Why Mormons Aren’t Christians

June 11, 2004 | 36 comments
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What a fascinating series of comment on my “Are Mormons Christians?” provocation. I have several things to say in response.

First I want to explain my admittedly (and deliberately) extreme formulation from yesterday, i.e., “not even close.” Though I think my boss could have done a much better job in making the case, I think he was right: Mormons simply believe too many things that are too radically discontinuous with the orthodox Christian tradition to be considered Christian. Compared to these differences, those separating Catholics and Baptists and Lutherans and Eastern Orthodoxy are quite tiny. As someone noted in the comments (sorry, I forgot the name), all of the above accept the validity of the Nicene Creed (except for the Orthodox, who object only over a single formulation about the Trinity). That’s a tremendous amount of overlap. Now, let’s remind ourselves of a few of the Mormons differences.

Mormons say Jesus came to earth a second time and preached the gospel to a group of people that no other Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) thinks even existed. This in itself is HUGE — and I’m afraid, Russell, that unless and until non-Mormon Christians become Mormons (meaning that they come to believe these things on the basis of the “burning in the bosom,” if that’s what it’s called), or some series of archeological discoveries are made to verify at least some key factual assertions of the BoM, then there will be no possible unification like the one you describe. Then there’s the BoM itself and the way it appeared, was translated, and then disappeared, which non-Mormons consider to be a hoax, through and through. Then there’s its distinct doctrine of atonement. Then there are the post-BoM revelations of JS, which frankly send Mormonism off in directions utterly removed from the Christian tradition — as foreign as, and in some ways much more foreign than, Islam’s views: the corporeality of God, the suggestion that God Himself was once a mortal human being and evolved into his divinity, the pre-existence of souls, rejection of creation ex nihilo, the centrality of America in the second coming, several levels of heaven — need I go on? Any one of these differences would make Mormonism a profoundly heretical Christian sect. Put them all together and it becomes, I think, something very much else entirely: a new religion that grows out of many of the same source materials, but takes them in profoundly different directions.

Now, I know that from a Mormon standpoint this all sounds kind of crazy, since you think that YOU and these beliefs represent the TRUE Christianity — more: the restoration of the true Christianity — and that the so-called Christianity that rejects all of them represents the apostasy. But this gulf or chasm in outlook is what led me to state the issue so starkly in yesterday’s post. And attempts to bridge this gap or deny it by suggesting that Mormons should be considered Christians because they believe in Jesus are, I’m afraid, unconvincing: what matters is what Mormons as opposed to non-Mormon Christians mean by “Jesus” and His Church — and as I hope the list above makes clear, the two groups mean very, very, very different things.

At the same time, though, I take Jim F’s point (to the extent that I understand it) about the difference between theological and political senses of the term “Christian.” I mean theologically Christian. I admit that politically speaking Mormons and non-Mormon Christians agree about quite a lot — including, for example, the moral grandeur of the Sermon on the Mount. That’s no small thing. But in the end, the theological differences are more fundamental. After all, lots of atheist humanists admire the teaching of the Sermon, too, while utterly rejecting the context of how and by Whom it was delivered.

Now, as usual, I’d like to leave you today by changing the subject just a bit. I’d like to explain why I — a Catholic — have so much more sympathy for Mormons and openness to the possible truth of its beliefs than (by far) most non-Mormons. Let me begin by saying that I hope you all understand how profoundly ridiculous most non-Mormons consider you to be. Occasionally I’ll say something like to this a Mormon friend and the response will be, “really? I had no idea.” Well, it’s true. It is extremely rare that a mention of Mormonism among non-Mormons — even intellectuals and even religious intellectuals — does not elicit a mocking joke about lots of wives and lots of gods and so on. In other words, it’s very rare to find someone who is willing to treat your faith with respect.

So, given that I’m no saint (latter-day or otherwise) and am guilty of harboring all kinds of ignoble prejudices, why am I different? Well, of course, some of it has to do with having lived and worked among Mormons for two years — and loving nearly every minute of it. But there’s something deeper at issue. Having been raised as a non-religious Jew, ALL religious belief seems incredible to me at some level. So Mormons think that God has a body and that He revealed himself in the 1820s to a rural farmer. That sounds weird. But certainly no less weird than the basic Christian belief that God became incarnate in a carpenter in Judea 20 centuries ago and then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven — let alone the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Trinity and lots of other things. In other words, having come from outside of all of these traditions, the playing field was already leveled for me. Of course lots of secularists feel this way and then conclude that all religion is equally absurd. But I was clearly more open to its truth for reasons I can’t quite explain.

And just as clearly, most “cradle” Christians are not open this way. For them, the doctrines of the orthodox tradition make intuitive sense in a way that Mormon views do not. But that’s always struck me as a very weak position, relying as it inevitably does either on the view that “what’s mine is true and what’s theirs is false” or the view that “what’s old is truer than what’s new.” Both are, of course, pretty pathetic. After all, if the first is valid, conversions would be impossible — and Christianity would never have arisen in the first place. As for the second, I can never get it out of my mind that in the year 150 AD, Christianity had been around for a shorter period of time than Mormonism has by today. Does that mean that the anti-Mormons of today would have rejected Christianity in 150? For their sakes, I hope not.

Anyway, that’s how it looks to me. I don’t do much with the Internet over the weekend so I can be fully available to my family, so I’ll be out of touch until Monday, for week 2 of guest blogging. Until then . . .

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36 Responses to Why Mormons Aren’t Christians

  1. Ralph Hancock on June 11, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    Of course the question of the Christianity of Mormonism is a political-rhetorical question. It comes down to this: does it better serve our purposes to emphasize what we have in common or what makes us different from “other Christians.” Damon does us an important service by reminding us how different we must appear; grasping this has to be the beginning wisdom concerning any rhetorical choices we are faced with. I am all for flexibility — that is, opportunism — in responding to various audiences and situations. But in the long run, it seems to me, our persuasive strategy must be framed by this conviction: that what is best in “traditional” (“sectarian” –JS) Christianity can only fully come to know itself, can only emerge in full glory, against the background of the big story told in the Restored Gospel. To pick up a thread in my recent post on the question of postmodernism: If Aquinas used Aristotle to liberate Christianity from the anti-materialism of Plato (Chesterton: _The Dumb Ox_), then we can offer modern scripture as the completion of this releasing of the life-affirming, the fructifying essence of Christianity. If St. Thomas “always connects purity with fruitfulness,” then we can show “eternal lives” as a more adequate expression of this vision. (Not that this will be easy, but we may hope and pray that conditions will lead increasing numbers of true seekers within Christendom (like Damon)to discover an openness to our radical possibilities.
    Meanwhile, let’s not underestimate the power of the simple affirmation that God and Christ are really real, and that they have shown their love for us in our day.
    And, by the way, Damon, in what way would you say we differ radically with Christendom on the nature of the atonement?

  2. Russell Arben Fox on June 11, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    “Mormons say Jesus came to earth a second time and preached the gospel to a group of people that no other Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) thinks even existed. This in itself is HUGE — and I’m afraid, Russell, that unless and until non-Mormon Christians become Mormons (meaning that they come to believe these things on the basis of the “burning in the bosom,” if that’s what it’s called), or some series of archeological discoveries are made to verify at least some key factual assertions of the BoM, then there will be no possible unification like the one you describe.”

    Damon, I think you put here about as well as any non-Mormon ever has exactly what I was describing yesterday when I wrote about “dispensationalism.” I honestly believe that practically every odd Mormon doctrine, eschatological principle, or priesthood claim can in fact be accommodated “theologically” within the Christian tradition. But the Book of Mormon–specifically, the revelatory yet artifactual fact of the Book of Mormon, including its coming forth and its workings upon those who accept it as scripture–suggests an absolute divide. Which is why it is easy to think that just as Judaism (historically) begat Christianity, and until the coming (again) of the Messiah there can be no reunion of these traditions, so Christianity (historically) begat Mormonism, and similarly there can be no reunion between them, theologically at least.

    But of course, I’m a romantic, who thinks all of those (or at least some of those) formal structures of the world you’ve been arguing with Jim about actually do provide, in an affective way, ethical resources for the interpretation of said world (or that, if Heidegger thought they didn’t, then Heidegger was wrong). Translated to into terms appropriate to this thread, I think the structures of Christianity’s politico-theological position, structures which are at least partially shared with Mormonism despite the fact that they consitute a “problem” with and for Mormonism, do not necessarily imply the content that you assume they do. There are always interpretive possibilities. Put yourself in the shoes of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation, trying to figure out how to respond to the transformations of the 15th and 16th centuries. Could there actually be other churches? What a heretical, radical thought! And yet, in time, it was understood that the unity of the body of Christ is not or at least need not be what everyone had at previously assumed it was: as Neuhaus himself acknowledged in his essay, “Christians disagree about precisely where [the] Church is…located historically and at present.” What a spectacular break from what had come before!

    Of course, the fact that Christianity accommodated–or was accommodated to; it’s not easy to say who “absorbed” who here–the Reformation is not necessarily evidence that a similar process with take place with Mormonism; Joseph Smith was, after all, weirder (theologically speaking) than Luther or Wesley–though I would argue to Kingsley that I personally see the line between “reformer” and “prophet” as fuzzy at best. Maybe Mormonism and the historical tradition of theological Christianity are fated to duke it out, until the end of days (admittedly, much Mormon prophesying and theorizing about the Second Coming has always assumed such). But I’m not sure I believe that. I’m not sure I don’t actually believe that Mormonism–and specifically the Book of Mormon–will, eventually, be accommodated to and thereby “dispensationalize” (is that a word?) the whole Christian project. You might say that all that would mean is everyone becoming Mormon, which isn’t a unification at all. Perhaps. But that assumes that the fact of the Book of Mormon, and the present-day, Utah-based, fairly Americanized and modernized Mormon church, are identical. Given our own rather fractured history in this regard (look up the stories of David Whitmer or William McLellin sometime), I’m not sure that’s good assumption to make.

  3. Nate Oman on June 11, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    Russell: It is a nice vision. I suspect, however, that is rather more likely that we will be regarded as either ridiculous or satanic.

  4. Jeremy on June 11, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    I don’t see why Jim’s point about theological vs. political definitions is so difficult for non-Mormons to grasp. If you took all the requirements for being Christian that Damon gives above, but called the group meeting those requirements by something more directly related and or limited specifically to those requirements (Creedists? Trinitarianists? Star-bellied Sneetches?), we as Mormons would have absolutely no interest in using the term for ourselves.

    Perhaps caricaturizing the delimma from the Mormon point of view would help. Let’s say, instead of calling themselves Christians, at the Nicene Council they’d decided that everyone who believed in theoligical specifics of the Creed would theretofore be called the “Not Evil People.” Well, now that wouldn’t be fair, would it? Taking a selective set of requirements which, in and of themselves, don’t circumscribe the whole of Not Being Evil, but using those requirements to decide who gets to be called Not Evil (and who, by implication, counts among the Evil)?

    That’s exactly the bait-and-switch that Mormons see at work in this debate. By calling Mormons un-Christian because they don’t follow the Creed (even if they believe in the New Testament, the Apostles, the Atonement, the Resurrection, etc.), this carries the implication–either ignorant or dishonest–that Mormons don’t believe in Christ’s exclusive power to save.

  5. Gary Cooper on June 11, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Damon,

    As a convert to the LDS church, and a one who has maintained contact, both in politics and in my profession, with devout Christians of just about every stripe, I must say that I have always found myself bemused (certainly not amused) by the constant argument over whether Mormons are Christians. Now, my observation is that the vast majority of non-Mormon Christian laymen are not participating in this debate. It isn’t that they don’t have an opinion on the matter–it’s just that Mormons are gradually coming to be accepted by most devout Christians not as monsters in disguise, but rather as decent people who make great neighbors, citizens, and friends, and who are worth associating with, despite the real doctrinal differences you point out. So, the actual debate is really taking place at the academic and clerical level, which makes me wonder if it is perceived as relevant to the average Christian, Mormon or non-Mormon.

    I think the ramifications of the debate, though, or rather its felt effect, is to limit, in the minds of many non-Mormon Christians who are active to any degree at the political and societal level, how much these good people think they should accept Mormons as partners in any joint activity to meliorate human society. Too many non-Mormon Christians simply are unwilling or frightened of the idea of joining hands with Mormons to defeat common societal evils. This is despite the fact that the average Mormon and the average conservative Christian (evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, etc.) agree on many, if not most social issues (regulation of abortion, oppostition to homosexual marriage, concern for prayer in schools, fear of growing indecency, etc.) While there has been markedly more cooperation in the last 25 years or so than ever before, nevertheless I still see good, politically active non-Mormon Christians who recoil at many levels at the idea, for example, of voting for a Mormon for public office (even though that Mormon might be in 100% agreement with the non-Mormon’s views), or of accepting a Mormon in a leadership position in a local activity or group.

    My point here is this: perhaps in a perfect world, where there is no Satan, and no great evil, it might make some utilitarian sense to have these kinds of debates. However, theres IS a Satan (who is accepted as a real personage by Mormons and by most, if not all doctrinally conservative non-Mormon Christians), and there IS great, and growing evil in the world, which threatens believers in Christ of all stripes. So, as we sit here arguing over whether Mormons are Christians, I ask: Cui bono? What is the benefit, in a practical Christian sense, of this debate? If non-Mormon Christians come away from this debate believing Mormons are “not” Christian, what is the practical benefit?

    Just in case the non-Mormon Christian community might be missing what’s been going on, let’s tick off a little of what has been happening outside the doors of this little decades-old discussion:

    1. Millions of unborn children have been put to death through abortion, sacrificed to the “gods” of Convenience and Selfishness, the Baal and Ashtoreth of our day;

    2. God is increasingly banned from public life: symbols of His worship, manifestations of His worship, and acknowledgements of His existence and authority are disappearing, but secualar decree and practice;

    3. Direct assaults on both God and the dignity of God’s creation, Man, are increasingly enshrined. Good is held as evil, and evil as good; light is replaced with darkness;

    4. Filth, in speech, dress, and habits, is becoming the norm, and common civility is being replaced by hate, envy, and hubris;

    5. Christians, of all stripes, are targeted for violence, oppression, and death, by atheistic totalitarianism (China, Cuba, etc.) or by a rival authoritarian form of worship, really an apostate form of Judaism/Christianity, in the form of radical Islam. Baptist pastors and Cathloic priests are beaten to death in China, Coptic and Ethiopic Christians are crucified or sold into slavery in Sudan, etc. Even in North America, the leviathan of ever expanding government threatens religious freedoms.

    All this is going on, while our good non-Mormon Christian brethren debate over whether Mormons are Christians. I have actually known devout non-Mormon Christians deliberately vote for a pro-abortion, pro-”Gay Rights”, etc. candidate for office, even though they disagreed with him on every issue, because the other candidate, with whom they agreed on every issue, was a Mormon, and when pressed on the logic of such a decision, replied, “Well this other guy’s bad, but he might turn to Jesus some day. But I don’t care what you Mormons do in politics, I’m not voting for any of you, because you’re worse than an unbeliever—you worship another Christ!” (Sort of reminds you of Charlemagne’s allying himself in war with pagan, human-sacrificing Germanic warlords, just so he could defeat Arian Christian opponents, doesn’t it?)

    So, in summation, I ask: Am I the only one noticing that Mormons NEVER discuss whether or not Baptists are Christians, or Catholics, or Episcopalians? We don’t write books on the subject, or hold seminars on it, but our non-Mormon friends do, all the time. Who benefits from this kind of debate? Mormons? Non-Mormons? God? As far as I can see, the only person profitably exploiting this exercise is our Common Enemy—a being who does not seem to make denominational distinctions about whom he makes war against.

  6. Gary Lee on June 11, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    Maybe a better title for this topic would be: “Why Christianity means . . .[fill in the blank as you think appropriate].

  7. Nate Oman on June 11, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    I have spent a fair amount of time struggling to understand what the Mormon theory of the atonment is, or if it even makes sense to talk about a Mormon theory of the atonement, ie perhaps all we have a is a pre-theoretical set of essentially contradictory texts. I am thus curious as to what Damon sees as Mormonism’s distinctively un-Christian theory of atonement.

  8. Rob on June 11, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Damon–”I hope you all understand how profoundly ridiculous most non-Mormons consider you to be.”

    The classic case was the second hour of Last Comic Standing this week where one of the contestants used his three minute monologue to poke fun at Mormon polygamy.

    I didn’t get to watch the whole show, so don’t know if this guy made it to “The House” in Vegas for the final competition, but the jokes were kind of lame and came off as rather ill-informed and biggotted…like most of the ridicule that Damon is referring to.

    I have no problem saying that Mormonism challenges the definition of Christianity. Just as polygamy challenged the definition of marriage. Rather than pave over these differences, I’m fine with exploiting them.

    Of course, we would like this to occur in the context of intelligent dialogue–while others might see it more as the topic for standup comedy. I think Mormon fear of the standup routines (19th Century political cartoons) and biggotry (Missouri and 1850s Mormon War) may make us cede too much.

    For those who don’t know us, Mormons are a kooky polygamous cult. For those who do know us, we may be lots of other things, including right-wing hacks, quintessential Dilbert types, South Park deluded-but-nice, etc. Whatever.

    Lets talk about the real reason that we are even having this debate…ideological competition for adherents. It may soften the door approach if Mormons are Christians, but at some point (used to be the fourth principle of the first discussion) the distinction has to be made.

    To paraphrase a recent aphorism…Mormonism broke the paradigm, so now we should own it. A few jokes and widespread misunderstanding is the current price for our “all other churches are apostate” beliefs.

  9. Kingsley on June 11, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    “Let me begin by saying that I hope you all understand how profoundly ridiculous most non-Mormons consider you to be.”

    Not sure I want this to change. Being thought of as foolish seems to be part & parcel of belonging to the true Church. The path from the NT to the Creeds is the path of the true Church, ashamed by the mockery of the world, caving to the intellectuals.

  10. Adam Greenwood on June 11, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    Amen, Gary Cooper.

    I know my experience of having a person I liked heatedly accuse me of lying because I’d just said something about the Savior and of course I couldn’t *really* have meant it, I sounded almost Christian, doesn’t loom large in the consciousness of anyone but myself. But would the heavens shatter if good, orthodox Christians admitted that there is much more in common between our view of the Sermon on the Mount and that of a warm-hearted atheist? They think it’s nice. We Christians think its beautiful, and terrifying, because it contains the most rigorous demands and is pronounced by the divine Son of God. We’ll be judged by it someday. Do people really expect that a Muslim would weep at the wounds in the hands and the feet, beg mercy from Christ for his sins, walk in his imagination along Galilee, etc.? I do these things, and so do fellow saints i know, and we do them from well within the mainstream of the Church. Yet it is said that Mormonism is another Islam.

    I can understand the need to make distinctions between Mormons and other Christians. But, by Professor Linker’s own admissions, those distinctions are already clear as day. No one is shocked to find that Mormons have heterodox ideas. So what’s the need to obscure the many points of similarity by claiming Mormons aren’t Christians?

    Ask yourself why Jews aren’t offended and Muslims aren’t offended when called non-Christians. Contrast that with us.

    Pardon the aggrieved tone. I often find myself reaching out to social conservatives in aid of the common cause, only to be treated with suspicion, like this was 1864 and better the Confederacy lose than a negro join the ranks, or 1920 and I a Social Democrat whose tainted beliefs–unclean! unclean!–far outweighed any help I could give against the enemy, who are after all just Bolsheviks.

  11. Kevin Barney on June 11, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    I too am puzzled by the assertion that the Mormon view of the atonement is appreciably different than that of other Christians.

    It is true that we put a greater emphasis on the events of Gethsemane, and a correspondlingly lesser emphasis on the cross, than others do. But these are simply emphases.

    It is true that we believe in degrees of heavenly glory.

    It is probably true that Mormon thought is more syncretistic in its understanding of how the atonement works than most conservative Protestants.

    But as for the mechanics of the atonement itself, it seems to me that we have pretty much the same mishmash of substitutionary, sacrificial, ransom, satisfaction (a la Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?), moral, Christus Victor set of ideas on the subject as pretty much every other Christian.

  12. Geoff B on June 11, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    Damon,

    I have to agree with Gary Cooper’s comments and also add an important point that everybody seems to conveniently forget about the “Are Mormons Christian” debate: a very large percent of Christians believe that all you have to do is accept Jesus in your heart, proclaim him as your personal savior and you are a Christian.

    Have you ever read the “Left Behind” series? This is probably the most popular Christian series ever, and its theology is representative of the largest strain of Protestant thought. In the “Left Behind” series, all that somebody has to do to be “born again” is to think seriously about the issue and sincerely and devoutly accept Christ as the savior. I have had a much more profound conversion process than that, but just in case there is a doubt, I solemnly declare that, as a Mormon, I sincerely and devoutly accept Jesus Christ as my savior. I accept the same Jesus Christ that you do, the one of the New Testament.

    How is my process any less real than the one that millions of Protestants go through a year? And nobody doubts they are “Christians.” How could you or anybody dare to doubt my sincerity? By what criteria do you justify it?

    I know all about the wide differences in theology. But a question for you: did Christ when he was alive ask for his believers to accept the Nicene definition of the Trinity, or did He simply ask them to believe in Him and follow Him? The obvious answer is the latter, and most Mormons are doing their best to follow Him today.

  13. Geoff B on June 11, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    Damon,

    I have to agree with Gary Cooper’s comments and also add an important point that everybody seems to conveniently forget about the “Are Mormons Christian” debate: a very large percent of Christians believe that all you have to do is accept Jesus in your heart, proclaim him as your personal savior and you are a Christian.

    Have you ever read the “Left Behind” series? This is probably the most popular Christian series ever, and its theology is representative of the largest strain of Protestant thought. In the “Left Behind” series, all that somebody has to do to be “born again” is to think seriously about the issue and sincerely and devoutly accept Christ as the savior. I have had a much more profound conversion process than that, but just in case there is a doubt, I solemnly declare that, as a Mormon, I sincerely and devoutly accept Jesus Christ as my savior. I accept the same Jesus Christ that you do, the one of the New Testament.

    How is my process any less real than the one that millions of Protestants go through a year? And nobody doubts they are “Christians.” How could you or anybody dare to doubt my sincerity? By what criteria do you justify it?

    I know all about the wide differences in theology. But a question for you: did Christ when he was alive ask for his believers to accept the Nicene definition of the Trinity, or did He simply ask them to believe in Him and follow Him? The obvious answer is the latter, and most Mormons are doing their best to follow Him today.

  14. Kingsley on June 11, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    “How is my process any less real than the one that millions of Protestants go through a year? And nobody doubts they are “Christians.” How could you or anybody dare to doubt my sincerity? By what criteria do you justify it?”

    Easy: Your process involves faith in a “different” Jesus. If you, e.g., believe that Thomas Jefferson slept with Sally Hemmings, & I don’t, the fact is: we are thinking of two totally different men. & so: A Jesus who keeps his body, a Jesus who visits the Americas, is a totally different Jesus from NT Jesus, & therefore has no capacity to save. C.S. Lewis famously said that no man was ever damned for believing God had a beard, but according to Prof. Linker he was way, way off.

  15. Geoff B on June 11, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Damon,

    1)I would agree with Gary Cooper that Mormons have more in common with most non-Mormon Christians than they would like to admit, and the group that benefits the most from endless debates about whether Mormons are Christians is the Church of the Devil (ie secular humanism). We should be concentrating on the common enemy rather than on each other.

    2)As a Catholic, it is illogical for you to claim that Mormons are not Christians but most Protestants are. Why? Most Protestants (read “Left Behind” as an example) believe that you must simply sincerely and profoundly accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior and you become converted and are a Christian. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that you must be baptized into the Catholic Church. It would be a logical position for you to state that non-Catholics are not true followers of the true church and therefore are not true Christians. Yet your comments are focused on Mormons alone.

    3)Using the acceptance of the Nicene Creed as your criteria for being defined as a Christian simply doesn’t work. Christ does not ask his followers to accept a specific theory of the Trinity before asking them to follow Him. He simply asked them to believe in Him. Mormons openly and sincerely say they are following the Christ of the New Testament. Based on what we know about the process of becoming a Christian in the 1st Century AD, by what criteria could you possibly exclude Mormons (or any other person who calls himself a Christian and says they want to follow Jesus Christ) from being called a Christian?

    4)It strikes me that many “Christians” these days certainly engage in exclusionary behavior, which is the exact opposite of how Jesus himself would want us to act. The most precise definition of Mormon doctrine is to say that we have the fulness of the gospel. This means that we are the only church that has the complete creed that God wants to reveal at this time. Mormons usually celebrate churches that have part of the creed correct — for example, churches that emphasize the importance of Christ’s atonement. In my experience, we tend to want to help these churches understand the rest of the story that they have missed. What is more Christ-like, a position that denigrates Mormons as being “non-Christian” or a position that celebrates other churches and tries to guide them closer to what we consider to be the truth?

  16. Geoff B on June 11, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    Sorry for the multiple posts.

    Kingsley, the Jesus you believe in certainly seems pretty exclusionary. That seems to directly contradict most of the things he said while alive. Some food for thought.

  17. Scott on June 11, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    Damon,

    If Mormons aren’t Christians®, are we pagans?

    I can understand calling Mormons heretical Christians, nontraditional Christians, schismatic Christians, apostate Christians, etc. All of those terms would identify a perceived deviation between Mormon belief and the “essence” of Christianity®. But to call Mormons non-Christians® (aka pagans) is to attribute a radical and factually untenable alterity to Mormon belief. Is that what you propose?

    In any event, so long as the dictionary defines the word “Christian” as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ,” (a) Mormons can accurately describe themselves as Christians and (b) those who wish to emphasize Mormonism’s distinctive features (to whatever end), bear the burden of qualifying and justifying their idiosyncratic use of the word “Christian.”

    BTW, thanks for your excellent contributions here.

    Scott

  18. Kingsley on June 11, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    Geoff B: I was playing Devil’s (dimwitted) advocate. I heartily concur with points 1-4 of your second to last post.

  19. Ben Huff on June 11, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Okay, Damon, now I see why you said from a Mormon point of view, Catholics, Protestants, etc. are not even close to being Christians. It’s because you were applying essentially the Catholic standard (at least, as it gets articulated in assessing the Mormons, e.g. on whether to accept Mormon baptisms), only in reverse — since being a Christian is to be understood primarily in terms of adherence to a fairly specific set of theological views, and what Catholics, Protestants, etc. believe on these points is so different from what Mormons believe, since Mormons think they’re right they should consider no one else to be even close to Christian.

    But of course, Mormons don’t have a parallel notion of what it is to be a Christian; our notion is more like the evangelical view than the Catholic view. Of course, the evangelicals, too, tend to articulate their standard of “Christian” very differently when they go to talk about Mormons, than the way they normally articulate it.

    I’m struck by the similarity between your argument that Mormons aren’t Christians, and the official Catholic argument that Mormon baptisms are not to be regarded as valid. When I read that document, I was puzzled because it seemed to me there were much more direct reasons one could give, according to a Mormon view of what makes baptism efficacious, for why Catholics shouldn’t accept Mormon baptisms. But those weren’t the reasons Catholics give (rather, it was this sort of thing about what we believe about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being just too different). Since Mormons have a strong notion of the place of priesthood authority in saving ordinances (a.k.a. sacraments), we can consider traditional Christians to be Christians, without accepting their baptisms. And we wouldn’t expect Catholics to accept our baptisms, not for a moment, but we do expect them to acknowledge we are Christians. It’s (theologically) easy for us to approach them the way we would like them to approach us, but not vice versa. Interesting.

  20. Austin Frost on June 11, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    I had an interesting experience in the first area of my mission. A little charismatic Christian church was located near the small downtown area of Woodland, Wa. As we walked by one day, we noticed a yard sale on the church’s lawn. Always a sucker for a good deal, I briefly looked around. I saw a tie I wanted and asked a lady how much it was.

    “Are you Mormons?” she asked.
    “Yes.”
    “It’s not for sale, Mormons are a cult!” (I had only been out for a few months, but I was pretty used to the “C” word by then.)
    She continued, “So are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic’s, Seventh-Day Adventists (their next-door neighbors, I might add), and Nazarenes.” I don’t know what her beef with the Nazarenes was, but apparently, she didn’t like them. Not having heard such a comprehensive list of “non-Christian,” yet Bible believing sects, I decided from that point on, “If that is being Christian, I don’t want to be one.”

    Of course, this is not to say that I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer; nor am I claiming that other denominations are not full of Christians, because they are. Instead, I’ve decided to learn to be a good Christian (a work in progress), instead of trying to define who is and who is not one.

    In the same town, I asked a man we were meeting with why he didn’t think we were Christian. He said, “You’re Christian like I am Jewish” (a similar point was made earlier).

    Thus, I’ll have to concede with Gary Cooper. Though discussions like this are fun, they are usually fruitless.

    (I am really intimidated by this blog site. I don’t post because I don’t feel like I can add much to the dialogue due to my lack of experience and education, but I thought I’d pipe in on this one. Thanks for the time.)

  21. Ethesis on June 12, 2004 at 12:03 am

    In response to my comment on the other thread, I got back:

    [quoting]
    Ethesis, Blomberg did not respond to my query.
    [end quoting

    Well, there are profound issues. Such as whether or not your father gets rounded up by the secret police in a country under the peace of God (Islaam). I.e. as when my father had to face the secret police in Saudia based on some Baptist Monist claiming that LDS were not Christian, and thus not people of the book and thus should be executed or deported.

    What is one persons rather ignorant twisting of meaning is another’s basis for attempting to have the lives of scores ruined.

    I still remember a Jewish friend who was told “but of course Christmas tree ornaments are ok, after all, the Marsh’s use them, and they are Mormon” to which she responded “But they are Christian …”

    The Book of Mormon does not seem, to me, to create any more divide than The Pearl, the Shepherd of Hermes, The Gospel of John, or the numerous books of Enoch (of which the Book of Moses from the Pearl of Great Price is an excellent type).

    As for:

    “If you, e.g., believe that Thomas Jefferson slept with Sally Hemmings, & I don’t, the fact is: we are thinking of two totally different men” you are confusing denotation with connotation.

    If I believe the one way and you believe the other, perhaps DNA testing will bear one of us out as correct, but we both believe in the same person that Thomas Jefferson denotes, we just believe different connotations about him.

    Or if someone is married to someone they think is faithful and it turns out he is not, is he actually a different person and so does not have to pay child support?

    I’m intrigued at the practical implications of your argument and whether or not I can present them without getting sanctioned by a judge …

  22. Ethesis on June 12, 2004 at 2:45 am

    BTW, I think Christ is pretty clear in his description of who is a Christian, and to whom he will say “depart from me, I never knew you.”

  23. Ethesis on June 12, 2004 at 2:51 am

    Final quote:

    “Perhaps philosophers will simply proclaim that they were not interested in the ordinary concept in the first place, but rather a technical philosophical concept. If so, they seemingly run the risk of having little more than “a philosophical fiction as their subject matter”–to borrow a phrase from Mele.”

    Nicely said, with direct application, as an analogy more than analysis.

    Borrowed from:

    http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/

  24. Josiah on June 12, 2004 at 4:16 am

    Actually, I don’t think adherence to the creeds will do as a standard of who counts as a Christian, at least if we want to count Protestants as Christians. The creed requires belief in an apostolic Church, and aside from Anglicanism, no Protestant church claims apostolic succession.

  25. lyle on June 12, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    Hm…perhaps we need to have a thread discussing whether or not _Christians_ are “Christians.”

    I’ll be the first to defend that they are.

  26. lyle on June 12, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    Hm…perhaps we need to have a thread discussing whether or not _Christians_ are “Christians.”

    I’ll be the first to defend that they are.

  27. Ethesis on June 12, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    I guess I’m a little touchy on the subject, but I’ve had job offers withdrawn (twice), been refused meals and had a number of rather hateful things said to me (the most memorable of which involved someone who hated those non-Christian mormons, let me know it and that they would have gone anywhere else, but they were desperate, I was the only person with the skill to help them and the decency to do it for free because they couldn’t afford what it would cost … and yes, I solved their problem for them, but it was just a nasty, hateful way for them to ask for help).

    Worst of all was being newly married, with my parents working in Saudia and getting the news that the secret police were coming for my father.

    And all of this is usually triggered by people who are just trying to make a buck out of a little apostleship of hatred. I got an earful on that subject once when Faith Baptist in Wichita Falls was running an anti-Mormon crusade. Their pastor jogged with the local FBI agent, who was LDS and who took it personally. The pastor told him to get over it, the crusade was just about generating money out of the faithful and had nothing to do with Mormons.

    But two wards were broken up, lots of people had their careers ruined as they were deported suddenly, and without warning (or little things, like time to pack or secure their possessions), and a lot of people hurt because some person obviously possessed by an alternative spirit decided to start a crusade in Saudi Arabia against some mormon co-workers.

    The secret police eventually came to the conclusion that the LDS were Christian (a little late for all the people sent home) and offerred to kill some people to make up for the mistake, but the lives were still messed up that were harmed.

    By arguments so specious that I can’t imagine escaping sanctions if I were to attempt them in a court of law.

    Try telling a judge that if your wife has an affair she isn’t the same person you signed the joint checking account with and isn’t entitled to any of the community property. I’ve got to see someone try that with a straight face.

    Oops, he increased the deficit, you know, that isn’t the George Bush that I voted for, so he can’t be the commander in chief. I’m free to ignore him, right?

    Ok, I’m too irritated to post, I can feel it leaking out, so I’ll sign off.

    But the point is valid, people die in earnest, no matter what is done in jest or for self satisfaction or profit.

  28. Adam Greenwood on June 13, 2004 at 12:18 am

    When Damon Linker returns from his family week-end and reads through these posts, he’ll discover two things:

    1) Mormons are incontrovertibly Christian :)
    2) and we get a little upset when people argue otherwise.

    I hope he also realizes
    3) that we appreciate his presence on the board and realize that he is making his arguments in good faith and charity.

  29. Daniel Peterson on June 13, 2004 at 1:06 am

    I find the proposition that Mormons aren’t Christian unutterably absurd, and I’m saddened and disappointed (and some other, stronger things) to see it being seriously advanced here.

    Perhaps I’ll comment more when I have the time, but I just want to say that I once published a book (entitled “Offenders for a Word”) on the arguments that are used to define Mormons out of Christendom. Not a single one of them, in my opinion, has any merit at all. And I don’t believe the argument that commenced this thread represents an exception to the rule.

    For the record: Yes, I do indeed find the claim that I am not a Christian offensive and arrogant.

  30. Ethesis on June 13, 2004 at 2:07 am

    Daniel, I own the book and really enjoyed it.

    Glad to see you around.

    Steve Marsh
    http://adrr.com/living/e01.htm
    and
    http://adrr.com/living/

  31. Ben Huff on June 13, 2004 at 3:27 am

    Okay, so Damon, do you seriously think that being a Christian is a matter of holding these rather specific theological views?

    How much of this theology that you consider indispensible did Peter believe, say, when he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water? How about those of Cornelius’ household in Acts 10? Just for starters.

    Dan, I agree with you that the idea that Mormons aren’t Christian is absurd, and that its absurdity seems obvious enough that it’s very hard to see it as a sincere mistake. BUT! What Damon says about why we aren’t Christians reminds me enough of the official Catholic statement on why they won’t accept Mormon baptisms that I wonder if Damon is more or less committed, merely in virtue of being a committed Catholic, to hold the opinion that Mormons are not Christians. Essentially that official statement says we worship a different Jesus and a different God (among other things). The statement is problematic in many ways, including simple errors of fact about what Mormons believe. Frankly, it seems to be about as absurd as the idea that Mormons aren’t Christians, for similar reasons. But it is an official enough statement that I can see how a faithful Catholic might have reservations about disagreeing with it.

    Plus, I half think Damon is taking this position just to see how we will respond! It’s hard to believe he really thinks what he said.

  32. Keith on June 13, 2004 at 8:21 am

    I’m going to try to take a shot at describing why this issue is frustratingly impossible to solve, yet why it’s still a worthwhile discussion to have.

    The question of whether Mormons are Christians can be seen, as has been pointed out, as a political question, a theological question, a definition question, and so on. The question strikes me, however, as one of those questions that simply cannot be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. It is to the core a religious question which requires a religious judgment. To ask it is to ask what one believes, where one stands. And it seems to me that one cannot settle that kind of question with integrity through philosophy or linguistics or other academic/scholarly ways. The nature of this kind of religious question will probably always leave a gap between all the attempted explanations, definitions, and arguments, on the one hand, and the matter of appropriation and religious judgment, on the other. One spans that gap by a leap of faith – a leap that makes one Catholic, or Lutheran, or Muslim, or Mormon, or atheist, etc.

    For all that there may be a good-willed attempt to answer this question non-denominationally or without bias, ultimately one can only speak for oneself in answering it (or perhaps in a confessional plural)—and the answer will reveal the religious judgment one has come to and in most cases the particular religious criteria one used to come to that judgment. Because we answer this religious question religiously, we can’t help but use the criteria of our respective faiths. A philosopher may be able to describe what it means to believe one way or another on this issue, but in the end the coming to a conclusion about this question is itself a religious judgment, informed by previous religious judgments, and not simply the checkmark answering of particular objective criteria. Because of this, I seriously doubt people on either side of this issue will ever be satisfied with the answers given by the other side in the discussion. It simply isn’t a question that can be answered this way.

    This isn’t to say, however, that the discussion is not worthwhile. We may come to greater understanding and tolerance of differences. We may come to more agreed upon definitions or criteria. We may see that we don’t differ so much, or that indeed we really do differ greatly. Perhaps some may come to a different religious judgment than they had before. So the question and the discussion should go forward, but nobody should be surprised if the differing sides on the issue are thoroughly unsatisfied with the way the others answer the question.

  33. Dan Richards on June 13, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    “Any one of these differences would make Mormonism a profoundly heretical Christian sect.”

    OK, Damon, how many do we get to have and still be Christian? You cited about ten differences in belief between Latter-Day Saints and mainstream Christians. If we could maintain one of these distinctions and still be considered “a profoundly heretical Christian sect,” (a designation many on this thread would be happy to embrace, I imagine) what about six of them? Would that push us over the limit? How about four?

    Is Christianity to be defined by degrees? Is there a spectrum of religion, with Christianity being only a specified segment, like the infrared zone? And specified by whom?

    In my mind, Christianity has discrete boundaries, defined by a single question. “Whom say ye that I am?” I accept as a fellow Christian anybody who answers, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They can believe anything else they want: that the soul is blotted out at death; that only 144,000 people will be saved in heaven; that baptism is entirely unnecessary; that Jesus will return to earth on a pre-specified date; or that the eucharist is transsubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ, etc. They can believe one or all of these things.

    The person who gave the original answer to that question didn’t adhere to the Nicene Creed. Nor is it clear that he saw the indispensability of creation ex nihilo, or the impossibility of pre-existence of souls. Unless you want to quibble as to *his* Christianity, I think a more expansive definition is in order.

  34. Kingsley on June 14, 2004 at 12:04 pm

    Ethesis: Again, I do not really believe the argument about Jefferson/Jesus, but was merely putting it forward as my understanding of the sort of logic used by non-LDS who want to get around the problem of making the Creeds etc. the basis of what’s truly Christian.

  35. Jim F. on June 14, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    The other day I said that though I can understand the theological claim that we aren’t Christians, it is important also to note that the word “Christian” has a political meaning. (I was using the word “political” broadly”—a meaning in a social context, something that establishes relations among us.) Given my prejudice against theology, I didn’t mean my agreement to be an agreement to very much. Since then I’ve thought more about the question. It seems to me that the New Testament makes the “political” meaning the more important one, perhaps the only one. Consider statements such as, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20) and “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29). These suggest that Jesus understood his followers to be defined by their lives rather than by a theology. Those who follow Christ, Christians, are those who gather in his name or who are persecuted in his name. That is a rather straightforward definition, one under which we obviously fit.

    Suppose, however, that—for the purposes of argument—we take up and even accept the theological argument. It amounts to “When Mormons speak of Jesus they aren’t speaking of the same being we speak of.” Perhaps one could argue from that claim to the conclusion that Latter-day Saints don’t really gather in his name. A person making that argument would say, “They may think that they do, but they are mistaken or deluded.” Even with such reasoning, another New Testament citation seems relevant: “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” (Mark 9:37-39; cp. Luke 9:48-50). (The Greek of verse 40 is stronger than the KJV translation: “For he who is not against us is for us” or “is on our behalf.”) Even if the theological argument is correct, namely that we do not follow the tradition of most Christians, and even if we were wrong about who Christ is, this passage says that we should be counted among those who do his work. It is a minuscule step from “these are the people who do the work of Christ” to “these are Christians.”

    Of course Jesus also clearly recognized that it is possible for some to deceive in his name. For example: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5). Nevertheless, in spite of that possibility, he also urged his followers to tolerate those who use his name for their good works.

    Theological reasons may carry more weight if one is deciding whose baptism to accept. That is something I think we must leave to the Catholics to decide and about which I think few, if any, of us have been concerned. We don’t accept their baptism (for theological reasons) why should they accept ours. But that is different than refusing to accept that we do the work of Christ and, therefore, can be called by his name. The questions ought not to be confused: “Whose baptisms do we accept?” and “What makes someone a Christian?” have different criteria for their answers.

  36. Bob on October 2, 2004 at 11:08 pm

    so hey u r stupid they do have proof of some of the stuff that went on in the BoM and also how could joseph smith have made up the whole BoM on a third grade education when the BoM gos along with native american history so well but go ahead and belive that which is wrong oh one more thing i want to tell you that the reason we recieve revelation and new doctrine is because we have a prophet and if you look at the bible then you will see that it says that prophets and apostles are needed so if we are following both the BoM and the bible then how could we not be christians when many churchs pick and choose what teachings in the bible they want to follow

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