"I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian"
So said David V. Mason in an edgy op-ed in the NYT last week. His point was theological: that Mormons are theologically as different from Christians as Christians are from Jews. Further, he looks to the day when Mormonism might be recognized as a fourth Abrahamic religion, an opinion he shares with Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.He's got a point. Mormonism is henotheistic, not Trinitarian-monotheistic, and any good Mormon boy can go on to become God of a new place if he so desires. (Girls can't. Of course.) God, then, was once an ordinary dude, and still has a body, as it says in Doctrine and Covenants, The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans (130.22).To believe in Jesus' divinity doesn't really cut it as a means of defining Christians, either, unless you'd like to include any number of Hindus who affirm Jesus' status as an avatar of Visnu, a physical manifestation of divinity. Is considering Jesus the "Son of one God among many" close enough?
On moral matters, especially concerning family and personal behavior, Mormon doctrine tracks closely with conservative Christianity. The combined magisterial/Mormon opposition to same-sex marriage was a powerful advertising force in the push for California's Prop. 8. The tack of mainstream Mormonism today is to cast the faith as a type of evangelical Christianity.This stance of non-Christianity isn't uniform among Mormons, to be sure. As Mason notes: "My Mormon fellows, most of whom will argue earnestly for their Christian legitimacy, will scream bloody murder that I dont represent them. I dont. They dont represent me, either."Identity questions seem to be the ur-issue of the day. Do you have to affirm Nicea/Constantinople to be Christian? How about Chalcedon? Do you have to affirm seven sacraments to be Catholic, or is two enough, (since Lutherans, inter many alia, affirm the Nicene creed's affirmation of the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church")? More neuralgically at present, must one actively oppose contraception, same-sex marriage and women's ordination to be Catholic? Must one embrace Vatican II, or is agreement on the hot-button issues enough, a la SSPX?The power-question here is who gets to decide. Certainly in the early Church there was a faction that saw themselves as a reform movement within Judaism, perhaps not totally unlike the "Jews For Jesus" today. Arguably, Jesus began his ministry as a Jewish-only movement, but changed his self-understanding when he ran into people of faith who weren't Jews, most notably the Canaanite woman, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Centurion. Paul also moved in a Gentile-inclusive direction, and brought the tradition with him.Myself, I'm a big-tent person, inclined to err on the side of people's considered self-understanding, dialogue, and "in all things, charity." Dialogue doesn't mean that important issues like Trinity and Christology are thrown under the bus, to be sure, but that we begin with what unites us, not what divides us.Your thoughts?
About the Author
Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).