Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dialogue, Creeds and Who is Christian?

On Interfaith Dialogue

The purpose of interfaith dialogue is not so that in the end everyone will agree about everything they discuss. Rather, one of the purposes in my view is that where there is disagreement, the disagreement will be on the right things, where actual disagreement exists. This can only happen when both sides are informed and both sides seek to understand one another.

At times, perhaps part of interfaith dialogue is allowing both sides to vent and express their frustration. We should, however, also have the goal to move beyond venting, to move beyond expressing frustration about how we have been treated, to increasing mutual understanding.

On the Creeds

It is true that many Latter-day Saints say that they reject the historic Christian creeds. In fact, there are two main disagreements. The first is with the content of creeds, the second is with the function of creeds. As to the content, in reality there is very little in the creeds that Latter-day Saint must reject. Many of the creeds only make sense if understood in their historical context and once a person takes the time to learn the history the reason for the creeds become much less confusing. The only term in the Nicene Creed that most Latter-day Saints would feel they cannot accept is to say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is “one being.” Latter-day Saints reject this only because they feel it violates their understanding of the Father and the Son being two personages of flesh and bone. In the historic Christian conception, God is immaterial. As to the second disagreement, that creeds serve the function of determining who is included in the Christian polity, historically this has happened.

Creeds, Community, and History

Latter-day Saints, however, should at least acknowledge that most, if not all, religious communities have mechanisms to determine who is part of the community and who is not. Often doctrine is part of this determination. In addition, it is important for Latter-day Saints to realize that creeds also serve the function of preserving the historical understanding of the faith as it has developed in the history of the Church. To say that one accepts creeds is often to say that one accepts the historic understanding of the Christian faith. It is to say that one identifies oneself with the historic Christian Church. Here in lies one of the key points of miscommunication.

We’re Christian but not Christian. Why can’t you understand?

On the one hand, many Latter-day Saints argue that they are “Christian” while simultaneously arguing that they are neither Catholic, Protestant nor Eastern Orthodox, that they reject the Christian creeds, and that their beliefs do not correspond to the doctrines as developed within the historic Christian tradition. Latter-day Saints typically fail to sympathize with the difficulty others have at understanding this position.

On this point, further expressing frustration or disbelief at how any one can not understand this position does little to increase mutual understanding. Rather, we need to proceed with a genuine desire to increase understanding and to really try to see things from each others perspective. There are many who are not willing to do this. Works like How Wide the Divide illustrate what is possible when people make a good faith attempt to understand another.

Dialogue, Creeds and Who is Christian?