Mormons and Evangelicals


LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: This is the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, epicenter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There’s been a lot of criticism about Mormonism, especially among evangelicals like Stephen Davis. He’s a religion scholar at Claremont McKenna College.

PROFESSOR STEPHEN DAVIS (Philosophy and Religious Studies, Claremont McKenna College): If the question is, is Mormonism a legitimate expression of Christianity, honestly I would have to say no. I think that legitimate expressions of Christianity can be found in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, virtually all the Protestant denominations, but not Mormonism, because too many of their doctrines and beliefs are non-Christian.

PROFESSOR PATRICK MASON (Chair of Mormon Studies, Claremont Graduate University): Mormons take real offense when people tell them that they’re not Christian.

SEVERSON: Patrick Mason is the chairman of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University and a Mormon himself.

Patrick MasonMASON: If Christian defines what is your relationship to Jesus—do you believe that salvation comes through Jesus, do you worship Jesus Christ—then no doubt Mormons are Christian. I mean they’ll be the first to tell you, look at the name of the church; it’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

SEVERSON: Mason says antagonism toward Mormons stretches back to the beginning of the church. They’ve been called a cult, demonic, a false religion with a false prophet.

MASON: Mormons in a lot of ways are scarred from a long history of misrepresentation in what they see as false reports about the church or unfair treatment of the church, and this goes all the way back to the 1830s.

SEVERSON: That was when Joseph Smith said he had a revelation where Jesus told him that all the religions at that time were an abomination in his sight. From then on Mormons, who were seen by some as lower-class, superstitious dupes, were targets of ridicule and violence eventually leading to the assassination of Joseph Smith. In the 1860s, the government sent the army to Utah to keep an eye on the Mormons. The army established this fort overlooking Salt Lake City. The cannons that were here were aimed at the Mormons.

But the most vocal critics of Mormons have long been evangelicals. Richard Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy at the Fuller School of Theology, says one reason is because Mormons have been such good proselytizers.

Richard MouwPROFESSOR RICHARD MOUW (Fuller Theological Seminary): Mormonism began as this evangelistic program of going out and getting converts, and very often converts from the traditional denominations, and so evangelicals and Mormons have had an unusually hostile relationship over the years because they have been sort of competing proselytizing programs, but also they traded the rhetoric in very hostile terms.

MASON: There’s a sense of them-against-us that in some ways gets inflated among the grassroots membership of the church. But there is no doubt that for many people they see evangelicals as the enemy, and they need to be converted.

SEVERSON: Among scholars, the important distinction between Mormonism and most mainstream Christian churches centers on theology.

MASON: The Mormon view of the Godhead is that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three separate beings, so Mormons reject a Trinitarian notion that they’re three in one. Mormons see them as three distinct and separate beings.

DAVIS: Evangelical Christians, like all mainstream Christians, want to say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in some really strong, ontological sense.

Stephen DavisMASON: And Mormons also have an idea that they’re not—that God is not ontologically different than humans in the sense so God and humans are essentially the same species, that humans can progress to eventually become like God. God is not radically “other,” but in a sense approachable and understandable and knowable.

DAVIS: The idea that God, the God whom we worship, was once a human being and then grew to be God, grew to Godhood, will strike most evangelical Christians as being blasphemous.

SEVERSON: Another fundamental difference is that Mormons rely on more than just the Bible for the word of God.

MASON: Certainly Mormons don’t believe in the Bible as the only word of God. They believe in an open canon, that God continues to speak to prophets today.

DAVIS: They believe in continuing revelation. They have three other books, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and a book called Doctrines and Covenants, and evangelical Christians would never accept that those books are inspired or the word of God or are prophetic.

MOUW: So I often say that the bad news about Mormonism is they believe in continuing revelation. The good news about Mormonism is that they believe in continuing revelation, and they might actually, in continuing revelation, begin to modify and alter some of the things that they see themselves as having received in earlier revelation.

SEVERSON: Mormon theology has changed over the years after church prophets have received new revelations. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the church allowed blacks to hold the priesthood. And the church’s policy allowing plural marriage was abandoned in the 1890s after a prophetic revelation.

DAVIS: A lot of Americans are suspicious of Mormons over the issue of polygamy, which should have gone away a long time ago. But the problem is that there are these Mormon fundamentalist sects, especially in southern Utah and northern Arizona, that still practice polygamy, and I think that gets a lot of the American people confused about what the Mormon Church’s position really is.

SEVERSON: As for lingering animosity today, Professor Mouw says some of it is because the Mormon Church has grown so big and prosperous.

MOUW: And I think it has something to do with the growth of Mormonism. While on the one hand they’re entering into the mainstream in a lot of ways, they’re also a very powerful presence globally—14 million Mormons around the world. They’re identified with some of the major businesses. There’s a sense that it’s a kind of juggernaut, that it has tremendous clout.

SEVERSON: As for the claims that Mormonism is a cult, Professor Mouw takes exception.

MOUW: I mean one reason why I don’t think it’s very helpful to call Mormonism a cult is that they have a world-class university. They have scholars who consider all kinds of complex topics. You know, Scientology doesn’t have a world-class university. Hari Krishna doesn’t, Jehovah Witnesses don’t. But Mormonism has pretty much entered into the mainstream of intellectual life.

SEVERSON: Mouw goes even further, accusing some some of Mormonism’s accusers of “shading the truth.”

MOUW: I want to say I think the motives of people who often attack, for example, attack Mormons as evangelical leaders or other kinds of Christian leaders is that they do want to protect their people against falsehood, against being led astray. But when it comes in terms of standing up for the truth, if you tell falsehoods about another religion that’s bearing false witness against our neighbors.

SEVERSON: Mouw expressed those sentiments to a packed house at the Mormon Tabernacle. His words did not sit well with many evangelicals.

MOUW: The press the next morning the big story was “Fuller Seminary president says we’ve sinned against Mormons,” and boy, I get hate mail yet on that.

DAVIS: I think we have not been fair. There’s a lot of anti-Mormon apologetics that are out there and anti-Mormon polemics, where unfair charges are made against the Mormons. I think that’s absolutely right.

SEVERSON: The bias against Mormonism has been a problem for Mitt Romney’s campaign. But attitudes seem to be changing. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that eight of ten voters who know Mitt Romney is a Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith or that it no longer matters.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Salt Lake City.

  • Bot

    The Trinity: Jesus Christ’s church must teach that God and Jesus are separate and distinct individuals (John 17:11; 20:17), and that they have bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 23:36-39; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 1:1-3)

    A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration? The Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one.” Scribes later added “the Father, the Word and the Spirit,” and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. .

    Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. For example, it was an emperor (Constantine) . who introduced a term, homousious, which defined the Son as “consubstantial” (one being) with the Father. Neither term or anything like it is in the New Testament. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.” Furthermore, 11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-Trinitarian Christians

    Thomas Jefferson rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, calling it “mere Abracadabra” and “hocus-pocus phantasm.” The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts and the Founders.

  • Trent

    With all the things being said about Mormonism in the news, it’s nice to hear from people who are actually familiar with it. Interesting discussion.

  • tspenc

    As for those who don’t believe Mormons are Christians…..all they need to do is read a little of the Book of Mormon to KNOW that Mormons are Christian. That book is all about salvation through faith in Christ. Also, the Bible supports all the controversial doctrines that Mormons are berated for: baptism for the dead(1st Corinthians 15:29), the three kingdoms(1st Corinthians 15:35, 40-42, 2nd Corinthians 12:2), man may become like God. The Bible is full of scriptures infering that “man may become like God, “Ye are Gods,” Ye are the children of God,” “Ye are the sons (and daughters) of God,” The Apostle Paul said, “We are the offspring of God.” See…(Psalms 82:6, Galations 4:4-7, 2 Peter 1:4, John 1:12, John 10:33-34, Romans 8:14,16,17, among the many). Do not sons and daughters grow up to become as their parents?
    The doctrine that “man may become like God,” is not unique to the Mormon Church. Many Early Church Fathers in the first centuries after Christ also believed that man could become like God. The doctrine was called “Theosis.”..look it up on the internet.
    The following quotations are from early Church Fathers, theologians, and apologists from the first centuries after Christ, before the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
    · “We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods.”
    · “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.”
    · But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, ‘I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High.’ To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the ‘adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father.’”
    Clement of Alexandria
    · “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.”
    Justin Martyr
    · “[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and even of having power to become sons of the Highest.”
    · “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods…. just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through His flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life…[we are] sons and gods by reason of the word in us.”
    Jonathan Jacobs, in his “An Eastern Orthodox Conception of Theosis and Human Nature,” quotes many of the writings of the Early Church Fathers:
    · St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”
    · St. Clement of Alexandria says that “he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.”
    · St. Athanasius wrote that “God became man so that men might become gods.”
    · St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we “are called ‘temples of God’ and indeed ‘gods’, and so we are.”
    · St. Basil the Great stated that “becoming a god” is the highest goal of all.
    · St. Gregory of Nazianzus implores us to “become gods for (God’s) sake, since (God) became man for our sake.”
    This Mormon doctrine obviously has Biblical origins, and while seemingly being acknowledged in the Early Church, has been overlooked, like so many other doctrines in the Bible, by modern, mainstream Christianity.

    The doctrine of “Trinity” was brought about by the Catholic Church, at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., almost 300 years after the death of Christ! The Early Christian Church, in the early centuries after Christ, didn’t seem to adhere to “Trinity” doctrine. The Apostle Paul always spoke of Christ as the Son of God… not as the same person as God the Father.

  • J Sperry

    2 Nephi 25:26
    And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Among the many discussions about the refusal of many Evangelicals to accept Mormonism as a variant species of Christianity, the remarks by Professor Mouw are original and enlightening. If Mormonism was an odd 19th century church that barely survived into the 21st.century, it would just be an oddity and not be perceived as a threat. The fact is that the Southern Baptists.are losing membership consistently by 50,000 tp 100,000 a year, while the Mormon membership is growing by about a third of a million every year. Baptists see a direct connection between these numbers. Protestant pastors feel that conversion from their congregations is a direct threat to their incomes. They call it “sheep stealing”. There is confusion between the salvation of congregants and the career of their pastor. When pastors claim that Mormons have a venal motive to add members, they seem to be projecting their own views onto Mormons, because Mormons do not have a career ckergy.

  • Jeff Schrade

    As a Mormon, I believe that Jesus Christ was born of Mary, had a physical body, worked as a carpenter, performed miracles, prayed to our Father in Heaven, was baptized by John in the River Jordan, suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and while suffering on the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” before he paid the ultimate price and died on the cross for our sins. I believe he was resurrected — showing himself in the flesh to Mary and his apostles. I believe that Thomas, the doubter, was able to feel the wounds that Christ had suffered, so that he could bear witness that Christ was resurrected, and that his discipiles saw him ascend into heaven.

    One of the thing that separates Mormon belief from other believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ comes… in large part… about what happened next.

    Traditional Christian theology implies that sometime after the resurrection and ascension, Christ gave up his body and became once again an amorphous God — everywhere devine, having neither form, parts or passions.(For exmple, see: For many theologians, to state a belief in physical Christ today is akin to heresy.

    That makes no sense to me. If Christ was god on earth, and had a body then, that physical reality did not diminish his divinity then and does not impact his divinity today. Why is so hard for other Christians, then, to believe that Christ no longer has a body? If his followers saw the resurrected Christ ascend into heaven, then I fail to see why he would give it up. And if he did give up his resurrected body — where is it? Why would he give it up? For theologians to say that Mormon belief in a God who has a physical body puts them outside of the Christian mainsteam, so be it.

  • Fred Barrett

    Our nation and the world needs more of this kind of interchange both in religion and in politics. The lies that are spread by a number of candidates against their opponents and where does that leave Christianity when it comes to the Muslum faith. When someone claims their religion is false they begin a world wide movement to kill all Americans or Christans or any nation people or organization who speak out against them. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been the victim of that, right in the Christian community since the church was restored to the earth in 1830 and it did beging with the slaughter of those saints. What we have seen in Lybia and Egypt and across the middle east and in North Africa was in fact heaped upon the saints in all of those states they were driven from culminating in Nauvoo, IL, after the slaughter of the saints in Missouri, with the murder of their prophet and his brother at Carthage Jail the county seat of Hancock County. At least it has been reduced from taking their lives to just destroying the reputation by the tall tales uttered by those leaders of other Christian faiths. Are we to see yet in theses latter days the same thing in America once again what we are as a nation experiencing in those parts of the world where the word has been issued by the radical Muslums to Muslums across the world to kill an Americans where ever they are found because of actions of one individual.
    A good article and something that needs to be done in order that the truth may prevail. Thanks for a positive!

  • RevJames

    When Mitt is sworn in will he use the Book of Mormon or the Christian Bible?

  • Marlene

    I am glad you sent Lucky Severson. I remember him working here in Utah.

    My concern was that it said Polygamy is still practiced by fundamental sects of the religion. I don’t think it said enough that they are not part of the religion.Fundamental sounds like they are just basic Mormons but they have been excommunicated. They are not part of the religion any more.

    Otherwise, I thought it was pretty good.

  • Rex Whitmer

    I would like to compliment you on this article. I see so many who bring up falsehoods that in most cases never were true, and exagerations that stretch the few that are true beyond the truth. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have been since my birth. As a young man I was villified by both teachers and students. In my seventy eight years, I have watched the Church grow from a very small base to its now present fourteen million. For most LDS, Blacks not being allowed to hold the priesthood was something we looked forward to ending. One of my sons who was serving a mission in the Washington state area at the time the restsriction was removed, had found a lot of Blacks who were interested in the Church. One bishop scolded him, telling him not to bring anymore Blacks into his ward. Always a bit of a smart mouth my son turned to him and said “your Ward Bishop?” That ended the discussion. It has been good watching the Church grow, and I’ve always been humbly proud to be a member. Yesterday I wrote a reply to a writer who made some very egreegious statements and asked him how, as a Christian, Christ would have replied to the comments he made. We in our Church make it a point to not criticize other churches. We put out no tracts against other’s beliefs, nor do we rail against them in our meetings. As to politics, it is strictly personal among us. One of our best friends is a died in the wool Democrat and politics is a thing seldom discussed between us. We recognize their right to their point of view and I believe that they do ours.

  • Phillip C. Smith

    As a social scientist (Ph.D. from Stanford University) I was trained to set up stipulative definitions first and then assign phenomena as they fit into the different categories of these definition. This approach might help all of us to resolve the controversy over whether or not Mormons are Christians.
    First, we need to decide whether or not our definitional criteria are based on what is contained in the New Testament or whether the ideas that emerged from the creeds of the 3rd and 4th centuries are included. Mormons claim to be New Testament, not creedal Christians. Using criteria found in the New Testament, particularly the Four Gospels, we can then determine through comparison if a religion is “New Testament” Christian or not. I believe it is.

    Phillip C. Smith

  • Jeannette Giles

    Commenting on continuing revelation. It would be prudent to consider personal prayer and the answers to those prayers as continuing revelation on an individual basis. A relationship with God, our Heavenly Father, through His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ, is replete w/continuing revelation, continually learning the depth of the scriptures, the depth of our God and His Son the depth of the Holy Spirit which testifies of truths, permeates our souls w/warnings and comforts us as a fulfillment of the duty of that sweet spirit. God speaks to leaders, wasn’t it through prayer the Founding Fathers found the divine wisdom to form a nation, a new nation, conceived in liberty…., endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights…….did not want a nation free from religion but free from government dictating that religion…….a nation where individuals would live in a moral society because of their devotion to God. So is that not continuing revelation? The heavens are not closed, Jesus Christ directs this world at His Father’s direction, Jesus Christ is the God of our World but he still answers to His Father, the God of us all.

  • David Thompson

    In His intercessionary prayer, as recorded in John, how are we to consider the “oneness” to which our Saviour refers in relation to His apostles and His own “oneness” with our Heavenly Father.

    He cannot have been asking that they become one entity, no more than He is with God. Surely, unity of love and purpose are the manifestations of Their relationship, accomplished by mutual spiritual and Earthly goals for us, God’s children.

    ” I have not come to do My will, but the will of Him who sent me.” How much simplar can Their uniqueness be stated?

  • Jeff Drake

    I was with you right up until the part where Severson says, “Mormon theology has changed over the years after church prophets have received new revelations. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the church allowed blacks to hold the priesthood. And the church’s policy allowing plural marriage was abandoned in the 1890s after a prophetic revelation.” Every sentence in this paragraph is untrue.

    • Mormon theology has never changed one iota, except in the sense that we’ve learned new truths. However, the new truths have never once contradicted previous knowledge, only expanded it.

    • The Church has allowed blacks to be priests since the day of its organization. There was a polity of delaying the ordination of those of Canaanite descent (many, but far from all, of whom were blacks of African descent)—a polity that the Church always stated was only temporary, and which ended in 1978.

    • The Church has never abandoned its policy of allowing plural marriage; the policy regarding plural marriage is found in Jacob 2:27-30 ( and is just as much in force today as it has been since the beginning of recorded history.

    Overall, a great article, but it seems you might need to get a better fact checker.

  • brigham shuler

    Wen Mitt is sworn in he will probably use a “quad” or quaruple combination which contains the King James bible, the Book f Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price all under one cover. I crry one with all the time.

  • brigham shuler

    Wen Mitt is sworn in he will probably use a “quad” or quaruple combination which contains the King James bible, the Book f Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price all under one cover. I carry one with all the time.

  • Harlan Carpenter

    “Mormonism” is not our legitimate title. There is no “Mormon” Church. We are the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. Is that non-Christian…? If you say yes, you have a better imagination than I have…!

  • HarlanCarpenter

    Some questions about the “trinity”– If Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father are one–to whom did Jesus Christ pray in the garden of Gethsemane…? Whose voice rang from heaven at the time of Jesus’s baptism to proclaim, “This is my beloved son…” ? Pull your heads out and smell some fresh air…!

  • Mu Mu

    If Prof. Stepheson really knew Christianity he would see that LDS beliefs are Christian. I woulld not want him to teach me anything about religion. There are many professors of religion and Biblical scholars that do understand where LDS doctrine comes from AND that IT IS Christian.

  • Mu Mu

    Also, My entire life I have been treated badly by Evangelicals and people of other religions. I have also been treated badly by non LdS ex family members (which is why they are now ex family). I have had people roll their eyes when I tell them these things because they refuse to believe Mormons are treated badly. So no, it is not a persecution complex, it is real!
    And what is troubling is that critics of the LDS religion NEVER speak badly or attack other Christian churches / Preachers who behave badly. A good example: Westboro Baptist church, Appleby Baptist church that still practices blatant racism today. The Christian community is silent about the bad behavior of these churches, but attack the LDS with glee, especially about the Blacks. Yep, true hypocrisy.

  • Gina

    To start, I cannot figure out what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has that seems to call people to it. I have read the Book or Mormon and I have studied the religions some. What is so fascinating about it? Then, I left Christianity because I could not accept the concept of Jesus (with, or without a Trinity). There is no G-d but G-d to me, to say differently is blasphemy toward G-d. But, back to my original question—-what is so fascinating about it to people? I’d really like to know.