Friday, June 15, 2012

Merritt, "Evangelicals, Mitt Romney and Partisan Politics"

Merritt:
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.
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--Nick

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