Are Mormons Christians?
What makes one a Christian?
Is it believing in Jesus Christ?
If so, then what must one believe about who Christ is in order to be a Christian?
Mormons, as a group, do not believe in the tradition Trinity. Instead, we believe in a Godhead of three separate beings of one unified purpose. For many, this is a drastic difference. I am not sure if it the Mormon in me or the postmodern in me that does not see a significant difference between the two conceptions.
For most Mormons, the question of "Are Mormons Christians?" is a silly, if not irritating, one. We proclaim and sing of our belief in Christ. His name plays a prominent role in the official name of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi proclaimed:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
2 Nephi 25:26
Mormons tend to think that this should be sufficient enough of an answer. Maybe it is. But it clearly has not persuaded many. This does not mean that it is a bad answer, it just means that the response is not getting to the concern that leads to the question. Granted, not everyone is looking to have that concern resolved.
For the most part, I do not think it should really matter to Mormons whether others consider them to be Christians. Yet, as a proselytizing religion, Mormons are sensitive to such perceptions and feel a need to refute it.
Instead of being offended by the question or how people respond to it, I find it fascinating. Labels like "Christian" are informative and useful in my opinion. However, they can also be used as means of inclusion and exclusion. Language is a powerful force in that way.
I do not believe that God cares about correct belief. This is not Mormon apologetics, because there are Mormons who think that one must believe certain things to be a true Latter-day or a true Christian. While I see why human organizations might value correct belief, I cannot imagine that God does. God is already God. God does not want conformity with a set of correct answers, He wants conformity with His will.
What is God’s will? That is surely a complicated question and I am suspicious of people claiming to have special knowledge of God’s will. However, Jesus gave us some guidance during his earthly ministry.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Matthew 22: 37-39 (NSRV)
I want to argue that to be Christian, we must be striving to love God and neighbor. We can do this in many ways and I think the content of that love is part of a larger discussion.
I struggle know what it means to love God. I think that is why we are invited to love our neighbor. It is through our relationships with other people that we can even start to conceptualize a relationship with God.
Loving God and neighbor is more that just "doing good." Instead it is a deep commitment highlighted by 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 (NSRV)
Being Mormon does not make anyone Christian. Neither does being Catholic, Protestant, or whatever else.
Why then be a Mormon (or a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)? Well it is because the LDS Church provides me the community which helps me exercise my love of God and my neighbor. Is it the best community? Is it the most true community? These are just silly questions. It is my community. That is why it matters to me. That is why I love it. It is mine.
To answer the question:
Are Mormons Christians? Yes and no.
I cannot and do not point to others as bad examples. I am sufficient bad example enough as it is. Pride is a danger to any and all groups and individuals.
Does this then mean that anyone can claim to be a Christian? Of course, anyone can claim to be a Christian. However, my point is that claiming to be a Christian is irrelevant. Proclaiming belief and proclaiming love are not all that different. Doing so does not constitute belief or love.
Mormons, like any other group of people, can sometimes be too comfortable in thinking that being a Latter-day Saint makes them sufficiently Christian. This is a dangerous trap. The label does not make you Christian, your heart makes you Christian.
Are Mormons trying to be Christian? Most are sincerely trying. They do love God and their neighbor. I have my disagreements and differences with Mormonism and Mormon culture, but I credit them with being Christian based on that love.
Can Mormons be un-Christian? Sure. Everyone is at times and Mormons sometimes struggle to show that love. But it is there. I have seen it. Even when I have witnessed others be judgmental, rarely is that judgmental tendency the defining characteristic in any person. And if see nothing but judgmental people around us…maybe they are not the ones being judgmental.
Life is a test. It is not a test where we repeat back to the teacher the correct theological or doctrinal answers. Instead, it is more life-long experiment. An experiment to see whether love of God and neighbor can grow in our hearts.
Love God. Love our neighbors. The rest will work itself out.