“From the first comment forward, it was not the blog post or even the memoir on trial, but the Mormon religion itself. Once that inaugural commenter threw down her gauntlet (‘Mormonism is not a Christian denomination’), the pugilists were off, both Mormon and non-Mormon, duking it out over the veracity of Mormonism’s truth claims. So very predictable, so very tiring, so very unchristian.”
Dr. Riess wrote a thoughtful — and thought-provoking — article, challenging readers to recognize the complexity of belief and the inadequacy of mere words to change a person’s heart and mind. Words can’t do that, she says, but love can.
In the balance of the article, Dr. Riess provides a literary look at the transformation (sanctification) God’s grace can bring about in our lives, overcoming our “sinful and foolish” behavior, replacing it with undefiled beauty.
In the end, Dr. Riess extends an invitation to her vocally contentious readers (and, as I suppose, to others):
“Mormons and evangelicals could all commit to cultivating greater concern for being loving and less concern for being right.”
I have not read the comment thread that inspired Dr. Riess to write the foregoing words, so I do not know what was said, or the way it was said. But informed by my long-experience with Mormon-evangelical debate/dialog, I suggest that Dr. Riess has missed the heart of the issue and therefore has presented a false dichotomy.
I do not disagree that some Mormon-evangelical dialog may be motivated and propelled by a desire to be right. That is something I try to continually guard against in myself. If being right — winning an argument — is what ultimately drives any given Mormon-Christian dialog, I, too, would be disappointed and dismayed at that conversation.
Yet having said that, I do believe Dr. Riess has missed something of great significance. She has set up a scenario wherein love is juxtaposed against pride. We should be more concerned with being loving rather than being right, she says. I suggest that many (if not most) Mormon-Christian dialogs are not motivated by pride (that is, a desire to be right), but by love itself (that is, a desire to see people come to know the truth). The correct characterization of these dialogs is not “love vs. right,” but rather “truth for the sake of love.”
As God has designed it, love and truth are intimately connected. You cannot set aside one without grave expense to the other. If someone is in danger, love compels us to warn her by telling her the truth (even if she does not want to hear it). If we do not warn her (that is, if we set aside truth), we are not demonstrating love. And if we do not really care about her (that is, we set aside love), we contentedly leave her to face her peril alone. If we were to commit to cultivating greater concern for being loving and less concern for speaking essential truth, what would that look like? I contend that it cannot be done. We cannot have love without truth. God Himself is both love and truth (1 John 4:16; John 14:6), and He calls His people to “boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” for which we are ambassadors in chains (Ephesians 6:19-20).
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church,
For the love of Christ compels us…Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20-21 NKJV)
As God works within us to transform us into the people He created us to be, we won’t always get it right. We might sometimes falter and, in the heat of the moment, focus on being right. Even so, if we are followers of Christ, we cannot choose love over truth – God has not given us that option. He has determined that His love will compel us to boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel, to correct spiritual opponents — that is, to speak the truth in love – with the hope that He may grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth; for their salvation is His great desire (2 Corinthian 5:14; Ephesians 6:19; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Timothy 2:4).
May all Christians be found cultivating an ever-greater commitment to boldly speak the truth for the sake of love.