian denominations for a conference in 2016 focused on after death issues. The conference was entitled, Beyond the Grave: Christian Interfaith Perspectives. Invited speakers included Ella Simmons from the Seventh-Day Adventist World Church and Jehovah Witness scholar Lorenz Reibling. Representatives from these groups, like us, are often excluded from interreligious activities because of exclusive theological assertions. The opportunity to bring together several scholars and allocate time for each to express their own views without modification or apology provided an environment of honest and genuine interreligious exchange. The conference was successful not only because of discussions of commonalities but also for growing appreciation for theological distinctions. Our goal was not to seek commonality (although we were intrigued when they did arise). We sought to understand where each religious leader stood on the conference theme and sought for appreciation of that stance through comparison and argument. The conference resulted in strengthening relationships and subsequent opportunities for cooperation without the need for theological surrender or capitulation of religious principle. We seek to understand all religious convictions or expressions through a balance of dialog and mission. Our curiosity is not limited to those who actively seek ecumenism but seeks out those who, like us, are engaged in evangelical vigor and explicit religious calling.

Religious Outreach – Individuals before Institutions

We also believe that interreligious activity starts and perhaps is even limited to individuals. There may be nothing to conclude definitively between the LDS Church and Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or a plethora of various Christian denominations. However there is much to be gained between Mormons and Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Baptists, Methodists, or Jehovah Witness on a personal level and through individual relationships. It is only on the interpersonal level where conversations can move beyond stereotypes and vague generalizations. It is by the individual connection that we act and it is through individual connections where we hope to have the most significant influence and do the greatest good. We believe in the importance and necessity of authoritative discourse within religious bodies and that each religion will evolve its rhetoric and possibly even its ideology following its own authorities and institutions rather than responding to outside demands. We, as Latter-Day Saint members and scholars, speak, write, and reason in order to educate, persuade, and inspire but with no authority beyond our own convictions and scholarship. We hold in the highest respect all those who carry the burdens of ecclesiastical leadership and maintain deference to the specific roles and responsibilities they possess in caring for the devout and ensuring the future or religious institutions. We, therefore, seek individual partners before participation in ecumenical organizations or issue-based campaigns.

Example: The relationship between the founder of this committee, Robert L. Millet and Richard J. Mouw illustrates the potential and possibilities of significant change through focus on inter-personal relationships and dialog. From decades of close friendship, interreligious dialog and publishing projects, Dr. Millet and Dr. Mouw have created a personal relationship with significant benefits for both of their religious communities. Dr. Millet’s greater understanding of evangelicals has helped soften LDS views and improved Mormon understandings of grace. Dr. Mouw has on several occasions explained and even defended Mormons in regards to Christian identity. Both men have had a great influence working with one another and then sharing their mutual appreciation with their own communities and institutions. This personal relationship has generated unique benefits which could not be approximated by issue-based campaigns or media-facilitated rhetoric. This office seeks to improve various communities’ understandings of the religious other by respecting authoritative discourse (in our own tradition as well as the traditions of our dialog partners) rather than ignoring, avoiding, or attempting to refute it.

Religious Outreach and Academic Scholarship

A primary aim of the Richard L. Evans Office of Religious Outreach is to promote, produce, and absorb quality research in comparative religions. Through proper utilization of resources in academic and devotional publishing we seek research opportunities and partners in order to advance scholarship for our peers in the academy and for various religious communities. The advancement of knowledge is an essential pre-requisite for mutual understanding. Where there may be misunderstandings, we endeavor to clarify; where there are inaccurate critiques, we seek to elucidate; and in all things, we seek to defend the integrity of our religious ideologies and institutions and offer support to our dialog partners who seek to do the same within in their religious communities and for all people of faith. Nevertheless, this office, and its participating scholars, main focus is in the expansion of interreligious knowledge and appreciation rather than the review and critique of academic, devotional, or popular publications.

Example: In 2015, Richard L. Evans Fellow Alonzo Gaskill and the late Stephen Webb’scomparative study on Mormon and Catholic theology was published by Oxford University Press. Because Catholics and Mormons have ambitiously universal views on Christian faith, Dr Gaskill and Dr. Webb’s publication is a constructive and profitable exchange of views on several central issues. The significance of the study is not that these two converts to their religious communities find common ground but rather that they understand better their own ground through mutual understanding and appreciation. Scholarship upholding the highest standards of rigor and ingenuity is a central focus for this office.