Mike Huckabee’s question about whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are siblings moved a decades-long guerrilla campaign that conservative Evangelicals have been waging against Mormonism into the political arena. Zev Chafets, who wrote the Huckabee profile for yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, said the preacher- politician posed the query “in an innocent voice.” But ingenuous it was not. Along with Huckabee’s being hesitant to identify Mitt Romney as a Christian and his initial unwillingness to recognize his opponent’s faith as something other than a cult, its intent was making sure that religious concerns would be expressed in the Iowa caucuses and in voting booths in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond.
A brief history of perceptions of the Mormons is helpful here. From its beginnings in the 1820s, Mormonism troubled lots of folks. Some thought that followers of an American prophet posed a danger to the nation. Others were afraid of the new religion’s unorthodoxy, convinced that its heretical beliefs put Christianity at risk. Throughout the 19th century, the fear of a Mormon kingdom populated by perfidious polygamists kept Mormonism in the political sphere, while worry about its theological beliefs kept it in the religious sphere. But at the end of the century, the Mormons gave up their most visible religious distinctive, plural marriage, allowing their underlying devotion to the nation to shine forth. The result was a de-emphasis on belief and more on behavior.
A few decades later, during the Great Depression, the Latter-day Saints became “those amazing Mormons” who neither smoked nor drank caffeinated beverages or alcohol. Moreover, like the Jews, they “took care of their own.” They fought bravely in both of the 20th-century’s world wars, became aggressively anti-Communist in the 1950s, and emerged in the 1960s as super-patriots—more American than anyone else. They had all the Boy Scout virtues and family values imbedded in a theology that no longer seemed to threaten the religious culture of a Judeo-Christian nation. Indeed, for a time, it seemed that Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew formulation could easily be extended to Mormonism. It was just one more religious way of being American.
But all along a steady, if hushed, voice warned that Mormonism was not Christian. Its radical theology departed from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theology. Rather than a Trinitarian godhead, this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worshipped a godhead “peopled” by deities of flesh and bone. Their salvation plan described a progression that started before birth. Individuals—including Jesus and Satan—were all spirit children of heavenly parents. Not only was God a being of flesh and bone; he also had a heavenly wife who, presumably, also was a being of flesh and bone. After gaining tangible bodies—which, by the way, Satan never did—spirit children matured. Proving themselves worthy, they could be married in Mormon temples “for time and all eternity,” during which time they could progress eternally toward godhood.
The resurgence—resurrection—of the evangelical movement in the middle of the 20th century divided American Christianity (Catholic as well as Protestant) into liberal and conservative wings. For the most conservative of the conservatives, among them the Southern Baptist Convention, it was not enough to read the Protestant mainstream out of Christianity. Mormonism became their target as well. Books and pamphlets, film strips and full-length films attacking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members issued from presses and studios. Materials like Ed Dekker’s, Godmakers, and the “Mormon Puzzle” (a film created by the Southern Baptist Convention) became a part of the standard fare available to the evangelical clergy and their flocks. They were intended as “helps” to convert Mormons away from their heretical faith.
Certainly it is possible that Mike Huckabee’s question to Chafets about Jesus and Satan being to brothers was innocent. But if he did not know the answer, he should have. He has a degree in religion from a conservative evangelical seminary and the answer—that Mormons do believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers, and so must be devil worshippers—is standard evangelical fare in the materials designed to “reveal the truth” about Mormonism.
On page 199 of The Godmakers, for example, it says:
The Mormon Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible and of Christians, but the literal brother of Lucifer in the “pre- mortal existence,” who was conceived in mortality not by a 'virgin . . . with child of the Holy Ghost,' but through Elohim coming from Kolob to have sex with Mary (she is one of Elohim’s many wives for eternity). The Mormon Jesus was not God who became a man, but he was a man who had to prove himself in a mortal body in order to become a 'God.' Mormons have a different heavenly Father, a different Jesus, and a different Holy Spirit from Christians.
Yet average Mormons seem not to have the slightest suspicion that their “man-become-God the Father, his ‘spirit brother-of-Lucifer.’ Jesus Christ, and his 'couldn’t-possibly-be God' Holy Ghost were any different from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Bible.
As for Huckabee's not being familiar with Mormonism, it’s also worth noting that the Baptist preacher was present and was a speaker at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 when it met in Salt Lake City. This means that he was there when his church mounted a campaign to convert Mormons away from Mormonism.
Whatever. Looking at the political campaign in Iowa and beyond, Huckabee’s question seems to have been a spark that set things off, for the nation is now standing on the threshold of the Armageddon-like day for which many conservative evangelicals have been waiting. The campaign against Mormonism has once again moved out of the theological into the political, and therefore, very public arena.