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"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 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).



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Well, the word Christian was in use long before the Nicene Creed (or the dogma of the Trinity) existed. If people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want to self-identify as Christians, it seems to me Christ is featured prominently enough in their religion that I think they have a perfectly reasonable case. When Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," he couldn't have been mistaken, could he? The fact that he had positive encounters with some Gentiles doesn't seem to me to change the nature of his intended mission. Jesus was a Jew. His first followers were Jews and kept the Law. Ironically, it didn't take very long for the Christian community to morph into not merely a Gentile movement, but an anti-Semitic one. More neuralgically at present, must one actively oppose contraception, same-sex marriage and womens ordination to be Catholic? No, but one must be prepared to take some heat for dissent on such issues. Must one embrace Vatican II . . .Yes. And, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. :P

To the best of my knowledge, Paul never referred to Jesus's encounters with non-Jews as a justification for his own mission to the Gentiles.

I appreciated the honesty of that article but have not discussed it with my Mormon acquaintance. not sure I will...Indeed, I have only read some of those books that are more confessional exposes, and I likewise think of big tent for self-definition." Still, the henotheism is a challenging dimension for those who want to speak of being a "Christian." I think of Jefferson's remarks and Gandhi's.... and wonder how much difference it makes in the way of living- not in the motivation and beliefs - but where the rubber hits the road. I remember my biology professor asking " Is there order in the field? Does it matter?" The "always questions"...Does the taxonomy of religion mean much in the application or the living of one's life on this planet? Yes, but how?

Lisa, I enjoyed that op-ed very much. Glad you decided to post about it. I think Mormons should be much more forthright about their beliefs. I think if Bishop Romney, e.g., were to explain what the future holds for Mormons, many converts would flock to join him and Ann in the Church. I think Heavenly Mother would attract many women to the religion. I also think Catholics who read some of the Short Topics, e.g., on the ex-Mormons board, might be surprised to see how much they have in common with Mormons.

One other point of info: the Catholic church accepts the validity of baptisms of most denominations that describe themselves as Christians, but it doesn't recognize the validity of Mormon baptisms.

The Bible may be the best selling book of all time, but The Book of Mormon is the biggest hit on Broadway.

"By their fruits you will know them" Jesus said. Not by their dogma. For Jesus believing in him meant to preach the gospel to the poor and the downtrodden and one was to love neighbor even if she was an enemy like the Samaritans. The church of dogma triumphed at least with the hierarchy so much so that dogma became more important than the gospel. Historically the christological questions have been power centered. A Christian must accept Jesus as coming from God but not with all those doctrinal twists that even theologians have no idea what they are talking about.

I am one practicing Latter-Day Saint who takes great exception to David Mason's article, and said as much in a Letter to the Editor that was published the next day by the New York Times.Mormons believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We believe that no one comes to the Father except through Christ. He is the vine, we are the branches. Mormons believe that Jesus is our Savior. With these fundamental precepts, I would be aghast at the thought of abandoning the title of "Christian", because Christ it the name by which I would most like to be known. Indeed, each Sunday during the Lord's Supper ("Sacrament") in LDS meetings, Mormons covenant to take the name of Christ upon them, and to remember Him always. David Mason's "edgy", sarcatic barbs against traditional Christianity are unfair and unfounded. There is far more that unites Latter-Day Saints and traditional Christians than divides us. As a practicing Mormon, I recognize and celebrate the faith and good works of non-Mormon Christians. My life would be poorer without the writings of C. S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner and the examples of Mother Teresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as the words and deeds of countless other fellow Christians outside my denomination. True, there are theological differences between Mormons and each non-Mormon Christian denomination. (Given the number of Christian denominations, there are clearly a large number of theological differences between those denominations, as well!) But I would not label as "non-Christian" my Catholic and Protestant and Evangelical friends who seek, above all, to follow Christ, nor will I stand silently by while someone tries to label as "non-Christian" the religion of Mormonism which, above all, seeks to follow Christ.

Doug, thanks for that thoughtful post. You noted that your life would be poorer without C.S. Lewis, Buechner, Mother Teresa and Bonhoeffer.What Mormom writings, in your opinion, might non-Mormons benefit from reading? I'm not thinking so much of the Book of Mormon, but books by Mormons about leading a Christian life?

Early in Mason's op-ed piece he writes the following:

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons dont believe in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether.

I'm not sure what's worse: that an apparently well-educated Mormon thinks the Nicene Creed says Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit, or that the editors at the Times did not detect a problem with this formulation.

I had a Mormon freind in high school and I was surprised to hear some of what she believed, like that people could become the gods of othe planets or that Jesus was an angel. There was a lot of anti-Mormon sentiment at one time - you can see it in some of the literature, like Riders of the Purple Sage - but given the fight over polygamy, I guess that's not surprising.

Jean:My favorite LDS author is the late Lowell Bennion. Unfortunately, all of his books are out-of-print, but can be found on eBay or Amazon for reasonable prices. "The Things that Matter Most", "Jesus the Master Teacher" and "The Best of Lowell Bennion" are all recommended.Jim Faulconer, a professor of philosphy at BYU, has a regular column on, which I find illuminating.Lastly, Mormons have semi-annual "General Conference", in which authorities of the Church provide sermons, many of which would be inspiring and comforting to the spiritually-inclined of any denomination.Most recently, Dieter Uchtdorf gave a beautiful sermon (Mormons call them "talks") on mercy. It can be found here: . While all sermons are not created equally, I usually find at least a few talks each General Conference that are life changing in their beauty and their call for me to live a life of genuine Christian discipleship. (Another talk by Elder Dallin Oaks -- -- goes into detail about the Mormon view of Christ.)Since you were so gracious to ask of me, let me send the question back to you! What writings would ~you~ recommend to Mormons about leading a Christian life?

DougThank you Read anything by Henri Nouwen. For theology try, Karl Rahner , Walter Bruggeman, Anthiony deMello (though some may dispute that), or go to the mystics - Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Hildegarde of Bingen, St. Threse of Lisieux... or the novels of Bernanos, Lewis, Percy, or many others. On a very popular level (not grat literature, but entertaining on Catholic themes, novels of Andrew Greeley and his more spiritual/ theological works are helpful as are those of Eugene Kennedy) It strikes me that your favorite reference is out of print. Would you e in minority that shared thaat opinion therefoer? What "accessible spitrituality or novels or theology would be more recognizable and widely shared?

I forgot Richard Rohr.. You'd find good theology to chew on and practical application... and I'm appreciating Cynthia Bourgeault.

To say that the historic creeds are (only?) exercises of power is the worst kind of reductionism. After all, they developed out of the interrogatory creeds of baptism (the nicene creed most likely adapted into prose statements an ancient creed most likely used in Jerusalem). The constitute the Rule of Faith and exercise the benchmark (the "canon") of apostolic preaching.

Thanks, Dr, Cunningham.. well said.. I know that personally hadn't said that, but my statement was admittedly reductionistic in tone. though you may hae been addressing others.DougThis isn't the forum to engage a long dialogue ab out some parts of Mormon beleifs that are more difficult for myself and many to appreciate in more common Chrsiitan experience and I surely do not want to disparage your customs and beliefs. However, based on the book "Leaving the Saints" and some of the critical commentaries on it on Amazon,I am still struggling with theh beliefs about artricles of clothing, marraiges sealed for eternity, and many other dimensions (like the aforementiioned becoming gods on other planets). Is there a good work for non-Mormons that addresses these as well the whole concept of secret rituals and beliefs without disclosing them against one's faith?

And we know there is at least one group of Mormons who can really sing. Hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing religious music, either alone or in concert with great voices such as that of the wonderful Norwegian soprano Sissel, is in IMO a truly transcendental experience.

David:The following link answers most of your questions:

I had a Mormon freind in high school and I was surprised to hear some of what she believed . . . I had a college roommate who saw my copy of America Magazine that had just arrived, which had flames on the cover, and he said, "Oh yes, Jesuits worship fire."

@lc: So I infer you regard the creeds as defining who counts as Christian. Will you then toss Mormons out of the fold? What about non-creedal Christian groups like Congregationalists? My point was that who gets to decide who counts as Christian is an exercise of power. I have neither rejected the creeds nor have I reduced them to such. Indeed, they are one spot where one could draw a bright line dividing Christians from non-Christians, precisely because of the history you note. Another might be affirming the divinity and sonship of Jesus, as many Mormons do. Another might be baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Picking that bright line is a power question, isn't it?

When you believe that a virgin a baby, never say that you're surprised when you hear what others believe.

And I'm checking my sources--here's this from the UCC website: "The UCC has roots in the "covenantal" traditionmeaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Christ alone is Head of the church. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith."So the historic creeds are all listed on the website, but they are not definitive of at least this family of the Congregational heritage.

Doug et al: Here's a good source for 10 different Lowell Bennion books at very reasonable prices (yes, they are used) ....

Lisa:You raise some very important question. In the final analysis, Christ holds the only vote that matters when it comes to the power question of who is ~really~ a Christian. Not to trivialize doctrine or dogma, but acts of love and mercy seem to be key, and are probably of greater importance to Christ than clever (and perhaps even correct) theology. (Matt 25:40).

And to my knowledge, that passage from Mt 25 contains the only criteria for salvation in the NT.

Jimmy Mac: Thanks for tracking down the Bennion books. Of the ones listed, "How Can I Help?", "I Believe", "Jesus the Master Teacher", "The Best of Lowell Bennion" and "The Things that Matter Most" would probably be of greatest interest to Commonweal readers.By way of clarification, General Conference addresses are the most accurate reflection of current LDS homiletics. Many are soul-stirring, at least to these ears.

Only two weeks ago at a Georgetown forum two eminent ecumenists told Sally Quinn of the WashPost that Mormons were not Christians--the Trinity being the matter under discussion. The audience seemed to agree, not sure about Sally Quinn.

Doug,David N seems to be saying that my understanding (gained from a high school Mormon friend) that Mormons believe Jesus was an angel, that people can become gods after death, is on a par with his friend believing Jesuits worship fire. Could you please explain more about whar Mormons believe about the person of Jesus and about the afterlife? Thanks.

Crystal:To answer your question, we should probably first clarify whether Jesuits worship fire (or not) . . . re: Jesus: He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, He showed us the way of perfection, and never before or since has anyone done anything so divine. (See also: .)re: "gods after death": see the aforementioned ldsnewsroom link: .

Doug,Thanks for the links - very informative.

Margaret:Had I been present at such a forum at an alma mater, I would have wanted to press the questions: (a) what does it mean to be a Christian?; and (b) who gets to decide?If being a Christian means adhering to a certain version of the Trinity, than my adolescent response would be "says who?" Jesus' own apostles often seemed unclear as to who Jesus was, and yet they loved Him and sought to follow Him and looked to Him for salvation. They were Christians. The unnamed sinful woman who came to Jesus for healing undoubtedly had no clue as to the theological construct of the Trinity, and yet her sins were forgiven her. See Luke 7:36-50. And as Lisa pointed out, Matthew 25 suggests that Christians are those who go about Christ's business of loving and healing others. What is wrong with this definition?: "A Christian is someone who, above all, looks to Jesus for guidance and healing and inspiration and forgiveness and salvation." I like this better than "A Christian is someone who believes precisely what I believe about Christ."

Christian New: Mason's version of Mormonism may, to him. seem as different from modern Christianity as did early Christianity to Judaism. My Mormonism bears great similarity to many key aspects of modern Christianity, most distinctly the belief that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah who brings victory over sin and death. Why would I want to distance myself from fellow Christians when we share this essential conviction? To be sure, we have our differences. But we both sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today", and that shared song of praise is no small thing . . .

I have to say I find the proposition of viewing Mormonism as a new religious tradition to be refreshing. Mormonism is much more akin to Islam than present-day Christianity. Just as Islam is impossible to separate from Muhammad, Mormonism is woven completely into the story of Joseph Smith. Whereas mainstream Christian churches will quite unabashedly declare a living and active savior who is the sole mediator between God and man, this is not so with Mormonism. Joseph Smith is an essential part of their equation. Just as no Muslim can claim hold to his faith without a personal embrace of Muhammad, you cannot be a Mormon without accepting Joseph Smith, Each religion claims to point to their god, but each has a very specific and required gateway through the person of their founding prophet. If you can't or won't accept their founding prophet, you cannot be a part of their faith. And there's the rub. Joseph Smith is not an ancient figure with centuries of folklore built up around him. He's a man from our country's own infancy and a well documented man at that. For many, this documentation slams the door of his peculiar path to salvation. Though his own church is reticent to declare it, Joseph Smith had a number of very troubling characteristics. You may need to ask an ex-Mormon to learn these things. In fact, in the asking, you may learn why they choose to become and "ex." Many of these folks had unanswered questions and sought out truths that are excluded from all the church's public manuals. One of the more obscure truths is how Joseph Smith delivered the Book of Mormon using a magical seer stone. He would place the stone in a hat and then put his face in the hat. He claimed the words of the golden plates would magically appear to him in the seer stone. And since the stone was the actual source of the Book of Mormon, the famous gold plates that are claimed as its source were seldom even in the room at the time Smith created the book he claimed was inscribed on them. So, how do you translate ancient texts without even having the texts in the room? You use a seer stone in a hat. And Smith used the same seer stone he had earlier used to hire himself out to neighbors claiming the stone would locate buried treasure on their land. Further investigation reveals more troubles. Smith's practice of polygamy started in the 1830's before he told his wife or any close associates that God had revealed it. There no real way to differentiate between his practice of polygamy and simple adultery. He was a married man seeking relationships with other women. And we learned that of his 33 or so wives, 11 were mere teenagers and 11 were already married. Yes, he went to the wives of some of his closest associates and told them God had commanded that he take them as plural wives despite their vows already in place to their current husbands. And this is the man we must all accept as a holy and living prophet before the saving power of their version of Jesus can truly have a full impact upon our lives. More and more people are saying, "not for me."So, let's grant the Mormons their right to embrace this man just as we make all religions lawful in our land. But let's not confuse this with Christianity, because it's really quite different. For those seeking to learn more about Mormonism, I'd recommend examining three sources: 1. Find a faithful Mormon who is active in the church and loves it. Ask them about their faith. See if they're aware of Joseph's seer-stone-in-the-hat method of translation or about his wives. Also visit the church's websites at and 2. Visit a website created by Mormons who see flaws in their church and are seeking to reform it. Their website is at 3. Visit a website created by former Mormons. Find out why they left and what's their gripe with the church. utlm. org is a good one. After you visit all 3 decide for yourself what is true. This is called "free agency" and the church teaches that everyone should exercise it.

I recommend Jon Krakauer's book, "Under the Banner of Heaven". The description of Mrs. Joseph Smith's reaction to his "revelation" concerning polygamy is particularly interesting.

The discussion has turned from sincere dialogue to the lampooning of my faith, at which point I must regretfully bow out. Thanks to all the previous good faith inquiries, and thanks for the reminder about Nouwen.In closing . . . A Latter-Day Saint baby's journey begins with a Father's blessing, given to him/her "in the name of Jesus Christ." At 8, a child is baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Thereafter, all Latter-Day Saints make weekly covenants while partaking of the Lord's Supper/Sacrament, in which we covenant with God to take upon ourselves the name of the Son, and always remember Him, and keep His commandments. We pray often, always in the name of Jesus Christ, and always with an awareness that He is the light by which we should see all things, and that as we repent, our sins are washed clean by His precious blood. We strive to be holy. We fall short. We look to Christ to wash us clean when we stumble in the mire. We try to love as He loves us, and try to serve as He serves us. We seek to be kind, as He is kind.Joseph Smith is not our Lord, nor is he our savior. Neither is Paul nor Peter nor Moses nor Abraham. We look to all of these prophets as instruments in the hand of God, but each was, like us, in need of a Savior, and that Savior is Christ.I was educated in a Catholic high school, where I was taught by the Christian Brothers, some of whom were among the truly great Christians that I have ever encountered. I will forever be grateful to the Catholic Church for the good that they do, and the great love that they show for Christ. Peace of Christ to you.

Lisa Fullam:"My point was that who gets to decide who counts as Christian is an exercise of power."No, it is an exercise of authority. If you can't tell the difference between authority an d power, I am sorry for you...

"And to my knowledge, that passage from Mt 25 contains the only criteria for salvation in the NT."This is the truth. Not reductionism. More telling, Jesus declared how precarious a path theologians tread when he said: "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants." Theologians and philosophers, as Bishop Sheen used to say, try to complicate simple things. Very few of them have that child like attitude that Jesus noted is necessary. Augustine is highly touted in the church because of his abundant writing and flowery language. Yet he made crucial errors. Especially in approving of the forcing of conversion. This is a profoundly clear example of the stress of dogma over the Christian Way.

DougI didn't know your background with the Catholic Church and the Chrisitan Brothers, so you are familiar with many of those, I assume... My last post on this thread also... Peace and blesssings to you and may we each and try to live "imitatio Christi..."

Re: C. Lancellotti's clarification: yes, there is a difference between power and authority. Or there should be. Authority is about learned expertise and/or actual experience. Whereas power is about having the connections to marshall institutional enforcement.However, the scientific views of academic experts ("authorities") for example, regarding the evidence for evolution or for same-sex orientation as being innate, are secondary to the reality of power. As are the first-hand experiences of the mystics. Or the first-hand experiences of those who work directly with the consequences of the current global econopathy. Technical arguments like those regarding the nuances of the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds are theological constants. That Trinitarian business is notoriously difficult to define precisely. So pinning down who "is" or "is not" a Christian quickly devolves into a matter of barriers essentially determined by power.Makes L. Fullam's point that "Mt. 25:40 contains the only criteria for salvation in the NT" all the more poignant. The answer

Rafi SImonton:by reducing authority to a matter of "expertise" you are forgetting the charismatic dimension, which is the only one that truly matters in this context.

Carlo Lancellotti: as you say, reducing authority to expertise is a serious mistake. It runs counter to the whole tradition as far back as Matt. 7:28, which distinguishes the teaching of Jesus, based on "exousa," precisely from the teaching of experts (in this case the scribes). On the other hand, separating expertise from charisms entails cross-classification, since both expertise and pastoral authority may properly be regarded as charisms, in the very broad sense used by Paul. Moreover, when the Spirit speaks to us we are all free, whether popes or pew-warmers, to mishear the message --and history shows all too clearly that we have done so repeatedly. Meantime power is exercised, for better or for worse.

I have read dotcommonweal for years, but I have never felt as strong a need to comment as I do today. Why? Because I'm mystified that no one has pointed out that the creeds tell us what constitutes Christian orthodoxy, not what constitutes Christianity itself. A Christian is anyone who believes in the Lordship of Jesus (Mt 16:16), that Jesus is the anointed one of God. An orthodox Christian is one who, besides assenting to the foundational claim that Jesus is the Christ of God, believes in the statements that are found in the creeds. Mormonism does not belong to Christian orthodoxy, but it does belong to Christianity.

Julian Irias:I agree, but the historically more relevant aspect, in my opinion, is that in our age authority is identified with power tout-court. That is what motivated my original post.

Lisa F:I do not wish to throw anyone out of Christianity. My only point is that the Rule of Faith is a benchmark against which one measures fidelity to the apostolic preaching.

"Mormons were not Christiansthe Trinity being the matter under discussion .."That makes them not Trinitarians (like many if not all Unitarians, at least those who profess some vestige of Christianity) - but does that mean they are not Christians?I visited with Mormon missionaries for a long time in my college days (a girl was involved; hence the motivation) and ultimately found their theology a bit too wierd for my tastes. Of course, I was attending a Jesuit university at the time, so admit to a bit of bias.

JM: I was sitting in the audience waiting for a bus, so what do I know? But my impression was that First and Third Person are missing from Mormon beliefs. I only passed on the story because these ecumenists seemed both sympathetic to Mormons and sympathetic to what constitutes Christianity.

CL: I'll forego the academese and speak as the blue collar worker that I am. My point was NOT to "reduce authority to expertise." Which is why I referred to the first-hand experience of mystics. And of those who know by experience the impacts of econopathy. In technical terms, the mystical and the prophetic.As for the "charismatic dimension," that depends on whether or not it is limited to what is hierarchically defined. Is there room for people like me? With the calloused hands of a mechanic and decades of intense spiritual experience. Experiences that do not fit easily into the preconceived categories of hierarchs, especially of those little more than career bureaucrats. Nor do they fit into the the divisions of academia, since intellectual examination seldom suffices for what is beyond the rational.

The author of this article states that Mormonism is henotheistic. One reads this occasionally. However, it is incorrect. Mormonism is not Trinitarian. Nor, however, is it monotheistic, polytheistic or henotheistic. There is no existing one-word term that is properly applicable to Mormon beliefs about God or Mans relationship to God. It is best to just stick to the point that Mormonism does not accept the Trinity, and leave it at that.Not infrequently, Catholics and Protestants state that Christianity is defined by the Nicene Creed and, thus, the Trinity. However, the Nicene Creed dates from 325 A.D. Thus, per the Nicene Creed definition, there were no Christians for hundreds of years after the time of Christ or even during the time of Christ. To find the definition of Christianity prior to 325 A.D., one needs to look to the New Testament, and the New Testament does not even mention the Trinity, much less describe the Trinity. In fact, the New Testament has numerous passages that are flatly inconsistent with the notion of the Trinity.For example, in Acts 7:55-56, Stephen sees that God and Jesus Christ are two separate personages:But he, being full of the Holy Ghost , looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.Obviously, one cannot stand on ones own right hand. The Trinity is a non-Biblical work of men, specifically Greek Neo-Platonists.As for Masons view that he is a Mormon, and not a Christian, he is mixed up. Because he is a Mormon, and only because he is a Mormon, he is a Christian. Mormonism is Christianity and Christianity is Mormonism. There are no non-Mormon Christians. Only non-Mormon apostates from Christianity.I do not know why the Church is so concerned with being popular. Joseph Smith died with his boots on.

I am a Catholic who teaches at Brigham Young University and has been happily married to an active Mormon for 35 years next week. When I am asked if Mormons are Christians I usually respond with another question: What is it that you really want to know? Do you want to be able to put Mormons in a box based on a simple answer? Or do you want to have some understanding of what they believe? The simple answer isn't so simple - as pointed out above already, it depends on your definition of Christian. If your definition is based on the acceptance of belief in certain credal statements and dogmas, such as the Trinity, then No, Mormons are not Christians. If your definition of Christian is one who believes in the divinity of Jesus, that Jesus was the son of God, and that you live a live that tries to follow the two most important commandments as outlined by Jesus: "Love God and love your neighbor" then many Mormons are very good CHristians. My husband, while not being particularly enamored of the tone of the NYT article, agrees that Mormons are not mainline Christians. As a person once described by his Ph.D. advisor as the most damned independent person, it has never been particularly important to him that other people find his Mormon beliefs acceptable. He doesn't understand why many Mormons want to be popular or seen as mainstream. As an Israeli friend once said of him - He is comfortable in his own skin, and he is willing to let others be comfortable in their own skins. She was referring to the fact that he never felt the need to put down the religious beliefs and practices of others to make himself look better. I'd like to make one correction to a statement made in the article by Ms. Fullam: Mormon theology does allow for both men and women to become gods and goddesses. The Mormon emphasis on heterosexual marriage is rooted in the theological belief that marriage is required to reach this level of exaltation (there are lower levels). A husband and wife, sealed in the temple, have the potential to become gods and goddesses in their own worlds.

Juliana:Thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it.One comment/observation: while I have no doubt that there are some Latter-Day Saints who believe that they will "become gods and goddesses in their own worlds", this is not a doctrine of the Church, and, in fact, the Church has specifically disavowed this concept (see ).

Great discussion! Thanks to all for corrections, clarifications, and explanations.

Some Mormon beliefs and practices are hard for non-Mormons to understand, appreciate, etc., but Catholics should be slow to criticize, imho.E.g., some (many?) people find the architecture and interior decoration of the many new Mormon temples ugly. Should Catholics look to their own insipid churches of the last few decades before joining the chorus?Some people object to the baptism of the dead, but some people object to praying for the dead. (RIP, Rodney King. Can we all get along?)Some people dislike the exclusion of non-Mormons from temple sealings, but I remember when Catholics were not allowed to attend weddings in Protestant churches.Etc.I am SO grateful to the Mormons for the inestimable!

The Nicene Creed did not just appear out of nowhere in the early fourth century - it was modelled on earlier creeds (probably the one used in Jerusalem) that derived from the three questions asked of converts at baptism and, those questions, in turn, are rooted in Matthew 28 on the baptismal formuls cited there. That Nicene orthodoxy was a Greek invention superimposed on the gospel (think of Von Harnack) is a hoary cliche ably rebutted by, among others, the late Jaroslav Pelikan.

It seems to me that all theology is an attempt to answer people's questions about God. It oftenbefins with Scripture -- where would be a better place? Language is notoriously ambiguous. so conflict is almost built into the subject. This is why the testimonies of the early Christians is so important -- they can help eliminate the ambiguities. But -- yes, they too are ambiguous.All of this serves to make theology a communal subject by necessity. The idea that dogma (the surest theology) is irrelevant to true believers, just strikes me as nonsense. Sure, we ought to do the loving thing always, but we need help finding specific advice about what the loving thing might be. That's where the experience of the earlier believers and, yes, our contemporaries can help.

I just came across this and admit to being surprised: Why Mormons flee their churchBy Carrie Sheffield, June 17, 2012

Ann Olivier, Rafi Simonton: Ann, theology may "often" begin with Scripture, or with common experience, but for Anselm and many before and after him it begins with faith: faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). It's not that understanding replaces faith or exhausts its content, but that willynilly we do have some kind of understanding, sought purposely or not, doing more or less justice to that faith. We might as well try for a faithful understanding!I agree that regarding dogma as irrelevant is misguided. But it's ironical that "dogma" and "dogmatic" now connote in everyday language the close-minded attitude of one who thinks some formulation captures truth completely and need not be examined further. The original meaning of "dogma," after all, is "opinion," so "dogmas" are the considered opinions of the faith community, opinions binding on the faithful, defining what the faith community understands regarding some element of the faith. That dogmatic declarations continued to be issued should have made it clear that something more could often be said to further clarify that understanding. I agree fully with you about heeding both past and present believers.Rafi, neither "hierarchs" nor the rest of us, when we talk of charisms, can justify straying far from what Paul had to say in 1 Cor 12. Different charisms, one Spirit. Many parts, one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you," or vice-versa. Hierarchs and academics need mystics --and vice-versa.

Julain -Thinking that one's own current understanding of the faith is *the* complete and accurate one is, it seems to me, the besetting sin of fundamentalism. And it's heresy, at least in Christians, because God's infinity can never be wholly reflected in one little finite mind. Further, our little minds can misunderstand the explanations given in dogma, and even though we repeat the words of the dogmas, we might have misunderstood them. We should never be too sure about our own understandings of God. And the same thing is true of theologians.This uncertainty is, i think, what so many scientists can't abide about religious faith -- faith is only faith. You don't meet its Object directly the way you can think "2 plus 2 is four" and be absolutely certain that's true. The scientists are finally admitting, however, that the empirical sciences themselves are also intrinsically uncertain. I suspect that might be one reason why in academe these days religion is no longer automatically tossed into the dustbin of superstitions. The seculars are starting to wonder again if there really might be something to theology, even though it is always uncertain at least to some extent and often very murky.

Ann: Your comment about fundamentalism, if anything, understates the situation. It's not just that fundamentalists regard their "current understanding" as complete and accurate. There is not, for them, a distinction between that understanding and the faith, so their view is not current but perennial. Hard not to sympathize, really. We may be seeing "through a glass, darkly," but what we see must be that enduring "lamp shining in a dark place" of 2 Peter 1. It can be difficult to acknowledge the darkness, waiting "until day dawns and the morning star rises" in our hearts.As for scientists, I think they are as heterogenous as religious believers (and the categories obviously overlap). But I doubt that it's uncertainty that bothers scientific critics of religion. Scientists rather pride themselves on the provisional nature of scientific hypotheses, theories, and even "laws." Those are all susceptible to revision based on new evidence (and scientists are in the business of finding that evidence!). So the critics are put off (to say the least) by what they see as arrogant and "dogmatic" claims to certainty.If anything, many scientists are too prone to accept (implicitly!) a nave epistemology based on classical logical positivism, for which only "falsifiable" statements have any meaning, let alone any claim to acceptance. But the situation is pretty complicated. Your example of "2 plus 2 is four," for instance, is an analytical proposition; the conclusions of empirical science are synthetic propositions. And the ground has been badly trampled when it comes to a priori, a posteriori, and synthetic a priori propositions. We have also managed to make a terrible muddle of knowledge, belief, natural theology, and revelation.

Julian --I grant you that the physicists have known for generations that empirical knowledge is uncertain, but many of them were devastated when they realized it. The Viennese positivists craved certainty. But have most scientists been as interested in philosophy of science as those physicists were? As I understand the history, it wasn't until Kuhn's theory of paradigm shifts arrived in the 60s that most scientists discovered there is a fundamental epistemological problem for empiricism -- that it is intrinsically shaky and always will be. And they didn't like it one bit. But I agree that logical positivism echoes to this day. I guess that's why I think that some scientists still claim more certainty than is justified. Some of them still blithely criticize religious believers for believing "without evidence" all the while basing their science on rickety sensory knowledge. (See Dawkins et al.) Their certainty is unshakable. It's fundamentalism of another hue.

Okay, it's established that Mormonism isn't exactly ye olde tyme faith as most of us Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox would find recognizable within the normally accepted realms of describing Christianity. It can also be safely said that of all the faiths "commonly recognized" as Christian in the land some folks want to have officially declared as a "Christian nation," Mormonism -- by virtue of it being founded by a human, much like all of Protestant denominations -- is THE true church of "American Exceptionalism," presuming that part of our spiritual heritage may one day be grafted in the Constitution. Just look at its historical roots and consistently rising growth while other Christian bodies are growing at much slower clips, or not growing at all. Thankfully not all Mormons are totally alike or fiercely libertarian in their fiscal political views as Mitt Romney or his fawning acolytes in Utah and the GOP's much more favored southwestern "Sunbelt" states. (Republicans love the Midwest, the land of their modern origins, much moreso than even the Northeast, where RINOs still call the shots money-wise. Democrats have produced some very progressive Mormon leaders from Harry Reid to the Udalls, also spread throughout the "Sunbelt." Focusing on Mormonism's ties to Christianity is much like the Tea Party's and The Donald's obsessions with President Obama's birth certificate. Fiscally conservative, and legally-wonkish (i.e"constitutional originalists") like Utah's Sen. Mike Lee, and of course, Mitt Romney, who rarely saw an unregulated market or outsourcing opportunity he didn't like are the people we should be most concerned with; not the theological doctrinnaires. These are the "slide rule Bob" McNamara's of the Southwest whom we should be more concerned with. After all, most of the best biographical stories about Romney commonly share one observation: he's COLD if nothing else, well, save for excessively ambitious. Perhaps this explains why he seldom believes he should have anything to say to the rest of us lesser enlightened "Gentiles" when it comes to Mormonism and "how to make money and create jobs." What makes the Mormons who really take their leaders' teachings to heart, especially when it comes to business and their willingness to cut any corners so long as their ends can not only be justified in simple moral right/wrong terms; but especially so in any ledgerbooks.

Ann:Along with a few others, we have somehow been drawn into posting comments not directly addressing the problematic Mormon-Christian dichotomy. I happen to find the digression interesting, but it's on a road that goes (as Tolkien might put it) "ever on and on," as we follow it "with weary feet." Not only that. Rather than joining "some longer way, Where many paths and errands meet," it threatens to split into alarmingly numerous and crooked byways. Responding briefly without gross distortions gets harder, but I'll give it a try.Your last point first: yes, Dawkins et al. may fairly be compared to fundamentalists. But it's important to notice that their mistake is not so much exaggerated confidence in the reliability of scientific conclusions as it is imagining that their assertions in other areas are just as reliable.As for sensory knowledge, it may be "rickety" (as I should know, with my slowly worsening cataracts), but it's what we have, and we don't want to disdain it! (Locke's "nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensibus" may be an overstatement, but when duly qualified it sums up the views of many before him, including Aquinas).Invoking Thomas Kuhn here opens a Brobdingnagian can of worms, and I hesitate to upend it! Among the formidable wrigglers turned loose is the Kuhn-Popper debate, which has given rise to such diverse competing narratives, with Kuhn the hero in some, Popper in others. Where experts disagree, a non-specialist should tread softly. But despite their numerous disagreements, I don't think there can be any question that both Popper (alleged conservative) and Kuhn (alleged revolutionary) understood perfectly well that scientific conclusions are always provisional. Ann, if you haven't read Steve Fuller's book, "Kuhn vs Popper," and the fierce objections to the book raised by many reviewers, you might have a look. If nothing else, it makes clear how complex the issues are. (Attempt at full disclosure: I have found reasons to admire both Kuhn and Popper. Kuhn's notion of new paradigms is certainly useful; Harvey's "De Motu Cordis" exemplifies how profoundly one contribution can change the scientific landscape. As for Popper, I admired among many qualities his refusal to overreach. I recall how carefully, in "The Open Society and Its Enemies," he wrote of "methodological nominalism," abstaining from entering the perennial debate on universals --at least at that point!).

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