Opening the Door or Giving Away the Store?
There are many challenges to engaging in interfaith dialogue. Some of the challenges come from those outside one’s faith, and sometimes the challenge comes from those within one’s faith. I thought I’d highlight an article by Robert L. Millet published in The Religious Educator (Volume 4: No. 1 Year 2003) titled “Outreach: Opening the Door or Giving Away the Store?”
It’s been years since I’ve read it but I recently remembered a section which I felt perhaps explains the feelings that perhaps many who have engaged in dialogue has experienced.
Now, to be sure, there have been a host of challenges to this work of outreach. Some have asked: “Why are you doing this? Do you really think you will convert that person to our way of thinking? How can you justify the time and expense required of such efforts?” Others are forever suspicious that any person who wants to build relationships with us must have some malicious motive. The greatest source of frustration I have felt in this work—and the one that has brought me to the brink of turning in my badge and resigning from my professorship—has not been unsuccessful encounters with other Christians but rather with misunderstanding and occasionally outright unkindness on the part of Latter-day Saints. In some cases, I suppose it is simply a matter of their questioning my motives or wondering how it is possible to make progress in interfaith dialogue without some form of doctrinal compromise. I am persuaded that too often such suspicion comes from plain old ignorance, from a lack of the love of God in the heart, or simply from a lack of perspective about the bigger picture.
Perhaps they will join our church, but perhaps they will not. Whether they do or not, we have been charged by our Lord and Master, as well as by His chosen spokesmen, to love them, to serve them, and to treat them with the same respect and kindness that we would extend to people of our own faith. Unfortunately, religious discussions with those not of our faith too often devolve into debates or wars of words as a result of defensiveness over theological issues. This need not happen when men and women of goodwill come together in an attitude of openness and in a sincere effort to better understand and be understood.
This is an article published in an LDS journal which perhaps many others have not read, but I would invite those who haven’t yet read it to do so.