This past weekend I was privileged to participate in Standing Together: The National Student Dialogue Conference III at BIOLA University in California. This "improbable dialogue" was life changing to say the least, and it was the first of many more dialogues to come in the future.
Historically, Mormons and Evangelicals have never gotten along. We disagree fundamentally on almost everything, making it near impossible to sit together and even pretend like we understand. The point of these student dialogues is to open up these discussions, to bridge the divide and eventually find some common ground that we all can stand on together. After all, we both claim to be Christian faiths.
The conference focused around four main presentations, each with a talk given by a Mormon and then an Evangelical. We discussed faith and reason, the idea of grace, Christology, the nature of God and personal conversion. There were two round table discussions where the floor was opened up and the real "dialoguing" began. Out of the 100 or so people in attendance, 10 were Mormons, and so we were severely outnumbered. I sat in my chair at the round table group I was assigned to, shaking. Scriptures in hand I did my best to answer every question that was fired at me, from our idea of grace and works to the temple to my own personal conversion story. Could I answer all the questions they posed? No. Was I close to tears as they critiqued my faith? Yes. But never once did I feel attacked. If we're ever going to understand each other, it's going to start with us students. If we're ever going to bridge this divide that is so deeply rooted in our faiths, then we have to put everything out there on the line and hope that we can at least come to an understanding. Will it happen in the next year? Probably not. But that won't keep us from trying.
Comparative Religion is becoming more and more important to me as I study Philosophy here at BYU. How often do we stand in the safety of our own castles and throw arrows at those of other faiths? How quick are we to judge and point fingers, calling each other "right" or "wrong" without even understanding what the other believes? We cannot sit around and look at the religious convictions of others through the eyes of our own faith. We must suspend our belief, even for a moment, to clearly see the faith of our fellow men. We shouldn't be afraid of taking a critical look at our own beliefs, because when it's all said and done we will come out stronger and better equip to move forward.
What is truth? How do we know something? Is there a single truth that we all should adhere to? What do we leap for? What is the role of faith and reason in conversion? These are all questions that will probably never be answered in this life, but I love diving into them and attempting to get to the very center of our religious lives. I'm a philosophy major - jumping into discussions like these is like pulling candy out of a stocking at Christmastime.
Between appraising the validity of our arguments over dinner to relating our personal conversion stories in the dorm lounge well after midnight, I learned a lot during my weekend at BIOLA. We don't agree on anything, but we're cultivating friendships and a sense of understanding that can hopefully strengthen our own personal testimonies and future religious endeavors. We'll continue to dialogue, continue to hash out this idea of religious truth and eventually, when we all get to the other side, we can come to an ultimate understanding of who we are and what our purpose has been and will continue to be.