In the last few days, in response to the dustup over Mormonism’s “cult” status, lots of Mormons have been insisting that of course we are Christian, that it’s unkind of Evangelical Christians to say that we’re not. The argument that we are Christians generally includes reference to 1) the name of our church (“Jesus Christ” is even in a big font!), 2) a citation of 2 Nephi 25:26 (“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”) 3) personal belief in Christ as Savior, and 4) our efforts to follow Jesus, to “be like Him.”
(4) The fact that we would include the idea that we are “trying to be like Jesus” in our response suggests our total ignorance of the questions that are at stake for our Evangelical friends and interlocutors. Mormons are “trying to be like Jesus” in a way that is fundamentally offensive to many Christians, because we believe that we are consubstantial with Christ in a way that is antithetical to most Christian soteriology. Evangelicals (and traditional Christians much more broadly) believe that Jesus has to be fully God in order to work Atonement, because the entire creation is fallen. We can’t save ourselves because we’re part of that creation. If Jesus is part of what God created–as Mormons vehemently insist he is–then he’s also tainted by the Fall and therefore unable to perform Atonement. Of course this theological problem doesn’t resonate for us, since we don’t believe in the same kind of Fall as traditional Christianity, either. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a real and serious problem which principled Christians are right to take seriously as a marker of what counts as Christian.
The fact that theology is generally less important to Mormons than practice does not excuse our ignorance of what is at stake theologically for our friends in the Christian world. In many contexts (Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, anyone?), Mormons are actually pretty scornful of the notion that being a nice, good person who follows the Golden Rule counts as salvific Christianity, so we really ought to be able, with a bit of study, to get our heads around this and stop making the vacuous suggestion that trying to do good works suffices to make a Christian.
(3) Likewise, personal belief in Jesus as Savior is not considered sufficient to merit exaltation in Mormon teachings–there’s no reason why we should insist that our personal feelings about Jesus should be persuasive to traditional Christians any more than their experience of being saved or born again excuses them from our requirement of baptism and confirmation if they decide to profess Mormonism. Loving Jesus is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for being either Christian or Mormon (or both).
(2) This verse is lovely, and may be the best evidence we’ve got of our devotion to Jesus. Alas, it comes from the Book of Mormon, the very existence of which excludes us from most Christian denominations, which aver some version of scriptural inerrancy–“We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or falseness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.”  You can see why telling people who “deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it [and] further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings” that we have “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” that corrects mistaken notions perpetuated by the Bible and clearly demonstrates our Christianity, might be unpersuasive, and might even seem like a complete contradiction to them.
(1) I’m going to try not to be snide about prooftexting based on the name of the church, but it will be difficult, particularly since we just made a big fuss in General Conference about who gets to call themselves “Mormon.” Naming is, by its nature, the process of attaching a series of essentially arbitrary signs to a person or object. That we imbue the name of our church with great significance, and believe that it should tell the world a great deal about us, is unsurprising. It should, however, be likewise unsurprising that our semiotics will be interpreted differently by outsiders, and that our signals will look different from the outside than they do from inside. Angle of incidence, angle of refraction, etc. Our own resistance to taking the name of a church as evidence of its claim to affiliation is surely clear from our response to the many churches that have some variant of “Latter-day Saint” in their title. The name of our church shows that we think of ourselves as devoted to Jesus Christ, but it just shouldn’t be expected to do much work in terms of persuading other people who define “Christian” more specifically.
I understand that some accusations that Mormons are not Christian are borne of pure political nastiness, and really are attempts to demonize or make Mormons “other.” That is, of course, reprehensible; there’s no excuse for insisting that only Christians whose beliefs meet some particular test ought to hold office in this country. Moreover, I don’t think that the “traditional” definition of Christianity is uncontestable–there are plenty of arguments to be made about whether a religion centered in the person of Jesus Christ should be called “Christian,” regardless of whether its tenets conform to the accretion of theological principles that became attached to the history of Jesus of Nazareth. But we have to actually make those arguments. It won’t do to just keep asserting “yes we are!” as though that were an adequate response to the large questions inherent in the apparently simple question of whether Mormons are Christian. We need to be better educated so that we can tell the difference between prejudice and the principled religious and theological objections of Christians who are skeptical of Mormon Christianity, and so that we can articulate the nature of our “otherness” more clearly, both to our friends and to ourselves. We shouldn’t need the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to point out to us that we’re the ones who said we didn’t want to be creedal Christians! If we don’t now have a seat at the table of traditional Christianity, it’s not entirely their fault–it has an awful lot to do with the fact that we walked out of the party and slammed the door on the way out (words like “abomination” have that effect). If we want to rejoin the conversation, it would be better for us not to self-righteously instruct the dinner guests about their duty to admit us on our own terms. Far better to see what’s on the menu and ask (nicely, because Mormons are good at nice!) if we can bring funeral potatoes or green jello.
 from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
 Here’s the rule, as articulated by a friend of mine: We’re not Mormon, unless someone else is saying they’re Mormon, and then we are and they’re not. Oops, that was kind of snide. Sorry.