Keeping disagreements on faith friendly

LDS, Baptist members will speak about civility in religious disputes

It doesn’t take much effort for good friends to agree to disagree when it comes to their favorite movie, restaurant or style of clothing.

But when they believe in vastly different interpretations of Scripture, they must work harder to be respectful and civil in their conversations with each other.

The Rev. Greg Johnson of Lehi, Utah, and Robert Millet, a professor of religion at Brigham Young University, have shared a close friendship for seven years and are traveling about the United States to teach others how to communicate effectively with people who believe differently from them.

The two are bringing their presentation to Corvallis next week at the invitation of the LDS Students Association at Oregon State University. Because there was no space on campus available to seat the 500-plus people they expect to attend, organizers asked the First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) to host the talk at 7 p.m. Friday.

“An Evangelical and Latter-day Saint in Dialogue” is not a debate event, said Tom Sherry, the adviser to the LDS student group and a coordinator of activities sponsored by the OSU Religious Advisers Association and Student Affairs Division.

Johnson, an ordained Baptist minister, and Millet, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will describe the basic beliefs of their own churches and point out some of the central theological differences between evangelical Christians and Mormons. Then they will model how they approach doctrinal discussions with each other without compromising their own religious convictions.

“There’s no intent for people to become ‘more Baptist’ or ‘more Mormon,'” Sherry said. “We want them to learn how people can have a credible, productive conversation in a friendly way when they come from two starkly different viewpoints.”

The two-hour presentation includes a time for the audience to ask questions of either person about specific doctrinal matters or the outreach ministry they share. Johnson and Millet have made more than a dozen presentations this past year in churches and at universities and major theological centers, including the Harvard Divinity School.

Sherry said in light of current world events and differences in theological perspectives toward hotly debated subjects on the local scene, the LDS student group thought bringing the dialogue seminar to Corvallis would benefit the entire community.

“There’s a real need for watching models for how people with different religious views can have friendly conversations and leave that way,” he said.

Millet is a former dean of religion at BYU and is a professor of religious understanding. He has written more than 40 books and has a new one coming out this summer, “Getting At the Truth: Responding to Difficult Questions About LDS Beliefs.” As an ambassador for the Mormon church, he also devotes much of his time meeting with religious leaders and scholars from other faith communities to build bridges of understanding and common respect.

Johnson was raised as a Latter-day Saint, but became an evangelical Christian more than 20 years ago. Ordained through the Conservative Baptist Church, he served nine years as a pastor in Utah until March 2001, when he founded Standing Together, a ministry that strives to build stronger unity among evangelical churches in Utah and more opportunities for dialogue between evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints.

Admission is free. The First Congregational Church is located at 4515 S.W. West Hills Road. For information, call 758-1777.

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