Watch This and Tell Me If You Still Think Mormonism Is Christian [VIDEO]

I am not on a witch hunt. I am not anti-Romney. I am anti-secrecy. I think there is some historical consensus as to what is considered Christianity, and this ceremony does not accord with that consensus.

Some of my friends say, “If a group says they are Christian, then they are Christian. That’s good enough for me.”

Well, that’s not good enough for me.

See also, Andrew Sullivan.

  • http://wanderingthedesert.wordpress.com Denika Anderson

    I understand what you’re saying, and if this video is to be trusted, I would agree, but I have a bigger issue with the whole thing: if Mormons are so concerned with keeping their religion a secret, isn’t the existence of this video rather disrespectful? I mean, whether or not it can be considered Christian, Mormonism is still a religion, and doesn’t it deserve respect simply because of that?

    • http://www.justinboulmay.wordpress.com Justin Boulmay

      Religions don’t deserve respect just because they’re religions.

      • http://wanderingthedesert.wordpress.com Denika Anderson

        Why not? If someone chooses to follow a specific faith tradition, shouldn’t we respect that? If a group of people meets to do so together, doesn’t that deserve respect? That doesn’t protect them from criticism and that doesn’t require assimilation of their views, it just asks that their wishes (in this case, their wishes to be kept secret) be heeded.

      • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

        Human beings deserve respect though. And part of that is respecting boundaries–including, specifically, the things that people hold sacred.

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      I disagree. Mormons have a history of being secretive in order to cover up things “gentiles” would not understand. In this case we can see how the dunk children over and over to baptize the dead and then reveal their most esoteric theological beliefs that render them not Christians. One case is physical abuse, the other is theological. But there is also the political. I think it is quite important that Romney’s father and grandfather, for example, took blood oaths against the United States to avenge the “blood of the prophets.” Am I conspiracy theorist who thinks that Mitt Romney necessarily literally believes these things or is secretly loyal only to the LDS? No, in the same sense most Christians who belong to wonky churches aren’t really dangerous. Regardless, the questions are relevant and certainly the LDS will go to great lengths to project an image that is not reflected in this video. I highly recommend the version of the video that included the full movies, where you see white adam corrupted by white eve and Satan. Very white supremacist and misogynistic beyond the Biblical narrative.

      Anyway, the major point I take away is probably from Max Perry Mueller at Religion and Politics, that the general respect to privacy of Romney and Mormons during election season was not shown to Obama with the Jeremiah Wright ordeal, not to mention Obama’s ethnic and national origins. Racism is alive and well, and Romney is cashing in and banking on it to keep the conversation away from this stuff. Romney looks like we should trust him, so many do.
      http://religionandpolitics.org/2012/10/29/what-can-jeremiah-wright-and-joseph-smith-teach-us-about-the-american-presidency/

      I’d be interested to know what Jana Reiss thinks about all this…

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      Just as a quick clarification, I would say belonging to the LDS is mainly dangerous on a political/ideological level. There is the Lacanian point that often times others believe for us, people in the church for example count on the pastor to be orthodox and understand things in ways they can’t. In the LDS setting, I would suspect that this is true, but perhaps to an even greater extent with the emphasis on leadership and secrecy of the leadership. This means that again, individual Mormons are not necessarily sinister or dangerous, but their physical body and its situadedness within the Church in some respect is part of the larger political body whose head is in SLC making the important decisions and pulling the strings. These strange theological beliefs have been around long enough to start being the source of ideologies rather than just being caused by them. But I could be wrong. Regardless, I see all of this as political, not theological.

  • Kenton

    I’m calling b.s., Tony.

    I’m anti-secrecy too, and I think what goes on in their temple should be exposed, but the timing of this betrays the anti-Romney bias.

    Why not just wait and post this next Wednesday? Wouldn’t that alleviate any accusation that this is politically motivated?

    • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

      I’m of the same mind. I would think Tony would be extra sensitive to who gets to be called “Christian” and who doesn’t, being that he’s been called an emergent hertic countless times. HA!

      • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

        The difference is secrecy and sinister ideology. I’d rather not play the heresy game.

        • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

          In group, out group stuff is boring to me. I read this blog because I though Tony was above that. Guess not.

          • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

            I’m with on on this, Jesse, the in/out discussion is pointless, but the content of the group in question is what is in question, and the content itself seems to be why it is secret. I think that’s highly relevant.

          • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse

            I hear you Bo. I like the points you make above in Denika’s thread and the content of the video is bizarre to me. A few things to consider though:

            1.
            The title of this post is “Watch This and Tell me if you think Mormonism is Christian.” This question is asking readers to make an in/out group distinction. If the question were “tell me if you think these religious rituals are cool or not, and why you think that” I’d respond differently.

            2.
            Christians do tons of weird things that may or may not be cool, I think we can all agree on that (e.g. snake handlers of Appalachia, being slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues, kissing icons, praying to saints, riding in horse drawn buggies etc…).

            3.
            At some point Jews had the same conversation about blood drinking, body eating, trinity confessing Christians.

            4.
            If Mormons are our crazy Christian cousins–or if they’re not–Christ still compels us to love and respect them despite their crazy rituals and weird underwear.

            On a personal note, I’m not defending Romney here or the seeming racist and misogynistic undertones of Mormonism, which I don’t agree with, I’m simply pushing back on Tony’s xenophobia. Like you said, the in/out group discussion is pointless.

          • Bob

            Thank you Jesse, I could not have expressed the sentiment better myself!!

  • Brian P.

    Enjoyed watching. Would love to watch a number of times. Has anyone ever done a study on the symbolism of these rituals from, say, a Jungian perspective?

    First pass, it didn’t seem to Christocentric, at least within the symbols of the core doctrines of Christology. Maybe that’s related to the Great Apostasy though.

  • Chris

    While I might agree with your conclusions, I don’t think you can tether it to your means of arriving at that conclusion.

    If “there is some historical consensus as to what is considered Christianity” then there can also be some historical consensus as to what is considered *orthodox* Christianity, which is something you frequently rail against and which many in the Emergent conversation would fall outside. I don’t believe you can have it both ways.

    Being concerned about religious secrecy is really a non-issue anymore considering the advent of the internet. There are no secrets in religion, as you have helped to demonstrate. Which causes me to question your stated denial that you are “not on a witch hunt.”

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      So, Chris, it sounds like you are saying that there is this thing called Internet, and it is out there and it exposes secrecy. So if someone posts something on that Internet they might be on a witch hunt, since this Internet thing has already exposed the secrecy. So, if I hear something that I don’t think others have heard, and I think is important, should I just keep it to myself? Because if I say something, my motivation is immediately drawn into question.

      Either that or, Tony has a blog, and he likes to put facts on it. Facts that are relevant to decisions that we might be making in the near future.

  • Buck Eschaton

    It is a little funny at 2:25 which says “which the god Elohim…contradicting the Bible’s teaching that God created the earth.” Genesis 1 in the Hebrew says “…Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    My main point is not that Mormonism = Christianity. I’m sure others could make a nuanced case for something like this.

    My main point is that individual Mormons have the right to claim that they are Christians.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I sent Brian McLaren a question and got a response that is related to this and several of Tony’s other posts:
      http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/-i-recently-started-reading.html

      I very much appreciate that Brian did not attempt to “answer” the question.

      I often try to step back and wonder why I am so concerned about something. Especially if I get defensive about it (Peter Enns recently posted something similar in relation to Rachel Held Evans’ new book).

      So, my bigger question would be: why is there such a motivation by many Christian theologians and pastors to draw such clear lines?

      • Curtis

        Because it is a different religion. Just like Jews, Muslims, and so on.

        Christians have not varied in the definition of their religion since 381 AD. To get the answer you are looking for, you need to ask the converse questions: “Why is there such a motivation by many Mormons to blur the distinction between Mormons and Christians?”

        There may be some very good reasons to blur the line. But you have to recognize that is what is happening. It is not Christians insisting on a clear line, it is Mormons blurring a line that existed 1500 years before Joseph Smith was born.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          Christians have not varied in the definition of their religion since 381 AD.

          Sorry, but, false.

          • Curtis

            That is my definition, and I’m sticking to it. What’s yours?

          • Curtis

            And why don’t you answer the question about Mormons?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Christianity is not easily defined. And, there is a lot of freedom to do so.

            Here is something I’ve been thinking through lately:
            http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/my-christianity-part-1/

            “Why is there such a motivation by many Mormons to blur the distinction between Mormons and Christians?”

            Thank you for not saying all.

            But, I’m sure many Mormons see Christianity as – in the least – a diverse sociological identifier that is flexible enough to allow many, if not most, Mormons into its “big tent.”

          • Curtis

            Right. Obviously, we can’t answer whether Mormons are Christian or not until we define “Christian”.

            The definition that the vast majority of Christians use is the Nicene Creed.

            Obviously, there are many people who disagree with the Nicene Creed, but still want to be considered “Christian”.

            The thing is, if you are going to grant everyone, including Mormons, the license to define “Christian”, then wouldn’t you have to grant 4th century Christians the same license? Fair is fair, after all. And one definition is as good as any other.

            Fine. Except that 4th Century Christians beat Joseph Smith by 1500 years. Sorry, Joe, that name is taken. 1500 years is a little late for a do-over.

            Anyone is free to define “Christian” however they want. Anyone is free to define “duck” however they want. But there is a 1600 year history of defining Christian a certain way. So if anyone wants to deviate from that definition, the onus is on them to explain why. It is hardly fair to take Christians to task for sticking to a definition that was settled 1600 years ago.

          • Phil Miller

            What about Christian ducks? Who speaks (or quacks) for them?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            if you are going to grant everyone, including Mormons, the license to define “Christian”, then wouldn’t you have to grant 4th century Christians the same license? Fair is fair, after all. And one definition is as good as any other.

            Yes, this is the same kind of problem I tried to address with Justin Taylor here:
            http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/is-theology-really-for-everyone/

            I’m saying that the definitions of many words should be broadened to include more people. So, yes, those who agree with the “4th century definition” are included, but so can be many other people who disagree – and say that exclusive, narrow definition is too narrow.

            Anyone is free to define “Christian” however they want. Anyone is free to define “duck” however they want.

            I don’t agree with this. There are limits. We just don’t have objective access to where those lines should be drawn.

            there is a 1600 year history of defining Christian a certain way. So if anyone wants to deviate from that definition, the onus is on them to explain why. It is hardly fair to take Christians to task for sticking to a definition that was settled 1600 years ago.

            Things change. Much of what used to be considered “orthodoxy” is no longer. But, again, there are limits. For example, I don’t think it’s possible to have any version of Christianity that has zero reference to Jesus the Christ. But, that doesn’t mean, either, that a certain tradition within Christianity gets to Decide for everyone.

          • Curtis

            You are free to redefine anything. The challenge you face is getting others to agree with you. That is your problem, not everyone else’ problem. That is the position Mormons are in. The onus is on them, or anyone else who want to change a definition. The burden is not on people who follow the traditional, 1600-year-old definition.

            Ask the Mormons what they are up to. It is a question for them to answer. Orthodox Christians don’t have to answer for the new definitions that Mormons come up with.

      • http://OnMyOwnNow.com Donna Lee Schillinger

        Was Abraham a Christian during his lifetime? No, and there are a lot of other sheep that will live and die and not know the name of their Shepherd, even today. It’s faith that counts as righteousness – it’s relationship with our Creator. Sheep that feed in Mormon pastures at least know the name of their Shepherd, which puts them one up on Abraham during his life. So what they possess some bogus theology. I can only imagine all the bogus theology Abraham must have had, coming from the land of Ur and all.
        Folks, it’s not about drawing the line between peoples’ feet, including some and excluding others. This issue is THEOLOGY. We all possess some good, we all possess some bogus. If we knew which was which, the conversation would be over. My input to the conversation is that Mormonism deviates too greatly theologically from our Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, particularly in that its foundation is NEW revelation.
        And for others who think similarly, like Tony apparently, the timing of this video is correct because there are a good many people who had this issue straight in their minds this time last year, but now, they are all confused about. Politics and a feeling that we must DO something to salvage this nation (something other than trust God) has muddied these waters that sat perfectly still for about 100 years. I will tell you plainly I’m more conservative than Mitt Romney politically, and I don’t support Obama, but I think we really need to think through the ramifications of a president who is highly theologically engrained in Mormonism. Only Tony can speak for his motivation for posting this, but mine for sharing it will be the hope that my friends who have changed their minds about Mormonism out of political convenience will grapple a bit more with this issue. I don’t even care what they conclude necessarily. What bugs me so is the precariousness of their convictions, such that one slick talker can create mass amnesia. It’s like a freakin’ school of fish, how quickly they all changed directions on this thing.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Tony, do you not, in your own beliefs, also diverge from the “historical consensus” of what is considered Christianity? For example, your stance on homosexuality, women, the nature of God, non-belief in demons, and so on. If you’re applying the “consensus” standard to Mormonism, must you not apply the same standard to yourself and, as such, arrive at the same conclusion? I.e., that your approach/practices also do not accord with the historical consensus of what is considered Christianity?

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Hat tip.

    • Phil Miller

      I think orthodoxy is a centered set rather than a bound set. The things that are in that center are generally things laid out in the historic creeds – the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, Christ’s death and bodily resurrection. The other things you mention have never been near the center of the debate of what it means to be a Christian. They have been issues, for sure, but there not things that have been taken up be church councils.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Phil, I think you’re splitting hairs where hairs need not be split.

        the nature of God (which I mentioned above) was at the very epicenter of the earliest debates on what it meant to be a Christian. In fact, it was the centuries-long debate over the nature of God that ultimately led to the authoring of the Nicene creed in the fourth century.

        As for homosexuality, the place of women, the existence of demons, etc., I mentioned these generally as examples of those teachings — i.e., doctrines — which were essential and not open to compromise as to what was considered orthodox Christianity according to the ancient consensus Tony spoke of. Example, if in the earliest centuries you said homosexuality was okay and that demons did not exist, you would not be considered a “liberal” Christian. You would not have been considered a Christian at all.

        • Phil Miller

          Well, not only that, you would have been considered near crazy. No Christian would have said those things because they most likely would never have entered their minds. Homosexuality wasn’t something that any Christian would have considered OK until the 20th century.

          These things generally weren’t included in the creeds because they weren’t ever really considered controversial. But they also don’t have much to do with the core of the faith.

        • Curtis

          The role of women, homosexuality, and the existence of demons is certainly open to debate and compromise in the Christian church. You can find Christian churches who fall on all sides of those issues. They may not always like each other, but they exist.

          The nature of god, of course, is always going to be debated and argued. That is what church is for! But a church that lands outside the 4th century creeds on that topic is going to be labeled non-Christian and heretical by every other Christian church.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I don’t know what kind of “church” you’re involved in, but it seems to be pretty difficult to find one that is willing and open to the idea of debating “the nature of god”…

          • Curtis

            Sure, we debate it all the time. You just better come up with the right answer or we’ll show you the door!

            Just kidding. Of course humans wonder, debate, question what God is. That is our nature. Any church, small c, has study groups that discuss this topic. But we do it all with the knowledge that we are part of a larger Church, capital C, that holds firmly to the Nicene Creed. So that shapes and guides our debate. And obviously, our Church, capital C, will continue to preach the Trinity, no matter what we come up with in our coffee group, small c. But you would be amazed at how many crazy ideas about God people are able to squeeze into the framework of the Trinity!

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Exactly: the “answers” have already been predetermined, so the “debate” must happen within those parameters. From my perspective, that’s not actually a debate. That’s not a passionate search for wherever the “truth” may lead…not following arguments to their consequences, etc.

          • Curtis

            Right. A person enters a church with an understanding that there is certain doctrine in place. If you want unbounded debate about god, probably a unilateralist church or a atheist club would be abetter venue.

            But that only makes sense. How would you define a church, if not by its doctrine or definition of God?

            If you are going to accept a doctrine that is outside the boundaries of that church, that is your free choice. But don’t blame that church for disagreeing with you. You are free to define what you want. But you aren’t free to change the definitions that the church has put in place.

          • Curtis

            meant “universalist church” That wasn’t in my spellcheck dictionary!

          • Curtis

            By the way, your point about predetermined answers is *exactly* why Mormons are not Christian. If a person walked into a Mormon church, thinking it is a Christian church, that is not what they would find. They would find different predetermined answers in place. It is false marketing, if nothing else.

          • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

            Yes, Curtis, this would basically be my answer to R. Jay’s question.

        • Curtis

          In the earliest centuries, if you said people would fly to the moon, you probably would have been executed. That doesn’t mean you weren’t Christian.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          This very dialog itself begs the question: what is the standard? And who, ultimately, is the “who” in “says who?”

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            BINGO.

          • Curtis

            First dibs.

          • Curtis

            It is the same problem that Luther ran into, when he figured out the true Catholic church. The name “Catholic” was already taken. So he was stuck with the “Lutheran” church.

            Not an exact analogy, because Catholic and Lutheran share a common, core doctrine. Still, Luther didn’t have the freedom to re-define “Catholic”, no matter how much evidence he had that he was right.

            Mormons need to figure out a different name for their religion. A name that does not have an established definition. “Latter Day Saints” has a nice ring to it.

          • Phil Miller

            I vote for “Church of the Fancy Underpants”.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            The standard of “my” Christianity is love, not doctrine. You can get it “right” with all the doctrines, but if love is absent in your faith, then it’s really kind of useless. Where Jesus would’ve been concerned.

            Conversely, you can get it “wrong” with all the doctrines, but if your faith abounds with love, then it is authentically alive. Where Jesus would’ve been concerned.

            I chose Christianity after I had my “God-experience.” And I am a Christian inasmuch as I embrace the Jesus message and vision as a model for living and a relevant conduit through which I express my faith. And I accept Jesus as having been “anointed with god-ness,” i.e., he was the personification of God. And God is Love.

            But in embracing Jesus as “Christ” in this way, I do so, not because I believe the stories are historically “true,” but because I behold truth in the stories. Even were those stories to be fiction.

          • Curtis

            That is very beautiful and I agree 100%. But there are plenty of Jews, Muslims, and atheists who abound with love. You certainly wouldn’t call them “Christian”, would you?

            Or is your standard that everyone who abounds with love is a Christian if they want to be one?

            That is a nice sentiment. But it has limited utility. It waters down “Christian” to the point of being almost meaningless, because the word no longer tells me anything about a person’s religious beliefs. It tells me they are “Lovers”, but nothing more. (Reminds me of a Bruce Cockburn song, for some reason)

            And it still doesn’t get around the fact that Christians made their mind up 1600 years ago and aren’t likely to change it.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            What I am actually saying — and I’ve said this a number of times here on Tony’s blog — is that Christianity is but one means among many to express love. It is a way. But not the only way. Any claim to divine exclusivity is invalid, and quite frankly bullshit.

            If I am a Jew who abounds with love, and where love is my object rather than doctrine, then I am sharing God.

            If I am a Muslim who abounds with love, and where love is my object rather than doctrine, then I am sharing God.

            If I am a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, or an atheist who abounds with love, and where love is my object rather than doctrine, then I am sharing God.

            And by God I do not mean a supreme being. I mean the very essence of Life that unites and binds and seeks goodness and Oneness.

            Christianity is a lighthouse, but it is not the port. It is a ship, but it is not the shore. And the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Wiccan and the atheist who loves in abundance is my true brother or sister.

            Creation and our world — all of it is colorful, and diverse, and wonderful. And there are many colorful, diverse and wonderful means by which authentic love can be validly expressed.

          • Curtis

            Nobody is saying that Mormons can’t know Cod. Or can’t love. They just ain’t Christians, that’s all.

            The main problem is not whether or not Mormons are Christian. The main problem is the Christians, historically, and even today, treat non-Christians so rotten. I suspect that Mormons started claiming to be Christian mainly to prevent being hung on the spot. But I don’t know, because I wasn’t there.

            The historic tendency of Mormons claiming to be Christian may no so much be a poor reflection on the honesty of Mormons, but rather a poor reflection on the way Christians have treated others, in the past and still today.

          • Curtis

            *God*

      • Chris

        “I think orthodoxy is a centered set rather than a bound set. The things that are in that center are generally things laid out in the historic creeds – the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, Christ’s death and bodily resurrection. The other things you mention have never been near the center of the debate of what it means to be a Christian. They have been issues, for sure, but there not things that have been taken up be church councils.”

        Then are you saying that you accept orthodoxy as a valid means of identifying who is or is not a Christian? is it the theological items in the centered set that make it relevant to who may or may not be called (or call themselves) a Christian?
        Must all the items you’d mentioned in the centered set be present in a person’s beliefs or just some? Marcus Borg does not believe in a bodily resurrection. If he doesn’t accept some things in the centered set does he now fall outside the definition of “Christian?”

        I may have misunderstood your comment?

        • Curtis

          I think we need to distinguish between a person calling themself “Christian” and a church calling itself “Christian”. A person doesn’t have a strictly defined doctrine. At the least, they are granted to freedom to change their mind if they feel like it. Not so with a church. A church must arrive at a clearly defined doctrine that is universally understood and fundamentally unchanging.

          People and churches can both be “Christian”, but a Christian person means something different than a Christian church.

  • http://blog.pomoxian.com Henry Imler

    On the secrecy angle. It might be due to their history of persecution. We see this with groups such as the Vodun. When a group has a history of persecution, they turn towards secrecy for protection. That turn is then embedded within their group consciousness and it is hard change it.

    Just some thoughts. I, in general, agree with the Mormons themselves that there are significant differences between Christianity and the offshoot of Christianity that is Mormonism.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      As to secrecy, Christians in the earliest years had to meet in secret in order to avoid persecution, which at times could mean death. In fact, the Orthodox Church in its liturgy continues to give homage/remembrance to those earliest times of crisis.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        I’ve been wondering about this recently. I’ve heard many non-Christian people claim that the common historical claim that Christians were “persecuted” early on has been widely exaggerated.

        This seems like another historical claim that depends largely upon a person’s bias – if you’re an orthodox Christian, you’re going to claim that persecution was rampant; if you’re not, you’re going to be open to the possibility that it wasn’t.

        Thoughts?

        • http://blog.pomoxian.com Henry Imler

          It really seems like there were intense, sporadic persecutions. Both ends of the discussion are wrong when one looks at what we can piece together.

          They were certainly misunderstood and looked down upon.

          My favorite writing about this is the famous “Letter to Trajan”[1] by Pliny the Younger wherein Pliny is amazed that Christians don’t eat babies[2], that they make vows, not to over throw Rome,[3] but to “but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.”

          And yet they commit major crimes such as refusing to “sing the pledge of allegiance” (participate in Emperor Cult), meet in secret, and were “excessive” in their devotion.[4] It is for these things that they are executed or otherwise persecuted.

          What is also telling is that while these things (meeting in secret,[5] not pledging allegiance to Rome) were punishable, it ought not be the case that the Romans go on witch-hunts for Christians, as this would damage the social fabric and increase the likelihood of rebellion.

          Now, in light of all of the above, the Christians were also the perfect scapegoat for when Rome felt threatened. That’s where you get the sporadic persecutions (e.g. Nero). Those were intense (but also concentrated in certain parts of the Roman empire), don’t get me wrong. And from the point of view of the people being persecuted, they certainly seemed like it was all the time, universal, and theological in nature.

          For a good treatment, I’d look at “Christians as the Romans saw them” and “The Rise of Christianity”.

          Notes
          [1] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/pliny.html
          [2] Lots of Romans thought Christians were cannibals due to the belief that communion was the flesh of Jesus coupled with the early Xian practice of taking babies from the trashheap.
          [3] They followed a dead criminal who said he was the true king and used subversive language about “Good News”, which was usually reserved only for the conquering emperor.
          [4] The Romans thought that you should be devoted, but that too much devotion was a problem. Remember, their chief value was pragmatism.
          [5] It was thought by the Roman government that the only reason someone would meet in secret is that they were plotting to rebel. In fact, you could not even belong to a voluntary association at this time. Trajan himself let a city burn to the ground rather than allow a fireman’s association be created! All of this is really about the survival of Rome, not theology.

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      They weren’t persecuted for purely theological reasons… they would recruit other men’s wives, Joseph Smith was convicted of banking fraud in Ohio, and of course there was the Mountain Meadow Massacre (a misguided vengeance against a group thought to be connected with the killing of a Mormon who had stolen another man’s wife and was killed by her husband). As far as I know early Christians weren’t killing anyone, at least.

      • http://blog.pomoxian.com Henry Imler

        I’d read “Rough Stone Rolling” for a good look on Smith and the persecutions endured by the early Mormon community.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    On the one hand, things like this video are a symptom of a real cultural sickness that we have in the internet age: we have become voyeuristic goblins, respecting nobody’s privacy and nobody’s boundaries. Not only have we have somehow gotten it into our head that everyone’s laundry (regardless of its condition) should be on display and that nobody is entitled to keep anything private, but we have gone so far as to imagine that there is something noble about making public the things that other people would rather were kept private. That is a serious sociocultural problem.

    Tony, you say you are anti-secrecy? Really? How about this: do you think that everything that goes on between a married couple should be made public? Do you really think that everything held sacred should be made public? Just because you belong to a religion that holds nothing private doesn’t mean everyone else does.

    Now, that said, there is certainly a balancing act. Some secrets shouldn’t be kept. Sometimes whistles do need to be blown.

    In this case, there are two major factors in my mind that justify (demand!) publicizing what goes on in the temple:

    (1) The Mormon church purports to be Christian church and it aggressively proselytizes other Christians. It’s not acceptable for Mormons to do all they can to lure converts and then cry foul when someone exposes just exactly what Mormons are trying to convert people to.

    (2) Mitt Romney is a temple-endowed Mormon. That means he has sworn sacred and eternally binding oaths that could compromise his loyalty to the American people if he was elected, and it is important for people to know that.

    If the Mormon church did not aggressively proselytize, or if the nature of the temple ceremonies was not such that it called into question a presidential candidate’s undivided loyalty, I would say that publicizing these sacred ceremonies was grotesque and uncalled for, a product of a sick society. But in this particular case, there is a legitimate and compelling public interest, so I think that the balance leans the other way.

    But my larger point is, in general I think we have gone way too far in our willingness to deny other people (and groups of people) their privacy. “Sometimes secrets should not be kept” doesn’t mean “everything needs to be on display” or “privacy is only for people who have somethign to hide.”

    • Evelyn

      “do you think that everything that goes on between a married couple should be made public?”

      I think it would be good for society if more people were transparent about their marriages. There is so much pressure to build a facade of the “perfect family” while inside of each family there is probably more disfunction than we are led to believe. Throw on top of that the fact that the news media and psychologists try to make us think that if we don’t have a 24-hour-a-day sex drive then there is something wrong with us and you have a majority of people who are suffering and too ashamed to say anything about it when they actually should.

    • Phil Miller

      I think the marriage analogy is OK, but there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. There’s something inherently questionable about a group that refuses to tell people about all their practices until they become converts. It’s kind of like the people who sell real estate secrets on late night infomercials. “I have all the secrets you need on how to make money in real estate, but I’m not going to share them with you until you buy my book and sign up for my seminar.” This goes against the free and open offer of the Gospel.

      • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

        Sure, but that’s what I said: the Mormon Church aggressively proselytizes, but witholds material parts of the religion until you have been a member for at least a year. That changes the privacy calculus quite a bit. If Mormons mostly kept to themselves and there was no reason to think anything illegal happened in their secret ceremonies, then it would be tacky and tasteless to publicize the things they hold sacred. But they don’t–they put in a massive amount of effort to lure converts from Christian denominations, so they are in no position to play hurt when someone tips their potential customers off about the fine print.

  • Curtis

    This is all very easy. Just follow three steps:

    1) Define “Christian”
    2) Go to wikipedia.com to determine if Mormonism fits the definition of 1)
    3) Profit!

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    I feel as if the conversation is being severely misdirected by the question of orthodoxy, or “Are Mormons Christian.” I think Tony has framed it a but misleadingly. The issues should be what are the political and ideological consequences of these beliefs and the emphasis on secrecy… why secrecy? What is there to hide? What does hiding these things means, let alone their meaning in themselves? These are the questions I think we should be concerned about.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Many of the earliest Christian communities restricted parts of their meetings to Christians only, specifically when they partook of the bread and wine. Pre-baptism students (catechumens) were allowed in the general assembly, but in many cases, when it was time for partaking of the eucharist, the catechumens were not allowed to remain. I believe Justin Martyr (2nd century) wrote on this in detail.

      • Phil Miller

        Technically, this is still part of the Orthodox Liturgy. There’s a line in the liturgy that says, “The Doors! The Doors! Let us be attentive!” before the Eucharist is shared. Now, they don’t kick people out anymore, but it is a throwback to the time when Christians believed that only those baptized were permitted to be present for the Lord’s Supper.

    • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse

      I agree Bo, Tony asked the wrong question.

  • Ed P

    Wow, this seems weak to me and not to the general caliber of this blog. If you want to have a decent intellectual conversation on Mormonism, great. Let’s go! But the time and the use of a video that seems more like a bigfoot siting than documentary wreaks of political agenda. Let’s get back to better discussions!

  • in too deep

    Tony,
    Did early Christians have “secret rituals”? Yes
    Were those rituals in line with what you call the “historical consensus”? No
    Were they therefore not real Christians in your book? Apparently!

    Also, isn’t there something rather galling in the way you and others exclude Mormons from being Christian by mocking their supposedly non-Christian rituals? Who’s guilty of the non-Christian behavior here?

    • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

      Mormons are not non-Christian because they have weird rituals. They are not Christian because they reject the substance of the creeds that have defined Christian belief for most of the past 2,000 years.

  • Gregory

    WOW I thought my tradition was BATSHITCRAZY! Do they literally believe this stuff or is it just poetic imagery, symbol, and ritual initiation?

  • Larry Barber

    I’m not sure why the Mormons even want to be identified with the Christian church. Joseph Smith did, after all, declare that all the doctrines of the Christian churches in his day were an “abomination”. I would think they would want to separate themselves as far as possible from the abomination of the Christian churches.

  • Nick N

    The early Mormons were persecuted as much for their aggressive, militant apocalypticism as anything. They were the most heavily armed group in Illinois when Joseph Smith led them in Nauvoo, where he ran for president of the US – yes he did – and they were ordered exterminated or driven from the state in MO by the governor.

    On top of all this was the polygamy, which they laid aside (not condemned) in order to stave off being wiped out by the US as the US sought to annex the Utah territory.

    They were wildly separatist in defense of their prophet, they were seen as backwards and out of the mainstream until they changed their public image, quite consciously, in the early 20th cent. Then they made the name Jesus Christ a prominent part of their name an publications in order to appear more mainstream. There are plenty of good reasons for them to want do assimilate into the larger Christian world.

    Al this to say that their beliefs are hugely divergent from all other orthodox groups, they swear to uphold their prophet (you can find their “gospel principles” Sunday School curriculum online), and they are not forthcoming about what they believe, what they control, or what they do, individually or collectively.

    Mitt might be a great guy, and he might even make a good president, but there is plenty in Mormonism to make one ask questions about the influence of the church and the prophet on the leader of our country.

    Suffice it to say that Mormons will likely see it as a big step of one of them is elected president, fulfilling one of the original prophet of mormonism’s goals.

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      Amen.

  • Tony

    Tony,

    As someone who lives in Utah, I appreciate this. Most people responding to this blog don’t really understand Mormonism as I did not until I moved here. And I have learned not from blogs, books, or videos, but from current and former mormons.

    As others compare your own issues with some of the “orthodoxy” in question… they obviously don’t understand that in Mormonism the very definition of God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, Sin, etc… are not only far from Orthodox, but change the game completely. This blog is no place to expand on those differences, but lets just say the temple ritual is only the tip of the iceberg! God was a man once just like you and me, He was exalted to Godhood of this planet/solar system and now resides in heaven with his multiple wives creating spirit babies who inhabit the earth to live a righteous life working out their issues so that they too can be exalted to Godhood (possibly). This is not talked about much in our culture, but its at the foundation of why they do what they do. Most of it is not that much of a secret, its in their “scriptures” and in their prophets words over the years!

    http://carm.org/hinckley-says-mormons-believe-different-jesus

    Mormonism and Christianity are very different and this video as well as most of the comments only scratch the surface of the problem.

    Peace

  • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/node/35 John W. Morehead

    I would like to share some thoughts as an Evangelical scholar and mission strategist specializing in Mormon studies, as well as one actively involved in interreligious dialogue.

    First, why can’t Mormonism or any other religion have secret sacred practices? Mormonism clearly has their temple rituals, and the broad Western esoteric tradition places great emphasis on knowledge and experience on for initiates. By contrast, Evangelical Christianity has more publicly accessible doctrines. I see no reason why we should privilege one over the other, or why sacred secret rituals are somehow more sinister.

    Second, the practice of secretly filming the sacred secret rituals of Mormonism for an expose is unethical. This is hardly an example of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Instead, it is yet another example of our tendency to turn Mormons and those of other religious groups into monsters so that we can define ourselves by our opposition to such “cult” members. My colleague Paul Louis Metzger and I have an essay at Patheos on this for those who want to probe it more deeply.

    Third, Evangelicals are correct to note areas of wide divergence in doctrine, ritual and worldview between Protestant Evangelicalism and Mormonism. But this does not mean we have to apply the pejorative label of “cult” which only causes our Mormon friends to shut down and stifles understanding and winsome conversation. Beyond that, when we get bogged down on the question of whether Mormons are Christian, what Mormons hear in their definition wherein Christian is defined simply as Christ follower, is that Evangelicals consider them unethical, not that we are withholding a label that we define doctrinally and in terms of historic creeds. Once again we stifle communication and offend those we need to be breaking down barriers with. There are other ways forward that avoids these drawbacks.

    Finally, Evangelicals should consider an approach that allows them to engage Mormons and those in other religions that allows us to talk about our real differences without compromise but with civility. This is the model that we present at the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, and it results in a better understanding of others, love of neighbor, a more persuasive and winsome communication of the gospel, and an emulation of the way of Christ in engaging those in other religions.

    • Curtis

      Whether or not Mormons are Christian is not something Mormons want to “communicate” about. Their mind is made up. Who is offending whom? What to move forward without drawbacks? Then stop knowingly, intentionally, misusing the name of my religion.

    • Tony

      John,
      In regards to your comment on cult labeling only hindering the conversation I completely agree… I don’t think it’s proper language during the conversation or debate about Christianity and Mormonism… aside from a few comments I don’t think that is the heart of the post.

      Secondly, I think we would be hard pressed to biblically support that following Jesus = secrecy and religious rituals… especially those that hold to claims of being the only way to God. Seems to me that Jesus had the exact opposite message about the temple being the presence of God. All of the kingdom language and action of Jesus (healing, miracles, forgiving sins, etc) is done away from the temple. A theology of “kingdom” tears down the walls of special revelation and temple as the only way to God in the scriptures, and I don’t see how it’s any different now. John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, I don’t see The Kingdom of God as a secret ritualistic society, no matter the theology!

  • Pingback: Mormonism and Christianity: Is the Viral ‘Behind the Veil’ Video Legit? | Tamed Cynic

  • Robin

    Whether Mormonism is or isn’t Christian is not what matters here. What does matter is that someone changed their view of that based upon political gain. How modern day Constantinian.

  • http://www.tamedcynic.org Jason Micheli

    I just posted about this on my blog, actually (www.tamedcynic.org).
    My point/question: The baptism ritual is done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Strikes me as odd since Mormons disbelieve the Trinity. Do they really baptize in the name of a doctrine they deny? Or is this an inauthentic video?
    Of course, that ambiguity only further points out the secretism of Mormonism as the larger dilemma.

    • Curtis

      Mormons believe in all three, but they believe they are three separate things.

  • debbiedarline

    Interesting discussion. Although I am not Mormon, I have many, many relatives who are and my husband is an ex-Mormon. When I was newly married (1978) my Mormon relatives did not identify as “Christians”. In fact, my sweet little Mormon niece said to me “I love you Aunt Debbie – even if you are a Christian”. I’m not sure when it started, but gradually (probably to be thought of as a “more authentic” religion, they started calling themselves Christian.
    I am very theologically liberal and plan to vote for Barrack Obama in this election (as I did in 2008). It still pains me greatly to see this type of secret behind-the-scenes video released on the eve of the election. I do not believe FOR ONE MINUTE that Mitt Romney would make bad decisions about our country because he is a Mormon, or that the Mormons leaders would secretly pull his strings as he tried to make good decisions for the country.

    I’m not seeing a lot of love in this particular post. It makes me sad.

  • Mark

    This feels like a post I’d see on a neocon website. Replace Mormonism with Jerimiah Wrights church and theology or with Solomon’s Porch and I think you have a similar argument. None of which seem that helpful or important unless there is a political backdrop. So, I’d say its more than a little political.

  • Bob

    In a later installment, Tony will expose Black Liberation Theology and wonder how Obama could have attended the church of kooky Jeremiah Wright for so long without understanding how hateful it was.

    Oh wait, Tony’s voting for Obama so criticism of the Dear Leader will not be broached. Nothing here to see, move along.

  • Random

    WTF!?!?! Let me think about that while I sprinkle water on my infant, drink some of Jesus’ actual blood, slap my hand on the forehead of a sick woman, speak in a secret language that sounds like gibberish, and read MY magic book that has every word written by God – not actual people.

    Wow! Again… WTF! Are you serious? You’re actually judging? And on top of that you’re judging corporate “christianity”? And on top of that you’re basing your judgement on their crazy traditions?

    Dude, maybe you should check that log in YOUR eye.


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