“When you get the Son, you get the way, the truth and the life,” said Ravi Zacharias, a philosopher and author who was invited by Standing Together, a network of 100 evangelical churches that is trying to improve relations with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Zacharias’ visit, and the fact that nearly 5,000 evangelicals and Latter-day Saints sat together on Temple Square, was heralded as the beginning of a new era to replace one of mistrust.
“I’m not being melodramatic when I say this is an historic occasion,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, who has been involved for several years in discussions among Protestant and Mormon theologians and was invited to speak prior to Zacharias.
Mouw confessed that evangelicals have sinned against Latter-day Saints.
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“We’ve often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to bear false witness. . . . We’ve told you what you believe without first asking you.
“I remain convinced there are serious issues of difference that are of eternal consequence, but now we can discuss them as friends,” Mouw said.
Robert Millet,a Brigham Young University religion professor involved in the discussions with other theologians, said those sessions and events such as Sunday’s are building bridges over animosity and bitterness.
“More than anything, it’s a work of the heart, not of syrupy sentimentality but of seeing others as God sees them,” Millet said.
Zacharias, a native of India who was raised in Canada and has been compared to the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis, acknowledged there are doctrinal differences – including some that are deep – between traditional Christianity and the LDS faith.
His hour-long sermon emphasized aspects of Christian doctrine for which Mormons have a different understanding, such as sin, salvation through the cross and the Trinity.
But his overarching message – that Jesus Christ is the answer to the longing in all human hearts – was one that resonated with both evangelical Christians and Mormons, including about 700 who watched from a video monitor in the Assembly Hall after the Tabernacle filled up. Organizers had given away 7,000 free tickets.
Sisters Sylvia and Liz Wilcox, who are LDS, said they were impressed with Zacharias’ message.
“It was beautiful,” said Liz Wilcox. “I loved the focus on the unity. They did a beautiful job of finding common ground.”
Pam Olmore of Tooele remembers hearing division preached from the pulpits when she first became a Christian. Sunday’s message, she said, was a much better one.
Hope Pottenger of Murray called Sunday’s event “a great act of graciousness” on the part of the LDS Church. She’s a Southern Baptist.
“We have to learn to get along.”
Greg Johnson, the pastor who organized Standing Together and Zacharias’ three appearances – Saturday at University of Utah, Sunday night and tonight at Weber State University – said he had asked President Gordon B. Hinckley of the LDS Church why he allowed the evangelicals to use the Tabernacle.
“President Hinckley said, ‘Well, it sounded like a good idea and we were glad to help,’ ” Johnson said. “This was a good idea.
“We’ve been given a gift today. I’d pray our community will use it.”
The last Christian preacher to speak from the Tabernacle pulpit was Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute and a famed speaker in his day. He preached twice at the Tabernacle, in 1871 and 1899.