Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
Having discarded Mormonism, I decided I would need to investigate mainstream Christianity. I really liked the idea of Jesus, so I thought, "Okay, I'm not a Mormon anymore, maybe I can just be a Christian." To that end, I began investigating the teachings of the greater Christian world and see how they fit into my (erstwhile) Mormon worldview. I encountered numerous differences. (It's funny how I never looked for differences while I was a believing member...)
The biggest difference I discovered was this: In mainline Christianity, Jesus pays the debt. You don't have to beat yourself up for falling short of perfection. All you need to do is do your best and Jesus will make up for your deficiencies. It's a freeing doctrine.
In Mormonism, Jesus refinances the debt. When you accept Mormon Jesus, you conscript yourself to a life of servitude and monetary payment ("we are saved by grace after all we can do", "faith without works is dead", "magnify your calling", "lengthen your stride", "endure to the end", etc.). The worst part is, nothing you do will ever be good enough. You'll never feel confident that you're going to attain the best afterlife that Mormonism has to offer, because the requirements are so ridiculously high. It's an enslaving doctrine.
Mormonism interprets Jesus' saying of "Come follow me" as "Welcome to the treadmill".
Related to the previous: Christianity uses the unconditional love model, Mormonism uses the conditional love model. Here are some supporting scriptures:
D&C 130:20-21 "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."
2 Nephi 1:20 "And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence."
Mosiah 2:20-24 (paraphrasing because it's really long) If you keep commandments, you get blessed; you are indebted to God.
Q: What kind of parent cuts their children off if they aren't obedient?
A: A parent that practices conditional love.
Making matters more complicated, members are taught the conditional love model, which follows the formula "if you do X, then God will do Y", but they are told that this is "unconditional love". (Hint: something I learned in my computer programming classes is that if you see the word 'if', that's a conditional statement.) The two models are conflated early on in the teaching of LDS youth so that cognitive dissonance doesn't make them think about the differences.
On my mission I met a guy who was raised Baptist. I remember one time we were explaining the how the Spirit will "withdraw" if you sin. He disagreed. He said that even if you were in the darkest depths of sin, Jesus would still be there to help you. At the time, I couldn't wrap my mind around what he was saying, but I get it now: he was taught the unconditional love model in his religion, and I was taught the conditional love model in mine.
On some occasions, LDS leaders will come right out and call it "conditional love",
"While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional." -- Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Ensign, February, 2003
It is worth noting that this "conditional love" model is not lost on members, who mimic it themselves. When one spouse loses their faith, the other spouse will often divorce them. Their love for their spouse was conditional on their belief in Mormonism. (They are also acting out the implied doctrine of "families can be together forever -- unless".) We see this same thing when believing parents kick out their children if they confess to being gay, pregnant, or non-believers.
In the greater Christian world. people abide by this scripture in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13:
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
I have never heard this scripture cited by any Mormon leader as an answer when one spouse loses their faith in the church. Usually, you hear "indirect directives" like "put the gospel first in your life" (implied message: ditch your unbelieving spouse).
It is also worth noting that divorcing an unbelieving spouse is in in direct contradiction to a letter Hyrum Smith wrote to the church, on June 12th, 1842:
"Whereas, in times past persons have been permitted to gather with the Saints at Nauvoo, in North America—such as husbands leaving their wives and children behind; also, such as wives leaving their husbands, and such as husbands leaving their wives who have no children, and some because their companions are unbelievers. All this kind of proceedings we consider to be erroneous and for want of proper information. And the same should be taught to all the Saints, and not suffer families to be broken up on any account whatever if it be possible to avoid it. Suffer no man to leave his wife because she is an unbeliever. These things are an evil and must be forbidden by the authorities of the church or they will come under condemnation. ... And we also forbid that a woman leave her husband because he is an unbeliever. We also forbid that a man shall leave his wife because she is an unbeliever."
See also this Mormon Stories podcast where a husband loses his faith and his wife threatens to divorce him. He wrote a letter to Dieter F. Uchtdorf and formally requested that he say, over the pulpit in General Conference, that a spouse should not divorce an otherwise good, devoted, partner, simply because that partner loses their faith. The reply he got did not address is request at all and simply said "come join with us".
It also seems very confusing for a believing member to disown / divorce family members who say that they no longer believe. Think about it: If you know you can't be with you family in the eternities, why would you disown them if you know you'll only have this short life to be with them?
Mormons believe that good works are necessary in order to gain faith (and in turn, salvation). They often cite James 2:14-26 to support their claim:
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
The Christian world thinks that Mormons have this exactly backwards. You don't need to do a lot of works in order to gain faith. Good works are a manifestation (some might say a "sign") of someone who has attained true faith.
As an aside, the Mormon view of doing works to gain faith seems more like exploiting cognitive dissonance in order to get members to "gain a testimony" by having them perform actions that will generate belief.
Isaiah 43:10 says:
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
Contrast that to this couplet by Lorenzo Snow: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."
Mainline Christianity believes in the Trinity (3-in-one), Mormons believe in the Godhead (3 separate beings that are "one in purpose"). I must admit, it's tough for me to wrap my mind around the idea of the Trinity. Any attempt to use an analogy (e.g. water in three different states) seems to be a heresy. The cynic in me thinks that the trinity was just an attempt to retrofit a three-person trio of Gods on top of the strict monotheism required to be considered "not a heretic" and try to make it harmonize somehow.
Mormons implicitly are polytheists by believing in a strong distinction between the members of the Godhead. They are further polytheists by believing that their Heavenly Father is but one of many gods in the cosmos, and that they themselves can be gods someday.
I have come to understand why so many exmormons become atheists: Many mainstream Christians hold a view of a God that is big, incorporeal, and beyond our comprehension. One example: I heard one woman's view that God is incomprehensible and is therefore found in paradoxes. When the New Testament say that God announced "This is my beloved son" when Jesus was baptised and the Holy Ghost then descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, this "incomprehensibility" is "proof" of the manifestation of God being in three places at once. This is a version of God that can survive a faith crisis, because there will always be mysteries, paradoxes, and things that are bigger than ourselves.
By contrast, the Mormon God is flesh-and-bone (John 4:24 says "God is a spirit". D&C 130:22 says God has a body of flesh and bones), looks like us, had physical sex with Mary to make Jesus, and sits in yonder heaven making babies for eternity. This version of God is a very concrete, relatively mundane, and frankly looks a lot more like biological evolution writ large. This kind of God is much more "destructible" because we mere mortals can easily picture it, and therefore demolish the picture.
The Christian world has a number of problems with the Mormon temple endowment.
Teaching that the endowment is necessary for our salvation nullifies the power of the atonement of Christ. Mainstream Christianity teaches that all we have to do is our best, Christ's sacrifice will make up the difference when we fall short. By requiring the endowment, the church implicitly teaches its members that Christ's atonement alone is insufficient.
Acts 7:24 says "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." However, LDS temples are all described as "The House of the Lord". That scripture in Acts also conflicts with with D&C 110:2 where JS & Oliver Cowdery claim to have seen the Lord in the Kirtland temple.
It is also contrary to something Jesus taught in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 11:38-40:
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
Jesus taught that all we need is repentance and baptism and whoso teaches more or less than this cometh of evil. The church teaches that the endowment is necessary for our salvation. This is more than repentance and baptism, therefore it cometh of evil -- according to Jesus.
When Jesus was asked "What are the greatest commandments?", he replied "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matt 22:36-40).
These commandments appear nowhere in the temple ceremony, despite the fact that they are the "greatest". By contrast, the culminating covenant that members are asked to make is to give all their time, talents, energy, money, and everything the Lord has blessed them with or may bless them with to the church. (If you learned that that was the final commitment members are asked to make in the church of Scientology, would that strike you as a bit culty?)
The covenants members are asked to make are delivered in a very shady manner. Members are not told in advance what the covenants are that they will be making, nor are they given any time to mull them over. Oh sure, they're told at the beginning "If any of you do not wish to make this covenants but wish to leave of your own free will and choice, you may do so now." But they aren't told what covenants they're going to be making. There isn't a lot of informed consent here. (Think also of the social pressure involved in getting up and leaving under those circumstances.)
In all cases, covenants are sprung on people and they get several seconds between hearing the covenant and being told to "bow their head and say yes". During this time, there is immense social pressure to conform. Do you really want to be the only one in the room that doesn't say yes? I have heard this described as "covenant by ambush".
Furthermore, an endowment ceremony usually precedes leaving on a mission or getting married. Tremendous amounts of planning are done for both of these. Friends and family members will rearrange their schedules, and even travel long distances to attend a mission farewell or a wedding. Does a missionary / bride / groom really want to disappoint those all those people because they're having second thoughts about their temple covenants? Under these conditions, they'll probably just bite the bullet and go along with it, shelving their concerns for later. I've heard this described as "covenant under duress".
It is also worth noting that nowhere in the New Testament gospels does Jesus mention making covenants, much less the kind of high-pressure, high-demand, covenants that are made in LDS temples.
Mainstream Christianity teaches that salvation is a free gift that requires only sincere belief in Christ. The LDS church teaches that a temple endowment is necessary for salvation and in order to get a temple recommend, you must be a full tithe payer. Net result: in the LDS church, salvation is not free; you must pay 10% of your (life-long) income to get into heaven.
Secret rituals take place within Mormon temples. The church likes to play word games by saying that these rituals (endowments) are "sacred, not secret". Question: Are baptisms for the dead a sacred ordinance? Because the church openly talks about baptisms for the dead, even publishing photographs of the baptismal fonts and people being baptised. But they don't talk about the details of the endowment or publish photos of endowment ceremonies in session. What is the difference between the "sacred" ordinance of baptism for the dead and the "sacred" ordinance of the endowment?
The secret ordinances performed in Mormon temples are in conflict with what Jesus taught in the New Testament:
John 18:20, "I spoke openly to the world, I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing."
The secret ordinances are also in conflict with what is taught in the Book of Mormon about the perils of "secret combinations". It is the height of irony that Mormon temples are great and spacious buildings where secret combinations are performed.
Christians have public weddings so that the couple can receive the support from the larger community. Mormon weddings are private and only the faithful Mormons who can pass a loyalty test (i.e. get a temple recommend) are allowed to attend; the community at large is excluded.
If two Christians get divorced, it does not affect their salvation. Being saved is an individual pursuit; it does not depend on their marriage status. If two Mormons get divorced, it instantly disqualifies both of them from attaining the highest degree of heaven, since marriage is a requirement.
The Sadducees asked Jesus which of her several husbands a woman would be married to. Jesus criticized them, saying that there is no marriage in heaven. (Matt 22:23-30, Mark 12:18-25, Luke 20:27-36). This is in conflict with the Mormon teaching about eternal marriage.
Mormons think that they have a special gift to offer by promising people that their families can be together forever if they join the church. What Mormons do not realize is that this teaching is not unique to the LDS church. For mainstream Christians, the notion that we can all be together in heaven is so obvious, that it hardly merits mentioning explicitly.
Furthermore, a Baptist would believe that he can be in heaven, not only with his Baptist family members, but with his Methodist family members as well, and his Episcopal family members, and his Presbyterian family members, and basically anyone else who has accepted Jesus. It's just a given. This idea is anathema to a Latter-day Saint who believes that the only way you'll see your family in heaven is if they are all members of the LDS church.
What is unique to Mormonism is the implied doctrine that "families can be separated forever". This is never taught in such explicit terms, but it's hinted at strongly enough to keep the lingering fear in the back of members' minds.
And it is worth asking the question at this point: According to Mormon theology, how many families will actually be kept together in the eternities? In order to be a forever family, you have to get to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, right? How many people actually make it there? 10%? 5%? 1%? <1%
Follow-up question: Is that type of "plan of salvation" really something that a loving God would come up with? What kind of God separates families by default, and only allows only a tiny fraction of earthly families to be together after they've jump through all kinds of hoops (lifetime of service, huge tithing payments, etc.)? Could we accurately describe him as a "loving" God? Is a God like that worthy of our adoration? A refrain on the original question: Is this a plan that was invented by a loving God, or was it invented by a coercive (all too human) man who was trying to manipulate people?
Mormons claim to belong to the "one true church". It is worth noting that they are not the only church to make this claim. See this video: "God's Only True Church". Mainstream Christians have some problems with this claim.
Mormons believe there was a "great apostasy" that began when Jesus' apostles were killed, the primitive church was destroyed, and truth was lost. Mainstream Christians reject this idea and do not like being regarded as "apostates" by an upstart church.
For protestants, church is viewed as a secondary concern after accepting Jesus. Your choice of church is up to you; the various Christian churches are all part of the "body of Christ". Many Christians watch televangelists as a substitute or supplement for church attendance if they want a gospel message.
It's commonplace in protestant Christianity for someone to stop attending one church for any number of reasons (they didn't like the preacher, they didn't like the congregation, it wasn't close enough to home, etc.) and start attending a different church. This contrasts sharply with the LDS model of prescribed attendance at a certain ward based on geographic boundaries. Related: If an LDS person moves even 1 mile away, they might be in a different ward. A regular Christian could keep attending their previous church post-move, no problemo.
Protestant churches are a-okay with people hopping between different churches (Baptist, Episcopalian, Assembly of God, what have you). By contrast, the LDS church sends missionaries out into the world with the intent of getting people to join the Mormon church and never attend any other church for the rest of their lives.
Related to the previous: People leave the LDS church on a regular basis. If the LDS church was Christian, you would think they would tell the exiting member to "stick with Christianity" by attending a different Christian church, but they don't. All they do is try to instill a phobia into them that, by losing the sacred ordinances they've made, they won't be able to get into heaven. After that, they pressure the exiting member to come back someday.
Many Exmormons who lose their faith become atheists. This is likely because their faith in the LDS church was more foundational than their faith in God / Jesus. A mainstream Christian could "lose faith" in a particular church / pastor / congregation, but still maintain belief in God / Jesus (and maybe find another congregation).
As a Christian becomes more devout, they will "turn outward" more to help people inside their community, not just the people in their congregation. (Note the numerous Catholic-run soup kitchens who routinely help non-Catholics.) As an LDS person becomes more devout, they "turn inward" more and more: service projects are only for people in the ward; ward parties/picnics are almost exclusively attended by members. This clannish / tribal mentality is reinforced by the teaching that they are to be "in the world but not of it".
Small but important point: Mainline Christian churches do not insist that you attend every single Sunday. The Mormon church wants to see your butt on the bench every week -- and participating in activities on weekdays too! Furthermore, LDS members are expected to hold a "calling" (church job) to keep them invested in the running of their local ward.
Mainstream Christianity embraces the concept of doubt and sees it as essential to establishing an enduring faith. Consider the following quotes:
"Doubt is a profound and effective spiritual motivator. Without doubt, no truism is transcended, no new knowledge found, no expansion of the imagination possible. Doubt is unsettling to the ego, and those who are drawn to ideologies that promise the dispelling of doubt by proffering certainties will never grow." - James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (Gotham Books, 2005) page 219
"Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery. A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief. Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false. Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief. The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing; For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure. Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands. But those who fear not doubt, and know its use; are founded on rock. They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure. Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth." - Robert Weston
"Faith is a dialogue with doubt, a personal reckoning with God’s involvement in the world, and investment in our own lives.” - Theologian Douglas John Hall
"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things." - Rene Descartes
Now, compare that to what Mormon leader Thomas Monson said about faith & doubt:
Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those sceptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: "I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the process of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it." (First Presidency Message, "The Lighthouse of the Lord: A Message to the Youth of the Church", Ensign Magazine, February 2001)
Or more recently, what Dieter F. Uchtdorf said about doubt:
"Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other." - Be an Example and a Light, President Thomas S. Monson, LDS General Conference Oct 2015
"Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?” It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." - Come, Join with Us, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, LDS General Conference Oct 2013
Spoiler alert: If your leaders can't tolerate any trace of doubt, they're not instilling "faith" in you, they're programming you.
"If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind." -- William K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief
Many books / articles have been published by faithful Catholics that call attention to problems in the Catholic church and/or challenge some of its teaching/practices (list here). These are not only tolerated, they are often discussed in faithful circles. Books that challenge Mormonism would be instantly labeled as "anti-mormon" and members would be strongly discouraged from reading them.
A very significant difference between Mormonism and Christianity is that Mormons completely refuse to display the cross in any way: on the walls of their homes or chapels, on the steeples of their meetinghouses, on necklaces, or as a gesture ("crossing oneself"). This is somewhat problematic when we examine this scripture in Matthew:
“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me,” Jesus said, “is not worthy of me." -- Matthew 10:38
Also, this scripture:
"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." -- Galatians 6:16
And this hymn (found in the LDS hymnbook):
"Onward Christian soldiers Marching as to war With the cross of Jesus Going on before."
Most Christians take these passages to heart and wear the cross as a way of showing that they are following after Jesus by "taking his cross upon them". Mormons don't. This leads many Christians to wonder how serious Mormons are about being followers of Jesus when they are unwilling to display the foremost symbol of Christianity.
Another example: here is a list of symbols used on veteran's gravestones. Note all the variations on the cross for the different Christian faiths. Note that the symbol for Mormons is the angel Moroni. If aliens from another planet were to visit a cemetery, they would logically conclude that all the cross-like symbols should be grouped together, but I doubt if they would put Mormons in the same group because their symbol is so different. (For that matter, the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) symbol is quite different, too.)
A typical apologetic statement used by Mormons is to say "We celebrate his life and his resurrection, not his death. That's why we don't wear the symbol of the weapon used to kill him." But that "weapon" is the most quintessential symbol of Jesus' sacrifice that lies at the heart of Christianity. I seem to recall that Jesus' death is a pretty important part of the plan of salvation. Christians view the empty cross as a symbol of Christ triumphing over death, not a symbol of his death. They don't believe the cross killed him. They believe that it was on the cross that Christ set all mankind free.
By way of comparison, consider the following hypothetical statements:
How much sense to those statements make? Is there an (unofficial / unpublished) reason that has greater explanatory power? An anonymous Redditor gave this explanation:
"In Michael Reed's book "Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo" he traces the development of LDS attitudes toward the symbol, and shows that the cross aversion in Mormon culture actually began as a means to disassociate the Church from Catholicism. Nothing more than that, a petty way to step away from Catholicism, all the other reasons that have surfaced as GA's attempt to resolve it is just one of the constant spins they have to do on history."
See also this Deseret News article: Sunstone speaker attempts to explain LDS 'aversion' to cross.
Mainstream Christianity teaches that Adam & Eve weren't content to obey God's commandment to not partake of the forbidden fruit; they wanted to become more than what God intended them to be and they were punished for it.
Mormonism introduces a double-bind into the Garden of Eden story wherein Adam & Eve were given two conflicting commandments: "multiply and replenish the earth", vs. "don't eat the fruit". They weren't able to keep both (which raises the question of why a "loving God" would present his children with a scenario that was impossible for them to succeed at.)
This "damned if you do, damned if you don't" paradox is a common pattern seen in Mormonism, and it's a very effective control tactic. An example of this is "modest is hottest": a young woman cannot be both "modest" (according to the standards of the church) and "hot" (according to the standards of the world, and the word "hot" is most definitely a "worldly" term) at the same time, yet this slogan encourages them to be both. What to do?
Mainline Christian churches devote much of their tithing to help the poor & needy. The LDS church gives a pittance of its revenue to the poor. By contrast, it spends a tremendous amount of money on temple-building, and salaries / lifestyle expenses for the GAs.
Most Christian churches are transparent about their finances, publicly disclosing how much money they brought in via donations and what it was spent on. The LDS church closed their books in the 1950s and they have never opened their books since.
The Sermon on the Mount says "You cannot serve two masters" / "You cannot serve God and Mammon". Mainstream Christians have a problem with the LDS church having both a "non-profit" and "for-profit" arm (e.g. malls, ranches, real estate) and see this as an example of them trying to serve both God and Mammon.
Mormonism preaches that you must "follow the prophet". Mainstream Christianity preaches that you must follow Jesus, and that there are no prophets after him.
Mormonism teaches that salvation comes through obedience. Mainstream Christianity teaches that salvation comes through faith.
Jesus taught "Suffer the little children to come unto me". The LDS church instituted a policy on Nov 5th of 2015 that restricts children of married gay couples from getting baptized, effectively preventing them from "coming unto Christ" (where they have defined "coming unto Christ" as "membership in the LDS church").
Mainstream Christians are fine with the idea of having a paid, full-time pastor / minister, believing that this full-time dedication will help him to focus on ministering to the flock. Some of the cost of supporting the pastor is to help him get training (in counseling, administration, etc.), which they see as a good thing. This contrasts with Mormons' belief that a lay clergy is more righteous / desirable and that a paid clergy is "priestcraft".
A pastor of a Protestant church would never have a one-on-one interview with a teenager and ask them if they masturbate, have had sex, etc. This would just be considered inappropriate and wrong, not to mention a huge breach of personal boundaries, but it is routine practice in the LDS church.
1 Corinthians 15:29 reads: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" Mormons interpret that to mean that proxy baptisms need to be performed for those who have died without having a chance to hear the gospel in this life. Christians interpret this to mean either: a) baptism is symbolic of the death of your old life and the beginning of your new life, or b) people are baptised in anticipation of the resurrection which will occur someday.
Mainline Christian churches are open to metaphorical interpretations of the Bible. (The Episcopalian & United Methodist churches are very liberal in terms of their theology.) The LDS church insists on literal interpretations. (Without a literal interpretation of the Tower of Babel, the Jaredite story falls apart, and with it, the Book of Mormon.)
Most Christian churches (and non-Christian churches, for that matter) offer some kind of hospitality (light refreshments, or even lunch) after their services, during which time people can socialize. The LDS church does not. (There's even one Sunday a month where nobody is supposed to eat anything.)
A very big difference: Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Evangelicals, etc. do not have to explain / defend / justify why they are Christians, Mormons do.
My experience researching mainstream Christianity revealed that I know very little about it. There are numerous aspects of Christian history and theology that I never learned about in over four decades of attending the LDS church. Prior to doing my research, I couldn't have told you anything about Lutheranism vs. Arminianism vs. Calvinism vs. Wesleyanism (and I'm still not well-versed on these). I don't think most members know who John Wycliffe or William Tyndale are, even though these men were huge players in the history of Christianity. I knew almost none of the details in Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Christianity was almost as foreign to me as Judaism or Islam.
See also this Mormon Expression episode: Mormon Biblical Misconceptions.
I discovered that Mormonism uses many of the same words & phrases that the Christian world uses, but has a completely different definition for those terms. (I've heard this described as "Loading the Language".) This creates situations where a Mormon and a Protestant might both say "I believe in grace!" But when you ask both sides to explain what "grace" means, you find that they believe in two very different things.
I also discovered that Mormon doctrine is remarkably shallow. Christian theologists like Aquinas and Augustine have been wrangling with deep issues like "the problem of evil" and "the problem of hell" for centuries and have come up with some insightful answers. This stands in sharp contrast to the watered-down correlated material that Mormons get spoon-fed every Sunday. They always say "milk before meat", but the meat never arrives. Another way I've heard it said: "Mormon doctrine is a mile wide and an inch deep".
I did some research to find out where exmormons land (in terms of faith) after they've left the church. I found this demographic survey, which was very enlightening. Approx. 75% of exmormons become agnostic or atheist. If Mormonism really was a part of the larger Christian world, I would expect most exmormons to easily slide easily into another Christian denomination, but that isn't what we observe. One explanation: Mormonism is so distinct from Christianity that it isn't backward-compatible or interchangeable. As a result, ex-members just don't feel "at home" there. Here are a few articles which explain other reasons why:
This is a tiresome debate that has been going on for years. Mormons insist that they are Christians and should be accepted into the greater Christian fold. Mainstream Christians disagree. Here is what I have learned about that debate from the PoV of someone who is now "on the outside looking in".
An important distinction to make is the difference between the members of the LDS church and the institution of the church. It is challenging (but still important) to make this distinction because the church encourages members to strongly identify with the church at the expense of their own, individual, identity.
As a whole, I think most rank-and-file Mormons behave in a way that exemplify Christian beliefs and standards: they're honest, raise good families, help others, and are generally good people.
The church, however, is a different matter. By "church" I mean the structure teachings, doctrines, edicts from leaders, and prescribed cultural practices. That's where we start to see problems.
In short, Mormons are Christian, Mormonism is not.
There are many significant differences between Mormonism and Christianity. The differences are so large and so numerous that it makes mainstream Christians reluctant to accept Mormonism into the greater "body of Christ".
I heard it described this way: If a guy showed up at a Mormon church and said "I don't believe that Joseph Smith was anyone special, and I think the Book of Mormon is fiction, and I don't think the current prophet gets any special information from God -- but I'm a Mormon!" Would that fly? Would other Mormons accept a guy like that into their fold, or does the word "Mormon" actually mean something? Would the LDS church want to dilute the Mormon "brand" by accepting someone who has views that are so very contrary to mainline Mormonism?
Another comparison: Let's say someone claimed to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but then in the next breath said, "And I believe that Jesus' father was Darth Vader." Are we really going to consider that guy a Christian? How far can we stretch / distort the definition of "Christian" until we decide that the term just doesn't fit anymore? (Worth noting: in the eyes of most Christians, the Mormon view that men can become Gods is as ridiculous as claiming that God's father was Darth Vader.)
This is the same problem that mainstream Christians have with accepting Mormons as Christian. The word "Christian" actually means something and they don't want to dilute the word (and the meaning behind it) by accepting a church that professes views which are so very contrary to mainstream Christianity. It would distort the word "Christian" beyond recognition.
<< need soccer game analogy here >>
This is a serious question. When Joseph Smith received his First Vision (the 1838 account, anyway), he claims that he asked God which of all the churches he should join. He further claims that God Himself answered thusly:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” [JSH 1:19] (emphasis, mine)
The very next verse says "He again forbade me to join with any of them." Question: Why would the modern day Mormon church want to join ranks with mainstream Christianity when God himself forbade the prophet of the restoration from joining with them? Why would the Mormon church want to be associated with sects whose creeds are an abomination in His sight? Why would the Mormon church want to have anything to do with churches that are "in apostasy"?
Brigham Young reaffirmed this view of an apostate Christianity:
"When the light came to me, I saw that all the so-called Christian world was groveling in darkness." - Journal of Discourses, v.5 p.73
Why would the modern-day LDS church want to "grovel in darkness" with the "so-called" Christian world? Sometimes the LDS church joins hands with other Christian churches on issues like opposing same-sex marriage. Are they not partaking in the corruption of the greater Christian world when they do so?
Related: Could you imagine LDS church leaders telling their members that they should cuddle up to exmormons and form close bonds with them? Exmormons are considered to be "apostates" similar to the way that mainstream Christian churches are considered to be "in apostasy". Why would the answer be "no" to one and "yes" to another?
It is worth noting that in times past, Mormons did not want to be considered Christians. Richard Packham in this presentation explains that when he was a boy in the mid-20th century, he was taught at church that when someone asks him "Are you a Christian?" he should reply "No, I'm a Mormon!" (I think it was "correlation" that changed this, where LDS leaders vied for greater mainstream acceptance.)
Related to the previous point, if Mormons want to be considered Christians, which branch / flavor Christianity do they want to "cuddle up" to?
For those of you playing along at home, did you count any hits in the above list of bullet points, or were they all misses? If it's the latter, then can Mormonism truly be considered part of the Christian world?
I don't think the leaders of the LDS church actually want to be accepted by mainstream Christianity. Quite the contrary, they want this debate to persist. They want members to feel badly that they aren't accepted by their Christian brothers and sisters.
Why do they want this? Because it feeds into the "us vs. them" narrative that the church tries to instill in its members. It reinforces the persecution complex that the church tries to inculcate. It unites church members by making them feel like they're "picked on". It helps to create a greater sense of group identity and "otherizes" the rest of the Christian world. It's a method of thought reform / group control that the church has used for years and it's very effective at keeping members under their thumb.
One problem with identifying as a "Christian", or as it is often stated, as a "Good Christian", is that once you've defined yourself as something "good" or "virtuous", you no longer feel like you need to behave in a virtuous way. You've taken upon yourself the label, so there's no need to prove it (to yourself or anyone else).
We observe this with the way LDS people treat non-Mormons, gays, atheists, and exmormons. All of these groups (and others like them) are viewed as "outsiders" or "worldly", or "fallen" and are sometimes treated very badly by believers. The perception of oneself as a (Good) Christian trumps the need (or desire) to treat people well. The passage in Isaiah that says "this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me" describes far too many faithful LDS people.
I heard it said once that: "Religion doesn't provide people with beliefs, it provides them with rationalizations for their existing beliefs". That seems applicable here.
The LDS church wanted to be considered Christians so that they could enter the mainstream of America, rather than be considered a fringe religion. This worked during the 1950s and several decades after, but the situation has changed. The world is becoming increasingly more secular. The Christian myth is being debunked as scholarly work is done. An increasing number of people find the atonement theology barbaric and antiquated. It's too early to declare the death of Christianity, but the Christian sun is setting. The LDS church has tied themselves to a sinking ship.