Multi-Faith Conference Commemorates the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

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To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, Southern Virginia University hosted a two-day multi-faith conference entitled “The Cultural Impact of the Reformation.”

The event, sponsored by the Wheatley Institution and organized by Southern Virginia professors David Cox, James Lambert and Jeremiah John, included clergy from diverse religious backgrounds and scholars from five universities, who gathered for lectures and discussions on Southern Virginia’s campus.

Conference presenters examined the important religious, cultural and academic legacies of the Reformation through various perspectives of Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim and Atheist scholars and clergy members.

“There is something even more interesting about the study of the Reformation that seems pertinent to the here and now,” said Professor of English James Lambert, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Perhaps it is the idea known in Mormon circles as, ‘By small means are great things brought to pass’ — that by the simple act of questioning or offering points of debate, Luther sparked a complete paradigm shift.”

“Martin Luther’s simple act of academic defiance didn’t just transform western Christianity,” Added David Cox, a professor of history and a former Episcopalian rector. “It influenced the art, architecture, music, literature, philosophy, politics, geographic borders, immigration patterns, economics, even the way nations individuals think of themselves.”

Of particular interest to other faith leaders was a special session on “LDS Perspectives on the Reformation” held at the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse adjacent to the Southern Virginia Campus. Dr. Lambert and Dr. Peter Eubanks, professor of French literature at James Madison University, led the discussion.

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Professor Mark Rankin of James Madison University speaks at University Convocation

“I don’t think we can really overstate our appreciation for the Reformation, because we believe that led to an environment in which the gospel could be restored in its fullness, where the doctrines could be taught again in purity,” said Eubanks.

The ensuing discussion considered how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might place their own history, doctrine, ordinances and theology within the controversies and events that undergird the Reformation years in Europe.

“Our [Latter-day Saint] traditions are relatively new,” noted Lambert. “However, the figure of Christ as an atoning figure has been teased out for thousands of years. And to deny the inspiration, guidance and light that those [throughout the history of Christianity] have had outside of our faith tradition is to deny all of us the possibility of coming closer to Christ through them.”

Southern Virginia students also had the opportunity to hear a diversity of perspectives presented by the scholars at the conference. In one panel, for example, they listened as Catholic, Muslim and Atheist scholars described how they study Reformation controversies when their own confessional viewpoints are different, and, in some cases, diametrically oppose the faith of the Reformers.

The conference lectures and discussions examined the Reformation from various academic, political, gender, musical and confessional perspectives, but jointly emphasized the important legacy of advancement and improvement that the Reformation left behind.

“The sense of hope is one that also pervades the Reformation,” Dr. Cox said. “That sense of hope, I hope, will also allow us to recognize, on the one hand, the divisions, the problems, the sins that we face in our own day, and yet, at the same time, to recognize the grace of god at work in our churches, in other people, in our nation, in our world.”