by Joseph F. Martin
Left: Portrait of Joseph Smith by an unknown painter, c. 1842. Right: A stained glass window (1913) depicting Smith's claimed encounter with Jesus and God the Father, on display at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It is safe to say that when the Mormons built a fantastic, six-spired, gleaming Mormon Temple outside of Washington, DC in 1974, not too many East Coasters were familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) story. I recall gawking at the temple during a drive, as my brother’s Catholic friend knowingly intoned that the gold figure topping the tallest spire represented the angel Gabriel blowing his trumpet at the end of the world. To my then-Methodist ears that sounded appealingly Evangelical. And of course it was entirely wrong. But it was typical of how most people approached Mormonism, interpreting their encounters with LDS believers with the assumption that they shared a common Christian vocabulary and frame of reference with the group, which, while maybe a bit separatist, had to be essentially like all the other “denominations.”For Martin's thoughtful critique of this attitude, Read More Here >>
In the years since, thanks to Mormonism’s exponential growth and our accelerated media culture, the LDS church has become far less of a mystery in many ways. Stories of Joseph Smith’s vision and his digging up golden plates from which he translated The Book of Mormon—essentially an Incan reimagining of the New Testament—as well as Brigham Young’s trek across the Rockies have become just another chapter in American lore. Mormons tend to be outstanding people, salt of the earth—and with Western culture rapidly secularizing, many Christians now are advocating that the LDS are actually separated, albeit peculiarly so, brethren.
This seems to be the take of Stephen Webb. In a fascinating piece for First Things (Feb. 2012), titled “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ,” he says that for a large part of his teaching career, he did not try to hide his condescension towards Mormonism. But, Webb writes, “I have come to repent of this view, and not just because I came to my senses about how wrong it is to be rude toward somebody else’s faith. I changed my mind because I came to realize just how deeply Christ-centered Mormonism is.”