"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Are Mormons Christian: Preface

by Stephen E. Robinson

In July 1986 a group of evangelical Christians and former Mormons held a news conference in Salt Lake City and subsequently presented a petition to THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints demanding that it stop referring to itself as a "Christian" church. The petition had been signed by 20,543 individuals from 49 states and 31 foreign countries. (1)

The reaction to this petition in Utah was largely one of consternation. After all, the Saints asked themselves, is not the name of our church THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints? Do we not worship Christ? Is not the Book of Mormon another testament of Jesus Christ? The Utah Saints shook their heads and wondered how it was possible that anyone could seriously doubt that the Latter-day Saints were Christians. For several weeks afterward letters to the editors of the major Utah newspapers clearly indicated that the petition had stirred strong feelings on both sides of the question. Attacks and defenses, devotions and vituperations were all displayed in the controversy, but there is little evidence that either side really understood the basic issues involved.

The charge that Mormons are not Christians may nonplus the Saints on Utah's Wasatch Front--who seldom hear it or, when they do, simply dismiss it as too silly to be taken seriously --but in those areas where Latter-day Saints are a minority of the population, this is often the most commonly heard criticism of the LDS church and its doctrines. For the most part, even these Latter-day Saints find the charge incomprehensible; and without comprehension it is very difficult to offer a coherent response.

It is hoped that this book will be of service on two fronts --that it will make the accusation that Latter-day Saints aren't Christians comprehensible to the Latter-day Saints, and that it will also help them in forming an intelligent and informed response to that accusation. This book is not meant, however, to provide ammunition for those contentious souls who simply want to carry on a war of words with the anti-Mormons, for the spirit of contention is always un-Christian (see D&C 10:63).

It is not my purpose in these pages to prove, or even to argue, that the LDS church is true or that its doctrines are correct, even though I believe both of those propositions. Rather, I will attempt to show why the arguments used to exclude Latter-day Saints from the "Christian" world are flawed. The operating principle behind most of my arguments will not be rectitude but equity --what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That is, if Augustine or Luther or John Paul II can express opinions or insist on beliefs that differ from the Christian mainstream and yet still be considered Christians, then Joseph Smith and Brigham Young cannot be disqualified from bearing that title when they express the same or similar opinions. If theological or ecclesiastical diversity can be tolerated among mainstream Christian churches without charges of their being "non-Christian," then diversity of a similar kind, or to a similar degree, ought to be tolerated in the Latter-day Saints. This is simply an issue of playing on a level field.

At one time Protestant and Catholic denominations did make charges against each other, each claiming that the other (or others) was not Christian. But in the almost five hundred years since the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics have become used to each other and, with the exception of certain fundamentalist groups, are willing to tolerate the differences between themselves. They see these differences as being "all in the family," and refer to each other as "Christians" in a generic sense, though they may still disagree with each other's doctrines.

The problem is that the Latter-day Saints have only been around for 160 years, and the more senior denominations have not yet become used to us, nor do they yet extend to us the courtesies and the toleration they now automatically extend to each other. I will maintain in the following pages that the Latter-day Saints are often the victims of a theological double standard, being labeled "non-Christian" for opinions and practices that are freely tolerated in other mainstream denominations. Where this is the case, I must insist that the charges are not only unfair but are logically defective. For if person A holds an opinion with which other Christians disagree, and yet person A remains a Christian in the common estimation, then person B may not logically be declared to be non-Christian for holding the same opinion --what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. No honest Christian, Mormon or non-Mormon, should be satisfied with results arrived at with the aid of an unlevel playing field or a theological double standard.

Many complex and even contradictory arguments are offered by those who would exclude the Latter-day Saints from the family of "Christian" churches. These arguments generally fall into one of six basic categories: (1) exclusion by definition; (2) exclusion by misrepresentation; (3) exclusion by name-calling (the ad hominem exclusion); (4) the historical or traditional exclusion; (5) the canonical or biblical exclusion; and (6) the doctrinal exclusion. (including Trinity and the Nature of God and Lesser Arguments) In each of these broad categories there are certain subtle assumptions about the nature, history, and doctrine of the Christian religion that must be defined and examined before the exclusions based on them can be considered. I find that, upon close examination, these assumptions and/or the arguments based on them turn out to be either illogical or unfair.

The reader should note that where I have used examples and illustrations from antiquity, these are taken only from what are commonly considered orthodox Christian sources and not from Gnostic, Marcionite, Manichaean, or other heterodox writings. Also, in referring to modern authorities I have cited only mainline non-LDS scholars whose work is widely known and respected, usually the consensus experts in their fields. The reader will find that there has been no stacking the deck with eccentric "authorities" either ancient or modern.

In the following chapters I shall use the terms orthodox and orthodoxy to refer to traditional, mainstream Christianity. This is merely for convenience and does not indicate that I accept "orthodox" Christianity as theologically correct, or that I accept any implication that Latter-day Saints are in the strict sense "unorthodox ."

Finally, it should be understood that I do not speak officially for the LDS church or for Brigham Young University. While I believe the opinions expressed here to be soundly based, I alone am responsible for them.

(Are Mormons Christians? home page)


1. See Deseret News, 25 July 1986, p. A 10.



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