By Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
I appreciate Orson Scott Card’s response to my first entry, and his rather lengthy essay can serve to move the discussion along.
The first matter of concern is to clarify the question. When I asked, “Are Mormons ‘Christians’ as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy?,” I was stating the question exactly as it was put to me. The words “as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy” were part of my assignment, not my imposition.
At the same time, I was glad the question was asked in this manner, for it is the only way I can provide an answer that matters. The question could surely be asked in other ways and we could attempt to define Christianity in terms of sociology, phenomenology, the history of religions, or any number of other disciplines. In any of these cases, someone with specific training in these fields should provide the argument.
The question could simply refer to common opinion – do people on the street believe that Mormonism is Christianity? But then the matter would be in better hands among the pollsters.
In any event, the question was framed theologically, and it was framed by Beliefnet in terms of “traditional Christian orthodoxy.” With the question structured that way, the answer is clear and unassailable – Mormonism is not Christianity. When the question is framed this way, Mr. Card and I actually agree, as his essay makes clear.
In his words, “I am also happy to agree with him that when one compares our understanding of the nature of God and Christ, we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the “historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations” he refers to.”
Mr. Card would prefer that the question be put differently. I understand his concern, and if I were a Mormon I would share that concern and would try to define Christianity in some way other than traditional Christian orthodoxy. The reason is simple – traditional Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology are utterly incompatible.
Mr. Card is gracious, even when suggesting that I misinterpret the Book of Mormon. He even suggests that I have not read it. The fact is that I have, and I have even studied Mormon theology in the course of my graduate studies. Reading the Book of Mormon was a fascinating experience. Nevertheless, if I were a Mormon arguing that Mormonism is Christianity, I would be very reluctant to suggest that those I am seeking to persuade should read the Book of Mormon. Nothing will more quickly reveal the distance between Mormon theology and historic Christianity.
Mormonism uses the language of Christian theology and makes many references to Christ. Mr. Card wants to define Christianity in a most minimal way, theologically speaking. If I were arguing the other side of this question, I would attempt the same. But Christianity has never been defined in terms of merely thinking well of Jesus. Mormonism claims to affirm the New Testament teachings about Jesus, but actually presents a very different Jesus from the onset. A reading of Mormonism’s authoritative documents makes this clear.
All these things point back to the reason the question is so important in our contemporary context. Mormons want their religion to be seen as another form of Christianity. In other words, they want to identify with what from their inception they sought to deny. There are advantages to Mormonism on this score, but this surely places them in an awkward position.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” as Mormonism is officially known, claims to be the only true church. As stated in the Doctrine and Covenants [1:30], Mormonism is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” According to Mormon teaching, the church was corrupted after the death of the apostles and became the “Church of the Devil.” Mormonism then claims that the true church was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the 1820s. This restored church was, Mormon theology claims, given the keys to the kingdom and the authority of the only true priesthood.
Why would Mormonism now want to be identified as a form of Christianity, when its central historical claim is that the churches commonly understood to be Christian are part of the Church of the Devil?
There is simply no way around the Mormon claim that the other churches hold to a corrupted theology and have no true priesthood – and are not true churches. Mr. Card may complain that traditional Christianity defines the faith in a way that rejects Mormonism. Fair enough. But Mormonism rejects historic Christianity as it makes it own central claim – to be the only true church, restored on earth in the latter days.
Mr. Card’s statements on baptism make this point clear enough, as does this statement from his essay: “In other words, at the level of religious practice we believe that we are the only Christians who act and speak with the authority of Christ today.” I sincerely appreciate Mr. Card’s straightforward statement of this fact.
I was genuinely troubled, but hardly surprised, when Mr. Card recalled his experience at the Templeton event. It is indeed a scandal that so many Christian churches and denominations allow priests, theologians, and bishops to deny the faith and still call themselves Christians – and even to remain in good standing in these churches. If these deny the faith and persist in their error, they are not Christians. Of course, the only way we know this is because we do have an objective standard by which to judge what is and is not Christianity, and that is the very “traditional Christian orthodoxy” that Mr. Card and Mormonism reject.
Finally, Mr. Card brings up the question of Gov. Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He states, “But let’s remember now why we are having this discussion. It’s because Mitt Romney is running for President of the United States, and Mitt Romney is a Mormon.”
Mr. Card also claims that I have “gone on record elsewhere as advising evangelical Christians not to vote for Mitt Romney, even though he’s the candidate whose life practices and whose professed beliefs are the closest to fitting the political agenda of many or perhaps most evangelicals.” That is not true. I did not advise evangelicals not to vote for Mitt Romney. I have argued that evangelicals should think carefully about this question and I have raised concerns about a Mormon in the White House.
Others will bring their own concerns. I am not interested in worries about Mormon temple undergarments and plural marriage. I do not worry about a Mormon president playing into apocalyptic scenarios with nuclear weapons. I am concerned that a Mormon in the White House would do much to serve the worldwide missionary cause of Mormonism. I do not worry that a President Romney would push that agenda from the White House. My concern is more about symbolism and perception. My concern is that of a Christian who does not believe that Mormonism is Christianity.
In other words, my concern is about as politically incorrect as one can get in these strange times. I believe that Mormonism does not teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only Gospel that saves.
I am thankful that the U.S Constitution excludes any religious test for public office, but this excludes any government test, and is not a constraint upon any private citizen’s electoral decision. I will fight for Gov. Romney’s right to be on the ballot and to serve if elected.
There are very many reasons to admire and appreciate Gov. Romney – starting right where Mr. Card points, with the Romney family. I, along with millions of fellow evangelicals, do admire the Romney family and respect his family commitments. The fact that so many other candidates fall short of his commitment is a sad commentary on the age – and on those candidates.
As I have argued over and over again, electoral decisions are contextual decisions. Will evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? Time will tell, and the context will largely determine that decision. I will be glad to argue this further, but that is not the assigned question.
So, Mr. Card I thank you for your thoughtful and gracious response and I look forward to our continuing exchange.