Mormon theater professor David V. Mason ruffled some dovecotes the other day by declaring in a NYT op-ed that he doesn't consider himself a Christian.
In fact, I rather agree with Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who calls Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Being set apart from Christianity in this way could give Mormonism a chance to fashion its own legacy.
Whether or not Mormons merit inclusion in the Christian fold I leave to the interested parties. I do think, however, that Mason should not buy into Land's Abrahamic formulation. Yes, like Islam, Mormonism has a prophet and a Scripture all its own. But Muslims count themselves Abrahamic because they trace their lineage to the patriarch through his first-born son Ishmael. There's no comparable reason to consider Mormonism Abrahamic in a way that Judaism and traditional Christianity are not.
What it is, rather, is Judeo-Christian--distinctively so. Like a number of other new American religious movements of the antebellum era, early Mormonism understood itself to be restoring primitive Christianity; unlike them, it also understood themselves to be restoring ancient Israel. Patriarachal polygamy and a Temple with special rituals were central to the project.
Calling Mormonism Abrahamic à la Land lets evangelicals consider it as remote from themselves as Islam--which these days, is pretty darn remote. "Judeo-Christian," by contrast, has become a favorite evangelical catchphrase for the tradition and values they hold dear. If I were running the show in Salt Lake, I'd insist on being counted among the Judeo-Christians. That would hold the evangelicals' feet to the fire.