LDS apologist Jeff Lindsey quotes an email received once from someone who was questioning the LDS Church’s right to claim the label of Christian. In that email, the unidentified critic says:
“The beliefs that you profess are not commonly considered ‘Christian’.... Let us not care who's theology is correct, if in fact either one is. My thought is, simply, that people have ideas that they instinctively associate with the word ‘Christian’ that members of the LDS church do not. A few examples would be their version of the trinity, works not being necessary for salvation, and not being able to achieve Godhood because of the uniqueness of their God. If that is the case, then isn't presenting yourself as a ‘Christian’ to someone who is uninformed of LDS beliefs deceptive?”
They then go on to say,
“Please understand that I am only concerned with allowing truthful communication between members and non-members of the Church to occur. Honestly, I think that the LDS church as a whole needs to stop trying to apply the term 'Christian' to itself and invent a new one, just for the sake of honest communication.”
Lindsey, of course, offers his own response to this question. But, since reading this question several months ago, I have wished to express a few thoughts on it.
First of all, I readily grant that there are things believed by Latter-Day Saints that are not commonly associated with being “Christian.” However, I dispute that this is problematic for communication. On my mission, when talking with various people of various faiths, it was not all that difficult to clearly communicate our different views on the Godhead, salvation, and several other doctrines. These kinds of differences generally came up in the first conversation, right there on the doorstep! In fact, we freely brought them up lots of the time. In no instance that I can remember did anybody feel we were dishonest in representing ourselves as Christians upon discovering these differences.
On the other hand, being in the “Bible Belt” we certainly ran into plenty of real life anti-Mormons who already knew (or thought they knew) our beliefs on those issues. In such cases, no matter how much we insisted that Jesus Christ was at the center of our faith, they refused to acknowledge us as Christians.
Now, if “honest communication” is our aim – as this unnamed critic professes – then let’s consider the one idea that is most “instinctively associated” with the label of Christian. That is, belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, and Savior, and Redeemer, the prophesied Messiah. This is a belief certainly held by Latter-Day Saints, and (again thinking back to on my mission) it is really the only idea I found being “instinctively” and consistently associated with the label Christian by all the lay Christians I had so many discussions with. At the same time, the natural association we have with a label like non-Christian or even Cult is that they don’t believe in Jesus Christ. Now, then, does that sound like “honest communication” to you?
Often when we ran into people who had been told we are a non-Christian cult, then overcoming that stigma and convincing them that we do in fact put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation was almost an insurmountable obstacle. I remember one girl we met with three times in Portsmouth, VA, whose family kept telling her that we were not Christians. Every time we met with her we had to re-convince her that we believed in Jesus Christ. We showed her several passages in the Book of Mormon every time. It always took the whole time we were with her to finally get her to believe us when we said we believed in Jesus Christ. As a result, we couldn’t get anywhere further with her, and so we had to just stop meeting with her.
My point is simply this: If “honest communication” is the goal, then it is more honest to label Latter-Day Saints as Christians rather than non-Christians, because the ideas most instinctively associated by the label of non-Christian (primarily a lack of belief in Jesus Christ), is far less accurate (and therefore dishonest) then any misconceptions that may arise out of Mormons calling themselves Christians.