Are Mormons Christian? Sometimes. But Bigots Are Always Bigots

Anybody who has played the “Are Mormon’s Christian?” game knows that it is a trap. The only possible answer is that it depends on who gets to define the terms. Under some definitions, Mormons are Christian. Under others, we are not. Since Christianity does not have anything like the royal language academies of France and Spain, the only logically coherent way to ask the question is, “are Mormons whatever it is that I think that Christians are?”

The answer also depends on why you are asking the question. After substantial research and discussion, The Roman Catholic Church decided in 2001 that Mormon and Catholic doctrine were so far apart that it would not accept Mormon baptisms as valid. This is entirely appropriate. Mormons believe exactly the same thing about Catholic baptisms. Mormons who want to become Catholics, like Catholics who want to become Mormons, must be baptized again.

But the question gets asked for other reasons too. One of these reasons is that people want to stir up hatred and resentment against Mormons (and lots of other people) by casting them as inherently immoral, mentally inferior, or culturally suspect. No matter how one tries to spin it, the word “cult” carries these connotations in contemporary usage.

The same thing goes for “Satanic.” From the Christian perspective, labeling someone a tool of the Prince of Darkness is pretty much always going to be an insult. When good historical Christians have thrown the “S-word” around to describe other categories of people, it has rarely ended well for the other people. Equating a group of people with Satan is how things like crusades and genocide start.

Saying that Mormons are not Christians is not an inherently bigoted action. But saying that Mormonism is “a heresy from the pit of hell” is. So Mitt Romney’s recent statement criticizing the choice of Pastor Robert Jeffress to say the opening prayer at the dedication of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem merits serious consideration:

Now, of course, this is politically motivated. Jeffress is a political gift to Romney’s Senate candidacy. In a single tweet, he can appeal to the #NeverTrump crowd by attacking the President’s decision without paying even the slightest political cost with Utah’s many Trump supporters, for whom anti-Mormonism is perhaps the only wedge issue imaginable.

And what of Jeffress’ response:

This is disingenuous. Jeffress defends himself here as though he were being accused of doing comparative theology and not using his pulpit to dehumanize millions of other human beings. His basic argument, “Most people that most people consider Christians don’t consider Mormons Christians” works well for “. . . and this is why we do not accept Mormon baptisms at my Church.” It does not work for “. . . and this is why Mormons are deluded cultists rising from the pit of hell to feast on the blood of your children.”

And the overall form of Jeffress’ argument works just as well for bigotry as it does for Christianity. Most people that most people think are not bigots think that calling other people infernal cultists is bigoted. There is nothing controversial or newsworthy about that. If Mormons should just accept that they are not Christian because that is what Christians think, then people like Robert Jeffress should agree that he is not tolerant because that is what most tolerant people think.

And yes, it does go both ways. There are and always have been plenty of Mormons who are as hostile towards other faiths as Jeffress is to Mormonism. They are bigots too. It is hard to consistently display the love and compassion that Christ calls us all to. We all do a bad job sometimes of acknowledging different religious opinions without treating each other as something other than children of God. This why the best answer to the question “are Mormons Christian?” is, in my opinion, “sometimes.”

Really, though, anti-Mormon bigotry is a bit player in this ugly scene. The real question is, “why was somebody who preaches that Jews are going to hell and that and Islam is an ‘evil, evil religion‘ invited to give the opening prayer at the opening of an American embassy at the epicenter of a conflict between Jews and Muslims?” Why, in other words, was a clear religious bigot invited to perform a diplomatic function guaranteed to offend the very people we are trying to be diplomatic with?

Religious bigotry is not a crime, but it is a strange sort of characteristic to look for in people performing diplomatic functions in areas experiencing serious religious conflict. Our Constitution protects people’s right to be as religiously bigoted as they want to be, it does not suggest that they be allowed to perform important religious functions at major government events. Indeed, the problems inherent in such activities is the reason that the Constitution strongly suggests that there not be important religious functions at major government events.


  1. Why, in other words, was a clear religious bigot invited to perform a diplomatic function guaranteed to offend the very people we are trying to be diplomatic with?

    Because moving the embassy was not conceived as, and does not serve to be, a diplomatic function.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The only silver lining to this move is that it enables the glorious phrase “immanentize the eschaton” to enter more common usage than it currently enjoys.

  3. Russell: Perhaps, but a formal ceremony, held in an embassy, involving the Presidents of several countries and an ambassador is a diplomatic function–kind of by definition.

  4. MikeInWeHo says:

    Jeffress is a fountain of disingenuousness these days, and Benjamin Netanyahu has made a deal with the devil that may well backfire on Israel in the long run. Dark times. Will Mitt Romney be able to save the GOP from itself?

  5. This was a strange event all around. John Hagee, who gave the benediction at the embassy opening, is not much better, just maybe not as bigoted against Mormons as Jeffress. However, he has suggested that Hitler was doing God’s work. Both espouse an end times worldview where the Jews are mostly destroyed at the second coming. There are lots of reasons to do as you suggest, and lower the religious profile of government events. But whoever planned this event didn’t seem to care, and neither did Israeli PM Netanyahu. As Russell points out, this was not ever envisioned as a diplomatic function.

  6. Or in other words, it was a political event that diplomats attended.

  7. I think of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle where a non-Aslanian who worshiped Tash received the blessing of Aslan in the after life. “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”

    Or was Jeffress not including Lewis in his “tens of millions…for two thousand years”, because he’s an Anglican?

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Quick aside. Heretical baptism in the Catholic church is a bit more complicated than the reciprocal rebaptism you outline, Michael. Catholics (and consequently their Christian offshoots) generally accept the baptism of just about everyone (this goes back to the first Millennium of Christianity). By saying they don’t accept Mormon baptism, they are saying that our baptism isn’t Christian. When we don’t accept other church’s baptisms, we are saying that their baptism isn’t Mormon.

  9. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I think of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle where a non-Aslanian who worshiped Tash received the blessing of Aslan in the after life. “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”

    Works-based heresy! Didn’t you know that the Epistle of James is straw for donkeys to poop on?

  10. Another distinction of the Catholic rebaptism requirement vs the Mormon rebaptism requirement is that the Mormon version is based on being baptized by what we believe to be proper priesthood authority. That’s not at the issue of the Catholic declaration.

  11. Amen. I think it’s important to maintain the distinction between “you shouldn’t think that way” and “you shouldn’t exist.”

    FWIW, I agree with the side comments about Christian baptism. As I understand them, the distinctions made on the Catholic side reference issues and considerations that most Sunday School-level Mormons wouldn’t even recognize as questions. “Christian baptism” doesn’t mean what you think it means, in other words. Which reinforces the point of “sometimes” about Mormons and Christians.

  12. The CDF decision on Mormon baptisms is an interesting problem. The Catholic church no doubt has the authority to decide it’s own doctrine and what baptisms to accept, but it doesn’t have the authority to define Mormon doctrine.

    The problem with the CDF decision isn’t that it got Catholic doctrine wrong, it’s that it arguably got Mormon doctrine wrong by defining it based on historically widely accepted but non-canonical teachings, and then applied Catholic doctrine to a bad version of Mormon doctrine and got the wrong (in my opinion) answer.

    In an ideal world, they would have issued a “certified question” to the First Presidency to define the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead, then applied Catholic doctrine to decide whether the LDS doctrine is non-Christian, or merely heretically Christian.

  13. Sorry for the threadjack on the baptism thing, Mike. This is a great post. Believing Mormons are going to hell doesn’t make Jeffress a bigot. Vituperatively denouncing Mormons in inflammatory language does.

  14. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    This is a very insightful and meaningful essay. Would love to see it get more exposure!

  15. Left Field says:

    For our church, the validity of baptism is not whether or not it is “Mormon,” but whether or not it is performed by recognized authority. Baptisms performed by Alma and John the Baptist are surely recognized as valid by the Mormon Church, but are not “Mormon Baptisms” by any definition that does not involve begging the question.

  16. FWIW, I think that the Catholic position is correct. It is really more of a linguistic position than a theological one. According to Catholic doctrine, as I understand it, an approved baptism requires that the proper words be said with the intention to do what the Church does when it administers the sacrament of baptism. In an emergency situation, no authority is required, nor does the person doing the baptism have to be Catholic. They just have to say the correct words–“I BAPTIZE THEE IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST.”–with the correct intentions.

    Since Mormons do use the correct words, then the basic question is one of what they mean by the words. Do Mormons mean the same thing by “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Ghost” that Catholics (and other denominations whose baptisms Catholics accept) mean. It is fairly clear to me that we do not, since we are not Trinitarians and do not believe that “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” is a singular term and not a plural one.

    So, to J’s original point, it is true that Catholics accept the baptisms of a lot of different religions. But these are all religions that accept the Athanasian Creed and understand the fundamental nature of God the same way that Catholics do. The key here is not that Mormons are not Christian, but that Mormons are not Trinitarian Christians, so, as a matter of pure semantics, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” do not have the same meaning, and, therefore, the words do not observe the correct form.

    For Mormons, baptism is made correct by the authority under which it is performed, and that is only conveyed through the Mormon priesthood. So, in not accepting Catholic (or other) baptisms, what we are really saying is that other denominations do not have the proper authority to perform saving ordinances.

    So I acknowledge that it is not quite as simple as a reciprocal non-acceptance of each other’s baptisms. But it is also not quite a matter of Catholics say Mormon baptism is not Christian and Mormons simply say that Catholic baptism is not Mormon, There is a reciprocity here, but it is tangled up in very different assumptions about what baptism means and who should perform it. But that is significantly more than I wanted to go into this particular issue in a post that is really about something else.

  17. Kristin Brown says:

    Very informative. Thank you.

  18. MrShorty says:

    I admit that my grasp of Christian history is a bit weak. The thing that stands out to me in Jeffress’s response is the part about 2000 years of Sola Fide. It seems that Sola fide in the sense that I expect Jeffress believes is an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation that began 500 years ago. If we are going for longest running Christian group, then it seems like the Orthodox churches or the Roman Catholic Church (which Jeffress has stated is a tool of Satan) wins out over any Protestant/Evangelical group.

  19. jaxjensen says:

    Jeffress was a poor pick to be sure. After reading this I was wondering why he’d of accepted the invitation at all, when his views are as they are. The most charitable option I can come up with is he was choosing to follow the principle of praying for your enemies. Less charitable was he just wanted a time in the spotlight/headlines.

  20. The answer to the question is that Trump does not understand what a bigot is. Evidence of this fact is that he does not consider himself a bigot. So, for him to pick Jeffress is a political move,; he’s simply catering to the Evangelical crowd that has tossed their moral sense down the toilet in order to justify supporting him. Trump himself is a completely amoral individual who serves only one God, his own ego. He simply believes no rules or laws apply to him, or to his administration. And the GOP is happy to twist its own identity in order to fall in line. They are all apologists now. And if they aren’t, they are out of the GOP. Just ask Jeff Flake and John McCain.

  21. I always tend to err on the side of being rather militant about the fact that YES Mormons ARE Christians. We believe in Christ. Simple definition. Of course, if you add all those shadings of grey about the matter, well as you said “who knows?” There’s always someone willing to split a hair.

  22. Brother Sky says:

    Good post. And I’m not trying to be snarky here, just wanting to point to something that struck me in the OP:

    “people want to stir up resentment and hatred against Mormons (and lots of other people) by casting them as inherently immoral mentally inferior or culturally suspect.”

    So basically, other people are doing to us what we do to other people? Mormonism has a long history of bigotry (esp. racism and homophobia), so it seems a bit odd to defend Mormonism against bigots, given our own rich history (which still obviously continues today) of discriminatory practices (though I do understand the post is in the context of specifically “Christian” bigotry aimed at Mormons, but we do that kind of thing, too, don’t we? Isn’t a temple marriage assumed to be inherently superior to any other marriage whether civil or religious?)

    OTOH, I do see your point about especially terminology and what words and labels mean. I think when people say “Mormons aren’t Christians,” it’s really just a lazy way of saying “Mormons don’t believe in Christ/practice discipleship in exactly the same way as mainstream Christian churches.” So to me, as some have pointed out, it’s partly a linguistic/rhetorical issue, but also partly an issue of the sadly all to common schismatic thinking when it comes to who’s Christian and who isn’t. For a bunch of people who claim they worship Christ, who loves all people and invites them all to come to Him, Christians sure seem awfully caught up in a bunch of trivial, hair-splitting minutiae. Just sayin’.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Here is some commentary on the question whether Mormons are Christian from my review of a book called The New Mormon Challenge FWIW:

    Is Mormonism Christian?

    The only thing I found really annoying about the book was the continued insistence that Latter-day Saints are in no sense Christian. This is most disappointing since the idea that the Saints are generically Christian should not be that difficult a concept to grasp. Although the wording varies a little from dictionary to dictionary, a Christian is one who is a follower of Jesus Christ, “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”6 This meaning is suggested by the Greek form from which the English derives: Christianos, the -ianos ending conveying the sense of “partisan” of Christ (analogous forms being Herodianos “Herodian” and Kaisarianos “Caesarian”). This is the public meaning of the word—the way it is used in public discourse and the way it is defined in dictionaries. Elsewhere Blomberg disparages this meaning of the word, calling it “some very broad and relatively meaningless sense by which every Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox church member, however nominal or sectarian, would also be included.”7 Exactly! Blomberg or any other evangelical is more than welcome to devise a private definition of the word that will exclude Latter-day Saints, but when they do this they must immediately articulate what that private definition is8 and acknowledge that they are not using the word in its commonly understood sense. When they simply say Mormons are not Christian (using an unarticulated private definition), their hearers and readers understand them to say that Mormons do not believe in Jesus Christ (using the public definition, since words are understood to be used in their commonly defined senses unless another sense is indicated). Such evangelicals therefore regularly misrepresent and even defame LDS belief. This is truly offensive to Latter-day Saints such as myself, and I am puzzled as to why they cannot see that.9

    Blomberg attempts to exclude Mormons from even the “relatively meaningless” public definition of Christian in his chapter entitled “Is Mormonism Christian?” He correctly states that the Bible only uses the term three times and nowhere offers a formal definition (p. 317). He then strives to exclude Mormons from the normative definition by limiting who can be called a Christian, not by articulating a proper lexical definition of the term, but by quoting the World Book Encyclopedia article on “Christianity”: “Christianity is the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Most followers of Christianity, called Christians, are members of one of three major groups—Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox” (emphasis added). Blomberg then concludes, “Based on this definition, Mormonism is clearly not Christian, nor has it ever claimed to be so” (p. 317). While it is true that the Latter-day Saints do not claim to be Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, it is manifestly not the case that they do not claim to be Christian. In the broad and commonly understood sense of the word, the Saints have always considered themselves to be Christians. I am mystified how a scholar of Blomberg’s evident intelligence, talent, and sensitivity could so misread this encyclopedia text (which certainly does not make the exclusionist claim Blomberg ascribes to it), or for that matter why he would appeal to an encyclopedia rather than proper lexical materials to deal with this question in the first place. This methodology is more in line with sectarian propaganda than sound scholarship.10

    I recently shared the following example with Blomberg in an e-mail correspondence following the appearance of The New Mormon Challenge; I think it illustrates well why simply calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian is inherently misleading. A family with several young daughters used to live in my ward. This family was friendly with a neighbor woman, who would often babysit the girls. As Christmas was approaching, the woman gave each of the girls a Christmas gift, which turned out to be a coloring book featuring Jesus Christ. The girls enjoyed the gift and colored the pictures. Some time later this woman came to the family’s home, ashen, and apologized profusely for having given their daughters such a gift. It turns out that the woman had just learned at her church that Mormons are not Christian, and therefore she of course assumed that she had committed a grievous faux pas in giving the girls coloring books featuring a deity their family did not believe in. Now in this story the woman understood the claim that Latter-day Saints are not Christian the same way the vast majority of people would, as meaning that they do not believe in Christ. This is because she naturally applied the public definition to her pastor’s words.

    We can see by this story the mischief that results from the semantic legerdemain of calling Latter-day Saints non-Christian. The fact is, they are Christians in the generic sense of the word, even if, from an evangelical point of view, they are theologically in error and unsaved (i.e., being a Christian is not necessarily tantamount to being right). I personally would have no difficulty with certain shorthand distinctions that would make clear that Mormons neither are nor claim to be historic, traditional, creedal, or orthodox Christians. But to say they are not Christians at all without such a modifier is to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of their beliefs. Since one of the goals of The New Mormon Challenge was to avoid such misrepresentations, I was sorely disappointed that it took the position that Latter-day Saints are not Christian in any sense at all. I view this as an intellectually indefensible position, and in my view it severely undermines the credibility of the book.

    Full review here:

  24. Kristine says:

    Kevin, I don’t disagree with you, but I think it also can’t hurt for Mormons to be better educated about what evangelical Christians mean when they say we are not Christian:

  25. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Per Kristine:

    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.

    I would argue that Jeffress clearly falls into the category of demonization and othering, as does Mike Huckabee.

    I don’t care about the word “Christian.” It’s a meaningless, empty vessel at this point in history, utterly purged from any relationship with the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. All I can tell people is that I believe that Christ is the literal Son of God the Father, that He assumed the sins of humanity past/present/future to save us from damnation and eternal death, and that I follow His teachings and the teachings of His prophets. Call me what you will.

  26. “The only possible answer is that it depends on who gets to define the terms.”

    True. I can win any argument if I get to define the terms.

    “No matter how one tries to spin it, the word “cult” carries these connotations [inherently immoral, mentally inferior, or culturally suspect] in contemporary usage.”


    “The same thing goes for ‘Satanic.’ “

    True. These terms are shorthand insults that end civil discussions.

    So is the term “bigot.”

    The original post decries the use of epithets while hurling another.

    Some people may be bigots, or cultists, or Satanic, but the terms are thrown around all too casually and usually serve as an insult and not an attempt at understanding or to promote civil discourse. Of course, I emphatically disagree with Dr. Jeffress and his supporters, but calling them bigots doesn’t win them over or help us live together if we cannot.

  27. Notice the evangelical side-step that Jeffress tries to pull in his response. The fact that he was expressing his faith through hatred of other faiths is certainly not an attack on those faiths, and suggesting that it was is an attack on his faith. It’s this kind of disingenousness that allows people like Jeffress to claim that Christianity is “under attack” in America.

  28. Leo, if Dr. Jeffress is not a bigot, then the word has no meaning. There is no point in engaging with him seriously, because he has nothing to offer but hatred.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristine, I liked your blog post and I certainly agree that Mormons need to be better educated and less sensitive in this sphere. I agree that we all (including me) have a tendency to hang way too much on the word “Christian.” I don’t mind in the least if someone tells me I’m not a Christian if it’s clear the reason is I don’t believe in an ontological Trinity or sola fide or TULIP or whatever. On that basis I’ll gladly agree that I’m not a Christian. But the essay I was responding to–a piece specifically on why Mormons are not Christian in a work that purports to be a work of scholarship–didn’t do any of that, and it simply wasn’t good enough in that area. Especially since I really like the author, Craig Blomberg, and believe him to be an excellent scholar. He just didn’t even try to really articulate the case (in my view, at least).

  30. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Leo, people who complain about how “bigot” gets thrown around tend to the “methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

    But perhaps we should focus on actions and words rather than make judgments of character and motivations. In that case, we can say clearly that when you call another religious group “Satanic” for the purpose of “othering” them and muting their political influence, you’re making a bigoted statement. Whether or not that makes you a bigot is irrelevant: it’s not who you are inside, it’s what you do that matters.

  31. Leo, just for the record, the word “bigot” is not one that I injected into this discussion in the original post. It was the word that Romney used to make the charge against Jeffress and the word that Jeffress used to defend himself from the accusation. It seemed to me that any post commenting on the discussion should use the terms in which the discussion was already occurring.

  32. I don’t think Governor Romney actually helped the situation for the Church as a whole. I agree with the original post that this should be viewed as a political move in the Governor’s campaign. I don’t believe Dr. Jeffress called us any names in Jerusalem, and I didn’t see where the Israeli government protested. Please correct me if I missed that. I didn’t see the Church Public Affairs Department getting involved. I actually agree with Nepos, there is no point in engaging with Dr. Jeffress seriously, at least not on a public basis. I don’t take him seriously. This incident is the sort of kerfuffle that I would ignore, and which will soon be forgotten. Calling people names is not what we should be about, and some insults are best ignored. I didn’t see where Dr. Jeffress conveyed any insults in Jerusalem. Of course, he “others us” (meh). If he actually said “and this is why Mormons are deluded cultists rising from the pit of hell to feast on the blood of your children,” that could be another matter, and that would be a statement that would fall of its own weight. Can you provide a reference?

  33. My only dog in the “Are Mormons Christian?” fight is the hope that sensitivity on this issue will get us to talk more about Jesus at church. Unfortunately, I don’t have high hopes for the sort of Jesus-talk that might emerge from such sensitivity, based on how that’s gone in the past. For myself, I’ve long identified as Christian first and Mormon second. Give me Jesus!

  34. Jason: Your comment rings true to me, but is frustrating as well. I think that our church could go so much farther in our curriculum and meetings if we wished to do so. For example: we have never, in my 60 years of experience as a Mormon, been challenged to read the four gospels. I have been challenged countless times to read the BoM. It is a testament of Christ, but for the most part it is about Jesus. For the most part it is one step removed from the real thing. I think that we all could benefit from repeated and careful readings of the four gospels. Why aren’t we ever ever ever challenged to do this? Why not memorize parts of the sermon on the mount instead of articles of faith? Only very occasionally do our general authorities quote Jesus. For me the most common GA to do this is Jeffrey Holland. But why are general conference addresses almost never focused on a particular parable or story? Our old testament curriculum appears to be much more focused on obedience to authority than to Jesus. Sure, we may get reminided that Jonas’ three days in the “fish” can be seen as “type of Christ” but there is so much more rich symbolism of the Messiah in the OT. Why don’t we mine that more often? We fall far short of staying focused on Jesus of Nazareth and his sacrifice and teachings.

  35. I wish we weren’t so hung up on what Christians think about us. With lots and lots of boots-on-the-ground, individual exceptions, of course, American Christianity is not generally admirable and I’ve never wanted to be counted among them. If Pastor Robert Jeffress were ever to backtrack and say, “Mormons are okay, after all. They’re just like us,” I would be mortified.

  36. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I wish we weren’t so hung up on what Christians think about us. With lots and lots of boots-on-the-ground, individual exceptions, of course, American Christianity is not generally admirable and I’ve never wanted to be counted among them. If Pastor Robert Jeffress were ever to backtrack and say, “Mormons are okay, after all. They’re just like us,” I would be mortified.

    This, man, this. (One might even say, “Megadittos from the Land of Fruits and Nuts, Rush!”)

  37. Can we please stop labeling people as “bigots” or “racists” or “homophobes” or whatever. I hate this. The labeling, as if that changed anything, as if it in itself is enough to stop the conversation and settle the debate. Just stop it!

%d bloggers like this: