A friend of ours was asking the other day about why so many people have such strong negative reactions to Mormons. “I’ve studied other Christian religions,” he said, “And Mormonism is not that different. Why the strong feelings?” He and my husband discussed some differences, for example that we believe God has a body and that Christ and the Father are separate beings.
But he had a good point. Why to we seem so strange to some people, and yet our views on Christ and the atonement really aren’t that different? What could that amount to?
In thinking about it a little, I think it’s actually a credit to the Mormon faith that it is so similar to general Christianity, but with some subtle but major diversions. To me, this says that what Mormons have and what general Christianity has are rooted in the same beginning. Of course this is biased because of my faith. But hear me out for a minute.
The Latter-day Saint (Mormon) faith has both a similar worship of Christ but it also has robust readings of the creation, Adam and Eve, premortal life, postmortal life, and even the House of Israel. Many of the subjects that seem pointless or out of place in a general Christian context take on very strong importance from the Latter-day Saint standpoint.
In other words, we have both the teachings about Jesus as our Savior, about grace saving us, and about the resurrection of Christ bringing us the chance for eternal life, AND we have a mythical story of the creation and Adam and Eve, a ritualism we perform in priesthood ordinances in and out of temples, and strong belief that the House of Israel is literal and vital to the history of the world. We have it all at the same time! We have Christianity plus more, all that they have to offer plus a story to hang it in.
As a believer, I can’t help but think this means that Mormonism came first. The fact that we are in some ways so close to general Christianity, but that are differences are odd and substantial though subtle at the same time (I know I’m not making much sense here, sorry), says to me that our beliefs came first and the rest are abstractions from it. We can explain the creation and Israel, plus the atonement. We take it all together. We have answers. We have a framework. AND, we have Christ crucified. The fact that our way of thinking about Christ and the Father is different may be the most important detail off all. If we believe in grace and the atonement as other Christians do, then why in the world would we have the difference of thinking Christ has a body and is separate from the Father? Why do we have something so different but still use the New Testament, just as they do? If we had simply evolved as another Christian faith, then we would likely have adopted the same view. But this wasn’t an evolution, it was a revolution – yes, I know, a restoration.
So with our minor but huge differences, we see the reason to wonder where this religion came from. And once we look further and realize that it has gathered in everything from the Fall to the gathering of Israel to spiritual gifts to personal revelation to prophets to high priests to tithing etc etc etc, then if I weren’t already a member I’d have to wonder about how this religion could house all these subjects in a coherent manner, and also have the worship of Christ at its core. The differences in worship wouldn’t be cause to reject it, but cause to look more curiously at this Christian – though often not accepted as such – religion.