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TEXAS FAITH: The Mormon Moment


The following ran on the April 24, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News Texas Faith blog. Theology Professor William Lawrence provided expertise for this story.

May 8, 2012

By William McKenzie

In March, we talked some about Mitt Romney and his Mormonism. But since then Romney has become the presumptive GOP nominee.

This has led to a number of pieces about the so-called "Mormon moment, including one I wrote in today's Morning News. Mormon leaders, understandably, may be wearying of that cliché. But it is true that church members have a teachable moment before them.

Specifically, they have a chance to demystify elements of their faith, which polls show is still not very well understood by many of us. In my book, this is best done through in a friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, pew-to-pew way. That approach allows for more candid conversations and helps build bridges.

 David Campbell, a Notre Dame political scientist and a Mormon, said in an interview I did with him last week that those personal bonds are especially important. They keep in check the tensions that are likely to arise in a society that has so many different faiths.

With that as the set-up, here is this week's question:

What issue would you most like to discuss with a Mormon about their religious faith?

Perhaps you already have done this, so feel free to elaborate upon that in your answer.

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

I would like to ask some questions about the relationship between the Mormon's religious practices and those of Christianity. How does the Book of Mormon as an authoritative text differ from Christians' view of the Bible? Do Mormons teach and believe that the Kingdom of God will be established on the earth and on the North American continent? Given the persecutions that Mormons endured, especially during the 19th century, how do Mormons demonstrate encouragement to adherents of persecuted and restricted religious adherents (such as Muslims) in the 21st century? Does it matter, in terms of religious freedom and practice in the United States, whether Mormons are recognized as Christians or not?

Those last two questions are particularly interesting to me. Mormons were an ostracized sect who chose to relocate to a space on the frontier where they could avoid further persecution by seeking their own space. They also, eventually, modified one of their basic religious practices -- plural marriage -- as a way to achieve acceptability in the broad range of American religions.

Is that something that Mormons would recommend to adherents of currently persecuted movements? If so, do they have any insights regarding the benefits of altering religious practices in order to enter the mainstream?

Finally, what if anything would Mormons gain if Christian communities were to embrace them institutionally as part of the broader sweep of Christianity?...