In a very interesting op-ed piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, David V. Mason, an associate professor of theater at Rhodes College, explains his unique understanding that as a Mormon he does not see himself as a Christian. This flies in the face of numerous positions that have been stated over the past couple of years in which Mormons (including especially Mitt Romney) have argued that they are legitimate Christians. Mason is articulate about his rejection of much of the experience of Christians who had to fight to establish themselves as related to Judaism. Then, having gained independence from traditional Judaism, Mason says, the Christians began a trek which included punishing all those who had rejected Christianity in its infancy.
It is tempting to embrace Mason’s historical account of Christianity in wanting to be honest and transparent about the flaws which have characterized Christianity at some of its worst moments in history. But in embracing his perspective it is possible to deny the qualities and benefits of Christianity, and I don’t want to be a part of that rejection. My Christian experience does not depend upon the flawed moments; neither does it seek to glamorize them. They are what they are. I prefer to focus upon the wondrous gift of Christianity to the world and to me personally.
In his op-ed piece Mason refers to a point made by Richard D. Land, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, “who calls Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” What Lamb is saying is that Mormonism emerges from the tradition of Abraham but differs from Judaism, Christianity and Islam in its unique beliefs and practices.
In the book of Genesis we read of Abram (his ancient name) being called by God to go forth from his native land of Ur to establish a new nation in which God’s way can be practiced. There was, and always will be, discussion as to how much that experience is limited to the historical movement of a specific people from one geographic location to another, or whether it is a generic term which is not limited to geographic qualities. The Hebrew people emerged as Jews, a people under God’s law. From Judaism emerged Christianity, which believes that the Messiah, long promised to Jews, was realized in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Then the Prophet Mohammed revealed a new understanding of what it meant to be children of God to people who have embraced a legalistic faith known as Islam. All three of these traditions claim descendency from Abraham and his response to the call of God.
Now, says Mason, it is time to recognize Mormonism as yet a fourth tradition which also claims descendency from Abraham but differs in a variety of ways from the other three Abrahamic traditions. The jury is out as to whether this is an accurate portrayal of the Mormon tradition, and there are Mormons who would not readily embrace such a position. It does, however, offer an interesting feature to the dialogue underway in this year when Mormons are so visible in the public discourse.
Photo Credit: Tim Kelly