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The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations

If Mormons are Christians, are they Protestants?
Which denominations can be called "Mormon?"

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If the LDS Restorationist denominations are Christian, are they also Protestant?

Again, the answer is a solid yes and no.

Assuming for the moment that the LDS Restorationist denominations are part of the Christian religion:

  • Some Christians divide the tens of thousands of denominations which consider themselves to be Christian into three main groups: Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. within this classification, the Mormon movement would be considered part of Protestantism.
  • Some make four divisions: Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic. Again, Mormons would be considered Protestant.
  • Others define Protestantism as consisting of those faith group who trace their history back to the Protestant Reformation and Luther's 95 theses. Some include the Restorationist denominations as a fourth or fifth group. Within this classification, the Mormon churches would be considered part of the Restorationist group and not Protestant.
  • Some define Protestantism as consisting of those non-Catholic denominations that adhere to certain historical cardinal beliefs. Mormons deviate from these beliefs in a significant way and might not be considered Protestant because of this.
  • And of course, many people consider the Restorationist movement to be non-Christian. In that case, the question is moot.

Court rules that Mormons are not Protestants:

Normally, courts avoid ruling on the status of religious groups. However, a Benton County Circuit Judge in Arkansas and the Arkansas Court of Appeals were forced to do just in 2007 and 2008 during a child custody dispute. 1

In 2005, Joel Mark Rownak and Lisa Monette Rownak had agreed in their divorce to raise their children "in the Protestant faith," unless both of them agreed to do otherwise. Their decree reads, in part:
"Based on the express agreement of the parties that the minor children be raised in the Protestant faith, the Court orders that each party hereto is enjoined from promoting another religious belief system/faith to the minor children unless both parties should consent." 2
In 2007, evidence was presented to Benton County Circuit Judge John R. Scott that Joel had changed his church membership from Southern Baptist to the LDS Mormon church. 2 Further, he promoted the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his sons. He led his sons in the reading of Scripture (presumably including the Book of Mormon), and in daily prayer. He had one son baptized as a Mormon, and one enrolled in Boy Scouts at the local Mormon church. Scott ruled that the father was in contempt of the divorce decree, since the judge determined that the Mormon Church is not part of Protestantism.

On appeal in 2007, the father claimed that the contempt ruling violated the
First Amendment's establishment clause that prohibits the state from discriminating against religious groups. Judge Sam Bird wrote the Appeals Court ruling. He noted that the father had originally asked that the Protestant requirement be included in the decree.

The court affirmed the lower court ruling. They based their decision on testimony by the father who stated that the LDS Church was not part of Protestantism, and on information obtained from the LDS Church's official web site. They did not regard the father's claim under the First Amendment to be valid in this case.

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Which denomination(s) can legitimately be called "Mormon?"

Generally speaking, the LDS and most of the other approximately 100 LDS Restorationist denominations consider their own faith group to be the true successors to Joseph Smith's original founding of the Church of Christ in 1830. Most regards the other Restorationist groups as schismatic denominations.

So, for example,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) considers the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) to be a heretical schismatic group. The feeling is mutual. The LDS objects strenuously to terms commonly used by the media such as "fundamentalist Mormons" or "Mormon sect" or "polygamous Mormons" to refer to other Restorationist groups who trace their history back to Joseph Smith's original church. Many of these groups actively promote polygyny among their members. The LDS at least temporarily suspended the practice of polygyny in the late 19th century. Kim Farah, spokesperson of the LDS church, wrote in a news release:
"There is no such thing as a 'polygamous' Mormon. Mormon is a common name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." 3
Unfortunately, there is no consensus on this point. Some LDS Restorationist denominations use the terms "Mormon," "Original Mormons" or "Fundamentalist Mormons" to refer to themselves.

Which is the "true" Mormon denomination?:

This is an unanswerable question. All of the many dozens of Restorationist denominations consider themselves as having originated in Joseph Smith's original faith group -- The Church of Jesus Christ. Most regard themselves as the only "true" Restorationist denomination and the only "true" Christian church.

Additional information:

Footnotes and references used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Charlie Frago, "BENTON COUNTY : Court rules against dad in faith case," 2008-OCT-09, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, at:
  2. Text of CA 08-193, Joel Mark Rownak v. Lisa Monette Rownak, at:
  3. Kim Farah, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day [sic] Saints Disputes Media Use of 'Fundamentalist Mormon'," PRNewswire press release, 2005-APR-06.

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Copyright 2005 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-APR-07
Latest update and revision: 2008-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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