I recently added Ali Akbar to my Twitter follow list. He is a Tea Party organizer who has recently (and publicly) invited both Morgan Freeman and Rep. John Lewis to attend a Tea Party so they can see what we’re all about. I admire his bravery, and so put him on my follow list. It was with dismay, however, that I saw him jump onto the “Decidedly not!” camp of the “Are Mormons Christians?” debate that has been rekindled most recently by the bigoted remarks of Pastor Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit.
I say “rekindled” because this is not a new debate. It is as old as the LDS Church and as tired as “your momma” jokes. And the answer has always been the same: Um, duh! Yes!
After a somewhat heated exchange on Twitter, Mr. Akbar assured me that the assertion throughout the larger Christian community that Mormons are not Christian has nothing to do with the basic definition of the word (i.e., a follower of Christ), but is instead basically a bunch of religious academics who have gotten together and decided that, in order to be considered “Christian,” you must adhere strictly to areas of their doctrine; and some of these areas are ones in which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doesn’t disagree with so much as we just have a different understanding of them. He also expressed his amazement that we Mormons fight so hard for the Christian label.
As we all know, brevity is the soul of Twitter, while, at times, verbosity is the soul of me. My rebuttals would not fit in 140 characters very well, so I will put them here.
Firstly, while I appreciate Mr. Akbar’s assertion that the “not Christian” label is a purely academic one and is not meant to give the impression that we Mormons don’t believe in Christ, that argument simply doesn’t pass the smell test for me. If that is the case, call us nontraditional Christians or something of that nature. Tammy Bruce is a woman who is not only not a Mormon, but is deeply distrustful of organized religion in general. Perhaps it is this distance that allows her the clarity of perception she has shown in this matter as she has discussed it on her radio show over the past week. To paraphrase Ms. Bruce: The name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They believe in the Jesus; therefore they are Christians, and to say otherwise is just silly.
Moreover, while the academic theologians may see the matter in the way that Mr. Akbar explained it, that’s not how the average person looks it — as substantiated by Ms. Bruce. I promise you, in the average church where Mormon-bashing is regularly delivered from the pulpit, there are few if any attempts to make sure the congregants understand that the “not Christian” label is purely academic. Even the more diplomatic things I’ve heard from people of other faiths who are steeped in this sort of nonsense on a regular basis assure me that, regardless of what I may think, I really actually believe in a whole different Jesus altogether than the one that they do.
Sorry, but how many virgin-birth-lived-in-Judea-Atonement-giving-crucified-then-resurrected-Sons-of-God-named-Jesus-Christ have there been in this world? I only know of the One.
At the heart of the “Mormons-aren’t-Christians” argument is not an attempt at some sort of academic classification — the so-called “Christian world” varies widely on almost every point of doctrine there is. Rather, I believe it is an attempt to keep their own congregations from looking at what the LDS Church has to offer. The real question is not, “Why do Mormons want so badly to be known as Christians?” it is this: Why are the leaders of the more traditional sects of Christianity so afraid to afford their LDS brothers and sisters that same label?
But Mr. Akbar’s question does deserve more than a counterquestion, and so I offer that here. The reason we members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are hurt and bemused and even offended by the idea that we’re somehow not a Christian faith is not because we want to somehow fit in with the crowd. We know we are a “peculiar people,” we know our particular theology is the red-headed stepchild of the larger Christian community, and we’re okay with that. Frankly, if we thought the rest of y’all had it right on the nose, our church would be unnecessary and superfluous.
No, the reason that the suggestion of our supposed non-Christianity is hurtful to us is because it could not possibly be farther from the truth. If I may quote the Book of Mormon (and I may, because it’s my blog): “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26, emphasis mine) Our entire theology is centered around the life and mission of Jesus Christ, including and especially His Atonement and subsequent death and resurrection. I myself have a personal knowledge and understanding of the incredible healing power of that Atonement. It was through my church that I found Christ, yes — but I do not believe in Him because I believe in my church; rather, I believe in my church because I believe in Him.
Also, the “cult” thing is just insulting. You want a cult? Look at radical Islam. That, my friend, is a cult.
I think it’s telling that, despite the fact that we’re coming up on two centuries now of having other people try to put us in some sort of hermetically sealed little theological box, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has never gone out of our way to demonize another religion or denomination. In fact, Glenn Beck, an unapologetic Mormon who later spoke on the same stage as Pastor Jeffress, has said that he rejoices that we live in a time and place where people are allowed to say such things, as wrongheaded as they might be.
Yes, we will disagree with you, ardently at times, on points of doctrine — but we will never insist that you are not a follower of Christ simply because you believe in infant baptism or deny continuing revelation. It just wouldn’t be Christ-like.