In which our heroine is forced to confront her own hypocrisy

So if a friend said to me, “What do you think about that Mormon prophet who got arrested for polygamy?” I would, of course, tell my friend that he wasn’t a Mormon prophet.

If I overheard (and I have) someone say that Mormons aren’t Christians, I’d explain (and I have) that we certainly are.

But I suspect that Warren Jeffs would claim that he is Mormon.

I can’t have it both ways, can I? If I claim the right to exclude Warren Jeffs, the evangelicals can claim the right to exclude us, can’t they?

45 comments for “In which our heroine is forced to confront her own hypocrisy

  1. Mormons have a leader on Earth that secular organizations can reference for such things. The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can include or exclude.

    When Christ comes back, then the arguments can be ended on what Christian really means. I don’t think it is technical membership in an organization. Some Buddhists are quite Christian, in my view.

  2. Disputes over trademark relying on the claimants’ internal logic build bridges to nowhere. Mormons have one view, others disagree–both sides will just have to lump it.

  3. Evangelicals don’t have a monopoly on the term Christian — 2 millennia of schisms have guaranteed that nobody does. We do, however, have a monopoly on the term Mormon, seeing as the only other party that can plausibly lay claim to it (the CoC) has forfeited their claim.

  4. You could insist on “fundamentalist Mormon” though I seem to remember President Hinkley claiming there was no such thing in some interview.
    I should admit that I’m not too attached to the word “Christian.” They can have it all to themselves for all I care. Actions speak louder than words, so being like Christ is more important to me than laying claim to a label that has his name in it. That said, I have no qualms about insisting that the polygamous sects are not “Mormon.”

  5. Starfoxy, the question of whether we are Christian is about a whole lot more than a label; so is the question about whether the church that Warren Jeffs heads is Mormon.

    Julie, you would only be hypocritical to object to being excluded from those called Christian while excluding Jeffs from those called Mormon if you argued that a person is whatever he describes himself as. Obviously that won’t work. Suppose I started saying that I am a Buddhist, though I continue to believe what I now believe. Buddhists, of which of course there are many stripes, could reasonably object that, whatever a Buddhist is, it doesn’t include me. The questions of whether we are Christian and whether Warren Jeffs is a Mormon are questions about what it means to be a Christian and a Mormon.

    DKL, I’m not anxious to agree that Warren Jeffs can also call himself a Mormon, but why do you think his group cannot plausibly lay claim to the name?

  6. It seems to me that you’re part of the Mormon tradition – which I define as a broad religious phenomenon comparable to, say, the charismatic movement – if you believe that God revealed the book of that name through the prophet Joseph Smith, inaugurating a religious restoration. Most attempts to exclude fundamentalists from claims to the term strike me as having more to do with distaste for their version of polygamy than concern for theological or historical accuracy.

    If Warren Jeffs started calling himself the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then I think there would be a legitimate beef.

  7. The term “Mormon” is an exclusive term used to describe our branch.

    American Heritage Dictionary-Mormon n.
    1.An ancient prophet believed to have compiled a sacred history of the Americas, which were translated and published by Joseph Smith as the Book of Mormon in 1830.
    2. A member of the Mormon Church. Also called Latter-day Saint.

    You will find this to be the same in other excepted dictionaries as well. If you are catholic and get excommunicated and start your own branch you are not Catholic. We have liscense over the term mormon and it’s not because we are exlusionary or hypocritical it’s just plain theology.

    The term Christian however has existed for a long time and has a definition that encompasses a variety of religions. If you mean christian in a vary evangelical way then no we are not christian, our differences theologically is just too huge. Still the term Christian cannot be monopolized but the term Mormon certainly can be.

  8. Evangelicals don’t own title to Jesus, and we don’t hold title to Mormon. That’s why I identify myself as both a Mormon and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are related, but not synonymous.

    I don’t think I’ve ever identified myself as a Brighamite, though.

  9. Appeals to dictionaries in these matters tends to avoid the question at hand.

    The ultimate issue is who has authority to follow Joseph. We clearly feel we do, but that avoids the succession question entirely. Clearly the offshoots from our Church feel they are right much as we do with respect to mainstream Christianity.

    It’s a good question. I think it hard to argue based on history that we deserve the term. Further it seems like a reasonable term to apply to those who accept the Book of Mormon.

    Where the quibble might come is that Christian is defined in the text of the Bible as a follower of Christ. Whereas there is no such definition historically for Mormon. So it seem more open to political fighting than Christian does.

  10. I say that I am a Christian and that Warren Jeffs is not a Mormon or at least not a true Mormon. I can have it both ways because those are theological claims not claims which refer only to popularly accepted definitions. I fully admit that I am using both terms in normative and theological ways.

    I don’t however think its very consistent to say that any honest and non-bigoted person of any faith *must* affirm that we are Christians (referring only to the generally accepted, non-theological definition) and then turn around and use ‘Mormon’ as a way of drawing theological boundaries which exclude people who accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as the word of God. Under the generally accepted, non-sectarian definition of the term Jeffs is a Mormon. I say he’s not in a more important sense.

    Obviously this battle over usage causes confusion, which we should not want to promote. So I say explain why we are Christians, and let people decide for themselves if our definition is reasonable. I think most or many non-Mormons would find our reasons for calling ourselves Christians more reasonable that the arcane creedal reasons why some Christians (often sincerely) don’t accept us as such. Likewise I think that if we explain why we reject calling Jeffs a Mormon (e.g. things having to do with following the prophets, membership in a certain church, etc.), people will understand that we are not simply twisting the words in order to distance ourselves from someone who is unsavory. And I don’t see any inconsistency between the two usages and two arguments. Granted on the one hand we want an inclusive definition, while on the other we want a more exclusive one. But inclusivity and exclusivity are not the standards we’re using to come to those conclusions.

    “We do, however, have a monopoly on the term Mormon”
    Except that there are apostates who still call themselves Mormon. So how do we have a monopoly on the term? If we had such a monopoly it would seem that this dispute would not exist.

    In social conflicts people use terms in different ways in order to draw boundaries, claim high moral ground, and rally people to their cause. The two main pitfalls I see is that we would try to get around this inevitable moral dispute by 1) giving into someone else’s definitions and acknowledging that according to tradition or whatever were are not Christian, or 2) claim that there really is no dispute, only a bunch of bigots who refuse to accept the “real” definition for nefarious, dishonest reasons.

  11. Evangelicals might not own a title to Jesus but they certainly think they do. The term Mormon though is synomous with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are always to be spoken of in the same breath. My friend who is a Catholic priests will say of those who do not follow the sacraments of thier faith….”they are not catholic”. I can believe in the Book of Mormon and not be Mormon. The term “Mormon” is rooted in our brand of Christianity. We have always said of the late RLDS church that they were not Mormon and the same goes for FLDS. Warren Jeff and kin will continue though to use the term because they think they are mormon. I once asked an FLDS member how they would flood the earth with temples and his response was, “when christ comes again we will just use yours”. That really has nothing to do with the topic but it still makes me laugh.

  12. Julie,

    Warren Jeffs is not a Mormon if by Mormon you mean, as most people do, a member of “the” Mormon church — the one that has missionaries, a Tabernacle Choir, and a famous temple in SLC.

    When people say someone is Christian, most of them mean someone who believes the Jesus of the bible was who the NT says he is: the Son of God and the savior of mankind. (I’ve read several attempts, but still don’t understand the argument that accepting the Jesus of the NT as God and the only savior of mankind is insufficient to make one a “Christian.” Fortunately for us, everyone who is not a “Christian” thinks our definition is sufficient.)

    So to answer your question, you’re not being a hypocrite at all. Your answers are the right ones.

  13. Technically, he wasn’t arrested for polygamy. He is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice.

  14. I watched America’s Most Wanted (AMW) when it highlighted Jeffs. John Walsh’s voiceover passionately told of Jeffs’s alleged crimes. At a few points in the telecast, however, AMW attacked certain traditional Mormon practices. The one I remember most vividly was home and visiting teaching. Walsh stated, “Jeffs would send Church members to homes on a monthly basis to check up on them.” (imagine Walsh saying this while sneering). It’s a real indication of how modern culture manipulates facts to serve its needs. As Romney prepares for a presidential run, it could be interesting to see how the media portrays certain tenets from Mormonism. It could be a bumpy ride.

  15. So the question actually sounds true for John Taylor over a hundred years ago… interesting how times have changed.

  16. Recently a group of us discussed why it is “Christian’s” (those who have represent themselves as Christians rather than of the Pentacostal group one of the Christian denominations) don’t think we are Christians. The answer was we do not believe in the Niacian creed. We do not precieve of or worship the same God that they do.

    The word Catholic means universal. A Catholic Priest in Europe explained to me some years ago that all Christians are part of the Catholic church and as long as they are faithful to the Christian faith they are taught from childhood their baptism is valid. A person raised in the Catholic tradition who converts to any other religion or denomination however is damned.

    Jeffs is refered to by journalists and others as a Mormon because it is simpler and it blurs the lines between us and the polygamist sects. I think it is fair to say Jeffs is descended from polygamists and has never had a valid baptism in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his followers have lived outside society for such a long time that their issolation has left them bereft of any real idea of what is in mainstream Mormonism or society. However, my sister once dated a man who she later found out was a polygamist who had integrated himself into our local society and was seeking a wife. He often asked me to come along on dates with the two of them. It was very uncomfortable. He knew he wasn’t a Mormon. He just wanted the trappings.

  17. I think it is reasonable for anybody who believes in the Book of Mormon to call themselves “Mormon.” That said, the controvery over the term “Mormon” is qualitatively different from the controversy over the term “Christian.” In the latter case, it is a disagreement about who may apply that term to themselves. In the former case, it is a disagreement over who the press may apply the term to.

    Few believers in the Book of Mormon who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints identify themselves as “Mormon.” Check out the Beliefnet discussion boards. The board for the Community of Christ, Bickertonites, etc is called “Non-Mormon Latter Day Saints.” The board’s participants seem to think the word “Mormon” is hopelessly tainted by the Salt Lake association, so they have adopted “Latter Day Saint” (Note the capital D and the absence of a hyphen) as their preferred identity.

    A limited search turned up no instances of Warren Jeffs (or any other polygamous leader) identifying himself as a “Mormon.” It was always the press applying the term to him. I seem to recall that fundamentalists also tend to shun the term as too closely associated with Salt Lake.

    I think the real self-identification controversy arises in cases like Michael Quinn and Lavina Anderson who have been excommunicated but still identify themselves as “Mormon.”

  18. I’m a convert, but I’ve never liked the label Mormon. I even went through a period where I considered it to be practically a racial epithet against me. (How Dramatic) Seriously, I think it is a pretty worthless term, and am glad we as a church have jettisoned it for the longer but better “Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” This post just reminds me of that…

  19. Parapharasing Starfoxy’s I should admit that I’m not too attached to the word “Christian.” They can have it all to themselves for all I care. in #4, hasn’t the Church said essentially the same thing about “Mormon”; that we prefer “Latter-day Saint?” We seem to have many cultural Mormons who aren’t Latter-day Saints. In the same light, I frequently use CJC or CJClds instead of LDS when referring to the Church.

  20. A problem for the press is: What do they call Warren Jeffs? When David Koresh was in the news, they could call him a Branch Davidian, a simple, quick label, that people didn’t confuse with mainstream Seventh Day Adventists. With Jeffs, all they have is FLDS, which isn’t very distinct from LDS. The folks working media relations for the Church need to come up with a catchy name to pin on the apostate offshoots.

  21. Last Lemming, I think that a very important point. If these folks were self-identifying then I’d have more problems denying them the term Mormon. For the reasons I mentioned earlier. But when the press are calling people Mormons who don’t consider themselves Mormon then it really is a very different situation.

  22. Matt W., (20) I respect your feelings when you state “I’m a convert, but I’ve never liked the label Mormon.” In my case, also as a convert, it is just the contrary. I have explained the reasons for it here.

  23. The advantage that evangelical Christians have in excluding Mormons that Mormons wanting to exclude fundamentalists lack is a long tradition. Many, if not most Christians agree on what a Christian is, and agree that church history defines that in a negative sense by identifying all the heretics as non-Christian. To many Christians, the value of all the schismatic turmoil is that it defined clearly who was and wasn’t a Christian in an almost Darwinistic way (though they would never use that terminology). The sects that died out, or were extinguished, became heretics, and not Christians.

    We Mormons can try to do the same thing, but 150 years just doesn’t have the same stare decisis force as 20 centuries. Add to that the fact that we resist the same arguments from the rest of the Christian world, and our case looks even shakier.

  24. The arguments in favor of excluding Jeffs from the term “Mormon” can essentially be boiled down to:

    We got the name first and we’re bigger, so there!

  25. “The advantage that evangelical Christians have in excluding Mormons that Mormons wanting to exclude fundamentalists lack is a long tradition. Many, if not most Christians agree on what a Christian is, and agree that church history defines that in a negative sense by identifying all the heretics as non-Christian. To many Christians, the value of all the schismatic turmoil is that it defined clearly who was and wasn’t a Christian…We Mormons can try to do the same thing, but 150 years just doesn’t have the same stare decisis force as 20 centuries.”

    I have to say I really think JKC is correct here. There is something to the force of history and tradition in these debates. I really hate attacks on our faith as something “anti-Christian” or “unChristian” is some specifically moral way or doctrinal way, but when people speak theologically about us as “not a Christian church” or “not part of the Christian tradition,” I think we simply have to accept that they have a point. There are thousands of pages of Mormon apologetics which prove the inconsistencies and changes and cover-ups in the development of the Christian label, through purges and councils an schisms and so forth, but I don’t see how they can change people’s apprehension of their own traditions in what is called what. Only time will do that. (It took a couple of hundred years before the Catholic church finally got around to accepting Protestants as Christians rather than heretics.)

  26. Julie, I have no problem with any group clearly distancing itself from someone like Warren Jeffs. I think that’s a good thing. From what little I know about him (and I only know what’s in the news) he’s a pretty evil man as is evident from his abuse of power. Though I can’t speak for all evangelicals, I would guess that most would view the connection between Jeffs and Mormonism as being something like the connection between Jim Jones and Protestantism.

    What I do find confusing (calling it hypocrisy is, for me, too harsh) is the claim that the early church was apostate. It seems to me that this claim distances the LDS church from historic Christianity almost by definition. In doing a little cyber investigating today, I learned that the CofC church has dropped this claim. Perhaps they felt the weight of what I find confusing.

  27. Craig V: It seems to me that this claim distances the LDS church from historic Christianity almost by definition.

    Though when the apostasy occurred is unclear for Mormons, it is clear that your claim is right: we distance ourselves from historic Christianity. There’s little point in claiming to be a restoration of original Christianity if we also make ourselves part of historic Christianity, is there? It seems to me that the CofC may have, implicitly if not consciously, given up on their claim to be part of the Restoration.

  28. Jim F., here’s the disconnect for me. Evangelicals claim that the LDS church is, in some sense, not Christian. The LDS church claims that the historic church is in some sense apostate. If either walks away from such claims with deep offense, then it seems to me they have engaged in the very behavior that Julie calls hypocrisy or trying to have it both ways. Rather than interpreting such claims as mutual insults, what if we tried to find ways to look past the offense and achieve a better understanding of one another?

  29. “There’s little point in claiming to be a restoration of original Christianity if we also make ourselves part of historic Christianity, is there?”

    I disagree, Jim. “Christianity”–whether “original” or “historic”–is hugely multifaceted; we could very easily be a part of historic Christianity while insisting that certain elements of that history were so deeply buried or so long lost as to require divine intervention–a restoration–to bring back. I strongly suspect that one of the long-term consequences of the maturing of most LDS thinking about the apostacy will be a slow, mostly implicit, but nonetheless real acknowledgement that we are Christian in a historic sense as well as restorationist. (But then, I also believe that increasing acceptance of the Book of Mormon will eventually force historic Christianity to reconceive itself in ways which are accommodating of the idea of restorations.)

  30. Does Jeffs refer to himself as a Mormon? My limited experience with polygamous families is that they are just as eager to distinguish themselves from the SLC Church — after all, we are the apostate group that abandoned The Principle in 1890 and fell away from The True Gospel.

  31. Craig V: I couldn’t agree more. I think we ought not to be offended by the evangelical claim that we are not Christian because, even though I disagree with that claim, it makes sense. I understand it, so I understand how someone who says it is trying to say what is true, not trying to insult me. And I think Mormons should find a way to talk with others about our claims that Christianity went into apostasy that, as far as possible, doesn’t give cause for offense. As I see it, part of that is recognizing that we do, in fact, distance ourselves from historic Christianity (though perhaps, as Russell suggests, there is an alternative).

    Russell: I can see what you describe as a logical possibility, but I have a difficult time seeing it as an actual one. Can you flesh your alternative out any?

  32. Jim F, we have a monopoly on it because (a) we have the more reasonable case based on origin, (b) there are millions of us and only a few of them, and (c) our church has high-paid PR firms advancing it’s claim.

  33. You must understand though that Evagelical Christianity and Catholics say we are not “Christian”. You might find a Priest or a born again who thinks otherwise but the ecclesiastical leadership of these religions specifically do not accept our baptism and deny our christian status. We are not Christian by there definition. We might support “Christian values” but we worship according to them a different Christ. We should allow them belief because it is true. I will never argue with someone when it comes to the “christian” argument. The encyclopedia of mormonism even states that we don’t worship christ but we worship the father. Now we understand what this means and it’s pointless to explain how it works. Like words with multiple meanings the term Christian is no different. We are Christian in the sense that we look towards christ for atonement but we are not evangelical christians, nor our we gnostics Christians. John a Widstoe speaking on the N.I.V translation of the bible commented that eventually because of false beliefs about Jesus in the translation that eventually the adherents of these groups would see dwindling numbers because there was no power in worshiping a false christ. I can see that this has happened and is happening the evangelicals and catholics, and they have desperatley tried to reinvent themselves. Anyway back to the term “Mormon”, they might use it but they are not Mormon, it’s not a possesive thing it’s just a fact. I don’t spend time thinking about what I write so I am sure this is filled with embarassing errors.

  34. Locke,

    The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is wrong.

    “the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength” (2 Nephi 25:29)

    “the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites…” (4 Nephi 1:37)

    “I believe in Christ…I’ll worship him with all my might” (Hymn 134)

    It’s true, there are way more scriptures that talk about worshiping the Father in the name of Christ, and I understand the doctrines behind the idea, but the point is that we cannot honestly say that we don’t worship Christ if our own scriptures say that Christians worship Christ in at least two places. How in the world did the writers of the EOM get the authority to make doctrinal pronouncements like that anyway?

  35. One problem we have in defining ourselves within the historical Christan tradition, as Russel hinted at, is that we don’t have a clear historical picture of the apostasy. Some Mormons describe it as an immediate loss of priesthood, within a few decades. Others say it ended when the apostles were all killed. Personally, I think it had more to do with the Church’s marriage with the state in Constantine and the Holy Roman empire, etc, and that it was a very gradual falling away. (Mostly, I’m persuaded that this was a form of unrighteous dominion, and when that happens, “amen to the priesthood of that [institution].” We also have competing narratives about whether it was the loss of the priesthood, the loss of doctrinal truth, or deliberate mistranslation of the scriptures that was the thrust of the apostasy.

    But I think Russel is right. If we can agree on an apostasy narrative that doesn’t demonize the historical church (but does still recognize the need for a restoration) then we can lay a better claim to being Christians. However, the obstacle we’ll face is that when we point out the similarities we have with early Christians, then the obvious counter is–yeah, but they all died out because they were heretics and worshiped a false Christ. It’s a post hoc ergo proper hoc argument. It will take more than just a maturing of Mormon thought, the rest of the Christian world will also have to see the value in the early heretical groups. I think Pagel’s Adam, Eve, and the Serpent takes a small step in that direction.

    On a completely unrelated tangent, its kind of interesting to look at the rhetorical similarities between the statements President Woodruff made while discontinuing polygamy and the statements Lincoln made when suspending Habeas Corpus during the civil war. There’s no conclusion or point to that observation, its just a comparison that I find interesting.

  36. Craig V.,
    You make a good point. I think the crux of the matter is the word Christian. If we wanted to be belligerent we could make the argument that through the restoration we are in fact the only Christians. We recognize that is an oversimplification however. Faith in Christ clearly runs deep throughout Catholicism, Protestantism, and Mormonism. This is important foundation of faith we all share. Co-opting the word Christian to mean only a fraction of those is by nature divisive. If catholicism decided that protestants were no longer christian, after all they did excommunicate all who joined in the reformation, I feel certain you would take offense to such a grouping, and yet the theological divide is real. I think it is right and good to underscore the differences but maybe with a less politically charged term like restorationist vs reformist vs. Catholic/Papal. I don’t know.

    It makes some sense that Jeffs could have claim on Mormon as he does hold the Book of Mormon as the word of God. The semantics of such names can really make your head spin. I do wish the media could come up with a distinctive term like branch davidians or Jonestown, or whatever is required to avoid the guilt by association problem.

  37. I don’t know that I think it’s hypocritical, Julie. When I’m in the company of people who are critical of the Church, I become defensive and protective of our doctrine, history, and values. But when I’m in the company of those who are extolling the virtues of the GAs and the Church as the absolute truth, God’s only-ordained religion and chosen people, I tend to be… critical. It might be defensive, but I don’t think it’s hypocritical.

  38. There are many polygamists in the world. A certain subset of polygamists engages in the practice for reasons which are best understood in the context of the history of the LDS Church. Other polygamists, particularly in the developing world, engage in the practice for reasons entirely unrelated to Mormon history or doctrine. When the media refer to Jeffs as a “Mormon polygamist,” there are a couple of possible interpretations: 1) Jeffs is a Mormon, of the polygamous variety; or 2) Jeffs is a polygamist, of the Mormon variety. I find (2) to be mostly unobjectionable, particularly when it is made clear (as it frequently is) that the institutional church does not presently endorse polygamy and excommunicates those who practice it.

  39. Interesting and thoughtful comments.

    When I took the oral part of my ordination exam I was asked to define and critique Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. I did so to the satisfaction of most, but there was in attendance a professor from Fuller seminary that didn’t seem content with the discussion. He asked me “Who was Pelagious?” Of course, I had almost no idea, and that was the point. Theological discussions, which are both good and necessary, tend to flatten our perspective of actual people. Perhaps the path through the hypocrisy Julie describes is to acknowledge, openly and clearly, our differences while at the same time, in humility before God, affirming our common humanity, our stories of life, love, falleness, forgiveness, death, suffering, confusion and joy. I’ll probably be accused of being a naïve idealist (since we Presbyterians haven’t even been able to pull this off among ourselves).

  40. Craig (#43) touches on one main schism…One needs to look to Pelagius and St. Augustine, and decide which theology their religion is closer to – Chrisitans are nearer to St. Augustine.

    One also has to look to the “saved” question and argue whether we can live a life of crap then atone in the end and be fully saved and never judged by uttering the words “I believe in Christ” on our deathbed, or if we have to strive to live a life nearer to that of Christ.

  41. Anon, I would think that anyone believing that he or she can live a life of crap, as you put it, and then be saved by uttering words should be clearly warned that God will not be mocked. Whether or not one can find salvation at his or her death bed is, I think, a different question – one that is answered by the thief on the cross.

Comments are closed.