Predictably, comments made by Rev. Robert Jeffress concerning Mitt Romney–specifically that Romney is a Mormon and therefore not a Christian–have inspired charges of that most severe and nebulous crime of the 21st century: hate. After all, Mormons have (recently) begun marketing themselves as just another Christian denomination. Who is Rev. Jeffress or anyone else to tell them otherwise? It’s clearly “discrimination” seeing as how it quite explicitly recognizes a difference between two things: Mormonism & Christianity. Is not discrimination the core of “hate”? Is it not then hateful to define Christianity in a way that excludes someone who claims the label?
In light of the accusations of hate being flung about like so much monkey dung, perhaps the better question for all of the professional hate-haters is this: does saying it is hateful to define Christianity in an exclusive way actually define Christianity in an exclusive way?
Here is the thing: Christians rightly deny that the followers of Jospeh Smith are Christians because they explicitly deny the core teachings of Christ. They are, for example, polytheistic, claiming that God is one among what will ultimately be many, and that in time each Mormon patriarch will become a god as well. Indeed, the Christ they follow is not the real God-man whom Christians worship. He was not an eternal person of the Triune God, but was simply one of God’s multiple created sons who became a god himself. Furthermore, Christianity is concerned with Christ receiving, in our stead, the punishment that each of us deserves for the evil we do and are (a free gift which we receive through faith). Mormons, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with a progressive deification of each man which they achieve through right living. Both a Mormon’s God and his relationship to that God are entirely different than a Christian’s.
As a Christian, I therefore perceive that these teachings are entirely contrary to my religion. If I publicly recognize this by stating that Mormons are not Christians, what then are you saying if you respond by accusing me of hate? You are saying that things like Trinitarian monotheism and a substitutionary atonement are most definitely not essential to Christianity. They are, however, quite obviously essential to my religion, and you have no grounds to tell me otherwise. You have therefore just defined Christianity exclusively. By accusing me of hate, you have told me that I am not really a Christian. As soon as your accusation left your lips, you just hoisted yourself on your own hateful petard. You have, in fact, done the very thing which you have claimed is hateful– you were just being either ignorant or blatantly duplicitous when you did so.
Of course, the accuser might be both. Consider, for example, this stunningly “hateful” piece on CNN. He admits right out that he doesn’t know much about Mormon teaching and does nothing else to indicate that this statement was mere modesty, so ignorance is a given. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take him very long to move on from quoting Jeffress’s “hate-filled language” to putting scare quotes around “Christian” when referring to those who actually believe what Christ taught about salvation being through Him alone. Indeed, the entire remainder of the piece is about how Mormons are more Christian than Christians are. The author seems quite comfortable sorting out the real Christians from the fake ones despite his ignorance. Why then should he condemn others for doing the same thing–particularly when they might be more informed than he is?
In the end we all seem to agree that it’s both good and necessary to draw lines around Christianity. So let’s dispense with the meaningless charges of hatred. Instead, let’s actually look at Christ–who He is, what He did, what He taught us–and try to draw the lines well instead of poorly.