Marc Bohn’s post yesterday on how Mormonism is classified became a legal issue reminded me that the issue of how Mormonism is classified is anything but clear, especially when non-Mormons are doing the classifying. We say we are Christian, and evangelicals claim we are not. We don’t want to be called Catholic or Protestant (or Eastern Orthodox for that matter, but that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue). But despite our intentions, Mormonism is classified in all sorts of different ways by many different observers and for many different purposes.
We’ve been classified all over the place.
Categorization schemes show up all over the place, and seem to have proliferated like wildfire on the Internet. Where the public came into contact with just a few different classification systems before–the Dewey Decimal system and the Library of Congress system, both used in libraries, are the principal systems the public saw before the Internet–now surfing the Web means encountering a lot of different systems.
For Internauts first it was Yahoo‘s directory (which currently placed the LDS Church in Society and Culture > Religion and Spirituality > Faiths and Practices > Christianity > Denominations and Sects), followed by a host of other human-built directories. Some (like the Open Directory Project) followed Yahoo and put the LDS Church in a general (and rather unwieldy) list of Christian denominations (For example, the Open Directory Project puts the LDS Church in Top: Society: Religion and Spirituality: Christianity: Denominations). But others have grouped Christian denominations into groups like “Protestant” and “Catholic,” and included Mormonism in the Protestant grouping, or, worse, put Mormonism in a “Cult” category.
The thing about this that we tend to ignore is that these classification systems have sprouted up in many different places you wouldn’t necessarily think of. Its not just libraries and directories that provide classification systems, its Amazon (Books â€¹ Religion & Spirituality â€¹ Christianity â€¹ Mormonism) and a host of other stores, its Yahoogroups (Top > Religion Beliefs > Christianity > Denominations and Sects ) and Googlegroups (Society – Religion and Spirituality – Christianity — but no Mormon-specific category). Its the Yellowpages (Churches-Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints), blogcatalog (Blog Directory Â» Religion Â» Christianity) and Beliefnet (Home > Faiths & Prayer > Christianity > Latter-day Saints).
While it might not seem like these classification systems make a huge difference, they do serve two important purposes. First, classification systems make it easier to find things — if you expect Latter-day Saints to be under Christianity, then you go directly to Christianity and find what you want. If Latter-day Saints is not under Christianity, it takes longer to find it.
But classification systems also imply things about the items classified by how they are classified. If you aren’t familiar with Latter-day Saints, and you notice that it is categorized under Cult, you are likely to assume that Latter-day Saints are a Cult.
I don’t want to suggest that this is a big problem. I don’t have a particular objection to the way that any of the above websites construct their categories (other than the fact that some of them really ought to subdivide their categories further, IMO). And I’m sure there are multiple ways to categorize Mormonism — my preference isn’t the only good possibility. But there are ways of categorizing Mormonism that aren’t correct, and I’m sure that there are websites that do it wrong.
I’m not always sure what to do when I come across a classification that I find objectionable. Clearly contacting the webmaster in a calm, non-threatening manner could go far in many cases. In other cases (such as a directory run by some of the more strident evangelicals) it may be quite impossible, no matter how nice you are, to convince the webmaster not to include Latter-day Saints under Cults.
Its probably worth a little time to pay attention to how Mormonism is categorized. And who knows, perhaps we can make a difference by calling attention in cases where it has been categorized wrong.
In this vein, I’d be very interested in odd categorizations that others see.