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Mormonism Isn't Christianity

If you, like me, try to take religious doctrine seriously, and recognize that differences among religions actually matter to their believers (and no, I'm not going down the "Is Islam a religion of peace?" path today, even though I've never understood why people feel a need to understand Islam through a Christian prism), then the debate over the theology of  Mormonism will interest you, I think. This is the subject of my Bloomberg View column this week. Here's an excerpt:

Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor who supports Texas Governor Rick Perry for president, provoked a predictable uproar this month when he labeled the Mormon faith of one of Perry's rivals, Mitt Romney, a non-Christian "cult," and suggested that Romney's beliefs should disqualify him for Christian support. Jeffress was widely censured for his intolerance, but ritualized condemnation won't stop such anti-Mormon eruptions between now and next November should Romney win the Republican nomination.

One reason why is that Mormonism isn't, in fact, Christian. Today's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't resemble a cult in any meaningful way. But its relationship to Christianity is similar to Christianity's relationship to Judaism.

Christianity grew from Judaism, but it soon distanced itself in fairly dispositive ways (that whole business about God having a son, for example). Mormonism reached escape velocity from Christianity virtually at the moment of its creation. Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me that in his view, most Mormons are "socially and culturally Christian," but theologically they are a thing apart.

Just so we're clear, I couldn't care less whether Mormons are Christian, for two reasons: 1) I'm Jewish, so both Christianity and Mormonism (not to mention Islam) are a bit too arriviste for my taste; and 2) religious tests for public office are profoundly un-American. It says so in Article IV of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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