Stop Saying That!!

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.” [1] 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.”[2] 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.

[1] from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

[2] 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.

Comments

  1. Kristine, you put in words what I’ve wanted to scream to people all over Facebook for the last few days. Thank you for this.

    I guess the question I’ve wanted to pose to these people who are doing all the things you say in your post is “What are you trying to prove?”

  2. Kristine, I agree. I’ve surprised a couple of my evangelical acquaintances when they say “You don’t worship the same Christ we do” by saying, “You’re right! We don’t!” That usually will open the door to a rational discussion of the real theological differences after their lower jaw rebounds from the floor.

  3. TT’s useful caveat about assuming a unified “traditional Christianity,” as I have sloppily done: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2009/11/historic-orthodox-christianity

  4. Well said. I loved the church’s response to this (or I guess I should say their refusal to comment). I then wondered why so many members felt that rather than following the church’s example instead started “my momma’s so Christian” matches. This is another instance of people yelling past each other without stopping to explain what they mean when they use a particular word. A friend of mine recently had an experience which I think shows the ideal way to approach such disagreements. He’s mormon, and he and his wife ended up meeting and befriending a youth pastor and his wife. Eventually, they invited the Pastor and his wife to a ward activity (I believe it was some type of picnic). At the end of the picnic, the pastor confided that he just couldn’t believe that God would send mormons to hell.

    I think the only people who can stop whatever anti-mormon prejudice is out there, is us mormons; the way to do so isn’t to shout back that “WE ARE CHRISTIANS!”, but to show it in our actions. Friendship is, after all, the “grand fundamental principle” of Mormonism. Those who view a rejection of “creedal Christianity” as a rejection of Christianity itself likely won’t be convinced either way, but at least we can avoid fruitless argumentation.

  5. One of the big problems with communal names, like “Christian”, is that it’s completely unclear who owns them. (Part of the issue is just this: since when did the Southern Baptists get to decide the criteria for Christianity?) The deeper issue, I take it, is a communicative one, and one that hooks up with the fact that different groups are going to take different messages away from uses of the same one. We’re presumably not interested in the label “Christian” for what it will say to the theologensia — those hip to “what’s at stake” for Evangelical theology. The theologically untutored — perhaps vaguely religious, but with no real dog in any theological fight — take a very different message from being told some group is or isn’t “Christian”, and the message is (more or less) that the group doesn’t meet anything like conditions 2–4. The real worry is that if we let the theologically sophisticated not call us “Christian” on doctrinal grounds irrelevant to 2–4, we allow them to communicate the falsehood that we’re not in 2–4 territory.

  6. Not all Mormons “vehemently insist” that Jesus is part of what God created. Some (perhaps the minority) proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, as indicated in the Book of Mormon title page and throughout the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (and the Bible, too). To me (a Mormon), Jesus is fully God and always has been and always will be. I see great meaning in the Savior’s instruction shown in John 14:6-ff.

    I would re-write a sentence in the second paragraph as “If Jesus is part of what God created–as some Mormons vehemently insist he is–then he’s also tainted. . .”

    This is not intended to be a threadjack. Given the insertion of the “some”, I agree that we are not seeing the matter as some of the louder Evangelical Christians see it — and you are right that our protestations are not convincing to them.

  7. “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.”

    I don’t think that’s it at all; or at least, I’ve never encountered that argument, and I’ve read a good chunk of anti-Mormon lit (and not the crappy stuff either.) Most EV’s I know use “Christian” as a synonym for “someone who is saved (according to Evangelical standards);” Since Mormons are such obvious heretics, we’re not Christians.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Spoken like a member of a theological cult.

  9. If Protestants would simply say, “Mormons are not creedal Christians” I’d be entirely happy with it, but that’s not what people think of when they say “non-Christian cult”; they think of Branch Davidians, or (unfairly) Hindus or something along those lines. The problem is one of definitions.

  10. Struwelpeter says:

    The interesting aspect of this to me is the fact that this is occurring on Facebook, where those who read my statements are, by definition, my “Friends”. If my actions and interactions with my friends haven’t already convinced them that I am a Christian, then shame on me.

  11. Right, Ben–I think the word “cult” is probably a good indication that someone is not making a neutral descriptive statement :)

  12. Thank you for pointing out how we tend to talk past Evangelicals. I agree that merely telling Evangelicals we are Christian will not, by itself, convince them. But neither will a doctrinal discussion. To borrow from Kevin Barney, I think we ought to try to persuade Evangelicals to add a qualifier to the term “Christian” when excluding Latter-Day Saints. I take no offense if Evangelicals say we are not creedal Christians, born-again Christians, historical Christians, or even traditional Christians. But to say we are not Christian altogether denies the commonly-understood dictionary definition of the term and confuses those unfamiliar with Evangelical theology. When Evangelicals tell people we are not Christian, they are using a specific, Evangelical definition of the term, but they often do not disclose their definition to their listeners.

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=15&num=1&id=471

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/christian

  13. ji–the trouble is believing that in the Mormon understanding Jesus remains embodied as a separate personage from God. Both the embodiment and the separateness are serious heresies.

  14. You almost completely miss the point, Kristine. What is a ‘Christian’ isn’t about who gets saved or exalted or whose theology is correct or whatever. Its about what words mean and what words most accurately convey the real differences that exist. Calling Mormons non-Christian simply conveys an untruth about the role of Christ in Mormon teaching and the relationship of Mormonism to the New Testament accounts. Calling Mormons non-traditional, marginal, unorthodox,, etc., Christians is the most accurate phraseology.

    You admit this yourself, when you refer to Mormon beliefs as ‘heresies.’ They can only be Christian heresies if they are Christian in some sense. Buddhism isn’t heretical, because its not a variant of Christianity.

  15. “they often do not disclose their definition to their listeners.”

    Of course they do! Statements of belief, recitation of the Nicene creed or the Apostles’ Creed as part of services, etc. are abundant and obvious. The fact that Latter-day Saints are ignorant of the definitional issues is our fault, not theirs. After all, we don’t go around saying, “we’re Latter-day Saints, and by that we mean not polygamist, not priesthood-ban practicing, not Adam-God believing, Book of Mormon absolutist, non-women-ordaining Latter Day Saints, who don’t capitalize “Day”” to make it clear to the Cutlerites or the Community of Christ why they don’t properly belong to our tradition.

  16. To add to the list of more precise and less offensive terms: not Protestants.

    I don’t think points 2-4 that Kristine lists are a bad way to respond, but perhaps they should be prefaced by: this is what we mean by “we’re Christians” and our usage matches all but the most obscure definitions.

  17. Adam, I agree–I’m not saying Mormons aren’t Christian, I’m saying a) that we don’t fit most traditional definitions of Christian orthodoxy, b) that we don’t even know what those definitions are, and c) that b) causes problems for us in speaking with people who accept those definitions as given.

  18. I want a t-shirt that says Cultists for Jesus.

  19. When I heard the “cult” issue come up again, I immediately thought of two expected responses: (1) My LDS facebook friends would rant and rave, post quotes, videos, etc. explaining how we are not a cult; (2) the bloggernacle (BCC or T&S) would in turn respond by shouting down my fanatical facebook friends and pointing out “oh so obvious” errors in their statements/posts. So predictable. Yawn. Next.

  20. Brian-A, they’re not “obscure” definitions. But yes, prefacing our responses with this is why _we_ call ourselves Christian would help.

  21. Adam, you claim that Kristine almost completely misses the point and then illustrate that by making additional claims that in no way refute or deviate from her original post. This vexes my brain.

  22. Kristine (no. 13) — I would offer that Jesus is embodied separately from the Father, not from God. In my heart, Jesus is our God — he is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob — he is the God of Israel and the whole earth. There are many, many verses of scripture so testifying to me, but let me cite just one, D&C 132:12, where Jesus Christ claims for himself the title of God and says no man comes unto the Father but by him. In this verse, Jesus acknowledges the Father and the goal of our return but retains the title of our God for himself.

    Sometimes, I think the common practice among Mormons of denying (or de-emphasizing) the divinity of Jesus Christ and emphasizing the separateness of the Father and the Son is problematic for others. Perhaps they see us as they do because of the picture we paint ourselves.

  23. Shhhh–Brad! Adam has to phrase even total agreement as disagreement with me. It prevents apocalypse.

  24. If one group has a non-obvious particularistic definition of a term, and communications problems result, it is not clear to me that the problems are the fault of those outside the group.

    And the Apostles Creeds, etc., while they define the beliefs of those who say them, nowhere state that they are defining the term ‘Christian’. Also it isn’t obvious to me that the Mormon variation from what Group X means by the terms in the creeds is greater than the deviation within traditional Christianity itself.

  25. RobC, that’s an impressively productive contribution to this conversation, particularly in the degree to which it contributes nothing substantive and is designed to derail rather than promote any dialog whatsoever. I would also add how impressed I am by the comment’s utter non engagement with anything Kristine (or anyone else) actually said.

  26. No, Brad, YOU vex your brain. Burn!

  27. ji, I don’t really disagree with you, but I think the key phrase in your comment is “in my heart.” I’m really not talking about what Mormons themselves believe, about whether their Christianity is sincere, only about the theological disconnects that cause many Christians to think that that sincerity is not enough to warrant admitting Mormons under the heading “Christianity.”

  28. RobC,
    sunsets are also predictable. Lean back and enjoy it.

  29. Jeremy Jensen says:

    Kristine, you’re missing the point of what Raymond is saying. Evangelicals use a theological definition of the word “Christian” but often insist on applying their narrow, theological definition within contexts that call for a more general definition, such as political or academic discourse. A general use definition of the word “Christian” of course applies to Mormons. We worship Christ, we believe in His divinity, we believe He created the Earth, we believe He is the Son of God. Anyone not well versed in the theological debates between different Christian factions would think insane a general use definition of Christianity that excluded us.

  30. “abundant and obvious”
    Maybe this should be true for Mormons. But my point is that, to most people, the word “Christian” means “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings.” When atheists, agnostics, muslims, jews, mainline protestants, and others hear it said that we are not Christian, they are liable to think that our religion is not in any way derived from or related to Jesus Christ. And yet, I think Evangelicals would agree that even Mormons fit this bland dictionary definition. Yes, we Mormons should know that when Evangelicals say “Christian,” they are using a private definition. But it is still incumbent upon Evangelicals to explain what they mean to others.

  31. Another thing I would add is: use your own words. Be able to articulate your own rationale for why you claim a Christian identity, no matter how you choose to qualify that or not. Don’t post statements or videos of General Authorities saying nice things about Mormons being Christians. This is not only not helpful, but counter-productive. 1) People who think we’re not Christian think these guys are the leaders of the “cult.” They don’t afford their words any special status like you do (unless its an especially untrustworthy status). They won’t be convinced by it. And 2) It tends to confirm some of the worst stereotypes about Mormons– that we are mindless drones who do anything and believe anything that our leaders say. Your words may not be able to convince them that we are Christian, but if you do it in a personal way instead of cribbing from GAs, you might just convince them that you have put some serious thought and effort into the question yourself.

  32. At my latitude, “Christian” usually means something like follows Christ, or values the New Testament, or thinks Jesus brought about redemption from sin. Hence, unexplained accusations in the news that Mormon’s aren’t Christians seem intentionally obfuscatory and intentionally offensive. Is popular usage so different elsewhere?

  33. Jeremy–right. There are (at least) three discussions getting conflated: one is theological, and motivated by what I take to be sincere conviction that Mormonism’s doctrine is simply too far beyond the pale to be called “Christian” according to some broad notion of “traditional” Christian belief. Another is a political argument, related to ideas about America as a Judeo-Christian nation, and what I take to be a prejudiced preference for Protestant Christians of a certain stripe as candidates for office. And there’s a sociological conversation about whether one is “Christian” in the very broadest sense of trying to conform ones life to the rules Jesus taught.

    In that third sense, I think there’s no question that Mormons _are_ Christian. I find the political discussion of who counts as Christian enough to be a real American distasteful and illegitimate. It is the theological discussion I find interesting, and which I think would help Mormons better understand why people can in good faith insist that we are not Christian. If we understand the terms of the theological debate, I think we are likely to get a lot less exercised about being called non-Christian, because we won’t be conflating that theological definition with the sociological one in which it’s really important to be perceived as Christian. Then we can quit worrying about terminology and go about the work of Christianity.

  34. Strongly disagree. Most of the people saying that Mormons aren’t Christian don’t make the distinction you make between types of definitions, even in their own mind. Not that I can see, anyway.

  35. I have two problems with the evangelical claim.

    First, who are they to be able to determine who owns the term “Christian”? Yes, we are not traditional Christians, and there is an argument that we could be considered a 4th Abrahamic tradition, but it shouldn’t be evangelicals, and especially Southern Baptists (created in 1845, versus our 1830) to determine what is historical Christianity.

    Second, we are not a cult. For them to use the term is only as a pejorative to separate them from us. It is one thing for them to say we are not traditional Christians, or even not Christians because we do not follow their tradition, but to put us in a corner by calling us a cult, akin to Jimmy Jones or Charles Manson’s groups is pure insult.

    We ARE Restorationist Christians, and should be able to use the term.

  36. Kristine, but we can’t do the works of Christianity if we are not Christian! ;)

  37. In my own experience of having someone tell me “You’re not Christian,” simply agreeing with them would get us no where and only crystallize their ignorance.

    When it’s a matter of someone applying their conveniently-crafted, crooked-line definition of the correct way to deify Jesus Christ that magically includes them and not me, then I take exception to that. Especially when they’re just regurgitating crap they heard someone else tell them.

  38. Alan, sometimes it helps to know what the source is of the stuff they’re regurgitating–then you can engage them in terms they can understand.

    Adam, again, we don’t disagree. I said the discussions are “conflated,” which I take to mean precisely that people don’t make those distinctions in their own minds.

  39. Rameumptom–I agree with you that “cult” is not a very useful word in most contexts, and I also agree with you that there’s no need to cede the debate to Evangelicals. However, if we’re going to participate meaningfully in the debate, we need to understand what it’s about, and I think we mostly don’t.

  40. If evangelicals are conflating definitions—which they are–I don’t see what you’re lecturing Mormons about. I am aware of the definitional distinctions you make, and being aware of them or even pointing them out hasn’t helped me to unconflate things for evangelicals.

  41. One more point regarding 15: I actually think our attempted ownership of the word “Mormon” provides a good analogy. Since most people do not know the theological differences between us and the Community of Christ and the Apostolic United Brethren, etc., when they hear about “Mormons” they are likely to think of the entire Mormon movement. Therefore, if we want to exclude those groups from a conversation about our religion, then we should use a more specifc term, like LDS, or perhaps mainline Mormon. Likewise, if Evangelicals want to exclude us from a discussion of Christianity, they should specify that they are talking about historical Christians, for example.
    By the way, Evangelicals often do use such qualifiers. I even heard Rev. Jeffress clarify that we are not “historical” Christians. That’s all I ask. I hope it would not be too difficult to persuade Evangelicals to use these qualifiers more often when referring to Mormons.

  42. I can’t speak to the theology and all, but after reading this post I’m happy that at least some Mormons are Kristine.

  43. I don’t know how I’ll sleep at night if some snake-handling illiterates don’t think I’m Jesusy enough.

  44. 43 – HA!

  45. GST,
    pray to your bro Satan.

  46. gst, its like when a Sunni cleric declares that a Sh’ia is not a real Muslim. There may be real theological differences that lead him to believe so, but it confuses the hell out of the rest of us. Especially when you’re discussing candidates for President, its irresponsible not to qualify these terms.

    Kristine – loved the post anyway. We have a great deal of work to do on our end.

  47. Gst, let’s see if you feel the same way when you’re pulling the voting lever to give one of those snake handling illiterates our nuclear codes.

  48. I think some of the cross talk here is a product of differing purposes. The points Kristine raises are relevant to the debate about our Christian status only to the degree that one is interested in dialog with the people making the accusations of non christian cultism, as opposed to addressing the third parties that those accusations are meant to influence. If we want our arguments about our (however qualified) status as Christians to carry weight with the folks trying to exclude us from that designation (as opposed to the people they are trying to politically influence with their exclusionary discourse), then Kristine’s points here are extremely useful.

  49. 43- Most of my relatives are “snake handling illiterates”. Literally. My cousin died in 1994 after handling snakes at church and being bitten by a Cottonmouth. I know your comment was probably more tongue-in-cheek than serious, but honestly theirs is the only religion in my area that HASN’T jumped on the “Mormons belong to a cult” bandwagon. Just as I look past their (to me) odd worship elements, they seem to afford us the same respect- they accept it when we say we worship Christ.

  50. …All of which is an entirely separate question from the irony of our efforts to exclude other groups with Restoration heritage from the designation of “Mormon.”

  51. I’m just glad to have found a topic that so frustrates Kristine that it overpowers her distaste for multiple exclamation points!!! Sign of the apocalypse, Indeed!!!!

  52. When asked whether Mormons are Christians, the correct response is: “What do you mean?”

    And in the political arena, the correct response is: “Who let this jackass in the building?”

  53. We speak, they refute; they speak, we refute. Both with a sense of spiritual superiority that, as far as I understand it, makes no difference at all. It doesn’t matter to me what people call me — well, yes, it does make me sad — but what really counts is not whether I say I am a follower of Christ but whether I act like and can be identified by those actions as a follower of Christ. That is what will define me as a Christian. Isn’t part of the reason we get so upset about this because the label, as artificial as it is, is perhaps more important than it should be? Maybe you could say that it’s a form of “designer” label.

  54. An Evangelical friend put it to me this way. For some Protestants, “Christian” = saved/in the fold of Jesus. For Mormons, “Christian = not necessarily saved/in the fold of Jesus. Why this can be very offensive to non-Mormon Christians is completely lost on most LDS.

  55. AMEN!!! So tired of all of this “I’m rubber, you’re glue, what you say bounces off me and sticks on you!!” nonsense, but if posting on FB makes people feel like they stood up for their religion and poked a thumb in the eye of others, more power to ‘em, but leave me and the LDS church out of it please.

  56. Mommie Dearest says:

    Nice post laying out the theological issues. I actually understood it, and I’m not a scholarly geek or anything. I’m just an intuitive ADHD blograt.

    But without getting in the theological morass, I base my definition of Christian not on the dictionary, but on the criteria found in the New Testament. According to my understanding of that, Mormons qualify. Now, to examine whether some of the creedal Christians qualify by that same criteria might be rather…unchristian. And such an approach might also raise questions about my understanding of the criteria the New Testament. I wish it was better, and that we spent at least as much time studying that in our meetings as we do in fetishizing the ideal family and gender roles.

    I have to say that I am enjoying seeing how many political commentators respond to this latest iteration erupting in public by affirming that this sort of theological discussion has no place in a political campaign. How did one astute evangelical put it? “We’re not electing Senior Pastor here.”

  57. Oy, this is going quick.

    First issue defining Mormonism in relation to Christianity: Ontology and theology.
    Ben, 7 – I’ll take partial credit for this notion. It’s not going to pop up in most popular anti-Mormon lit but it is something that serious theologians have brought up in conversation with me several times, and I think it’s what lies at the heart of the “different Jesus” claim. It’s not quite right for several reasons to call Mormons Arian – the ancient heresy that the council of Chalcedon was called to address, but the same idea lies at the heart of both: that Christ is different from God the Father, and thus somehow lower, and thus, perhaps, not capable of working redemption on the creation. This is at the most conceptual level related to issues of _ontology_ – the nature of being, and the proposition that God’s eternal nature is different from that of his creation.

    What Mormons need to address this is a coherent Christology of our own – a way of explaining what divinity actually is and who Christ is in relation to divinity and how both of those concepts are related to atonement and salvation. We don’t really have that; we have a lot of phrases and titles for Christ but not a systematic Mormon Christology. What JI is trying to do is develop one on the fly – and I agree that it’s got to be related to the notion that Mormon ontology is different from creedal ontology.

    Second issue: Conversion.
    What a few other posts are doing, like 29, 30, is saying “of course Christian means X,” and therefore, Mormons are included. What that “of course” usually entails is “following Jesus” or “Trying to be like Jesus.” To many evangelicals – following some implications Paul gives in First Corinthians – a Christian is somebody who’s had a conversion experience and has thus been changed through the workings of the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with what you’re believing or how you’re living your life; it has to do with what God has done to you.

    The point is that the word is an essentially contested concept, so it does no use to insist “Of course we’re Christian!” and get mad when somebody says we’re not. We’re just talking past each other if we don’t try to figure out what we all mean by the term.

  58. I honestly can’t Understand why these politicians feel the need to bring their religious views or practices into the public at all. Government is supposed to reflect the people it governs. I don’t give a care what religion you are when you apply for a job-elections are job getting contests. I wouldn’t walk into an interview and start sharing my sex life because like religion, it’s my personal business.

  59. Right on, Kristine.

  60. Kristine,

    I don’t know which Evangelical Christians you are talking with, but in my experience most people who say we’re not Christians can’t articulate why were not Christians any better than most Mormons can articulate why evangelicals don’t think we’re Christians. I don’t see a need to get all uppity towards Mormons who don’t understand evangelicalism unless you get equally uppity with evangelicals who don’t understand Mormonism (and if you do, then maybe you just need to chill out in general).

  61. It’s an disagreement over a label that confers legitimacy. Are Mormons Christian? Are gay married people married?

  62. Cheri: “I honestly can’t Understand why these politicians feel the need to bring their religious views or practices into the public at all.”

    It helps them win elections. Or, at the very least, helps them keep their opponents from winning.

  63. Instead of arguing on the Christian/non-Christian issue, we should instead hammer that idiot Jeffress on his dishonesty about the “cult” slur. For him to try to weasel out of it by claiming that he meant Mormons were a “theological” cult and not a “sociological” cult, when he knows darn well that everybody will think of Jim Jones and the cool-aid drinkers, is dishonesty of the worst sort. Almost makes me long for the good old days of sectarian preachers as Satan’s hirelings.

  64. I agree, Mark. Whatever his rationale for wanting to mark and emphasize a distinction between mormons and whatever it is he considers to be real christians, his insistence on finding a way of using the word “cult” as promiscuously as possibly puts the lie to his alleged civility and interest in mere descriptive clarity. Say we’re non traditional, say we’re unorthodox, say we’re heretical—but the moment you say cult, your status as a power grabbing asshole is what becomes clearest.

  65. Luckily the spouse and I both agree on this. We’re not Christians. As a church we don’t participate in the Christian community. We don’t get the kids/adults together and play baseball against local congregations during the summer. We don’t have our bishops get to know the local pastors on a regular basis, we also don’t show support for when local congregations struggle. Rather than preach to the love of Christ, we preach to the importance of modesty.

    So why are we suppose to proclaim to be involved in something we go out of our way to stay out of? We’re not Christians, we’re Mormons. There’s a difference. Get over it.

  66. Mark B.,
    that’s a stupid comment.

    Not an intellectually stupid comment, mind. It’s climatologically stupid.

  67. Kristine! Traditional Christianity is not Protestant! Read Eamon Duffy’s the Stripping of the Altars to see what traditional Christianity was.

    Such a minute percentage of Christians living or dead would understand the distinctions you are making.

    Evangelicals don’t own the term.

    I think this calls for some more posts.

  68. “Likewise, it just doesn’t seem right that the FLDS can overturn more than a century and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a century and a half after the Mormon faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles. By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself Catholic.”

    —LDS Newsroom

    Sigh…

  69. There are a lot of questions being asked here.

    My first response is who gets to decide who a Christian is? I think a most basic description would be a person that believes in the resurection of Jesus. Followed by celebration of Easter and Christmas for cultural markers. By this basic definition Mormons are Christians.

    Another interesting point is that Evangelical Christianity is a reform movement within American Protestantism that started perhaps 100 years ago. They ain’t very old and I am not sure why they think their views define what a Christian is. A vast majority of Christians worldwide fall outside the evangelical tent.

    Lots of American Christians are what I would describe as “Post Christian” In other words they do not believe in the story of Jesus.

    My resposne to all of this is taht yes we fall outside of Creedal Christianity…. However we believe in the New Testemant Jesus.

  70. Jeremy Jensen says:

    “Rather than preach to the love of Christ, we preach to the importance of modesty.”

    We preach both. And everything you mentioned in your post is beside the point. None of that has any bearing on whether we’re Christian.

  71. “And everything you mentioned in your post is beside the point. None of that has any bearing on whether we’re Christian.”

    Nice analysis.

    Here’s a nice rule of thumb: when something goes completely over your head, better to just keep quiet than betray your lack of understanding with a glib and ignorantly dismissive drive-by comment.

  72. Struwelpeter says:

    I do not believe the membership of the Church is as ignorant of the definitions being used to exclude us from the Christian tent as Kristine theorizes. Just a few weeks ago in my priesthood quorum, someone raised the question “Why is it so many people say that we aren’t Christians?” The response from the instructor: “I believe most of them base it on the fact we don’t adhere to the traditional creeds, like the Nicene Creed.”

    However, the fact that we are aware of the reason for the exclusion doesn’t stop us from disagreeing with the definition behind the exclusion. We argue instead for a different definition, one based on our Christian lives and our veneration of Christ.

    And how’s this for irony on the Christian front: although as a Church we do not emphasize the cross as a symbol of our faith, the State of Utah is currently pushing the U.S. Supreme Court to grant certiorari in a case analyzing whether the Highway Patrol’s use of crosses to memorialize fallen troopers violates the First Amendment.

  73. Jeremy Jensen says:

    “Here’s a nice rule of thumb: when something goes completely over your head, better to just keep quiet than betray your lack of understanding with a glib and ignorantly dismissive drive-by comment.”

    Tell me what I failed to understand about NewlyHousewife’s post. She was saying that we’re not Christians because we don’t collaborate with other Christians in the community. To the extent that it’s true, that’s an argument for the idea that we can be insular at times, not an argument for or against our status as Christians. I don’t see anywhere in the definition of Christian (whether that be the theological definition, the general-use definition, or the sociological definition) that excludes a group based on its insular tendencies. That was my point. I may not agree with her assertion, but, unless you can explain what, exactly, I missed, her point didn’t go over my head. And you assuming that I did was arrogant.

  74. That’s my bad, Jeremy. I thought your comment was directed at Kristine’s original post. It makes much better sense as a response to NHW’s comment—a fact which clearly went over my head. :-/

    Mea culpa.

  75. Jeremy Jensen says:

    Furthermore, Brad, if being insular excludes you from being Christian, there’s a lot of groups that are unquestionably Christian, that would get upset if you implied that they weren’t Christian, that have insular tendencies. The tendency to collaborate with other Christians simply isn’t a relevant factor here.

  76. Jeremy Jensen says:

    Oops. Entered my comment after you put yours in, Brad. Mea culpa on my end as well.

  77. No worries. And, fwiw, I agree with you RE insularity.

  78. I’m with Steve Flemming. Kristine, I can’t think of any good reason to allow a current segment of American Christians to puppy-guard the Christian label. It simply doesn’t hold up under the weight of historical scrutiny. Yes, there are important differences. Yes, I’m in favor of a more informed discourse between members of the Church and other Christians. But overall, their historically idiosyncratic definition of Christian need not be ceded.

  79. “their historically idiosyncratic definition of Christian need not be ceded.”

    Yes! As I’ve said several times. It’s a definition that can and should be contested. But we can’t do that if we don’t understand the terms of the extant debate.

    For reference, from the OP:

    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.

  80. Sorry for the exclamation marks.

    Controlling the label holds considerable power, so you understand why people would want to do it. It’s also understandable why people would want to identify as simply as Christian (I kind of like the term myself). It’s also useful to understand why we really bother Evangelicals (I understand that our missionary work is seen as particularly galling).

    But still, there are lots of different kinds of Christians out there. Historically most denominations have not named themselves but are named by the larger society (that’s true of Baptists and Methodists among many others). We’re one of the few that has insisted on naming ourselves. So even though one may want to see oneself as simply a Christian, society wants to know what kind.

  81. I’m afraid I just don’t see the OP as calling for us to concede evangelical definitions that write us out of the christian fold. I see it as calling for increased understanding of why the controversy exists and the potential grounds for the exclusionary definition, but given our own professed right to do exactly the same thing to our polygamous cousins, the least we can do is cultivate a little sympathetic understanding.

  82. I think it is a bit unfair to say the Otterson is “parroting” her in the link and I mean unfair to Kristine. Otterson’s blogging has mostly grated on me. I find him, for all his good intentions, tin-eared. Kristine points out that there are real differences in how Mormon’s and many credal Christians understand Christ and we should be sensitive to those differences. Otterson tells them blatantly that our understanding of Christ is more advanced, better than and more complete than theirs. Big difference in my book. One approach allows you to build bridges and understanding, the other has the effect of raising hackles and leading to contention. MY Christ is better than YOUR Christ. Ugh. He sounds as closed minded as his Anglican “friend” he pillories earlier in the articles, because we obviously have nothing to learn from those less evolved evangelicals about Christ. Forget the fact that a huge part of our Christ and atonement theology was heavily influenced by early Protestant thinkers and writers through the conduit of Talmage JFS and others. Sigh.

  83. “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…”

    Until we show active participation within the Christian community we’re not going to be able to rejoin the conversation. So why are we bothering with this?

  84. Amen and amen, Kristine. Those facebook declarations have been driving me absolutely batty. A little more understanding and a little less in-your-face-ism from Mormons would really be a great thing here.

  85. Why do we need to be considered Christian? Dubya’s time in the White House didn’t do much for the label. If Christians torture people and launch (known bogus) preemptive wars because “God told me to”, I’m perfectly fine with not being called a Christian.

  86. About the irony of our position on the term Mormon as compared to our position on the term Christian: The irony is obvious, I get it, but there is also a basis on which the two positions are consistent with each other. If the church leaders are concerned first and foremost with people using these terms (“Christian” and “Mormon”) in a way that miscommunicates to a general audience, then it makes sense to argue that “Christian” should be used in the general sense it is understood by the average listener (i.e. not the theological sense) and by the same argument “Mormon” should be used to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because that is what the average listener understands the word to mean.

    None of that precludes having the interesting theological debate about Christology and our status as Christians in a setting where the participants all know what is being discussed, nor does it preclude the appropriateness of calling other groups “Mormon” who have a legitimate claim to that label in a setting where it is not likely to confuse more people than it helps. Because Elder Ballard’s comments and the statements at lds.org seem to be expressing our desire for how the word “Mormon” is used on news programs and the like, this seems like a very consistent and even a reasonable point to make. I don’t see it as the epitome of hypocrisy as many apparently do.

  87. Who cares?

    Why do we feel this need to care how people define us? The truth is we’re pretty darn nutty to the majority of Christian faiths. Why be ashamed of that? Why can’t we just embrace the weirdness?

    /And I’m including myself in that last question.

  88. So, Jacob, if Jeffress agrees to apply the designation “Christian” to LDS, will that misdirect his audience into mistakenly believing things about Mormons (in the light of what they understand the word “Christian” to mean) which are, in fact, untrue?

  89. Jacob J–that’s an interesting argument. I’m not sure that many people who are arguing about who gets called Mormon in the media are really comfortable with talking about “fundamentalist Mormons” in other settings, either. But that’s merely a hunch.

  90. And, just to clarify the nature of the claims being made by Church leaders (and Church intellectual property lawyers) with regard to the appropriateness of applying the name “Mormon” to non-LDS, they haven’t argued that journalists writing about Texas polygamists should use a modifier + Mormon to describe them (i.e. “Fundamentalist Mormon”, which would reasonably sidestep the kinds of confusion you’re suggesting they’re seeking to prevent), but instead have consistently argued that it is not appropriate to use the term “Mormon” in any way in referring to any polygamist groups and asserted that such groups have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with us (notwithstanding the shared heritage or overlapping beliefs).

  91. I noted on my own blog that Pastor Jeffress’ definition would define the Southern Baptist Convention out of “historical” Christianity,and therefore make them a cult, also.

    M* the SBC is a cult

    My meaning is to show that no one should be able to co-opt the term Christian for their own use. If anyone has that right, it would be the Catholics. But then that would leave the SBC and other Protestant religions excluded from the label of Christian, or even “traditional Christian”, as Catholicism was around a thousand years before Martin Luther was even born! Given the SBC was formed in 1845 as a solid supporter of slavery, I’m not sure if they want to insist that is part of the “historical Christianity.” Being distant descendants from the Catholic Church, they would have to seek permission to be considered Christian or traditional/historic Christian, rather than just heretic or cult.

  92. Holy long comment trail–without reading the whole thing, I have to stay this:

    Technically, you’re right.

    And yet.

    But it’s the same thing as Jeffress calling us a cult. By HIS definition, we are one. But that’s an incredibly loaded term, and he’s got a very narrow definition.

    By many definitions of “Christian” (some of which you outlined), no we aren’t. But that’s SUCH a loaded term, just like “cult.” So by saying we’re un-Christian, people assume we don’t worship Jesus Christ or accept Him as our Savior and the only way to salvation, that we don’t believe in the Bible, and so on.

    THAT is the issue so many Mormons have with people saying we’re not Christians. Because we DO worship Christ–and while we interpret the doctrines differently, we worship the very same being who lived in Israel two thousands years ago. By THAT definition, we DO worship that same Christ.

    So I can’t agree here–it’s splitting hairs and using definitions that don’t work, terms that are loaded with way too much baggage to be useful for discussion and understanding.

    I worship Christ, who walked and preached in Galilee, died on the cross, and rose on the third day. By Book of Mormon terms, that makes me Christian, and I think I should be allowed to wear that label.

    I understand when Evangelicals and others don’t agree, and that’s fine. But to say we should shut up already because we aren’t Christian, and here’s way? Nope.

    I totally understand what you’re saying, but I don’t agree on the conclusion.

  93. Left Field says:

    The only reasonable, useful, and generally applicable definition is that that a Christian is a person who professes to be a follower of Christianity as he or she understands it. You get any more restrictive than that, and you’re just begging the question.

  94. Annette, you’re absolutely right about that term. Calling us non-Christians is not at all the same as calling us a “cult.” There are at least plausible grounds for an Evangelical Christian to do the former; the latter is a dick-move, straightup. That said, I don’t believe that Kristine is agreeing with the claim that we aren’t Christians or advocating that we accept that exclusion.

  95. [clever-but-crude play on words deleted by admin.]

  96. Annette, this–“But to say we should shut up already because we aren’t Christian, and here’s way?” is about 180 degrees from what I believe, and I don’t believe it’s what I said. I’m sorry if it was unclear, and I’ll try it again: I emphatically believe that Mormons are Christian in the most meaningful senses of the word. I do not believe that we can articulate our Christianity to other Christians unless we understand their legitimate objections to our self-definition. This does not mean that all of their objections are legitimate, nor that we should not take offense when it is intended, only that we need to know enough about the theological positions at stake in the discussion to distinguish between offensive uses of “non-Christian” (like those followed by “cult”) and merely descriptive ones.

  97. “I think it is a bit unfair to say the Otterson is “parroting” her in the link…”

    I agree with this statement but for different reasons than those stated by rah. In addition to unfair, I would add “presumptuous.”

    Which brings me to my point: I don’t think that Mormons being more “understanding” of people saying we’re not Christian or that the the LDS Church is a cult is really going to solve anything. The fact is that it is wrong to denigrate another’s religious beliefs regardless of whether it’s based on a lack of understanding or malignant intent.

    Also, the following statements require some response:

    >>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.<>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. …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.<<

    Once again, please only comment on your education or lack thereof. I do not appreciate the suggestion that I am not "educated" simply because I believe one should not denigrate another's religious beliefs. Second, I'm not sure what you mean by rejoining the conversation, but (1) I do not feel the need to ask any person's permission to believe as I do and call myself a Christian; I've got a seat at the table because I took it, not because I nicely asked permission and thankfully some nice Mormon-hater took pity on me; and (2) a campaign for political office is not the appropriate forum for this type of "conversation."

  98. Were Nestorian Christians Christian?

    Once you’ve answered that, and if Arian Christians are Christian, as well as the followers of Athanasius, then … were the Meletians Christian? At that point the abuse, and the proper use, of the terms seems pretty clear.

  99. Sam, hang around a bit longer and you’ll discover that most of the sidebar titles are tongue-in-cheek. Nobody seriously thinks Br. Otterson would waste his time reading my stuff.

  100. All that is left is an analysis of the scripture, such as that at http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/118585.html (a five part series, btw, but well worth reading) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monophysitism and related trends.

  101. NewlyHousewife: Wow, I never thought I’d see someone be a bigot towards their own religion.

    Kristine: Really, why should we even try to talk to people that obviously have a stupid definition of what it means to be a Christian? It’s not like they’re going to listen to us. The best thing we can do is to help everyone else who is being misled realize that we are in fact Christians according to what everyone else thinks are Christians. Any rational person who investigates our claim to be Christians will conclude that we are indeed Christians.

  102. “Really, why should we even try to talk to people that obviously have a stupid definition of what it means to be a Christian?”

    1) because it’s not stupid
    2) because Joseph Smith said ““We believe in the Great Elohim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skilful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?” (TotPJS 313, 316)

  103. I shouldn’t have used the word “bigot”.

  104. It’s stupid because it’s a completely useless definition. If Christians are people you think are saved, then that means that you can just go around and label whoever you disagree with enough as being not Christian. Categories like this should be objective to some extent.

  105. NewlyHousewife,

    Unfortunately playing baseball and chatting with pastors doesn’t make you a Christian. And I’ve heard some false, derogatory statements about the Church from Church members, but this

    >> Rather than preach to the love of Christ, we preach to the importance of modesty.<<

    is one of the most egregiously disingenuous. So, I guess congrats on that.

  106. Kristine (#89), I share your hunch and didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. I am just arguing that there is a reasonable basis from which both positions make sense. I admit that I am sympathetic to the argument as I framed it (and yet I am perfectly comfortable calling other groups Mormons).

    Brad (#88), it’s possible that Jeffress could misdirect his fellow believers by calling Mormons “Christians.” If his primary audience is a group of those fellow believers I don’t have any objection to him saying why he doesn’t consider Mormons to be Christians. When he speaks to a national audience and his fellow believers are a much smaller subset of the audience then it is more open to debate. The wider the audience, the harder it is to communicate effectively with everyone. Even then (wide audience), I don’t object to him voicing his opposition to Mormonism and Mormon theology, but I think any person who is honestly trying to communicate will be much more careful in such a setting when talking about another religion. In such a setting, it seems perfectly appropriate for the Church and its members to vigorously put forth their own view that they are Christians as the word is understood by average people. Given that Jeffress insists on calling us a “cult” every five seconds even while admitting openly that it is a pejorative tells me what I need to know about Jeffress’ agenda.

    (#90) The term “Fundamentalist Mormon” might reasonably sidestep the confusion, or maybe not. I work with a lot of people who would not recognize the distinction (or have any idea that there is a huge difference) between a “Mormon” and a “Fundamentalist Mormon.” That’s why I think it is still a reasonable position. But to reiterate, I am not only comfortable calling Fundamentalists Mormons, I think it is rude not to in a setting where it does not confuse. I have no sympathy for the position that we are the only ones who should ever be called Mormons.

  107. observer fka eric s says:

    These are great thoughts. I remember attending the Millet v. McDermott (Claiming Christ) conversation at Mariners’ Church back in 2008 when this debate first starting stirring. But if you would like to own “Christian”, I am selling portions of it for those who wire $39.95 into my interest bearing account. You will own a fraction of the following definitively authoritative source: http://goo.gl/U6Ih2

  108. Here you go again Kristine, with this important, eloquent post. Great stuff, and I agree completely, but can’t you just give us all a break already and lower the bar, by posting, say, a half-assed mission story, filled with gratuitous sex?

  109. I would bet most Evangelical Christians don’t know what the Nicene Creed is. They’re also the ones who decided baptism wasn’t necessary. It only mattered that one had a personal relationship with Christ. All one had to do was accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and they were saved “Christians”. Well, Mormons accept Christ as their Savior so how can they have a problem with us being Christian? They have no right to judge whether I am Christian. If I say I am, then I am.

    NewlyHousewife: No, the Protestant denominations do not accept one another as equally correct Christians.
    They are not one big happy family until it’s time to denounce another faith, like Catholicism or Mormons. Protestant denominations are many–Methodists, Lutherans, etc. They will tell you why the other one is wrong and they are right.
    Catholics do not accept Protestants as being equally Christian. Yes, they are Christian but not “true” Christian.
    If one is not baptized Catholic, they are not “saved”. Protestants don’t believe Catholics are “saved” because they believe wrong things like praying to Saints and to Mary, etc. Protestants don’t believe that being a “Christian” helps Catholics at all. And Catholics don’t believe that being “Christian” helps Protestants at all because they have no priesthood authority.

  110. Stan Beale says:

    For a very short historica perspective I would suggest reading Joanna Brooks’s interview of Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, in “Religion Dispatches on October 10. It is titled “Why do Southerners Call Mormonisma Cult?”

  111. Andy Hardwick Houston TX says:

    Who gives a freak whether evangelicals (part of christenDUMB) believe we are Christians. I seek to please Christ and follow him. He will decide (and judge me for deliberately mis-spelling Christendom and for that unkind remark). I am not concerned with the opinion of the world. We best serve Christ by imitating him, loving all people and trying to live a Christ-like life. “By their fruits…”

  112. Nowhere above do the names Perry or Romney appear, which makes this response rather tangential to the dustup of the last few days over Mormonism’s “cult” status. A far superior tangent then the nominal motive for writing it; carry on!

  113. Jenny in NC says:

    I remember, as a teenager, being offended when someone called my church “a cult.” Then I read the definition of a cult and I thought, “oh, maybe we are a cult!’ But it’s a cult I want to belong to.

  114. With the Jeffreys comment…He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. I understand doctrinally why some evangelicals consider us not Christians…the Christ we believe in is too different. He is created by God, has his own unique body, reveals additional truth, requires stuff of us…

    That is Mormonism as a whole. That’s what the church teaches. That’s institution wide. I don’t agree with his defintion, but I do get it. It’s the same kind of thing I’ve been told by chrisitan homeschool groups–it’s the trinity, additional revelation, grace/works…generally those things make us too different.

    But in this particular situation Jeffreys is implying Romney himself isn’t chrsitian…That’s what I don’t appreciate. You can’t decide if one person is or isn’t christian. Not every evangelical is chrisitan. not every mormon is chrisitan. They can say our religious teachings make it less likely because of all of that Joseph Smith stuff or whatever…but how can jeffreys decide the state of Romney’s soul?

  115. In support of Jacob 86 (and contra me 41 and Brad 50):
    To my surprise, at least some dictionaries say that Mormon means “a member of the Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mormon

    So it may be true that the average person would understand “Christian” in a general sense and “Mormon” in a narrow sense (or maybe the Church has dictionary lobbyists running around trying to convince dictionary publishers that we are the only Mormons). It follows that if one wants to communicate effectively, a qualifier with the word “Christian” would be necessary to exclude Mormons, but no qualifier with the word “Mormon” would be necessary to exclude Fundamentalists. Nonetheless, I agree with Brad and Jacob that it is just not right to insist on being called Christian while demanding that others not be called Mormon.

  116. Glass Ceiling says:

    I have not read the whole thread, so forgive me if I repeat.

    IMO, mainstream Protestant Christianity has real problems of its own. Their beliefs defy logic, even Biblical logic. They can’t answer the big questions, and their pulpit rhetoric becomes less substantive as the years go by. They are dieing a slow death.

    And what do people have as an alternative? Catholicism, JWs, and Mormonism. If a Protestant leaves her own faith for need of answers, we quickly go from “cult ” status to something to be reckoned with, at the very least.

  117. As I see it, when some traditional Christians say that Mormons aren’t Christian, they’re not really thinking about the definition of the word “Christian” or who owns the right to that word. What they’re really saying is, “Hey, most of America: in case you didn’t know: Mormons do not have the same religion as you and I do.”

    Although I abhor the use of that message as a political tactic (unlike many Republican primary voters, I don’t think that a candidate’s religion is a legitimate reason to vote for someone), I tend to agree with the message itself. I’m Catholic. I have disagreements with many specific Protestant beliefs, but fundamentally I think we’re part of the same essential religion, because we share our most basic beliefs about the nature of God and Jesus, as expressed in the Nicene Creed.

    On the other hand, if you believe that God the Father has a physical body, that Jesus has a separate physical body, and that God the Father is married to a Heavenly Mother, then you and I are not members of the same religion.

    I don’t think differentiating the religions by calling one “Christian” and the other is a good way to go (I don’t think the biggest group owns the name), but I can kind of understand the impulse. I’m not sure it would be better if people like Rev. Jeffress instead pointed out the specific reasons why they think Mormons aren’t members of the same religion as most of America.

  118. Based on my experiences over the last few years in Texas, it seems like the reason most people I’ve talked to believe we aren’t Christian is because they think we worship either Joseph Smith or Mormon, and they think we have our own Bible rather than the one they believe in. It usually doesn’t take much discussion to correct those understandings, because they aren’t believing those things maliciously. Often they’ll later move on to some of the higher level reasons to not call us Christian, so they can still feel like they’re right, but I’m not too worried about that.

    As long as I’ve helped them understand that our understanding of Christ is central to our beliefs, I don’t really care if they think I’ve got my understanding all wrong, and am therefore not actually Christian.

  119. I can understand the point that some are making about different operational definitions of the word “Christian”. Yes, some people think you just have to accept Christ as your saviour. Others say you have to be baptised by proper authority. Still others insist on adherence to a set of medieval creeds defining Christian orthodoxy in practice and belief. While these differences in definition *can* shatter all attempts at meaningful discussion about whether or not our church qualifies as a Christian church, I think the bigger point is that we have to understand the different definitions and single out which one we’re using in a given conversation.

    The point here isn’t to convince other people; the point is to explain ourselves to the best of our ability so that people can make up their own minds having been given as much correct information as possible. I think we need to get out of the missionary mind-set with these sorts of discussions and stop trying to “convert” our non-Mormon fellows to the idea that we’re Christians “just like them”. The point is: we’re not necessarily Christians in the same sense, so we have to explain how we define the term, accept how they define it, and then end on the point: “I know you may not agree with me, but I hope you at least understand why I consider myself a Christian.”

    If we make the effort to explain our definition of Christianity in a given conversation, then a lot of the problem about a lack of clarity can be avoided. Whether or not people choose to agree with us is their own affair, but I definitely agree with those who say that this sort of vitriolic attack on the church (using admittedly pejorative terms like “cult” and insisting on our status as non-Christians simply to alienate and demonize an entire group of people) has no place in politics.

  120. “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.”

    LDS doctrine firmly establishes that Jesus Christ has always been God.

    We LDS need to stop “vehemently” insisting that Jesus was once not God. There is not a single verse of LDS canon that supports this idea. Is is a bad theory put forth by some that has been perpetuated like folklore.

    On the other hand, their is a ton of Doctrine in LDS canon that states that God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) has been and is Eternal.

  121. Keith (#120):

    There is not a single verse of LDS canon that supports this idea. Is is a bad theory put forth by some that has been perpetuated like folklore.

    Regardless of how you choose to interpret this passage:

    And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
    And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
    And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

    you certainly can’t claim that it can’t be interpreted to mean that Jesus progressed to a state of Godhood. Add to that President Snow’s famous couplet “As man is God once was…” and there is ground for LDS to believe God progressed to Godhood. At very least, we can’t say:

    There is not a single verse of LDS canon that supports this idea. Is is a bad theory put forth by some that has been perpetuated like folklore.

  122. Us “Mormons” have a tough time understanding the reluctance to accept us as Christians, as has been exhaustively discussed above. I think a good way to understand this reluctance is to think about the way we feel toward fundamentalist groups that also call themselves “Mormons” (or that are labeled as “Mormons” by the less than diligent members of the media). The fundamentalists groups can make a reasonable etymological argument that because they believe in the Book of Mormon, they are just as much Mormons as those of the LDS church. We are so quick to deny the “Mormon” label to the fundamentalists, but at the same time get mad when Evangelicals deny us the “Christian” label. We accept the etymological argument on the one hand and utterly reject it on the other. It’s not totally apples-to-apples–as I’m sure many of you will be quick to point out–and I’m not necessarily saying that we should start calling fundamentalists “Mormons,” but I think the parallel can help LDS members understand why other Christians don’t consider us to be “Christians.” “Christian”–for them–is a group, not a system of beliefs, just as “Mormon” for us, refers to members of the LDS Church, rather than all people who recognize the Book of Mormon as scripture.

  123. Anna B. – Thank you for your thoughts, especially since you are one of those who we are trying to convince that we are Christian. What were are trying to say is that even though our understanding of Christ is different than yours, that understanding is still based on the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth as written about in the New Testament. This should place us in the larger “Christian community” even as we all acknowledge that we are the odd ducks in the group.

  124. Jacob M, I don’t have a problem with Mormons calling themselves Christian at all–traditional Christians don’t own the term, and certainly Christ is central to the LDS church. But with such significant theological differences between creedal Christianity and Mormonism, I’m not sure what the point is of Mormons trying to convince others that they are members of “the larger Christian community.” What does that mean? Why does it matter? It seems like, in the political context, the point is to say, “I’m a good, moral, normal Christian person like you.” Which is certainly important for someone in Romney’s position, who needs to appeal to people who distrust anyone who’s not “Christian.”

    I guess I’d say I agree with an argument that says, “It’s not up to you to decide who’s a Christian. Jesus Christ is the center of my faith, so I’m a Christian.” But not an argument that says, “Jesus Christ is at the center of my faith, so I’m a Christian like you.” If that makes any sense.

  125. 124 “But with such significant theological differences between creedal Christianity and Mormonism, I’m not sure what the point is of Mormons trying to convince others that they are members of “the larger Christian community.” What does that mean? Why does it matter?”-

    It matters because many people don’t know anything about us. When they hear that we are not Christian, they naturally think we do not believe in Jesus Christ. This is misinformation that we want to correct.
    We do not want to deny the theological differences (many of which are important to us) or say we have the same religion as other Christians.

  126. Steve Evans says:

    Anna, Raymond notwithstanding, I think you are dead on and agree with you entirely.

  127. Kristine, You give the LDS credit for teachings that are as old as the early church. I urge you to expand your studies of Christian doctrine/teachings.

    Over 1 billion Christian Catholics are taught as doctrine: (CCC 460)
    – “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80
    – “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

    You should study what the “Early Church Fathers” taught on “deification”, let Google be your guide with those terms

    Evangelicals who bristle at the very concept of exaltation only show their ignorance of Christian theology.

  128. The fact that some prominent or influential early Christian writers taught something like what most LDS believe about theosis or deification is not exactly an airtight argument, particularly since many of the creeds which most contemporary Christians consider to be theologically definitive and binding were designed to root out and discredit such teachings as heretical.

  129. But does that make us non-Christian, or does it make us heretical Christians? There is a major distinction between the two for us as Latter-day Saints. If the differences are that we do not accept the creeds, yet still accept teachings from Origen and others now considered heretics, we should still fall under the umbrella of Christian.

  130. Oh, I definitely agree. We’re not non-Christians by any reasonable definition. But we are definitely heretical Christians.

  131. Ron Madson says:

    So if we are heretical Christians, what would a Mormon heretic be? A Christian?

  132. StillConfused says:

    As a Southerner, I didn’t worry too much about what the preacher said. The Southern response to such a statement is “Well Bless his heart.” Which is our polite way of saying “He doesn’t know any better; don’t pay him any mind.”

    Are Mormons Christian? I will say this, the Mormon faith is a Christ-based faith. Hence the religion is most definitely Christian. Whether an individual is Christian is a different matter. I have seen some Mormons who are very Christian and I also know other Mormons who do not have a Christian bone in their bodies. So who is Christian will ultimately be determined by Christ on our judgment day. In the meantime, just practice saying, “Well bless his heart.”

  133. Brad, my reference to the CCC is for current Catholic doctrine, and you will discover that virtually all the ECF wrote on Deification – this is not an outlier or squashed doctrine. Now these facts don’t make LDS exaltation true, they just put it in proper context.

    The real problem here is most ‘Christians’ don’t know their own doctrine (Catholic) or their heritige to the ECF (Evangelicals). Deification is an easy target to ridicule LDS, without proper context.

  134. If Mitt Romney is the nominee and ends up winning the general election, do you think he’ll make history as the first non-Christian president, or the first heretical-Christian president?

  135. small star says:

    George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln all weren’t Christian.

  136. “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

    Hal, I think others on this list might take this statement significantly out of context (in the sense that the word “cult” is easily taken out of context) for two reasons. The above is quite an outlier in the catechism that should be understood (and is understood by people raised in a Catholic tradition) in the context of “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” It is that Christ *is* God, that it is within his power to make us what he wants, that indeed He wants the best for us, and the best we can manage is to have faith that he can and will. Secondly, in the Latin credo is the phrase “et homo factus est”, which can mean either “was made” or “became”: it does not settle the question of who did the making (Jesus or the Father). In fact, Catholics believe that Jesus “became” man and then “ascended into Heaven” under his own power (since of course Jesus is God). In contrast, if Jesus should “make men gods”, no Catholic would claim that men somehow evolved into that state.

    It is anyway very much unCatholic to aspire to be a god (that is what Lucifer is said to have wanted). There is certainly no concept of exaltation. This thread is not about Catholic doctrine, and good thing. Too many wars have been fought over that very topic to dredge up such arcana in a lay setting.

    Kristine, FWIW (and it’s not worth much) I think that the percentage of Catholics who believe that Mormons are Christian is at most in low single digits, in case anyone cares (which they shouldn’t). They just don’t find it polite or Christlike to voice such beliefs with such glee in public. Video et taceo. That is all anyone can reasonably hope for in such a heterogeneous world anyway.

  137. I have no desire to join a potential threadjack, so I’ll be brief: I agree with Ji (#6) and Keith (#120) that there is nothing in the LDS canon to suggest that “Jesus is part of what God created.” There’s even nothing in D&C 93 (a section of which was quoted in #121) to suggest that. In fact, that revelation teaches that Jesus was in the beginning and created all things — sounds to me like he’s not merely one of God’s creations..

    More to the point of the original post, I also agree with StillConfused:

    So who is Christian will ultimately be determined by Christ on our judgment day. In the meantime, just practice saying, “Well bless his heart.”

    While what the pastor said I thought had no legitimate place in a political context, in the context of his own worldview all he was saying is that he and I disagree over some quite important doctrines. In time, one of us (or both or us or neither) will be proven right, and in the meanwhile I’m happy to merely disagree without taking it personally. So bless his heart.

  138. Kristine, did you see Richard Mouw’s reaction on CNN’s Belief Blog last week to the remarks of Robert Jeffress?

    After saying Mormonism is not a cult he went on:
    “So are Mormons Christians? For me, that’s a complicated question.

    My Mormon friends and I disagree on enough subjects that I am not prepared to say that their theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching. But the important thing is that we continue to talk about these things, and with increasing candor and mutual openness to correction. . .

    While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

    IMO No. 15 was your best point. I tend to think evangelicals OUGHT to consider that “Christian” generally means the dictionary definition as in Comment ____, and if that is not the definition they are using, the onus is on them to clarify. But if they really are reciting the creeds every time they go to church perhaps it is not as disingenuous of an evangelical to say we are not Christian without defining what they mean by “Christian” as I have thought. How widespread is this creedal recitation? The largest protestant church in my town, which does not identify with any particular denomination, but yet has been known to sponser Ed Decker seminars, has not recited a creed at any of their services I have attended.

    Even Muow seems to a Mormon to waffle. Which historic Christian teaching? Christ’s? Or church fathers of a later century? In our discussions with Evangelicals, we Mormons can’t just tell ourselves we should be just, we should tell ourselves we need to go the second mile, and turn the other cheek, in our efforts at civility.

  139. Chris Gordon says:

    Thank you all for preparing next month’s presidency message for me. I intend to gratefully plagiarize nearly all facets of this thread. :)

    Eat your heart out, feastuponthewordblog.org!

  140. How widespread is this creedal recitation?

    I would offer that most of them don’t know that they’re reciting a creed or that their particular brand of Christianity comes out of a man-made creed. They think it comes from the Bible without stopping to give a nod to the middleman.

    At some point when you’re exposed to a lot of this, you learn to say, “If you’re a good example of Christianity, I don’t want to be one.”

  141. Yeah, I think Mouw’s response is about right–the question is complicated, and we have to spend some time on definitions if we want to have an actual conversation instead of just demonizing (in either direction).

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