The head of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published an open letter on the Washington Post's website Tuesday addressed to evangelical writer Warren Cole Smith, who recently wrote that a vote for Mitt Romney or any Mormon "promotes a false and dangerous religion."
Writing on the Post's On Faith blog, where he is a regular contributor, Michael Otterson wrote that Smith made three main points: (1) any member of the LDS faith is unfit for public office because their faith is, according to Smith, "demonstrably false"; (2) Mormonism's belief in continuing revelation means members of the faith believe, "one thing today and another thing tomorrow"; and (3) electing an LDS president might be perceived as an endorsement of the faith, which, according to Smith, would not be a good thing.
Otterson addressed each of the points in order.
"I admit," Otterson wrote, "I'm struggling just a tad with your logic that the very fact of being a Mormon disqualifies a person from high public office. That would be news to Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has served his country and constituents for 34 years. And to Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader — one of the most powerful positions in government."
Otterson went on to explain the doctrine of continuing revelation. He wrote that continuing revelation means both that church members, "look for answers to personal prayers" and that "(LDS) church leaders receive inspiration and guidance to lead the church worldwide."
Addressing Smith's last point, which claimed that the election of a Mormon president would somehow promote the Mormon faith, Otterson wrote, "This argument, while not new, is frightening in its implications." He added, "Substitute the word 'Jew' for 'Mormon' and see how comfortable that feels. We may reasonably hope that most people vote on the basis of policy positions and not of denomination."
In closing, the head of the church public affairs emphasized the strong relationships between evangelicals and Mormons,"Mormons across the country live side by side with evangelicals as neighbors, work associates and friends. There is much that they share."
"Much indeed," said David Paulsen, former BYU professor of religious understanding, "There may be more in common with evangelicals and Mormons than there is between those faiths and other mainline Christian faiths. For example, both groups believe the bible is an inspired work, both believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in his atonement, in his resurrection and when it comes to Christian fundamentals these groups hold very similar beliefs."
With this shared foundation, Otterson urged both evangelicals and Mormons, "to start trying to understand each other better."
Karen Trifiletti of the More Good Foundation, a non-profit that helps LDS members share their beliefs online, agreed. She suggested both LDS and evangelicals interface in constructive dialogue on the internet and in person, recommending a variety of ways in which both groups can interface, including blogs, comment walls and social media.
Paulsen said that he and a dozen other LDS scholars meet every year with a dozen or so evangelicals from the Fuller Seminary in California. From interacting with these evangelicals over the years Paulsen has learned that Warren Cole Smith's view is not representative of the majority of evangelicals. Likewise, the website evangelicalsformitt.org indicates that, despite Warren Cole Smith's arguments, there are plenty of evangelicals willing to vote for a Mormon for public office. The website explains how they justify voting for someone with different beliefs, "We want a candidate who shares our political and moral values ... Political and moral values are informed by — but not the same as — one's religion. That's why we are not casting our lot with the person whose theology we like most. History shows that to be a poor approach."
Read Otterson's full post here.