Questions about whether LDS Church members are Christian didn't originate with establishment of the faith in 1830, or with its early critics, but is a recent phenomenon that has grown out of writings by conservative Christians determined to define the church, rather than letting the church define itself.

At the same time, the church's own emphasis on itself as a Christ-centered faith has taken on steam in recent years, as its members have become more scripturally literate, according to Robert Millet, a professor of religious understanding at Brigham Young University.

Speaking to the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association here Friday, he said some of the confusion over where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fit in the religious landscape is simply a matter of trying to categorize them alongside historic Christian faiths. He joined Bob Adams of the Church of Scientology in a panel discussion titled "Faiths That Don't Fit: Classifying and Reporting on 'Other' Churches."

Millet said he has no quarrel with those who point out that the church doesn't accept post-New Testament creeds and promotes extra-biblical scripture.

"What bothers me is when the man on the street hears that 'Mormons aren't Christians"' and believes that "they don't accept the divinity of Jesus or that he rose from the dead or that he is the king of kings," when in fact, Latter-day Saints worship Christ as savior and redeemer of the world.

Society has to have a way to categorize people of faith as an organizing mechanism. "But the dilemma is when the categorization begins to result in exclusion or dismissal." When that happens, people of faith are "doing the simple thing," by avoiding a discussion of what they may not understand about those they see as "other."

"It's hard work to spend time, to sit down and discuss" semantics that often put Latter-day Saints at loggerheads with historic Christians by using the same terminology imbued with different meaning.

He implied that reporters should allow Latter-day Saints the opportunity to explain their own beliefs, rather than accepting the opinions of others about what the faith does or doesn't believe. "I don't want to be misrepresented, and I don't want to misrepresent anyone else."

Adams told the group that Scientology has over 10 million members and sends volunteer ministers around the world to help with humanitarian relief. Contrary to what some say, Scientology "is a religion" with specific beliefs and a mission to help people reach their highest spiritual potential, he said.

Reporters urged him to delineate the group's beliefs and outline specifically what constitutes membership if not baptism. "We believe man is a spiritual being, that man has lived before and will live again," though there is no deity or prescribed form of worship as known in the Judeo-Christian tradition and other faiths.

He said membership numbers come from those "on a current mailing list and who participate in various events through the year. They don't participate necessarily on a daily basis. I think the statistics are consistent with how other faiths monitor their membership, and if anything they may be a little low."


E-mail: [email protected]