What I Learned from the Responses to my Post about Mormonism
There were almost 200 responses to my blog post titled “Is Mormonism Christian?” I approved about half of them. Many were simply off topic, uncivil or too long for posting here. This blog is for civil, respectful, constructive dialogue, not preaching, flaming or advocacy.
Many of the comments were by people claiming to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I usually gave them the benefit of the doubt. In a few cases I had reason to suspect they were pretending to be Mormon/LDS in order to put the worst “face” possible on that belief system and church. There are people who are heavily invested in keeping groups they consider cults from being considered anything else. There exists an “industry” of anti-cult propaganda.
What I learned from the responses I took seriously is that Mormonism, the belief system of the Latter Saints Church, is diverse and gradually shifting—in tone if not in substance. Many of the comments from lifelong LDS members confirmed that Mormon beliefs traditionally considered radically contrary to orthodox Christianity are gradually being pushed into the background and a “more Christian” face (i.e., more consistent with orthodox Christianity) is emerging. None of that means, as many point out, that there is any official denials of traditional Mormon beliefs on the part of LDS leaders; it only means (I take it) that LDS leaders are letting some beliefs go dormant.
Few who are aware of Robert Millett’s and other BYU Mormon teachers’ reinterpretations of Mormonism denied that he/they are reinterpreting the Mormon faith in a way that makes it more acceptable to evangelical Christians. What does that mean? To me it means that it is now easier for orthodox Christians (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, mainline and evangelical Protestants) to imagine that some Mormons actually are Christians even if their church is not yet orthodox enough to be considered part of the family of Christian churches. It is also easier to hopefully imagine that someday the LDS Church, like the Worldwide Church of God will embrace the essential of orthodox Christianity.
People who have read this blog even casually over the years know what I think those essentials are. For me to consider a church Christian it must preach and teach (or at least espouse on paper) that Jesus Christ is God and Savior, that God is one transcendent, eternal, omnipotent being always existing as three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that all humans who have reached the age of accountability (except Jesus) are sinners needing salvation and that salvation (reconciliation with God, forgiveness and abundant life) is through the atoning death of Jesus Christ alone and by God’s grace alone through faith, that Jesus Christ was God the Son incarnate who died and rose bodily (empty tomb) and is the one mediator between God and people, that he will return to establish his forever Kingdom in a new heaven and new earth, and that the Bible is the sole supreme authority for Christian faith and practice.
To the extent that Mormons teach and believe the above, they are Christians.
The biggest obstacles to considering traditional Mormonism (a belief system) Christian lie in sayings of past Mormon presidents including Joseph Smith in his King Follett Discourse and Lorenzo Snow. Some are strongly hinted at, if not explicitly stated in The Articles of Faith by Talmage which most Mormons commenting here admit is still an authoritative summary of Mormon doctrine.
To the extent that Mormons teach and believe that there is more than one God, that Jesus Christ was not always God, equal in deity with the Father, that human beings can be “exalted” to deity (equal in divinity with God the Father and ruling over their own planet in exactly the same manner he rules over earth), that adult humans are not all sinners in need of salvation (forgiveness, reconciliation, new abundant life as a gift of God), that some part of salvation can be earned by good works, that all churches except the LDS Church are “apostate,” they are not Christians.
Whether someone is saved or not is separate from whether they are Christian. Many people have thrown themselves on the mercy of God in repentance and trust in him alone whose minds are confused about the truth of the gospel. I do not think salvation depends on passing a doctrinal test. Neither do I think doctrine is unimportant. God cares what we think, preach and teach about him.
I suspect many Mormons are saved, but in individual cases it’s not my business to decide. But as a Christian theologian it is my business to decide, for myself and those whom I influence, which churches should be considered authentically Christian. Obviously not all that call themselves “Christian” really are—in the theological sense. (The only other sense is sociological and that’s a different though somewhat overlapping approach to defining “Christian.”)
As of right now, I cannot consider the LDS Church a Christian church, but I can and do recognize some Mormons as Christians—in spite of their church affiliation. I have no idea how many I would recognize as Christian if I knew more. Maybe many. I do believe the vast majority of Mormons are “good people.” I would rather have many Mormons as neighbors than many Baptists. And I think the LDS Church does many good things. I admire their emphasis on morality and good citizenship as well as their welfare system. And I love their choir!
On the other hand I do not consider the LDS Church a cult. I consider it a quasi-Christian denomination and a Christian-based world religion. I still think there is enough Christianity in Mormonism that there is reason to hope that someday the LDS Church will emerge, as the WCG did, as a truly Christian denomination.
Note: If you choose to respond, know that you are wasting your time if your comment is not constructive, contributing to understanding and dialogue, or is too lengthy (more than 200 words), or insulting, uncivil or dubious as to facts. Do not post more than one comment on this essay. This is not a discussion board for interaction between others; it is a space for my expression of my opinions and civil, helpful, dialogue-promoting responses to them. I am open to correction that is helpful and constructive and supported by verifiable facts. Mere pontificating is not welcome.