25 July 2008

Stendahl's Three Rules of Religious Understanding

From Rusty's blog:

In 1985, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) wanted to build a temple in Stockholm Sweden, there was a lot of vocal opposition, a large part of which seemed to be based on inaccurate understandings about Mormonism. In response, Krister Stendahl presented Stendahl’s three rules of religious understanding at a press conference. These were his 3 rules:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion, and not its enemies.
  2. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for “holy envy” (willingness to find elements in another’s religion that you admire and would like to adopt).


  1. The same thing (vocal and printed opposition) happened to us as we were trying to build a temple in Denver. As I was leading tours during the open house, I saw one of my co-workers standing in the picket line, waving a hostile sign. At work, I asked him if he'd like to know what we really believed, and he said he already knew. I told him he'd understand better if he found out from us. Then I quoted Gamaliel's famous line in the Bible when he was defending Peter, (Acts 5:34-40). He provoked me again and again at work, until finally I got fed up and told him he was a coward, and that it was easier for him to remain ignorant than use his so-called faith to find out the truth. Now I regret saying all that, but it did shut him up. I also have to say that "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is one of my all-time favorite books!

  2. Yay, you commented! Do you still have that coworker now? I'm glad we share a favorite book.