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Mark Silk: “Drop the masquerade”

March 7, 2007

Mark Silk of the Hartford Courant writes:

Evangelicals had always regarded Mormonism as beyond the pale of legitimate Christianity. But what had been a limited amount of anti-Mormon propaganda now turned into a flood. “The Godmakers,” a movie shown in evangelical churches across America, whipped a collection of esoteric Mormon beliefs into a cartoonish version of the faith.

The LDS Church responded by embarking on a public relations campaign to downplay its distinctiveness. In 1981, it added the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the Book of Mormon, and in 1995 changed the church logo to show a super-sized “Jesus Christ” and a minimized “Latter-day Saints.” More recently, it has discouraged use of the term “Mormon,” encouraging members to identify themselves simply as Christians and to avoid discussing their doctrinal differences with other Christians.

Candidate Romney can be seen as pursuing this assimilationist program. Since setting his sights on the presidency, he has talked the evangelical talk – for example, by telling evangelical leaders that Jesus Christ is “my Lord and Savior” (something traditional Mormons don’t say) and by opposing embryonic stem cell research (which the LDS Church has no objection to).

When John Kennedy ran for president, his job was to allay Protestant fears that he would be taking orders from the pope. What exactly do evangelicals object to in a Mormon president?

With a testament of its own and doctrines that include families being together throughout eternity, multiple heavens and the concept of a “divine mother” alongside God the Father, Mormonism is definitely its own thing. Jan Shipps, the leading non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism, calls it “an idiosyncratic form of Christianity”- a Christian tradition different in kind from any that has gone before.

“While Mormons share some beliefs with Christians, they are not Christians,” evangelical pooh-bah Chuck Colson told his radio listeners a couple of years ago. “I respect Mormons and work with them, but we can’t gloss over our fundamental differences.”

The struggle over the name “Christian” suggests that what bothers evangelicals most about Mormons is that they seem to be pretending to be something they’re not. If I were advising Mitt Romney, I’d say the Kennedyesque move would be to drop the masquerade.

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