This daily feature is an introduction to a full book review by Elliot D. Wise. To read the full text of this review, follow the link below.
Catholic and Mormon: A Theological Conversation, by Stephen H. Webb and Alonzo L. Gaskill, initiates a long-overdue dialogue in doctrine and religious practice between the Roman Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book, which is as thoughtful and amicable as it is scholarly and stimulating, comes at an important moment in the rapport between the two faiths. Church headquarters in Utah has long had a warm relationship with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, but in recent years, Mormons have increasingly found themselves working closely with their Catholic sisters and brothers on a national and international level as they administer humanitarian aid, advocate religious liberty, and argue for similar moral and social issues. In November 2014, a delegation of Apostles and other General Authorities was invited to Vatican City to participate in a worldwide conference on marriage and family. Brigham Young University has itself hosted prominent Catholic scholars and clergy to deliver campuswide addresses. Moreover, a number of recent talks in the general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have quoted Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis.
One of the great achievements of Webb and Gaskill's book, however, is that it moves beyond solely social and charitable concerns to consider the doctrinal positions that bring these two faiths together. The authors, who refer to each other informally as Stephen and Alonzo, dislodge the assumption that certain characteristics of Mormonism, including the minimalistic nature of its Sunday worship, align it more closely with Protestantism than Catholicism. In fact, the Church's profound reverence for the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the hierarchical structure of its leadership, its dependence on priesthood ordinances, its zealous concern for aiding the dead in their salvation, the unique place of the "feminine divine" in its doctrine, and its faith in living miracles and heavenly apparitions—to name just a few items—make Latter-day Saints important theological allies with Roman Catholics.