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.