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They call themselves Christians

A pastor supporting Gov. Rick Perry of Texas dismisses Mormonism as a cult. Supporters of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, insist that Mormons are Christians. And soon the Internet is featuring articles on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and addressing the question of whether its adherents should be called Christians.

This is nonsense, but it is nonsense with a pedigree.

The followers of the God of Love have been much given to contumely about one another from the very earliest days of Christianity. The Book of Acts describes a spat between Paul and the followers of James in Jerusalem that is unconvincingly papered over. The Council of Nicea was convened by imperial authority because squabbling between the Arians and Athanasians was disrupting public order. The Roman Catholic participants in the Fourth Crusade happily bypassed Palestine and sacked the Greek Orthodox city of Constantinople. The Inquisition was on the hunt for Protestants; Protestant Britain inhibited Roman Catholics’ civil liberties. Must I go on?

Given the variety of beliefs and practices of people who have described themselves as Christians over the past two millennia, it is ill-advised for any denomination or sect to claim to determine who is or is not a Christian. Besides, like the issue of who is ultimately to receive salvation, the question is not one susceptible of resolution by any temporal authority.

In American political discourse, Christian has come to be identified with a spectrum of politically conservative evangelicals, who, though numerous, do not have an exclusive claim on the term. Other Christians now tend to identify themselves by their denominations instead.



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:50 PM | | Comments (11)


Well said, John. Saying "they're not Christian" is really just a way of saying "we don't like their beliefs". It's roughly akin to saying "ain't isn't a word". It is, but it's just one that many people dislike.

Calling the LDS church Christian is about as accurate as calling Christianity Judaism, or Islam Christianity. The Mormon church is clearly _derived from_ Christianity, but is far enough out of the stream of orthodoxy to have become a new species, as it were. Similarly, it is large and old enough to clearly not be a cult, but an independent religion on its own.

I see. And your authority to adjudicate who may and may not be called Christian derives from ... ?

I was interested to hear Rick Perry's wife on the news yesterday saying that they had been called by God. She implied that others in the race might THINK they have been called by God, but they were the real deal.

I was equally brought to a moment of consideration when I heard a member of a fringe Christian denomination refer to Mormonism as being outside "mainline Christianity." That is a term which has always referred to traditional forms of the Christian body including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and similar folk. I think this person was re-defining the term to include his tiny, single-issue denomination. But, then again, who is the expert who draws these lines?

What all mainstream Christian denominations have in common is that Nicene Creed. Mormons consider the Nicene Creed a "corrupt teaching."

Neither do the Nestorians and Copts accept the Nicene Creed. That term "mainstream Christianity" has to be handled with care. The point is that it's not the only stream.

All mainstream Christian denominations subscribe to that Nicene Creed. Mormons consider the Nicene Creed a "corrupt teaching."

I heard you the first time.

Honest, I only posted once! While I am personally acquainted with Mormons with whom I have discussed this, I don't think I know any Nestorians or Copts, so I have learned something here.

City Redux, it's the blankety-blank Captcha at fault, I'm sure--it happens to us all.

I've posted this before, but can't resist recalling the time a Mormon classmate from high school appeared at my college to ask me to marry him "for life and all eternity." My answer: "No. And no." Wouldn't you think he would have at least asked me out on a date first? I felt terrible for his parents who were outside waiting in the car, expecting a "Yes! And yes!"

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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