M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Reporting: Romney campaign again puts Mormon faith in spotlight

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Cross-posted from msnbc.com, where it originally appeared

Infobox: Mormons and evangelicals

By Alex Johnson
msnbc.com

Four years ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took time from his Republican presidential campaign to talk at length about the role of religion in America and in his life.

It is entirely appropriate to ask “questions about an aspiring candidate’s religion,” Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a sober, here’s-what-I-believe address in College Station, Texas, in December 2007.

This time around, the same questions are being asked: Are Mormons really Christians? Should evangelical Christians refuse to even consider voting for them?

But this time, Romney’s response is very different.

“Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause,” Romney said Monday in comments at the Values Voters Summit, a conservative gathering in Washington.

That’s the same venue where an influential minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told reporters that he was endorsing Texas Gov. Rick Perry because Romney is “not a Christian” and the LDS Church is “a cult.”

Perry said he disagreed with Jeffress, but he also refused Romney’s demand that he “repudiate the sentiment and the remarks.”

To which Romney replied Tuesday: “I just don’t believe that that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country.”

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday suggests that such questions also may no longer resonate with voters as loudly as they once did.

In the poll, 66 percent of Republican primary voters said they had no concerns about Romney’s faith or its effect on his potential presidency; only 13 percent said they were concerned. The rest said they didn’t know enough to judge or weren’t sure.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meanwhile, declined to comment on the controversy, referring reporters to church materials on its website.)

Skepticism since the 1820s
As Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a prominent religious conservative political group, said in an interview this week on CNBC: “The fact is, Romney’s been around this track before.”

Skeptics of Mormonism “have been around since the church started” in the 1820s, said Scott Gordon, dean of the business school at Shasta College in Redding, Calif., and president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, an umbrella organization of nonprofit groups that seek to answer critics of the LDS Church, as the denomination prefers to be called.

That’s why the same questions keep “coming up over and over again,” Gordon, a ward mission leader and former bishop in the church, said in an interview this week. “Part of the difficulty is most people don’t know what a Mormon is.”

Infobox: Mormons and evangelicals

The church is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and its American members are disproportionally distributed in the western United States. Consequently, Gordon said, Mormons tend to be more often misunderstood in the eastern half of the country.

“Those are the folks who have beards and drive buggies — oh, wait, those are the Amish,” he said.

Unfamiliarity combined with portrayals of the church “as being cultish, as being secretive — I think it makes some people nervous,” he said, even though “we’re fairly traditional Bible-believing Christians.”

“The idea that we’re somehow not traditional Christians because we don’t believe exactly like a Southern Baptist believes … seems very small,” he said.

But Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a leading Southern Baptist institution in Kansas City, Mo., said the evangelical distinction was drawn over much more than differences of opinion that developed a millennium after Jesus’ crucifixion.

The LDS Church “radically reconstructs the historic Christian doctrines on God, Jesus and salvation,” said Roberts, the author of “The Counterfeit Gospel of Mormonism” and for many years a senior leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest denomination.

“I think evangelicals look at Mormons as basically having a belief in God and the 10 Commandments, and Mormons are generally known to be morally traditional and to confirm much of the Judeo-Christian ethic,” Roberts said in an interview this week.

But “they deny the confessions of the church,” he said, referring to a series of statements of fundamental Protestant beliefs about salvation over the centuries.

The common thread through those writings is that Jesus is the only intermediary with God in salvation from spiritual death, which can be received only by confession of faith in God through the sacrifice of Jesus. In other words, evangelicals and other Protestants believe salvation is “faith-based.”

Mormons believe that faith in God and the atonement of Jesus are part of salvation, but they also put significant emphasis on living a kind and productive life on Earth. In that sense, salvation in the LDS Church is said to be “works-based.”

And Roberts said that while evangelicals and many other Protestants believe the Bible is literally true, Mormons “say it’s full of errors … and had to be supplemented with their three books.”

They are:

“There’s an obvious disconnect with historical Christianity,” and on that ground, it’s appropriate for evangelicals and many mainline Protestant denominations to consider the LDS Church a “theological cult,” Roberts said.

“Their claim to be the only true church is a radical reconstruction of the Christian faith,” he said. “If the Mormon Church were to say ‘we are a separate world religion,’ like Islam, we’d say: ‘Fine. They’re not a cult.’ But there’s no common basis for identity with other Christian groups.”

Jeffress: ‘My comments are not fanatical’
In interviews after his comments at the Values Voters Summit, Jeffress made the same point, saying he regretted that his remarks had been misinterpreted as a dismissal of the LDS Church as a “sociological cult like David Koresh,” who was killed along with 21 followers of his Branch Davidian sect in a confrontation with federal authorities in 1990. He stressed that he was speaking of it as “theological cult” in doctrinal terms.

“There are people out there who want to try to paint me as the Jeremiah Wright of the right,” Jeffress told Chris Matthews in an interview on MSNBC-TV’s “Hardball,” referring to President Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor. “But my comments are not fanatical — it’s just true that Mormonism is not a part of historical Christianity,” particularly in its teachings on salvation, he said.

Jeffress acknowledged that, on that basis, “I don’t believe all Baptists are Christians or all Catholics are Christians.”

“Nobody goes to heaven in a group,” he said. “We go individually to heaven or hell personally based on what we believe in Jesus Christ.”

While some reports have characterized Jeffress’ views as outside the mainstream, research shows that it is the dominant philosophy among evangelicals and other Protestants.

In a survey of Protestant ministers (.pdf) released this week by LifeWay Research, 75 percent disagreed with the statement “I personally believe Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to be Christians.” Sixty percent said they “strongly disagreed.”

The results were relatively consistent across age groups, years in church leadership and levels of theological education. (The poll, which interviewed 1,000 senior ministers across the country, reported a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.)

Evangelical ministers were more likely to “strongly disagree” that Mormons are Christians than were mainline Protestant ministers — that is, pastors of Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other non-Catholic, non-evangelical churches. But even half of those pastors said they, too, “strongly disagreed.”

Such views are not new.

In 2000, for example, delegates to the the United Methodist Church’s General Conference voted without debate to declare that “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith.”

And in 1998, LifeWay — which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention — published Roberts’ book “Mormonism Unmasked,” part of a convention-led campaign called The Mormon Puzzle. Another book in the program, “The Mormon Puzzle: The Challenge of Mormonism,” declared: “Regardless of what the Mormon missionaries or television commercials say, the Mormon church is anti-Christian.”

Gordon, head of the Mormon apologetics group, said: “No, we’re not Tulip Calvinists, and we’re not Southern Baptists. (But) we are Christians.

“We believe in the Bible. Do we have some differences? Yes. Otherwise, there’d be no need for a Mormon church.

“I wonder how the Jews felt about early Christians — ‘They can’t be Jews, because they have the New Testament’?”

Will doubt translate to votes?
Whether the revival of such decades-old discussions will have a significant impact on the 2012 presidential campaign is not clear.

Whether evangelicals should vote for Romney or any other Mormon for president is a separate question, Jeffress said. His endorsement of Perry, he said, was based not just on Perry’s personal confession of faith but also on his more conservative stances on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

“I think you’ve got a Christian in Barack Obama … and a non-Christian in Mitt Romney, and I’ve said publicly I would vote for Mitt Romney if it comes down to that,” Jeffress said.

Roberts, of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he would be “concerned” if Romney became president, but “I would not stand up in the pulpit and say you must not vote for him.”

“Although (Romney) affirms his Mormon faith,” he said, “when you punch the ballot,” the real question becomes “Does this man have the judgment I follow?”

It was Gordon, the former LDS bishop — not Mormon critics — who said Romney should have real concerns about whether evangelicals and other Protestants would be willing to vote for him.

“Making it through the primaries will be difficult because of the Southern evangelicals,” said Gordon, who called invocations of “traditional Christianity” by Mormon skeptics simply “code for Southern Baptist.”

“And when we turn to the general election, you’re going to run into a whole other set of questions that Republicans wouldn’t ask,” he said, among them:

  • “What about the Mormon position on African-Americans?” The church, while it has been integrated since its founding, did not admit black men to leadership positions until 1978.
  • And “what about the church’s involvement in Proposition 8?” The church strongly supported the 2008 California ballot initiative that restricted same-sex marriages, sending letters to every Mormon congregation in the state and launching a national fund-raising drive that generated half of the $40 million in total donations to the pro-proposition campaign, its organizers said.

“That’s no big issue among Republican primary voters,” Gordon said. “It could be with independent and women voters.”

At the same time, there’s a risk of a backlash vote in Romney’s favor if opponents focus too much on his faith, he said.

“Mormons hold a lot of power in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Colorado, and all those could be swing states,” Gordon said. “If people alienate the Mormon vote — and Mormons are truly active voters — they may be tipping the balance.”

Written by Alex

October 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Several years ago I read a book about the Mormon religion entitled “Saints of Another God”. I loaned it out to someone and never got it back. I wish I could tell you who the author is, but I’m certain you can find it somewhere. It gives you an entire different look at the church. When the LDS missionaries came calling, my husband showed them that book and they tried to tell us that wasn’t the Mormon church they belonged to – it was a separate division. Interesting to say the least. My sister-in-law and family have lived in Salt Lake City for years and they can certainly tell you in a few words as to why you don’t want to vote for Romney.

    Virginia Kuske

    October 12, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    • Seriously, if you’d have asked me whether there was a cnotury named Mali I might have responded yeah, probably but my guess would have been that it was in the Far East. And I certainly haven’t heard of Burkina Faso (AKA Upper Volta), which borders it on the southeast according to Wikipedia.Reading the wikipedia article on Mali leads me to the sad fact that, According to the World Health Organization in 2001 an estimated 91.6% of Mali’s girls and women have had some form of female genital cutting performed on them. What is Yeah Samake’s view on this heinous practice?

      Shubhasri

      May 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

  2. Gov. Perry pals around with the New Apostolic Reformatio­n crowd that looks to replace our society, government­, media and education to fit their narrow religious agenda. Yes these are the people who believe the earth is 6.000 years old. Yes, Sarah Palin is one. And now hes going after other religions like Mormons with attacks on Romney.

  3. (Hello, Alex. What you are seeing is what I came across recently while webbing away. Amazing!]

    mormonism’s DIRTY little secret

    by Aaronita Smith

    Non-Mormon scholars as well as Mormon ones are aware of a hard-core pornographic drawing in the “Book of Abraham” which is Mormon-approved scripture.
    This Book is part of the “Pearl of Great Price” which, along with the “Book of Mormon” and the “Doctrine and Covenants,” make up the LDS church’s “triple combination” in one volume.
    The porn is found in Fig. 7 of Facsimile 2 in the “Book of Abraham” which shows two beings facing each other, which were described by Joseph Smith as representing the “Holy Ghost” and “God sitting upon his throne,” the latter clearly showing an aroused male sex organ.
    After Smith published this sketch in his newspaper in 1842, which offended Mormon sensibilities, the phallic portion was whited out for more than a century until the “restored” LDS church decided in 1981 to restore what had long been censored!
    Equally shocking was the discovery that the “Book of Abraham” had nothing to do with Abraham or his God but was actually based on ancient Egyptian funeral documents depicting occultic obscene practices – and the original sketches showed an erotic phallus on both beings including the one Smith blasphemously claimed was the Holy Ghost!
    For further information see “Book of Abraham” (Wikipedia). Also see Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s “Mormonism – Shadow or Reality?” which on 76 pages reproduces the original Egyptian X-rated drawings and shows how Smith altered them and created one of his many frauds. Highlights in the classic Tanner work can be seen by typing “Facts From Mormons (By a Utah Resident)” and “What LDS Leaders Say” on Yahoo.

    (Mitt Romney didn’t approve of this insight of mine into his faith!)

    Jeff

    December 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm

  4. This is a great post! I grew up in a Lutheran church and was very acvtie in it even through the first years of collage. Midway through collage I moved and found myself attending a Baptist church with a friend. At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the differences, but eventually I found myself learning, growing and expanding my faith to a new level one I now beleive I would not have attained had I not looked at faith from a different perspective. I find that I believe more in faith in God rather than religion. Each Christian religion whether it\’s Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc. has the same basic principle the belief in God and Jesus, the belief in God\’s grace, the encouragement to follow God\’s Word and to be of service for others. This is the meat and potatoes of Christianity. But each is surrounded with the fluff of its specific religion and dogma. I think and beleive that the fluff is not what really matters is it really important that I say so many Hail Marys, or that I have to go through confirmation, or that I can only wear certain clothes to church, or that I have to do so many of the things that religion requires of you? Getting back to the basics, the meat and potatoes if you will the belief and faith in the Triune God, the belief in that only by God\’s grace we are saved from Hell, the pursuit of making yourself a better person and Christian by studying God\’s Word, giving of yourself to serve others, and trusting God to be your primary caregiver in all matters these are the things that are the most important and should be where we put our time and energy. This, I believe, is where happiness and peace within come from not a specific religion. I am by no means trying to demean or be a critic of any religion. Quite honestly, I am happy that people are indeed involved. I just hate that people are so wrapped up in the fluff of religion that they are not only missing the bigger picture, but are actually causing others to have the bad experiences (like some of the stories above) that turn them from God..-= Courtney s last blog .. =-.

    Stiben

    May 22, 2012 at 12:11 am


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