Community of Christ, LDS dialogue ‘enriches’ BYU

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Former Community of Christ apostle Andrew Bolton answers a question from Seth Culverwell on March 21, 2017. Bolton answered students’ questions after lecturing for BYU church history professor Casey Griffiths. (Eleanor Cain)

If Andrew Bolton could meet with Muslims and Sikhs and have a positive dialogue, why couldn’t he meet with Mormons, too?

Bolton is a former apostle for the Community of Christ, a teacher of world religions since 1987, and an outspoken supporter of dialogue between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ church.

The two churches have a common origin. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was formed after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844. The reorganized church became the Community of Christ in 2001.

“I met Robert Millet, who was (then) dean of the religion faculty (at BYU), and I understood about something about his work in interfaith work with evangelicals,” Bolton said. “So I asked him, ‘what about dialogue with Community of Christ?'”

Since that time, Bolton has visited BYU campus with his wife, Jewell, on several occasions to lecture in religion classes and participate in panel discussions.

Andrew Bolton and his wife Jewell sing “Redeemer of Israel” at the beginning of a guest lecture on March 21. They both taught about the Community of Christ beliefs and answered students questions. (Eleanor Cain)

In his March 21 lecture for BYU church history professor Casey Griffiths, Bolton answered students’ questions on everything from women in the priesthood to the ordination of LGBTQ to the priesthood. He even expressed feelings of “holy envy” for those who had served LDS missions.

Bolton came to the BYU campus at the end of March to participate in one of these discussions alongside current Community of Christ apostle, Lachlan Mackay.

“I’ve been here before but love it because I approach things kind of from a history background, I’ve seen the fruit of friendships that developed in dialogue, particularly in the church history community in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s,” Mackay said.

Bolton has had similar positive experiences on campus, but with other academic scholars as well.

“I really value this experience,” Bolton said. “It’s not only BYU professors that I’ve been blessed with, but there are other LDS leading academics that I’ve spoken with.”

Griffiths said sharing opinions with Jewell, Lachlan and Bolton has been inspiring.

“It’s been one of the best parts of my job here at BYU that we get to do dialogue and meet wonderful people like Jewell and Lachlan and Andrew,” Griffiths said.

Jewell Bolton, an ordained Elder for the Community of Christ church, addresses BYU students on March 21, 2017. Her husband, Andrew, is a former apostle for the Community of Christ. (Eleanor Cain)

Griffiths, Mackay and Bolton took part in a panel discussing ordinances on March 23. Prior to the panel, Bolton said he believes the two faiths will find many common elements from Joseph Smith’s initiation of the sacrament, but will most likely differ on practicing temple ordinances, which the Community of Christ does not accept as part of the restoration.

Despite differences, Bolton said that dialogue between the two denominations will benefit all participants and hopes to share “mutual gifts.”

“Dialogue is an enrichment. We’re in very different places and dialogue is meant to be respectful of participants, but there can be honest questions back and forth with some humor to soften it,” Bolton said. “I think a good dialogue is about enhancing the human experience of the conversation.”

The next dialogue between LDS and Community of Christ members will be hosted by the John Whitmer Historical Association and take place in September.

“I’ve seen wonderful things happen in the history community and at historic sites,” Mackay said. “I’ve not been engaged in that at a doctrinal or theological level so I’m excited to see the progression of those dialogues and expect that the benefits will be just as great.”

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