Friday, September 7, 2012

Are Mormons Christians?

Taylor Petrey seems to think Mormons are Christians. Whatever that means. 
If one were to rank the issues about which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is most sensitive, near the very top of the list would be the persistant accusation that Mormons are somehow not Christians.  This is literally the first question in the FAQ section at
Well saying Mormons are Christians because Mormons are sensitive about the issue seems like about the worst argument you can make. Christians believe in love and truth, not love instead of truth. But why should this even be something for Mormons to get bothered about? Joseph Smith asked God which Christian church has the true faith. God allegedly told him that none did. OK, so the Mormon faith that Smith taught would be different from historical Christianity. They talk about the apostasy in the very early days of the church. If Christians are apostates in their thinking they why do they want to claim to have the same faith as Christians? 
In responding to this charge over many decades, the church has sought to emphasize its Christian identity. Besides numerous discourses on the subject, the Church has projected a Christian image through the use of visual and material culture.  For the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, the Church acquired and displayed its now iconic reproduction of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s “Christus” statue, which appears on numerous websites and publications.  In 1996, the Church changed its logo to feature the words “Jesus Christ” more than twice the size of the other words in the name.  The image was meant to communicate the centrality of Jesus Christ to the faith.  Church leaders continue to offer impassioned sermons on the topic in recent years.
I know the Mormon church has tried to seem Christian. They see it as an evangelization strategy. People will join the Mormon church easier if they think it is Christian. But is there more the Christianity than Logos and statues? Do you simply have to have a high view of Jesus?

The Catholic answer is baptism. Mormons baptisms are problematic for a variety of reasons. The short answer being their understanding of the words used in baptism are radically different from the Catholic understanding. That is something you need to be careful with. Many of the same words are used by Mormons but they mean something completely different in the Mormon context. So then they really aren't the same words.
This election season has brought out renewed efforts from some evangelical leaders to “clarify” for their audiences that, in spite of being permitted to vote for a Mormon candidate for president, they are under no circumstances to consider Mormonism a part of Christianity.  This policing of the boundaries of Christianity raises the question of who gets to decide what Christianity is.  Different Christians have drawn the boundary differently, depending on whom they are seeking to exclude.  For many centuries Protestants drew the boundaries such that Catholics were out of the fold of Christianity, commonly charging the Pope as the Antichrist.  Catholics returned the favor.  Devastating wars were fought in Europe over precisely who was a Christian and who was not.
 He is right here. Protestants are quite arbitrary about how they decide who they call Christian and who they don't. They don't have an objective standard and so definitions change with what ideas are fashionable. Petrey is essentially arguing that this is good and Mormonism is now fashionable because of Romney so what is the big deal? If Christianity has no borders then it has no meaning. The fact that the protestant cannot give a clear answer to the question, "What is a Christian?" is a good reason to reject protestantism. It is not a good reason to say absolutely every belief system that wants to be seen as Christian should be recognized as such.

I won't copy all the stuff about  Adolf von Harnack. He says "Christianity is not about adherence to dogmas, but about life of faith." He is basically wrong. It is about more than dogma but it is about dogma.
Social theory may offer more help than theology in understanding how the boundaries of Christianity are created and enforced.  Identity requires both a sameness and a difference over and against which to define oneself.  In order for there to be an inside, there must also be an outside.  The self always needs an other, and there is no other which is more fraught than the intimate other, who appears so similar as to be almost indistinguishable.  Lines must be produced and guarded in order to protect a particular understanding of what counts as Christianity.
I don't get what he means here. First he insists lines should not be drawn  that would exclude Mormons. Now he says we need to draw lines. But don't you have the same issues of people being sensitive and people lacking authority?
Definitions of Christianity that seek to portray its essence are arguments about what that essences should be, not objective descriptions of fact.  They assume the very thing they are trying to prove.  Such definitions are rhetorical and ideological, producing similarities between themselves and what they see as authentic Christianity, and downplaying the differences.  Those that represent the boundaries as natural and fixed also represent themselves as atemporal, outside of the tumults of time and space.  But we know that such definitions fail the test of time.
We need to define what the essence of Christianity is for anyone's inclusion or exclusion to have meaning.That meaning needs to pass the test of time. If there is nothing timeless about Christianity then why bother with it?
If our definitions are always provisional, historically situated, and subject to change, what considerations should we make in determining the boundaries of Christianity?  One consideration must be the ethical.  As countless scholars have pointed out, the process of drawing boundaries can be fraught ethically.  Is it just to exclude a group who claim the title of Christians?  In answering this question it is useful to consider how defining some people as “outsiders,” as lacking a claim to some standard of authenticity, is the fundamental ideology behind so many of the ugly prejudices in this world. The Christianity police are often guilty of police brutality more than protection of their constituents.  Defining Mormonism out of Christianity sets, and follows, a troubling precedent.
He seems to have a mindset of brutality. That somehow when we label somebody non-Christian that we go out and beat them up. There may have been incidence of that but it is hardly a reason to pretend everyone who says they are Christian is. We are merely saying we share, in essence, the same faith. What I share with a baptist or a reformed person is the heart of the Christian faith and so I call them Christians. What I share with a Mormon is more like what I share with a Muslim or a Buddhist. That is something less. Because of that referring to Mormons as Christians would be dishonest. Whether this truth is unpopular with Mormons or with Romney supporters or with anyone else does not really matter.

It does not actually mean I think Mormons are all going to hell. I don't think that about Muslims. I don't think all Baptists and Reformed are going to heaven. I don't even think all Catholics are.  The term Christian is a public thing. Salvation is between you and God. The fact that Mormons lack the grace of a valid baptism is a big deal. That is God's normal plan of salvation. Still it is for God to judge their souls. Whether you were labeled a Christian while on earth won't play into it at all.


  1. This is just another example of why Mormonism is a false and evil religion, because they use deception to further their agenda. The campaign to come off as "just another Christian denomination" is fundamentally dishonest and intended to deceive. But I also see Mormonism as on its way out though too, because more and more LDS are seeing that the religion is intellectually bankrupt, and as the LDS tries to expand to other nations it has to tone down it's 'white American superiority' mantra that originally made it appealing. So this attempt to cozy up to the culture will ultimately backfire, as it did when the Catholic Church tried to cozy up to the world and ended up bleeding members and watering down the faith. The only thing that kept the Catholic Church alive is that it was built on Christ Himself.

    1. I think a lot truth gets twisted when evangelism occurs. That goes for Mormons and evangelical and atheists. When Catholics do evangelism they are faced with that temptation. We become salesmen. We always want to make the product seem a little better than it is. It seems like a small lie could save a soul.

      So do the Mormons lie? Mormon missionaries who become Christian say much of the material they are trained to go over is highly misleading. Scriptures taken out of context. Terms that mean different things to Mormons where that difference is not explained. Significant doctrines omitted from the presentation until the person is committed. These are not isolated incidents but part of the way they are trained.

  2. "Making the product seem better than it is" is not necessarily a lie, nor is it anything comparable to (a) using standard Christian terminology knowing full well you mean something radically different by it, or (2) outright lies.

    I do know what you mean how there can be a temptation to be a salseman, but I also think Catholics should speak out against that temptation so that Catholics avoid it as often as possible.

    1. I get what you are saying Nick. I just don't want to make Mormons out to be worse than the rest of us unless I know it is true. They are easy targets mostly because they focus on stranger evangelism. Nobody lies when evangelizing a friend or a family member. It is with someone you will likely never see again that the temptation becomes acute.

      Are Mormons worse than evangelicals? I have heard some pretty dishonest things said about Catholics. Some protestant traditions are a lot worse than others. Are they worse than Catholics? I think so. Is that just because I am Catholic? Is that just because Catholics rarely engage in stranger evangelism? I can't be sure.

  3. Hi Randy I appreciate your honesty and openess in on wanting to understand Catholicism, I would like to first ask you are you happy? Are you at peace with God? Because it is the will of God for us to know truth and to be saved if In all your searching you feel a restlesness and no peace that is not Gods will the bible tells us but let the peace of God rule in you. I will pray for you that God will lead you to the truth

    1. Thanks for the comment. I am at peace with God. That is important to know. I would caution against using feelings too much in that. Sometimes we receive absolution and we don't feel much. Yet we know by faith that we have been forgiven and are truly at peace with God. Feelings go up and down. True peace is based on trusting God's word given through scripture and the church.

  4. That is so true feelings go up down we need to trust Gods word regardless of how we feel the word of God is our blue print and a Church that follows Gods word should have his fingerprints all over it