Sorry for the recent foray into politics, but I feel very strongly that people should not make a political issue out of someone’s religious affiliation. I care about principles and policies, not theology.
So, with that out of the way, the question arises, “Are Mormons Christian?” We’ve been told in the last week that Mormons are not “real” Christians and are a cult. Leaving aside that loaded language, I thought I’d just share my thoughts. I’m not going to cite anyone but myself here, so you can take this as my considered opinion.
I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Southern California. There were Catholics and Protestants and a few Muslims (mostly Iranian exiles), but the largest religious group in my neighborhood and in the schools was Jewish. For that reason, Jewish holidays were also school holidays, simply because almost half the students would not show up anyway on those days. I went to bar-mitzvahs, ate lots of wonderful and (to a Mormon kid) exotic Jewish foods, and learned a lot about Jewish culture and people. (It doesn’t need to be said, but Jewish people are diverse in their lifestyles and beliefs as any other group, and stereotypes don’t work.)
We Mormons were a distinct minority: we weren’t Jewish, and we weren’t Catholic or Protestant or Muslim. But everyone I knew, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, lumped us in with the Christians. I certainly considered myself a Christian. I believed in the Bible, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior who suffered and died to atone for my sins. We read about Jesus in the scriptures, and we sang about Him in church, and we trusted in Him for salvation. I prayed in His name, was baptized in His name, and each week partook of the sacrament in His name and promised to always remember Him.
It wasn’t until I participated in a regional “dance festival” at the Rose Bowl (I’m pretty sure it was 1980) that I learned that some people didn’t think I was a Christian. My friend Corey and I came out to his car late that night to find an anti-Mormon pamphlet stuck under the windshield wiper. I was 15 and didn’t even know there were people out there who actively worked against our religion. But I read this pamphlet, and I honestly didn’t recognize the church they described. Some of what they said was a distorted take on what we really did believe, and some of it was gleaned from obscure quotes from long-dead church leaders from the nineteenth century. This was my first exposure to Ed Decker and his “Saints Alive in Jesus” group. I laughed it off because it was all so ridiculous and divorced from what our church was and believed. But there it was in print: We weren’t Christians because they said so.
I didn’t think much about it after that because the only person I knew who thought Mormons were evil was this really odd guy in my high school class who never bathed and who wandered around school in combat fatigues emblazoned with “GOD SQUAD,” calling everyone to repentance. He actually came to our ward one Sunday and announced to our Sunday School class that he could feel Satan’s power in the room.
But, as far as I can tell, the organized effort to demonize and marginalize Mormonism was in full swing by then, with Walter Martin’s books of the sixties and seventies (has anyone else noticed that he had the same haircut as Pastor Jeffress?), and Decker’s book and film “The God Makers” in the early 1980s. Part of that effort involved proclaiming that Mormons weren’t Christians. The effort has certainly been effective, as by the time I moved to Texas in 2000, my neighbors and coworkers were shocked to find that I read the Bible, believed Jesus is my Savior, and celebrated Christmas.
In response to this effort, the LDS church did two things: First, they revised the missionary discussions so that discussion of the divinity and mission of Christ came first (previously, that material was covered in the third discussion), and second, they added “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon.
As I said in an earlier post, Mormons do come out of historical Christianity, in that they sprang from the Restorationist movement. But they are neither Protestant nor Catholic, and many religious groups consider Mormons to be at best heretical, at worst a cult. I’ve been called worse, so that really doesn’t matter to me. I rolled my eyes when Mr. Jeffress was on CNN the other day because he wasn’t saying anything new.
Evangelicals have given me many reasons why I’m not a Christian (or at least wasn’t when I was Mormon). One is that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, which of course is an extra-Biblical extrapolation based on Plato’s ideas of form. From what I read in the Bible, a Christian believes Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins. I don’t know if I accept the Trinity at this point, but I really don’t think it matters. Why would God require me to believe something that is not in the Bible? And does anyone think a just God would say to someone, “No, I’m sorry, you followed me, you put your faith in me, but you got the technical details wrong, so you’re going to hell”?
I’ve been told that my beautiful wife, who has more faith in Jesus Christ than anyone I know, is going to hell. Why? Simply because she’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The scriptures tell us that God judges the heart. If you believe in Him, surely he knows who is a Christian, no matter what their religious affiliation.
People have said that I believed in the “wrong Jesus.” I’m still not sure what to make of that one. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the one spoken of in the New Testament. I wonder which Jesus they believe in? Jesus of Kansas City?
But Mormons believe in “another gospel,” right? Not really. The gospel, or “good news,” is that Jesus died to take away our sins. Mormons believe that. Yes, they believe in modern revelation, but again, how does that disqualify them from being Christian? They believe that the revelations the church has received come from Jesus. If they said they were coming from Xenu, they wouldn’t be Christian at all. But that’s not what they’re claiming.
It’s obvious that there are huge theological differences between Mormons and mainstream, orthodox Christians. And I am the first person to acknowledge that Mormons are definitely not mainstream, orthodox Christians. No Mormon I know would argue with that. But the bottom line is that we call people who believe in Jesus “Christians,” whether they are Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Above all, it bothers me that some people think that when Mormons proclaim their Christianity, they are somehow being disingenuous and sneaky, like they’re trying to put one over on the “real” Christians. That is simply not true. I don’t care if you think my wife or my mother or my children are Christians. God knows His own.
Me? I’m a lost apostate soul. But for some people, that’s better than being a Mormon.