Friday, April 17, 2009

The Barna Group Survey Shows That Only 4 Out Of 10 Christian Respondents Consider Mormons To Be Christian

In two separate waves of telephonic interviews of 1,871 adults, the first consisting of 873 interviews in January and February 2008, and the second consisting of 998 interviews in November 2008, The Barna Group surveyed religious attitudes among people who described themselves as "Christian".

The major findings of the survey:

-- 78 percent of respondents believe that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe.
-- Only 35 percent of respondents, to one degree or another, believe that Satan is a real entity.
-- 55 percent of respondents, to one degree or another, believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while on earth.
-- Only 34 percent of respondents, to one degree or another, believe that the Holy Ghost is a real entity.

But what's of greater interest to those of us within the LDS community is the attitude of the greater Christian community towards Mormonism. This attitude was also surveyed, and the following findings published:

Survey respondents were asked whether they believed that Mormons are Christians. Mormons themselves claim to be Christian, but most evangelical leaders say that they are not. There was no clear-cut perspective among the self-described Christians: four out of ten felt Mormons were Christian (18% strongly agreed, 21% somewhat agreed), three out of ten disagreed (17% strongly, 12% somewhat), and three out of ten were not sure what to think.

It is possible that some of the survey respondents were Mormon, although respondents were not categorized by denomination.

The Barna Group, Ltd. is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization based in Ventura, California, that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

Prognosis: After all these years, only 4 out of 10 Christians unequivocally believe that Mormons are Christian. Is this really an issue worth addressing? I think so, since our Church is named after Jesus Christ, and we confess that Jesus is the crucified, buried, and risen Savior. That sounds pretty doggone Christian to me. What we need to be doing is looking at ourselves and making sure we are not materially contributing to the perception that we're not Christian.

And there are four areas in which we could be maximizing our efforts:

(1). Connect more directly and explicitly with the Bible. Although the Eighth Article of Faith proclaims the equality of the Bible with the Book of Mormon, many Christians believe the Book of Mormon takes precedence, partially because of the "so far as it is translated correctly" clause. This clause is merely an explanatory clause and NOT a conditional clause. We must also show a better Biblical connection to some of our more unique doctrines, such as plurality of Gods (see this previous post for an example). First use the Bible to reach other Christians, then deploy the Book of Mormon.

(2). Acknowledge the existence of truth within other belief systems. We teach that the LDS Church is the only true church upon the face of the earth. However, it is not the only church with truth. Just as all the stars in the sky have varying degrees of brightness or magnitude, so all the religions on the earth have varying degrees of truth.

(3). Respect other traditions. Other traditions are NOT evil merely because they're different. A Wicca ceremony which summons Satan is undoubtedly evil, but the Catholic practice of infant baptism, while unsupported by scripture, should NOT be characterized as evil. Although it is not a baptism, it may well confer some degree of spiritual protection upon the infant, in much the same fashion as our blessing of babies every Fast Sunday confers protection. We Mormons also need to cure ourselves of our phobia against the cross.

(4). Direct discussion away from technicalities and trivialities. Some Christians think we're not Christian because "we believe in a different Jesus". They try to substantiate their claim by dredging up and cherry-picking old opinion statements from non-doctrinal sources like the Journal of Discourses where long-dead prophets opined that the Father came down and procreated directly with Mary to produce Jesus' mortal tabernacle. There is nothing in the four standard works of the Church which substantiate that statement; all we know doctrinally is that Jesus' mortal tabernacle was produced through the power of the Holy Ghost. We do NOT need to know more about that to achieve salvation.

Besides, what saves us is not the construction of Jesus' mortal tabernacle, but His actions at Gethsemane and Calvary, and His resurrection. The bottom line - since "our" Jesus did the same thing as "their" Jesus, "our" Jesus is NO different than "their" Jesus.

If we maximize our efforts in the four suggested areas above, we will not necessarily bring around the 3 out of 10 who don't believe we're Christian. But we will start to bring around the 3 out of 10 who are not sure. And that will be the start of real progress towards permanently vanquishing negative biases and stereotypes about Mormonism.

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