“We claim to be the re-established original Christian church” – Gary Lawrence; “How Americans View Mormonism”
Previously, I had begun writing these articles (1-5) during the last presidential election cycle as an attempt to help folks become more comfortable with the idea of a Mormon, namely Mitt Romney, running for the office of President of the United States. Polling data had revealed that a large segment of the population stated they would not vote for him, not because of his political views, but based simply on the fact that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; a Mormon.
That election cycle is over. Mitt ultimately failed in his attempt to win the Republican nomination for president, and the eventual candidate, John McCain, ultimately failed in his bid to become president as well. Our new president is Barack Obama. And while there are many issues that folks may disagree with him on, being a Mormon is not one of them. The election cycle being past, it was not my intent to continue this series, at least until the topic became a hot-button issue once more.
Recently however, I have heard some rumblings among the evangelical community that cause me to want to write at least one more.
In my mind, opposition from the evangelical community was a large factor in Mitt Romney’s failure to secure the Republican nomination for president. Indeed, I and many others of my faith strongly believe that the main reason for Gov Mike Huckabee’s candidacy, and the success it enjoyed, was to prevent a Mormon from becoming the Republican nominee.
The evangelical community seems to have a conundrum of sorts. On the one hand, they are still vehemently opposed to allowing Mormons access into the “Christianity club” (as if they actually have the power and authority to determine who is and isn’t a Christian). On the other hand, when it comes to the issues, they and the Mormon’s are pretty much on the same sheet of music. And it is getting to the point where, in today’s society, they need all the allies they can muster.
They are also having the continuing problem of a small but steady trickle of members of their community discovering that the things they have been saying about Mormons are not true, and converting to the faith. So it seems, the question for them now becomes “how can we work more closely with Mormons, and yet still oppose them?” Moreover, “if we work closely with Mormons, how can we keep members of our churches from converting to the LDS faith once they discover that Mormon’s do in fact consider themselves to be Christian, and follow a lifestyle that most evangelicals should find greatly attractive?”
The solution it seems, is to change course, and instead of damning us as heretics or cultists, or followers of Satan, or claiming we believe in a “different Jesus Christ”, to now declare that Mormonism is instead a new world religion; “a fourth Abrahamic faith”. The other three being of course, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
This fixes a lot of problems for the evangelical leadership. It allows the evangelical community to work with us, just as they work with Jews, Muslims, and Christians of other denominations. And it still allows them to classify us as non-Christian; instead of saying we believe in a “different Jesus Christ”, they can simply point to us as “Mormons” and say that our teachings of Jesus, just like the Islamic teachings of Jesus, are different. After all, Islam recognizes Jesus Christ as well; they simply believe him to be a great prophet. From a Christian perspective, their teaching is incorrect; since they don’t believe Christ to be the Savior and have not accepted him as such; obviously, Muslims are not “saved”. They are not Christians.
As, according to evangelicals, are Mormons also not Christians.
But it is much less confrontational. Making us a fourth Abrahamic faith allows us to be excluded from the club in a much more polite fashion. And it gives their adherents a much clearer line of demarcation. If you become a Mormon, you are, by definition, leaving Christianity behind.
This definition is not new. Jan Shipps, an American historian specializing in Mormon history, makes this exact argument in her book “Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition”. Ms. Shipps, who is regarded as one of the foremost non-Mormon scholars of Mormonism, describes Mormonism as distinctly different from the Protestant tradition that spawned it; as distinct as Christianity itself is from Judaism. According to her, Mormonism is not Christianity, but rather a full-scale parallel religious tradition which is developing into a full-blown world religion.
There are those within my faith who would embrace such a definition. Indeed, if you were to ask us whether we would define ourselves as Protestant, we would say no. All the Protestant sects, denominational or not, have separated themselves in protest (hence the word “Protestant”) from the Catholic Church, which they believed to be in apostasy. We certainly are not Catholic. Indeed, we would agree with the Protestants that the Catholic church was and is existing in a state of apostasy. However, to go a bit further, we believe that all the existing Christian, sects, denominations, and non-denominational churches, with the exception of our own, are in a state of apostasy.
Even so, to accept the argument that we are a fourth Abrahamic faith, separate and distinct from Christianity is, to my mind, incorrect and very dangerous. We don’t believe we are different from Christianity; we are Christian.
Our belief in this matter can be stated very simply:
The Protestants had a lot of things right, but they didn’t go far enough in some areas. In others, they threw out the baby with the bath water. It’s easy to understand the confusion however. Short of his coming back down to personally instruct us on the exact meaning of everything in the scriptures, and to point out how we have deviated from the path, how is man expected to know what is right and what is not? There are so many ways a given scripture can be interpreted.
Historically, rather than coming in person, God instructed his people through prophets, whom he called to perform this task. We believe that in the early 1800’s, he did so again in order to clear up the confusion, restore his Church to the Earth, and pave the way for the second coming of Christ, prophesized in the Bible.
Sound incredible? Perhaps. Many things in the scriptures sound incredible, and people keep trying to find “natural” explanations for them. How did Moses part the Red Sea? What could possibly have caused the Nile to “turn to blood”? What “really” happened to cause the event referred to as The Passover? Was Joseph Smith a charlatan? Many believe so. It’s easier for most it seems, to believe that, than to believe he may have been a prophet. It’s a lot easier to accept prophets who are conveniently dead scriptural references than it is to believe that they may be around and capable of meddling in our lives today.
So, what does that mean? Does it mean we think we are better than everyone else? No, not really. Although, human beings being what they are, I am sure that some Mormons have that view. It isn’t the church’s position however. More knowledge? Yes, certainly. Keep in mind however, that there is a difference between having knowledge and applying it. That free agency thing I mentioned in one of my other articles means that each person is able to accept or reject as much as they like.
Do we think we are going to heaven and everyone else is going to hell? No, although many of our detractors think that way about their own faiths. It is good that we will be judged by Jesus Christ and not by them! We are told that there will be those not of our faith present in heaven, just as there will be members of our church who may not be present. Membership in a church, even ours, in and of itself does not guarantee salvation.
There are currently hundreds, if not thousands of Christian denominations on the face of the earth, each with doctrines that differ, some only subtly, from each other. It is a self-evident fact that all of them cannot be 100% correct. Trying to choose the “correct” one is pretty much an impossible task. Most people don’t even bother; they either assume that in the main the differences don’t matter, or simply ignore the differences and just choose the one with the “best” preacher. Or they go with the one they were raised in. To think that there really is one that is “correct”, one that is the restored Church of Jesus Christ, reestablished on the Earth by God himself seems a bit odd, if not downright heretical to many.
But keep in mind; originally, there was only one true Church of Jesus Christ; the one he established. Is it really so far-fetched that, in the face of the plethora of churches in existence today, that he would not at some time seek to restore what once was?
It is what we believe. It is part of what it means to be Mormon.