A Latter-day Saint student at BYU sent a letter to the BYU NewsNet Readers Forum this week. He wrote:
I grew up considering myself both a Christian and a Latter-day Saint. I heard of people claiming we aren’t Christians, but I still felt comfortable in identifying with both titles. I never felt any wrong in doing this until I arrived at BYU and now suddenly, I’m wondering if I really am a “Christian” and I’ve been left confused. A year ago my old BYU Bishop compared some of our beliefs with those of “Christians.” Just last week, my New Testament professor said that “Christians” believe the sacrament is the literal body and blood of Christ. Another professor mentioned how “Christians” believe that Christ was born on Dec. 24, but as Latter-day Saints we know otherwise. I’ve heard lots of my peers talk about our Christian friends and how they are so different as well. This has all led me to believe that as a Latter-day Saint, I am not Christian. That’s good to know; now I won’t knock up any fuss the next time a “Christian” tells me I’m not one of them. Thanks, BYU, for ending my confusion.Alan Peters
Oak Lawn, Ill.
Well, Mr. Peters’ BYU professors haven’t really got a handle on what Christians actually believe, but the point is well made. Latter-day Saints want to be known as Christians, but the Mormon belief system doesn’t fit the Christian model. And because of that, Mormons can’t consistently live the idea that they are “Christians.”
There is a distinction between what Mormonism is and what Christianity is; that there is a distinction comes out naturally in conversation and teaching. For example, the LDS Church made a big deal in March about the 50th anniversary of “the beginning of the preaching of the gospel in Taiwan,” but the Christian gospel has been preached in Taiwan for over 300 years (see Mormon Coffee “Preaching Mormonism in Taiwan”). Obviously, there is a recognized difference between the LDS gospel and the Christian Gospel.
Perhaps Latter-day Saints could eliminate some of the confusion if they were to follow the examples set by earlier Mormon Church leaders. Instead of talking about what “Christians” believe, make the distinction as Brigham Young and others were fond of doing: speak of the “so-called Christians”:
Brigham Young: “When the light came to me I saw that all the so-called Christian world was grovelling in darkness” (Journal of Discourses 5:73). Daniel H. Wells: “…but the so-called system of Christianity is not only an error and a snare, but is a monstrous iniquity fastened upon the children of men throughout the earth” (Journal of Discourses 24:320).
George Q. Cannon: “…no thinking man can admit that Christianity so-called — I call it a false Christianity, untrue to its name — satisfies the wants of humanity at the present time” (Journal of Discourses 24:185).
Bruce McConkie: “Christianity is the religion of the Christians. Hence, true and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel, and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom” (Mormon Doctrine, 132).
Wouldn’t this kind of explicit language clear up a lot of confusion for both Latter-day Saints and non-Mormons alike? Perhaps this procedure should be written into the Associated Press Stylebook right next to the section on the proper use of the term “Mormon.”