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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