Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land called Mormonism “the fourth Abrahamic faith” in a discussion of controversy over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation.
Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Bloomberg’s “Political Capital” with Al Hunt he regards Romney’s church as neither a Christian religion nor a cult.
“I consider it the fourth Abrahamic religion–Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth,” he said. “Most evangelicals, certainly the ones I know–the polls show more than half–do not believe that Mormonism is an orthodox, Trinitarian, Apostolic, traditional Christian faith.”
While most observers believe it will be difficult to convince conservative evangelicals to vote for a member of a church that many consider an extra-Christian cult, Land has said from the start he doesn’t think Romney’s church affiliation is a “deal breaker,” but only Romney can address it.
Romney recently picked up a key endorsement from a Southern Baptist leader in South Carolina, Don Wilton, pastor of the largest Baptist church in Spartanburg and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. On Tuesday the pastor of First Baptist Church retracted his endorsement, calling it a “personal mistake.”
The pastor of another prominent church in Texas, meanwhile, warned Baptist voters leaning toward Romney not to be misled into thinking they were voting for a Christian.
“Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said in a sermon on Sept. 30. “Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.”
Land’s Monday comments about Mormonism echo quotes attributed to him in June by the Web site NewsMax.com.
“I would look upon Catholicism as an erroneous understanding of the Christian faith; that’s why I’m a Baptist, not a Catholic,” Land says. “I would look upon Mormonism as another faith in the same sense that I would look upon Islam as another faith. I think the fairest and most charitable way to define Mormonism would be to call it the fourth Abrahamic religion–Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third, and Mormonism being the fourth. And Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam.”
Land said evangelicals who are “less charitable,” call Mormonism a cult, but he disagrees.
“A cult is a form of faith which does not comply with the essential teachings of the Christian faith but claims to be within the Christian faith or to be the true expression of the Christian faith, as opposed to being another religion like Judaism,” Land said.
According to the LDS Web site, Mormons believe Jesus Christ established his church, which after the death of the apostles was lost in a period called the Great Apostasy, resulting in the formation of many churches with conflicting teachings.
After centuries of darkness, the church teaches, God restored the true church of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith, bringing forth the Book of Mormon, supposedly ancient writings on golden plates that record God’s dealings with indigenous Americans, who, according to the book, are actually former Jews from the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Land’s own denomination formerly listed Mormons under “cults and sects,” but a new apologetics page of the North American Mission Board categorizes the LDS among “newly developed religions (from approximately the last two hundred years) that disagree with the traditional Christian understanding of God and Jesus Christ.”
“Mormons are undeniably polytheistic,” says one article on the resource page. [The three generally recognized Abrahamic faiths–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–all share belief in one God.]
“Jesus Christ, according to LDS doctrine, is also one of Heavenly Father’s spirit children who has attained godhood. Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three of many gods of other worlds.”
Another article summarizes: “Jesus of the LDS Church is not Jesus of the Bible. God of the LDS Church is not God of the Bible.”
Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and a former interfaith witness expert at the home mission board, has been a leading SBC critic of Mormon teaching.
This spring Roberts outlined differences between Mormonism and Christianity on “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” on PBS.
Speaking at a seminary in March Roberts included Mormons among “modern false prophets” in the United States, who often want to appear to be Christian, similar to the wolves in sheep’s clothing warned about by Jesus.
“Unless we take the Gospel to them and are active about sharing the truth of Jesus Christ with those caught up in error and untruth and a reconstructed false gospel, their destiny is one of separation from the Lord Jesus Christ,” Roberts said.
In a 1998 book Mormonism Unmasked, Roberts said Mormonism’s belief that God cohabitated with a woman placed it closer to a “fertility cult” than to Christianity.
In 1997 the SBC mailed out free of charge 38,000 copies of a 70-minute video, “The Mormon Puzzle,” to educate local churches about Mormon errors in preparation of evangelistic outreach during the SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 1998.
In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, 52 percent of Americans said Mormons are Christians, while 31 percent said they are not and 17 percent don’t know.
Another Southern Baptist seminary president, Albert Mohler, has said the greatest danger of electing a Mormon as president is drawing attention to the church as a mainstream American religion and the instant credibility it would give Mormon missionary efforts around the world.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.