The Mormon Moment: Let's Not Let It Pass Just Yet
A year ago on this Tuesday was Election Day 2012. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and a devout Mormon, lost the election to incumbent President Barack Obama. Throughout the election process, interest in Mormonism was unprecedented. The exposure that came from having a candidate for the highest office in the land resulted in quite a bit of attention toward a religion that had been a mystery to many people.
Yes, it's been a year since the election and I've not talked much about Mormonism. Talking about Mormonism during the election was hard to do—it was too politicized, and, when you mix politics and religion, you get politics. As this helpful article explains, the Mormon Moment is passing, but I think it's worth one more round at this blog... particularly now that the politics are less prominent.
Politics and Religion
We saw the reality when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) removed Mormonism from a list of cults on their website. Many were disappointed by this move, as they thought it seemed to be more about endorsing a political candidate due to the timing. Franklin Graham, in a helpful CNN interview, stated his position, explaining "If I want to win a person to Christ, how can I call that person a name? That's what shocked me, that we were calling people names." (Be sure to watch the whole video, where he also explains the differences and focuses on our need for Christ.)
The challenge was the BGEA changed their web page in the middle of the election, and that change became the story. I imagine the BGEA sees that now and would have timed things differently, and I remain thankful for their ministry and for their clear desire to win men and women to Christ, not focus on "names."
As I see it, the BGEA (for whom evangelicals have a deep trust and appreciation), had the right impulse, but the wrong timing and missed the technical definition. They are focusing on the common (sociological cult) definition (and I agree with them that it is best to not use the term). However, I would also find a place to affirm the theological categorization. Again: Mormonism fits the definition of a theological cult, but it is not helpful to lead with that term as most people do not make the distinction.
I simply call Mormonism what it is: another religion, distinct from Christianity, with kind, gracious people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, let's not let the Mormon moment pass completely. No prominent Mormon is running for President, but the issues still remain and Christians need to answer with truth and clarity. The need is clear.
Mormons and Evangelicals
Even this week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on a well-known LDS politician who became an evangelical Christian while the Daily Beast excerpted the conversion story of a former LDS/BYU professor.
At the same time, evangelical leaders have been connecting with LDS leadership with more to come (including the headline wondering if there was a "detente").
I'm not sure that "detente" is a helpful term, but I think it is always helpful to have dialogue. And, I, for one, hope that the Mormon moment hasn't passed us completely. I want us to be on mission, and that requires educating ourselves about the world around us. I wouldn't want that awareness to disappear as quickly as the campaign commercials did.
Labels and Mission
We should continue to be clear about how we define Mormonism. I have stated that it is wise to treat Mormonism as a different religion from Christianity (since it is), and it is also unhelpful to lead with the term "cult" (even though it does fit the theological definition of a cult).
In that earlier post I explained:
Is it a denomination, a cult, or another religion? How should we discuss such things in the moment?
First, Mitt Romney is right. At Liberty University he spoke about people of different faiths, "your faith and mine." Yes, those words were certainly chosen to assure evangelicals, but it hit the right tone-- Mormonism is a different faith or religion. Three out of four Protestant pastors (and it's higher for evangelicals) agree that Mormons are not Christians.
The problem is that most Mormons want to use the Christian label without believing biblical, Christian theology.
The obvious question is, how divergent can your views be and still be a part of a faith group (in contrast to forming a new one)? Can you believe, for instance, that Muhammad is not the prophet and still call yourself a Muslim? The vast majority of Muslims would say you cannot. For Christians, calling yourself a Christian while not believing God has always existed as the triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is just as inconceivable. That's what Mormonism does. It's not a Christian denomination. It is a different religion.
But, it also requires a gracious spirit to reach out, befriend, and even grow to love our Mormon friends and neighbors.
I hope pastors and church leaders will love their Mormon neighbors enough not to blur the lines, and see Mormonism as simply another denomination, which, it appears, is the current Mormon desire.
However, I also hope they don't love the word "cult" more than they love their Mormon neighbor. I hope they keep in mind how a lost world understands that term-- and how your Mormon neighbor understands the term. We all should ask, "Will it make them more willing to hear the truth?"
Mission to Mormons
A while back on the blog, I talked about how Christians might relate to Mormons in the midst of what was then a growing discussion. Our nation has a short attention span, so that discussion has certainly lost much of its punch. But hopefully it won't go away completely.
It is important that we continue to relate to Mormons with grace, engage them with truth, and share the gospel with love.