There is a puzzling theological and political debate going on in the Rick Perry presidential campaign. His advisors call Mitt Romney’s Mormonism a non-Christian cult, but Perry distances himself from the designation in public. It is not clear why they cast suspicion on President Obama’s rather orthodox Christian faith, which is even comes complete with a conversion experience and everything. Some evangelical power brokers close to Perry say that Romney’s views are more “biblical” than the president’s. Sigh.
Mormons have always claimed to be Christians. They say they are “new improved” Christians with a latter-day revelation that occurred in upstate New York. They have never made a secret about what they believe. (Well, they scrub out the weirder parts when the missionaries come to your door, or at least they used to). One of my friends was at Hill Cumorah, in New York, where Joseph Smith says he found the tablets which he magically translated into King James English. The faithful put on a pageant there to tell the whole story. The Book of Mormon, on Broadway, has a song that sums things up nicely.
The Mormons claim to be Christians, but they have their own Jesus — a new-and-improved one discovered in 1823 by direction of an angel who lead Smith to golden plates engraved by Central American prophets in 400AD using “reformed Egyptian” which Smith translated with the aid of a seer hat — or something like that. The story tells of lost tribes of Israel coming to America and Jesus appearing to them, and a lot more.
It is not unusual for Jesus to be “improved.” Islam includes Jesus, but a Jesus who was a prophet, not the incarnation of God, who did not die on the cross but was taken by God to heaven before he did. Hindus can easily and often do accept Jesus as an enlightened guru whose message of love is like Buddha’s; some say he grew up in India. Christian Scientists teach that Jesus is divine, but not God.
The issue for Perry seems to be that Christians are very mixed up as to what they know about Jesus. What’s more, people in general gave up on knowing anything for sure a long time ago. Postmoderns have a tough time with “this or that” – so much so that the Occupy movement is somewhat proud of refusing to have a positive statement of what they are about and is relatively content with being a deconstruction machine. Many Christians are just as postmodern; so why not bring in the Mormons? They are nice and they call themselves Christians. Why not bring in all the “tantric” influences around? What’s really wrong with a guru Jesus as long as he believes in love?
Today, I think I will just bring up the issue rather than answering too much. What do you think? (Mr. Perry, you are welcome to chime in).