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Why Mormons Aren’t Christians

In a long essay, E.D. Kain defends his assertion that “Mormons are not, by any definition of the word, Christian.”  A brief excerpt:

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.

I’ve always considered Mormons to be Christians since they’re believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Kain’s argument is interesting, though.   Clearly, there are vast differences between various Christian sects, ranging from Roman Catholicism to the various Orthodox faiths to Pentacostalism.

Are the differences added by the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price sufficient to transform them into something unique?  Certainly, the idea that Jesus visited North America after the Resurrection is a novel addition to the canon.

UPDATE: See also Steven Taylor’s December 2006 essay “On Romney and the Politics of Mormonism,” which outlines some of the theological issues.

Link via Andrew Sullivan

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Paul Barnes says:

    Well, it depends on how narrowly one defines someone as a Christian. For example, sociologically, I would argue that Mormons can be defined as Christians, whilst theologically, I would argue that they are not.

    The difference is along the lines that you suggest. They did come from a Christian culture and explicitely borrows many of the things that are associated with that. However, much of their beliefs (I think) put them outside of the Christian fold.

    For example, Mormons are not monotheists. They are tri-theists, believing that each member of the Trinity are separate gods. This is different from some of the cruder or mistaken beliefs that many Christians have about Trinitarian doctrine (i.e. modalism, arianism, gnosticism, etc.)

    Another example that I would submit is important is the fact the their baptism is not recognized as legitimate by the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously, this is not granting the Catholic Church as the arbitor of determining who is or is not a Christian, but their acceptance of a very wide range of baptisms as valid should be given some weight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  2. John Burgess says:

    What Paul Barnes said–better than I might have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. The sociological/theological differentiation noted above has some credence in terms of general understanding.

    In other ways, this could be argued to be an inside baseball kind of argument. It is the case that mainline Christianity (the Catholic Church, and practically every (if not all) Protestant denomination that one can think of) consider Mormonism to be outside the fold–likewise Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists, despite the fact that those groups use the Bible as a sacred text and ascribe divinity to Jesus.

    However, the issue of defining what the divinity is is the main issue. The mainline Christian church (in a universal sense as briefly defined above) sees Christ as God Himself, part of the Holy Trinity of Father-Son-Holy Spirit, while the Mormon see Jesus as the literal son of the Father (and also has a broader cosmological view wherein there are numerous such fathers and sons). It is a substantially different definition of God, and if we consider the basic differentiation between religions to be their conception of God, then there is (despite the shared language) a substantial difference between Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc and Mormons, et al.

    (This is, of course, a sketch of a broader theological argument).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. I actually wrote about some of this two years ago (my, time flies) in regards to the politics of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Let me know when this devolves into a debate about how many Mormons can dance on the head of a pin. Sure they are different in many ways but they are fine neighbors and upstanding citizens. If they say they are Christians I’m going with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

  6. Steve: you hit precisely on the theological/sociological divide.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. Scott Swank says:

    Do Mormons believe that Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. go to heaven? I don’t know, but that seems like a good starting point in terms of determining whether they consider themselves Christian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    hat seems like a good starting point

    Not really. There are any number of indubitably Christian denominations whose members no doubt consider Roman Catholics damned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  9. Catholics get to decide who are Catholics, not Christians. The same is true for all the other denominations within Christendom that claim that other “Christians” are really Christians or that other “Christians” aren’t going to heaven.

    Andrew is just mad at the Mormons because they were supported Prop 8 in California and funded it heavily, so naturally he’ll look favorably on anything to knock them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

  10. HiItsNino says:

    It is worth adding that Kwi Chan Cane was not Buddhist, he was a Shawlon priest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Brett says:

    One interesting thing to remember is that not even all of what we would consider to be “Christian” groups believed in the divinity of Christ: the followers of Arius back in the early days of Christianity didn’t.

    That said, I think Mormons are Christians. They believe in the divinity of Christ, they believe that Christ’s sacrifice in the crucifixion represented some type of redemption for mankind (although they don’t quite follow the mainline Christian view of how that works), and so forth.

    I always thought the Catholic view on Mormonism was kind of amusing. Apparently, Mormonism is so different from Christianity that it doesn’t even fit into the category of “wrong but Christian”, like the Protestant faiths – instead, it’s classified by the Catholic Church as a pagan faith, in the same category as Islam, Buddhism, and so forth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  12. HiItsNino says:

    So essentially Mormons and Sociologists are both Christian groups, because in both religions you can simultaneously believe in Joesph Smith, Ron Hubbard, and Jesus Christ. …and to think my religion, that believes Cartman from south park is divine, cannot get tax exempt status….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  13. jimT says:

    Speaking of Cartman, does anyone remember this exchange from episode 411:

    HELL DIRECTOR: Hello, newcomers, and welcome. Can everybody hear me? [taps the mic a few times] Hello? Can everybuh-? Okay. [the crowd quiets down] Uh, I’m the hell director. Uh, it looks like we have about 8,615 of you newbies today, and for those of you who are a little confused, uh, you are dead, and this is hell, so, abandon all hope and uh yada yada yada. Uh, we are now going to start the orientation process, which will last about-
    MAN 4: Hey, wait a minute, I shouldn’t be here. I was a totally strict and devout Protestant! I thought we went to heaven!
    HELL DIRECTOR: Yes, well I’m afraid you were wrong.
    SOLDIER: I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. HELL DIRECTOR: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
    MAN 5: Well, who was right? Who gets into heaven?
    HELL DIRECTOR: I’m afraid it was the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons were the correct answer.
    CROWD: [disappointed] Awww.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  14. Joe R. says:

    I’m an atheist and don’t have a dog in this fight, but I remember doing some cursory research when Romney was a front runner for the nomination. Based on my understanding of Christianity (I was raised Methodist, and try to keep abreast of the theology), and what I could discover about Mormons, I came to the conclusion that in my view Mormons were not Christians (in the theological sense, to touch on what earlier commenters said). I think most Christians would also not consider Mormons to be Christian, if the Christians were versed in Mormon theology (most of them probably aren’t; I never was until I did my own research).

    Some key phrases from the above: “cursory,” “my understanding,” “I think,” and “in my view.” By no means do I claim to be anything resembling a final authority. But no, Mormons don’t appear to be Christians in the traditional sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  15. Eneils Bailey says:

    I’ve always considered Mormons to be Christians since they’re believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    And I have always considered them human. Having the fallacies of life that all of us possess. I have lived amongst them, and “Jesus Christ” most of them were decent people. Sure, there are extremist’s in their religion, just as any other. I never had any problems with their beliefs and how they treated other people.
    When asked a question about their religion, they did not stammer, look away, and the cast their eyes down to see if they needed a shoeshine. Straight in your eye, they would tell you what they believe. And given that, if they think they are Christians, that is good enough for me.

    And besides, in the maternity ward, after they cut off their tails, shave their faces, and teach them how to use that thumb, they are just like us.
    That’s a bad joke, folks, don’t beat me up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  16. tom p says:

    Are Mormons Christains? As a confirmed aetheist, I can only say, “Who cares?”

    And besides, in the maternity ward, after they cut off their tails, shave their faces, and teach them how to use that thumb, they are just like us.
    That’s a bad joke, folks, don’t beat me up.

    I got a giggle, EB.

    And I have always considered them human. Having the fallacies of life that all of us possess.

    Doesn’t that about sum it up?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. Andy says:

    I suppose in the classical sense and from sheer precedent, Mormons can’t be considered Christians. The Bible alone has held a kind of supremacy for nearly 2000 years. Now suddenly, a random man named Joseph Smith writes his own bible, the Book of Mormon, and assigns it greater authority than the classical scripture of old. That takes a lot of chutzpah quite frankly. But history is written by the victor and if the Mormons get big enough, they can certainly establish their own precedent for future generations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1