With the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney and the upcoming release of September Dawn (a movie about a massacre of Christian settlers by Utah Mormons – with Dean Cain as Joseph Smith!), Mormonism is getting a lot of media time these days. Often, the question comes up, “Are Mormons Christian?” Many writers, who I think are not that familiar with either traditional Christian or Mormon theology, have tended to see evangelical Christians’ suspicions about Mormonism as “yet another” instance of conservative Christians displaying intolerance. Take, for example, this story from the Religion News Service:
“The important thing is, why is all this [September Dawn, questions about Mitt Romney] coming up right now?” [Jan] Shipps says. [Shipps is a professor and “expert on Mormonism” at IUPUI.] Mormons used to live largely to the West, she says, but now “Mormons are everywhere. They are making converts that the evangelicals would like to make, so evangelicals are saying Mormons aren’t Christian. All of a sudden you get this (attitude of): We’re going to look at Mormon history, and we’re going to find out what’s really there.”
In other words, evangelical Christians don’t like Mormons just because they’re jealous.
Or maybe evangelicals are more attuned to Mormon teaching than your average American. I attended a Mormon church for about a year in high school, during 1992 and 1993. I was invited by a friend, a girl I was interested in, and I got to know her and her family very well. Her father was a “stake president,” meaning he was something like a lay bishop for our region of Kentucky, overseer of several local congregations. Their family had 10 children, age 16 to infant, and the father was extremely hardworking and concerned for his children’s welfare. I remained friends with the family even after I stopped attending their church.
At the time, Mormon missionaries led potential converts through a 6-class series, leading up to an invitation to be baptized into the Mormon church. One of the first lessons dealt with “The Great Apostasy.” (Apostasy means to abandon from one’s religion.) Joseph Smith, and all Mormon prophets since, taught that Jesus’ followers abandoned his teachings very shortly after his death and resurrection. The religion known as “Christianity” was, according to Smith, a corruption and distortion of “true Christianity.” True Christianity had been absent from the earth from the late 1st century AD up until the moment in 1823 when Moroni presented Smith with the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon.
Augustine? Not a Christian. Francis of Assisi? Not a Christian. Theresa of Avila? Not a Christian. Martin Luther? Not a Christian. In fact, because “Christians” continued to follow the corrupt teachings of the apostates and refused to return to the “true Christianity” of Joseph Smith, later individuals like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Billy Graham were not Christians, either. Only Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and their faithful followers were true “Christians.” All others were – and are – apostate. I was taught this as recently as 1992, by missionaries using official Latter Day Saints-published educational materials.
So, instead of asking whether Mormons are Christian, maybe the press should be asking Mormons whether Christians are Christian.