Beliefs Politics

Analysis: The unexpected evangelical silence on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism

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(RNS) Now that Mitt Romney has sewn up the Republican nomination, the GOP can move beyond a tumultuous primary season. But for some of Romney's fellow Mormons, there's still some anxiety in the air.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona on April 20, 2012.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona on April 20, 2012.

“For Mormons, this is a potentially volatile moment. They are deeply proud that their faith’s most prominent adherent, Mitt Romney, is steps away from a presidential nomination and could push the faith further into the mainstream,” Matt Viser wrote in The Boston Globe.

“With these feelings, though, comes a nagging fear that their beliefs, often misunderstood, will again be subjected to scrutiny, even ridicule, on a national scale.”

If the past is any indicator, their fears may be founded. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, the symbolic and organizational heartland of Mormonism. Some 3,000 Southern Baptist volunteers went door to door with the intent to evangelize Mormons; and the denomination even produced a book called “Mormonism Unmasked,” which promised to “lift the veil from one of the greatest deceptions in the history of religion.”

When Romney delivered his “Faith in America” speech in 2007, the Southern Baptist response was to label Mormonism a “theological cult” and “false religion.”

What's surprising in 2012 is the relative lack of anxiety on the other side, among evangelicals who for years considered Mormonism a “cult” that was to be feared, not embraced.

In fact, the relative ambivalence among prominent evangelicals about this new “Mormon moment” — and the fact that Romney's campaign could mainstream Mormonism right into the Oval Office – could radically shift the dynamics on America's political and religious landscape.

“You can already see the change in thinking among many evangelicals who see Mitt Romney more as the Republican candidate for president and less as a Mormon,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who declined, when asked, to label Mormonism a “cult.”

Joanna Brooks, a prominent Mormon writer at Religion Dispatches, agreed with Anderson, noting the already visible difference between the level of evangelical anxiety created by the Romney campaign in 2008 and 2012.

“Since his inevitability as a candidate this spring, you’ve seen evangelical leaders who took pleasure in calling Mormonism a cult come to his side,” Brooks said. “Things are changing.”

Brooks doesn’t believe that a Romney candidacy will eliminate the serious theological distinctions between evangelicals and Mormons, but she does expect we’ll see fewer Christians willing to label Mormonism as a “cult” as the mainstream media and many Americans now interpret the use of the phrase as an expression of bigotry.

Last October, Christian columnist Rod Dreher wrote in The American Conservative that it's “offensive” to him when Christians speak of Mormonism as a cult. His words echo the sentiments of Richard Mouw, prominent evangelical scholar and president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who penned “My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult” on CNN's Belief blog.

“While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology,” Mouw wrote, “I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

Even Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. seems to have softened his family's hard-line stance as Liberty welcomed Romney as its commencement speaker in May. “Liberty has no official position on Mormonism,” Falwell told CNN’s Kyra Phillips. “Our statement does not define Mormonism as a cult. … That’s not part of our doctrinal position and not our official position.” 

Robert Jones, president of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, sees parallels to the warming thaw between evangelicals and Catholics in the 1980s and 1990s — a pragmatic political alliance that grew out of shared opposition to abortion.

“It was really political affinities that began to break down that wall between Catholics and evangelicals,” Jones said.

More recently, evangelicals have been more than willing to work with Mormons in the fight against gay marriage. The growing Mormon-evangelical political alliance could have real religious (and political) implications: Recent PRRI polls of white evangelicals show that as the group’s awareness of Romney’s Mormon faith increases, his favorability among the group also rises.

In short, what was once a liability might now be seen as a political asset – especially in the GOP's crucial base of conservative Christian culture warriors.

Still, not all evangelicals seem to be softening their stance.  Southern Baptist researcher Ed Stetzer defines Mormonism as a “theological cult,” not the classic “sociological cult.” His research shows that a full 75 percent of Protestant pastors believe that Mormonism is either a cult or simply a different religion.

Stetzer says he'd be concerned if the significant theological distinctions between Mormons and mainstream Christianity are blurred or overlooked in the name of political expediency.

“I think it is more helpful to call Mormons another religion, distinct from biblical or historic Christianity, as just about everyone from Catholics to Methodists to Baptists have clearly stated,” Stetzer notes. “It's a different religion that uses the same words to describe very different things.”

In the 2012 presidential race, “very different” doesn't seem to matter very much at all. And that – regardless of whether Romney wins in November – may be the most important legacy of America's Mormon moment.

Author Jonathan Merritt envisions in his new book, “A Faith of Our Own,” a community of churches working jointly to help birth mothers pay for diapers, doctor visits, schooling and day care.

Author Jonathan Merritt envisions in his new book, “A Faith of Our Own,” a community of churches working jointly to help birth mothers pay for diapers, doctor visits, schooling and day care.

(Jonathan Merritt is author of “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.”)

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • Yes, Obama gave the right an unexpected gift when he intensified his attacks against religion with his ‘mandate’ on contraception coverage for all health-care institutions including those whose religious tenets forbid it. Then, he topped it off by coming out in support of gay marriage. Obama unified the religious right by accident, and Romney suddenly satisfied the evangelicals by standing against gay marriage. Thanks, Obama!

  • Mormons believe Jesus lives on planet kolob with god, and underwear will protect them. Are these beliefs ridiculous? Yes, as much so as any other religious beliefs. To use politics to shove these ridiculous beliefs down everyones throat and force your made up morals into law should be something that is ridiculed. If somehow you think that it’s ok to mix politics and your religion, think twice.

  • Mormons do not believe in the birth,death and resurrection of Jesus. They believe that he was actually the angel Michael.

  • Any time I read a religion piece that quotes Joanna Brooks to give insight on the Mormon perspective, I shake my head in frustration. Quoting Joanna Brooks as being representative of Mormon thought is like quoting Nancy Pelosi to get the Catholic perspective. Is she still a member of the Church? I think so, yes. However, she has firmly established her status as a strong dissenter in many important areas of doctrine. She would probably tell you that she represents and important and growing segment of the LDS faith, but in reality her published views are more representative of former members than current members. I don’t think even she herself would claim her views represent a majority of members.

    Quotations from Joanna Brooks, unless clearly identified as representing a dissenting viewpoint, are the best litmus test I know of in detecting poorly researched articles on Mormonism.

    Regina4u, we believe no such thing. That’s Adam, not Christ:

    Dimpan, we believe no such thing. Kolob is not the name of a planet in Mormon cosmology, but rather a star. “Lives on planet X” is hardly how any Mormon would describe their understanding of their Savior’s celestial abode, regardless of what name you might give that planet. I could describe anyone’s deeply felt religious beliefs in language as foreign and off-putting as this. Do you have any basis for your ambiguous assertion that either Romney or the author of this piece is seeking to force you to believe the same things he does? Are there any particular “made up morals” policy decisions you would like to enumerate?

  • Planet, star, angel, alien… that’s my point, everyone’s beliefs are equally ridiculous, and to combine them with politics is equally ridiculous.

    I have many issues with your made up morals, one being the racism and hatred against african and native americans by the mormon religions, and secondly the recent hatred of equal rights.

  • My advice to members of the LDS faith, not that you want it but…

    Stand up for exactly what your faith is, be proud of all the insane things your faith teaches that most of us cannot logic and will never understand, defend nothing as you owe nothing to any of us. Be proud and stop pretending that your stuff is not insane, because to a huge majority of Americans it is. Embrace the TRUTH and stop skirting around it! You have the absolute right, if you have any doubt then stand up to it and stop pretending it is not there. You can not now, or ever earn respect of anyone until you have the balls to be yourself regardless of what others might think!

    If your kid loses their life to a drug overdose – speak it loud and be a teacher to others so they might not endure the same hardship, if you child is gay embrace the same of them you seek for yourself. If your child leaves the church let them fly off to their own vision and support them in finding their own highest good! And if most importantly if your child takes their life find out why and see to it that no other family ever has to experience such pain. Denial becomes the deepest form of shame and it will eat your soul. Instead Take the Heroes Journey~! (look it up)

    This is one Nation under God and if Mitt Romney does not have enough balls to show us that he can stand up to any question about his version of God and be a good representation of his faith, then he needs wait until he is a man powerful enough that can show us a conviction to such a faith, one that is worth standing for tall and proud, instead of avoiding the questions about it..

    Ok, off soap box now!

  • I am a Catholic and I am voting for Mitt Romney because he is a good man who has done good things, also because he has gotten it right on religious freedom, right to life for all babies and keeping the true definition of real marriage which is between a man and a woman. Also , like most Evangelicals I am not going to allow the radical left to turn me into a religious bigot. I’m not a religious bigot. I believe in the freedom of religion. I do not vote for someone based on their religion, race or gender. I vote for them on there policies. Mitt Romney represents me and the way I truly see things. The fact that he is so good looking in such a clean cut way doesn’t hurt either. I know that’s not that important but it sure doesn’t hurt.

  • Amazing how people totally ignorant of Mormons and Mormonism want to display their ignorance in these comments.

    American Indians are honored in the Book of Mormon as having ancestors (some, not all) who were descendants of Joseph, son of Jacob, and thus heirs of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Mormons sent their first mission to convert American Indians in 1830, and when they took refuge in what is now Utah, they renewed their efforts to recruit Indians into their church. You might be aware that the ancestry of many of the people of Latin America is American Indian, and it is no coincidence that much of the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last 100 years has been in Latin America. There are a million Mormons in Mexico, another million in Brazil, and more Mormons in Guatemala, Bolivia and Peru.

    As for people of African descent, while the Mormon Church does not classify members by race, a recent survey by the Pew research organization found the percentage of Mormons who self-identified as “black” would give a figure of about 200,000 black Mormons in the US. There are over 100,000 Mormons in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including many people of African descent. Many of the million Mormons in Brazil have African ancestors. There are some 400,000 Mormons in a score of African nations, including Ghana, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, etc.

    There have always been black Mormons, and they were never racially segregated (the way some Baptist churches still are). There were black families in the congregation where I grew up in Salt Lake City in the 1950s, and black members in congregations I attended in Colorado, Mississippi and Maryland even before the 1978 change that removed the limitation on priesthood ordination. It was concern for these many faithful black Mormons that motivated Spencer W. Kimball to pray for a change in the policy, and when he felt he had a positive answer, and that answer was received by the rest of the senior leaders, the policy was revoked and the announcement made immediately to the world. The day of the announcement was celebratory in Salt Lake City, and every Mormon I know was overjoyed that they had seen this change.

    In addition to blacks and American Indians, the Mormons have been baptizing and ordaining Polynesians since the 1840s, resulting in the Mormon community in Laie, Hawaii, where BYU Hawaii is located. A movie, The Other Side of Heaven, tells the true story of Mormon missionaries in Tonga in the 1950s, where a third of the Tongan people are now Mormon. You might notice the BYU football team roster includes a lot of Polynesians.

    The first missionary in Japan was Heber J. Grant in 1901, who later became head of the Mormon Church. There are about a million Mormons across Asia, from Siberia to Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. That is where I am from.

    If you stood on a sidewalk during the semi-annual General Conference of the Mormon Church, with a sign written in a foreign language, asking for help, chances are you would find someone who speaks the language and used to live in that country, within 20 minutes. Fully 45% of Mormon men have served as missionaries, many of them in countries where they had to learn a new language, and the same is true of 10% of the adult women. Mormons don’t just say “I like black people”, they have lived in Uganda and Haiti and in Harlem.

    Some 8 million of the 14 million Mormons live in 150 countries outside the US, and speak 96 languages other than English. BYU has the largest bilingual student population in the US.

    Two representative modern Mormons in the US include Larry Echo Hawk, chief of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and former Democrat Attorney General of Idaho (and recently called as a senior Church leader), and Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, mother of 3, marathon runner, city mayor, and Republican candidate for Congress from the new 4th congressional district in Utah.

  • To Chris: Go check out, find the meeting place and time of your local Mormon congregation, and come on down for a visit, if you want to see people willing to stand up for their beliefs.

    Mitt Romney served for over ten years as an unpaid pastor for his fellow church members in Boston, including Haitian immigrants and Cambodian refugees who had joined the Church there. He spoke from the pulpit on many occasions, but more importantly he devoted many hours to one-on-one counseling with people undergoing difficult times, with unemployment, long term illness, marital heartbreak, and crises of faith. His partners at Bain Capital were well aware of his faith commitment and the priority he gives to his wife and children, and now grandchildren.

    It is not Mitt Romney’s job as a presidential candidate to take you by the hand and explain why his faith is not only good but also rational, so anyone who is sincerely interested in finding out about what Mormons believe, and not just harassing Romoney, should go check out what Mormons boldly say for themselves at, and what they teach their families at, which has copies of Mormon scriptures and Sunday School lessons and sermons given by church leaders (including on video), plus visual images and maps and charts and an entire college text about the history of the Mormons. You would not go to the Ku Klux Klan to get an opinion about Barack Obama. You should go to the source and ask the Mormons what they believe and why.

  • For years, Evangelical pastors have expressed the fear that Mitt Romney becoming the presidential nominee would “legitimize Mormonism” and have an adverse effect on their members, sucking them into the Mormon Church. But now their penultimate worries have materialized, and it is NO BIG DEAL. No one is beating down the doors of the Mormon churches to get baptized because Romney is smart, rich and handsome. There are NO negative religious consequences for ANY American from Romney as a candidate and the same will be true if he is elected president. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did not increase Southern Baptist membership, and the United Church of Christ is still struggling with its decline despite Obama’s membership.

    This should not surprise us. Romney’s years as governor of Massachusetts, and his father’s as governor of Michigan, did not put those states into the “Mormon majority” column. Mormons have been elected to Congress for a century from states without a Mormon majority, including California, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Oklahoma and Florida. Mormons have headed up Federal agencies, including Agriculture, Treasury, Education, Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Coast Guard, since 1952. All of this had NO effect on the religious affiliation of Americans.

  • No, the Mormons do not believe that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that.

  • Dimpan,

    You’re right. Everybody’s beliefs are ridiculous… except yours. Because you only believe stuff that’s PROVEN to be true. Like stuff you would find in an encyclopedia. This year’s encyclopedia, that is, because last years had a few things we found out weren’t quite true. This year’s is solid gold, though.

    Naturally, the fact that your beliefs are so obviously more well thought out than other people’s gives you license to caricature their beliefs in any manner you see fit, just to highlight how superior your beliefs are. Please, please teach us to be so smart and savvy like you. I’ll bet you never get taken in by anyone! I wish I were as sharp as you. Really, my religious beliefs are just a security blanket. It helps me make it through the day despite knowing at my core that I’m not as cool as you and Bill Maher are.

    Please go away and have mercy on us foolish believers. We can’t take your taunts and abuse. We’ll never be cool like you and we just want our security blanket. If we promise never to take your beer away, will you let us have a president that makes us feel special and accepted for a day before you trash him like you do every president?

  • I have read Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith as well as those by Mormon historian, Richard Bushman and that by former Mormon historian Dan Vogel. Smith is an enigma. It’s alleged he had a vision of God and Jesus in the spring 1820 and yet many of the details of that account are contradicted by the contemporary evidence in such matters as the timing of a religious revival and the time his family joined the West palmyra Presbyterian church, It sounds too much made up. Smith was either a prophet of a fraud, Dr Mouw, you cannot have it both ways. It’s sad you as the president of such an institution like Fuller have these views. Many Mormon missionaries will be sheep stealing members of the churches your graduates will be sent to pastor.

  • Yes, the Mormons are good and beautiful people……it is their religion that is a real mess,,,much of the Mormon religion is simply not Christian!

    Remember there are other good but non Christian people in this world!

    You either believe Jesus Christ or the founder of the Mormon religion Joseph Smith…take your choice….

  • Example of Christian belief vs Mormon:

    The Trinity….Christans pray TO their God Jesus Christ…while Mormons pray to the Heavenly Father….,in the Name of Jesus Christ…..a big,big difference!

    What did Jesus pray on the cross? “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

  • I am voting for Mr. Romney because he supports high moral values. He did not publically push his Morman faith on anyone while he was governor. Anyone voting for someone other than Mr. Romney is giving their vote for President Obama pure and simple.

  • God is so offended. We have a choice between Herod and not much better, Romney
    another pro-abort who supports the gay agenda. Romney only talks, his actions,
    RomneyCare includes abortion. He praised his own mother for being for abortion.


  • The level of hypocrisy that the conservative evangelicals have reached is mind boggling. I see that fighting heresy in the name of Christ doesn’t matter as long as the person is a politically acceptable Republican. Hey, as long as they “hate them homosexuals”, that’s all that matters….right? So how about it Jerry Falwell Jr., Don’t forget the NeoNazis, the Klan and the Muslims, they hate homos too, so why not join hands with them too?

  • Mormonism is much like a Transhumanist sect. Kinda on a plain of Hinduism. They believe in transformed or purified body after death to reign supreme on their own planet with many many wives. On this we see some of Islam creeping into the sect also.
    While the run of the mill christian will call a mormon a brother. Most of these will confirm their Initiations in Free Masonery also. Again we see a mingling with esoteric and mystical entities.
    And who can overlook the early financiers of the Mormon Church….the Rothschilds. And from here the true motives behind Mormonism. Just like the billions and billions of dollars hoarded and protected by the Vatican Bank. The Mormons invest billions and billions in real estate, shopping malls and vulture capitalist like Bain and TD Ameritrade
    As for as a comparible religion. I would have to say that a Mormon is akin to a Jehovah Witness cult, the secret initiations of Masons, financed by zionist jews and are involved businesses more than others.

  • The founding fathers stated that religion should not be a consideration for people to run for political office. The practice of speaking against a person’s faith hasn’t changed much from colonial times when the Colonies, and later States, banned certain religions from their borders. Nevertheless, the First Amendment provides us the freedom to worship as we please. It would be anti-constitution for any elected official to push their religion through any law or pronouncement. They can talk about religion in general as the leaders did when the counter was first established, but they did not push their specific religion.
    When we show no respect for the beliefs of others, it shows that we have little respect for our own. The LDS/Mormon beliefs are biblical whether other Christian faiths accept it or not. What matters to the LDS is that they are obedient to God’s commandments as found in the Bible and other scripture. All LDS scripture are rooted in the Bible. It is a good idea to check out a religion from the source rather than from third or fourth parties. By the time one gets the information from them, the truth has been watered down, twisted, or turned into a fable.

  • Mormons know very little about the Bible and as Joseph Smith said, “We believe in the Bible only as far as it is translated correctly”. ?? Before Jesus was even born the people in S. America were calling themselves “Christians” when Jesus had told us that at the time of Penticost in Israel were people called Christians for the first time. Their timing of things is way off, and that scripture in the Bible that they think is referring to Joseph smith; it is, but it’s not talking about him in a good way: Isaiah 29:4,5,6; And thou shalt be brought down and shall speak out of the ground and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a FAMILIAR SPIRIT. 11; And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed. 13; Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me , and they’re fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. 14; Therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; (which is) for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of thier prudent men shall be hid. They’ve even got a book called “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” because they don’t even see what this scripture is saying. that their wise men shall perish. a marvelous work and a wonder doesn’t necessarily mean in a good way, but that people will look at them and wonder. And I don’t care how they explain how the Bible really means it, it tells us in no uncertain terms; “That even if an angel from Heaven come down & tell you a different gospel, DON’T BELIEVE IT!!” Even some of their higher ups have admitted that they had some things wrong at the start. Just look them up & see for yourself.

  • (Hi Jonathan. While at my computer I found this hot item and would like to share it.)


    Herbert Hoover’s 1928 Presidential campaign promised “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

    Barack Hussein Obama is now twisting Hoover’s slogan and promising, if re-elected, “a chick in every car and some pot in every garage”!

    For more on the one whose teachers gave him good marks(ists), Google or MSN “Obama a Black-Slavery Avenger?,” “Michelle Obama’s Allah-day,” and “Islam Will Purify Jews and Christians.”

  • ALL religion is futile, Jesus gave the religious in his day a tongue lashing. The only thing religion does is bring you back into slavery. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. The reason I would steer clear of Mormonism firstly is because of it’s roots. Look at it’s founder: a freemason. As Mark said above, their initiations are reminiscent to freemasonry. Even their underwear have what looks like the square and compass. Anything which is man made with occultic origins of freemasonry RUN from it it’s bondage. Secondly Mormonism has many condradictions to the Bible; the new Jerusalem is not in Missouri, it will be in the Middle East. You will not be married in the hereafter as Jesus said we will be like the angels in heaven. They are not married. The fallen angels took wives and married them and begat giants-reread Genesis 6!

  • So much error, deception, and plain foolishness written in many of these posts.

    Christ said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” What are the fruits of Mormonism? Here are a few:

    1) Christ is the literal Son of the Literal God of Heaven
    2) Only in and through the name of Christ can we be saved
    3) Marriage is ordained of God – families can be forever
    4) Be faithful to God, your family, and your country
    5) Keep the Commandments – the first being Love God with all your heart.
    6) Then, love your neighbor
    7) Serve one another – do good
    8) Give Humanitarian Aid
    9) The Glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth – seek learning
    10) God has authorized servants today
    11) Continuing Revelation – God speaks today!
    12) The purpose of life, and the destiny of man

    Anyone who is honest and sincere, I invite them to read the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and ask God if it is true. Come to know for yourself, and don’t reject it because of ignorant or deceptive posts like these from corrupt individuals. If you will seek to purify your life by keeping the commandments of the Son of God, and ask sincerely, God will manifest the truth of that divine book to you. This is true. I know, I have a witness for myself, and all men and women will gain this witness for themselves if they do this. “We are the offspring of God” Paul said. God will answer His sons and daughters who ask with sincerity.

  • “While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology,” Mouw wrote,

    Isn’t that the definition of a cult…..not possessing Christian Theology???