Since I’m ditching Institute tonight…Posted: November 9, 2011
…(for good reason–I’m helping out with 56 Club at church), I thought I’d post one of the essays I wrote for my Duke Divinity School application. I might have picked a topic that was too ambitious (how participating in the Church enables me to better participate in the Mormon community), but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Here’s the essay, tragically abbreviated (Really, Duke? One page double spaced is enough to adequately “reflect on a theological issue or book that has recently engaged [my] attention”?) but hopefully good enough to get me into grad school:
For the past four months I have been attending classes at the Santa Barbara Institute of Religion, part of the educational system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The conversations I have at Institute are theologically challenging, requiring a degree of nuanced discernment that both excites and terrifies me. Mormons claim to worship Christ, but is the “Christ” they worship really the risen Son of God? Does the theological trajectory of contemporary Mormonism point to the possibility of an institutional return to orthodoxy? These questions continue to fuel my intellectual curiosity.
But it’s impossible to reduce my interactions at Institute to academic voyeurism. Practicing life as a religious minority has certainly been a valuable experience, but it has also caused me to adopt a posture of defensiveness among my classmates. The LDS church tends to sentimentalize its own history and highlight the Christian Church’s flaws as evidence of our apostacy, and I struggle to both faithfully represent orthodox Christianity and sensitively contextualize the Gospel amid these constant criticisms.
Ironically, though, I’ve found that identifying with and participating in the Church—even embracing the less-than-flattering aspects of our history as my own—enables me to better engage with this other faith community as both a participating insider and a prophetic outsider. Recently two of my Christian friends—a small extension of the Church—have joined me in regular conversation with three Mormon classmates. Knowing I’m not the only one responsible for defending Christian orthodoxy has given me greater freedom to explore the similarities between Mormonism and traditional Christianity, rather than just guarding our distinctives.
And our distinctives emerge more powerfully when my Christian friends and I act as the body of Christ. The ways in which we debate amongst ourselves proclaims the value of honest truth-seeking to a community of faith that tends to value simple answers and conformist thinking. Our messy love for one another proclaims the authentic presence of the Spirit to a people who can reduce the Spirit to faith-promoting emotions. And, perhaps, our willingness to identify with the historic Christian Church, with all its defects and failings, proclaims Christ’s own willingness to remain faithful to His often-faithless Bride.