Robert L. Millet is a professor of religious education at Brigham Young University.
In the present political climate, the question of whether Mormons are Christians has surfaced again and again. I will leave the issue of whether 21st century America is ready for a Mormon chief executive to pundits, pollsters, and, of course, voters. But the underlying question is an important one, a matter whose implications reach well beyond the 2012 election.
So far as I can determine, the cry of “Mormons are not Christian” was not heard very often during the formative period of Mormon history. Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians in the area knew that the followers of Joseph Smith believed in doctrinal matters that deviated somewhat from traditional Christianity. Folks seemed to assume, however, that Mormonism fit under the umbrella of Christianity.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built upon the person, power and teachings of Jesus Christ. He is our King, our Lord, and our God. Now, because Mormons do not hold to the decisions and formulations of the post-biblical church councils, and because we believe in an expanded canon of scripture, some do not consider us to be a part of “orthodox” Christianity. They are correct.
We believe a Christian is one who follows Jesus. For us, one is a Christian not simply because he or she possesses a “correct” theology. One’s Christian faith ought to be manifest in the way he speaks to and treats others. The Apostle Paul charged those who professed Christian discipleship: If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” I think that means: “If we talk the talk, we really ought to walk the walk.”
As Mormons, we ask to be permitted to define ourselves and explain what we really believe. While we have no desire to compromise our distinctiveness or ignore our differences with other groups, we feel it is appropriate to celebrate our similarities and work together to remedy many of the troubling issues in our society. We ask only to be invited more regularly into the larger religious conversation.
The United States has been a melting pot for well over two centuries, and we have prospered largely because we have welcomed those who were different ethnically, racially, culturally and religiously.
Joseph Smith once asked: “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”
I couldn’t agree more. There is too much at stake in the world for God-fearing people to spend their time attacking one another. We have been called to stand on higher ground.