By Orson Scott Card
It has truly been a pleasure to converse — or at least take turns speaking — with Dr. Mohler. His attitude of quiet analysis is a refreshing change from the vitriol and slander that I’ve seen from so many of his denomination when they talk about my religion.
His final message is reassuring in many ways. First, his assurance that Mormons can be good citizens and should not be deprived of their right to an equal place in the American political scene should be adopted as the guideline for people of all denominations.
It is hard to think of any religion that is not persecuted somewhere. The world is full of religions because people do not agree about the nature or even the existence of divinity; yet America was founded on a commitment to the idea that differing opinions about God should not be factored into a person’s eligibility for public office.
When Dr. Mohler quotes Paul’s warning that the Church of Christ should reject “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,” we Mormons wholeheartedly agree. We believe, and history supports, that the “traditional Christianity” that Dr. Mohler so able explicates is remote indeed from the gospel that Paul taught.
So I am happy to accept the formulation suggested by Dr. Mohler’s last sentence: “Mormonism is not just another form of Christianity — it is incompatible with ‘traditional Christian orthodoxy.’”
Amen! Absolutely correct! We send out missionaries to every country that will allow them to enter precisely because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is incompatible with “traditional Christian orthodoxy.”
At the same time, we recognize that “traditional Christian orthodoxy” represents a sincere desire and effort, on the part of millions of believers throughout the world, to teach and live by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Despite our deep differences of belief over the nature of God and his plans for his children, we recognize that those who believe in the other Christian faiths have taken a giant step closer to fulfilling the intentions of our Lord. They are, in heart and mind, Christians.
We ask only the same favor in return. Let’s take that word “traditional” and make use of it. Instead of saying that we are “not Christian,” which is an obvious falsehood by any rational, widely accepted definition of the word Christian, let us agree that Mormons are “nontraditional Christians.”
We’ll live with that label quite happily, because it’s true. We are Christians, but nontraditional ones. And if we ever become traditional, we’ll have no reason to exist as a separate religion!
Meanwhile, history provides reason for optimism. The pope, while proclaiming that the Catholic Church and, despite defects, the Orthodox churches, represent the only authoritative Church of Christ, he still allows room for the “nonapostolic” Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentacostalists, and others that proclaim the name of Christ to be considered “Christian communities” and to have value.
It took less than 500 years for Protestantism to graduate to a “tradition” instead of a “reformation” or, in the former Catholic view, a “heresy.”
Baptists, who were once viewed as a wild-eyed sect of the American lower classes, have now been around long enough to be “traditional” right along with the older Protestant denominations.
Now we live in a world where all believers in Christ — traditional or non — are assailed and persecuted. There is no shortage of atheists in foreign countries and in America who would like to limit the ability of any believer in a revelatory religion to achieve full participation and leadership in American politics.
The intense criticism, both public and whispered, focused on President Bush precisely because he believes that God has intervened and continues to intervene in his life should be the wakeup call to all of us.
Born-again Christians and Mormons agree on this: God is alive and working in the world, and his Spirit touches the lives of the faithful, offering guidance, comfort, and even miraculous intervention. This earns Baptists and Mormons the ridicule or hatred of the anti-religious extremists, who declare that our beliefs are a form of madness and proof that we are unfit for public trust.
Call us “nontraditional Christians” and continue to encourage your communicants not to believe our doctrines; we’ll happily continue to call you “traditional Christians” and teach people why they should believe our doctrines.
But when it comes to politics, let’s make common cause to maintain the full participation in American political life of believers in a living, active God whose Spirit touches the lives of all his children.
Let’s work together to try to end the persecution of Christians throughout the world, for the enemies of Christ make no distinction between “traditional” and “nontraditional” Christians when they’re looking for targets of their fear and hatred.
On these issues, we are on the same side.
And every “traditional Christian” who, like Dr. Mohler, will include us nontraditional Christians as equally entitled to participation in all aspects of American public life, without encouraging people to vote against Mormon candidates because of their faith alone, will find that we Mormons are good friends to have in a world that is increasingly perilous for followers of Christ.