This week, the Charlotte Observer reported Christ Covenant Church, an evangelical Presbyterian megachurch in North Carolina, rejected two parents who had signed up as Cub Scout leaders. The father was even a former Eagle scout. The story ended up grabbing national headlines. Why?:
The Rev. Gabe Sylvia, Christ Covenant's staff liaison to the Scouting program, confirmed the Stokes' account. He called them to apologize but defends the church's decision.
"Based on a once-over, informal scan, it looked like the Stokes would be good additions to our leadership," he said. "But when it became clear that they were Mormons, they could not become leaders in our pack. Mormonism is not consistent with historical Christianity."
The "Are Mormons Christians?" question always opens a can of doctrinal worms. Mormons seem to take particular umbrage at the declaration they are not Christian. Things were no different this time around. The Observer let local Mormons make their case here at length:
What upset the Stokes family most was the church questioning their Christianity.
"It was so offensive," said Jodi Stokes, who was raised Catholic, then became a Mormon. "I have a picture of Jesus in my living room."
And, she added, look at the formal name of their church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jeremy Stokes, a Bank of America financial consultant whose family has been in the LDS (Latter-day Saints) church for generations, wrote this when asked on Christ Covenant's Scouting application to describe his relationship with Christ: "One of the most important things in my life is my faith and trust in Christ and in His Atonement. Without Christ's help and guidance, I know I wouldn't be the loving father or devoted husband or humble man I am today. His example is the one help I need and rely on every day and I am truly grateful for that."
Bishop Steven Rowlan of the LDS ward, or parish, which the Stokes attend in Weddington, acknowledged that Mormon theology diverges from some beliefs shared by most Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. But he insisted members of the LDS church are as Christian as the members of Christ Covenant.
"Yes, there are distinct differences," he said. "But not with respect to being a Christian. We definitely and truly are Christians in every sense of the word."
It's always interesting to me how, as Rod Dreher pointed out a few years ago, that Mormons get upset about not being called Christian when they themselves believe that every other Christian church is in apostasy. And by way of contrast, the argument against calling Mormons Christians was made by the Observer with an alarming lack of specificity. The issue of extra-Biblical scriptures was raised and it was also noted, "For Sylvia, that at least means that Scout leaders must believe in the Apostles' Creed - a profession of faith dating back to the early centuries of Christianity."
The article makes no mention of any specific Christian doctrines mentioned in Christian creeds that the Mormon church rejects. That's unfortunate, because this would add a great deal of clarity to the debate here. The AP write-up of the story was slightly better, at least adding one specific doctrinal point to the discussion:
The Mormon church treats as holy scripture writings that aren't recognized by other churches, such as the Book of Mormon, which it believes were divinely revealed to Joseph Smith in the 1820s. Mormons disavow belief in the doctrine of the Trinity: that God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one -- instead believing the three to be individuals united in a single purpose.
So yes it's worth nothing there are obvious and important doctrinal differences between Mormons and Christians, even if they do share many of the same values. This could have been better explained in the story, but so could the importance of doctrinal distinctions and how they play a role in church outreach efforts.
That a church imposes certain religious standards for who can and cannot lead their youth groups isn't exactly newsworthy, much less national news. The article itself raises the issue -- with an inconclusive answer -- that Mormon ward-based Scout troops aren't likely to have a non-Mormon leader either. And it's not like church groups aren't within their rights to care about shared belief among youth leaders.
Unfortunately, these stories seem to overplay the "outrage" over the parents being excluded.