Tales from the Trail

Southern Baptists renew Sunday School warnings of Mormonism

December 7, 2007

The Southern Baptists say it is a coincidence but at this politically charged time, some U.S. evangelicals might see it as a divinely inspired one.

On Wednesday the Baptist Press News — the media arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) — began a three-part series asking “Is Mormonism Christian?”rtx4gh4.jpg

That of course was the day before Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney gave a speech aimed squarely at his party’s evangelical base in which he said that his Mormon church would not pull the White House strings if he were elected.

“It just happened to coincide with the Romney speech. We are not speaking about Romney in particular,” said Mike Ebert, spokesman for the SBC’s North American Mission Board. He added that the series had been in the works since early November.

There is no reason to doubt the SBC’s words but the timing is awkward to say the least for Romney, whose speech was viewed as a response to a surge in the polls in Iowa by former Arkansas governor and folksy Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee.

Much of the media coverage on the issue has focused on the fact that many evangelical Protestants view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as aggressive recruiters as well as a heretical cult — which Mormons vehemently deny.

The column begins with the SBC warnings from Sunday School about “that knock on the door” from Mormon missionaries: “Someday it will happen to you. You are about to sit down for a late breakfast on a Saturday morning… when there is a knock on your door,” it begins.

Richard Land, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently told Reuters in an interview that Southern Baptists were taught about Mormonism to “inoculate” them against the faith’s missionaries. He also said that there were more former Southern Baptists who were now Mormon than any other faith.

“When Mormon missionaries visit you, they usually will … seek to find common ground on many of the doctrines biblical Christians believe,” the Baptist Press column says.

Still, Romney’s faith and platform share much common ground with evangelical Protestants, including a strong emphasis on hard work and opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But in theology they part company and the success of Mormon missionaries for this fast growing faith raise the question whether he can make the hard sell to suspicious evangelicals.

– Photo credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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