The question of Mormons and Christianity has been receiving a lot of press again of late. While the statements of Robert Jeffress regarding the First Amendment and religious litmus tests for political office are unusual (and perhaps, in terms of the First Amendment, bizarre) interpretations, his assertion that Mormons are not Christians is nothing new.
In fact, in this belief, he is in line not just with the “three out of four” Southern Baptist pastors, but also the vast majority of mainline Christian denominations. Aside for the Roman Catholics, most of the major liberal Christian denominations have officially stated that Mormons’ understanding of the Christian tradition is so different as to be considered a different religion. The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodists, the largest Lutheran Church in the U.S., and many others have passed official policies (often reaffirming them in the past decade or so) that state that Mormons’ understanding of the Christian tradition is so fundamentally different that it cannot be reconciled in even the most basic ways.
On the issue of baptism, where almost all Christian denominations (including even the Roman Catholics) accept the validity of baptisms of all other Christian denominations, the “traditional” Christian churches agree: Mormons are too different. Baptism is considered as a universal sign of the entrance into the Christian faith by Christians, but Mormon “baptisms” cannot be recognized by Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and just about anyone else. It’s not just the Southern Baptists or evangelical right-wingers.
But wait: there’s more. What about the Mormons themselves? Do they recognize traditional Christians as “Christian”? Well, not really. The historical foundations of Mormonism claimed that the traditional churches were corrupted and therefore apostate (i.e., separated from God and the legitimate faith).
Official Mormon doctrine still declares that while some “traditional” Christians may be a source for divine inspiration or some truth, the ministry and priesthood of traditional Christianity is illegitimate and incapable of performing their theological functions due to their apostasy. The only true faith, according to the largest Mormon denominations, is Mormonism. The traditional Christians are not really even “Christian” to Mormons.
Of course, these sorts of squabbles over who is legitimate are old hat. When the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church about a thousand years ago, both churches more or less declared the other to be illegitimate. The Protestant Reformation saw a lot of folks claiming that other churches were illegitimate. Roman Catholics, despite a lot of ecumenical action, still officially declare themselves to be the only “true” church, with the only legitimate priesthood and sacraments (excepting baptism, which can be performed by any Christian, particularly under extenuating circumstances).
Personally, I am astounded at the complete ignorance of the media in dealing with this issue. Jeffress may have said a lot that was bizarre or offensive to many people, but his statement, as a traditional Christian, that Mormons are not (traditional) Christians is in line with the beliefs of almost all mainstream Christian denominations.
Of course, such a statement should not necessarily have any political implications. The statement received press because it was clearly directed at Mitt Romney, and it was coupled with an assertion that a politician should be Christian to be elected (or at least a Republican Christian, since Romney was apparently still better than Romney for Jeffress). While the coupling of religious faith and a candidate may allow various viewpoints (and personally, I think the idea of a Christian litmus test for candidacy is ridiculous), the statement that Mormons are not Christian shouldn’t be viewed as contentious at all.
Or if we think it’s contentious for a Baptist to say that Mormons aren’t Christian, we should at least note that Mormons basically don’t consider any other Christians to be legitimate “Christians” either. That would be consistent.
These days, theology is a problematic issue because of political correctness. We all like to pretend that everyone is equally valued and special, and if some people want to call themselves “Christian,” who are we to judge? Well, not only Baptists, but Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and many other denominations have judged, because they are actually the official source for the statements of faith, the creeds, and the other beliefs that make up “Christianity.”
And they basically have said Mormons are not “Christian” in any traditional sense. And the Mormons have basically said the traditional Christians aren’t “Christian” either.
This could lead to interesting theological debates, but from a political perspective, my basic question is: SO WHAT?? Can we please stop debating theology that apparently no one in the media knows anything about and get to the real problems with Jeffress’s comments?
Here is a guy who said that the First Amendment is only for Christians. That’s a much bigger problem. Or what about the fact that he is calling for a religious litmus test for political office? That’s much more disturbing than anything he could possibly have to say about Mormonism.