Mormon leaders have joined their voices with those of four other Christian traditions in urging the Supreme Court to take a stand against same-sex marriage.
And those four other groups have not exactly been historical friends to the Latter-day Saints.
On Thursday, the five groups filed an amicus brief requesting the nation’s highest court to hear an appeal that originated in Utah. They desire the court to rule definitively in favor of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
Let’s take a look at those four groups.
- The National Association of Evangelicals. Despite some recent thawing of evangelical-Mormon relations (God bless you, Richard Mouw), there’s not much love lost between these two groups. Evangelicals have broadly accused Mormonism of being a cult, and have produced an astonishing cottage industry of books and sensationalist Godmakers-style documentaries about the brainwashed, unsaved, misguided Latter-day Saints.
- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is another example of bad blood, but this time it’s hardly one-sided; Mormon leaders have had an unfortunate history of pounding on Catholicism from the pulpit, in books like Bruce R. McConkie’s unfortunate Mormon Doctrine, and in interpretations of Roman Catholicism being the “great and abominable” church mentioned in the Book of Mormon. (Thankfully, this is no longer taught.) Catholics have been intensely critical of Mormons in the past too. They don’t think our theology is Christian, and the bishops have disagreed with several Mormon practices, such as baptisms for the dead.
- The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) has a well-written document on its website outlining the denomination’s many differences with the Latter-day Saints. According to the LCMS, Mormons don’t adhere to sola scriptura, don’t hold truck with the traditional Trinity, don’t buy into the notion of original sin, and appear to believe in works righteousness. Mormon baptisms are not considered legitimate, and our version of the Lord’s Supper “is not administered in accord with Christ’s institution and therefore is not a valid sacrament.”
- The final player in the amicus brief is the Southern Baptist Convention, a group that, according to Slate magazine, “has probably . . . played a bigger role in perpetuating the idea that Mormonism is a cult” than any other church. From Mike Huckabee claiming that Mormons view the devil as their brother (um, huh?) to its 1998 effort to beat the Mormons at their own game by taking the Baptist message door-to-door when the SBC just happened to choose Salt Lake City for its annual meeting, Southern Baptists have been more welcoming to ants at their famous barbeques than they have to many Mormons in their midst. And the antipathy has, historically, been mutual. Mormons don’t recognize Baptist baptisms (or those of other Christian denominations), for example, or any priesthood outside the LDS Church.
And yet here we all are, filing briefs together in this cozy manner. Strange, strange bedfellows.
Why is the LDS Church joining forces with religious groups that have rejected it? And why are those groups in turn courting favor with the Mormons whose theology they have so roundly criticized?
Because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler said as much when he spoke at Mormon BYU last fall:
“I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together . . . I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences.”
Mohler couldn’t get through his speech without emphasizing that Mormons were wrong about the Trinity or stating without equivocation that he didn’t think the Mormons in the audience would be joining him someday in heaven.
But still, he said, those theological differences can and should be put aside in the face of a much broader evil, which he cast in terms of a loss of religious freedom. Sexuality, he said, is “now clearly becoming a religious liberty issue.”
Now, this is interesting. Baptists have been preaching about religious liberty for centuries now, with a glorious tradition of urging a “wall of separation” between what Roger Williams called the “garden” of the church and the government. In order to protect that garden, government can’t interfere with religion.
It’s ironic, then, that Southern Baptists, as ecclesiastical heirs to Williams, should call upon the government to deprive some individuals of basic civil rights under the law — in the name of religion.
And it’s doubly ironic that the Baptists should join hands with the Mormons in order to do so.