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The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations

Are they Christians?


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Quotations:

  • LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie: "Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same, they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail...Mormons are true Christians." From "Mormon Doctrine," Page 513. 1
  • LDS President Gordon B, Hinckley, referring to Mormon doctrine: "The work is unique and wonderful. It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know." 2007 LDS semiannual conference. 2

Overview:

Faith groups in the LDS Restorationist Movement trace their history back to the Church of Christ organized by Joseph Smith in 1830. They believe that:
  • During the 2nd Century CE, the Christian movement died out, when religious leaders abandoned many of the original teachings of Jesus Christ, Paul and the other apostles.
  • It was restored by Joseph Smith on 1830-APR-06 CE, when he founded the Church of Christ.

Smith's original denomination has fragmented into many faith groups, mainly because of:

  • Leadership conflicts during the 1840s, triggered by the assassination of Joseph Smith, and
  • Additional conflicts during the 1890s over the suspension of polygyny, which had formed a central part of Joseph Smith's teachings. 3
The LDS Restoration wing of Christianity now consists of almost a hundred denominations, all of which trace their history back to Joseph Smith's original . Some of the smaller groups practice a form of polygamy called polygyny -- the marriage of one man to multiple women.

We receive an enormous number of Emails objecting to our descriptions of the Mormon movement:
  • Many are from Evangelical Christians who deny that the Mormons are Christians.
  • Others are from Mormons who claim that their denomination is the only true Mormon faith group, and thus the only group who legitimately can refer to themselves as Mormon.
  • Still others claim that their denomination is the only valid Christian group.
These negative E-mails are triggered by a lack of agreement about the exact status of Restorationist denominations. The term "Mormon" clearly has multiple and conflicting definitions. This situation is found quite often in the field of religion where one term can have as many as 18 different and often conflicting meanings.

Are the Mormon denominations Christians?

The answer is a solid yes and no.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) certainly regards itself as Christian. The Church leadership and membership believe that they represent the true Christian church. They teach that the Christian movement lost its way in the second century CE and was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830.
  • Many dozens of other Restorationist denominations also regard themselves as the true descendents of the original Mormon church, the Church of Christ. They regard the LDS and other Mormon denominations as schismatic groups who have departed from the true faith.
  • The LDS regard members of conservative, mainline and liberal Christian denominations to be Christians, even though their faith groups teach many beliefs not shared by the LDS.
  • A few liberal and mainline Christians consider the Mormon movement and its many dozens of denominations to be a legitimate part of Christianity, in spite of their many unique beliefs.
  • Many conservative Christians consider most denominations in the Restorationist movement to be non-Christian. That is because the latter's beliefs in the nature of God, the Trinity, salvation, Heaven, Hell, other cardinal Christian doctrines, the early Christian movement, etc. deviate so greatly from traditional conservative Protestant theology.
  • A 2008-JAN survey by Barna Research -- the largest and most respected religious polling group in the U.S. -- was triggered by the candidacy of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for president in 2008. The data showed that:
    • 27% of American adults believe that Mormons are not Christians.
    • 32% of political conservatives agree.
    • 36% of adults under the age of 40 agree.
    • 37% of born-again adults agree.
    • 57% of Evangelicals agree. 4
  • The Roman Catholic Church considers those Christian denominations other than themselves and Eastern Orthodoxy to be  not "churches in the proper sense." However, their members are "incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the [Roman Catholic] Church." 5 More details.
  • Bill Broadway of the Washington Post wrote:
"The rejection of Mormonism extends well beyond Southern Baptists and other evangelicals to include the most liberal Christian denominations. In a key sign of that rejection, a theological line in the sand, most traditional churches require baptism of all Mormon converts to their faith—the same way Mormons require converts from other churches to be rebaptized." 6
There is no consensus on the definition of the term "Christian." Some Americans define "Christian" broadly to include about 75% of adults in the country; others define the term so narrowly that they consider fewer than 1% of American adults to be Christians. So, a consensus on whether the LDS and the other Restorationist denominations are Christian appears to be impossible.

Results from a small survey of Christian clergy:

In the year 2000, Scott Gordon and Dennis Egget of The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) -- a LDS positive group -- sent a survey to 430 Christian clergy who led non-Mormon congregations. They received only 95 responses, which is what one would expect from a survey of this type. They found that only 6% of Christian clergy classified the LDS church as Christian.

When asked: "In what category would you place The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)?:"

  • 75% said "non-Christian"
  • 14% said "some members are Christian; others are not"
  • 6% said "Christian"
  • 3% said that the church is non-Christians but that some Mormons are Christians
  • 1% didn't know.
When asked "Which phrase best describes Mormons to you?:"
  • 55% said "well meaning but misguided."
  • 23% said "non-Christian cultists"
  • 12% said "A major threat to all Christian denominations"
  • 8% said "Well meaning but misguided non-Christian cultists"
  • 2% said "Good Christians"
  • 1% said "Well meaning but misguided non-Christian cultists and a threat to all Christian denominations." 7

Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research's (FAIR) opinion:

FAIR is a LDS group that specializes in LDS apologetics. Spokesperson  Edwin Slack responded to a question posted in the Mormon Times on 2008-AUG:
What is the difference between the name 'Mormon' and the name 'Christian'?

Well, for one thing 'Mormon' is a registered trademark in many countries and belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To protect that trademark, the church is required to actively discourage its use elsewhere. This is similar to using the term 'Scotch tape' to refer to any brand of cellophane tape or Xerox to refer to copying something. Those companies have to actively discourage such use of their name or they may lose the right to protect their name.

'Christian' however is a broad category of religious belief and embraces many differing faiths and creeds. It is a widely accepted term to indicate a believer in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The term embraces all Catholic, Protestant, Reformist and, yes, even restorationist sects like the LDS Church. That there are other restorationist sects that claim Joseph Smith Jr. is not in doubt; but if they are not members of the LDS Church, then they are not officially 'Mormon,' but they are Christian.

Now, does this stop people from calling people from these other sects 'Mormon'? Of course not. No more than it stops people from calling any gelatin based dessert, Jell-O. But that doesn't make it correct, and the church is required by law to act to protect its trademark or lose it.

During the recent news events surrounding the Texas roundup of FLDS children, my wife received an e-mail from a cousin in another country, berating us for being 'Mormon' because she lumped our church together with the FLDS. After explaining the difference, she apologized and explained that the news she read didn't distinguish the two sects. This is the kind of misunderstanding the church wants to avoid by maintaining the consistency of the term 'Mormon.' It is not meant to be pejorative.

On the other hand, attempts by some evangelical groups to deny us the term 'Christian' is meant to be pejorative. They wish to deny us membership in the broader Christian community. They have no claim upon the term to limit its use, and, the use of the term to refer to LDS does not create any confusion.

They do have proper labels that distinguish them from other Christians. Whether those labels are broad like Protestant or evangelical, or more narrow like Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian, such labels allow them to identify themselves more narrowly.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belongs under the broad umbrella of Christianity because we do believe in Jesus Christ, we do preach him crucified and resurrected, we do have faith in his Atonement, we do love him for his grace and mercy, and we do trust in his eventual return. 8

This web site's position on whether the LDS church is Christian:

We define as "Christian" any individual or group who sincerely, devoutly, and seriously considers themselves to be Christian. This includes the three main divisions in the primitive Christian movement of the first century CE: Jewish Christianity, Pauline Christianity, and Gnostic Christianity. It includes today's faith groups as widely divergent in belief as Anglicans, Christian Scientists, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Unificationists, denominations within the Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian movements, etc.

Needless to say, we get many angry Emails every week from sincere Christians who are unhappy with our degree of inclusiveness. When comparing Christian faith groups, a case can be made that the gaps in belief between the LDS Church and the Southern Baptist Convention is just as broad as the gaps between the latter and the primitive Jewish Christian movement in the 4th decade of the first century CE.
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Additional information:


Footnotes and references used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bruce R. McConkie: "Mormon Doctrine," Barnes & Noble, (1966). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "Hinckley touts LDS faith’s differences," Religion News Blog, 2007-OCT-08, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  3. We receive a lot of Emails saying that our use of "polygyny" is a typo and that the correct word is "polygamy." This is not a spelling error. "Polygyny" means a marriage between one man and multiple wives, which is what the essay discusses.

    Polygamy can mean:
    • polygyny: a marriage among one man and multiple women;
    • polyandry: a marriage among one woman and multiple men; or
    • group marriage: a marriage among multiple men and multiple women

    Only polygyny is currently promoted by certain fundamentalist LDS Restorationist denominations. Only polygyny was promoted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until it was at least temporarily suspended in the late 19th century.

  4. "Born Again Voters No Longer Favor Republican Candidates," The Barna Group, 2008-FEB-04, at: http://www.barna.org/

  5. Joseph Cardinal Retzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: http://www.vatican.va/

  6. Bill Broadway, "Striving for Acceptance." Washington Post 2002-FEB-09.

  7. Scott Gordon and Dennis Egget, "A survey of clergy opinion on Mormonism," FAIR, Last updated 2006-JUN, at: http://www.fairlds.org/

  8. Edwin Slack, "Reader asks: What's wrong with calling the FLDS Mormon?" Mormon Times, 2008-AUG-28, at: http://mormontimes.com/


Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > Christian faith groups > LDS Restorationist > here

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Copyright © 2005 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-APR-07
Latest update & review: 2008-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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