Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?

The GetReligion blog reports on a story from the Salt Lake Tribune by Peggy Fletcher Stack headlined "Mormons: We are Christians too." The purpose of GetReligion isn't to engage in doctrinal controversy, but to review the quality of religious reporting. Nevertheless, the report delineates one of the most significant doctrinal differences between Latter Day Saints and orthodox Christians:
Her story wrapping up the conference was the most interesting:
Mormon beliefs about God and Jesus Christ make them Christians, no matter what critics say.

This was the message repeated by several speakers on Sunday at the 177th annual LDS General Conference, held in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and beamed via satellite to Mormon chapels across the globe.
.... Much of the story deals with speeches about how to live better lives and more closely follow Mormon ordinances — a key factor in the Mormon understanding of salvation. But here we get back to the lede:
Among the day’s sermons, the “we are Christians, too” mantra stood out. It may have been prompted, in part, by the recent distribution of an anti-Mormon DVD produced by evangelical Christians or by some of the harsh statements about LDS theology made in the context of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

During the morning session, Hinckley said he found the Nicene Creed, a statement from 325 A.D. about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ that most Christians accept, to be “confusing.”

The LDS Church relies instead on the personal experience of founder Joseph Smith, who claimed to have a vision of God and Jesus in 1820.

“He knelt in their presence; he heard their voices; and he responded,” Hinckley said. “Each was a distinct personality.”

God is a “being, real and individual. He is the great governor of the universe, yet, he is our father, and we are his children.... Jesus is the living Christ. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Messiah of the New.”
Apostle M. Russell Ballard added that he believes the Book of Mormon does not contradict the Bible in any way. ....

A core doctrine of the historical Christian faith is the Trinity — that there is one God in three persons. This is articulated in the “confusing” Nicene Creed mentioned by Hinckley, drafted in 325. It describes God in three persons. ....

Mormons believe in a Godhead of three separate beings who are united in purpose. They also use the word Trinity to describe this. Here’s how the BBC characterizes Mormon doctrine about the nature of God:
Mormons believe that:
  • God is an exalted, perfected man
  • God has a physical body
  • There is more than one God
  • Human beings have the potential to become like God...
Mormons believe that:
  • Jesus Christ is the first-born spirit child of God
  • Jesus Christ assisted God the Father at the Creation
  • He was known as Jehovah to the people of the Old Testament
  • He was the literal, biological Son of God, and of Mary...
So often stories that mention the debate over whether Mormons are Christian seem to view the topic in the most non-religious terms possible. They view the issue as one of self-determination (people and groups should be able to identify themselves using their own understanding) or think of the descriptor “Christian” as a kind word that polite people should use with each other. I love that Fletcher Stack identifies the debate as a doctrinal one. That’s a good step. ....
GetReligion: Being of one substance with the Father