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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Randall Balmer and Thomas Reese SJ

With Mitt Romney a serious contender for the future presidency, I've seen a lot of posts about him and Mormonism online. Today I came across one such post by Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, editor for Christianity Today, and an Episcopal priest. He writes of the question that often pops up - are Mormons really Christians - and mentions how that same question was often asked of Catholics ... my grandmother especially believed Catholicism was a cult and would frisk me for pamphlets every time I came home from playing with the Catholic kid next door :). Here's a little of his post ....

Fundamentalists, Mormons and the "Christian" Question

[...] Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told a reporter that Romney "is not a Christian" and characterized Mormonism as a "cult."

I have no brief for Jeffress, whose politics I despise as inimical to the Christian and, in particular, evangelical values that I honor. And the fact that he can dispense such zingers wearing his trademark treacly smile disposes me to like him even less. But it's important also to understand the context of the fundamentalism he represents.

For Jeffress and for millions of other fundamentalists, the word "Christian" is a specialized term reserved only to those who hold certain beliefs. Having grown up fundamentalist, I spent the first two-plus decades of my life convinced that Roman Catholics were not Christians - because they were not fundamentalists.

The preface to my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory recounts the rainy day in my childhood when I finally mustered the courage to "witness" to Stanley, my next-door neighbor and playmate. "Stanley," I began, my voice quavering, "are you a Christian?" When he replied in the affirmative, I was sure he was lying. Stanley was Roman Catholic.

Although they tend to be less vocal about the matter, at least publicly, fundamentalists also begrudge the label "Christian" to anyone who is not an evangelical, including mainline Protestants. So it should come as no surprise that Jeffress would consider Mormons non-Christians. (The label "cult," however, is another matter. Although fundamentalists like to sling the word about rather freely, I generally think it's inadvisable because the word is invariably pejorative. I've yet to meet anyone who said, "Yes, I'm a member of a cult!")

All of this begs the larger, normative question about whether Mormonism is indeed "Christian." My friend Jan Shipps, for example, a devout Methodist who knows more about Mormons than any "gentile" (non-Mormon, in Mormon parlance) on the planet, insists that, yes, Mormons are Christians.

Although I know many Mormons and admire their faith, I think the answer to that question might be a bit more complicated. Here's why ....

I don't really have an opinion about Mormonism myself - I haven't known any Mormons and all I do know of them mainly comes from books or movies, though I did dislike their support of prop 8, but then my church supported it too. I do remember, though, when Mitt Romney gave his speech about politics and religion back in Dec 2007 and the reactions of the guys at On Faith, including Thomas Reese SJ - interesting reading.


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I don't have an educated opinion about this either, but I do know that the Catholic Church does not recognize a Morman baptism as a Christian baptism. We Catholics accept baptism as a universal sacrament of initiation, and accept virtually all Christian baptisms as valid in our eyes. If those individuals should convert to the Catholic faith, they are not "rebaptized." But this is not the case with a Morman baptism -- it doesn't "count," in the judgment of the Catholic Church.

1:41 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hmmm - interesting. Wonder why.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, how about this from :

"Mormon theology teaches that God is only one of countless gods, that he used to be a man on another planet, that he became a god by following the laws and ordinances of that god on that world, and that he brought one of his wives to this world with whom he produces spirit children who then inhabit human bodies at birth. The first spirit child to be born was Jesus. Second was Satan, and then we all followed."

8:20 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

FJH 3rd,

Yes, that's the one thing I do remember hearing of Mormonism - that they believe people can become gods of other planets after they die if they're good - I don't know if that's actually accurate, though. Most of what I know of Mormonism comes from what it was like in the early stages, when polygamy was practiced, and I found a lot of it disturbing, but I'm not sure if that's how modern day Mormons believe. We need a Mormon to comment here :)

12:23 PM  

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