Culture

On the Mormon Rebrand

Richard Henry

In August of last year, Hannah Neeleman, an entrepreneur and social media influencer won the Mrs. America beauty competition. A Juilliard trained ballerina, Neeleman is most well-known for leaving behind her dancing career to run Ballerina Farm in Utah with her husband and 7 children. Her extremely successful social media profiles feature “farm life” aesthetics and fun family adventures. She is also outspoken about her Christian values, mostly notably being pro-life.

Sounds great, right? Well, it depends on who you ask, as the truth is in the fine print. Despite frequently being labeled merely as “Christian,” Neeleman is actually a member of The Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), or more colloquially, a Mormon. The LDS Church has embarked upon a massive rebrading effort in recent years to try and gain acceptance as being equivalent to mainstream Christianity (especially Protestantism in the US).

Recent years have seen great market success for Angel Studios (a film studio run predominantly by LDS adherents responsible for The Chosen, The Sound of Freedom, and most recently, The Shift), Studio C (a comedy troupe based out of Bringham Young University), and The Piano Guys (a musical group specializing in instrumental covers of popular songs). These and other similar media endeavors have been marked by providing family-friendly entertainment and a wholesome, moral image. Without being remotely pushy, Mormons have been trying to appear not just “normal,” but high achieving, attractive, and talented.

Despite these efforts, there remain extraordinary differences between Mormon theology and orthodox, biblical faith.

Just another Denomination?

“But really, What’s the big deal?” you may ask. “Who doesn’t know that Mormonism is a cult?” Over the last decade or so, there’s been a massive rebranding effort among the LDS to change public perception from LDS and Mormonism to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Many Mormons seek to style their church as another denomination, but that’s sadly not where this ruse ends.

The change came blatantly in 2018 when the President of the LDS church, Russell M. Nelson, stated in a speech, The Correct Name of the Church the following: “It’s not a rebranding, or a whim, or cosmetic… I did this because the Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church.” Nelson states that it’s a ‘correction’ but does not get into the details of what took so long to fix the supposed name mistake. He further stated, “It is the command of the Lord. Joseph Smith did not name the Church restored through him; neither did Mormons. It was the Savior Himself who said, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’”

There’s much more to Nelson’s speech, and frankly, it’s worth listening to for really understanding the bizarre and heterodox beliefs of the Mormon Church. This is a mere taste of this clear rebranding campaign.

Unfortunately, this only adds to the muddy and dark history of the LDS church. Mormonism has a bad name in the minds of many, so recreating the church as “just another denomination” is a way to save face and not be seen as a cult in the minds of many.

Deep Differences

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.The Nicean Creed

“Very God of Very God” – This is the historically orthodox, biblical view of Jesus Christ. Not just because the Nicene Creed says so, but because the Scriptures say so. The Gospel of John is clear on this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1-3

However, Mormonism maintains something profoundly different:

Mormons hold the unique belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are wholly united in their perfect love for us, but that each is a distinct personage with His own perfect, glorified body (see D&C 130:22).

“God created both Satan and Jesus, and in that respect, they are brothers… Before we were born, we all lived in Heaven with God, who was the creator of our spirits. Although we didn’t yet have bodies, we did have our own personalities…We had agency – the right to choose. Some of us chose well, and others didn’t, just as we do today… When we reached the limits of our ability to progress there, God planned for the earth to be created, and for us to live away from him for a time… Jesus would ‘make up the difference’” meaning He would do what we couldn’t do for ourselves, after we’d done all we could. He would atone for our sins, something impossible for those who sin to do alone.” (From mormonchurch.com)

Mormons believe the Father and Son are different beings, thus two persons and two different gods. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is a created being. Both of these core doctrines are profoundly antithetical to what is revealed in the Bible and the triune nature of God. Truly, the LDS church is nothing more than old leftovers from the heresy fridge, warmed over in Joseph Smith’s mind and repackaged as a new meal– some old-fashioned Arianism served up as new revelation and “restoring the true church.”

Jesus does not “make up the difference” for sinners as if we can offer anything to a holy and righteous Creator. Scripture refutes this abhorrent claim many times over, perhaps most clearly in Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All people across all time have fallen short. They did then, and they do now. Mormon, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, and Jewish, all have fallen short of the Holiness that God requires to be right with Him.

Either the LDS are correct and the Bible flawed, or the historic, orthodox biblical faith passed down for centuries rooted in Holy Scripture is, and the Mormons are wrong. But they cannot both be right. Mormonism is not “just another denomination” regardless of what novel public relations campaign Salt Lake City has cooked up.

Widespread Influence

LDS membership grew by more than 200,000 in 2022. While the overall growth rate of the Church has cooled in comparison to the 1980s and 90s, there are more Mormons today than there have ever been, as their number has swelled to over 17 million worldwide. Indeed, go to any corner of the planet, and you’ll find a LDS assembly. One of the primary reasons for this widespread influence is the (essentially) mandatory 2-year missionary service term for young “elders.”

In a very similar way to Orthodox Judaism, Mormonism is hard to leave, as it becomes one’s entire social structure, especially in a Mormon-majority area (like Utah, southern Idaho, or northern Arizona). Outside of LDS dominant places, appeal to Mormonism as a wholesome, family-values, vaguely conservative (though this is rapidly changing) has quickly become the preferred method of evangelism. The effort works on a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds, conservative commentator Glenn Berck being a pertinent example. The LDS Church capitalizes on its popular adherents to draw more into the fold.

An Opportunity

The good news is, Jesus Christ alone is our only true hope the only true hope for anyone, including Mormons. The rebranding of the LDS Church presents an opportunity for biblical, orthodox Christians. Just like any other works-based salvation system, Mormons rely on their own merit to gain God’s favor. This is a stressful, insecure place to be and relies on a great amount of outward performance. The true Gospel of Christ offers peace and security not dependent on mere appearances.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that much of what Mormom influencers like Hannah Neeleman are presenting is indeed, wholesome and good. Charting a path different from the secular world is a noble pursuit – and it’s one that true Christians can and should take up as their own. Family, beauty,  advocating for Christian morals, and even practicing more traditional ways of living demonstrate a difference that the world needs to see – how much better if those good things are permeated with the truth of pure, unadulterated gospel?

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