I am continuing with my response to LDS writer Daniel McClellan’s blog article from April 8, 2011, found here. I note as well that Mr. McClellan has already begun replying to me, resulting in a very, and I mean very, large amount of text. My intention is to finish this initial response, comment briefly on anything I find helpful or necessary in his replies, and move on. I simply do not have time for this kind of extended, exponentially growing give and take. At least, my publisher says I do not.
Unfortunately for James’ position, self-identity is widely recognized as the most important criterion in religious identification, and virtually all Mormons self-identify as Christians (those that don’t do so only in reaction to arguments like James’).
Such an argument is again highly problematic for a Mormon apologist. The vast majority of polygamists living in Southern Utah “self-identify” as Mormons, but, that doesn’t keep the Salt Lake leadership from excommunicating them, does it? When Mr. McClellan says “self-identity is widely recognized as the most important criterion” does he tell us “by whom” this is recognized? Find out the answer to that, and you have his ultimate authority. Of course, once again, this assumes the parameters of the Christian faith are determined by current social norms or standards, or by studies done by “experts.” Such has never been the means of identifying the faith, and of course, never will be.
There is little evidentiary value in the observation that modern Mormonism claims to be “Christian.” That is not up for debate. The millions of followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise believe their religious devotion is the “true” representation of Christ’s truth on earth today. The number of sects and groups making this claim is legion. And they all “self-identify,” too. So? If that is all we have as a criterion for what is, and what is not, “Christian,” we are left with the specter seen in Bart Ehrman’s conglomeration of groups making up the “early Christian movement,” so that the resultant mass of self-contradiction and irrationality is taken as the best argument against the divine nature of the faith ever offered. If this is the direction Mr. McClellan wishes to go, is he willing to embrace the necessary results of such a view, results that would assuredly denigrate the very claims to ultimate and final authority vested in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
It’s not the only criterion, but it is the one that carries the most weight. Religions are variegated, and the bigger the religion, the more variation.
If Mr. McClellan wishes to argue his case based upon sociological studies of the history and experience of religion, I will leave him to his arguments. My video was not predicated upon a sociological, or historiographical, definition of the Christian faith. I am speaking as a Christian, basing my comments upon divine revelation contained in Scripture, drawing from the foundational beliefs of Christians down through the ages. So why is Mr. McClellan shifting grounds, appealing to a completely different standard? And if this is, indeed, his foundation, why does he later move back to a theological standard? Is this how “intelligent” and “logical” and “academic” folks argue?
The marginalization or excision of one group within a wider religious movement by an opposing group within that movement is called sectarianism. Sectarianism usually arises when a group has no authority over another group of which it disapproves. Without authority the most effective way to express that disapprobation is to dismiss them as not belonging. This frees the group from association with undesirables and reaffirms notions of uniformity. This is what is compelling James’ argument.
Let us remember the previously cited statements by the LDS leadership concerning the apostasy of Christianity, its own unique status as the One True Church, and then consider the wisdom of a Mormon apologist making arguments based upon “sectarianism.” In either case, we once again note how unlike the founders of Mormonism Mr. McClellan sounds.
Because James’ concerns about Mormonism derive from sectarianism and not from an objective or intelligent assessment of Mormonism’s position within or without Christianity, his argument can only be made on dogmatic grounds. He cannot argue his position from an academic or a logical point of view. It always comes back to simple dogmatic sectarianism.
Here a man representing a system that claims to have men who can speak on the same revelatory basis as the Apostles of Jesus Christ (I wonder, does an apostle or a prophet have to argue for his teachings or definitions upon “objective” or “intelligent” grounds?) is bemoaning “simple dogmatic sectarianism.” And what is the reality? Remember, my point was clear: Christianity is monotheistic, believing in one true God who has eternally been God, the Creator of all things, and Mormonism has said, from Joseph Smith onward, the exact opposite. The Mormon God became a god by obedience to law. Yes, that’s the teaching. This is the fundamental divide, the real issue we should be debating. Can you define a religion that has affirmed ontological monotheism, including the assertion that God is the only true God (denied by Mormonism), the Creator of all things (denied by Mormonism), independent from creation and the origin and source of anything that exists (denied by Mormonism), completely self-sufficient and ontologically unique (denied by Mormonism) in such a way as to allow Mormonism to be identified with the religion it actually denies? One might ask, “Why would a historically consistent Mormon want to be identified with the very religion God told Joseph Smith was corrupt and an abomination?” I will have to leave that to Mr. McClellan to answer. In any case, the issue is clear, and bringing in sociological definitions to muddy the water is not an overly compelling methodology of argumentation.
At this point McClellan noted that I have likewise addressed Roman Catholics on the issue of their errors. I would simply like to point out that there is a difference between my identification of Romanism as a false religion and Mormonism’s definitional distinction from Christianity. Rome teaches heresy, not on the nature of God, or the deity of Christ, but on the gospel. This is the result of a long period of evolution. So Rome represents a departure from, apostasy from, the truth. Mormonism has never possessed the truth. It began, in its foundational documents and from the words of its founding leaders, as a direct attack upon the Christian faith. Rome’s heresy differs in nature, for while it maintains the truth in major areas (specifically, the doctrine of God), it has lost the life-giving element of the faith, that being the Gospel. Mormonism has never possessed the truth about God, Christ, the Spirit, creation, the Scriptures, or the gospel. These are important distinctions to be drawn and understood.