Early Mormons travel to Utah, which later became their faith's capital (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

It’s time Christians started including Latter-day Saints

Marginalizing the LDS further oppresses the Christian sect, says the author

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A priest, a minister and a Mormon walk into a bar. Not likely. And it’s not just because Mormons don’t drink. Ever since Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the 1820s, the Mormons have been barred from membership in all the major ecumenical assemblies and councils. Even though the Mormons profess to follow Jesus, the official voices of Christianity say they just don’t count as Christian because their scriptures and doctrines are unorthodox.

To add to their difficulties, the Latter-day Saints continue to be ridiculed in popular culture. The Broadway musical The Book of Mormon and scathing parodies on The Simpsons and South Park are cases in point. 

To be fair, the history of Mormonism provides plenty of material. Smith’s account of his rev­elation on hidden golden tablets, with magic spectacles to help him translate, inspires incredulity. And accusations of brutality and unbridled po­lygamy levelled at another early church leader, Brigham Young, have long rendered him dis­reputable. But there are episodes like these in Christian history as well, and it’s high time the Christian ecumenical movement stop policing so vigorously who’s in and who’s out. 

More on Broadview: Former fundamentalists describe the trauma of leaving their faith

The Latter-day Saints have proven to be both witty and resili­ent. To the mocking musical, their response has been “You’ve seen the play … now read the book.” It is one example that this is not the church of Smith or Young, but something quite different.

In the LDS narrative, the Mormons are a marginalized and sometimes oppressed Christian sect. This understanding dates from at least the late 19th cen­tury, when persecution by more orthodox Christians led to a Mormon exodus to Utah. After this, the LDS developed a missionary zeal, sending their young people to the ends of the Earth. As a result, the Mormons emerged by the early 20th cen­tury as a global religious trad­ition. They now have almost 15 million adherents, with growing and vibrant Mormon commun­ities in Canada, Australia, and across Africa and Latin America. 

In Canada, the Mormons have sought membership in the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) but have been denied. Likewise in the rest of the world, the Mormons have been rejected by Christians as cultic and her­etical. Shut out from ecumenical dialogue within Christianity, the LDS have instead developed robust interfaith relationships around the world. 

The CCC argues that membership depends on two factors: a national denominational presence and a professed Trinitarian theology. Writing as a past CCC president, let me note that a national presence often means occupying a Toronto base. And the relative orthodoxy of most CCC members’ Trinitarian commitments continues to be a matter of debate. 

But doctrine shouldn’t be an issue at all. In the ecumenical world of the CCC and beyond, only two criteria ought to apply: a truly national presence and discipleship in Christ. Following Jesus is more important than describing and explaining him. Doctrines can be useful tools, or, more accurately, road maps for the Christian journey. But in a pluralistic society, doctrin­al differences are of marginal import­ance when articulating the Gospel. We need to focus on Christ, not Christianity. 

The Mormons are guided by unorthodox scriptures, and they frame their understanding of Jesus and the Trinity differently than mainstream Christians. But Jesus remains at the centre of all things for them. They are just as devoted to walking in our Saviour’s footsteps as any other Christian, and they should be welcomed to walk alongside the rest of us. 

This story was originally featured in Broadview’s July/August 2019 edition with the title “Let the Mormons in.” To read more of Broadview’s award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.

Rev. James Christie is a minister, scholar, ecumenist, essayist and religious diplomat based in Winnipeg.

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  • says:

    I’m sorry, but did I miss “main line” Christians that continue to be ridiculed by popular culture? Have you watched: The Life of Brian; The Last Temptation of Christ; or The Da Vinci Code? South Park and the Simpsons are always mocking and ridiculing Christians, so The Book of Mormon is not an exception to a “persecuted” religion by mass media - no sympathy there.

    Funny how we would want to include a “faith religion” as Christian, even though they themselves claim to be the “one true faith”, according to LDS Ecumenical Christians have been led astray.

    LDS about Joseph Smith: he prayed to know which church he should join. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. Among other things, They told him that he should join none of the churches then in existence. (See Joseph Smith—History 1:13–20.) Through him, the Lord accomplished a great and marvelous work that included bringing forth the Book of Mormon, restoring the priesthood, revealing precious gospel truths, organizing the true Church. One cannot receive salvation without acknowledging Joseph Smith as a prophet.

    According to the LDS the official, canonized scriptures of the Church, often called the standard works, are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. (Yet, Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18 prohibits adding to or taking away God’s Word)

    LDS states: Temples are literally houses of the Lord. They are holy places of worship where the Lord may visit. Only the home can compare with temples in sacredness. (1 Corinthians 6:19 states we are temples. Also, we have a high priest and the perfect sacrifice. Hebrews 4:14)

    Like Jehovah’s Witness the LDS, salvation is earned (you need to work for it through obedience and works), it is not free. Ephesians 2:8-9

    LDS also stress maintaining genealogy. Ecclesiastes 7:10 and 1 Timothy 1:4 frown on the practice. As Christians we should be facing our final goal, not looking back.

    The author states: “they frame their understanding of Jesus and the Trinity differently than mainstream Christians. But Jesus remains at the centre of all things for them.” 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 Paul warns of false teachers. Mormons profess a far different Christ than Ecumenical Christians. Living a good moral life and proclaiming a different Christ does not make one a Christian.

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    • says:

      “It’s time Christians started including Latter-day Saints”
      No. Jim may be right on many things; not this time. It sounds almost like our pressurised 'apology' to Aboriginal Peoples which was not asked for. Somehow, enigmatic as it is, we think we get to call the shots! Now that we, the former main-liners relegated to the sidelines whether we like it or not, need to learn to be meek and mild to admit that those days are gone. First, we must unload our antediluvian theological colonial mindset; after all, this is the 21st century!

    • says:

      For me, one of the most unChristian acts would be to presume the authority to deem another as not a Christian.

      Kudos to Jim for laying it out and considering the possibility - especially in these modern days where churching at all is on the decline. Perhaps we should find those places where we can support one another and stick together?

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      • says:

        Well you either are or you're not. You can be Buddhist, Hindi or Muslim. Would you consider a Jehovah's Witness a Christian? Based on Biblical "truths", there is a definition of a Christian. If the Bible defines the person, then the Bible is "unChristian" in your thought.

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        • says:

          Good people are good no matter their specific faith tradition. The LDS are good people just like you are. Is God really going to throw a man away because he is the ‘wrong’ religion? The philosophies of men, mingled with scripture...

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          • says:

            First, God doesn't want anyone to perish (go to hell)
            Second, you at least acknowledge there is a God.
            God is Holy - meaning set apart. God cannot do anything that is evil, nor can He have evil in His presence. Romans 3:23 states We all have sin in our lives, therefore we cannot be in God's presence. Ephesians 2:8-9 God's grace through faith in Jesus and His claims will allow us to stand in His presence.
            You may dislike the exclusivity of Christianity, but that is what Scripture states (not me, or any philosophies of man)

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            • says:

              Agree with you in large measure. Christianity is a wonderful belief system, improving lives all over the globe. For me, one of the most unChristian acts would be to presume the authority to deem another as not a Christian. The LDS are as Christian as you are. Any scripture you quote can be rebutted with an emphasis here or there, so let them be Christian and let it go. (Revelations appears at the end of the Bible, but was it written last?)

              Kudos to Jim for laying it out and considering the possibility - especially in these modern days where churching at all is on the decline. Perhaps we should find those places where we can support one another and stick together?

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              • says:

                Please define what a Christian is. Then let me know if you still think the same about the LDS.
                BTW - the LDS do not think those in the United Church are Christians.
                The last book of the Bible is Revelation, It is revealing Christ, it is not a compilation of revelations.

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                • says:

                  Following the teachings of Christ is what Christians strive to do. Yes, the LDS are Christian. Perhaps some misguided member gave you the idea that United followers are not believed to be Christian. This idea is wholly false and not born up by the evidence. This is but one example of LDS trying to be good community members, there are many more but selected it because it specifically shows respect and love shown by LDS to a United Church. If you say you follow God’s only begotten Son, no LDS is going to argue with you. All are respected. All are loved.

                  https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/mormons-provo-united-church-christ-join-spruce-up-century-old-chapel

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                  • says:

                    1 Nephi 14 (A LDS sacred text)
                    9 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the a devil.
                    10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the bother is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
                    If the LDS is the church of the Lamb of God – What is the other church?

                    LDS view of Christ "Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother" (Gospel Principles [GP], p. 11). (Where in the Bible is the text for “heavenly parents”?)
                    United Church view of Christ - Jesus Christ was the virgin born God incarnate who existed in all time with the Father and Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity.( John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:13-22)
                    Who then follows the correct view of Christ, to be called Christian?

                • says:

                  You haven't defined what a Christian is. You need to define who Christ is. Again following someone's teaching does not make a Christian, faith makes a Christian.
                  (To John: Thanks - Hindu)

        • says:

          "Hindi" is the national language of India!
          Hindu is title for a follower of Sanatana Dharma.

  • says:

    The Book of Mormon was written by a known con man. Joseph Smith. The South Part "parody" isn't really a parody because it's shockingly accurate in its portrayal of Lucy Harris (smart smart smart) being skeptical and taking part of the manuscript from her believing husband Martin Harris (dumb). They think indigenous people of North American are a lost tribe of Israel and have sought to confirm this, to no avail. It all really is as ridiculous as it sounds, and does not need to be punched up to be funny.

    Lucy Harris is the sort of woman we should be celebrating. She tried to stop Joseph Smith and her own husband.

    Christianity may not be on much firmer footing, but profits from being created so long ago that we don't know for sure. Mormonism is a certain cult.

  • says:

    Rev. James Christie, thank you for writing this thoughtful piece. I'm intrigued by your statement "that in a pluralistic society, doctrin­al differences are of marginal import­ance when articulating the Gospel." My experience has led me to believe that it is how we live our lives, act on our beliefs and help each other are more important than the doctrinal difference between us.

    For me as you state, "following Jesus is more important than describing and explaining him." Whether or not the Ecumenical movement is interested to open their doors to non-trinitarian followers of Christ like the Latter-day Saints is an interesting question. I think the more profound question is can we see in each other a desire to follow Christ? and can we "open the door and walk alongside of each other" as we try to follow Him. I'm not sure you are going to change anyone's mind, but I appreciate your efforts to open the door.

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    • says:

      "For me as you state, 'following Jesus is more important than describing and explaining him.' " You could say the same for Mahatma Gandhi or Adolph Hitler. Some desire to follow these two men as well. Could you walk side by side with them as well? You need definition and explanation, or it is blind faith.

  • says:

    Thank you Dr. Christie. As someone who grew up in the United Church, learning to be a Christian, and who became a baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint as an adult, and who continues to strive to emulate Jesus Christ, I appreciate Dr. Christie's fairness and inclusiveness.