This Sunday, I attended a Methodist worship service as well as part of my traditional Mormon "Sacrament Meeting." My son and daughter play in the bell ringing choir at the Methodist church, recruited by my son's girlfriend. My husband, other children, and I have now attended multiple services there, as well as evening fundraising dinners at this local church. This has led me to think more carefully about why it is that many Christians do not consider Mormons to be part of their group, and why Mormons are so vociferous in our demands to be included.
The Methodist worship service I attended was focused completely on Jesus Christ and on scriptures from the book of Acts, though not the traditional King James version of the New Testament that I am used to. The Mormon Sacrament Meeting I attended had various speakers and they may have had a unified theme, but I couldn't tell what it was (perhaps because I came in late). The young woman I heard spoke about her experience at a recent youth camp and about how that related to the Mormon pioneers in the 1800s. The man I heard spoke about the importance of family history work and of Mormon temples. A visitor to the Mormon service might have completely missed the importance of Christ in Mormon worship service. That would have been impossible in the Methodist worship service, where every sentence was about Christ.
But there are reasons for this, I believe, that don't have to do with the reality of whether or not Mormons should be seen as Christians. Historically, Mormons spent many years being persecuted by other Christians, and it was natural that once forced out west to Utah, an insularity developed, as well as a pride in being a "peculiar people" who did Christianity very differently. Thus, we speak about our pioneer ancestry with more frequency than might make sense in another Christian church. We are proud of our temples as beautiful constructs, in particular because each time Mormons were persecuted in the early days of the church, our temples were taken from us or destroyed. Our temple work is an answer to the question, what about those who die without the chance to hear the gospel of Christ and accept His Atonement, so it really has more to do with Christianity than some might assume.
I admit that Mormons also sometimes have a bit of a "chip on the shoulder" when it comes to Christianity. Most Mormons believe their church is the "one true church of Christ," and that we have the "restored gospel of Christ." I think all churches believe on some level that they have a unique purpose to offer to the world, even if they don't believe they are the "only" true church or that they are the "best." But Mormons and other Christians have more in common, I think, than we have differences. Let me try to detail both differences and similarities.
A man wrote to me after my essay about "Are Mormons a Cult?" and took me to task for my insistence that Mormons were Christians, detailing three reasons he felt we are not:
1. The nature of God, the fact that Mormons believe that God has a body of flesh and bones, rather than being a spirit.
2. Joseph Smith taught that there was a plurality of gods (God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit are separate beings, and many "intelligences" helped form the earth in the Mormon scripture called The Pearl of Great Price).
3. Mormons believe in a pre-mortal life, which is a pagan belief (via Plato) and not a belief of other Christians.
His list ended there, but I could go on:
4. Mormons believe that they can become gods (not spoken of much anymore, though not officially renounced, either).
5. Mormons believe that we were all siblings (children of God) in the pre-mortal life, including Christ and Lucifer (Satan).
6. Mormons believe that other Christian churches are "apostate," meaning devoid of true priesthood authority from God, which was taken from the earth in the first century, and only returned in the 1800s to Joseph Smith.
7. Mormons believe that they have to do various temple rituals (baptisms and marriage sealings) in order to return to God, thus denying the sufficiency of Christ's Atonement.
Here are some reasons I think that Mormons should be considered Christians:
1. Mormons believe that Christ is the literal son of God, that He came to Earth to show a path to righteousness to all who followed after Him, and to complete the Atonement, a remarkable and miraculous act that allows all to receive forgiveness from their sins.
2. Mormons believe that Christ literally rose again on the third day in a perfected body, that He showed Himself to His disciples, and then ascended to heaven to reign with the Father.
3. Mormons believe that Christ still lives, that He speaks to us in small and big ways, that He wants us to be happy and to learn good things, to treat each other with kindness and love.
4. Mormons believe that resurrection is a possibility for us, as well, and that there is a heaven and a kind of hell (though only a temporary one).
5. Mormons believe that the Old Testament is filled with signs and prophecies about Christ.
6. Mormons believe in a Second Coming of Christ, an Armageddon, a Millennium, and a Judgment Day. We study The Book of Revelation from the Bible and use it as a gauge for the "signs of the times," or the end of the world.
7. Mormons believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it contains many wonderful teachings, and that all Christian churches are trying to lead people to God and to good lives. We typically use the King James' version in church services.
8. Mormons believe in baptism by immersion, as was taught by John the Baptist and Jesus Christ in the Bible. We also believe in a laying on of hands for the "Gift of the Holy Ghost." For us, this is at age eight.
9. Mormons have a communion, called "Sacrament," in every Sunday church service, where we are reminded of Christ's blood and of His body, which was freely sacrificed for our sakes.
10. Mormons believe in the original hierarchy of the Christian church: deacons, teachers, priests, bishops, apostles, and prophets.
11. Mormons are exhorted to live a Christian life, treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves, marrying ideally only once, and raising their children to worship as they do.
12. Mormons give tithes to the church to be used in building up the kingdom of God. We also take care of the poor and needy among us, widows and orphans and many others, through our "fast offerings" and through other offerings which are targeted to particular disasters throughout the world.
Are Mormons sometimes remiss in talking about Christ and how all the parts of Mormonism eventually come from our central belief in Christ? Yes, we probably are. Are Mormons a little weird? Maybe a lot weird, both in practice and in doctrine. Are there some weird doctrines that used to be part of the Mormon church that are no longer talked about today (the Adam-God doctrine, for instance, and polygamy in general)? Yes, there are, and some of them would make practicing Mormons as angry as other Christians. Are there deeper doctrines about Christ that Mormons believe that other Christians would disagree with (three degrees of glory in heaven, a universal resurrection, and the eternal family unit)? Yes, there are. But I have a hard time seeing what other religious tradition Mormonism might be considered part of if not Christianity. Buddhism? Islam? Hinduism? Paganism?
Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith or any of the prophets in the history of our church to the present-day. We believe they are prophets, who speak to Christ and offer us His words in a unique capacity as His special servants, but that they are also flawed and limited in their capacity to understand Him and His glory. We do not worship any of the character from The Book of Mormon. The statue of Moroni on our temples is not an indication to the contrary. Moroni is a reminder that Christ will come again, and his trumpet will call all those who believe to him. Mormons do not worship salamanders, do not practice folk magic, do not preach polygamy, and do not think that Christ is really a part of worshiping Satan.
Perhaps what a lot of Christians mean when they say that Mormons don't count as Christians is that they don't like our version of Christianity. Perhaps what they mean is that they think we make them look bad with our wild and sweeping ideas. Well, sometimes that old crazy cousin shows up at the family reunion and everyone has to deal with the reality that they are blood-related. Many of Mormonism's ideas about Christianity are ideas that various branches of the Catholic church explored and then rejected: universal resurrection, for instance, and married priests, as well as the rejection of alcohol and meat. If you read about the history of Christianity, I think you will discover that Mormons are not nearly the strangest version of Christianity out there. There are a lot of Christian groups who believe things that you would consider as heretical as anything you've heard about the Mormons.
I wish that every Mormon you met acted in a perfectly Christian way. No, wait, I don't wish that. The Mormon church is meant for sinners, not for Saints, despite the title about "Latter-day Saints." We're in process. We're trying to be like Christ, but none of us think we're anywhere close to that as of yet. Even our church is still in process, throwing off old ideas and prejudices as we see them for what they are: men's ideas, and not God's. If you want to talk about doctrinal niceties that distinguish Mormonism from your own Christian church, go ahead and do so. But please don't take the opportunity to make Mormons feel once more that they are being persecuted as their pioneer ancestors were. It won't make you understand them more or them understand you, and I think that ultimately, that should be the goal. You don't have to agree with Mormons to acknowledge that they deserve to be treated as people who are on the same journey to Christ that you are.