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Analysis: Are Mormons Christians?

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Correspondent   |   Feb. 5, 2002 at 11:02 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The Rev. George Mather, a Utah minister, is involved in a pre-Olympic religious argument with his Mormon neighbors, he related Monday.

"The Mormons claim the Winter Games in Salt Lake City will fulfill a prediction by their first prophet, Joseph Smith," Mather told United Press International.

Mather, pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in St. George, Utah, said according to the Mormons, Smith had predicted that a passage from Isaiah would actually come to pass in their land, America's Zion.

The text reads, "The Lord will arise upon you. And nations come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isaiah 60:2-3).

Says Mather, "Of course we read this as a prophecy of Jerusalem's glorious restoration. It's to Jerusalem that all nations will come."

This little episode shows up a predicament: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS, to which some three-quarters of Utah's two million people belong, insists that it is a truly Christian denomination.

"What else would we be?" Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked this correspondent during an interview on Hatch's hymns, all of which have undeniably Christian content.

But all Christian bodies -- whether Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox -- say that Mormonism is another religion, as the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of the journal, First Things, once formulated it.

Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, termed the LDS a derivative of Christianity because of its substantially different doctrine on the nature of God.

In fact, it might even be seen as an aspiring world religion competing with Christianity. The LDS has now 11.4 million members worldwide but will have 267 million by the year 2080 if its present growth rate continues, according to calculations by Seattle sociologist Rodney Stark.

At any given moment, some 60,000 young Mormon men spend two years at their own expense at missionaries around the world.

It helps, too, that the LDS is immensely rich. Its wealth, accumulated through its members' disciplined tithing and the church's shrewd investment, is estimated at more than $30 billion.

Some of the most important software companies, an Internet and a pharmaceutics concern, and the Marriott hotel chain are among the industries owned by Mormons.

Moreover, even their theological critics admit that Mormons are nice to have around. "They make good neighbors," said the Rev. Mather. "Their crime rate is among the lowest in the country, and what's more, they are a good-looking, healthy lot."

Wrote Neuhaus a couple of years ago in First Things, "There is no denying that the (Mormons') prohibition of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine has a payoff.

"Mormons live, on average, 8 to 11 years longer than other Americans, and death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases are about half those of the general population."

Yet although Catholics and conservative Protestants enter alliances with the LDS on penultimate issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, they will not recognize its Baptism and therefore its legitimacy as a bona fide part of the Body of Christ.

The reason is that although the LDS worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit they mean something different from what the historical creeds of the Christian Church teach.

For example, to Mormons, "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens," as Joseph Smith has said.

This of course flies in the face of the Christian doctrine that God has been around since eternity and created the world "ex nihilo" (from nothing).

Then again, the Book of Mormon, the LDS' sacred Scripture alongside the Bible, does say, "For behold, I am God; and I am God of Miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever (2 Nephi 27:23)."

The LDS claims that the Angel Moroni had led Smith to gold plates and ordered him to translate its contents, which became the Book of Mormon. "It is infallible," Russell Ballard, one of the LDS' Apostles declared.

The Bible, on the other hand, had this status only insofar as it had been correctly translated, Ballard continued.

All this becomes even more confusing when one considers the writings of Mormon sages. There is, for example, the doctrine of Eternal Progression that says that if man obeys God's commands he will attain divine status.

Mormons sometimes use the metaphor of an ever-moving escalator: Man is down here, God way up there. Eventually man will be where God is now. But by that time God will be that much further up.

More perplexing still is the theology of Orson Pratt, one of the LDS' key thinkers, "The person of our heavenly Father ... was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on, from generation to generation."

Pratt also wrote, "God the Father had a plurality of wives ... by whom he begat our spirits."

And Bruce McConkie stated in his Mormon Doctrine, "An exalted and glorified Man of Holiness (God) could not be a Father unless a Woman of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as a Mother.

"The begetting of children makes a man a father and a woman a mother, whether we are dealing with man in his mortal or immortal state."

And who is Christ? He was, McConkie explained, "the Firstborn, meaning that he was the first spirit child born to God the Father in preexistence." Interestingly, the Devil, too, came to life the same way, as did the angels -- good and bad, according to McConkie.

He made it clear that this occurred in sexual intercourse: "Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers."

And how did Christ then become the incarnate Jesus? The same way all other preexistent souls obtain bodies -- through the physical union of a father and a mother.

McConkie and Pratt agreed that in Jesus' case the mother was Mary and the Father was again God, having descended from heaven for this purpose.

Christ then had at least one wife; he was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana. Moreover, like the Father he is now busy in heaven begetting "spirit children," who require bodies. This explains the great Mormon emphasis on having children -- and the practice of polygamy until 1890.

God the Father and Christ, usually portrayed on Mormon paintings as two identical bearded men, have bodies. The Holy Spirit does not.

But all three are distinctly different personages and not "of one substance," as Christianity's Nicene Creed of 325 AD teaches.

Therefore, from a Christian point of view, Mormonism is not a monotheistic religion, quite apart from its other diverging doctrines such as the one that states that after his crucifixion Christ had lived in America for a number of years.

There is, however, one interesting side to this story of this faith, which is, after Islam, only the second world religion to have emerged since Christianity: Its theology is still in flux.

The LDS President, currently 91-year old Gordon B. Hinckley, has the power to change its doctrine, even radically, explained a Protestant pastor in Salt Lake City, who wished to remain anonymous.

"If Hinckley is really eager to have the LDS recognized by our churches, he could even adjust its teachings. To be honest, though, I am not holding my breath just yet."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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