A couple of weeks ago, the editor of Spokane Faith & Values approached me, asking if I'd be interested in running a new column on the website. They'd already had some success with similar features, "Ask a Buddist" and "Ask an Atheist", and she thought that an "Ask a Mormon" column would be a big hit. I took a deep breath.
Now, I've been fielding questions about my faith for a good 25 of my 35 years. I remember getting a letter in the mail from a friend in 4th grade that was all cheery and chatty until the postscript, when she added a whole list of statements, thinly veiled as questions - complete with scriptural references - about how Mormon beliefs conflict with "traditional" Christianity. I later found out that her pastor had recently held a seminar for kids on how to "save" their Mormon friends and encouraged them to confront their LDS peers by writing a letter.
I don't blame my friend, or hold any ill will toward her, of course. She was just following the guidance of her spiritual leader and worried about me, her friend. And that certainly wasn't the last time that people of other faiths tried to tell me what I believed (and got it very wrong) rather than engaging in a conversation to truly understand me and my beliefs.
Over the years I've had some phenomenal interfaith interactions that have helped me grow, learn, refine my own articulation of my beliefs and find common ground with others. I've also learned that some conversations simply cannot be productive or uplifting and I've reluctantly learned not to waste too much time with those.
It seems to come down to the true motivations of those involved. If the intent is a better, clearer, more respectful understanding of other people, who are God's children just as much as I am, and their beliefs, the conversation usually goes pretty well despite disagreements and differences. If the purpose is simply to prove the others wrong, or even to prove yourself right without regard to others or, worse, at their expense, the conversation usually goes badly, regardless of any similarities in belief.
And I've found this to be true not only with people of other faiths, but even within my own faith.
So, recognizing that there may be some whose motivations are not pure, but desiring to further the opportunities for positive interactions, I let out that deep breath and said, "Sure. Let's do it!"
Here's the introduction. Feel free to submit a question!