Between the recent conference on Methodists and Mormons and the events of my own week, I have been left pondering the question: should Mormons be categorized as Protestants?
This week at Casper College our annual humanities festival focused on sin. On Thursday night, there was a panel on the issue of sin from the perspective of different religions. Their was a Catholic Priest, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Mormon Bishop. No, they did not walk into a bar.
The Mormon bishop was a mathematics professor at the college. He did a great job.
I was part of a group of faculty and students that tweeted the event. One of the students, Micah, is a member of the debate team and the son of a Lutheran minister in Cheyenne.
Micah wondered in a tweet why there was not a protestant representative on the panel. A colleague in the English department asked “Aren’t Mormons considered to be Protestant?”
Micah is quite sure that Mormons are not Christian, let alone Protestant. To be honest, I have not asked him to fully explain why. Debaters like to win the argument and arguing religion with students is something I avoid. For the most part, Micah views Christ’s grace as sufficient. He views the Book of Mormon as a sign that Mormons do not view that grace as sufficient.
However, Joseph, the English professor was using Protestant in the way that I had been introduced to it growing up. Protestants are non-Catholic Christians.
(The Protestant song “How Great Thou Art” is being song by a duet as I type this…during Sacrament meeting.)
Protestant is a pretty broad category which includes many churches. This ranges from mainline Protestant sects to Non-denominational churches. It includes churches founded in Europe and churches founded in both the First and Second Great Awakenings.
Mormons do not think of themselves as Protestants. I think they mostly think of the themselves as rejecting both Protestantism and Catholicism and returning (restoring) to the true form of the original Biblical church.
However, we have much in common with Protestants. Mormons use the King James Version. This is the Protestant Bible. Our music is very Protestant in style and many of our hymns are Protestant hymns.
Many of the theological issues addressed in the Book of Mormon are the issues facing Protestantism in the midst of the Second Great awakening. Mormonism does not so much reject these debates, instead it takes a specific position on them.
Now Mormonism surely falls outside the Protestant mainstream. However, I do not think this puts Mormonism outside the category of Protestantism all together. Instead, Mormons are likely best grouped with groups like the Shakers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists.
Mormons like to see themselves as having much in common with the Catholics (claims to original authority) and Jews (Abrahamic covenants and temples). I contend that such a view fails to account for the actual origins of Mormonism.
On Tuesday, I attended Shrove Tuesday dinner at St. Marks Episcopal Church in downtown Casper. My kids loved the pancakes. I enjoyed chatting with the minister and an older couple. It felt a lot like a ward activity.
12 Replies to “Mormons as Protestants”
Nice post, Chris. We’ve gone the rounds on this before at JI with several smart folks making good points on both sides of this debate:
I think Mormonism is best understood historically as radical Protestantism.
Whenever I see this argument I think of the young lady-old hag drawing from near the turn of the previous century. Whether we see a beautiful young woman or an aged lady is often determined by our frame of reference. Those who believe that we are not “Christian” certainly do not want to use the label of Protestant for us. Those of us who want to be perceived as mainstream Christian are much more comfortable with “Protestant.”
I wonder, though, if we were living in a strong Irish Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, would we be be eager to embrace such an appellation.
Radical Protestanism sounds right to me. Thanks for the link. That thread was amazing!
I have no desire to see us viewed a mainsteam Christian and we surely are not. I think in a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, you would likely get heat just for being a non-Catholic.
Christopher, I give my thanks along with Chris for your link there. My favorite sentence from the comments was WVS’s, “Mormonism bought and sold in a Protestant marketplace.” Whether or not we are Protestant, the “other churches” in our usual anecdotes are generically Protestant (except when we want to talk about priesthood authority, and then we can include Catholicism). Orthodox and other strains of Christianity are invisible to us, at least in my experience with Mormon discourse.
We’re not Protestants. We’re Masons. LOL.
More seriously it seems like Joseph and company were pretty positive towards the more Catholic groups but actively dislike the Protestants. Around the 1930’s you end up with an influx of Protestant theology – especially as it relates to evolution. However at the same time it seems like a lot of our theology was a reaction against Protestantism. So I think we have a kind of complex relationship. But there appears to be much more of a real relationship as opposed to Catholicism and especially Eastern Orthodoxy where we have strong parallels but rarely real connections.
“More seriously it seems like Joseph and company were pretty positive towards the more Catholic groups but actively dislike the Protestants.”
You’re kidding, right?
My guess is that Joseph likely knew very little about Catholism other than anti-Catholic Protestant rhetoric.
The Great Whore of All the Earth (is that the exact wording?) is the Catholic Church. Actually, I do not think that is really is, but I do think that is what the Book of Mormon is referring to. Few things in 1830 are more Protestant than referring to the Catholic Church in such terms.
I think that Mormonism was a response against much of the Protestantism of its day. However, the same can be said of the Methodists, Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists (amongst others).
How are ya?
Dane said: “Whether or not we are Protestant, the “other churches” in our usual anecdotes are generically Protestant (except when we want to talk about priesthood authority, and then we can include Catholicism). Orthodox and other strains of Christianity are invisible to us, at least in my experience with Mormon discourse.”
I think our treatment of other religions rarely reaches beyond straw men. We seem to treat all Protestants as Evangelical Born-Agains. I agree with you that we ignore orthodox lines…I am guilty of that for sure.
Chris, I think he read a fair number of commentaries and the like so was more knowledgeable by the end about Catholicism. How much I couldn’t say. But clearly he had at least superficial knowledge.
Regarding other religions I agree there is a certain sense of straw men. I think though that most members gauge other religions by their contact with them. Typically that means encounters with the beliefs via laity. However just as lots of regular Mormons have some pretty weird beliefs that don’t line up with official teachings so too do many Protestants and Catholics. For instance I’ve met lots of Catholics whose relation with venerated saints probably isn’t in keeping with the official doctrines of Catholicism. Likewise when I lived in the south the notion of “cheap grace” was a common belief as was modalism despite the fact both were heretical within Protestantism.
It’s funny as we’re constantly getting upset when anti-Mormons appeal to what some members believe as a way to define Church belief. (Remember that annoying chapel Mormons vs. internet Mormons category from some years back?) However if we hate when they do it we really need to be careful not to do it ourselves.