Although several primaries remain, Mitt Romney continues to be a front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and the most viable Mormon presidential candidate in recent memory.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is more than 175 years old. It is among the world’s fastest-growing religions, claiming more than 14 million adherents, known as Mormons, worldwide. Even so, many Americans are unfamiliar with or ill-informed about it. Romney has had to contend with questions regarding his religion. He’s taken pains to highlight the values he shares with evangelical Christians, some of whose influential leaders remain skeptical of Mormonism. Last October, for instance, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas called the LDS Church “a cult” and speculated that evangelical Christians might not be willing to vote for a Mormon.
Romney’s candidacy is only one part of what LDS author Neylan McBaine dubs America’s “Mormon moment.” She points to the successful Broadway musical The Book of Mormon as another reason for increased interest in the LDS Church. The show is a satire, but some devout Mormons appreciate it. “Americans think Mormons are all the same,” one Mormon audience member told USA Today. “This shows diversity and that Mormons can grow and change in their faith.”
Cause for Christian Concern?
How should Christians respond to this “Mormon moment”? From the LDS Church’s point of view, that question is invalid. “How could anyone seriously doubt that Latter-day Saints are Christians?” asks an essayist on the official LDS website. “Our first article of faith declares our belief in Jesus Christ. We meet every Sunday and partake of the sacrament to renew our faith in and our commitment to Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.”
The LDS Church uses familiar Christian concepts in ways most Christians find unfamiliar. It doesn’t subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, and it accepts the Book of Mormon as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” which reports that the risen Jesus’ appeared to native peoples in the Americas.
Arguments over whether Mormons are or aren’t Christian often miss the point. Christians will find their thinking about Mormonism and their relationships with Mormons better served by treating the LDS Church as what it is: a relatively new but major world religion, with distinctive doctrines and practices, entitled to the same respect we should give other faiths and we would hope to receive in turn.
Love Your LDS Neighbor
Jesus didn’t command us to love our neighbors only if they happened to believe as we do. His directive was definitive, and without qualification, echoing the historic practice of Israel: “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; see Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
So, how do we love our Mormon neighbor? First, by refusing to perpetuate the falsehoods, misconceptions, and myths that still dog the LDS Church. God calls God’s people to contribute to harmony by being truth-tellers. Second, by witnessing to our own faith. Mormons make claims about God and Jesus that most Christians reject. Instead of being defensive or disparaging, we can simply and lovingly testify to what “we have seen and heard” concerning “the word of life” (see 1 John 1:1-3). Finally, we can recognize God at work beyond the boundaries of our faith communities. Mormons and many others of different or even no religion do God’s work (knowingly or not) in our communities. Since God has commissioned us to seek the common good, we should cooperate with them as a part of our Christian discipleship.
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