There are probably good reasons why the New York Times keeps on publishing, but I can’t think of any.

A case in point. This week, the paper ran an op-ed by one David Mason under the title “I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.” The piece makes a point that is controversial but not necessarily eccentric, namely that at least some Mormons feel no need to claim Christian status, and are happy to see themselves as members of a different faith altogether. The vast majority of Mormon believers would disagree, but that’s Mason’s point of view. He boasts of being a happy heretic.

What is bizarre is the sheer  ignorance of the piece, a genuinely nasty example of anti-Christian venom. For instance, proclaims Mason, “Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and mean-spirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold.”  Christians, it seems, are by nature bullies and persecutors. And you think the Times would print such an ill-tempered shriek against any other faith?

My favorite example, though, involves Mason’s attempt to explain theological differences: “For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation.”

My own response is “Huh?” I would be truly sad if anyone who had ever taken a Western Civ. course would perpetrate such a ludicrous distortion of the Nicene debates, and yet here we have it printed in the New York Times, our very own American Pravda, without a copy-editor taking a moment to say “Hey, hold on – that’s totally wrong! Shouldn’t someone ask Mason to rewrite this?” His declarations would after all be quite accurate if we inserted the word “not” a few times at strategic places.

What does the Times think it’s doing?


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  • The Times thinking? A woefully generous assumption.

  • Riccardo, Rome

    Hey! Hey! I know why the NY Times keeps on publishing!
    Because dumb people keep on buying it!

  • deerjerkydave

    I was hoping Mr. Jenkins was going to explain his understanding of the Nicene Creed.

  • David Katz

    Call names, explain nothing.
    whats the point of this piece?

  • Man-o-War

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I found Mason’s piece rather ridiculous. If a Christian is understood as nothing more nor less than a follower of Christ, as one who accepts Christ as our redeemer, then there’s no reason for Mason to be distancing himself from that by redefining the term Christian away from his belief in Christ.

  • “What does the Times think it’s doing? The answer is obvious–use a Mormon to smear a Mormon, namely one Mitt Romney. They pant for Obama and surrendered any claim to journalistic integrity long ago. It’s just icing on the cake for them to take a few swipes at Christians, en masse, at the same time.

  • Elizabeth

    I agree, that “article” was more like a Craigslist rant or a youtube comment than a piece of journalism. The editors must all be on vacation.

  • NoBama2012

    The Times is getting concerned about their boy, Obozo. That is what is happening.

    Such a partisan rag; I would not let my bird defecate on it.

  • Polemeros

    Aside from the snark that you mention, Mr Jenkins makes some excellent points.

    Mormonism’s existence is only justifiable if all existing “Christian” bodies prior to Joseph Smith had in fact, by apostasy –the Mormon term for it– ceased to be “The Church”. So asking “Are Mormons Christians?” is the wrong question. Any Mormonism that is honest and integral would have to ask, “Are Non-Mormon Churches Christian?” and answer in the negative. The contemporary whining that the LDS are being excluded from the fold is disingenuous. It is a “fold” that Smith’s revelation judge to be wholly bankrupt of the Gospel.

    Mr. Jenkin’s snark is entirely in line with early Mormon theology. It is we, the Chalcedonian Trinitarians, we are not, in LDS eyes, Christians.

    And his parallel between LDS vis a vis Christian Church and the Christians vs Judaism is an apt one. If Mormons are Christians, then Christians are Jews.

    Although I reject the category of “Abrahamic religions” as one which only serves to legitimate Islam, Jenkins’ assertion that LDS is another faith, as distinct from Judaism, Christianity and Islam as they are from one another, is accurate.

  • Ben

    I agree that Mr. Mason was certainly way out-of-line in his comments on the boorishness of Christians. It really makes me ashamed (as a Mormon) that he tries to justify his opinion by making terribly unjust attacks on the moral character of Christians. Nonetheless, I do not understand the shock about his description of the Trinity. Certainly, saying that “Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit” is not an adequate description. I am sure Mr. Jenkins does not expect Mr. Mason to launch into a discussion of substance and persons. Maybe Mr. Jenkins wishes any reference to the Council of Nicaea be left out altogether … but I wouldn’t be so outraged nor call the description a “ludicrous distortion,” especially when that description is one which the large, large majority of Christians would be fine with or use themselves. The theology is not quite right … but then again the New York Times (for all of its faults) is not a theological journal.

  • I think it’s a quota system or something. In order to maintain one’s “tolerant and broad-minded” credentials one must say ignorant and hateful things about Christians every so often.

  • Nick

    Mr. Jenkins states:
    “I would be truly sad if anyone who had ever taken a Western Civ. course would perpetrate such a ludicrous distortion of the Nicene debates”

    Is it a distortion or a shorthand method to describe what most people understand it to be?

    My guess is that Mr. Jenkins doesn’t attempt to explain the Trinitarian doctrine/philosophy because it is inexplicable and incomprehensible. I’ve had many a clergymen tell me it means that it is one God and one entity with three different presentations or personalities depending upon the context. I’ve had others tell me, as mentioned by the commenter following the NYT article, who titles him or herself “BKS”, that such an explanation is incorrect and that “Trinitarian Christianity teaches that Jesus is one of the three persons in the one Being God. ”

    If it is the latter, it sounds like the Mormon doctrine of three beings, but one in purpose (the “Godhead”). But this can’t be as Trinitarians reject the Mormon doctrine of God.

    If it is the former, then it makes sense that such would be the result of a committee made up of competing, if not warring, men gathered in Nicaea in 325.

    And by the way, if it is so clear and understandable, and if it is so clearly described in the New Testament, why did such a council need to be convened?

  • E B

    I am a Mormon. I read his article and thought it a little too combative to be effective in convincing anyone that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ, who practiced no such behavior. He also insults all other Christians as if all are small-minded and contentious, when they are not. His point that he doesn’t want to unify with others is evident in the position he takes and the manner in which he expresses it. It’s sad, really, that he feels the need to take that tone (or maybe the NYT wanted it that way?) rather than be a peaceable follower of Christ. I sincerely hope that his attitude doesn’t make any more enemies for the members of the LDS Church than we already have.

    It really is a time for all of us to stand together (as religious people of many faiths) against moral decay in America. Unified in purpose, despite differences. Friends despite of our beliefs or even better because of our beliefs.
    Thanks for listening.

  • novamom

    I would just like to point out that I am a Mormon. I am also a Christian. I wasn’t thrilled with David Mason’s article. I don’t think that “Mormonism needs to grow up.” I don’t think that anyone needs to be mean-spirited. I think that we can all go on trying to do our best to follow our Savior in the way that we believe to be correct.

  • midwestlady

    Bingo! I was looking down here to see if anyone picked up on it. He’s trying to start a fight between Christians and Mormons for the sake of the Obama re-election effort. It’s completely transparent and pathetic.

  • midwestlady

    They’ve been on vacation for years.

  • midwestlady

    Agree Novamom,
    I’m a Christian and not a Mormon, and I think we don’t need to fight.

  • kodiak48

    I agree with Man-o-War. If one wants to get into differences of Doctrine as a way of defining ones Christianity then Catholics can say Lutheran’s are not Christian, Lutheran’s can say Methodist’s are not, Methodist’s can say Baptist’s are not. Under those circumstances the Baptist’s don’t have a leg to stand on because they are just a mutation of the Catholic church that has no real source of Authority to be saying who is or isn’t a Christian. A Christian is a follower of Christ that believes Christ is the way the truth and the light and the only pathway to salvation. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a Christian

  • FxFixer77

    Mason’s article is classic liberal over-analysis to the point of complete distortion. As a faithful convert member of the LDS church I can promise you, he won’t have his LDS credentials for long. He can then claim even more enlightened bitterness after he’s been excommunicated…no thinking person should judge the LDS church as non-Christian based on this loon!

  • Bob

    A Christian whines about being misrepresented by a Mormon? Oh boohoo Dr. Jenkins. Boohoo.

  • Patrick Manshardt

    It’s an outrage that this fool (Mason) allowed himself to be used by the Times in such a way.

  • Larry

    As a Catholic I completely agree with you. Perhaps the Times goal is to print articles so stupid that people of all faiths can come together and find common ground in condemning them.

  • Dan Maloy

    Amen!, brother, Amen!

    Oh well….the more we are persecuted, the faster we grow. That stone cut out of a mountain without hands mentioned by Daniel just keeps gettin’ bigger and bigger….

    Keep the faith!

  • Patrick

    Mason’s piece is complete nonsense. He is ignorant of Christian history and doctrine. Loads of books have been written that analyze Mormon doctrine in the light of the New Testament. I have encountered Mormon missionaries three times in the last several years and each time I have asked them who Jesus is, and each time they say ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. Then I ask them why they trust the word of Joseph Smith. They say they prayed about it and received the ‘burning in the bosom’, which they say confirms the authenticity of Smith’s teaching. It doesn’t seem terribly wise to rest one’s eternal destiny because they got a good feeling about it. But the most telling item is when I ask ‘How long has God been God?’. After looking at me with a rather surprised and confused expression this is usually the point where the missionaries tell me they have an appointment to get to and need to leave. I have found that the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is not something that is comfortable for Mormons to talk about. But Lorenzo Snow (fifth LDS President, 1840) summed up the doctrine perfectly when he said “As man is God once was; as God is man may become.” There is nothing wrong with civil discussions about theological differences between LDS doctrine and Christian doctrine, but at least do your homework first.

  • Steve

    In light of the fact that Lorenzo Snow didn’t become president of the LDS Church until 1898, I’d be a little more careful about telling others to do their homework first, Patrick.

  • Philip Jenkins

    I should add that nothing in my original posting was intended as the slightest criticism of the LDS, but was focused strictly on the newspaper’s willingness to print something wholly inaccurate about a religious tradition. Any future competition between Mormons and mainstream Christian churches should take the form of practical deeds rather than theological debate. Mormons have a tradition of charitable works and disaster relief that is quite magnificent. Let’s start a competition as to which churches can do a better job. Let’s start an alms race!

  • George F Somsel

    “… that Jesus is is also the Father and the Holy Sprit” is supposed to be orthodox? My friend, this is a classic heresy in itself. The orthodox position is that there are three hypostates in the Trinity. First remove the plank in your own eye.

  • Dorothy M Wood

    And likewise, “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a Christian” for the reason pointed out so well by Kodiak48. Thanks Kodiak48!

  • Vladimir

    I’m a Mormon and I’m very comfortable about eternal progression. Eternity is a long time and if I couldn’t accomplish things, learn things and grow there, I’d go nuts.

  • smogdew

    I have one problem w/Islam and Mormonism. N either was the result of Jesus’ being on earth 0-33. Islam was ~ mid 7th century, a creation of Muhammed who said God talked to him (and preached the Koran which is the absolute antithesis of the Judeo-Christian Bible?)
    And in the 1800s Joseph Smith claimed the same thing and wound up with yet aother veriosn of ‘God’s’ words? (Beneath the Banner of Heaven by Jon KraKouer).
    Ergo God created 3 different religions? I don’t think so. In Islam, they believe Jesus was a prophet –
    Jesus said, “You cannot get to the Father except through Me” – so, I’ll take Catholicism – the Judeo-Christian Bible. If you want to damn the Church, go for it – but you had better get your facts straight as to who, how, when, where, why and what – the most I’ve every heard is conjecture…..if you are going into battle, have some ammunition.

  • Dorothy M Wood

    Not everthing that is said by any one human being is scripture. That goes for EVERY MAN. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a Christian. I follow Christ — as all Christins do — to the best understanding I can derive directly from his life from the Holy Scriptures. I recommend the book of Mormon because it is a strong testimony of Christ written by several members of a family whose intent was to past along their experiences in life to future family members. It’s a family journal that turns out to contain encounters with Christ, not unlike those found in the bible, thus it is “another testimony” of Jesus Christ, supporting the life of Christ as we know it, as Christ had encounters in the middle East, so he had encounters with these people in America. If you want to checkout what the missionaries are trying to teach, first in the book of Mormon, read there in Moroni 10: 3-4 before beginning. You are not required to “get it” — you won’t be negatively affected, but you will get a sense of the religious experience they were talking about when they said “burning in the bosom”. It is actually the sense of knowing truth, that is, as you would have when you know something is true. I never take anyone’s word for it when it comes to that kind of knowledge, I go to the source when possible and recommend you do the same. Anti-literature abounds now with Mitt Romney at front and center. I hope you take the challenge and not trivialize the reliigion of true Christians who diligently follow Jesus Christ (see also the book Jesus the Christ written by a great teacher, Talmadge, buy it at Deseret Books, Salt Lake City).

  • Dorothy M Wood

    THE FATHER is infinite in the eternity, also his words never end: … “and there is no end to my works, neither to my words” Moses 1:38 from the Pearl of Great Price. Ask a missionary about that.

  • Sean

    Thank you Patrick for correctly quoting Lorenzo Snow. Did you know that that same concept was included in Masaccio’s “Holy Trinity” painted in 1428 in Florence Italy (Santa Maria Novella)? It says: “I was once what you are and what I am you will become”. Perhaps the differences in doctrine are not as extreme as we may believe. Perhaps it is our interpretations and perceptions that separate us more.

  • Wynn


    “But the most telling item is when I ask ‘How long has God been God?’. After looking at me with a rather surprised and confused expression this is usually the point where the missionaries tell me they have an appointment to get to and need to leave. ”

    You say that as though it is the final dagger to the heart of Mormon theology. Wouldn’t that same burden of logic be placed on “Christians” if asked when did God begin to be God? or where did God come from? Was there no “before” before God? If there was, what was it? If there was not, how does that work where there is no beginning? I don’t quite see how stumping young missionaries with essentially the same question that would stump all of Christianity makes any point about Mormon Doctrine, especially vis-a-vis Protestant Christian doctrine.

    Mr. Jenkins:

    “Let’s start and alms race”. I love it. Thank you for putting a smile on my face.

  • Robert Koomans

    You are ALL wrong!- Christian followers are described only by what The Risen Christ (Y’shua) required of them. God The Father was referred to as My Father by Jesus (y’shua – Long-form Yehoshua) – therefore Yeshua (Jesus) cannot be The Father, but as John the Baptist heard, His Beloved Son. Christians no longer follow God The Father’s Laws as y’shua taught us how, but follow a fraud from the 3rd century who “Thought to change times and places” by a decree in 231AD, as outlined in Prophecy, which ushered in the “mark of the Beast”. Those who follow only God and Y’shua are called “The Children (or people) of God”, by keeping the Laws He commanded, without omission. The M-O-B holders (in their hands (by omission) or their Heads (by deliberation), are those who keep the Law of Constantine, used by the Usurping Sun-Worshippers who took over the original Christian Church, and made it a “look-alike” of the original but with a number of Pagan practices and artifacts and ceremonies. Mormons have not yet woken up to this via the Saviour’s call to “Come OUT of Babylon” (or confused teachings and beliefs). Most of the other “Christian” Churches also are in the same boat. So – No-One can cast aspersions on the other without pointing out their Own sins against God (The unforgivable sin is one they refuse to repent of, and ignore the Holy Spirit). I truly hope, for the sake of USA and other English-Speaking nations, that you guys listen to God, instead of rubbishing His Words of Life and The Way. Selah!

  • Mark Gordon

    The one God is a trinity of distinct persons who share a divine nature. Jesus Christ is a divine person with two distinct natures, one divine (from all eternity) and one human (from the moment of his incarnation). Whether one disagrees or not, that’s what the Nicene Creed means. In stating that the Creed holds that “Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit,” Mason reveals his fundamental ignorance.

  • Mark Gordon

    Except that it is a ludicrous distortion of the Creed. Mason was not purporting to represent what a “large, large majority of Christians would be fine with.” He was purporting to encapsulate the trinitarian and Christological truths embedded in the Creed. He failed utterly, and his ignorance (or worse) deserves to be highlighted.

  • David

    Being a member of the LDS Church and an academic myself, I would hope that Dr. Mason would not be in fear for his church status. I know if I were his priesthood leader, there are no comments in his article that would lead to any disciplinary action. I don’t agree with his methods and think he is over-thinking and over-analyzing the distinctions amongst the denominations in Christianity. I see how his overly-complicated analysis could confuse people but don’t think that was his intent. I would hope that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Dr. Mason can say without any reservation that it is only through the atoning power of Jesus Christ that anyone can hope to have eternal life. Regardless of his clumsy verbiage and the unnecessarily constricted definition of the idea of Christianity, I give the benefit of the doubt to Dr. Mason. After all, isn’t that the “Christian” thing to do?

  • johnturner

    Ditto on praising Philip’s “alms race” suggestion. Theological sniping between Mormons and other Christians only leads to attitudes and behavior inimical to the teachings of Jesus.

    A number of years ago, I attended the LDS Hill Cumorah Pageant, in Palmyra, NY. I was ashamed to encounter Protestant protesters passing out anti-Mormon leaflets, etc. to the thousands of people who came to enjoy their faith’s sacred narrative and history. I cannot imagine a less Christlike form of outreach.

  • mercurino

    I’m not sure how important theological accuracy is for Mason’s fundamental point. Isn’t the point that Mormons don’t subscribe to the Nicene Creed — either in the incorrect form that Mason presents it, or in the theologically correct form? Other than impugning his credibility, what difference does the mistake make to the substance of his argument that Mormons don’t subscribe to the Nicene Creed?

    Of course, to this agnostic’s eyes, I’m not really sure I even grasp the subtle difference between “Jesus is also the Father and Holy Sprit” and Jesus is “a trinity of distinct persons who share a divine nature.”

  • Publius01

    Polemeros: Nothing in the Mormon religion has ever called into question the “christianity” of any other faith. Mormons have always recognized others who seek to follow the Lord as christians. You are simply misinformed.

  • Ben

    I am in full agreement with you that Mason appears (and most likely is) ignorant of the trinitarian theology as described in the Nicene Creed and elsewhere. However, I do disagree that Mason was intending to provide a theological commentary on the Creed, “purporting to encapsulate the trinitarian and Christological truths” embedded in it. Certainly, it is mentioned, but the point of the paragraph is to outline the argument of individual Christian believers in response to Mormon claims about being part of Christianity. Therefore, I think it is about what the “large, large majority of Christians would be fine with or use themselves”; it is about what Mr. Mason has heard from the Christian side in the argument. In my own experience, I have observed that far too many Christians understand the Trinity as a modalist would; therefore, I can easily imagine that Mr. Mason has heard modalist accounts of the Trinity from Christians and non-Christians alike. Therefore, I do not believe it to a ludicrous (Merriam-Webster: amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration, or eccentricity) distortion. It is an understandable misunderstanding of a very complex doctrine. I just wonder if we would be so outraged if it was a Catholic or Evangelical who made such a brief aside (which is more than conceivable). In any case, this is how it seems to me; I am sure many will see it differently.

  • Ben

    Although I agree with your final thought, I must clarify that the saying under the fresco is meant to apply to the dead corpse, not to any member of the depicted Trinity.

  • Patrick


    Lorenzo Snow did indeed become President in1898. However, he made the quote in 1840 after listening to Elder H. G. Sherwood explain the parable in Matt 20:1-16. In 1844 Joseph Smith himself basically confirmed Snow’s words in his King Follett Discourse when he said “…and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself…you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)


    The point here is to show that the original teachings of Mormonism teach that God is essentially a created being and therefore Mormonism is something altogether different from Christianity. Historic Christianity (and Judaism) teaches that God is eternal. You are correct that many people who call themselves Christians can’t do a very good job articulating many basic Christian doctrines, such as the nature of God. But plenty of theologians have clearly articulated the Biblical doctrine of God’s eternality, such as Augustine, Tertullian, Calvin, Edwards, Anselm, Craig, White, Sproul etc. Logically speaking, the universe itself or its creator must be eternal as it would be impossible for there to be an infinite series of “creators” in the past, each owing its existence to the previous creator. This would be an infinite regress and it is impossible to traverse an infinite series of anything in reality. Even gratuitously assuming that Mormonism teaches that God is eternal, and by eternal meaning that God has always existed outside of this universe and is a non-contingent being, the question of the nature of Jesus still remains. Either he is God-in-the-flesh (second Person of the Trinity) or he is a created being who was somehow adopted by God to be his son. If he is God-in-the-flesh then our salvation must and can only rest entirely on His completed work and righteousness and not in any way on what we do. But if he is a created being then He essentially becomes our role model in whose footsteps we must follow in order to be saved. Every single group that defined Jesus as a special creature ultimately based their individual salvation partly on His work and partly on their own work. This was true all the way back into the earliest centuries of the church in groups like the followers of gnosticism, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius and Arius. The ultimate question is on what basis are we saved? Is it completely and only by Christ or by Christ plus our own works? Given that Joseph Smith claimed that the angel Moroni told him that every sect of Christianity was wrong, fundamentally you need to determine how trustworthy Joseph Smith is.

  • Barry

    “My own response is “Huh?” I would be truly sad if anyone who had ever taken a Western Civ. course would perpetrate such a ludicrous distortion of the Nicene debates, and yet here we have it printed in the New York Times, our very own American Pravda, without a copy-editor taking a moment to say “Hey, hold on – that’s totally wrong! Shouldn’t someone ask Mason to rewrite this?” His declarations would after all be quite accurate if we inserted the word “not” a few times at strategic places.”

    Have you read Brooks or Friedman or Douthat?

  • Philip Jenkins

    I have great respect for David Brooks and Ross Douthat. I have also read Mr Friedman.

  • Jerry Chase

    The couple of commenters here that express great confidence in the Roman Catholic Church should read the following from their own Bibles. Hebrews, Ch. 9, especially verses 25 and 26. I hereby quote (NASB):
    “nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place with blood that it not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away much sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

    Please note the word, “once”, versus the word, “often”. As Jesus Himself said on the cross, “It is finished”.

  • Jerry Chase

    I made an error by inserting the word, “much”, between the words, “away” and “sin”. Mea culpa.