Unaware cameras were rolling, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke in unusual detail about his Mormon Church’s unique beliefs about the Second Coming of Christ in a radio interview last week.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes the New Jerusalem prophesied in the Book of Revelation will be built in the Western Hemisphere, and it is from there Christ will reign during the Millennium.

A YouTube video shows Romney’s on-air interview with an Iowa talk-show host. It started out cordially, but the former Massachusetts governor grew increasingly impatient when WHO 1040 interviewer Jan Mickelson insisted that Romney’s former “effectively pro-choice” position makes him a bad Mormon.

Things got even testier during a commercial break, when the candidate obviously didn’t know he was being recorded.

“My own opinion, off the air, I think you’re making a big mistake when you distance yourself from your faith,” Mickelson said.

“I’m not distancing myself from my faith,” Romney protested. “I’m proud of my faith. And I accept every–there’s nothing I distance myself from.”

A heated exchange ensued about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allows a Mormon to be pro-choice on abortion. Romney said his church opposes abortion, just like it forbids the use of alcohol, but he doesn’t believe in imposing all his religious views on others.

“You don’t understand my faith like I do,” Romney said. “So give me for the moment the benefit of the doubt that having been a leader in my church–a bishop and a state president–I understand my church better than you do.”

Mickelson switched the conversation to the Second Coming of Christ. “Your church says it is going to happen in Missouri,” he said.

“No it doesn’t,” Romney objected. “The church says Christ appears on the Mount of Olives and splits the Mount of Olives and appears in Jerusalem. That’s what the church says, and then over a thousand years–the Millennium–that the world is reigned in two places, Jerusalem and Missouri. That’s what the church says. The Second Coming, the arrival of Jesus Christ, our church says, is in Jerusalem. That’s the church doctrine.”

Romney said teaching about the End Times is found “throughout the Bible.”

“Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives to stop the war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews–our church believes that,” he explained. “That’s where the coming in glory of Christ occurs. We also believe that over the thousand years that follows, in the Millennium, he will reign from two places. The law will come forward from one place–from Missouri–and the other will be in Jerusalem.”

Political bloggers commented on how the skirmish contrasted with Romney’s usual sunny disposition and reluctance to get into the inner workings of his religion.

“We have not seen this side of Mitt Romney,” observed CBN’s David Brody.

“I’ve always wondered how Mitt Romney would hold up under the pressure of being constantly asked about his faith,” Brody wrote. “Since he’s running for secular office, he figures he doesn’t need to talk about his Mormonism. Yet, you get the sense that as the campaign drags on through the January primaries, he’s going to be confronted with challenges to his faith continually.”

Romney’s beliefs are a delicate subject in a Republican presidential race where no clear frontrunner has emerged for evangelical voters, a key voting bloc.

The Southern Baptist Convention classifies Mormonism as a cult.

Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who formerly worked in interfaith witness with the SBC Home Mission Board, has described Mormons as “modern false prophets” and warned that electing a Mormon president would “give every LDS missionary the calling card of legitimacy anywhere in the world.”

Other SBC leaders, however, are willing to overlook theological differences if a candidate supports their social agenda.

“I have a deep disagreement with Romney’s theology, but I won’t rule him out,” SBC President Frank Page said in a December article in the National Review. “Among the presidential candidates who have surfaced, he’s the closest to the Southern Baptists in his social and moral beliefs.”

Such voter ambivalence means Romney must walk a tightrope between emphasizing his faith is important to him, while not drawing attention to specific doctrines of his church that many Christians would find strange or even heretical.

Romney and Mickelson’s debate about the Millennium serves as an example.

When most Christians who interpret Genesis literally read about the Garden of Eden, they have in mind a geographical location in the Tigris and Euphrates river basin in modern-day Iraq.

Mormons, however, today tour what they believe is the actual site of the ancient Garden of Eden in Independence, Mo. That is where they believe the lost 10 tribes of Israel will gather and build the great city of Zion before the Second Coming of Christ, and from where the Lord will govern during a 1,000-year reign known as the Millennium.

The 10th of 13 articles of faith handed down by Mormon prophet Joseph Smith says, “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

The Mormon Church’s Doctrine and Covenants say in 1831, after he had traveled to Missouri, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that the New Jerusalem prophesied by John the Revelator will be built in the Western Hemisphere and will coexist with the old Jerusalem.

“Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints,” the Mormon scripture records Smith’s prophecy.

“Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion,” it continues. “And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.”

Toward the end of his radio interview last Thursday, a clearly miffed Romney said he is growing weary of questions about his faith.

“I don’t like coming on the air and having you go after my church and me and my faith,” he said. “I’m not running as a Mormon, and I get a little tired of coming on a show like yours and having it all about Mormon. You’re trying to tell me that I’m not a faithful Mormon.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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