Catholic-Mormon Fireside Inspires and Enlightens
Two coauthors, one Catholic and the other Mormon, shared their faith journeys, friendship, and respect for each other’s traditions in an interfaith fireside on October 24. Stephen Webb and Alonzo Gaskill modeled productive interfaith dialogue as they discussed their new book, Catholic and Mormon: A Theological Conversation. Members of both faiths attended the event held at the Latter-day Saint stake center at 11562 Temple Drive, Carmel. The fireside was cosponsored by the BYU Alumni Association and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation.
Writing the book was Alonzo’s idea. As he pondered such a project, he asked himself, “Who likes the Mormons?” Stephen Webb fit that description, since he had already written Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints. So Alonzo approached Stephen, and their collaboration began.
[stextbox id=”download” float=”true” align=”right”]Dr. Stephen H. Webb is retired from Wabash College and is now an independent scholar and a regular contributor to First Things magazine.
Dr. Alonzo L. Gaskill is Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.[/stextbox]
At the fireside Stephen described his years as an evangelical Christian and his life today as a convert to Roman Catholicism. Alonzo, in turn, spoke of his Eastern Orthodox upbringing and then his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
The speakers’ respect for each other’s doctrines illustrated interfaith understanding at its best. For instance, Stephen loves the Mormon concept of heaven as a place where families are together, and Alonzo sees value and beauty in the rituals of the Catholic mass. As a new Latter-day Saint coming from the rich liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Alonzo had wondered why Mormon Sunday services were comparatively simple. That question was answered when he attended the Mormon temple for the first time, where the deeply symbolic ceremony filled that need for him.
Alonzo also explained a point of commonality, not often recognized by Mormons, in the Roman Catholic contribution to preserving the Holy Bible. Because the Prophet Joseph Smith had the King James Bible, a Protestant work, Mormons usually associate only the Protestant Reformation with this scripture that inspired Joseph to seek God in prayer. They don’t remember that the Catholic Church had earlier canonized and preserved the Bible for centuries after the deaths of the Lord’s apostles. The later English translators worked from that foundation to produce the King James Version.
On another point, Stephen discussed the nature of God and the need to understand the relationship between God and matter. The classic Catholic view is that God is immaterial and does not have a body. Mormons, on the other hand, believe that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, are real persons with physical bodies. Members of both religions need to understand each other’s beliefs.
All in all, the evening was thought provoking, inspiring, and anticipatory because these excellent teachers and theologians plan to write a second book.