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In pursuit of compassionate dialogue

November 16, 2009

In the online interfaith conversation between Evangelicals and Mormons it is often easy to lose perspective that the blogger behind the computer is a human being with feelings, personality and deep emotions.  Words strewn across a page can convey an articulate argument, but the non-verbal communication central to human interaction is entirely absent.

I was at Deseret Book this week looking for another book on the great apostasy.  One of the store clerks, an older man with white hair, nabbed me in the doctrinal section and handed me a book that he said would change my entire view on the Old Testament.  As I listened to him correlate the Old Testament with the temple video that is shown every year I realized that I must have had a completely confused look on my face.  I tried to inquire for more information without looking totally ignorant but finally had to confess to him that I’d never seen the video before because I had never been to the temple.  I told him that I was a born-again Christian.  Thinking that he was talking with another Mormon, he was a little shocked, and when he turned his face away, I thought it was because he was angry with me.  But then he turned back and I realized that his eyes had filled with tears.  He said to me in a broken voice, “I love born-again Christians.”

He was a retired administrator at BYU and was only working at the bookstore to support his voracious appetite for reading.  We talked for quite a while on the apostasy, the early church, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and apostles.  After talking for some time we finally exchanged names, and he told me I could come back anytime to talk to him.  After I read these books I probably will.  I challenged him to read The Pilgrim Church and he agreed that he would.  And after our discussion of the persecution of the early church he also told me he would refresh himself on Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

I suppose it is natural that human communication can be so warm in person and yet so detached and distant over the internet.  Accusations that would never be said face-to-face are easily made in the safe confines of an office chair and with the hidden identity of a screen name.

It is so easy to convey warmth and tenderness in person.  And yet when faith is involved and the gospel is at stake the challenge of juxtaposing truth and human compassion is almost overwhelming.  How can we bridge the great divide of faiths and communicate using language that is loving?

Jesus was the embodiment of love and yet he used very strong—sometimes offensive—language when he spoke to certain groups of people.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were on the receiving end of much chastisement.  And yet compare that with those who came to Jesus with an open heart, or those whose closed hearts Jesus opened.  Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery—none of them were followers of Jesus but He talked with them compassionately and yet truthfully.

In many ways communicating faith is much easier in person than over the internet.  Having character traits like friendliness, honesty, and integrity are marks of a good testimony and people naturally become curious about the faith of such a person and their beliefs.  On the other hand are people who are arrogant and selfish.  Rarely is anyone curious about their faith.  Yet over the internet we often think that we can bypass normal human behavior and skip right to the part about “what I believe” without the necessary prerequisites of first having a “good testimony.”

The distinction between what I call “Biblical Christianity” and Mormonism is quite stark.  But compassionate communication does not mean that the differences are minimized or dismissed.  Instead I think that we need to follow the advice of Peter.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:

and be ready always to give an answer to every man

that asketh you a reason of the hope

that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).

Dynamic conversation is possible and yet it is vitally necessary to following the leading of God and prepare spiritually for the task of communicating faith.  Spiritual conversation is unlike the discussion of any other topic.  It is the most important and the most eternally consequential.

Written language can’t communicate the same emotion used by the bookstore proprietor that I met.  But I hope that LDS readers can use their imaginations and believe me when I say this.  I love Mormons.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 7:35 pm

    Stephanie,
    Thank you for sharing this touching expierence. I agree, and have felt the same so many times since I began to blog online about Mormonism. So often I become discouraged with the dialogue online because the tone is so …… well shall I say,”lacking”…. I think things would be so different if we could communicate in love over a cup of coffee ( or herbal tea for LDS ).

    God bless,
    gloria

  2. November 17, 2009 8:39 pm

    A dear (and very devout) Mormon family spent 5 hours over at our house last Friday evening.

    And we had a ball together. We. They. Our kids. Their kids.

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