Clarifying Mormonism

On Monday (27 June 2011) Deseret News online published an article that began,

“Misconceptions about Mormons were cleared up accurately, but not by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Sounding rather surprised that non-Mormons could get it right, Joey Ferguson’s article “CNN accurately explains beliefs and misconceptions of LDS Church” reports on two recent CNN videos that clarify Mormon beliefs and practice.

The first one, “Explain it to me: Mormonism” by CNN religion editor Dan Gilgoff, briefly (in 4 minutes and 40 seconds) covers things like: The name of the LDS Church; the founding of the Church; abandoned polygamy; missionary work; the Church’s ethnic diversity; and “Beliefs.” The section titled “Beliefs” takes 55 seconds to discuss the corporeal nature of God, eternal families, continuing revelation, the Word of Wisdom, sacred under garments, and member modesty. The LDS Church is so pleased with this CNN video that its Newsroom links to it in an article that praises the video’s accuracy.

The second CNN video included in the Deseret News article (embedded below), in my opinion, did a better job of explaining Mormonism. The objective of the Faces of Faith video interview with Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, was to compare Mormonism with other religious faiths—namely, Christianity. The video began with Dr. Butler explaining,

“Some [people on the street] would tell you that they don’t believe Mormons are Christians. But I think they fit within the rubric of what is Christianity, albeit that they have some very different beliefs.”

Yet, by the end of this nearly 5-minute video Dr. Butler had drawn a specific and definite distinction between Mormonism and “Christianity” no fewer than 6 different times.

When asked about the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, Dr. Butler said, “For Christians, the Bible is it…But the Mormons consider this [the Book of Mormon] to be Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” In explaining how important the Book of Mormon is to Mormons, Dr. Butler said that it is “used just as much as a tool in Mormonism as Christians would think about the Bible.”

Dr. Butler was asked how Mormons view Jesus Christ. She answered that in Mormonism “Jesus is the Son of God. Okay, He’s not exactly the way the Christians think about this as God Himself. Although in Mormonism you can become a God, but that’s another piece of the theology.” She went on to explain the Father and Son in Mormonism: “You need to think of these as two different entities and God and Jesus both have physical form.”

Perhaps Dr. Butler realized that her remarks thus far had not supported her opening assertion that Mormonism fit within the rubric of Christianity; in fact her language had served to completely polarize Mormonism and Christianity. In her next statement she qualified her phrasing when she said the Mormon doctrines regarding the Father and the Son constitute “a very important distinction between Mormonism and what I would consider to be mainstream Christianity.”

The host of the program, T.J. Holmes, made a clumsy effort to incorporate the qualified term “mainstream Christianity,” but it didn’t stick. He asked Dr. Butler to list some key differences “between Christianity — uh, as most people would see it as mainstream Christianity — and the beliefs of Mormons.”

Dr. Butler said, “Well, first, Mormons believe in a pre-existent life.” She went on to explain a bit about this pre-existence, about earth life, and about the three degrees of glory that comprise eternity in Mormonism. Then the contrast: “In Christianity, you don’t talk about a pre-existence, you’re born, you work things out, if you’re an Evangelical Christian you believe you can be saved, or not, and then you have a choice of going to heaven or hell.”

Another “key difference” Dr. Butler talked about was “the books you revere.” She listed the three unique books of LDS scripture and said, “There’s a whole ‘nother canon for Mormons that is different than Christianity.”

I found it significant that throughout the entire interview, with one exception noted above (i.e., mistakenly calling out salvation as an Evangelical belief), all of Christianity was consistently identified as one faith, a faith distinct from Mormonism. Try as they might to portray Mormonism as a Christian faith, it just didn’t work. Indeed, it can’t work because Mormonism does not fit within the rubric of what is Christianity.

Dr. Butler’s comment about the Mormon godhead would apply equally well to the relationship between Mormonism and Christianity, because, in reality, “You need to think of these as two different entities.” For such they are.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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108 Responses to Clarifying Mormonism

  1. Rick B says:

    Daniel,
    You said I was wrong in my definition of what a christian is because some people cannot agree on women being pastors or can we have long hair or not, or things along that lines.

    well this is where your wrong, those things do happen and that is why we have modern day denominations. Now you can go to a church that believe things you believe when it comes to these petty issues, But not agreeing with fellow believers on issues like these do not save us or damn us to hell, believing in Jesus or rejecting Jesus is what saves us or condemns us.

    We as believers all agree on who Jesus is and that He died for us. But since you brought up the issue of these petty disagreements, Why is it, LDS demand to be called christian, when they admit they have a completely different gospel, yet when FLDS or RLDS want to be called Mormon’s you guys tell them they are not and they teach a different gospel from you, but in fact they believe closer to what you believe than you do in what we believe.

    Example, The LDS, RLDS and FLDS, all hold J.S and B.Y as prophets from God. You all believe in the BoM and other things. We as Christians dont believe in those things, yet you want to be called Christians, yet wont acknowledge the RLDS, and FLDS as LDS. That is very hypocritical.

    And why is it as I said before, that if I dressed as an LDS missionary, put on an elder badge with my name on it and went from door to door saying I am elder Beaudin from the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints, But then taught what I believe, Grace alone

  2. Rick B says:

    Grace alone period. Jesus is God, only one God, Trinity. Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, not the garden, etc, you guys would freak and say I cannot do that. Why is that? If your a christian, it stands to reason you then believe what I believe, theirfore I must be a mormon, so I can teach Mormonism to the people, but I will teach what I believe and call it mormonism. Hows that sound?

  3. Rick B says:

    Daniel,
    If you stick around to read this, I want to say, I have no say in the matter of what Aaron does, like removing your comments.

    But I do want to say, you asked if this has happened to others?

    We believers here are open to sharing what we believe, we might not agree on minor points like, can wome be pastors, or can we have long hair, etc. But w eare open as to what we believe and why.

    I notice you seemed to avoid answering Aarons question, and I know you simply did not mis the question since you responed to him on it. I would really like to hear your responce to his question since mormons dont seem to like being open and honest in what they believe. Rick

  4. More comments by Daniel have been deleted. He is apparently in denial about the gauntlet.

    Daniel, assume/accuse what motives you like, but everyone else here makes themselves vulnerable by stating their own personal beliefs and convictions. You don’t, and yet vaguely claim some sort of Mormonism. If you want to play here, then simply put your theological cards on the table. Really, it should only take a few paragraphs. It shouldn’t be that hard, unless it is utterly embarrassing for you, or perhaps you deeply fear the consequences for the future of your academic career. Or perhaps you’re someone who doesn’t really believe in Mormon theology (as truly true), yet is protective of it for personal/emotional reasons.

    Be real with us.

    You write (in a deleted comment), “Every time I do so Aaron has to come in and demand that the discussion have exclusively to do with my personal faith…”

    That would be incorrect, and I suspect you know it. The discussion here does not have to be exclusively about your personal faith, but it does need at this point to include an affirmation and basic defense of what you personally believe. This is a carry-over from other contexts where I’ve interacted with you. And yes, it’s personal.

  5. grindael says:

    Daniel: Justin makes his fire analogy clear with “by no means MADE LESS, BUT REMAINS THE SAME., and his observation that Jesus is ‘unbegotten’. What is unbegotten?

    Also, you said no one prior to the Third Century taught the Trinity, and Irenaeus did, because he taught ONE GOD. You also said I was wrong about Tertullian, that he taught only unity of will, but Tertullian clearly taught only ONE GOD. It is hard not to see the Trinity in this, for if there IS only ONE God, as taught by Jesus, his Apostles and these Early Church Fathers. I was right in my assessment, that you have no desire to defend Mormon theosis, for it is indefensible, far more so than the Christian Trinity in the light of these teachings. Being a Christian has always been the belief in ONE GOD. Interesting, how Irenaeus could quote from Justin and cite him as authoritative, given the fact that he expressly teaches there cannot be two gods. It seems there is more to this than some are willing to admit.

    I, like Aaron find it extremely interesting that you are willing to tear down the Second and Third Century’s clear definition of God as one substance, in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which was hid from before the foundation of the world, and so newly revealed to mankind in that era, yet will not or cannot defend your own faith’s polytheism in these same writings.

    You seem to not understand the ramifications as to WHY these men were trying to define God beyond what was taught in the New Testament, where Marcion created his Demiurge, others were developing Modalism, and still others falling to the Gnostic heresies, teachings that

  6. grindael says:

    were clearly dividing the Church, thus making Nicaea a logical outcome.

    Irenaeus is clearly an instrumental link in all this, having been taught by Polycarp, who was intimate with the Apostles themselves. Irenaeus was also thoroughly familiar with the works of Justin, and indeed probably knew him. And we only have SOME of Justin’s works. As Irenaeus so aptly puts it, and in doing so blasts the Mormon notion of a Universal Apostasy:

    “When, however, they [these heretics] are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.” And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For

  7. grindael says:

    [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch 2, 1-2).

    The thought of any other God was anathema to Irenaeus, thus proving that this was the mindset of Orthodoxy, not the belief in two, three, or multitudes of gods, as ‘revealed’ by Joseph Smith. The connections here between these men can’t be overlooked. There is a far more firm line of thinking that leads to the clarification of the being of God in the fourth century, than the expositions of Joseph Smith in the 19th. I wonder what would be the result of turning your scholarly attention to Smith’s ultimate gaffe, the Book of Abraham? But then, for one who teaches that the Hebrew God is a conflated god of the Canaanites, it probably wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

    Interesting, that I wrote this before I saw Daniel’s deleted comment. I had to post this later, as I went over my limit today. And in defending the Trinity, are we not defending and defining our own personal worldviews? Seems like a given to me. And another question, why would one who thinks that Mormonism is true Christianity, have such qualms about being asked to explain it? _johnny

  8. grindael says:

    Correction to the above, I meant to write “where Marcion created his ‘anti’ Demiurge”.

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