A few weeks ago Larry Richman at LDS Media Talk (“not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”) brought up the persistent question, “Are Mormons Christian?” After having affirmed that Mormons say they are Christians, and having provided some reasons to support that position, Mr. Richman wrote,
“In recent decades, however, some have claimed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church.”
I don’t know if Mr. Richman meant his statement to convey the idea that Mormonism’s designation as a non-Christian religion is something relatively new — only asserted in recent decades — or not, but that’s how his claim sounded to me. If that’s what he meant, Mr. Richman was wrong.
While not specifically stating that Mormonism was not Christian, in the late 1800s Baptists missionaries to Mormons described the Mormon religion with statements like these:
“But why does Utah, why does this Eden of Salt Lake City, so especially need the gospel? Because, as in that Eden of old, the trail and the slime of the serpent are there, and no one but the ‘man child,’ ‘the seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head’ by the power of the gospel, can destroy this work of Satan.” (Rev. S. Graves, The Baptist Home Mission Monthly, quoted here.)
“Mormonism is a strange compound of Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism; of saintliness, sensuality, and superstition; of the devout and the diabolical. It is not all evil. A system all evil couldn’t have the power and hold this has. There is enough of good with the evil to make it a masterpiece of the deceiver.” (ibid.)
“ . . . much has been said and written of late concerning the religious condition of Utah, but only by personal contact and observation can we truly appreciate the appalling evils of Mormonism. Only as we try to win its adherents to the truth can we measure the intensity of the fanaticism. Their system combines in one strong bond almost every evil that can control a soul. The basest passions, the strongest prejudices, the densest ignorance, all oppose the entrance of truth. “ (Rev. Richard Hartley, The Home Mission Monthly, quoted here.)
“Salt Lake City has a population of 25,000, and of this number, from 18,000 to 20,000 are Mormons. Of course so great a preponderance in point of numbers gives to the Mormon Church a growing influence. Everything large and grand is Mormon. The large banks, stores, school and Sunday congregations are Mormon. Mormons make the laws, collect the taxes, try the criminals, and manage the schools. And what is this Mormon power? Are its heart-beats in sympathy with our institutions? Are its teachings and practices in keeping with American ideas? No, it is a despotism in the heart of a republic, a hierarchy in the midst of a free church, and a form of Oriental barbarism in the lap of Christian civilization. Organized upon falsehood, its columns filled from the ranks of ignorance and superstition, and led on by artful and cunning priests, and tolerates practices worthy of Tartars and Turks.” (Rev. D. Spencer, The Home Mission Monthly, quoted here.)
Baptists didn’t think too highly of Mormonism 120 years ago. But they weren’t the only ones. Also in the late 1800s Rev. R.G. McNiece, who had pastored the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City for twenty years, wrote,
“The Mormon System is thoroughly anti-Christian…Mormonism is a deliberate counterfeit of the Christian religion, intended to deceive the ignorant…Mormonism tries to palm off on the world a counterfeit Bible…Mormonism imposes upon the people a counterfeit priesthood…Mormonism imposes upon the people a counterfeit group of apostles” (Mormonism: Its Origin, Characteristics, and Doctrines, quoted here.)
And at a General Conference in 1898 Mormon Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff noted:
“I have in my pocket a slip of paper clipped from the Portland Oregonian of March 28th, giving the opinion of one Mr. Stone, the secretary of the Young Men’s Christian association. His comments are very much of the character I have mentioned. He says that the Mormons who have been members of his association have not been permitted to vote or hold office because they are not considered as Christians.” (Conference Report, April 1898)
Twenty years earlier, in 1877, Brigham Young acknowledged that non-Mormons in America did not view Mormons as redeemed Christians but rather as a people needing to hear God’s truth:
“You will probably have what is called a Christian Church here; they will not admit that we are Christians, but they cannot think us further from the plan of salvation as revealed from heaven than we know them to be, so we are even on that ground, as far as it goes.” (Journal of Discourses 14:196)
From Brigham Young’s remark it is evident that “some have claimed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church” for at least thirteen of the past “recent decades.” But if we look across the pond to England where Mormons were proselytizing in 1838, we find this from “An Impartial Observer”:
“I cannot, without deep regret, witness the counteracting influence of certain heresies and dogmas which are now so industriously propagated, chiefly among the more illiterate portion of the inhabitants… the Mormonites introduce themselves under the specious pretence of superior sanctity and religious knowledge, and by this means artfully contrive to pass off a base counterfeit for genuine Christianity.” (Preston Chronicle, 18 August 1838, quoted in The Guardian, 24 July 2012.)
For no fewer than seventeen and a half decades non-Mormons have expressed publicly that Mormonism is not genuine or authentic Christianity. Any suggestion that this is a recent development is mistaken.
It has been my observation that in more recent years, inclusivism, political correctness, and an extensive LDS PR campaign has resulted in many, whether by design or error, claiming Mormonism is Christian – even though Mormonism continues to embrace the same heretical doctrines that earned it the epithet “counterfeit Christianity” over one hundred seventy-five years ago.