Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America Salt Lake City
: Greg Kofford Books
Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America
Charles Randall Paul, the founder and president of the Foundation of Religious Diplomacy, has established himself in the academy as an expert in religion and philosophy on engaging differences. Paul’s book Converting the Saints looks at religious conflict by analyzing encounters between early-twentieth-century Protestants and Latter-day Saints. During this time, Protestants served several missions to Utah in an attempt to convert Latter-day Saints back to mainstream Christianity. Paul looks at the conflicts that inevitably arose between the two religious traditions and through his analysis proposes a new theory of conflict engagement that turns destructive conflict into constructive, peaceful engagement. In a well-written introduction, he clearly outlines this purpose: to propose a new conflict engagement theory “that reflects the basic human desire for comparative supremacy . . . based on disharmony, disagreement, and unresolvable, continual contestation over that which we value most: our unique values, passions, and purposes” (xx). He calls this proposed theory “collaborative contestationalism” (xxi).
Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of this text is his comparative historical analysis of three Protestant missionaries who served their religious traditions faithfully from the last few years of the nineteenth century through the first five decades of the twentieth century. Although their terms of service varied in length, they served concurrently for nine years. His historical treatment of each of these men’s service is of the highest quality: thorough, engaging, and based on primary source documents. The extensive notes and bibliography alone are worth the purchase price of the book. What is more, his comparative analysis of their differing methods and successes is not only based on missiological reflections but also psychological, sociological, and theological factors as well. As a missiologist, I found his insights thought-provoking. Not only is this text a welcome addition to the corpus of the literature pertaining to conflict resolution theory, but it is also an important contribution to mission studies in general and to the growing body of Latter-day Saint mission studies in particular.