Are Mormons any closer to Christians than Muslims? Short answer: no.
Long answer goes something like this: As the media shapes our understanding of the Mormon faith, now that we Americans consider electing our first Mormon presidential candidate (Mitt Romney), it might be wise for us to better understand the similarities and the differences among Christianity and these two faiths.
While many Americans might not be willing to consider electing a Muslim candidate for president in 2012, in reality Islam is about as close to Christianity as Mormonism. Certainly, neither is bad. They both have amazing people holding less significant public offices, they are just quite different from Christianity, and it seems that the media is doing a uniquely good job at fusing Mormonism with Christianity in order to better position Romney for mainstream consideration.
Many Christians feel better knowing what their candidates believe about God, and sometimes in heated debates our candidates are put on the spot to confess their faith. With sweat beads lining up neatly across their foreheads they agree that the Bible is the "word of God" to the comfort of many in our nation. Those Christians, many of whom veer to the right these days, haven't done much to demystify Mormonism but they sure would resist a Muslim candidate.
Both Islam and Mormonism have teachings from the Christian Bible and believe Jesus was "a prophet," but they had prophets after Jesus that they believe to be more authentic and current than Jesus. Jesus' teachings were a bit archived in both because Muhammad and Joseph Smith were both visited by angels who told them to receive new orders from God. Both have respected Jesus' messages but moved forward with other teachings and practices that are not consistent with Christianity.
Islam teaches that Muhammad was the last prophet and Mormonism teaches that a line of prophets extended from Joseph Smith all the way to the present with Thomas S. Monson, who is currently considered their prophet.
While in some ways neither Islam nor Mormonism is very much like Christianity, the two faiths actually have a lot of similarities. For example, both had founding prophets who received visits from an angel, leading to revelation of Scripture. Both consider the family unit as the foundation for religious life, and both have an insistence that religion is their complete way of life.
Islam and Mormonism both require fasting and ritual cleansings. They both believe theirs is the original religion of Adam. Both Islam and Mormonism allowed four wives but both forbid homosexuality and bisexuality. Both religions forbid alcohol and gambling.
This may be alarming to some, but both Islam and Mormonism teach that marriage can extend into the afterlife. Neither worships their founding prophets, but both hold them with special respect. Both religions heavily proselytize and believe everyone should belong to their faith. In order to lead, both Islam and Mormonism do not require formal seminary training, but take regular members and move them up into leadership roles.
Oddly enough, both religions had a split after their prophet's death with one side believing that the faith should continue though the prophet's descendents and the other side rejecting that. For Muslims, this caused the bloody divide between Shiites and Sunnis that we hear so much about in the press. For Mormons, this caused the divide between the Later Day Saints, which make up about 99 percent of Mormons, and others.
Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith were taunted for their work and driven out by locals. Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and Joseph Smith had to move from Illinois to Missouri. Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith established their own city-states, with Muhammad ruling Medina and Joseph Smith ruling Nauvoo, Ill.
Both Islam and Mormonism have Scripture that can justify violence and murder, as does the Bible. While Mormons have not acted violently in the U.S. for quite some time, there was an incident back in 1857 called the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which happened on Sept. 11. The massacre was led by prominent Mormon leader John D. Lee, who was trying to exact revenge on some emigrants but when the emigrants surrendered, the militia killed men, women and children in cold blood, and then tried to cover it up.
We don't need to be experts on either religion to see these similarities.
They both have common ground with Christianity, and much of it. But both Islam and Mormonism are at best very distant cousins of Christianity with some of the same overarching guidance.
Neither Islam nor Mormonism is a close enough relative to ever be confused with Christianity. If a Christian of any denomination inadvertently walked into a Mormon tabernacle or a mosque, which would be fairly difficult since both allow only members of their faith to enter, there is no way the service could be recognized as a Christian devotion to Christ, but there is plenty of devotion to God going on.
All three of these faiths have scores of excellent people, possibly some who would make excellent American leaders and even U.S. presidents. But, the next time you read in the press about how Mormons are really Christians, you might want to put on your critical thinking cap.
It rarely is the religion but the candidate's behavior that determines if she or he is a good person and that is what Americans really care about, but getting a bit snowed is getting a bit old, don't you think?