There is a puzzling theological and political debate going on in the Rick Perry presidential campaign. His advisors call Mitt Romney’s Mormonism a non-Christian cult, but Perry distances himself from the designation in public. It is not clear why they cast suspicion on President Obama’s rather orthodox Christian faith, which is even comes complete with a conversion experience and everything. Some evangelical power brokers close to Perry say that Romney’s views are more “biblical” than the president’s. Sigh.
A “new-improved” Jesus
Mormons have always claimed to be Christians. They say they are “new improved” Christians with a latter-day revelation that occurred in upstate New York. They have never made a secret about what they believe. (Well, they scrub out the weirder parts when the missionaries come to your door, or at least they used to). One of my friends was at Hill Cumorah, in New York, where Joseph Smith said he found the tablets which he magically translated into King James English. The faithful put on a pageant there to tell the whole story. The Book of Mormon, on Broadway, has a song that sums things up nicely.
The Mormons claim to be Christians, but they have their own Jesus — a new-and-improved one discovered in 1823 by direction of an angel who lead Smith to golden plates engraved by Central American prophets in 400 A.D. using “reformed Egyptian” which Smith translated with the aid of a seer hat — or something like that. The story tells of lost tribes of Israel coming to America and Jesus appearing to them, and a lot more.
It is not unusual for Jesus to be “improved.” Islam includes Jesus, but a Jesus who was a prophet, not the incarnation of God, who did not die on the cross but was taken by God to heaven before he did. Hindus can easily and often do accept Jesus as an enlightened guru whose message of love is like Buddha’s; some say he grew up in India. Christian Scientists teach that Jesus is divine, but not God.
Do Christians even care who Jesus is, at this point?
The issue for Perry seems to be that Christians are very mixed up as to what they know about Jesus.
What’s more, isn’t it true people in general gave up on knowing anything for sure a long time ago? Postmoderns have a tough time with “this or that” – so much so that the Occupy movement is somewhat proud of refusing to have a positive statement of what they are about and is relatively content with being a deconstruction machine.
Many Christians are just as postmodern; so why not bring in the Mormons? They are nice and they call themselves Christians. Why not bring in all the “tantric” influences around? What’s really wrong with a guru Jesus as long as he believes in love?
Today, I think I will just bring up the issue rather than answering too much. What do you think? (Mr. Perry, you are welcome to chime in).
8 thoughts on “So, Mr. Perry, Are the Mormons Christians? — and does anyone care?”
My position is that there is no undistorted Christian message, because there are no undistorted Christians: we are all limited in our understanding. What there are is Christian faiths, plural, as diverse communities try to discern the will of God, the sense of the Scriptures, and the movement of the Spirit, and come to different conclusions. Some of these conclusions are better than others; I’m no relativist, and I will defend traditional orthodox Trinitarianism (at least as I understand it) until I am blue in the face. But what none of us gets to say is that any of these faiths, from Christadelphian to Calvinist, Unitarian to Episcopalian, Latter-Day Saint to Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness to Christian Scientist, falls short of being authentically Christian even in their error, that we’re not all (or at least most of us, and who is and who isn’t isn’t up for us to decide) following Jesus as Lord in our own way and as best as we are able.
Thanks for commenting! “Following Jesus as Lord in our own way” is the issue. Is Jesus the living Lord or is he the living projection of our “own way?”
There’s mormon missionaries living in my neighborhood. I kinda admire them for their bravery (or naivete?) walking around South Philly wearing their duds and name-tags. Would Jesus work with them, vouch for them? Maybe. Would he vouch for their faith, laden with Joseph Smith’s additions? No. I do know about Jesus that he’s very, very interested in us knowing Him really as He is and stripping away the lies we’ve been taught about Him. Just ask Him yourself about that.
The “earn your way to heaven by doing A, B, & C” religions have always been popular—-that’s what I think about when I meet the Mormon missionaries in my neighborhood. Only a finite number of them will be ‘saved,’ they believe, so they try to follow the program to make the cut. I think this kind of striving appeals to human pride: to achieve our own righteousness, rather than receive the righteousness of God (Jesus).
Actually, Mormons are typically universalists–they believe everyone will be saved.
Not really. http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Only-Mormons-Go-to-Heaven-Hell-No
On the one hand, it is rather stunning to see the level of tolerance many U.S. evangelicals now seem to have for the LDS. Historically, it seems that most evangelicals have not considered Mormons to be Christians, but rather part of a different religion altogether. On the other hand, perhaps it should not be so stunning since flag idolatry and Manifest Destiny have been intertwined in the mission and message of many evangelicals for decades (centuries even?). Combine that with a general shared sense of what constitutes morality and it is easy to see why some evangelicals are having warm and fuzzy feelings about Mormons these days. A better question might be, “Gee, why did it take so long for someone to connect the dots here?” That said, only God knows the hearts of every person who calls him/herself a Mormon. A person is much more than their “ism.”
In our attempts to try to figure out what’s happening in society these days (such as the issues highlighted in the Romney-Perry debates), It seems to me that deconstruction can actually be a useful tool, especially in political conversation, since it tends to expose the pervasive emptiness often lurking behind the talk. The mistake would be to think that emptiness, and an infinite circle of “signifier” and “signified” is all there is and that this tool is equally useful for other types of examination. I fear that many younger people have this cynicism while uncritically holding onto empty promises and things as if they were of eternal value. It is an act, full of contradiction and resignation. How desperately we all need a savior!