Four years ago, Richard Land, who took over the public affairs division of the Southern Baptist Convention sometime in the last millennium, had the clever idea of identifying Mormonism as the “fourth Abrahamic religion”– after Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Land was seeking to provide some cover for Mitt Romney, whom he didn’t exactly endorse for the GOP presidential nomination but whom he definitely preferred to fellow Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee. (Just why is a nice question for another day.) Since then, other non-Mormon Christians have picked up on the usage, most recently Neal Humphrey of the Ogden Standard Examiner.
But why exactly Abrahamic? The term has come into general use in order to extend the awning of Western religious identity over Islam. Islam is called an Abrahamic religion because it traces its origins to Abraham–via Ishmael, Abraham’s son by the maidservant Hagar, both cast out of the household in deference to Sarah’s wishes backed up by God’s command. It is through Isaac, Abraham’s son by Sarah, that Judaism and Christianity trace their lineage to Abraham. Call us one big unhappy Abrahamic family.
Although Joseph Smith did produce a Book of Abraham, Mormonism is Abrahamic in exactly the sense that Judaism and traditional Christianity are–descended through the line of Isaac. Indeed, among the restorationist religious movements of the Second Great Awakening, what distinguished Mormonism was its claim to be restoring ancient Judaism (the Temple, patriarchal polygamy, etc.) as well as ancient Christianity. In that sense, it is perhaps the quintessential manifestation of latter-day Judeo-Christianity.
Of course, it is easy to understand why evangelicals like Land would prefer Mormons to be Abrahamic. Like Muslims, they have an additional holy book. Like Muslims, they claim a revelation that takes them to a new level. Like Muslims, they compete with evangelicals for converts. But none of these circumstances make Mormons more Abrahamic than Judeo-Christian.
“I am shaped by the Judeo-Christian values which I have and I hope those
will hold me in good stead, as they have so far,” Mitt Romney said last week in Council Bluffs. If I were him, I’d keep playing up his Judeo-Christianity. As much as evangelicals have come to identify the term with themselves, it will be a lot harder for them to exclude Mormons from the Judeo-Christian fold than the Christian one.