I’ve lived with Mormons my entire life (via blood, friendship and jackasses I can’t stand) and seldom gave any thought as to whether or not they were Christian. Mitt Romney (and, to a lesser degree, Jon Huntsman, who’s likely getting a hall pass since he has never come across as a selfrighteous SOB), has drawn attention to his presidential campaign because of his religious beliefs. The world knows he’s a Mormon. And the Christian world, at least mostly, thinks that, as a Mormon, he is not a Christian, that not only does Mormonism reject the litmus test for Christian belief—the Nicene Creed—but also that Mormondom is more akin to either a cult or even Islam. Some Mormons are fighting back.
The Mormon detractors calling Mormonism a cult—such as well-known Texas evangelical preacher Robert Jeffress did this past weekend—usually cite as proof the mysterious origins and early practices of the Mormon faith, including doubting that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, as well as the official endorsement of polygamy (now ended in the fleshy life, but continuing in the afterlife). To them, Mormons are simply weird people with weird beliefs, but not that weird. Even Jeffress describes them as moral. As a barometer of his willingness to not hold a grudge, he even stated he would vote for Mitt Romney over President Obama, just proving that Muslims, er, I mean black Christians, are, to nitwits like Jeffress, a lesser grade of folk than Mormons.
Folks who compare Mormonism more favorably to Islam than Christianity just put the two books intrinsic to each—the Book of Mormon and the Quran—side by side. They then find all kinds of similari- ties, from how women are treated and how men are rewarded to what constitutes a true prophet and how to spread the word of such—on that score, Muslims and Mormons gain members in different ways, but, you know, things change. I’ve read neither of those books. And for the record, I intend never to read either. As I’ve always said, I don’t judge folks by their religion, but by whether or not they are assholes. I couldn’t care less about another person’s religion so long as that person leaves my own out of the equation. And there’s the rub.
I’m 57. Until recently, very few Mormons ever talked to me about being Christian. It didn’t come up, unless in the context of Joseph Smith being more vital to their core beliefs than Jesus. Meanwhile, I heard over and over by many Mormons that my own faith—Greek Orthodoxy, all 2,000-plus years of it—was not true and that the Orthodox followed false prophets. I met some Mormon missionaries in Athens, Greece, once. They didn’t even know that the Apostle Paul wrote his Letters to the Corinthians just a few miles away in Corinth, or that Paul preached to the once-Pagan Athenians from Mars rock, which you could hit with a stick from where we were stood. Nonetheless, there they were on Ermou street, singing happy salvation songs, oblivious to the irony of sharing the street with monkeys and organ grinders.
Anyway, I’ve always assumed that being identified as Christians wasn’t a big deal to Mormons who—and I have no complaint— were once proud of their uniqueness. As recently as 1966, Mormon doctrine labeled Catholicism as “the mother of harlots” and “most abominable above all other churches.” Is there really any surprise that Catholics might still take umbrage as Mitt Romney makes a case for the Catholic vote? However, most of the billion members of the Catholic faith couldn’t care less if Mitt Romney is a Christian. To them, he’s a blip. Here’s how it plays out for me. During the Vietnam War, it was not uncommon for some combat GIs to tape some ammo to the crest of their helmets or a similar hidden spot. They did so in case they were captured—not to use to kill themselves, but to show the enemy they were still armed. Whether it worked or not, an armed enemy was supposedly deserving of an honorable surrender. Or, so went the theory.
In his book Xin Loi, Viet Nam, author Al Sever writes of U.S. combat troops capturing a Vietnamese prisoner. Sever was a helicopter door gunner who had been trying to kill the same enemy soldier from above and witnessed what took place. As the U.S. troops walked slowly forward, this particular Vietnamese soldier would pop up from his hiding place and start firing. In doing so, he killed two young American soldiers. In time, though, he ran out of ammunition and surrendered.
When his captors seized him, they found him to be unarmed. One of the captors promptly took his field shovel and smashed it across the face of the enemy soldier. Then he shot him dead. That apparently was a rule of war: You don’t get to quit or have it your way just because you run out of bullets—especially after killing your captors’ friends. Mitt has been mostly silent since Jeffress cracked him, but those speaking for Romney are essentially expecting compassion and entry into a “club” they once rejected wholeheartedly. Mitt’s friends are shooting Jeffress’ friends. Hmm. Who wins?
Until Mitt finds some extra bullets (like maybe that before he ran for president, he’s on record extolling his newfound affinity with Christians, or that he patently rejects the offensive positions, past or present, of his own LDS leadership), there’s at least one Texas evangelical pastor who doesn’t mind putting an entrenching tool to Mitt Romney’s shiny nose. It wouldn’t be “Christian,” but don’t be surprised if more preachers keep the heat on why Mormons have trouble being identified as Christians.