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April General Conference Reaffirms Mormonism’s Love/Hate Relationship with Christianity

by Sharon Lindbloom
15 April 2020

Throughout its history, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had a sort of love/hate relationship with historic Christianity. That this attitude continues today was reaffirmed during the church’s General Conference earlier this month.

Mormonism’s negative stance toward Christianity began, as did Mormonism itself (it is claimed), with Joseph Smith’s 1820 First Vision. Holding to a belief that Christ was true but Christian churches may not have been, Joseph claimed that in answer to prayer God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared before him. During this vision, Joseph received confirmation that Christian churches “were all wrong…all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt…” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Joseph taught his followers that ancient Christianity had fallen into total and complete apostasy; Christian clergy had corrupted both biblical text and doctrinal truth (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 327); and Joseph’s Book of Mormon referred to the greater Christian church as the “church of the devil” (1 Nephi 14:10).

Subsequent LDS leaders carried those ideas forward and promoted a clear distinction between Mormonism and historic Christianity. Second LDS Prophet/President Brigham Young said, “When the light came to me I saw that all the so-called Christian world was grovelling in darkness” (Journal of Discourses 5:73).

Third LDS Prophet/President John Taylor agreed. As reported by Brigham Young, “Brother Taylor has just said that the religions of the day were hatched in hell. The eggs were laid in hell, hatched on its borders, and kicked on to the earth” (Journal of Discourses 6:176).

George Q. Cannon, first counselor in John Taylor’s First Presidency, was also on board. He said, “I do not wish to say anything in relation to other forms of religion; I do not know that it is necessary that I should do so; but no thinking man can admit that Christianity so-called—I call it a false Christianity, untrue to its name—satisfies the wants of humanity at the present time” (July 15, 1883, Journal of Discourses 24:185).

And so on.

Tenth LDS Prophet/President Joseph Fielding Smith, while yet an apostle, explained, “However, true Christianity, so far as the latter days are concerned, is very young, less than one hundred years of age, for it has only been since the year 1830 that the Church of Jesus Christ has been organized in the earth, and the gospel restored…” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Reports, April 1924, 41).

LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie felt strongly about this particular position against historic Christianity. For example, he wrote, “The term [Christendom] applies to the whole body of supposed Christian believers; as now constituted this body is properly termed apostate Christendom… A perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom” (Mormon Doctrine, 131-132). And, “…virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ…” (Mormon Doctrine, 269).

Clearly, Mormon leaders did not want to be mistaken for the “corrupt professors” of Christianity that Joseph Smith’s First Vision called out. Mormonism hated that Christianity (which, by the way, is the same Christianity found outside of Mormonism today).

Brigham Young said, “Should you ask why we differ from other Christians, as they are called, it is simply because they are not Christians as the New Testament defines Christianity.” (July 8, 1863, Journal of Discourses 10:230). Bruce McConkie explained that same idea like this: “False creeds make false churches. There is no salvation in believing a lie. Every informed, inspired, and discerning person is revolted by the absurdities and scripture-defying pronouncements in the creeds of Christendom…” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary 1:30, fn 2).

However, though historic Christianity was rejected by Mormonism, Mormonism itself claimed to be Christian – restored Christianity. Bruce McConkie wrote, “Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mor­monism; they are one and the same, and they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail” (Mormon Doctrine, 513).

But it was not so easy to convince non-Mormons of this. The continual disparaging of the doctrines of historic Christianity by the LDS church resulted in Mormonism being placed firmly outside of Christianity’s theological boundaries and, therefore, generally regarded as a non-Christian faith.

This was an unintended consequence; Mormonism sought to redefine Christianity, not be excluded from it. But during the LDS church’s 1964 World’s Fair exhibit non-Mormon confusion over the issue was made clear; one of the top five questions asked of Mormon guides was, “Are Mormons Christians?”

That question persisted for decades, leading to a 1982 addition of a subtitle to the Book of Mormon: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer explained, “The Book of Mormon has been misunderstood. With the subtitle, it takes its place where it should be – beside the Old Testament and the New Testament” (as reported in Church News, “Since 1982, subtitle has defined book as ‘another testament of Jesus Christ’” 1/2/1988).

But two years later Mormonism’s continuing disdain for historic Christianity was still painfully evident. The LDS church’s Ensign magazine published an article that gave voice to this belief:

“To say that Satan sits in the place of God in Christianity after the time of the Apostles is not to say that all that is in it is satanic…Still, ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (Rom. 1:16) is absent from all but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which the Lord himself has proclaimed to be ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (D&C 1:30).” (Kent P. Jackson, “Early Signs of the Apostasy,” Ensign, December 1984, 9)

In the face of Mormonism’s unwavering aversion toward Christianity, the addition of the Book of Mormon’s subtitle in 1982 did not have the hoped-for effect on the public’s perception of the religion. Still struggling with being classified as non-Christian and, worse, a “cult,” the LDS church revamped its Public Affairs Department. In 1992 a new handbook was released that called for an effort to be made toward ensuring the public understood that Mormons believed in Christ.

“Accordingly, in 1995, the church unveiled a three-line logo, with the words ‘Jesus Christ’ occupying the center line in a noticeably larger font… At the center of this concerted campaign was the desire to shed the non-Christian, cultist label, since so often the descriptor ‘non-Christian,’ when applied to Mormons, also seemed to imply ‘aberrant’ or even ‘deviant.’ Instead, LDS officials wanted to locate their faith within the fold of thoroughly Christian – though not Catholic or Protestant – denominations, and thus replace its exotic reputation with the instant familiarity that came with the “Christian” designation in American society.” (J.B. Haws, The Mormon Image in the American Mind, 165)

Even so, recognition of Mormonism as a Christian religion remained elusive. It did not help the church’s cause to admit that Mormon missionaries were intentionally sent to proselytize “other Christians” who, according to historic Christianity, did not need further evangelizing (see Dallin Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, 84).

In 1998 the LDS church’s New Era magazine published an article titled, “Are Mormons Christians?” Here, author Stephen E. Robinson sought to assure members of the church that they were indeed Christians even though “there are sincere people out there who believe the Latter-day Saints aren’t Christians. In fact, the accusation that we are not Christians is probably the most commonly heard criticism of the LDS Church and its doctrines today. Why would anyone say such a thing? Isn’t the name of our church The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Do we not worship Christ? Is not the Book of Mormon another testament of Jesus Christ? How could anyone seriously doubt that Latter-day Saints are Christians?” (New Era, May 1998)

Dr. Robinson’s questions highlighted the things the church had already done to convince people that Mormonism belonged in the Christian fold, but nothing had really changed. While the LDS church “loved” Christianity for the way such a designation could rescue Mormonism’s reputation, it also “hated” Christianity’s beliefs.

Continuing the quest to be fully recognized as a Christian faith, in 2018 church Prophet/President Russell M. Nelson announced that he received a revelation instructing that everyone must stop using nicknames for the church and instead use its full, formal name (i.e., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). He said, “When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the ‘LDS Church,’ the ‘Mormon Church,’ or the ‘Church of the Latter-day Saints,’ the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.” (“The Correct Name of the Church,” General Conference, October 2018)

Though President Nelson insisted that the eschewing of nicknames accompanied by emphasis on the full name of the church was not a “rebranding,” for all intents and purposes, it was. The church sought to change or enhance its image yet again in order to convince outsiders that it was a Christian religion. President Nelson explained, “For much of the world, the Lord’s Church is presently disguised as the ‘Mormon Church.’ But we as members of the Lord’s Church know who stands at its head: Jesus Christ Himself. Unfortunately, many who hear the term Mormon may think that we worship Mormon. Not so!” (“The Correct Name of the Church,” General Conference,  October 2018)

That brings us to the April 2020 General Conference. Two things happened at this conference that attest to the ongoing love/hate relationship Mormonism has with Christianity. The first was the unveiling of a new church logo as President Nelson continues his rebranding efforts. The new logo retains the three-line church name with emphasis on the words “Jesus Christ” that was introduced in 1995; it also adds a graphic image of the resurrected Christ. Until now, the image most often associated with the LDS church has been uniquely Mormon: a depiction of the angel Moroni, found on LDS books, jewelry, (etc.) and on the spires of most Mormon temples around the world. But now,

“To help us remember Him and to identify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Lord’s Church, we are pleased to introduce a symbol that will signify the central place of Jesus Christ in His Church… It will remind all that this is the Savior’s Church and that all we do as members of His Church centers on Jesus Christ and His gospel.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Opening the Heavens for Help,” General Conference, April 2020)

The new church logo is meant to convey the idea that Mormonism is a respectable Christian faith; that Mormonism loves Christ and, by extension, Christianity. The new logo, of course, does not let on that Mormonism’s Christ is incompatible with the biblical Christ, the Christ of Christianity.

The day after presenting the new church logo, President Nelson made “A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” that reaffirmed the doctrines of the LDS Restoration. According to the Proclamation, Mormon leaders “solemnly proclaim” several LDS distinctives, including:

  • The First Vision (wherein Joseph was told all Christian churches were wrong and their beliefs an abomination to God.)
  • The Restoration of the Priesthood (without which any baptisms, marriages, etc., as performed by Christian clergy, are “presumptuous and blasphemous” -Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, )
  • The Book of Mormon as scripture (which claims the “great and abominable church,” — also known as the “church of the devil”; i.e., any non-Mormon church — has corrupted both the Christian gospel and the Christian scripture, the Bible. See 1 Nephi 13 and 14.)
  • The Restoration of Christ’s church (being the only place one can receive the “ordinances of salvation” for “There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” -Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 670)
  • Continuing Revelation (without which, according to Mormonism, Christianity crumbles: “Religious denominations relied entirely on the dead letter of the Bible for their authority. They closed the heavens against them­selves, and their interpretations of scripture without divine guid­ance led them into division, subdivision, and multiplication of churches, each going its own way blindly and in confusion.” (Joseph Field­ing Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:97)

The LDS church’s new Proclamation to the World affirms that Mormonism still hates Christianity. Though LDS phrases, graphics, and symbols have changed over the last 200 years, Mormonism remains the same in its disdain and disparagement of the historic Christian faith.

More importantly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be theologically incompatible with historic, biblical Christianity.

Anciently, the biblical apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church regarding his concern that they could be led astray by false teachers. He explained how this could happen: “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Paul’s description fits Mormonism well. By dismissing the biblical doctrines embraced by historic Christianity, Mormonism has fallen prey to a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

Despite the new church logo, one must consider the foundational principles upon which the church’s heralded Proclamation rests. Mormonism continues its love/hate relationship with Christianity, using Christianity’s history and reputation to validate the LDS faith, while rejecting Christianity’s defining truth-claims. Of Mormonism, God might well say, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…having a form of godliness…they deny the power thereof” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

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