On Sunday, October 5, 2008, the LDS Church’s semiannual General Conference came to a close. LDS Apostle Robert D. Hales gave an address in which he called on Mormons not to respond contentiously to criticism. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Hales as saying, “More regrettable than the [LDS] Church being accused of not being Christian is when church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened-and the devil laughs-when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”

I appreciate Mr. Hales’s comment here. As Evangelicals, we have a responsibility to express our disagreements with Mormons in a way that is not contentious. As I understand it, being contentious is not the same thing as simply having an honest disagreement. Rather, contentiousness is an attitude of constantly finding fault, constantly attacking, and making those attacks personal. I have seen such contentiousness on both sides of the LDS-Evangelical divide, and it isn’t pretty. There is no reason for or basis for making ugly personal comments about one another.

Let me summarize in a positive way how our disagreements can be expressed in a non-contentious way. First, our speech should be constructive. This means that we say not only what we do not believe but also what we do believe. We should not be content to say what’s wrong with the other side’s position, but also say what we think is the truth, and why.

Second, our speech should be critical. Here I am using the term critical not in its popular sense of fault-finding but in its classic literary sense of expressing reasoned judgments, making thoughtful assessments of the ideas being considered. This means acknowledging when the other side is right (and they sometimes are!) as well as honestly noting where we think the other side is wrong. It means putting the issues in their proper contexts.

Third, our speech should be careful. That is, we should guard what we say, think about what we are going to say before we say it, and make every effort to be accurate and fair in what we say. In our email culture, it is far too easy to spit out off-the-cuff remarks that are lacking in such carefulness. We need to learn to edit ourselves, and sometimes to censor ourselves, in order to avoid unneeded offense.

If we are constructive, critical, and careful in our speech, we can express disagreement with the beliefs of others without being contentious. None of us models this standard perfectly, but it is important to affirm this standard and strive to live up to it. If more of us would adopt this standard, it would make conversations between Mormons and evangelicals more fruitful.

–Rob Bowman

 

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Mormonism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

PapaJoel
 1 

I applaud Elder Hales calling LDS people to a higher standard of discourse and only hope non-Mormons on the other side of the conversation follow suit. I’m chagrined at times by the attack-dog attitude directed toward Mormon people that I’ve witnessed in fellow evangelical Christians. But I’ve also been stunned when representatives of the Mormon church have in like manner attacked me, including an LDS missionary who soundly cussed me out in English on the street in Spain, knowing I understood but the Spanish-speaking nationals around us did not. Elder Hales rightfully call us all to a higher level of discourse, and Rob’s 3 Cs are very needed criteria to have this take place.

October 7th, 2008 at 8:31 pm

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