LDS members and Calvin students connect over pizza

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Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) presented and answered questions about their faith over pizza as a part of an interfaith dialogue, hosted by the Kaufmann Institute. Five Calvin students attended the dinner. Calvin Interfaith, a program of the Calvin Service-Learning Center, advertised the event to students.

The Kaufmann Institute, an interfaith organization of Grand Valley State University (GVSU), asked that groups limit their size in order to keep the event informal and conversational. Around twenty people attending, represented a variety of religions, including Christianity, Islam, Mormonism and agnosticism.

The night started with pizza and informal conversation. Then, GVSU engineering professor Dr. Blake Ashby explained some of the LDS Church’s history and core beliefs in a brief presentation. Afterwards, he and other members of the church, including two missionaries, fielded questions from the guests. Students asked questions on Mormon theology, church order, religious practices and the effect of media exposure on the LDS Church’s visibility.

Members stressed the importance of the family and joy in the Mormon tradition. They also gave free copies of the Book of Mormon to the students and staff who attended.

Manato Jansen, Calvin’s Interfaith intern, expressed how the event humanized a group that he feels is often scrutinized.

“I thought I knew those misconception [about Mormons] weren’t true, but when you’re only fed negative stereotype, it fuels negative emotions,” Jansen said. “Tonight let me see how wrong they were.”

Jansen had never met a Mormon in person before. Several of the other Calvin students echoed that statement and said that they enjoyed the opportunity to listen to another religious perspective. Students bonded with members of the LDS Church by talking about their shared interest in Japanese language and culture, shared love of Chicago pizza and shared dislike of  early morning classes.

Roxanne Dragovich, a Mormon who teaches theology and church history to LDS high schoolers, noted that interfaith events were an opportunity not only to learn more about other religions but also improve the community.

“When [various religions] come together, there’s strength, and we can build each other up and support our community,” Dragovich said.