Does it matter if Mormons are seen as Christians?By: Andrew S
Real life makes things more complicated, unfortunately.
The question of whether Mormons are Christians is something that I think has been hashed out (but not resolved) many times. Each side has predictable arguments, and so…maybe I’m just desensitized now, but I think this question has lost its flavor. I think that Rebecca J at By Common Consent described the situation aptly:
…if an evangelical Christian asks you, casually or otherwise, if you are a Christian, he may very well be asking for more specific information than whether or not you consider Jesus your savior. Let us say that someone asks you for corn flakes, and you give them a box of Post Toasties. Those of unsophisticated palate don’t recognize a difference between Post Toasties and Kelloggs Corn Flakes. Some recognize the difference but don’t find it substantive enough to form a preference for one over the other. Others consider the Kelloggs brand the One True Corn Flake. Others of a more perverse bent actually prefer Post Toasties. The point is, you can’t just assume that Post Toasties will do when the requirement is “corn flakes.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. You have to understand what the individual means by the term “corn flakes.”
When an evangelical Christian asks you if you are a Christian, he is not only asking whether you believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ but also whether you affirm specific doctrines concerning the Trinity and the nature of Christ. If you know what the heck he is talking about—and what your religion teaches–you will probably not be able to answer his question in the affirmative. This seems unfair from the Mormon perspective. After all, we believe that Jesus is divine, that his atoning sacrifice is the only means by which humankind can be saved, that following his teachings is the way to be happy—seriously, if that doesn’t make us Christians, then what are we? But from the evangelical (and other orthodox Christian) perspective, “Christian” is more particularly defined, and to accept the broader definition that Mormons (and some other people who don’t care so much about particular creeds and stuff) is to render the term less meaningful. They are trying to protect the brand name, even if they don’t have a registered trademark.
When we understand the nature of this situation (and the nature of more specific definitions as opposed to broader ones), then we can decide whether we even want to match ourselves against the more specific standards. As Nate Oman wrote at Times and Seasons:
…I don’t have any particular desire to squash Mormonism into the creeds, although I am perfectly happy to study and learn from the Christian tradition. (I tend to read Aquinas or Augustine for edification and enlightenment rather than to expose an apostate Christianity.) I also have no particular desire to muscle my way into a club with those that hate me and my most sacred beliefs. Hence, to the extent that the “Mormons really are Christians!” refrain is part of some sort of campaign to gain admission to the Evangelical Protestant club, I just don’t care.
…A part of me doesn’t particularly care. We worship and venerate Jesus Christ. Good enough in my book.
But if you guys don’t consider us a part of your club, I’m not particularly heartbroken about it. We certainly aren’t a branch of Protestantism. We claim to be a new world religion in our own right – a restoration of the true order of religion had by Adam, Abraham, Moses, and then the Apostles…
In all of these comments, the poster recognizes that the restoration brought something different from the Protestantism of the day, and it still brings something different. We can quibble on how that should impact our relationship with other denominations (generally, people don’t like it when their churches and creeds are called “abominations”…) but our goal isn’t to eventually become just like the Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox denominations.
So, assuming that we can recognize the difference, and assuming (this one may be tougher) that we concede the definition of “Christian” as meaning something more specific or more “trademarked”, then can we get over the fight to be seen as Christian?
As I said before, the internet guy in me thought I would be ok with this. Nevertheless, real life made things complicated.
Last week, when other fencers and I were doing everything except for fencing, we somehow got on the topic of religion. Someone mentioned that he was nondenominational, and so another asked, “What does that even mean?”
“I’m just a Christian. Not any particular kind,” the first person responded.
“So,” another entered the conversation, “Does that mean that someone like a Mormon could just go to your church and be fine?”
“No,” the first person responded, “because Mormons aren’t Christians in the first place.”
My Mormon spider sense made the hairs on my neck bristle up. I felt a need to jump into the fray.
But now I have to ask: why?
I thought it was because if Mormons aren’t understood to be Christian, then we won’t be taken seriously in a religious or political landscape.
…but should that really be the reason to push for Christian identification? Can’t we also try to strive for legitimacy in our own right? After all, our missionary efforts, even if they sometimes focus on commonalities, depend on people seeing enough difference, or enough “added upon,” to join us rather than stay where they are.