Evangelical Christians have been very vocal over the last century in denouncing Mormons as a “non-Christian” religion. Even the more moderate Catholic and Protestant sects have followed suit. Should I care if my Christian neighbors call me a non-Christian despite my belief in Jesus as Son of God, God the Son, and Savior of the world?
With the Mitt Romney’s presidential run I’ve seen much written on the subject of Mormons being “non-Christians.” While some reporting is better than others, the general consensus of the media seems to be that “Christians” don’t consider Mormons to be Christians, but Mormons want to be called Christians desperately and feel hurt or left out because their “neighbors” won’t call them “Christians” too. As of yet, I’ve never seen a single media article on the subject ask the most obvious questions of all:
- How do you define “Christian?”
- Is your definition of “Christian” the dictionary definition or a non-standard one?
- What is it about Mormon teachings that falls outside of your definition of “Christian?”
Scratch it up to poor journalism or the need for entertainment to sell stories.
I want to go on record as saying that I have no problem being theologically excluded by my Christian neighbors. To some degree, a lesser degree to be sure, Mormons theologically exclude them; so it seems only fair to let them exclude us.  If they want to judge me as non-saved, that is their prerogative. If they want to exclude me from their schools or clubs, that’s their choice too. If they want to point out how my beliefs differ from theirs, let them.
I draw the line at misrepresentation of my beliefs.
Let’s talk about how the vast majority of people in the world will understand the word “Christian.” Let’s start with a dictionary definition from dictionary.com.
1. of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings: a Christian faith.
2. of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ: Spain is a Christian country.
7. a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.
I picked 1, 2, and 7 because these seem to be the definitions at stake. The vast majority of people in the world understand a “Christian” to be one or more of the definitions above. Simply put, when people say “Christian” they mean “a religion that believes Jesus it the Christ.” Clearly, according to the dictionary, Mormons are in fact “Christians.”
Let me tell you a true story to illustrate this:
I once knew a man that was part of an “orthodox” Christian religion but wanted to convert to be a Mormon. He brought home a wonderful picture of Christ, the red robe picture, from his new future religion. He gave it to his sister and she said “Wow, this is a great picture! where did you get it?”
He explained that the Mormon missionaries gave it to him.
Confused, she asked, “then who is it then?”
The girl had been told that Mormons were non-Christian, so she naturally assumed her priest or pastor, or whoever told her this, meant that Mormons didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. It never even occurred to her that it might have meant something else.
Later on I attended a Mormon Crèche display. As Christians from far and wide came to see the beautiful displays of the birth of our savior from around the world, I was amazed to find that a common question posed to the Mormon hosts, after initial shock wore off that Mormons had a crèche display, was “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Yes” came the response.
“Do you believe Jesus is your savior?”
“Yes” came the response.
Why did these people not know that the Church that they just walked into — with “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” printed on the front — did not teach Jesus is fully divine and the savior of the world? I’m afraid the answer is the same. They were told Mormons are “non-Christian.”
Now I suppose the persons that told these people that Mormons were “non-Christians” were perhaps thinking something like this in their head: “Well, I don’t believe Mormons are Christian because while they do believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, they don’t believe they are ‘one of substance’ as the Nicene Creed states, thus to me that makes them non-Christian.”
I am not one to assume the worst of motives. When a person is on the spot trying to explain their beliefs, they won’t always be a clear as they wish. (Heaven knows I have a hard time with this on a regular basis.) Unintentional misrepresentation gets a wide latitude with me. (Particularly if the person clarified his/her initial comments with the words that followed.) I wouldn’t hold an honest mistake against anyone, nor do I wish to assume what’s in someone else’s heart. I will not assume that my Christian neighbors are intentionally misrepresenting Mormons to each other and the rest of the world.
However, this is not a mere sound bite problem either. Teaching that Mormons are “not Christian” is a systemic teaching of Evangelical and other Christian religions and has been going on for years and across the many states I’ve lived in.
I believe few of these good people are intentionally misrepresenting. I think it’s more likely that perhaps a few are intentionally misrepresenting while the majority repeat what they hear. Or perhaps a few used to misrepresent Mormons years ago, but now calling Mormons “non-Christians” has become a cultural part of their “orthodoxy.” Perhaps this so much part of their culture now that its hard for them to self-evaluate that they are misrepresenting other’s beliefs.
But this doesn’t change that this is a misrepresentation of Mormons, unintentional though it may be. To use an analogy, let’s say I decide red is green and green is red. To me, they are, right? Is there anything wrong with me deciding this? Of course not. But let’s say someone (from another country, maybe) asks me “in my car do I stop on red or green?” Now let’s say that I tell them “you stop on green!” Am I misrepresenting? To me it’s the truth, right? No harm done, right?
I am not comfortable with this answer and doubt many would be.
Now personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with someone calling Mormons “not Christian” if he/she did it in a representative way. For example, I would have no problem with someone saying to others “Mormons are Christians according to the dictionary, because they believe in Jesus, but I feel we should redefine ‘Christian’ to mean <fill in the blank with their personal non-dictionary definition.>” If the good Christians of the world did that, I just can’t see a problem with it. I wouldn’t even mind being called a “Christian heretic” (or even just “heretic”) by them as I think this correctly summarizes their view of Mormons while not misrepresenting Mormons as being “non-Christian” in the same sense a Jew is a “non-Christian.”
So in answer to the question: “Should I Care if My Christian Neighbors Call Me a Non-Christian?” The answer is “no” so long as they don’t misrepresent our real beliefs. Mormon beliefs are complex on this subject, but I think the following thought is noteworthy: While Evangelical Christians teach that Mormons haven’t really accepted Christ and thus go to hell, Mormons teach that they, the Evangelicals, will go to the Terrestrial kingdom where they will live with Christ forever as angels and Servants of God. In other words, Mormons believe they get exactly the reward they are hoping for. It’s true we believe that at some point, in this life or the one to come, that they must accept the full truth to receive exaltation — to become like God is. But I’ve been told by many Christians they don’t believe such a reward exists and they have no interest in it even if it does.