The question has sparked a lot of controversy lately.
The matter continues to provoke strong feelings on every side, especially here in Latter Day Saint capital Utah. The LDS people I know are quite offended by the idea of not being considered Christian. After all, Mormons do believe in Jesus Christ. Fer cryin’ out
loud, just look at the church’s name:
“Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” “Jesus Christ” is even in large font, bolded, and centered on church plaques! People who insist on refusing their Christian title when they obviously believe in Jesus are tendentious bigots, many say. The Chronicle echoes this attitude by calling the headline “The Persistence of Anti-Mormon Sentiment.”
I understand where this idea is coming from. Mormonism is emerging in national news more and more with two LDS candidates running in for commander-in-chief in 2012, yet even with Mormonism’s climb into public awareness, “Mormon” is still a somewhat mysterious word to the unaffiliated masses. It’s associated with things like polygamy, strange underwear, and an even stranger aversion to coffee beans. The people themselves, though, have a reputation for kindness and charity, living exemplary moral lives – a trait Utah’s low crime rate can attest to. To those with a surface-level vantage point it seems utterly exclusivist to maintain that Mormons are not Christian.
Unfortunately, most of the debate has been unruly name-calling. Anti this, cult that – bigot here, heresy there. Not only is this unbecoming, but it is entirely unproductive. It prevents us from hearing any explanation as to why there is a dispute in the first place. So, let’s put aside rhetorical ad hominem so we can take a look at the real issues.
As I said before, many are aware of Mormonism’s strict moral standards; its external behavior, if you will. When it comes to internal doctrine, however, most don’t have a clear understanding of what Mormons believe versus mainstream Christianity. That, dear friends, is what the fuss is all about. Below I have tried to whittle it down to the main differences (there are many more) with as little cumbersomeness as possible. (If you want further detail, I’d encourage you to do additional research. It’s a fascinating subject.)
|God is flesh and bone (D&C 130:22)||God is spirit (Jo. 4:24)|
|God is our literal father, accomplished with our literal mother-God (Mormon Doctrine, 1977 ed., 516)||God is our creator (Jo. 1:1-3)|
|There are multiple gods (polytheistic) (BoA 4:3)||There is only one God (monotheistic) (Is. 43:10; 44:8; 45:6)|
|God used to be a man (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)||God has always been God (Ps. 90:2; 93:2)|
|God would stop being God if we stopped supporting Him as such (Mormon Doctrine, 1977 ed. 751)||God is God whether ya like it er not (Job 36:22-23; Is. 14:26-27)|
|Jesus is a literal spirit-brother of Lucifer/Satan, created (Gospel Through the Ages, 15)||Jesus is the eternal and only begotten Son (Jo. 8:58; 3:16)|
|Man has eternally existed as “intelligence” that organizes into spirit when a God-Father and God-Mother make spirit babies (Gospel Through the Ages, pp. 126-127)||Man is created at a specific point in time, not eternal with God or pre-existing (Job 38:4)|
|After death, men can become gods and populate their own worlds, just like God did, if holy enough (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow,1)||Believers will not become gods, but will be like Him (I Jo. 3:2) and continue to worship God forever (Rev. 22:3)|
Sin, Salvation and Forgiveness
|The fall of mankind through sin in Eden was a good thing, providing a way to populate the earth (Articles of Faith, p. 476)||The fall was a very crappy thing, and is why we have sin, death, disease, and separation from God. (Ge. 3:16-24; Ro. 3:23; 5:12-15)|
|Salvation is first a universal resurrection for everyone (Mormon Doctrine, 1977 ed., 63)||Salvation is the forgiveness of sin and rescuing from eternal punishment (Rom. 6:23)|
|Salvation is secondly a provision for forgiveness of sin, but forgiveness only applies after we are righteous by obedience (Articles of Faith, 79)||Forgiveness cannot be earned by being righteous, but is a free gift from God through Christ’s suffering (Rom. 4:5)|
|There is sin that Christ’s blood cannot atone for (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, 92)||There is nothing, absolutely nothing, one can do for which Christ’s blood is not enough (I Jo. 1:7-9)|
The list could go on and on…and on, but I will stop at these core teachings. As you can see, the terminology is similar but when definitions of “God” and “Jesus Christ” are elaborated, huge, fundamental issues in which the beliefs are, in some instances, direct opposite each other become apparent. (I daresay that, when it comes to the nature of God, Christianity has more in common with Islam than Mormonism.) While each may behave according to a comparable moral code and have good things to say about Christ, Mormonism’s beliefs are not consistent with traditional Christianity.
I don’t think Mormons are Christian any more than I think Christians are Mormon. Does distinguishing between these systems of thought automatically make me opposed to, against, or a hater of Mormons as the Chronicle would suggest? No. In fact, everyone in my family with a religious affiliation is Mormon. I love them dearly, even while I have reasons to disagree with them. The disagreement is not nit-picking, bigotry, or trying to exclude anyone from some Christian club, rather an endeavor to make a clear-thinking distinction.
So, armed with the information on the table above, here are some important questions to ask:
First, What would a traditional Christian church have to change in order to be considered Mormon? Why would it have to change those things?
Second, If the LDS church denied a Christian church that called itself Mormon without making those changes, would it be fair to label the LDS church anti-Christian? Or would the exclusion be acceptable as a nominal distinction based upon fundamental qualitative differences?
Third that I’d ask to my Mormon friends specifically, why does the LDS church, which claims to be a restoration of the one true church after a universal apostasy of which all Christian churches are a part, now desire closer identification with apostate Christianity?
I only have speculations, but I won’t go into them here.
What do you think?