Are Anti-Mormons Christians?
One of the popular themes used by critics is to pose the question, “Are Mormons Christian?” and to come up with the answer “no”. This theme has appeared, without substantial variation, in a number of anti-Mormon publications over the years.
The approach has been trivially simple: to create a set of false dichotomies consisting of assertions to the effect that Christians (i.e. the critic’s preferred flavor of Christians) believe X, while Mormons are (usually inaccurately) portrayed as believing Y, which X and Y are assumed (and not demonstrated) to be incompatible. Hence, Mormons cannot be Christian.
A number of responses have been made to this argument. Some have turned the critics’ argument on its head; since LDS Christians believe A, and a given critic believes B, then that critic is not a Christian. This approach exposes the fallacy of the argument and pokes fun at it at the same time. An alternative approach, of interest to serious students of the scriptures, is to show the biblical support for the genuine LDS beliefs that the critics both misrepresent and dismiss.
This essay uses a third approach. It has always been the stance of the Latter-day Saints to live by the Golden Rule, as part of the teachings of Jesus, extending to others the same courtesy that they would like them to extend to us. Thus, we do not generally question the genuineness of another’s Christian belief. However, the question “Are Mormons Christian?” is invariably based on the assumption that the questioner is a Christian (which we have generally not disputed) and that his or her Christianity is definitive. It is the first assumption that we shall question here, with the intent of restoring some balance into the debate. As we shall see, it is not the LDS Christians, but their critics, who need to be concerned about their Christian credentials.
This may seem, at first glance, to be a rather odd thing to say; the anti-Mormon movement has defined the debate in such a way that their Christianity is not open to question. Many of them are (or profess to be) clergymen, while most of them are conservative Evangelical Protestants of one sort or another. And yet the question remains and continues to be asked: is anti-Mormonism truly a Christian activity? The answer, both in the general case and in the particulars, is a clear and resounding no.
Let us consider the general case first. Before we do, it would be useful to define our terms, instead of relying (as our opponents frequently do) upon assumed meanings (which they too-often shift in mid-sentence). The word Christian I take to mean what the dictionary says that it means, namely, a follower of Jesus Christ. I explicitly repudiate the frequent anti-Mormon assertion, which parallels Parson Thwackum, that “Christian” means “historical Christian,” i.e. one who agrees with the doctrines promulgated by the ecumenical councils. I rely upon the clearly understood definition that seems to be accepted for all purposes except religious polemic. As a noun, Christian means a disciple of Christ. As an adjective, Christian is an exact synonym of Christ-like.
The term anti-Mormon is herein used to describe any person or organization that is directly and actively opposed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its doctrines, policies and programs. It is not, as critics sometimes mischievously try to claim, a catchall term for anyone who does not accept or believe in the Church, but is applied only to those who actively campaign against it. As an adjective, it applies to those specific activities that may with reasonable accuracy be described as attacks upon the Church.
The general case can best be discovered by investigating what the New Testament has to say about such activities. The New Testament is the logical choice because it is held to be authoritative by almost all Christians, regardless of their differences. And in examining it we find little that gives aid and comfort to the anti-Mormon cause, while there is considerable material that weakens their position.
For example, Mark 9:38-40 tells how the apostles saw someone casting out devils in the name of Jesus and so they forbade him, because he did not follow them. Jesus explicitly told them to “forbid him not,” adding, “for he that is not against us is on our part.” When Paul went to Rome he met with the leaders of the Jews in that city, and told them why he was there. They told him that they hadn’t heard anything about him, but they wanted to hear what he had to say about the Church, “for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22.) Paul (in Gal. 5:19-23) and James (in Jas.3:14-18) both contrast the peaceful, non-controversial Christian way of doing things with contentious and strife-ridden world. Paul calls it the “fruit of the spirit” versus the “fruit of the flesh” while James talks about the “wisdom from above” and the “wisdom from below.” In both cases it is the inferior, uninspired article that produces contention.
Notwithstanding the hollow and insincere protestations of “Christian love” with which anti-Mormons frequently window-dress their attacks on our beliefs, their activities are nothing if not contentious.
A number of examples of religious controversy are described in the New Testament. Perhaps the most revealing is the account of the “Diana incident” in Ephesus (Acts 19:24-41). The following is a summary of that incident. Note the parallels to the activities of anti-Mormons in our day.
A group of anti’s identify the Church as a threat to their livelihood (24-25) and interpret the Church’s teachings as an attack on their religion (26-27) despite the fact that the missionaries had not actually said anything derogatory (37). The anti’s chanted religious slogans (28) and set about creating a riot (29-32) in the course of which two of the missionaries were dragged into court (29). The members protected the visiting General Authority (30-31) and put forward a spokesman to make a defense (33). However the anti’s silenced him by chanting their religious slogan for two hours(!) (34). Things could have turned out very badly (as they have, all too often in this dispensation) but for the intervention of a wise and fair-minded public official who pointed out that the missionaries had neither done nor said anything wrong (37) and that there was no cause for such an uproar (40). (Isn’t it just as well that the town clerk was not a first-century Governor Ford!)
The parallel is exact. Anti-Mormons today are the legitimate heirs of Demetrius the Silversmith, while the ancient saints behave strikingly like the modern ones.
The one passage that critics sometimes cite to justify their position is found in 1 Peter 3:15. But if this verse is the best they can do, then they are in trouble, because it is pretty weak. It tells Christians to be ready to answer questions about their beliefs, not to attack those who believe differently. In other words, it says that if someone approaches a Christian and asks, “what do you believe, and why?” then Christian needs to be ready to answer in terms of his or her own beliefs. Anti-Mormons who use this passage as a proof-text would presumably answer with, “I believe them Mormons is out to lunch because?” That is not what Peter is telling us. The New Testament gives the anti-Mormon cause no help; the generalities of the case are all against them.
The particulars of the case are not any more helpful. In practice, anti-Mormons exhibit various degrees of hypocrisy in their work. Consider the following statement, found on a Web site maintained by Jason R. Smith:
While we are not LDS we are not “Anti’s,” either, as some would like to label us. We are, however, interested in the Restoration Movement, in all of it’s [sic] facets. I myself spend a lot of time studying the works of the LDS and RLDS churches in hopes of coming to a clearer understanding and focus of their beliefs.
This would seem to be saying that Jason is interested in learning about the LDS Church and gaining an understanding of its teachings. It seems a little odd to establish a Web site for this purpose, since Web sites are far more effective at disseminating information than gathering it. However, he immediately lets the cat out of the bag in the very next paragraph, thus:
Why do I do this? Because I consider such ideas as the Doctrine of the Apostasy and the First Vision attacks against the Christian Faith.
The hypocrisy of Jason’s position is so utterly transparent as to be obvious to all but the most dedicated anti-Mormon. An exact parallel would be for a LDS to say, “I’m not an anti-Baptist; I just spend all my free time maintaining a Web site finding fault with the Baptist Church because I believe that Baptist ideas about cheap-grace solafidianism are attacks against the Christian Faith.” In reality, to characterize the beliefs of any group of sincere Christians as “attacks against the Christian Faith” is about as “anti” that group as it is possible to get.
Many anti-Mormons take Jason’s position, claiming that they are actually “defending” something called “the Christian Faith” against the Latter-day Saints, whom they see as attacking it. Never mind that there is no book or pamphlet published by the Church that attacks, denigrates, undermines or belittles the beliefs of any other church; we are attacking them simply by believing such “ideas” as the First Vision.
The flaw in this reasoning should be obvious from the outset: not only does every church have beliefs that are in some way inimical to the truth claims of other churches, but the mere existence of each church is an implicit vote of no confidence in all of the others. The choice to belong to a church that baptizes by immersion is at least an expression of a preference not to belong to a church that sprinkles.
If everyone agreed that all was well in Rome, there would have been no reformation, and hence no Protestants, while the huge number of Protestant sects is testimony to the dim view which the reformers take of each other’s work. Every church believes-or at very least, once believed-explicitly or otherwise, that it is in some way better than all others; in other words, that all others are inferior to it.
Does that mean that every Christian is automatically “attacking” everyone not of his or her sect? Of course it does not, but that is the absurd rationale that anti-Mormons adopt when they say that believing in the First Vision is an attack on the “Christian Faith.” Actually, since Latter-day Saints are Christian, it follows that LDS doctrines, including the Apostasy and the First Vision, are part of their Christian Faith and therefore not an attack on it at all. In fact those doctrines teach not that there is anything wrong with the Christian Faith, but simply that those who profess to hold it have lost track of parts of it. It takes no great genius to realize that a restoration of the gospel can only be proclaimed by those who think that the gospel is a rather important thing.
Anti-Mormons consider it “Christian” to do things that, if the tables were turned, they would consider completely unChristian. And they would be right, too. “Be sure to get the facts from the true Christians picketing outside the temple” screamed an Internet buffoon recently, referring to the Preston (U.K.) Temple open house. Let us pause for a moment and reflect; can anyone imagine a group of Latter-day Saints picketing, say, a Methodist Church? Of course not. That would be an utterly unChristian thing to do, and since we are Christians, we don’t do such things. Let us consider again the incident from Acts 19, discussed earlier. Can anyone imagine Paul and the other missionaries picketing the temple of Diana? It is pretty clear that they did no such thing. Turn it around; can we visualize the “antis” of that time picketing Christian places of worship? Yes, very easily. Anti- Mormons do such things, because anti-Mormonism is not Christian. There are, in fact, no “true Christians” picketing outside any LDS Temples, since that is not what true Christians do.
At this juncture, it is altogether apropos to consider the terrible consequences of anti-religious polemic in general. In the past it has led to such historical highlights as the feeding of Christians to the lions for public amusement, the burning of heretics, the crusades and the Seven Years’ War, while it is at least partly responsible for the Nazi death camps. The epithet of “Christ-killers” applied to Jews is nothing if not religious polemic, while ghettos and yellow stars of David were conscious borrowings from medieval Catholic anti-Semitism. Anti- Mormon polemic in particular has led to the Boggs extermination order, the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the expulsion from Nauvoo, Johnston’s army and the Edmunds-Tucker act. When we see the anti-Mormon fraternity loudly repeating the very same charges that led to those nineteenth-century atrocities, we cannot but wonder if some (if not most ) of them secretly yearn for a return to the glory days when their fulminations caused lynchings, mass murder, wholesale rape, and the crushing of women’s voting rights.
The use of false accusations by anti-Mormons has been discussed in some detail by others. The Satanic nature of this activity (Satan means “accuser” or “slanderer”) needs no commentary; but what is really interesting is the way that anti-Mormons quite clearly (and it may be argued, deliberately) transfer their misdeeds to us. For example: “Mormons don’t know their own doctrines.” This common anti-Mormon claim is a cover-up for the fact that the critics don’t know our doctrines; at least, they very consistently get them wrong. “Mormons misrepresent their own beliefs.” This is quite a blatant reversal of the truth; actually the critics misrepresent our beliefs.
“Mormons are racist.” This is truly ironic. We remember that the Saints were driven out of Missouri because they were mostly Northern and therefore opposed to slavery, while the Baptists, Episcopalians and others in the South supported that institution. Actually the very frequent playing of the race card by the Church’s critics is a pretty clear indication that they have very few valid criticisms to make.
Perhaps more significant is the fact that anti- Mormonism is almost exclusively a white mens’ club; the few exceptions are white women. When we connect this with the fact that the geographical home of anti-Mormonism is KKK country, there may be an explanation ready at hand. In times past it was a popular joke in some quarters that the Procol Harum song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was the South African national anthem. That nation is no longer eligible to use that song, but maybe the anti- Mormons could make use of it.
“Mormons repress women.” Utah territory was the first place in the U.S. where women voted. The antipolygamy “crusaders,” the anti-Mormons of just a few generations ago, managed to get women’s suffrage suppressed in Utah because Utah women supported plural marriage.
Anti-Mormons frequently dismiss LDS testimonies as mere rote repetition. “This testimony is normally repeated as if by memory, with little inflection or emotion,” says Michael H. Reynolds in Sharing the Faith with Your Mormon Friends, p. 18. In what FARMS reviewer Daniel C. Peterson calls “a richly ironic touch,” that “little falsehood is followed almost immediately” by an earnest recommendation that “Christians” (i.e. anti-Mormon proselytizers) should memorize and practice reciting their testimonies. Rote repetition is clearly acceptable for anti-Mormons to use, but not for Latter-day Saints.
“The Mormon Church is money-hungry.” And so we ask, when we see these televangelists with their multi-million-dollar incomes, their corporate jets and their mistresses, why are none of them LDS? Why are all of them Evangelical Protestants of some shade or another?
“The LDS church’s missionary program is one of proselytizing, rather than evangelism. Its goal is not to lead lost sinners to faith in Jesus, but to detach people from their churches and attach them to the LDS church.” So says Robert McKay. And what, may we ask, is the famous SBC missionary effort in Utah about, if not to detach people from the LDS Church and attach them to the Baptist church?
“The Mormon Church’s leaders are crooks and charlatans.” Walter Martin, Dee Jay Nelson and Ed Decker, to name just a few examples, are/were liars and charlatans. Mark W. Hofmann is a crook; the very pseudo-scholarly Tanners are charlatans. Criminality and charlatanry are firmly at home in the anti-Mormon camp, having been firmly rebuffed by the Latter-day Saints.
A variation on the above statement is the oft-proclaimed opinion that “The Mormon Church’s leaders must know that the whole thing is a fake.” What a world of smugness and arrogance is encapsulated in that single sentence! The anti-Mormon has reached a conclusion that “the whole thing is a fake,” and so naturally no well-informed person could possibly hold a contrary opinion; and nobody is better informed on this subject than the Church’s leaders. Therefore, when they tell the rest of us poor deluded souls that they actually believe in the Church to which they have devoted the better part of their lives, they are lying to us. The utterly astonishing conclusion to which this leads is that not one of the Church’s general authorities has ever been an honest man, or even a decent human being.
“The Mormon Church teaches salvation by works.” Real Christians, we are told, need only the grace of God through Christ. Very well, so what is all this anti-Mormon activity about? Can’t Latter-day Saints be saved by grace through faith in Christ? Well, apparently not. As Peterson so cogently writes, And it is clear, frankly, that there is one work, one human action, that our Baptist critics do regard, however inconsistently, as essential for our salvation: “If for some reason you should trust a Jesus other than the one who is revealed in the New Testament,” says Michael Reynolds, “then your trust is in vain, even if by some chance the rest of your theology is intact. … [T]here is no hope for those who trust in this different Jesus.”
Obviously, in Reynolds’s view, theological error is the one unforgivable sin. And theological rectitude is the one indispensable work. That is to say, in the anti-Mormon’s eyes, in order for Latter-day Saints to be saved by grace, we have to first do a work, which is to renounce our belief in Mormonism.
This becomes extremely significant, for of the major doctrinal differences between Latter-day Saints and “mainstream” Christians, differences on the matter of salvation would have to rank among the first three. And the cacophony that is the anti- Mormon chorus reaches a near unanimity when the critics insist that all real Christians believe in salvation by grace alone, and that we will be damned unless we give up our “heretical” beliefs. And yet the second statement expressly contradicts the first. Although this poses no problem for Latter-day Saints, other Christians can only resolve the dilemma by accepting the first statement as it stands, and then concluding that those who make the second statement are not real Christians on their own criteria, since they insist on a works-based salvation.
So we return to the question with which we began this survey: are anti-Mormons Christian? The answer: of course not. They were never even in the hunt. Their clerical collars and pious platitudes are simply a smokescreen to hide the ugly reality that anti-Mormonism is one of the clear manifestations of the darkest side of human nature; the side that made possible the death camps and burning crosses, the massacre of the Hutus and the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans. Just as vicious and repressive dictatorships like to give themselves grandiose and liberal-sounding titles like “The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of Such-and-such”, so these nasty religious haters appropriate the label of “Christian” in order to claim for themselves a specious respectability that their deeds and attitudes do not merit.
Notwithstanding all of the above, Latter-day Saints are, and continue to be, more than willing to allow these folk the right to call themselves Christians. All we ask is that they return the same courtesy.