A Southern Baptist seminary president said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith should be a stumbling block for evangelical voters in deciding whether to vote for him as president.
“Mitt Romney is a temple-worthy Mormon, and one of the conditions for being temple-worthy is that you have to swear allegiance to the Mormon president, whom they believe can receive from God direct revelation,” Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. “So Mitt Romney, in a very real sense, has an allegiance to a personality and a person that in most religious circles is unprecedented.”
Roberts’ qualms echo concerns voiced by many Southern Baptists in 1960 about whether John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, would put his allegiance to the pope ahead of the Constitution.
They also distance him from Richard Land, head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Often quoted in the media as a spokesperson for the nation’s second-largest religious organization, Land has said Romney’s religious affiliation “shouldn’t be a deal breaker” for people of faith.
Roberts, former director of interfaith witness for the SBC Home Mission Board and author of Mormonism Unmasked, published in 1998 by SBC publisher Broadman & Holman, argues the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, is not really a church but a non-Christian cult.
“Their doctrine of salvation is dependent upon the Mormon Church,” he said. “It’s not, as we would say, by faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone. Rather, it is due to your obedience and adherence to the Mormon Church. They baptize the dead for their salvation. They marry one another for time and eternity.”
Roberts said there is little historical documentation for the church’s teaching. The golden tablets reportedly discovered and translated by Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith that are basis for the Book of Mormon, for example, have never been discovered.
“There is absolutely no historical data,” Roberts said. “Nobody has ever found a manuscript of reformed Egyptian, which is what Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was written in. Nobody has ever found a part of the Book of Mormon like you might the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Bible.”
Roberts also faulted Mormons for secret rituals, which some non-Mormons view as bizarre.
“They’re given the secret names,” he said. “They’re given simple undergarments to wear. They’re given codes and watchwords whereby they will enter the celestial kingdom. That kind of secretive, magical practice we might say is totally foreign to any form of Christianity that I know anything about.”
Land, a vocal supporter of President Bush, has said he cannot vote for Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich because both have been married three times, in his view “one too many” spouses for most evangelicals.
But he said Romney’s Mormonism “shouldn’t be a deal breaker” for Christians. All Romney needs to do, Land said, is give a speech explaining his beliefs like Kennedy did in 1960 to allay fears about his being a Catholic.
“After all, we’re electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief,” Land said.
Land was among 15 evangelical leaders invited to meet with Romney at his home last October, set up by Mark DeMoss, son of the late billionaire Arthur DeMoss. Attendees included Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and pastors from several evangelical mega-churches.
Land described the discussion as “open and frank.”
“Evangelicals know that they’re not electing a theologian in chief, but a commander in chief,” Land said. “If they agree with Romney on social issues, his Mormonism won’t be a hindrance, especially if he’s the only viable social conservative in the mix.”
Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., agreed with Land that theology should not trump politics.
“There’s no question that there are strong feelings about Mormonism,” Falwell said. “But we’re not electing a Sunday school teacher, we’re electing a president. I do not believe [Romney’s] church affiliation will hinder his being a viable candidate among evangelicals.”
A four-hour special on the Mormons airs on PBS beginning April 30.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.