Much has been said in popular media about the so-called “Mormon Moment”. The accuracy and fairness of recent media coverage of Mormonism has been a mixed bag, to say the least. It is sad to admit that there are plenty of media personalities who know next to nothing about Mormonism, and yet feel unconstrained to opine on this or that subject relating to Mormon doctrine or history. Unsurprisingly, those who are the most ignorant of Mormonism usually choose to write about the most complex and controversial aspects of Mormonism, such as polygamy, Mormon racial history, and esoteric aspects of Mormon belief and practice best left untouched by non-Mormon novices of Mormon history and doctrine. (Andrew Sullivan, I’m looking at you.)
Harold Bloom, the celebrated Yale literary critic, has offered a recent opinion piece with the New York Times. The topic: Mitt Romney, 19th century vs. 21st century Mormonism, and the “crucial precedent” that has been set by Romney’s progress thus far in the upcoming presidential election. As he usually is with his writings, Bloom is very thoughtful and captivatingly eloquent with this article. This is a refreshing relief, considering the questionable remarks of other recent popular social commentators.
By way of introduction, Harold Bloom has previously written on Mormonism, to which he gives the crowning title “the American religion”. Bloom is positively enamored with Joseph Smith, whom he cordially refers to as an “authentic religious genius”, and is amazed at the power of Joseph Smith’s revelations. Granted, it appears that Bloom’s admiration for Joseph Smith and his revelations is on a sort of quasi-literary level; I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that Bloom would place Joseph’s revelations on the same level as great poetry or literature, but nothing more. Notwithstanding, Bloom is a first-rate intellectual who has given us some probing, albeit somewhat flawed, writings to explore.
Earlier last month I wrote a few words concerning an interview conducted by CNN of Tricia Erickson, a rabid ex-Mormon who exhibited an almost paranoid fear of the prospect of a Mormon being elected as president of the United States. I found her bigoted and offensive ranting far below the journalistic standards of CNN, and hoped that the entire episode would quickly be forgotten.
Unfortunately, Ms. Erickson has been given yet more air time on CNN to prattle away on the nefarious machinations of the “Mormon Church” and Mitt Romney, the prominent Mormon candidate for the presidency. Fortunately, a voice of reason, in the embodiment of CNN Belief-Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi, was allowed to participate in the discussion between Erickson and Tim Foreman, who challenged Erickson to show a single example of a Mormon making a negative political policy choice on the basis of his commitment to Mormonism. (Not surprisingly, Erickson failed to provide any such example.)
One of the arguments Ms. Erickson used in her assault on the faith of the Saints and Governor Romney was the claim that Mormons are on a campaign to dominate the world (why else are there any Mormons who hold political offices?) and that according to Mormon doctrine the second coming of Jesus will include the establishing of a Mormon totalitarian regime based out of Jackson County, Missouri. And if that isn’t enough to disqualify Romney or any other Mormon from being president, also remember that Mormons, including Romney, believe they will become gods and have their own planet! I was especially offended at this misrepresentation of my faith. Only one planet? Egoistical/self-aggrandizeing Mormon that I am, I am not shooting low for only one planet but a universe of endless worlds to populate through endless Celestial sex with my many goddess wives. Or at least that is what Ed Decker has repeated told me through his sensationalistic video The God Makers. Considering that Ed Decker is one of Ms. Erickson’s primary sources on Mormonism, I am surprised that she conservatively restricted Mormon aspirations of godly dominion to only one planet in the hereafter. Get your facts straight, Ms. Erickson!
This is the second time that CNN, a respected news agency, has provided precious air time for a crank to spout off nonsense against the Church of Jesus Christ. Hopefully Ms. Erickson has finally exhausted her time with CNN. We need less sensationalism and more serious journalism on the relationship between religion and modern politics. And we need it now especially with this upcoming election, wherein we have not one, but two potential Mormon candidates for the presidency. If ever there was a time when we as a people should look at the interplay between religious values and political policy that time is now. Ms. Erickson has now demonstrated twice that she cannot provide that nuanced and informed investigation. As such, we are compelled to look to others to answer this pertinent question.
Christian, adjective: of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings : the Christian Church.
informal having or showing qualities associated with Christians, esp. those of decency, kindness, and fairness.
noun a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
A few weeks ago CNN published an interview with Tricia Erickson, a dedicated Evangelical critic of Mormonism, wherein it was repeatedly affirmed that neither Mitt Romney nor the Church he belongs to is authentically Christian. On Sunday, July 17, 2011 the Deseret News printed an article that reported how “‘Fox & Friends’ co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Mitt Romney was not a Christian during her program this morning.” The pertinent statement by Ms. Earhardt, as reported by the Deseret News, is as follows:
“Can (Gov. Rick Perry) get in and raise money with Mitt Romney? That I don’t know,” said host Dave Briggs.
“There are a lot of Republicans who think he can’t,” replied co-host Clayton Morris.
“Well the Christian coalition — I think (Perry) can get a lot of money from that base because (of) Romney obviously not being a Christian,” said co-host Earhardt. “Rick Perry, he’s always on talk shows — on Christian talk shows — he has days of prayer in Texas.”
I am puzzled by this statement. What is it that is so “obvious” that proves Mitt Romney is not a Christian? Presumably Ms. Earhardt has in mind the fact that Romney is a Latter-day Saint and because Latter-day Saints are not Christians ergo Mitt Romney is not a Christian.
This of course brings up the question as to whether or not Mormons are Christians. As Professor Stephen E. Robinson has written, there are typically six categories that the arguments of excluding Mormons from being Christian fall under, viz.,
1. The Exclusion by Definition (Mormons are excluded from being Christian because of ad hoc idiosyncratic definitions of “Christian” and “Christianity” offered by sectarians who deviate from the standard English lexical definition.)
2. The Exclusion by Misrepresentation (“Latter-day Saints… [are] judged to be non-Christian for things they do not believe, whether these things are fabrications, distortions, or anomalies.”)
3. The Exclusion by Name-Calling (Hurling unsavory epithets such as “cult” at the Church in an attempt to alienate or estrange outsiders and shock members. As with the “Exclusion by Definition”, in most cases the epithets are idiosyncratic definitions that go beyond the accepted standard English definition.)
4. The Historical or Traditional Exclusion (Mormons do not accept certain “historical” or “traditional” Christian beliefs or practices, and thus are not Christian.)
5. The Canonical or Biblical Exclusion (Mormons have an open canon of scripture, and accept additional books as canonical which are not accepted by other Christian denominations. Thus, Mormons are not Christian.)
6. The Doctrinal Exclusion (Mormons do not accept “orthodox” Christian doctrines, and hold to “heretical” views of the nature of God and scripture, to name only two. Therefore, Mormons are not Christian.)
The question as to whether or not Mormons are Christians is a horse that has been beaten mercilessly in recent years, and so I do not wish to launch into a full exploration at this point. Suffice it to say that the Latter-day Saints are positively appalled at this accusation, and have responded vigorously to critical arguments. However, I do wish to ask a few questions for discussion that I feel are pertinent to this debate.
1. First and foremost, what is “Christianity” and who therefore can rightly be called “Christian”? On what basis/criteria does one define these terms?
1. Who is allowed to define who is Christian and who isn’t? By what authority or on what grounds does this individual/group/Church, etc., claim the right to be the final arbiters in deciding who and who isn’t Christian?
2. Mormons are accused of not being Christian because they do not accept “orthodox” beliefs. What is “orthodoxy” and who is allowed to define “orthodoxy”? On what basis was this definition of “orthodoxy” established?
3. Mormon doctrine is often alleged to be contrary to “biblical teaching”. Who has the right to establish what “biblical doctrine” is? By what authority is such established? What methodological and/or exegetical tools were employed to establish this standard?
4. Is doctrinal difference enough to exclude Mormons from being Christians? What about Jesus’ teaching that his true disciples [i.e. Christians] are those who keep his commandments and love their neighbors (John 13:34-35)? In other words, is any weight to be given to Jesus’ criteria for true and false prophets (or, in this case, disciples) as found in Matthew 7:15-20 when it comes to evaluating who is a Christian and who isn’t?
5. If Mormons are to be excluded from being Christian because they do not conform to “traditional” or “historic” Christianity, then what of those disciples of Christ who antedate the arrival of these “traditional” doctrines (eg. Nicene Trinitarianism, creatio ex nihilo, etc.)? Are they likewise not Christian? [Hint: This is a question about maintaining consistent standards in evaluating who is and who isn’t a Christian]
These are some questions that I put forth for discussion. Those who wish to exclude the Latter-day Saints as being Christian must, I contend, first adequately answer these questions.
: Oxford American Dictionary, s.v. Christian.
 Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian? (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1991).
: Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, 21, emphasis in original.
: See especially Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Words Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992). This wonderful text is available online at the website of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. See here.