What’s in a Name, or, Are Fundamentalist Mormons Christian?

By December 5, 2008

The now-common question, “Are Mormons Christian?” (and it’s various derivations, i.e. “Is Mormonism Christian?”; “Are anti-Mormons Christian?”; etc) has generated significant discussion, thoughtful analysis, contentious argument, and unfortunately quite a bit of immaturity, pettiness, and frustration among Latter-day Saints, evangelical Christians, and interested apologists and scholars over the years.

More recently, the question has repeatedly arisen, “Are Fundamentalist Mormons ‘Mormon’?” In an ironic twist that has been noted by many others, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a move similar to the larger Christian community that has been active in denying the title “Christian” to Mormons, has attempted to legally trademark the term “Mormon” in an effort to prevent confusion with other Restorationist groups who use the name—most notably, of course, Fundamentalist Mormons.

Both of these issues have been discussed extensively throughout the bloggernacle (see here, here, here, and here, for example). I am interested in bringing the two questions together, and am curious as to how people would answer the question, “Are Fundamentalist Mormons Christian?” and its corollary, “Is Fundamentalist Mormonism Christian?” I’ve included two polls below. Please vote on each.

<

I am not interested in rehashing the old debates over whether the Church is right or wrong in denying other Restorationist branches the title of Mormon, or whether the larger Christian community is right or wrong in denying Mormons the title of Christian. I am, however, interested in discussing what our individual and collective answers to these questions reveal about Mormon identity. For example, if I do not believe members of the FLDS church have a right to call themselves Mormon, but have no serious problem with them referring to their community as Christian, I am curious as to what that says about my own identity as both a Mormon and a Christian. Why do I feel a need to defend my Mormonism, but not my Christianity?*

Additionally, I am interested in any discrepancy between the two polls. I know, for instance, that some Christians have no problem acknowledging many of their Mormon friends as Christians, but continue to deny that Mormonism is Christian. Is there a similar phenomenon among Mormon attitudes towards Fundamentalist Mormons and Fundamentalist Mormonism? What are the reasons for accepting/denying Fundamentalist Mormons as Christians or Fundamentalist Mormonism as Christian?**

_________________________

*In full disclosure, I think Christians denying Mormons the title of Christian is just silly. I also think most of the reasons given for such a denial are, to be blunt, lame. I feel the exact same way about Latter-day Saint efforts to deny Fundamentalist Mormons (and other Restorationist churches) the freedom to call themselves Mormon.

**I can’t believe I have to put this in here, but based on past criticism of my polls, I feel it necessary. This poll is not intended to be scientific or scientifically accurate in its sample or its results. I recognize that these are difficult and complex questions that deserve more nuance that I have provided. That is what the comments are for—to discuss those nuances, complexities, etc.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Wow. As of the time of this writing we’re scoring 100% Yes.

    Which despite the small sample size (me) is as it should be. I can’t think of a reason that would exclude fundamentalists that would include us.

    Comment by Clark — December 5, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  2. Clearly words that would seem to indicate beliefs held in common are not very well used when trying to differentiate your own group. The claim of “mormon” could have a very restorationist claim to authority within, if one takes it to mean “the church of Jesus Christ restored to the earth in the Latter Days.” Personally, I can understand teh difference between Mormon and the Latter, but I understand the point of view of those who conflate the two.

    Comment by Doc — December 6, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  3. I voted yes to both questions because fundamentalist groups do fit a baseline definition of Christianity, and if I were writing an academic history of Mormon fundamentalism I would classify them as a sectarian Mormon/Christian movement. Speaking casually in private conversation from the perspective of faith, however, I might want to nuance that a bit. I find it difficult to stomach the idea that a man like Warren Jeffs, who seems so far removed from the ethical norms established by Jesus, could be called a Christian. It seems to me that other things, like his own aggrandizement and the controversial teachings of Brigham Young, stand more at the center of his faith and action than do the ethical norms of Jesus.

    Comment by Christopher Smith — December 6, 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  4. The problem is ultimately that the term is an equivocal one with several senses.

    Comment by Clark — December 6, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  5. I can’t speak for all Fundamentalist groups, but at our Sacrament meetings it’s rare for the speakers not to speak of having faith in Christ, the atonement, or the Saviors example in some area.

    Warren Jeffs is not representative of or admired by most Fundamentalist Mormons, the majority of whom do not condone underaged or arranged marriages.

    Comment by mahonri — December 6, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

  6. Majority in terms of sects or in terms of population? What are the rough population break downs of the major groups?

    Comment by Clark — December 8, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

  7. Thanks everyone for voting and for your comments.

    re Warren Jeffs … that is why I included the qualifying choice #3 in the polls.

    Christopher Smith, your last sentence gets at something I’m interested in, namely, is it the actual presence of unorthodox theology that disqualifies one from being Christian, or simply its prevalance in the community’s discourse? To use your example, does holding to a belief in Adam-God disqualify one as a Christian, or does the degree of emphasis placed on that belief in official church discourse disqualify one?

    Mahonri, thanks especially for weighing in and presenting a Fundamentalist point of view. Does the practice of underage and/or arranged marriage disqualify one from the Christian community? Does it disqualify one from the larger Mormon community?

    All of this is to question how individuals and communities protect their various ascribed identities. If I accept someone (or some group) as “Mormon”, must I also accept them as “Christian” based on my belief that Mormons are Christian?

    Comment by Christopher — December 9, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

  8. I think Chris Smith’s caveat is interesting, because I often find that Mormons meet accusations of non-Christianity from evangelicals with an insistence that theology matters less than following Christ in one’s daily acts; ie, the ethical norms that Chris refers to.

    Comment by matt b — December 9, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  9. 6 – The second largest Mormon Fundamentalist group is the Apostolic United Brethren with about 6500 members.
    They are followed by Centennial Park with about 1500 members, the David County Co=op / Kingston group with about 1200 members, and the Blackmore group with about 500 members. There are at least around 200 Mormon Fundamentalists who do not belong to any group.

    7 – I can only speak for the group I am associated with (AUB) which would definitely excommunicate anyone found to be involved with an under-aged intimate relationship.

    Personally I think the practice of under-aged arranged marriages – does contravene the Christian principles of free choice and morality.

    Comment by mahonri — December 10, 2008 @ 2:08 pm


Series

Recent Comments

Hannah N. on 2017 in Retrospect: An: “Whoops! Realized it was an older book after I posted the comment. Thank you!”


Ben P on 2017 in Retrospect: An: “Hannah: that's because we highlighted the book last year!”


Hannah N. on 2017 in Retrospect: An: “Great selection! Thank you for writing this up. I was surprised to not see Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History on this list.…”


Gary Bergera on 2017 in Retrospect: An: “Thanks, Terry H. It looks like early next year--maybe February/March.”


Terry H on 2017 in Retrospect: An: “The Arrington Diaries were a highlight this year. Wait . . . they didn't come out yet. Well, Gary's work is always worth…”


Christopher on Mormon Immigrants and Fugitive: “Thanks, Joey. And Stapley - how could I forget about that post? Thanks for reminding me of it here!”

Topics


juvenileinstructor.org