Q: If Mormons think they belong to the one and only true church of Jesus Christ, then does that mean they see the members of all other faiths as non-believers? After all, read this stuff from your own scriptures and founding “prophet”
“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the Church of the Lamb of God [i.e. the Mormon Church] and the other is the church of the devil [i.e.. the Christian Church]; wherefore whosoever belongeth not to the church of the lamb of God belongeth to that great church; which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:10).
“…I must join none of them [Christian Churches], for they were all wrong…that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight” (Joseph Smith History 1:19).
A: First off, it would be helpful for anyone reading this post to read two other posts I’ve made previously:
I readily understand why someone would be offended, put off, etc. by these statements. Nobody likes to hear someone else tell them that what they believe is true is, in reality, false. But that is the reality of discussing religion, since the nature of religion is such that they are mutually exclusive, at least to a point. The very existence of the various Christian denominations is the result of people disagreeing with the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. If everybody agreed on doctrine, there never would have been a Lutheran Church, and today there would be no Baptist Church, no Assembly of God, no 7th Day Adventists, no Methodists, Quakers, Shakers, etc. Everybody would be Catholic. It was the act of someone saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” that led to all these various churches. Even within religions there is ample disagreement. Religions are cohesive only to the point people can look past their differences and come together based on what they agree upon, although I won’t deny the impact of community, tradition, etc.
So what if Mormons think everyone else is wrong? Doesn’t anyone who belongs to any religion effectively make the same statement by joining a religion? In fact, even an atheist makes such a statement, since they are in effect saying they believe anyone who believes in God is wrong. My attitude is more or less “Yeah, we think you’re wrong, you think we’re wrong, but hey, that’s no reason why we can’t be friends. Let’s discuss our differences and maybe we’ll both learn something new, and maybe we’ll both change our minds on a few things, even if we don’t join each others’ churches.”
But there’s a bit of a difference between believing someone is “wrong” in their doctrine, and calling them an unbeliever. I don’t ever use the term unbeliever, nor have I ever heard it used to refer those of other faiths in my 35 years of church attendance, but if I were to refer to someone as an unbeliever or non-believer, there’s only one person who would receive that title, and that’s the person who explicitly states that they do not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. By definition that person is a non-believer, and I assume they would not be offended by such a title since it merely points out what they themselves have claimed to be. Or to put it the other way, if you say you believe in Jesus Christ, then by my definition, you’re a believer.
Of course this is just semantics. We’re merely talking about what a word means to me, and the same words often mean different things to different people, since we all have our own custom definitions. But for Mormons it goes farther than that. Although I’m no expert on other Christian religions, the impression I get is that many of their adherents believe that if you do not believe as they do, that you’re going to hell. I’ve gotten this impression as a result of adherents of other Christian faiths telling me that I am going to hell, unless I leave the Mormon faith. This is one prime difference between Mormonism and other Christian faiths, that is, to paraphrase Joseph Smith, “While they believe that we are going to hell, we believe that even they can be saved.”
That is, although we believe other religions are incorrect in their doctrines, we don’t see it as a pass-or-fail situation. That is, being Mormon doesn’t mean you go to heaven, and being a non-Mormon doesn’t mean you go to hell. There will certainly be many non-Mormons in much better graces with God on the other side than many Mormons. And we believe in a “second chance”, as it were, although it really isn’t. We simply believe that the judgment that determines whether one lives with God or goes somewhere else is not based on baptism and membership in the Mormon faith anymore than graduation from Harvard is based on admittance. That is, you cannot graduate from Harvard without being admitted, but being admitted is merely the beginning of things. The real work takes place after you are admitted, and the real work of being able to live with God is not based on doing certain things, although those things are necessary, but rather on becoming something. In order to live with God, one must become like God. A Mormon who thinks he is saved because he’s a Mormon and who believes he can relax is sadly mistaken. The woman who lives naked in the dust of an African wilderness, tending goats, and who never hears of God or Jesus Christ in her life, may in fact have become more like God during her life than the aforementioned Mormon, and thus be better off in the next life. She may be much better off, in fact, since she may have done the best with what she had, whereas the lazy Mormon who is given much and does little comes under serious condemnation.
How will she be saved if she never heard of Christ and was never baptized? This is why Mormons baptize on behalf of the dead. We believe everyone gets a chance to fully understand and accept the gospel, either in this life or the next. It’s not a second chance–it’s a first chance. And just because someone rejects the Mormon missionaries in this life, does not mean they’ve already had their chance. Someone who does not fully understand the gospel, or at least some part of it, has not had the opportunity to reject it. And with all the confusion in our current world, who can blame someone for rejecting Mormonism when they’ve been fed so many conflicting beliefs? In other words, yes, I believe even those who come on this blog and who debate Mormonism with me have not rejected Mormonism. If they don’t understand it (which seems to be the case with 100% of those speaking against it here) then how can they reject it? Of course, I can’t judge that, only God can, but I’m inclined to believe that most people, even those who come in contact with Mormonism, do not have a full opportunity to hear the truth in this life, and will receive that opportunity in the next.
I hope this is helpful in explaining why Mormons rarely, if ever, use the term “non-believer”. It doesn’t really make sense to us, because it’s a statement about a transitory quality–something that could easily change by tomorrow, or likely will between now and 200 years from now, which isn’t really all that much longer than a day, from God’s perspective. It’s not in our nature to draw boundaries and say who believes and who doesn’t, but rather to focus on spreading our message to anyone who will hear it. You could say the main distinction we draw is between those who have heard the word, and those who have not heard. We do not see it as our responsibility to make sure anyone believes, we only see it as our responsibility to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to hear.