Barack Obama is a professing Christian. Mitt Romney is a professing Mormon. Most of the Christian leaders I know are voting for the Mormon.
The rise of Mormonism from animosity to acceptance to prominence is remarkable. In 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs gave an extermination order against the Mormons—an officially sanctioned desired holocaust. Next month, a Mormon may be our president. From death row to the Oval Office—not bad.
Mormonism Is Going Mainstream
Mormonism (aka, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has achieved acceptance and status, in part, by saying they are like us. The church has a very compelling national television commercial campaign featuring people like you and me—young, old, artists, teachers, addicts, married, divorced, attractive, plain, Hispanics, African-Americans, etc. Each commercial ends with the line, “And I am a Mormon.” Implied is, “And I’m not weird. I’m like you.” (They don’t have a commercial of a 19-year-old boy wearing a white-starched shirt, a tie, and a name badge that absurdly calls him “Elder So-and-So.”)
Mormons are not only saying they are like us, they are also saying they are Christians. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a survey called “Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society.” According to that survey, 97 percent of Mormons say they are Christians. The general public is divided; from several polls I’ve seen, about 50 percent of Americans agree with them, and about 50 percent think Mormonism is a cult. I fall into the second group.
Mormonism Heresy Is Good for Christian Orthodoxy
Mormonism is not a cult like Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple or David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Though Mormonism has a “prophet,” it doesn’t have a charismatic leader controlling everyone. It started that way, through Joseph Smith, but it outgrew that phase. Mormonism is not a cult in matters of control, but in matters of creed. Its beliefs are a perversion of orthodox Christianity.
If Romney doesn’t win the election, it won’t hurt Mormonism. But if he wins, Mormonism will be center stage. And, unlike the campaign season, it will be open season to consider the history and beliefs of Mormonism, and that can be a great opportunity for orthodox Christianity.
I have spoken with about a dozen Mormon missionaries, both at my home and at Brigham Young University. All Mormons believe in Jesus Christ. But what do they believe about him? I’m not exactly sure what they believe about him, because I have asked nearly all of them, “What role does Jesus’ death on the cross play in our salvation?” and none of them seemed to even understand the question.
Unfortunately, I may get the same response from a lot of Christians if I asked them the same question. But having a Mormon president may motivate Christians to learn.
Ironically, heresy can be very good for Christianity. Just as persecution can ultimately spread Christianity, heresy can ultimately deepen it. Specifically, Mormonism can motivate orthodox Christians to better understand orthodox Christianity.
Mormonism’s beliefs on the nature of God are significantly different from mainstream Christian teachings. Mormons believe that man can become God. They believe the Bible is an incomplete revelation; therefore they have additional “scriptures.” Mormons believe you are in this world to show yourself worthy of the next world, and frankly, much of that worthiness comes down to having a large family, not smoking, not drinking, and not ingesting caffeine.
All of this provides a great motivation and teaching opportunity to ask Christians not “how are Mormons—as they claim—like us?” but “how are Mormons different from us?” This can motivate Christians to learn more clearly the true beliefs of Christianity.
Brian Mavis is executive director of the Externally Focused Network. He also serves as the community transformation minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.