A lot of questions have been swirling around Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, in his bid for the Oval Office. And while there are better columns for addressing the intricacies of his campaign (such as the Politics section on this site), one of the more common discussion points is religious in nature: how does being Mormon impact his views?
It’s not an unusual question. While commentators may rightly point out that the religious right has significantly altered the drive of the Republican party, the fact is that whether they’d done so or not, there are enough Christians in this country that a candidate’s view of Jesus could significantly impact their chances of being elected. And while this article is in no way to be taken as a political endorsement one way or another, this matter is one to which this column is perfectly suited to address.
Many people aren’t fully aware of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints actually is or believes. They are somewhat secretive about their beliefs, but don’t even really need to be because many in our country simply see them as pairs of men walking around town who may come to your door and make you pretend you aren’t home. Outside of their religion, we have Joel Osteen proclaiming that Mitt has made a sufficient confession of faith to be considered a Christian, while Robert Jeffress comes under fire for declaring Mormonism to be a cult and outside of the Christian faith. So, where does Mormonism actually stand when it comes to Jesus Christ?
The reason things get murky is the resurrection. Mormons do believe Christ came, died on the cross, was resurrected, and then ascended to heaven. And that’s a big deal, as that’s where our faith is centered. If that were the whole story of our faith, we would have no disagreement with Mormons. But it isn’t. Because Jesus’ death and resurrection fits within a context – that is, Christ’s death and resurrection have power, not simply because they happened, but because of who Jesus is. And if we get that wrong, the saving power of the cross is lost on us, because we are not putting our trust in the right place.
So who do the Mormons say Jesus is? Well, He isn’t God, according to them. They emphasize the ‘Son of God’ bit to the point where they believe that Jesus was a spirit child of God, with a spirit mother (apparently not worth naming), who then came to Earth by way of His mortal mother, Mary. They do not believe in the Trinity at all, claiming that mainstream Christianity teaches polytheism. So God the Father, in their belief, is a spiritual being that apparently ascended to divinity, gathered a host of wives and had many billions of spiritual children, most of which became human and one of which being Jesus. And while the official story is that Jesus’ death was for our redemption, the church teaches a very strong works-based salvation that doesn’t seem to have any room for the saving work of the cross to fit in.
It’s important to remember that, while they do read the Bible and will quickly point out that they believe it to be the Word of God, it isn’t actually the same Bible. Joseph Smith, upon founding the religion, claimed that the Bible had been misinterpreted and presented a new ‘translation’ of the Bible, which relied entirely upon divine revelation rather than actually reading any of the source texts. And so, while most of the Bible was left untouched, large sections were changed or reworded to accommodate the Mormon belief system. Which would be fine, if there wasn’t vastly overwhelming evidence that modern translations of the Bible are as close to perfectly in line with the original text as translation is capable of being. Then there are the other books. To further augment the gospel, Mormons have three additional books which they believe trump the Bible whenever contradictions appear. These would be The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants of the Church. The first is basically a mini-bible, which they believe was translated from golden plates found by Joseph Smith which no one has seen since. The other two were either written wholesale by Smith or started by Smith and then worked on by subsequent leaders of the religion.
This has been, by necessity, a very short review of what Mormonism is, targeted specifically to answer one question. For more about the religion and how it compares to Christianity, check out this article over at CARM. But for a quick answer, remember when Mormons talk about Jesus, they aren’t talking about the same Jesus. And when they talk about the Bible, they aren’t talking about the same Bible. And that, alone, should be enough to make us wary about what they say about it.