Christian Center responds to LDS DVD with training
May 5, 2007
Stuffing mailboxes and airwaves with information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not helped smooth relationships between Mormon and non-Mormon Parkites.
Two weeks ago, the mass mailing of the unsolicited anti-LDS Church DVD "The Search for the Truth," was especially damaging.
The DVD suggested the Church’s prophet Joseph Smith was a "madman" and, in an official statement, LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter called it an attack of "distortions" and "misrepresentations."
A four-hour PBS series, "The Mormons" that aired Monday was less critical and more educational. Yet, while the LDS Church Web site lds.org applauded the series’ efforts to give a "serious treatment to a serious subject," the Deseret Morning News reported a majority of the respondents who identified themselves as members of the LDS Church found "The Mormons" to be an incomplete account of their religion.
Monday, Park City’s Christian Center will welcome "Bridges" a workshop developed by the Salt Lake Theological Seminary on how to initiate a dialogue about faith between Mormons and non-Mormons. The program purports to be based on the premise that a better alternative to understanding Utah’s dominant religion is to just ask a member.
"Bridges" was initially created for the 2002 Olympics, according to the Salt Lake Theological Seminary’s Director of Advancement David Pascoe, when a near record number of evangelists came to Utah with the intent to convert members of the LDS Church.
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The evangelists handed out pamphlets, knocked on doors and were "very confrontational," he recalled.
"When outside groups like evangelists come to Utah with the idea of converting the Mormons, it tends to cause problems in relationships between Mormon and non-Mormon friends and neighbors," he said. "’Bridges’ is about understanding Mormons, not as a crazy religious cult, but about learning about the theological beliefs, culture and ways to talk about matters of faith."
"Bridges" attempts the latter, according to Pascoe, incorporating videos, exercises and lectures about ways to open the lines of communication.
"If you want to engage in discussion with someone who holds significantly different beliefs, there are ways to close doors and there are ways to open doors it’s true of any topic," he said. "If I begin by slamming the Republican Party to a Republican, defenses go up and the dialogue is immediately cut off. But if I invite them to talk to me about the benefits, that can lead to a deeper discussion."
It’s an especially sensitive subject in matters of faith, where both sides believe the topic is a matter of eternal consequence, he observed.
"The idea behind ‘Bridges’ is how to better understand LDS members in your family and at work," he explained. "Do you say, ‘I don’t want to read the Book of Mormon because it’s a pack of lies?’ Or, do you find a different way."
Pascoe says he is a United Methodist Christian.
"I’ve got a number of good friends who are LDS who were upset about [‘The Search for the Truth’] not necessarily about the content, but by the way it was delivered," he said. "It simply makes them angry and suspicious."
"Dropping it off without an in-person discussion is not an effective way to talk about faith," Pascoe continued. "It’s confrontational and it’s a one-way street: look at my video and change what you believe Christianity can and should never be a one-way street."
A Web site for the Salt Lake seminary explains "Bridges" is "training program" that provides "an honest and sensitive look at LDS culture, social structure, religious terminology and values." Included in the workshop is the "Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Evangelism," but Pascoe insists the workshop is less about proselytizing, and more about "engaging LDS in matters of faith."
Trotter answered a call from The Park Record about "Bridges," but declined to comment on the workshop on behalf of the LDS Church.
"Bridges" will be held at The Christian Center of Park City, 1100 Iron Horse Drive on Monday and Wednesday evenings May 7, 9, 14, 16 and 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost of $50/person or $90/couple includes a workbook. To register, go online at http://www.slts.edu or call 801 581-1900.
Each session combines a half-hour viedo presentation, discussion and small group activities.
For more information, visit http://www.slts.edu/Conferences_Programs/Bridges.htm ..