Mitt Romney has not only brought slick hair back into American politics, but his Mormon faith has stirred up questions on both sides of the Atlantic.In the last few days I've been asked a number of times about what Mormons believe and whether they are mainstream or a cult. Assumptions range from Mormons being dangerous cultists, across the spectrum to believing that they are essentially Christians. Where do they stand?
This isn't a political blog posting, nor is it anti Mormon. Indeed, whilst the Mormon theology may be off track, Christians might find themselves closer to a Mormon politician on values than we realise. As Luther put it rather crudely 450 years ago, it's better to be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian. I'm not calling Romney a Turk any more than I'm labling Obama a fool - but I am against knee jerk dismissals of potential leaders simply because they don't tick all of our boxes. Some Christian commentary has been so angrily obsessed with Romney's Mormonism but never raised an eyebrow at Al Gore's liberal secularism a few years ago.
Acknowledging that Mormons may share similar values whilst not believing the same things as Christians is healthy, and may even help us to see that this is possible with other faith groups too.
However, the purpose of this blog is to consider what beliefs are behind the values.
Here is where the conciliatory tone ends. Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints are in no way a true Christian church.
On the question of authority, Mormons will assert that the teachings of their founder, Joseph Smith, the prophet, supersede the earlier revelation of Jesus Christ. The latter day revelation given to Smith by the angel he calls Moroni, is the basis for the full name of the church, and the first reason why they are considered a cult. Indeed, a comparison of the life of Joseph Smith against the life and teachings of Jesus is enough to settle any argument about who you would want to follow.
The second measure of a cult is their use of scripture. It goes without saying that a faith which asserts the authority of a self proclaimed 19th century prophet, goes against the clear teachings of the bible. Mormons do use the King James Version of the bible, but with hundreds of additions and omissions. However, they hold up the Book of Mormon as essential in addition to other works by Smith.
The Mormon view on Jesus is most damaging. The belief that God the Father engaged in some kind of spiritual sexual union to give birth to twin sons Jesus and Lucifer robs Jesus of His eternal place in the Godhead and elevates Satan to an authority he has never had. The odd idea that Jesus visited North America after his resurrection to form the one true church with the Israelites or Indians becomes their warped basis for historic succession.
Lastly, Mormons deviate from Christianity with their view on salvation.
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John's gospel and told him, 'You must be born again.' The Mormon plan of salvation is literally a dead end.
For Mormons to enter eternal life they not only need to demonstrate faith in the God of Mormonism, but also in the authority of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in reality this means a Mormon form of repentance and getting baptised in an official Mormon temple.
Then there are the rules to keep, what Mormons call the 'Word of Wisdom'. These are not bad things in themselves, but as a means to salvation they are more dead works. - abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, tithing to the church; attending weekly sacrament meetings, supporting the current Mormon prophet, doing temple works, and actively supporting the church. Don't do the works - don't get to heaven.
Let me reiterate: Being clear that Mormonism is a cult does not mean we need to wave placards in front of our Mormon neighbours or that we treat them as dangerous. Remember, we may share more values than we realise, and it could be better to live with kindness around Mormons. Better to share the truth in a patient and loving way, leading them to the true prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ who promises to take all their onerous burdens, lead them out of dead ends and give them true rest.
To Mitt and Obama today - May the man with the best values win!