I recently enjoyed part 1 of a two part radio interview hosted by Justin Brierley over at the Unbelievable podcast. Brierley contributed the least to the dialogue and mostly facilitated the conversation between his two guests, Bobby Gilpin of the UK Partnership for Christ and Charles Dayton, a lifelong Mormon.
I enjoyed it for several reasons, all of which highlight many of the points I make in Arguing with Friends.
- It was cordial and respectful. Despite deep disagreements tempers did not flair, nobody shouted at the other, there was no name calling, etc.
- Both sides were given ample opportunity to explain their views and respond to each other.
- There were no real “gotcha” moments; just a slow, steady exploration of the issues at hand. This is always better than one-liners and quick zingers.
- More emphasis was placed on the ideas and reasons for beliefs than on mere opinion and speculation. Data and resources played a central role in the discussion. This was stellar.
- The Mormon was given plenty of opportunity to reframe the discussion in his own terms. This is important; if we are going to give people an honest hearing we need to let them help us understand the issues from their perspective.
- They were given roughly equal time. I didn’t measure it, but my impression (and, yes, impressions can be wrong!) was that both guests received approximately the same amount of time to present their views and respond to each other.
- The pursuit of truth did not take a back seat to “getting along.” Gilpin, for instance, was very clear that he did not approve of the use of the word “cult” in reference to Mormonism, but his reason was obviously not to appease Mormons. He immediately turned around and clarified that he felt Mormonism was clearly not Christian. Obviously the truth is central for Gilpin and getting along with everybody is secondary, yet he was able to present the truth in such a way that he would still get along with most people he disagreed with. I respect that!
- Further to the last point, Gilpin did not take the route of trying to disprove absolutely everything about Mormonism. I talk about this in my book; the approach of trying to disprove another person on absolutely every possible issue. Both sides seemed balanced in their assessment of where they agreed and where they disagreed and why.
Some downsides of the interview were:
- Gilpin has made a career out of witnessing to Mormons and is very well researched in the area. Dayton, on the other hand, is just your run-of-the-mill lay-level Mormon. I admire his courage to take on the challenge of participating in the show, but I would have rather seen a more prepared Mormon; one who was better suited to respond to the challenges presented by Gilpin. It is always important to allow those you disagree with the opportunity to offer the best possible presentation of their case. Dayton did the best he could, given his background, but a more thoroughly researched Mormon (somebody who has made a career out of this) may have done a better job.
- It’s a personal beef of mine that so many people who oppose Mormonism spend so much time on the “dirty secrets” of Mormonism; polygamy, racism and what have you. That the early Mormons were weird in no way undermines the possible truth of their claims! People can be weird, even immoral, and yet factually correct at the same time. It’s a little more complicated than that with respect to Mormonism, I’ll grant, but even so it seems those lines of discussion are the least fruitful anyway. Fortunately very little time was invested on these subjects. Most of the interview centered on the core issues.
- This is a downside of radio interviews in general, not specifically this one, but there are always time constraints. At a couple of times during the interview one or the other of the guests was virtually cut off because they needed a station break. I sometimes felt like saying, “just let him keep talking!” but, alas, my voice travels neither across the Atlantic nor back in time!
All in all, though, I found the interview remarkable in that it explored so many issues central to Mormonism, was so mutually cordial in its approach and provided as level a playing field as one could expect for such a setting. I trust part 2 will be equally edifying.