::Literate Blather::
Friday, May 04, 2007
Essay: The Trouble With Mormonism

Mitt Romney might not get the Republican nomination for president because of his track record of flip-flopping, but one item on his resume does need further exploration by the mainstream press.

And that’s his religion.

Romney is a Mormon – or more properly a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Mormons, even by the standards set by some of the more fringe evangelical Christian dominations, hold some tenets that can be described politely as outside the mainstream and not so politely as bizarre. But beliefs aside, the LDS Church also has a history of suspect treatment of women and minorities.

First, let’s explore some of the tenets of Mormon religion (of which the LDS Church is the largest denomination). In the past, Mormonism has been referred to as a cult, which may be unfair for a church of more than 12 million members, but it does bring up a larger, more important question: Are Mormons even Christian?

Mormons worship Jesus Christ as the son of God and refer to themselves as Christians, but there are compelling arguments coming from many different quarters that Mormons are not Christians.

According to Today’s Christian magazine:

The Mormons' doctrines of baptism, salvation, and the afterlife place them at odds with centuries of Christian teaching in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions.”

Professor Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, director of research, Center for Religion in Society and Culture, recently wrote on Newsweek's On Faith blog:

"(Mormon Church Founder Joseph) Smith is a prophet with feet of clay. His money-grubbing, womanizing, and conveniently scheduled visions to justify his desires lie at the foundations of Mormonism. His self-destructive behavior would make him more likely be compared to David Koresh or Jim Jones than to Isaiah the prophet or Paul the apostle."
Gordon B. Hinckley, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, disagrees with the critics and makes this statement on the LDS Church web site:

“We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. We, of course, accept Jesus Christ as our Leader, our King, our Savior...the dominant figure in the history of the world, the only perfect Man who ever walked the earth, the living Son of the living God. He is our Savior and our Redeemer through whose atoning sacrifice has come the opportunity of eternal life.”

The differences between traditional Christian doctrine and Mormonism can be striking. For few examples:

  • Christians believe in the holy trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The trinity states that God is one being who exists as three different, but intertwined persons. This is a fundamental belief of the Christian doctrine. Yet, Mormons reject it. They believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate entities. Mormons also believe that the Father – like Jesus -- had a physical body. This concept is roundly rejected by mainstream Christian faiths – and would even be called blasphemous by some Christian fundamentalists.

  • Mormons believe that God (the Father of the trinity) was once a physical human being – who transformed into a “God” at some point. They also believe that men have the ability to eventually become gods, which means Mormons accept the premise of the existence of multiple Gods. As Brigham Young said: “How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods.” The LDS Church has avoided this issue so it is unclear how men eventually transform into gods. But Mormons call the transition “Exaltation.” Traditional Christian doctrine holds that there is a single God who has always existed and who is not a physical entity.

  • Christians accept the Bible is the only sacred document and the direct word of God (although different sects do disagree on versions of the Bible). Mormons believe that the Bible is one of four sacred texts that are all the word of God. The others are “The Book of Mormon,” “The Pearl of Great Price” and the “Doctrine and Covenants.” According to Mormons, the Book of Mormon was given to founder Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830 in Palmyra, New York, by the angel Moroni. The book was transcribed on golden plates and Smith translated it to paper before returning the golden plates back to the angel. The Book of Mormon forms the basis of the church’s beliefs.

  • Mormons frown on the crucifix as a symbol of Jesus because they say it depicts his death as opposed to his life and resurrection. The Catholic Church and most Christian, however, accept the cross as the ultimate symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice.

These differences are considerable and form the center of why many Christians eye Mormons with suspicion when they refer to themselves as Christians. I’d argue that the Mormon faith breaks away from Christianity significantly enough that calling them Christians isn’t accurate. The religion is certainly an off-shoot of Christianity – they share many traits and moral purpose – but to label Mormons Christian isn’t an accurate descriptor.

But a divergence of doctrine isn’t the only reason why Mormons have taken so long to break into the mainstream. There are the other odd beliefs and practices by Mormons that aren’t helped by the church’s poor track record of relations with women and minorities. Here are some examples:

  • Mormons believe the United States was settled by a race of whites known as Jaredites, who created an advanced ancient civilization of more than two million people before they were destroyed. This civilization smelted metal, possessed iron and steel tools and weapons, domesticated animals, were literate and traveled by chariot. There is, of course, no archaeological evidence of this civilization in existence. In fact, most scholars and historians scoff at the very idea of this “hidden” civilization.

  • Mormons have struggled with their relationship with African-Americans from the beginning as the church was actively pro-slavery. The church, founded in 1830, banned blacks from the priesthood up until 1978 (when church leaders claimed God told them to stop discriminating on the basis of race). The fact that racial discrimination was so prevalent in the Mormon Church up until 30 years ago deserves considerable scrutiny by the mainstream press – especially since Romney is running for president.

  • Although not differing much from most evangelical Christian churches, Mormons believe that homosexuality is a sin.

  • Mormons originally advocated polygamy. Under legal pressure from states and the federal government, they issued a Manifesto that banned the practice in 1890. Polygamy, except for some splinter sects of Mormonism, is now widely condemned by the religion, but some of its most prominent historical figures were polygamists. Brigham Young, for example, married 52 women and sired 57 children. As result, women are often seen as second-class citizens among many Mormons and it didn’t help that the church fought against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

  • Mormons abstain from consuming coffee, tea and alcohol. They also are forbidden from smoking tobacco. Tattoos and piercings are also frowned on.

Read our Essay about Atheism

Read our Essay about Why Jesus is a Liberal

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