Are Mormons Christian? Here’s the Simple Answer

By Wendy Thomas Russell | January 6, 2014 | 11 comments

This weekend I was sitting in the living room with my daughter, listening to music on my iSomething-or-Other, when a song from the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon came on. The song was “Hello,” the musical’s perfectly executed opening number (and the one featured at the 2012 Tony Awards, below.)

Maxine was fascinated by the song. She loved all the doorbell-ringing, and the goofy voices, and the part when Elder Grant asks, “Are these your kids?” She must have replayed the song four or five times before moving on to something else. But, all the while, I knew she didn’t really “get” any of it.  She’d never seen a Mormon missionary. She’d never even heard of Mormons.

So I gave her a quick run-down. I told her Mormons were part of a religious group, and that Mormons are known for going door-to-door to talk about their religion.

“Oh!” Maxine said. “I thought everyone was coming to their house.”

Nope, I said, the other way around. Mormons ring other people’s doors to tell them about the Book of Mormon, which is kind of like their Bible. Sometimes, I told her, you’ll see them in our neighborhood. You can tell they’re Mormon because they usually wear white shirts with black ties.

“And bicycle helmets,” my husband added, because he’s helpful like that.

We left it there; I’ve learned not to over-do it when it comes to religious literacy. But ever since then I’ve been thinking about how, if asked, I would frame the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Would I categorize it as Christian or non-Christian?

mormon_christian_pinback_buttons-r8d2c999466724c59a514028d6bab01bd_x7j3i_8byvr_324That question has been the source of great debate since shortly after the church was founded in the 1820s. Mitt Romney would tell you that LDS is most definitely Christian. My Presbyterian uncle would tell you the opposite. images

Romney, who ran for president in 2012 and had a vested interest in being perceived as part of the majority, would surely emphasize that Mormons believe Jesus is the son of God and their savior, and that the only way to heaven is by following his example. (Pretty Christian-sounding, right?)

Yet LDS has adopted a whole manner of other beliefs that go far beyond what lies in Christian doctrine. The main one, of course, is that a guy from Vermont named Joseph Smith became a prophet of God who, with help from an angel, unearthed the ancient writings of other prophets, which all but instructed him to establish a new church. (Decidedly non-Christian.)

It doesn’t matter to me personally whether Mormons are Christian or not. In the eyes of non-believers, most religions operate on the same planes of being anyway. Hindus could call themselves Zoroastrian, and I wouldn’t have much of an opinion about it.

But I do want to be able to answer my kid’s questions as accurately as I can, so… Are Mormons Christian? After some consideration, here’s a simple answer:

Most religions evolve from other religions: Someone longs for something different, or learns something new, and starts spreading a different message than the one that came before. When enough people pay attention to that message, a religion is born. One could argue that Western religions — including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism — all grew out of the same basic principal: There is one God. When you remove all the special customs and “side-beliefs,” one might say that Judaism is basically Christianity without the Jesus; Christianity is Islam without the Muhammad; and Mormonism is Christianity with the Joseph Smith.

Is Mormonism its own distinct religion? Definitely. Is it based in Christianity? Definitely. Done and done. Next house— er, question.


11 comments

  1. jwg says:

    Don’t know how old your daughter is but be aware that some of the songs from that show are pretty raunchy. Hysterical, but raunchy. Don’t know if she’s old enough to listen to “Fuck You God”.

  2. Brian says:

    The book is always better than the show ;-)

  3. Cheryl Kohan says:

    What a good post! I especially love the synopsis at the end that all religions evolve from other religions and the examples are perfect. Simple. And accurate. I’m going to borrow that, if you don’t mind. Thanks!

  4. Melissa says:

    I love Book Of Mormon! Hope to see it when it comes thru Atlanta soon :)

  5. Steven B says:

    I must admit I love to find these young people at my door. As a matter of fact two of them are coming for a follow-up visit tomorrow. What I find interesting is that they are relatively uneducated about the old testament and also to some extent the new testament. I’ve tried getting through the Book of Mormon, but it reads so much like the old testament with all the usual violence and mayhem, that I couldn’t continue with it. They are fun to talk with, though.

  6. Holly says:

    Well, that clears that up! (And I admit to hiding anytime a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness comes to the door. They’re inevitably very nice, but I’m not interested in buying what they’re selling.)

    • Yep, I’m the same way! Although I admit, the last time JW’s came to my door, I smiled really warmly and said, “Oh, I’m an atheist. Thank you, though!” And shut the door before they could reply. Very satisfying!

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