Breaking news: "Rick Perry-supporting evangelical pastor calls Romney's religion a cult."
My husband and I were watching TV yesterday when we happened upon an interview with the pastor and John King. John King listened as the pastor explained why Mormons aren't Christian. King then read the rebuttal from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but in the process mangled the name, conveniently omitting the "Jesus Christ" part, as if even he wasn't willing to concede the point.
I winced as I watched the news story, although, really, I shouldn't have batted an eye. The pastor's claim is anything but breaking news. My church has been branded a cult before, and it will most certainly be branded a cult again. But the label still stings, because "cult" is evocative of brainwashing, isolation, and mass suicide. It doesn't describe the experience I personally have had as a Mormon. My church has given me a sense of purpose. It has given me tools to build a strong marriage and family. It has taught me how to serve and sacrifice. It has taught me of Jesus Christ, of His ministry, and encouraged me to follow Him. It has inspired me to reach my full potential. If my church is a cult, then cults are great!
We resist labels, and rightly so. Labels tend to have a certain tenacity about them: Obama is a Kenyan, Muslims are terrorists, Mormonism is a cult. We resist labels because they give other people the power to define who we are. Labels strip us of our humanity. Labels interfere with our ability, and need, to be understood.
And yet, labels are inevitable. If we must be labeled, we want to be in charge of the process. This is why we Mormons insist that we are Christians, even though the Christian community, for reasons both semantic and theological, dismisses this claim. As I watched the exchange with the pastor and John King, I tried to understand what the pastor was saying. Yes, Mormons are not traditional Christians. And no, I cannot really step outside of my framework, my experience, and see myself and my religion through the eyes of someone else. This is why I try to avoid making blanket statements about Jehovah Witnesses, Scientologists, and even Evangelicals. Sometimes, what you are and what you are not depends on what side of the line you are on.
It may be naive, but I have been surprised by the vitriolic comments that have been directed at "Romney's religion." The pastor's remarks have momentarily revived the debate of who can claim to be "Christian," and I can see the argument progressing like so many rounds through Sylvester McMonkey McBean's branding machine, each participant hoping to wear their Christianity like a gold star. In light of whose name is being professed, it all seems a little absurd. After all, Christ rejected labels, seeking company with publican and scribe, saint and sinner. In the end, if I am considered Christian doesn't depend on how I or anyone else labels me. It depends on my heart, where no label can adhere, no matter the amount of pressure applied.