“by no definition of the word…”
1. Please see an update to this post here.
Okay, so right off the bat I’ve taken some flak for my assertion in this post that Mormons are “by no definition of the word, Christians.” First off let me say that I do not mean to give offense to Mormons with this assertion, though it may well have that effect. I realize many Mormons do consider themselves to be Christian. This self-identification, however, is not enough. Mormons are no more Christian than Rastafarians are, regardless of their Coptic heritage. Nor are members of the Baha’i faith Muslim, despite their roots in Islam, and despite the fact that many of them believe in Muhammad as a Prophet. Remember, Muslims believe that Muhammad was the Prophet – the last of God’s messengers – how then could Muslims believe in other prophets after him, as the Baha’i do? Sikhs can hardly be considered Hindu or Muslim, though both those religions played a definitive role in the birth of Sikhism. Similarly, while Mormons believe in Christ and have sprung from the Christian tradition, they have added on an entirely new set of beliefs to that one that change their faith entirely and distinguish it from Christianity.
Let’s look at Christianity’s birth for a moment in order to call up another example of “child-faiths” and the important distinction they bear from their originating tradition. Christianity was born directly out of the Judaic tradition, but we could hardly consider Christians to be practitioners of the Judaic faith, could we? And yet Christians share with Jews the belief in a single God; they share the Old Testament (or Tanakh) and belief in many of its stories, from the creation to Moses and on up until the point that Christians departed from the Judaic tradition with the advent of a second book, the New Testament, that forever distinguishes them from their Jewish fore-bearers.
Similarly, Mormons have taken the Bible and added to it a third act, The Book of Mormon, which introduces an entirely new and entirely distinct set of beliefs into the fold. This is not merely a schism or “internal debate” within Christian denominations. Mormons have adopted an entirely new set of values and principles that depart utterly from the Christian faith.
To illustrate this let’s take a walk down memory lane to the 11th century and the first major schism in Christianity – the first legitimate “internal debate” – that saw the Latin and Eastern Churches break apart. This was due in part to some doctrinal and practical matters which might have otherwise been worked out had the issue of papal authority not been such a major sticking point. Eastern Bishops and the Eastern flock in general hadn’t minded so much when the Roman Patriarch was “first among equals” but when the Bishop of Rome took on the mantle of supreme authority and infallibility the indignation of the Eastern Church was too great. The split was inevitable. It was also political. The core tenets of the two faiths remained remarkably similar, and still bound to the same Bible, the same basic beliefs.
Likewise, centuries later when the Lutherans, King Henry’s Church of England, and the Calvinists all started casting aside the Roman Catholic Church, it was far more a rebellion against the Clergy and the Pope than it was a major doctrinal departure. Certainly differences sprouted, but they were mainly in terms of worship practices, and other such human and organizational matters. Style more than substance, if I may boil it all down so crudely.
Priests could marry. The Virgin Mary was not held in such high regard. The Pope was replaced with orders of Bishops (in the Episcopal traditions) or by orders of priests (in the Presbyterian tradition); or by the myriad other organizational systems that evolved. In modern times the evangelical movement has taken on a less liturgical and more literalistic version of Christian practice. But again, all these little schisms and denominational disputes basically shared the core beliefs in Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. Their articles of Faith were the same, if their method of practice was different.
Enter Mormonism. Mormons share only a tiny patch of doctrine with Christians – at least as little as Christians share with Jews.
Mormons believe in more than one God, for instance. There is the God of this Earth that they worship, but in their belief system there are other Gods, too, who have created other worlds. Mormonism is a polytheistic faith.
Mormons believe we all existed as “spirits” before coming to Earth – and that our actions in Heaven determine our race here on Earth. They also believe our actions on earth play as important a role in salvation as acceptance of Jesus Christ, a completely un-Christian belief. Gender plays a role in salvation as well. More on that, later…
Mormons believe in three “levels” of Heaven, the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial. Basically the Telestial is for non-Mormons; the Terrestrial is for “good but not exemplary” Mormons; and the Celestial is for those Mormons who led the best lives and who had the strongest faith. In this third “kingdom” there are also three levels, and Mormons who attain the highest level of this kingdom reach a state of godhood, essentially becoming gods of their own universes.
Beyond this, women in the Mormon faith are spiritually bound to their husbands. For instance, for a woman to attain the higher levels of heaven she must be lifted up by her husband. She can’t make it on her own. If a man and his wife divorce, and then he remarries, his first wife will be the one who is “lifted up” to the same level, not his second. This is probably one reason that in the early days of the LDS church, Mormons practiced polygamy, and why in FLDS communities they still do.
Are you with me so far? To non-Christians this may not mean a lot, but to anyone who has even perfunctory knowledge of Christian beliefs should recognize at this point that the departure from Christianity in Mormonism is at least as drastic as the departure of Christianity from Judaism – if not more so.
We have these distinctions for a reason. I realize that it is very PC and very much a part of the new liberal cause to treat everyone as if they were exactly the same, or to accept everybody’s own self-identification as the truth of the matter, but then what’s the point of these distinctions in the first place? Why even bother with them? Obviously the answer is because they mean something to us. We need distinction to distinguish ourselves and our beliefs from one another. Mormons are Mormons because their practices and beliefs are different from the Christian faith. They may call themselves Christian as many “child-faiths” have a tendency to refer to themselves as part of the tradition they came from. The common use of the term Judeo-Christian is a similar, if not exact, comparison to this.
Self-identification is simply not a good enough basis for a true determination of faith. A Rastafarian may believe in Jesus, but he also believes that Haile Selassie I is the second coming of Christ. A Baha’i may believe that he is a Muslim, too, but they eschew the foundational belief that Muhammad was the final Prophet of Allah. These are important and radical departures. The births of new religions are almost always like this. They are almost always departures from some parent faith. They don’t just spring up out of nothing. Mormonism didn’t either, but Mormons are by no definition of the word, Christians, either. They came from that tradition, but they are no longer a part of it.
UPDATE: I have a few more things to say about this here.