Are Polygamists Mormons?

Part 6 of a series.

I’ve been sharing some thoughts about a question that often arises in discussions with Latter-day Saints: Are Mormons Christians?  I speak to this issue in my upcoming book, Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor, which is due to be released by Zondervan next year.  But I’m giving a preview in recent posts.

To help a Latter-day Saint friend gain some insight into why this question even matters to many traditional Christians, you might consider an analogous situation within Mormonism.

Polygamy has been in the news quite a bit in recent years.  Most of the polygamist groups are offshoots of the LDS Church.  They continue to follow Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  These groups are commonly referred to by themselves and others as “Fundamentalist Mormons.”  But the LDS Church objects strenuously to anyone using the word “Mormon” in reference to polygamist groups (see here), because what the polygamists stand for is at odds with the mainstream LDS Church.  The Church is trying to control the definition of what “Mormon” means, and who has the right to use the name, because it doesn’t want to be confused with polygamists by use of the same label.  The Saints have some values and boundaries that they want to maintain.  They want to world to think certain things when they see the word “Mormon” – and not think certain other things that they don’t feel are legitimate expressions of Mormonism.

That’s almost precisely how evangelicals feel about Latter-day Saints using the title “Christian”.  Mainstream Christians have some values and boundaries they want to uphold.  Mormonism espouses some things that are at odds with historic Christianity.  The use of the same word to describe both groups creates confusion about what each group stands for.

If Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable with the polygamous groups being called “Mormon”, they should at least have some empathy with why evangelicals are hesitant to apply the title “Christian” to them.

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