Here is the link to the actual story and the radio version.
This was a great news clip. One thing that kept running through my head was that the Mormon faith in the USA is roughly 3.2 Million people. For comparison the LCMS is roughly 2.5M, Methodist 11M, Baptist 36M, Roman Catholic 57M. How does a group of people who are roughly the same size as the LCMS have such a strong influence on the culture such that two representatives were running for President and their charity is widely known even in the relatively naked public square of NPR?
From the conclusion of the piece…
They would pay a full tithe on the profit when they sold a stock. Yet, if they dumped a stock for a loss, they wouldn’t use the loss to offset and lower the income they tithed on. Unlike taxpayers, the Mormons in the study weren’t big fans of taking deductions so they could send less money to the church.
“They’re worried about being petty with God,” Dahl says.
I asked a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City if a few more rules defining income might make tithing easier on Mormons or bring in more money for the church. He said all this soul-searching about what you owe God is kind of the point
One of the old christian faith’s practices of lent was almsgiving. That was a practice beyond the tithe. It was direct charity to the less fortunate usually. Ultimately is was a practice that spoke to a recognition of the 10,000 talents. (Matt 18:24) There are plenty of people who would look at the mormon tithe and the question of being petty with God and scream legalism or works righteousness as if they were attempting to buy salvation. Instead it might not be a bad question for lent. In light of the cross, how are we being petty with God? Maybe the LDS are a mirror to our Christian practice. What we give to God doesn’t buy us salvation, but it is a first look at how we value that grace. It is cheap, or costly?
This question came up in Bible Study Sunday. Is mormonism a cult? It’s coming up because of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry’s pastor. (Knowing how programmed things are at that stage, let me just say that I’d be surprised if Rick Perry didn’t know what that guy was going to say. While I think religious beliefs do and should have a signaling and governing influence, I am not as comfortable with them being tools in a political campaign. Other than the simple statement, “I attend such and such a church” and leaving people to make up their own minds, calling a religion a cult as a scare tactic through an intermediary seems somewhat iffy at best.)
Back to the question. The first thing when the epithet cult gets used is that the functional definition of cult is usually how many people subscribe to the belief. Small number – cult. Larger number – not cult. Cult is a bad word to use in these situations. Why that is the case is because the underlying thought behind a cult is that they believe they are the only ones who have the full truth. That would apply to almost every church body. Rome certainly holds that the fullness of revelation resides on in Rome. The LCMS has only half jokingly been called a cult because of just that profession amongst many. Even the Anglican church would say the via media is the better way. In other words, cult is a word with little meaning beyond – “That guy’s religion is strange.” It says more about the person using it than about who it is applied to.
A better question is: to what extent can mormonism be called Christian? And from my experience (and not just mine as the links show) this is changing and highly subjective. Here is Dr. Mouw from the Fuller Seminary. Here is Scot McKnight. If I could find the link even Richard Neuhaus – Catholic Priest and former LCMS Pastor – addressed this in First Things a few years ago before he passed away.
Two bits of foundational theology. The church is an element of belief. We confess it in the creed. We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. That church transcends time, language, race and nation. Until the final fulfillment we will never see it in its entirety. The definition that the Lutheran Confessions put on the church is that you see it – “where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered”. That can happen in a variety of settings. There are places it is more likely to happen, but you can’t rule it out. God could make stones to cry out. He just usually uses more normal means. Like the LCMS or Rome.
So in that mentality you can ask to what extent is Mormonism Christian? What I would say is this – the more you understand of Mormon doctrine the less Christian it is. If you understand what their extra scriptures really say about God & Jesus you would have to question any baptisms performed. We baptize into the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – but they do not share that. Given the average congregational member’s understanding of church doctrine, it is far from clear how many Mormons would have that more in depth understanding. I’m pretty sure that you might hear more about the cross and Jesus on a typical Sunday morning at a Mormon outpost that at Joel Osteen’s place or any of his imitators. C.F.W. Walther has a wonder phrase for this – “felicitous inconsistency”. The official doctrine might say one thing, but the individual just hears Jesus.
I’ve put in a venn diagram somewhere close. It is not to scale and there is a slight dig in it, but it probably captures my thoughts. Now if you find yourself in an “unorthodox body” and know that, you probably want to move to a more consistent place, but today, given the spread of teaching and the variability of doctrine from place to place there are more felicitous inconsistencies than ever. At least that is my prayer. We can officially say that official Mormon doctrine is not Christian. Not even close. But there are probably many Christians within that church. And like the biblical story of Joseph we were studying in Bible Study – God blessed Egypt for the sake of Israel (Potiphar for the sake of Joseph). That just might be the case for many in the LDS.