Tucker responds to SCF controversy

by Ithan Peltan | 8/22/01 5:00am

A Tucker Foundation investigation found that the Summer Christian Fellowship did not deny a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participation in the group based on her faith. But the committee did recommend three measures designed to help prevent similar interfaith difficulties from arising in the future.

For Meredith Brooks '03 -- a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adherents of which are commonly known as Mormons -- the "debate on religious issues" that led her to choose not to become a member of the SCF was not a "healthy" one, Dean of the Tucker Foundation Stuart Lord said.

The investigative committee recommended the formation of an Interfaith Council, formalized training in interfaith dialogue for organization leaders and advisers and ensuring a clearly specified adviser for groups.

Lord said there is no timeline for implementing the recommendations.

In May and June, Brooks was interested in involvment with the SCF in some way, but ended up feeling she would not be recognized as a fellow Christian by the group. In an email to the leaders of the organization, she called the group's treatment of her "bigoted" and "exclusionary."

SCF leaders at the time said they were unhappy about the situation, but maintained that Mormon beliefs are so different from the "traditional evangelical" beliefs of the SCF that their incorporation into the group's evangelical efforts would blur its message.

"Believing that Jesus is our savior who saved us by grace and believing in the Holy Trinity, by prescribing to those believe and holding onto that is not intolerant because that is truth," SCF leadership team member Kari Limmer '03 said previously.

Brooks declined to comment on the Tucker Foundation investigation or its findings yesterday.

While Lord would not discuss the specific findings of the investigation, the committee's recommendations seem to address why positive dialogue broke down and aim to improve interfaith understanding on campus.

"The goals of these recommendations are to enhance the community," Lord said. "The recommendations are based on education, and if people are educated and informed, we think that creates a healthier community."

"I feel like they can maybe use some of the things they proposed ... to help avoid confusion and problems like what happened," SCF leader Alex Jordan '03 said. "They'll be able to help stuff like this from hurting people again."

SCF adviser Craig Parker called the recommendations "an appropriate response" to the issues that arose between Brooks and the organization. Parker is one of three adults who informally advised the SCF this term.

Parker was the author of an email to SCF leaders that eventually found its way to Brooks citing a passage from the biblical book Galatians that read in part, "If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."

In a letter to the community printed as a paid advertisement on page 7, Lord endorsed the committee's recommendations as a way to "help ensure the continued vibrancy and inclusiveness of all our student religious organizations."

The committee recommended that student religious leaders and group advisers attend a seminar to train them in interfaith communication.

According to Lord's letter, the sessions will "address the interfaith issues, challenges and opportunities pertinent on a pluralistic campus" -- ostensibly in the hope that religious leaders learn to talk about theological differences without offending different faiths or promoting inter-group misunderstanding.

"The debate [between Brooks and the SCF] was an interfaith debate. The training is based on interfaith dialogue, how to have one and why they are important," Lord said. A healthier community, he continued, would be created, "If people have skills in interfaith dialogue."

Lord said he hopes the establishment of the Interfaith Council, comprised of representatives from all religious and spiritual groups on campus, will similarly achieve that objective.

The Tucker committee also seemed to identify the relatively informal status of the SCF -- it has been recreated from scratch each of the past three years -- as part of the problem.

In particular, each group will have to name an officially recognized adviser to gain Tucker sponsorship, since the SCF was not sure who to turn to as an adviser when they had questions or needed guidance, Lord said.

While members of all faiths are welcome to attend SCF meetings and participate in activities -- the group's membership includes non-Christians -- deep-seated doctrinal differences do exist between Protestant churches and the Mormon Church.

According to religion professor Charles Stinson, divergent beliefs on the nature of the trinity, the validity of ongoing divine revelation and what constitutes "revealed scripture" have resulted in an ongoing debate among some evangelical Christians as to "whether the Mormons are a type of Christian church or whether they are an outside-the-fold kind of religion."

"I went away from [my meeting with SCF leader Alex Jordan '03] knowing that I wouldn't really be accepted as a Christian member of that organization," Brooks told The Dartmouth in July, adding that she believed in "forgiving and moving on."

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first began laying out its theology in 1830. The church is believed to be a restoration of the pure organization that existed in the first centuries following the death of Jesus Christ.

Among the direct revelations to Smith -- who Mormons believe was a prophet -- was an account of Jesus Christ's personal ministry among ancient inhabitants of the Americas after his resurrection.

"It's probably the only major religion created on American soil," Religion Department Chair Ronald Green noted.

Although funded out of members' pockets, the "non-denominational, evangelical" SCF is recognized by the Tucker Foundation and sponsored by five evangelical Christian fellowships .