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Evangelical writers wrestle over Mitt Romney

Published: Friday, June 10 2011 2:19 p.m. MDT

Warren Cole Smith had said that a vote for a Mormon was a vote for a "dangerous and fraudulent religion." Patheos has now posted a response from Smith about criticism of his statements titled, "A President's Faith Matters: An Interview with Warren Cole Smith."

Smith defended his claims against the LDS Church. Smith, who holds degrees in journalism and English but not theology, makes some significant assertions about Mormon theology based, he said, on having read "significant" portions from the LDS Church's standard works, or scriptures.

"Just to be plain, my view of Mormonism is this: It is not orthodox, biblical Christianity as understood by the three great streams of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) and as expressed in the historic creeds of the church," Smith said. "To be slightly more specific: Mormon doctrine ascribes attributes to God and to Jesus that orthodox, biblical Christianity has historically held to be false."

In his original online essay after the symposium, Smith had said, referring to Romney, "I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve," adding that "If the beliefs are false, then the behavior will eventually — but inevitably — be warped.

Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten cricitized Smith for trying to create a religious test for the presidency.

Smith reacted to Rutten and to an open letter to him at the Washington Post's On Faith blog by Michael Otterson, the head of public affairs department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Smith said, "Where the disagreement occurs is my further assertion that Mormonism is false and dangerous and that a Romney presidency would promote Mormonism. I know that even some evangelical Christians disagree with me on this point."

David French, co-founder of evangelicalsformitt.org, was among Smith's evangelical critics this week. French, a columnist for Patheos, wrote a column for the Daily Caller saying Smith's arguments should not prohibit any evangelical from voting for a Mormon.

"Evangelicals can (and should) support Mitt Romney," French wrote, adding that Smith's statements are similar to arguments that "radical secular leftists apply to evangelicals."

"The secular left marginalizes evangelicals by mocking and caricaturing our beliefs," French said. "Smith has done the same thing to Mitt Romney."

French goes on to address whether voting for a Mormon would in fact advance Mormonism:

"We don't think, 'I like those Bush tax cuts. I think I'll check out the Methodist church' … Does watching Harry Reid make you want to talk to a Mormon missionary? How about when you fly JetBlue? During a smooth, comfortable flight do you use the in-flight Wi-Fi to surf LDS.org? Does a particularly elegant turndown service at a high-end Marriott put you in the mood to download the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's greatest hits? If you're a sports fan, did watching Steve Young connect with Jerry Rice make you complete an application to BYU?"

David Paulsen, former BYU professor of religious understanding, believes most evangelicals and Mormons have an ever-closer relationtionship. He cited "An Evening of Friendship" held in the Mormon Tabernacle in 2004, in which evangelicals and Mormons addressed their sometimes tenuous past and celebrated their common beliefs and renewed friendship.

EMAIL: hboyd@desnews.com

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