A reader writes:
Goldblog declares, “But theological honesty demands that we recognize that Romney would be the first president to be so far outside the Christian denominational mainstream.” Hogwash! How about some credit where credit is due. Five presidents have been Unitarians: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft – as you recently noted.
‘Tis true. But the notion of a totally new Scripture completing the old would still have struck them as odd. And the modern era is less religiously diverse. But point taken. By the way, a friend did come up with another religion that could be called Christian but also challenged on that basis: Christian Science. Would Americans have a problem with a Christian Scientist president? I’d say that health issues alone would be salient. Another writes:
Maybe this is just because I truly don’t care, but it seems to me that being a Christian is just one of those things. If the person says they are, they are. If the religion is on the family tree of Christianity, it’s in no matter how weird it may seem or how many new books they’ve tacked on as holy scripture. They stay in the family. Jehovah’s Witnesses are just heretical Baptists, who are just heretical Anglicans, who are just heretical Catholics, who (in the eyes of some) are just Orthodox heretics, and the whole lot would be called heretics by the Gnostics, who of course are just heretical Jews. Joseph Smith attended Sunday school at a Western Presbyterian Church, and started his religion during a period of innovation/upheaval in the American Christian community. He came from the Christian community and considered himself a part of Christianity. That’s good enough for me.
A Mormon reader writes:
Every time I have been asked if I am Christian or am told that I am not Christian, my first question back to the person is what they mean by “Christian”?
I find it interesting that I have run into almost as many different definitions of “Christian” as times I have been asked the question. The issue, as I see it, is that people are using different definitions of “Christian” when discussing Mormons and our beliefs. There are some people who say that the word “Christian” means a person or a church that believes Jesus Christ is the savior of mankind and focuses worship on such, or something similar to that. Under this definition, it is hard to claim that Mormons aren’t Christians, as we believe in the New Testament and in the divinity of Jesus Christ and His power to save.
That there is some other doctrinal differences with Mormonism seems to me to be irrelevant to this definition of Christianity given the primacy of faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism in the Mormon church that is consistent with other Christian faiths. But don’t all Christian faiths have some differences in doctrine with all the other Christian faiths that differentiate them from the other churches?
However, many people that I have talked to use a definition of “Christian” that essentially covers the Catholic Church and all churches that are derived from or which left Catholicism. I have also heard definitions that include belief in the Nicene Creed, the Trinity, or other specific aspects of doctrine as the definitive characteristic. Under this definition, Mormons most definitely are not Christian, nor do we consider ourselves such. But if this is the definition that is being used to disqualify Mormons as Christian, it would be great if people would overtly define the term so that it is not conflated with the first definition I talked about. As it is, people just throw the term around as if everyone is operating on the same definition, which just leads to confusion.
Yesterday, I came across this while looking at the reasons behind the Vatican stopping LDS from copying Catholic church records. In the article, this tidbit about baptism is interesting (seems to me that recognizing baptism is the starting point to recognizing whether that faith is a Christian one):
[T]heological differences have cropped up between Mormons and Catholics in the past. In 2001 the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation issued a ruling that baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be considered a valid Christian baptism, thus requiring converts from that religion to Catholicism to receive a Catholic baptism. “We don’t have an issue with the fact that the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize our baptisms, because we don’t recognize theirs,” Otterson said. “It’s a difference of belief.” …
When issuing its 2001 ruling, the Vatican said that even though the Mormon baptismal rite refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the church’s beliefs about the identity of the three persons are so different from Catholic and mainline Christian belief that the rite cannot be regarded as a Christian baptism.
As far as I can remember, the Catholic church recognizes Protestants as being Christian when it comes to allowing a “mixed marriage” to occur within the RC church. If I remember correctly, you are allowed to marry someone of another faith within the church, if that non-Catholic is a baptized Christian. If not, the person has to be baptized in the Christian or RC faith. (Though admittedly I’ve not followed doctrine as closely as I used to.)
Ever heard of Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy? It’s an East-West fusion, injecting karma and reincarnation into Christianity, but anthroposophists very much consider themselves Christians, celebrate Christian festivals (especially medieval near-forgotten ones), read daily from the Bible, etc. The NYT had a front-page story this weekend about a Steinerite school, but the tech reporter didn’t seem to know what he was dealing with.
Indeed I do. My nursery school was a Steiner school. Lots of God and crystals and flowers and non-violence. My main accomplishment: being one of the very, very few who ever got spanked and sent home. One teacher in an art class always always always said everything we drew or painted was wonderful. So I deliberately drew a crappy picture – a rainbow entirely of black and brown – to test her sincerity. Sure enough, she said it was wonderful, whereupon I tore up the painting I had made, declaring it bad. This, apparently, was not a common or approved reaction. I should add that I have only the vaguest memory of this, so if it’s inaccurate, blame my mum.
Maybe our entire lives are prefigured by one day in nursery school.