Are you sure you want to be Christians?September 24, 2007
Part 1: First Reaction to Jan Shipps talk, “No Mormon Church? – What’s Going on Here?” …a “Sunstone Classics” podcast.
I know that I said I would post some detail on Yom Kippur that would be of interest to Mormons, but it’s going to take a lot of background info, some of which I started writing today, before most LDS folks will make sense of what I want to explain. Today I started writing a piece comparing the Mormon and Jewish conceptions of Aaronic priesthood, for example. However, on my way home I started listening to a piece from “Sunstone classic podcasts” from Jan Shipps entitled, “No Mormon Church – What’s Going on Here?” It deals with the then (2001) church directive that it no longer wants to be referred to as the “Mormon Church” and would prefer the appellation “The Church of Jesus Christ” as a contraction if one is necessary.
Shipps asserts that this serves the duel functions of placing Mormonism squarely in the realm of (somewhat eccentric) protestant movements like Mennonites and Quakers (Which she calls “perhaps, marketing”) and as a proclamation to the world that it is THE legitimate church of Jesus on the earth. That is to say, it simultaneously places it withing the national mainstream yet makes an exclusive claim.
OK, so I’m a Jew and therefore being thought of as “truly Christian” is no big advantage. To me it’s just “ho-hum, yet another one.” But really, is it to your advantage to be thought of that way??
From the outside, it looks like the LDS church (excuse me, “The Church of Jesus Christ”) has a bit of “Stockholm Syndrome.” That is to say, you have started to identify with your persecutors. There is no question that Mormonism in it’s very early period sought to be a restored New Testament church and emphasized Jesus. However, speaking as an informed outsider with no stake in you being Christians or not, it seems that Joseph Smith dropped that line pretty quickly and, if anything, wanted to become a restored kingdom of Israel. Most of the doctrinal innovations and political moves relate to the Hebrew Bible (aka “Old Testament”).
I’ll go into that more later, but from here, it seems pretty obvious. Jesus as a theological figure, is rarely a serious issue in Mormon writing until the 1980’s! Even “Jesus the Christ” is mostly about his life as an example. It reads like any of the other “lives of the prophets” genre. When the atonement was mentioned, it was almost exclusively in discussing the need to overcome death. Personal sins were repaired through repentance and “eternal man” could make “progress” toward fulfilling his destiny as a perfected being in the Celestial Kingdom. Yes, you had the sacrament every week. But wasn’t it a quick run-through to get on to talk after talk about anything but Jesus? Honestly, did you feel “Christian” back in the day?
But those pesky Evangelicals have hammered you for years. I personally find their critiques to be generally rather unsophisticated. The run the gambit from insipid to abysmal to (only recently) “superficially sophisticated yet still wanting.” As an intellectual exercise in the mid 90’s, I actively argued against Evangelical critiques of Mormonism on the Usenet list alt.religion.mormon. Their positions were easy to critique. Yet is seems that year after year more and more Mormons want to become like them? You seem desperate to be accepted by them (yet at the same time, criticizing them as apostate).
You have really truly beautiful, not to mention intellectually, sophisticated theology within the unique Mormon canon. Yes, you have some issues to resolve, but no more than they do. Yet it seems like the Mormons have come to identify with their persecutors. They are not your friends.
Honestly, why do you care so much what they think of you?
Sincerely, I want to know?