Two days ago I had a conversation with Warren Puckett, an affiliate and friend to Shawn McCraney and his CAMPUS church. Shawn hosts Heart of the Matter weekly ministry (hotm.tv) where he has become famous for his efforts to help Mormons leave their faith and come unto Christ. I took occasion to read Shawn’s recent book, Knife to a Gunfight and was impressed with the books message that among Christians “we do not need to divide.” and “The Spirit of Christ that abides in all who are His plainly suggests that we can remain accepting of each other while differing greatly in opinion, praxis and thought.” (pg 224).
What impressed me about my conversation with Warren (who now has begun his own online ministry, Breaking Bread with Warren Puckett) was how this group lives what it preaches. Warren related to me how he strongly disagrees with Shawn’s preterist views (ibid ch 14, pg 139). This struggle became so great that felt he needed to disassociate himself from Shawn and the CAMPUS church. As he poured out his heart to God about the matter he didn’t receive any confirmation about preterism, but nevertheless, as Warren put it, “I felt impressed of God to stay with Shawn because he is definitely a brother in Christ regardless of our differences in understanding doctrinal points. I love God and I love Shawn and the beautiful thing about the gospel is basically those two things. 1) Love God and 2) Love people! All the law and the prophets hang on THOSE TWO THINGS! If the focus is on those commandments of God, division can and will be replaced with harmony in the midst of disagreement!”
Shawn does not require or insist that Warren agree with his views in order to feel included. All are welcome, despite their views. I feel confident that even as much as the group disagrees with Mormonism, one who desires to fellowship with them, even though he may believe in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, would be welcome there. Contrast this with those in the Christian community who applauded Shawn’s success in bringing Mormons out from the LDS church, but when Shawn disagreed with their Trinitarian ideas they declared him a heretic.
We should ask ourselves, as Latter Day Saints can we be as openly accepting of contrary views into our midst as Warren is with Shawn McCraney? Or are we more like the Zoramites standing upon our Rameumptoms declaring, “Holy God,… we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children… and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee… And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen. (Alma 31:16-18)
I’m reminded that it was not uncommon for early church leaders to disagree and debate over questions of doctrine. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt often had strong differing views. Did these disagreements destroy or harm the church? Clearly not. Brigham Young recognized that “’Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.” (Brigham Young, DBY, 3)
All of us understand things differently, and in some cases more completely as a subject is studied. Even the same individual will understand things differently over time. As we study in good faith and confidence before God we may believe in something that we will change our understanding about later. I think that is inevitable as we progress.
Christ taught the Nephites, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention… Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne 11:29-30)
It’s not criticism and open critical thought that Christ condemned, but contentions and disputations. There is a difference. Consider this. First, tolerance requires disagreement. Insisting on agreement is not tolerance, but it’s opposite. Second, Christ clearly teaches against disputations and contentions among His followers. Therefore, is it possible to have disagreement without disputations and contentions?
From a recent news release, “President Thomas S. Monson made a plea during general conference… for more religious understanding: ‘I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.’” (Respect for Diversity of Faiths)
It appears Joseph Smith agrees:
“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (DHC 5:340)
As did Hugh B Brown:
“I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas and stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” Hugh B. Brown, Speech at BYU, March 29, 1968.]
We should seek to be more tolerant in our views without being contentious. As Rumi once wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”