In this presidential election year, much discussion has been about the LDS church and its relation to orthodox Christianity. Here are a couple related articles that suggest the LDS church become a religion of its own, separating from the orthodox Christian tradition. Richard Land, a proponent of such an idea suggests four Abrahamic religions,
“Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth….Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam.” ~The Christian Post
It appears that members of the LDS church are not entirely opposed to the idea. David Mason wrote a N.Y. Times article entitled, “I’m a Mormon not a Christian.” In his Op-ed, he compared LDS church with Christianity’s struggle for identity from Judaism. He asserts,
“Christianity, you’ll recall, had to fight the same battle. Many early Christians grew up reading the Torah, living the law, observing the Sabbath and thinking of themselves as Jews. They were aghast to find that traditional Judaism regarded them as something else entirely.”
If the Christianity is about Jesus, who he is and what he did, then maybe LDS should be a separate religion. Certainly the LDS church does not subscribe to the notion that the person and work of Christ hails preeminent importance to genuine faith. For the LDS church, other things retain priority over Christ and his work. Does the LDS church have enough importance to be considered a separate religion? There have always been cults of major religions. Judaism has Kabbalah, Islam has Bahai, Christianity has… well, lets just say they have more than their allotted crazies (e.g. David Koresh?). When should these become a separate world religion? Do these types of things come out of pronouncements or are they more organic? To help understand this one should identify the differences between a cult and a religion. Brad Hirschfield suggests five characteristics of a cult. He asserts,
“First, cults tend to centralize power in the hands of a single individual or small group that is considered beyond questions. Second, they treat all questions about the group and its beliefs as intolerable challenges to the group’s authority and authenticity. Third, they demean all those who do not share their beliefs and sow fear and mistrust amongst their believers about all such people. Fourth, they typically cut off all or most opportunities for members to interact freely with those outside the group. And finally, they take revenge upon those who choose to leave the group, in ways which include, cutting them off from all relationships with those who remain inside, confiscation of material goods and even physical harm.”
So perhaps we should assess the LDS faith based on these types of qualifiers. We should also seek to distinguish the political LDS veneer from the layman reality under which most LDS members reside. This is not a shot at the LDS church as I would suggest the same thing about most public figures that claim Christianity as their religion. In the case of the LDS church, it might be helpful to travel to Utah or Montana with Hirschfield’s characteristics in hand to get a boots on the ground assessment. In these places we might find closer resemblance to Hirschfield’s suggestions than the Political LDS machine or Mitt Romney would like.