It’s a cool fall morning on the campus of Brigham Young University, and I’m in a hot, high-ceilinged auditorium filled to capacity with clean-cut Mormon students and faculty. As far as I know, the only evangelicals in a room of more than 800 people are myself, the six friends that came with me, and the speaker that everyone has come to listen to: Dr. Albert Mohler.
As a Southern Baptist pastor with a church that meets a mile from Brigham Young’s campus in Provo, Utah, I’m used to being a religious minority, but I’m not used to seeing evangelicals of Dr. Mohler’s integrity and intellectual caliber address Latter Day Saint audiences. When I first heard of BYU’s invitation’s to Mohler, after I got over my initial shock, I wondered if he knew the history of this place, how evangelical leaders come here with the best intentions, only to compromise the gospel and leave those of us who minister in Utah to pick up the pieces. For instance, several weeks before Dr. Mohler’s address, another evangelical leader was invited to BYU, and he delivered a speech that blurred the lines between biblical Christianity and the faith of the Latter Day Saints. Please understand that I love Latter Day Saints— all of my neighbors and many of my friends are LDS— but as much as I love them, I can’t say that their faith is the same faith that the Bible teaches. Would Dr. Mohler compromise for fear of being labeled “anti-Mormon,” as so many others had before him?
It wasn’t long after the announcement that Dr. Mohler would be speaking at BYU before the blogosphere began to accuse him of selling out. Of course, Dr. Mohler’s critics were assuming that he would be part of an LDS worship service when, in reality, he was the third speaker in a lecture series entitled Faith, Family, and Society, a series that other evangelical leaders had already participated in (in fact, as far as I can tell, every speaker for the series has been an evangelical.) Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, in spite of my admiration for Dr. Mohler, if there was some truth to what they were saying. Maybe Mohler would give a speech that only talked about our shared social values, and ignored the theological gap between faiths. And really, I wondered, is interreligious dialogue even possible?
After only two minutes of listening to Mohler’s speech in that close-packed auditorium, I knew I’d been worried for nothing. Dr. Mohler’s address was titled “A Clear and Present Danger: Religious Liberty, Marriage, and Family in the Late Modern Age,” and his thesis was that religious liberty is under attack and that Mormons and evangelicals, as people of faith, must “push back against the modernist notion….that meaningful and respectful conversation can take place only among those who believe the least.” Mohler showed that respectful interreligious dialogue is possible, and he did it without any theological compromise; in other words, he spoke the truth in love to his LDS audience. The quote from his speech that got the biggest response from both the crowd in the auditorium and the local press was: “I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.” Prior to that, he lovingly explained why he does not believe that the LDS faith is a path to salvation, and he proclaimed the biblical gospel with a boldness that I haven’t seen in other visiting evangelical leaders.
Dr. Mohler’s speech pointed the way for evangelicals who want to be part of an interfaith dialogue without giving up their integrity. In my opinion, if we can share the gospel, and if we can speak in a way that doesn’t tell the watching world that all religions lead to the same place, then we can and should join the conversation. I recently participated in a public forum with a Latter Day Saint bishop, a Krishna priest, a Roman Catholic priest, an Eastern Orthodox priest, and a Seventh Day Adventist elder. We were each able to state our positions and our objections to the other points of view, and, most importantly, I got to tell a crowd full of unbelievers about the Jesus of the Bible. I am convinced that we have to take every opportunity we get to proclaim the gospel, even in front of unfriendly audiences.
Finally, a word to other evangelicals who would come to Utah: don’t let your ignorance of LDS teachings or your desire to avoid an uncomfortable situation lead you to water down the message of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Let Dr. Mohler be your example.