It’s been a while, and for that I apologize. I was laid off from my job in February, and when I landed a job, it was in Northern Virginia. Needless to say, it’s hard to find time to write when you’re moving a household 2000 miles east. Just before we moved, my father had triple-bypass surgery, so I took a week off from packing and went to California to help my parents after the surgery.
I feel like I’m settling in well, so maybe it’s time to write again. I’ve told myself I don’t want to stay focused on Mormonism, so naturally my first post-move piece will be about Mormonism–well, not Mormonism so much, but how people interact with Mormons.
A friend pointed out a piece on Townhall.com (I am not a regular reader there) that was ostensibly an apology by the author, Mike Adams, for asserting in a previous piece that Mormons are “non-Christian.” Here’s the original quote in context:
People often try to call something a marriage when it isn’t. Calling a union between two men or between two women a marriage doesn’t make it one. It’s like embedding the name “Jesus Christ” in the official title of the LDS church and thinking that makes Mormonism somehow Christian. Call a square a triangle if you like but it’s still a square. Your hardheadedness won’t make it become a triangle. It will only make you appear obtuse.
You can guess from the tone of this statement that the apology was anything but an apology.
A little background: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) had always been a fringe movement based in America. After the church abandoned polygamy in 1890 and particularly after the 1903-07 Smoot hearings, Mormonism became much more “mainstream” in its image. Still, it was a relatively small religion until, in the 1960s and 1970s, the church greatly expanded their missionary efforts. The church experienced rapid growth, particularly in developing countries, but also in the United States and Europe. Church membership reached 1 million in 1947 (117 years after the church’s founding) but reached 2 million only 16 years later in 1963. The next million took only 8 years (1971).
The rapid growth seems to have provoked other religious groups to realize that they had some competition. Some of these groups, particularly Evangelical Christians, made a concerted effort to cast the LDS church as a dangerous cult, and polemical anti-Mormon books and films began to appear, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?” (1963) and Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” (1965). Perhaps the most effective attack was the assertion that Mormons were not Christians. By this the anti-Mormons generally meant that Mormons didn’t believe in orthodox, creedal Christianity, which is true, but the intention, as far as I can tell, was to suggest that Mormons rejected Christ entirely. This was an effective strategy, as the accusation stuck. Many times when I was a believing Mormon, people expressed shock that I believed that Jesus was my Savior. The LDS church responded by changing the missionary discussions so that our beliefs about Jesus came at the beginning of the first discussion (previously it had been in the third); a few years later, the church changed its official logo, putting JESUS CHRIST in the center in a larger font than the rest of the logo.
I know, that was more than a little background, but the “non-Christian” accusation is a sensitive subject with Mormons because they believe in Jesus and have faith that He suffered and died to save them from sin. So Mike Adams offended a lot of Mormon readers when he excluded them from the ranks of Christian believers. While I understand his point of view, his “apology” is, well, arrogant and counterproductive.
As I read through his two-page, sarcastic littany of what he considers stupid and evil Mormon beliefs and practices, I wondered why I was so put off by the essay. After all, pretty much everything he listed was more or less true, though presented polemically and without any context. He is right that DNA and archaeological evidence do not square with Mormon claims–I’d say his assertion that such claims have been “refuted” is a bit of an overstatement. The Book of Mormon is clearly textually dependent on the 1769 King James Bible (he uses the word “plagiarism”). He spends a lot of time on Joseph Smith’s plural wives, and he’s right that Smith’s actions were coercive, deceptive, and appalling.
But what does any of this have to do with whether Mormonism is a Christian religion? The list makes it clear that Mike Adams believes Mormonism has been shown to be false. I hate to break it to him, but who is a Christian is not defined by what Mike Adams believes is true or false.
Not until the last four paragraphs does Adams present anything that approaches defining Mormonism as non-Christian. He presents a quote from the King Follett Discourse to show that Joseph believed he would take God’s exalted place. This is either lazy or dishonest because Smith was actually talking about Jesus in that passage to explain what Jesus meant by “glorifying” the Father:
What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory.
From this quote, Adams condemns Mormonism as polytheistic:
I am sorry that Smith’s polytheism is not consistent with John 14:6. I am also sorry that since these are the words of Christ, polytheism cannot be Christian. Moreover, I am sorry, my Mormon friends, but the the words of Christ trump the words of Joseph Smith who will never be God.
Next he says
I am sorry that Mormonism teaches that Christ was not there in the beginning, that god was just a man who became God by following a moral code he did not create, and that we may all become gods by following the same moral code that predates the existence of Jesus. I am sorry that the theological mess caused by Joseph Smith is irreconcilable with the teachings of the Holy Bible.
The problem here is that Mormonism does indeed teach that Christ was “there in the beginning,” so I’m not sure where that’s coming from. The second part of that sentence is more or less true: Mormonism teaches that there are certain “laws” in the universe, and God adheres to them; strictly speaking, it offers no opinion as to whether God created those laws and “moral code” or how God came to be in the first place. So, in his haste to damn Mormonism, Adams is the one causing the “theological mess.”
But I don’t really have any interest in arguing whether Mormons are Christians or not. For the record, I believe that whoever affirms belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died for the sins of humankind is a Christian. Last I checked, Christians believe that people are saved through the atoning blood of Christ, yet folks like Mr. Adams seem to think that there’s also a written exam, and if you don’t check the right doctrines off, you’re on your way south. In short, this grousing about who is a true Christian is about as productive as defining a true Scotsman.
As I thought about it, what was so off-putting was the bare contempt Adams has for Mormonism and for Mormons. I know a lot of conservative Mormons who have hitched their political wagons to the conservative Evangelical movement, considering them to be allies in the fight for freedom and right. But as Adams shows, these “allies” despise Mormons and Mormonism as much as, perhaps even more than they do liberals and atheists. Adams is probably congratulating himself on his bluntness in standing up for truth, but all he has accomplished is promoted rigid dogmatism and alienated people who should be on his side. He reminds me of Joseph Fielding Smith, the LDS apostle who for many years dispensed his opinions as dogmatic “answers to gospel questions”; when I was younger, I thought how marvelous it was that he was so unafraid to speak the truth. But as I got older I realized that there was nothing brave or righteous about spouting opinions as facts.
So, Mike Adams wasted an opportunity and instead sowed division in his own ranks. Hell, even South Park did a better job of building bridges with Mormons than he did. The best way to destroy a political movement is to encourage infighting and litmus tests. Pretty soon you’re left with a few Mike Adamses and no one else.
And for my LDS readers: Rather than get huffy about Adams (that’s my job), maybe you could treat this as a chance to increase understanding and build on common ground. Just a suggestion.