Why should I care if anyone but Christ calls me “Christian”?

May 10, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 9:58 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

A favorite gripe in the Bloggernacle and in the Church in general is the fact that lots of other Christians refuse to acknowledge Mormons as fellow Christians. (See Ben’s most recent post on the overall subject over at M*) This snub gets us Mormons in a tizzy. And that, of course, is half of the fun for those who don’t want to let us in “the club”. But not being in the club doesn’t bother me. I really don’t give a hoot who calls me Christian in this world. And when I think about it I can’t figure out why any of us should.

First of all, it should be noted that we also only consider members of other Christian religions “Christians” in a broad sense of the word. In the narrow sense, we believe ours is the only church of Jesus Christ in the world. Further, when the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith they told him to join none of those churches because all of their creeds were an abomination in His sight. Make no mistake — our claims about them are at least as offensive to them as theirs are to us.

So why are we so gung ho to be included in the abominable creeds club? Now let me clarify that no one is calling the fine and faithful believers in these churches abominable; we just believe they teach and believe false doctrines. Of course they say the same thing about us. So back to my question: Why do we want in the club so badly?

I suspect one reason is that we believe that being in the club will help us with missionary work. So our complaint might essentially be a marketing complaint. But our marketing activities are exactly what these folks want to stop. Mormon converts are often at their expense after all. Is this all really just our whining about competitive marketing practices?

If this is about marketing, what’s wrong with standing out like a sore thumb in the religious landscape? That can be an excellent marketing strategy after all. Isn’t that how it was for the Jesus-believing Jews we read about in the New Testament? Didn’t they preach something different, special, and even revolutionary? We don’t see them trying to fit in with apostate Judaism; we see them openly spurning it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for kindness and gentleness and love unfeigned toward people of other faiths. But I don’t want to fit in with them doctrinally. I want them all to see the additional light that has been restored to the earth and embrace it. Honestly, if Christ knows we are his church why are we so worried about the opinions of men? Do we think he can’t handle the opposition?

Of course the real problem may be that we just want to fit in. We don’t want to actually be a peculiar people. Maybe we are ashamed because all those people in that big building are pointing and laughing at us. The following verse worries me about our obsession with fitting in with the Christian crowd:

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men… (D&C 121:33-34, italics mine)

You can keep the honors of men along with the world’s definition of who is a Christian. As long as Christ knows I’m his disciple I could not care less what the rest of the world thinks.

Am I missing something?

21 Comments »

  1. I think that most people are concerned about the world knowing that we actually believe in Christ and how this can effect missionary work. (Personally, I think surprising somebody with the knowledge that we believe in Christ would be about the best missionary opportunity imaginable.) It’s sort of like how I thought, before my mission, that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not Christian, but were instead a sect of Judaism. How wrong was I?

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — May 10, 2005 @ 10:50 am

  2. Nice post, Geoff.
    I was just thinking the same thing.

    However, I do think I understand where members who are upset by being called “not Christian” are coming from. It hit home for the first time not long ago when I was denied acceptance into a Christian film club because I was Mormon, and thus, not “Christian.” So I think some members are concerned with the ways others perceive us, which affects the way they treat us.

    But I do agree. When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter what they call us.

    Comment by Eric Russell — May 10, 2005 @ 11:18 am

  3. Geoff, I think Christian groups use the “not a Christian” label the same way some Mormons use the “anti-Mormon” label — to marginalize the targeted group or person. Sometimes the out-group gets so labeled in order to signal to the faithful that it can or should be ignored. Other times the label is really a signal to mobilize against the targeted group. Even if mobilization against a targeted enemy is purely symbolic, it serves the purpose of energizing fellow believers (who always seem to need motivating) and promoting unity.

    Nothing like a common enemy to make diverse Christians, or at least those in the club, feel united. In fact, there is some recent scholarship out there arguing that the challenge of Mormons in the 19th century helped define the informal Protestant establishment in America. I think I ran across that argument in one of the articles in the recent book “God and Country,” from Signature, but I’m not sure.

    Comment by Dave — May 10, 2005 @ 12:43 pm

  4. Having grown up in the south, where hand-to-hand theological combat with Evangelicals is a fairly common experience for the young LDS boy, it was always galling to be told what I believed (in particular when they got it wrong). I think that this is the problem I have with being excluded from the “Christian” club. One only needs to listen to us for a little while to realize that we have a deep, abiding faith in Christ as a people. It is always an argument from ignorance.

    Comment by John C. — May 10, 2005 @ 12:57 pm

  5. Like Eric and John, it matters to me personally because I’ve been kicked out of a Christian messageboard (with whom I expressed absolutely no theological problems) because I “wasn’t Christian.”

    But more than that, it’s a scare tactic against our missionary work. It’s an attempt to inoculate good Christians from hearing our message. I don’t blame those Christians who, believing in the New Testament and hearing all their lives that Mormons aren’t Christian, slam the door in the missionaries’ face.

    Comment by Nathan — May 10, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

  6. It sounds like I got the reasons for our discontent right:

    1) We don’t like our marketing efforts being countered
    2) We don’t like being scorned or left out of the crowd (a la Lehi’s dream)

    But I’m afraid that there is no avoiding those two things. In fact, they seem to accompany membership in God’s church in all ages (though could apply to others as well).

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 10, 2005 @ 3:35 pm

  7. FWIW, there’s no concern in my post over not being called Christian, and I’m not sure that’s the fundamental issue.

    Rather, as John C. said, it’s being told by others what I believe. Evangelicals frequently assert that Mormons don’t believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, but a distinct and separate Jesus. That’s the usual source for “Mormons aren’t Christian.”

    Comment by Ben S. — May 10, 2005 @ 4:56 pm

  8. I think I didn’t care until some kid told my kid she wasn’t a Christian in second grade. And then I was *extremely* annoyed.

    Comment by Johnna Cornett — May 10, 2005 @ 6:17 pm

  9. Ha! Well when anyone says anything rude to my second grader I get ticked off too, Johnna.

    Ben: I actually wasn’t trying to single your post out as an example of getting in a tizzy. I just know this is a hot and recurring topic in the ‘Nacle and yours was the most recent post related to the general subject.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 10, 2005 @ 8:52 pm

  10. I am quite happy not to be a member of their “club.” But the commandment to take upon ourselves the name of Christ demands that we not walk away from the fight. We must insist on the right to define ourselves in our own terms.

    I also think that we weaken our position in the “Christian” debate by insisting on total control over the term “Mormon.”

    Comment by Last Lemming — May 11, 2005 @ 7:31 am

  11. Last Lemming: we weaken our position in the “Christian” debate by insisting on total control over the term “Mormon.”

    Interesting point. Some have complained that we are being a tad hypocritical when we insist on being allowed in to the “Christian club” but refuse Mormon splinter group admittance into the Mormon club. They are not Mormons, we insist, because Mormons are only those that belong to our specific denomination.

    I think it is a defensible point though. Christianity is a world religion with numerous sects and denominations. For very real marketing and branding purposes the leaders of the church want to keep us a denomination. If the term Mormon only refers to one denomination then it is indeed a fallacy to call splinter groups Mormons. It is a fine line we walk there though.

    (Ronan recently posted on the subject of our being a world religion vs. our being a worldwide church. See here)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 11, 2005 @ 10:06 am

  12. It sounds like I got the reasons for our discontent right:

    1) We don’t like our marketing efforts being countered
    2) We don’t like being scorned or left out of the crowd (a la Lehi’s dream)

    I would phrase it thus:

    1) We don’t like people saying things that are false and hurtful.
    2) We don’t like people saying things that are false and hurtful.

    Comment by Nathan — May 12, 2005 @ 9:09 am

  13. I agree with you Nathan. We don’t like people saying things about us that are false and hurtful.

    But then again what do you think other Christians would call our claims that Mormonism is the only true Christian church and that all of their creeds are abominations in the sight of God? They would call such claims “false and hurtful”. Isn’t part of the Golden Rule empathizing with others? We know they think such statements are false and hurtful yet we feel compelled by God to continue to proclaim them. Other Christians likewise feel obligated to continue to rebut our claims with their own claims that we often feel are false and hurtful.

    Can we really blame most Christians for doing so? Is their position (except in extreme cases) evil or unreasonable? I think not. In the end there remains a very deep and fundamental difference of opinion on this subject. Therefore, our only remaining excuses we have for getting in a tizzy over this terminology squabble are:

    1) We don’t like our marketing efforts being countered
    2) We don’t like being scorned or left out of the crowd (a la Lehi’s dream)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 12, 2005 @ 9:27 am

  14. They think we’re wrong. We think they’re wrong. The Catholics think everyone else is wrong, and everyone else thinks the Catholics are wrong. I’m fine with that. And I’ll call all those wrong people Christians. I expect the same courtesy.

    I’ll admit, I’d be a lot more comfortable with your two points if you didn’t use language that makes Mormon reactions look small-minded and banal — “marketing” and the reference to Lehi’s dream. Since when is proclaiming the everlasting Gospel to all of God’s children a “marketing” concern?

    Comment by Nathan — May 12, 2005 @ 1:18 pm

  15. Ha! Curse this language thing! It keeps getting in the way. I’m a marketer at heart and by profession and I consider marketing a noble craft. I always forget that words like sales and marketing are often seen as dirty words to others. Sorry about that. When I use the word marketing I use it in teh noblest sense here. Here’s another try at that sentence: “We don’t like our attempts to share the restored gospel being countered.”

    I feel inspired by this to write a post on the gift of tongues within our own language (finding to the right words to convey what we actually mean seems to require the the Spirit most of the time). Plus I think I’ll write a post on sales and marketing. (We do a lot of both in religion and there is nothing unsavory about either when they are done with honesty and integrity.)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 12, 2005 @ 3:02 pm

  16. The problem with Mormon marketing is that the Christian face is a facade for the more important worship of Joseph Smith. Bait and switch. I grew up as a Mormon, and after leaving in my late teens I realized how little I knew about Jesus, despite all of the meeting attendance, primary, etc.

    I remember being asked, as part of Primary graduation, if I had a personal relationship with Jesus. My first thought was “huh? Jesus is the bit player, what about Joseph, the plates, and the vision?” Jesus was a stand-in to support the bigger picture of Smith’s “restoration.”

    That is why Mormons take so much heat. Ever been to an Easter service in any other Christian religion? Christmas service? I regret all of the bleak, ascetic services in my youth that never taught me the true joy and spirit of celebrating Christ’s life.

    Comment by Sam — May 12, 2005 @ 9:36 pm

  17. Hey, that was a nice shot Sam. Here, would you like to try the left cheek now?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 12, 2005 @ 10:24 pm

  18. The great news is that there’s no one in the Church NOW who worships Joseph Smith. All who did have left the Church and joined anti-Mormon ministries, leaving all of us who trust in our Lord and Redeemer behind.

    Comment by Nathan — May 13, 2005 @ 8:29 am

  19. Regarding “marketing”: I’m not one of those who holds the word is low esteem, but there are still some connotations which I think are far below the true impetus of missionary work:

    - Marketing is performed by those who are hired to market. Yes, there’s plenty of salesmanship wisdom out there about “believing in the product,” but it still comes down to an issue being hirelings: They’re marketing because they’re being paid to do so, and if they weren’t paid to do so, they wouldn’t do it.

    - A related idea is that marketing is done because it benefits the marketer (or his employer). McDonald’s wants you to buy their burger because they make money from it, not because they think their burger will enrich your life.

    Again, I’m not one of those who disdains marketing and commerce; I think they are good, solid, honorable Terrestrial pursuits. But I do think that the gospel belongs to a higher plane.

    Comment by Nathan — May 13, 2005 @ 8:34 am

  20. Whoa — I hadn’t encountered that particular bit of auto-formatting in WordPress before. Cool. (I just preceded both of those paragraphs with a dash.)

    As long as I’m filling up the comments, I thought I’d take a stab at #2: We don’t like being scorned or left out of the crowd (a la Lehi’s dream).

    It’s that last phrase that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I was recently been turned out of a Christian marriage forum for being a Mormon (where I wasn’t proselyting or finding doctrinal issues to debate); I wanted to dwell on and rejoice in those ideals which we all, as Christians, could hold in common. They wouldn’t permit it. I wasn’t Christian enough to be Christian with them.

    It had nothing to do with Lehi’s dream. I wasn’t looking for acclaim or worldly acceptance; I simply wanted to join with them in rejoicing and affirming those matters and ideals on which we could agree. But because we disagreed on other things, they weren’t about to let me agree with them on anything.

    Comment by Nathan — May 13, 2005 @ 8:41 am

  21. Sam: Your view of Mormonism is so different from mine that I wonder what the heck you were doing and which church you were attending. Come on, do you really expect those of us who attend the LDS meetings to believe what you say about worshipping Joseph Smith? Then to add to your literally un-believe-able claims, you assert that you left not knowing about Jesus. If that is so, you are the one who is accountable because no one with even minimum exposure to LDS meetings could make such a claim. Just how stupid do you think we are?

    Comment by Blake — May 13, 2005 @ 12:20 pm

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