FairMormon, (formerly the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research—FAIR) is a Mormon apologetics organization. I follow their blog, listen to their podcasts here and there, and have even attended one of their conferences, so I was interested to hear their president, Scott Gordon, interviewed on Issues, Etc. (listen to a response from Bill McKeever here).
When asked, “What is the biggest popular misconception about Mormonism?” Gordon responded:
The biggest one probably is that we’re not Christian. Many times there are books out, and there are many popularists who try to make us as something other than Christian. Granted, I would agree that we’re not traditional Christian in many ways; but as far as, do we believe in Jesus Christ as our savior, do we believe in the Bible, do we believe in the foundational beliefs that other Christians believe in? Yeah, we’re very much Christian.
But then the very next misconception he lists is this one:
One that comes to mind for most people is that Mormons are polygamists—that we have more than one wife. And while it is true that back in the 1800s polygamy was practiced for a select few, currently if someone who is Mormon or LDS currently were to have more than one wife...they’re instantly excommunicated.... So then people say, well what about all those Mormons practicing polygamy in southern Utah and northern Arizona? And my answer is, they’re not Mormon.
Gordon reserves the right to say the polygamists aren’t Mormon because he knows that the word “Mormon” refers to a specific set of doctrines and practices. If the polygamists were to say, “The biggest misconception about us is that we’re not Mormon; we believe in Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration, we believe in the Book of Mormon, we believe in the foundational beliefs that other Mormons believe in, so yeah, we’re very much Mormon,” would Gordon be moved by this?
And were these polygamists to say they believe in the same “foundational beliefs” as Mormons, thereby assuming the exclusion of some beliefs that Mormons actually consider to be foundational (e.g., the revelation ending polygamy), Gordon would rightly see the mistake being made and reject it. In the very same way, he ought to be able to see that the tenets of Christianity Mormons exclude are considered foundational by Christians.
The LDS church distances itself from polygamists, but surely the differences between tri-theism and monotheism, between a gospel of a plan to pay a debt to Jesus and a gospel of grace (which seats us with the Father for eternity only by grace), and between viewing man as the same kind of being as God and viewing him as a creation of God, are far greater and more foundational than the difference between having one wife and having more than one. And contrary to what Gordon claims in the interview, the longer you talk to Mormons (if you take the time to define your terms carefully), the two theologies move farther apart, not closer.
If Mormons won’t allow polygamists to redefine Mormonism in order to include themselves, they ought not demand that Christians accept a redefinition from Mormons as to what’s foundational to Christianity.
None of this is meant to be an insult to Mormons (see “‘Mormons Aren’t Christians’ Is Not an Epithet” for more on this); it’s merely a recognition of the very real, very significant differences between our two religions. Joseph Smith himself didn’t shy away from these differences when he said regarding his First Vision:
I asked the Personages [the Father and the Son] who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects [of Christianity] was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight....
As I wrote in the post linked above:
Mormons may believe that they are more truly following Christ and His plan of salvation than we are (since they have the restored priesthood, the temples, the covenants and ordinances, and more scripture) and so, are more deserving of the name Christian; but even if they were correct about this, to appropriate the name Christian now is to imply that they’re just another denomination, and that is just confusing and misleading. And to demand that we call them Christian is to ask us to say that the nature of God, man, and salvation—the very heart of Christianity—is unimportant, or at least, less important than mere moral behavior. It’s not fair or reasonable to ask this of us.
I have to admit, I don’t understand why a Mormon would want to gloss over the differences between us. Be straightforward, and fight for the truth! We will respect you for it. Gordon said, “[There are] different denominations who are trying to tear down beliefs of others, which I don’t think is ever a good thing.” But this is exactly what lovers of God and the truth do, as modeled by Paul:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).