Are Mormons Christians?

SMU Perkins School of Theology dean William Lawrence talks about Mormonism and Christianity.

By Jim Jones

Special to the Star-Telegram

Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress' labeling of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith as a non-Christian "theological cult" continues to draw sharp responses from religious leaders.

Newell Williams, president of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, decried the use of cult and disputed Jeffress' view that Romney is not a Christian because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church....

William B. Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, disagreed with Jeffress' use of the word cult. However, he agrees that Mormonism is not Christian.

"We have no policy on Mormonism at Perkins, but my own judgment is that Mormonism is not, strictly speaking, a Christian community, because it operates with a different set of official texts and has a different understanding of the sacraments," Lawrence said. "Christians, for example, don't baptize the dead."

Mormonism, he said, is an interesting and complex religion that suffered intense persecution. In the 1890s, it gave up one of its most controversial practices -- polygamy -- and has now emerged as a world religion whose adherents practice a highly commendable sense of religious discipline, Lawrence said.

As an organized church, Mormonism began in a highly evangelized area of western New York, Lawrence said. Mormons believe that in 1823 their prophet and founder, Joseph Smith Jr., had a vision of Jesus and God and was directed by the angel Moroni to thin gold plates with text written in an ancient language, which, when translated by Smith, became the Book of Mormon.

"I'm not suggesting others should see this comparison, but Mormonism as a religious community has a lot of similarity to Islam," Lawrence said. He noted that both faiths "grew out of a religious context that included the acceptance of the Christianity of Jesus, that incorporated many of the stories of Jesus, but claimed to have a later text of superior quality that superseded Christian texts."

Both faiths accept certain teachings of the Bible but had "specific revelations to a specific prophet," Lawrence said.

Islam's origin as an organized faith group dates to A.D. 610, when Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad began receiving revelations of the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

"I'm not suggesting that Mormons view Joseph Smith the same way that Muslims view Muhammad, but there are certain objective similarities," Lawrence said.

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