Guest blogger Bob Rees (who wrote a popular post on temple garments in August) responds to David V. Mason's June New York Times op ed "I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian," saying that Mason "seems so radically different" from how Bob sees himself -- "as emphatically Christian while also being a very genuine Mormon." --JKR
Why I am a Christian First and a Mormon Second
by Bob Rees
For the past several months I have been pondering David V. Mason’s New York Times op-ed piece, “I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.” Mason, who sees himself “about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find” and “emphatically not a Christian,” seems so radically different from how I see myself—as emphatically a Christian while also being a very genuine Mormon.
In a lecture I gave at Graduate Theological Union last December titled, “Are Mormons Christian?” I stated, “No other word [“Christian”] so accurately defines Mormons.” As Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, declared, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” (2 Nephi 25: 23, 26). And in spite of what some Christians contend, the Christ Nephi speaks of and whom Mormons worship is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world as found in the New Testament.
Mormons consider it ironic that they believe in such core Christian beliefs as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, and the Resurrection and yet are not considered Christian by some of their fellow believers, whereas many mainline Christians who no longer hold such beliefs are considered so.
For example, various polls taken over the past several decades show that a significant percentage of those who consider themselves Christian do not believe in the Virgin Birth, a belief that is axiomatic for Mormons, especially so because it is affirmed in the Book of Mormon.
A 2006 survey of Americans revealed that only 44 percent of Protestants and 38 percent of Catholics believe in a personal, physical resurrection, a core belief held by a vast majority of Latter-day Saints. To most Mormons such beliefs seem far more radical, and far more determinant as who qualifies as Christian, than do some Latter-day Saint beliefs that others consider heretical.
“Christian” is not an appellation with which one is born or reborn, but rather what one becomes through allegiance to Christ, fidelity to his teachings, and actively loving and serving others, in spite of theological differences.
I say I am a “Mormon second,” but I am nevertheless Mormon for the primary reason that I find my Christianity broadened and deepened by the doctrines taught in Latter-day Saint scriptures and by Latter-day Saint prophets, and because I find the unique teachings of what might be termed Christian Mormonism compatible with what I find in the gospels. In addition, Mormonism’s teachings about human and divine nature, the universal brother and sisterhood of all humans, and the endurance of family ties in eternity, in the words of the prophet Joseph Smith, “taste good.”
I contend that all religions, Christian and otherwise, would do better to focus not on our differences but rather on what we have in common and to seek fellowship with all who seek to live Jesus’ two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . [and] Love your neighbor as yourself.” As he said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.